I will start this review with honesty: I am not a huge YA reader (even though that has been changing recently), but I always enjoy a good story. The Young Adult genre has been blowing up over the years. I remember how back when I was a preteen in the very early 2000’s, it was my favourite section in the library, and reading books from there made me feel oh-so-grown-up. YA has changed since then, dramatically I would say, and as with all things, it has come with the good and the ugly. Freeks by Amanda Hocking lies somewhere in the middle, nudging dangerously close to the ugly.
Don’t get me wrong, Freeks wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. The story had a good premise and some very good potential. It follows a young Mara who lives and travels with a “freak show” – or rather, a carnival – along with her ring-wearing, necromancer mother. It is set in the mid 1987’s, and at that time “freak shows” are not doing as well as they used to, so by the time that their caravan rolls into a small town called Caudry in Louisiana, Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Carnival is dirt poor broke. The self-named carnival leader Gideon Davorin has been promised a big payday if the carnival completes their contracted seven days of performances. This is where things start getting spooky.
Carnivals and fairs are still a common and somewhat popular affair in certain parts of North America and the world. I can imagine that before the existence of the internet and Netflix, they might have been even more popular. However, I’m certain that “freak shows” have all but died out by 1987, or at least significantly switched focus. Even though Gideon’s troop is mostly consisting of people with special, and sometimes supernatural powers rather than deformities, a morbid part of me still wanted to read about some weird stuff. It’s probably the same part that likes to watch terrible, downgrading reality TV on TLC.
I’ll admit, that it’s a little bit unfair to Hocking and to what she did. I thought that the way she handled the community of the carnival, or the “freak show”, was very well done. They are all people who feels like outcasts of society and so they have built themselves a family. Reading Freeks, I felt how close Mara and the rest felt to one another, how much respect there was between all of them. Yet, even in this inclusive community, Mara is still an outcast because she doesn’t have anything “special” about her, not even her mother’s ability of talking to the dead. Instead she helps the other with manual labour, random tasks, and generally stays behind the scenes. Nobody pays attention to her because she tries to stay invisible…
That’s all I really liked about Freeks.
While Mara tries to be invisible, she makes sure to look damn good while scraping poop, wearing cowboy boots and a summer dress instead of something practical. Descriptions of what she wears pop up throughout the chapters, adding nothing to the story. I liked her as a character – she was kind, adventurous, a no-bullshit sort of girl. She is the expected “chosen one”, the back of the book reads that she will “take control of her powers”, but it all comes and goes with so little oomph. Between occasionally having dreams, acid reflux, and obsessing over a boy she just met, Mara doesn’t really explore her powers or does any sort of discovering of the self. She doesn’t even really gain any abilities until the very end of the book, but even then it is all nicely covered within a page or two.
The most frustrating, eye-rolling part of this book is the relationship between Mara and the dream-hunk Gabe. They meet, literally, in chapter two, on page 21, and immediately they are in love. It is Mara’s first day in Caudry, she stumbles into a party, meets Gabe, and ends up making out with him in his bedroom. Mara moves fast. While their relationship is central to the plot of this novel, it is boring. It is boring because there is no build up, no tension, no slow-burn. As the book goes on, neither of them have any scruples about the relationship, especially Gabe. Though Mara is sad that she will be leaving him soon, he is not even worrying about that. Despite his abs, and his “secret” that was obvious as soon as they met, Gabe is boring. He is Edward Cullen 2.0. Granted, the Edward Cullen that does not watch Mara sleep and, thankfully, does not sparkle. But just like Edward, he is dangerous, thrilling, with a mouth that curves in a dangerous curve… of… beastiness. And just like Bella Swan, Mara thinks, “I mustn’t, but I will.”
The rest of the plot centers around the carnival performances and the monster that is attacking them during the night, taking their members out one by one. Between trying to solve this mystery, Mara goes on dates with Gabe as if everything is peachy. At the end it is all solved, quick, clean and tidy, thanks to a magical crossbow and Mara’s ability to pine.
I could really go on and on about how empty this book is, and mention some of the logic defying and groan inducing actions of the characters. So instead, I will simply mention two:
- How does a person not die when they are mauled, degutted, and left with their throat gaping open? And even if they do happen to survive, how could they possibly recover within days of their attack?
- WHY DOES NO ONE CARE ABOUT BLOSSOM? I truly think that Hocking forgot about her storyline. This poor girl goes missing within the first couple of chapters, and at first, everyone is distressed even though she has a habit of disappearing without a word. They are worried enough to go to the police within the first 24-hours. Yet as soon as they step out of the police station, she’s never really mentioned again apart from “Oh yeah, Blossom must be at that music festival, she’ll show up soon.” WHAT? Sure Mara thinks about her briefly, passingly, but no one ever attempts to look for her or find out if she’s okay. I sort of feel bad for Blossom. Mara, one of her closest friends, was so focused on the hunky Gabe, that she did not wonder where she was. And when she did find out that she was dead (dead!), Mara’s whole reaction was, “Oh, yeah, I sort of guessed that she was probably dead all along.” So really, what was the point of Blossom?
Freeks falls into this new category of YA that Twilight fell into. This supernatural, frilly romance sort of deal that requires no effort or emotional investment. It is cheap and easy, quick, and to many probably fun. I’m sure there are readers that have, and will, enjoy this book, but Hocking is not my kind of writer. Her characters and plot are not thought out, her writing is repetitive, cliché, filled with tropes, and yearns for another write-through. I see it as lost potential, and as a marketing gimmick because an author like her can turn around dozens of books quickly.
I feel like I’ve invested more in writing this review than anyone should invest in reading this book.
I received a copy of Freeks from a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.