Geek Love: Andrew Auseon’s Freak Magnet
Around the end of chapter two of Andrew Auseon's latest YA novel, Freak Magnet (Amazon | Indiebound) I stopped to ask, Wait, why isn't everyone talking about this book?
Of course, I know the answer. It's because Freak Magnet is a book that might be lumped into the nebulous category of "small"–it's primarily character-focused, it's bereft of creatures of the night unless you count beginning astronomers, it's idiosyncratic, it's funny but also not afraid to be taken seriously… No, wait, I'm back to not understanding anymore. Because no one would call John Green's books "small"–at least not anymore–and I'm pretty well convinced that anyone who likes John Green's books will also respond to this one. Or fans of Sara Zarr (who contributes a lovely blurb) or Natalie Standiford, Barry Lyga or Cecil Castellucci, for that matter. I could keep going.
Freak Magnet follows Charlie Wyatt, aka the Freak, and Gloria Aboud, aka the Freak Magnet, during summer break. The book begins when Superman-obsessed stargazer Charlie first spots Gloria and decides he must tell her she's the most beautiful girl he's ever seen; a writer, she promptly records this encounter in her notebook, aka the Freak Folio. Sounds like a frothy set-up, doesn't it? But Auseon's too good a writer to be content with that, and what follows is a story that will truly keep you on the edge of your preferred reading furniture, turning pages, caring about each of these characters too much to stop.
This is the sort of contemporary realist fiction that I unabashedly love. Geeky, cool, honest, and absorbing. Focused on creating intimate character portraits and memorable casts (Gloria's sister is into cosplay every day–even for their mother's foundation benefits) without the handwringing of tea towels beside a window overlooking the English moors (or the professor someone just committed adultery with's backyard), but filled with no less emotional depth for that. Auseon's teens and adults feel as individual and as nuanced as any real people I've ever met and over the course of Gloria and Charlie's unconventional love story, I fell in love with both of them. I'm not overstating when I say this novel reminded me of all the things I love about YA realism done right (and there's plenty of appeal here for SFF readers, too). On a craft level, the book is quite an achievement–I haven't seen dual first person point of view done any better than this, with each voice absolutely distinct, or read many other novels able to balance true humor with true weight half so well.
I'd recommend this book to just about anyone. Freaks and freak magnets take note.
(Also, take note I'll have an interview with Andy Auseon as part of his whirlwind blog tour tomorrow.)