Praise

Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, September 2020

Recommended

When Ziggy moves in with his grandmother down the street, June Bug Jordan becomes obsessed, and eventually her scrutiny ripens into an actual friendship with the imaginative boy. June has just lost her father to AIDS, leaving her a pariah in 1983, and her mother has spiraled into an panicked obsession with taint and germs (“You have disgustingness all over your body,” she says in horror when her daughter comes in from outside) that keeps her afraid of leaving the house, of food entering it, of caring for her daughter. Lonely and hungry June Bug finds solace in her friendship with Ziggy and in her warm welcome from his grandmother, but she also begins to realize that her family situation is out of control. Pixley writes preteen June Bug with a sure and comfortable voice that helps cushion the blow of her desperate, tragic life, and her friendship with eccentric outsider Ziggy (the two have adventures in a Terabithia–like imaginary land) is clearly an incalculable balm. Home scenes edge into the terrifyingly gothic as June Bug’s mother calls frenziedly from upstairs to expel outsiders and abusively scrubs her daughter down, but June Bug’s fond memories of her father are reassuring reminders that there were—and could be again—better days. Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale (BCCB 4/16) and its followups will find this similarly emotional and ultimately satisfying. A brief author’s note offers more information about AIDS and about mental illness.  DS

Seattle Book Review, September 2020 

Five Starred Review

June Bug Jordan lost her father to AIDS, and since his death, things haven’t been the same. Her mother is terrified of infection and germs to the point that she refuses to leave the house, cook food, or have visitors. June Bug is hungry, grieving, and alone, until the summer of 1983 when Ziggy Karlo moves in down the street with his grandmother, Nana Jean. Ziggy, too, is struggling—his mother has decided he should live with Nana Jean because she needs time alone to “work things out” with her verbally abusive boyfriend. In the branches of the trees they climb and in the make-believe world they travel to in their minds, June Bug and Ziggy build a friendship that brings comfort to them both.

June Bug’s narration reveals both her deep vulnerability and her remarkable resilience. The depth of her yearning for a mother who can be there for her and for a life where she is fully taken care of is powerful and arresting, as are the moments where she finds some of the comfort and hope she’s searching for in her friendships with Ziggy and Nana Jean. With vividness and honesty, Marcella Pixley tells a stirring story about mental illness, trauma, and love, a story that shies away from neither the horrors nor the beauties of what it is to be human.

Reviewed By:

TROWBRIDGE ROAD: Publisher’s Weekly, September 2020

Drawing comparisons to Bridge to Terabithia, this literary middle grade novel by Pixley (Ready to Fall) follows two lonely children awash in secrets and hurts. When Ziggy Karlo moves in with his grandmother, Nana Jean, June Bug Jordan is watching from a perch in the branches of a copper beech tree. She’s an isolated child whose father died early in the AIDS crisis, before much was known, and whose mother has been lost to mental illness and terror of germs ever since, even making June wash with bleach. Though June is at first envious of the way Nana Jean lavishes affection on Ziggy, a bullied boy with an impressive vocabulary, she soon befriends her fellow outcast and the two escape to “the ninth dimension… a place you can go only if you are magical.” Though both children have been abandoned by parents in different ways, each has a loving adult to turn to at least some of the time, with Nana Jean taking in Ziggy and June’s uncle Toby wanting desperately to help his brother’s family. Heartbreaking and sometimes emotionally difficult, this novel will appeal to young teens looking for something serious to dig into. Ages 10–up.

TROWBRIDGE ROAD: Kirkus Reviews, September 2020

Starred Review

Two lonely outcast preteens find truth and solace through friendship over the summer of 1983.

June Bug Jordan and Ziggy Karlo share a lot in common. They both have well-meaning mothers who love them but “don’t know how to make it stick”; they both have had a traumatic year; and they’re both in need of a friend. June Bug’s father has died of AIDS, a disease only recently discovered and still tragically misunderstood. Her devastated mother is incapacitated with deep depression and an intense germ phobia—she even makes June Bug bathe with bleach. June Bug struggles daily with guilt over the last thing she said to her father while hiding the truth of her home life from neighbors. Ziggy, a “gangly,” sensitive “beanpole” of a boy with long hair and a pet ferret called Matthew, has come to live with his loving and formidable Nana Jean, down the street from June Bug, for a fresh start after a year of being bullied. The two become fast friends and, inspired by their boundless imaginations, escape to the “ninth dimension,” where they can make anything they want happen just by wishing. June Bug narrates this work of historical realism with a magical, poetic quality, turning the ordinary extraordinary. June Bug and Ziggy’s fanciful adventures are likely to resonate with fans of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia (1977). Primary characters seem to be white.

An exceptional story for readers who feel deeply. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Trowbridge Road: Shelf Awareness, February 2020

Maximum Shelf

Trowbridge Road

by Marcella Pixley

Marcella Pixley’s latest middle-grade novel is at once a glorious celebration of the power of imagination and a heartrending cautionary tale about the danger of keeping certain secrets. Written with compassion, eloquence and a profound understanding of the ways physical and mental illness can rack a family, Trowbridge Road is positively luminous.

When 11-year-old June Bug Jordan meets Ziggy Karlo in the summer of 1983, they are two terribly lonely children with many “things [they] don’t talk about.” June Bug’s father died last year from a not-yet-understood illness called AIDS, and her mother Angela’s mental illness is spiraling out of control: Angela obsesses over the possibility of germs coming through the cracks in the walls or on the groceries June Bug’s uncle drops off every week. An inveterate observer (and tree climber), June Bug gets out of her sterile house when she can and begins to secretly watch Ziggy and his mother and grandmother, Nana Jean, from a copper beech tree in their backyard. Ziggy is staying with Nana Jean while his mother, a victim of domestic abuse, struggles to regain control of her life. He has long red hair, purple T-shirts with unicorns and a white ferret named Matthew–and a history of being bullied. He looks to be on track to being picked on again, this time by kids on Trowbridge Road, although Nana Jean is a fiercer protector than his troubled, distracted mother. Once they meet, June Bug thinks she and Ziggy “fit just fine” together.

With their shared sense of magic, the friends find a touching connection. In marvelous scenes of mystical imagination, they conjure a dragon-filled “ninth dimension” from high up in the copper beech and deep within a cellar hole sanctuary they call Majestica. In the tree, June Bug tries to make leaves move with her mind. Telekinesis, Ziggy says, “is not unusual for nomads of the ninth dimension.” He tells her, “I’m with you. Can you feel me? I’m bringing you up into the branches. I’m lifting you.” Having mothers who love them but don’t know how to “make it stick” means the children must find another heart that knows them. They find that heart in each other, and also in June Bug’s uncle and Ziggy’s grandmother. As their friendship grows, so does their strength. Still, the secrets they carry weigh heavily.

June Bug’s home-bound mother would like her daughter to stay in every Saturday to disinfect the house, following rules that include “Germs from the walls can fall to the counters, can fall to the floor, can get trapped beneath your feet and then spread back into the rest of the house, so you always do the first floor last with a brand-new bucket of bleach.” The ever-ready bleach is also used to clean what her mother calls the “disgustingness” off June Bug when she returns home with the smell of the outside world on her skin and in her mouth. But June Bug begins finding ways of resisting her mother’s compulsive behavior. She secretly fills a backpack with “Necessaries” for scouring the outside world off her skin before coming home: carrot scraper, letter opener, mouthwash, Q-tips and, of course, a jar of bleach. Keeping the almost anthropomorphized Backpack close at hand, she feels safe playing in the trees, grass and mud with Ziggy. But even the Necessaries can’t keep the real world from eventually entering June Bug’s home.

When the three generations of Ziggy’s family, plus June Bug, come together in an explosive scene one morning, June Bug receives an unexpected gift. She learns that “a mother and daughter could be angry at each other. They could be furious. They could even hate each other for minutes or even sometimes years. But then they could sit at the kitchen table together on a sunny morning and eat breakfast, and they could swallow the food and feel full.” Living as she does inside a silent secret, June Bug is stunned at this revelation.

Trowbridge Road is the kind of all-absorbing book that, at the end, leaves a reader startled to discover that the real world has been going on outside its pages all the while. June Bug’s first-person narrative keeps readers squarely behind the eyes of a bewildered, grieving, growing 11-year-old. She, along with every other central character, is multilayered, authentic and vividly depicted. As in Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, the interplay between real and imagined worlds is seamless and as natural as the friendship between kindred souls. The scenes in the ninth dimension will have many readers longing to become nomads with June Bug and Ziggy, even as they suspect that one only travels in that world to escape this one. Those who know from personal experience “what happens to a home when it becomes a holding place for… secrets” will ache for the two young friends as they channel their pain and confusion in the best way they know how: through their imagination and connection with people who know how to make their love stick. —Emilie Coulter

READY TO FALL: Publisher’s Weekly, September 2017

Starred Review

The first time Max Friedman’s mother gets cancer, he’s five. The second time, he’s 16 and it’s a fatal brain tumor. Needing to keep something of his mother with him, Max invites her tumor into his own brain; it soon takes over, making it impossible for him to concentrate on anything, and his grades suffer. A progressive private school seems like the answer, and Max gets involved with the theater kids, including the radiantly pink-haired Fish. Pixley (Without Tess) uses the school production of Hamlet and the theater milieu effectively—the book’s title refers to trust-fall exercises, a common theater practice. It’s an act that takes courage, and over the course of the story, Max moves toward being willing to do it. The process involves his father, grandmother, a supremely cranky writing teacher, Fish, and even her on-again off-again boyfriend. Max’s interactions with the tumor are an odd but appropriate metaphor for the sorrow, fear, guilt, and lousy coping strategies of grieving. When Max finds community with others—who are just as damaged but striving to be happy—it’s rewarding and touching. Ages 14–up

READY TO FALL: Kirkus Review, August 2017

Starred Review

Desperate to cling to something of his mother’s after her death, 16-year-old Max believes he has invited her tumor into his brain and that it is slowly killing him.

Max is increasingly withdrawn, lost, and strange. His father, desperate to help him with his grief, enrolls him in an exclusive school filled with eccentric artists. There, Max meets Fish, a bubbly girl with pink hair, and her band of misfit friends. Max also meets the curmudgeonly creative-writing teacher, who uses unorthodox methods to force Max to talk about his pain. He has a breakthrough during a staging of Hamlet, in which each cast member is forced to confront his or her own ghosts. Max’s tightrope walk between sanity and insanity will resonate with anyone suffering from a loss. While he must find a way to live again, it takes the combined efforts of his wild friends, his devoted family, and a few dedicated and eccentric teachers. Lyrical prose, fresh and compelling images and unforgettable characters create an experience that will stay with readers far past the last page. The principals are white and Jewish, but the school boasts students of many races, religions, and sexual orientations.

Grief becomes something oddly beautiful—and beautifully odd. (Fiction. 14-18) 

Ready To Fall: Horn Book, January 2018
While Max Friedman is standing next to his mother’s coffin, he silently offers himself
to his mother’s “favorite tumor”: “You want somewhere to live for a while? My brain is
ripe. It will fill your belly. Come eat. And when you’re done, bury me next to her so I don’t
have to be alone.” As the tumor continually taunts him (“My mother’s favorite tumor is
letting his Rottweilers use my cerebral cortex as a fire hydrant”), a miserable Max retreats
into his macabre sketches and begins failing his sophomore year. His heartbroken dad
transfers Max to an arts school in hopes of a fresh start. There Max befriends Fish, a
“gorgeous pink-haired girl” with her own troubles, and her best friend, The Monk,
who collects “oddities,” including three other eccentric friends. The six are cast in the
school’s gothic/steampunk production of Hamlet. Similarities between the play and
Max’s life compound his growing existential crisis until one traumatic evening forces
him to finally confront his loss and grief. Writing about mourning a loved one is familiar territory for Pixley (Without Tess, rev. 1/12), but her approach here is as fresh
and offbeat as her characters; her poetic prose is full of raw emotions, vivid imagery,
and a touch of morbid humor. The tumor may be in Max’s imagination, but his pain
is hauntingly real. Slowly and believably, Max’s family, friends, and teachers help him
realize he’s not alone, and that finding the courage to trust others and let go of the
past will help him move forward.

READY TO FALL: Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books, December 2017

Ever since his mother died of metastatic breast cancer, Max has found it hard to focus on schoolwork or much of anything, except for the tumor he secretly believes transferred from his mother to his own brain at her death. His father moves Max to Baldwin, an artsy and flexible private school; there Max develops a connection to a colorful old writing teacher and a group of theater kids. Even as he becomes more settled in the program, however, his headaches and certainty of brain cancer haunt him. Pixley, author of the compelling Freak (BCCB 10/07), captures the mental derailing of grief with gentle clarity, and it’s understandable that Max, despite the concern of his father and teachers, can’t muster interest in school. The  theater kids, including the lovely Fish (short for Felicia), for whom Max falls, are credibly complicated and even occasionally unpleasant while still offering emotional space for Max. The tumor conceit is the really original piece here, and while it’s convenient that Max ends up so easily disabused of the notion, it’s compelling as a somatized sharing of his mother’s suffering and also as clinging to “the only part of Mom I have left.” This is a keen yet accessible portrait of the way grief can knock you sideways and time and humanity can draw you back.

READY TO FALL: Booklist, November 2017

Ever since his mother’s death, young graphic artist Max Friedman has obsessed over the tumor that claimed her life. He imagines that it has taken up residence in his brain, plotting his downfall. Meanwhile, his father has enrolled him at an arts high school where Max might flourish if he allows himself to. Slowly drawn out of his shell, first by Mr. Cage, a food-obsessed creative-writing teacher, and then by the theater geek crew that adopts him, Max must learn to let go of his mother and her cancer. Only then can he allow himself and his father to grieve and move on. A quirky take on a classic YA narrative on coping with loss, this book delights by showcasing a cast of colorful characters that help Max deal with grief, often via art. While Max’s relationship with his peers is fun to read about, Pixley’s writing truly shines in Max’s relationships with adults—his father and maternal grandmother, Mr. Cage and the play director, Ms. Pruitt. Through them, Pixley shows how dealing with loss is a communal act.

READY TO FALL: Bookish “Must Read” for 2017

https://www.bookish.com/articles/must-read-fall-books-young-adult-2017/

READY TO FALL: School Library Journal, Nov 2017

From School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up –Max’s mother died of brain cancer. Her death was too sudden, and in his grief Max imagines that her tumor has become his tumor. Unable to cope with his mother’s death and his fear that he will be the next to succumb, the protagonist flounders at school and is eventually sent to an alternative school uniquely equipped to cope with teens with mental health issues. Max’s friendships and relationships grow, but as they do so does his refusal to confront his fears and grief. The more things improve in Max’s life, the more certain a collapse seems. This unreliable narrator’s tale is imbued with feelings of grief and regret and still manages to be humorous at the same time. Max’s relationships with his new friends, crush, teacher, and father are realistic, flawed, and beautifully written. Nothing in this world is perfect: the creative writing teacher is brilliant and curmudgeonly and ultimately makes very irresponsible choices; his father is loving but unable to help Max with his grief as he’s consumed by his own; and Fish (potential love interest) is understanding and beautiful but stuck in an unhealthy relationship with someone who refuses to let her go. Although occasionally relying on tropes (Fish is clearly a manic pixie dream girl), this work is ultimately an affecting novel about parental relationships, grieving, and recovery.

WITHOUT TESS: Sunday NY Times Book Review, Dec 2011

“I’ll never let you go, Lizzie. No matter what happens to me, I’ll never ever let you go.” This refrain, which runs through “Without Tess,” contains a dark double message about the bonds and boundaries of sisterhood. Following up on themes raised in her well-received first novel, “Freak,” in which a teenager distances herself from a bullied younger sister, Marcella Pixley continues to explore the complexities of sibling loyalty; this time, a girl’s separation and loss as she comes to terms with her sister’s suicide.

Like many little sisters, 9-year-old Lizzie Cohen wishes she could be like 11-year-old Tess, who claims she can shape-shift into flying horses and selkies. Under Tess’s spell, Lizzie sees gossamer wings sprout from her sister’s shoulders, and together they gallop happily until Lizzie can just about feel her own wings emerge.

The shift from puberty to adolescence is itself a kind of shape shifting. But Tess is a terrible role model. She starves herself, behaves in bizarre and unpredictable ways and demands tests of Lizzie’s devotion that include eating rotten crabs and lying in an icy tidal pool.

Tess is a girl who won’t grow up, and her efforts to hold Lizzie close become increasingly suffocating. When Lizzie meets Isabella, her soon-to-be best friend, a jealous Tess smears the face of Isabella’s Italian family’s Virgin Mary statue with chocolate. Isabella’s suggestion that Tess might go to hell as a consequence prompts a dialogue between the girls about the afterlife, sin and guilt that weaves throughout the book, along with a mélange of rituals drawn from Judaism, Catholicism and magic. During one of these rituals, Lizzie confesses an awful secret: she has wished her sister dead. “Tess, I said in my mind, I wish you would just die. Just die already, would you? We’ve all had enough.” When the family learns that Tess is psychotic, Lizzie is torn between loyalty to her sister and the need to protect her from herself.

Five years after Tess’s suicide, 15-year-old Lizzie has cut herself off from friends, family and any further belief in magic — or in her own potential. Drawing on Tess’s journal, which is filled with expressive drawings and incantation-like poetry, a high school psychologist helps Lizzie emerge from her punishing state of grief.

Alternating time frames give intimate access to Lizzie’s character as both tween and teenager, and her voice is true to both ages. Pixley’s writing is richly imagined and intricately detailed. Vivid scenes blur make-believe with the supernatural, just as Tess’s fantasy life veers from imagination to psychosis.

The use of fantasy as a metaphor for mental illness certainly makes the difficult subject matter accessible for young readers; at times, however, the blur between fantasy and reality challenges credibility. And while the portrayal of Tess’s disease as a refusal to be human fits the story’s themes, her character remains something of an enigma. This may be why I found the book ultimately less convincing than Nina LaCour’s “Hold Still,” for example, in which a teenager strives to understand a friend’s suicide, or Cathi Hanauer’s adult novel about anorexia, “My Sister’s Bones.”

But this is Lizzie’s story, and her confrontation with the question “What’s wrong with my sister?” will resonate with young readers, most of whom, at some point, yearn to become their own person and discover their own unique magic. — Mindy Lewis, author of “Life ­Inside,” a memoir, and the editor of “Dirt,” an anthology.

WITHOUT TESS: Horn Book Review, Jan/Feb 2011

The imaginative play of two sisters is tinged with menace in Pixley’s (Freak) intense, lyrical novel. Lizzie was always the follower in the fantastical games her older sister Tess conceived. Now, five years after Tess’s death, Lizzie has taken the copying a step further and is passing off Tess’s poems as her own in her high school English class. Floating gracefully between the present and the past, Pixley paints a portrait of eleven-year-old Tess’s “magic” that at first seems luminous. Remembering a game of Pegasus, Lizzie says, “I can almost see the moonbeam wings coming up from the surface of [Tess’s] back, pushing through the skin, the long, white bones rising like glaciers from the sea, the moonbeams feathering out, each tiny filament, shining, sparkling, until she has wings, beautiful, new, magnificent wings.” But the portrait soon darkens. As Tess falls deeper into mental illness, her behavior grows more disturbing, with loyal Lizzie sometimes putting herself in physical danger to protect her sister. The East Coast setting, a fishing village, is beautifully, often heartbreakingly woven into Tess’s delusions, one of which involves the belief that she is a selkie, a seal maiden trapped on land without her seal skin. It is a fitting metaphor for Lizzie and her parents, trapped by their loss. Lizzie eventually realizes that they have to find a way up from the depths of mourning and guilt—to break through the surface to a new life without Tess. christine m. heppermann

WITHOUT TESS: Publishers Weekly, Dec 2011

Starred Review

With pensive and darkly lyrical prose, Pixley (Freak) immerses readers in the harsh realities of mental illness and its far-reaching effects. Growing up, sisters and best friends Tess and Lizzie fill their days with magical games, pretending to turn into flying horses and selkies. But as the girls grow older, Lizzie is ready to leave flights of fancy behind while Tess sinks deeper and deeper into her fantasies. In turns dreamy and disturbing, Pixley’s story reveals how Lizzie worships fiercely imaginative Tess but suffers as a result of her delusions. When Tess decides that she can’t bear the real world any longer, her actions trigger a maelstrom of guilt, grief, and shame that burden the now 15-year-old Lizzie, five years later. Under the guidance of a therapist, acerbic Lizzie revisits Tess’s journal (Tess’s sublime but sinister poems appear between the book’s chapters). Slowly, she inches her way toward understanding the dizzying power of the bond that still holds her to Tess. Pixley’s memory play is a difficult, sadly beautiful ode to a complex and heartbreaking issue. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)

WITHOUT TESS: School Library Journal, Nov 2011

Starred Review

Gr 7-9–Lizzie Cohen, 9, and her sister, Tess, 11, are incredibly close. They live in a world all their own, filled with selkies, magical toads, and horses with beautiful wings. When Lizzie tries to leave this fantastical world in favor of reality, Tess tries hard to keep her there. Her imagination becomes more and more delusional, and she becomes harmful to herself and others. She starves herself, claiming that she is immortal and doesn’t need nourishment. Then she makes a decision that leaves Lizzie, five years later, struggling to confront the past through Tess’s worn-out Pegasus Journal, full of poetry and disturbing images. With the help of the school psychologist and a childhood friend, Lizzie tries to find a way to let go of her guilt. Alternating between chapters of prose and poetry, the novel gives readers glimpses into the minds of both girls, balancing past and present and slowly revealing the entire story. The setting is a riverside town, and the pivotal events take place at the razor’s edge of fall and winter, creating a chill of apprehension. Girls struggling with anorexia may benefit from reading about an issue that hits close to home, and anyone coping with harmful relationships, especially within the family, will relate to this lyrical, heartrending novel.–Kimberly Castle, Stark County District Library, Canton, OH

WITHOUT TESS: The Bulletin of the Center of Children’s Books, Nov 2011

Recommended

Once Tess was the whole world to Lizzie, her younger sister; now Tess is gone and Lizzie’s on her own, struggling through high school with the aid of a therapist and handing in Tess’ poems as her own. More real to Lizzie than this present is the past, when Lizzie was nine and Tess eleven, and Tess’ rapt involvement with fantasies of selkies and flying horses dominated the sisters’ daily thoughts. As the narrative of the sisters’ past unfolds, interspersed with the account of Lizzie’s tortured present and with Tess’ poems, it becomes clear that Tess’ imaginings extend beyond childhood pretend to something more psychologically disabling; as Tess descends further into her fantasy world and repudiates reality, Lizzie witnesses her desperate parents’ attempts to pull Tess back to mental health. Pixley, who skillfully tackled another complicated sisterly relationship in Freak (BCCB 10/07), takes a rather provocative step here: she sets up some alluring and imaginative magical conceits that will immediately catch the attention of fantasy readers just as they did Lizzie, and then mercilessly makes their appeal their danger. This really isn’t a cautionary tale about make-believe, though; it’s the poignant tale of a younger sister who is caught up in the world made by the elder, and who abandoned her sister both by not believing and, in a key tragic moment, by believing. It’s both ironic and understandable that the story is at its most vivid when following Lizzie and Tess as they cast their Merlin-taught spells, while contemporary Lizzie moves quietly through a silenced house and slides darkly under the radar at school. The nature of Tess’ delusions will give this particular impact, but ultimately it’s Lizzie’s finding her own artistic voice that’s the triumph, and readers will be happy to see her moving out from under Tess’ haunting shadow. DS

WITHOUT TESS:  Junior Library Guild Selection, fall 2011

WITHOUT TESS: VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

The writing is smooth, well-paced, and contemporary. Several of Tess’s poems appear between chapters, and Lizzie’s poem about Tess’s life and death lend closure to the story. Teenagers with family members or friends suffering from mental illness will recognize the brutal nature of Tess’s behavior, much of which makes for disturbing reading. Other teens will relate to Lizzie’s role as a student who does not fit in, acts out when offered kindness, and is intelligent but locked into self-destructive behaviors. Lizzie is finally able to acknowledge the truth about Tess’s illness and restart her own life journey, scarred but standing.—Florence Munat.

WITHOUT TESS: Booklist Online Review

“I’ll never let you go,” 10-year-old Lizzie’s sister, Tess, tells her. Five years later, Tess, who was mentally ill, has committed suicide, and Lizzie hides the guilt she feels about the night that her sister died, even though she has weekly sessions with a kind school psychologist. Interspersed with lines of Tess’ poetry, Lizzie’s first-person voice alternates between flashbacks and the present, revealing Tess’ escalating illness and its impact on her family. Lizzie had been enchanted by Tess’ wildly imaginative games of selkies, flying horses, and magic, and she’d needed only her sister as a companion. But as Lizzie matures socially, Tess becomes increasingly ill, and her games become increasingly dangerous. Pixley’s lyrical writing is at its best in the childhood scenes, which open a window on a family struggling to help a mentally ill child. The story is resolved hastily through the persistent help of a sensitive (and also hot) boy, but the hopeful ending is deeply satisfying. Wrenching and authentic, this is a skillfully written, courageous look at a difficult subject.
— Lynn Rutan.

 FREAK: Booklist

Starred Review

Poet Pixley’s gripping story of middle-school bullying may call to mind Spinelli’s Stargirl (2000) and Anderson’s Speak (1999) . . . Thorny, determined, brilliant, mature yet surprisingly naïve, Miriam is unforgettable.

FREAK: Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review

An expertly – and lovingly – narrated story about girls and bullying . . Stunning.

FREAK: Publisher’s Weekly

Starred Review

First Time novelist Pixley crafts a disturbing tale that taps into the harsh reality of what it means to be a middle school outcast . . . observant and tough, Miriam’s voice has a knife edge that tears past the surface.

FREAK: Bulletin of Center for Children’s Books

Starred Review

Pixley writes with well-crafted intensity of a girl in an agony of perplexed exclusion…readers will be intrigued by her eventual ability to make a new way for herself.

FREAK: Fall 2007, Book Sense

Children’s Pick

A riveting, heartbreaking, ultimately redemptive book about the cruelty of middle school students.

FREAK: School Library Journal

This is a powerful look at middle school angst and transformation from a new YA author to watch.

VOYA

Middle School girls will read this book and realize how many girls are just like them.

Teens Read Too

Marcella Pixley has created a character and a story filled with raw emotions. The sense of isolation is thick as you read deeper into Miriam’s story. You will never forget Miriam or the lessons she manages to teach. . . an inspirational story for anyone who has ever been known as a freak.

Chris Crutcher, author of The Sledding Hill

Wow! Freak is heartbreakingly funny, heartbreakingly spot-on, and heartbreaking. If you’ve ever been on the outside – and you have – Miriam Fisher is your new best friend.

Gabrielle Zevin, author of Elsewhere

Marcella Pixley has written a poetic, painfully well observed, and very satisfying first novel. I would recommend Freak to anyone who has ever felt like a freak – that is to say, everyone.