Allison's Book Bag

Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe

Posted on: October 15, 2013

Impressive. This is the adjective that keeps popping into my mind when thinking about how to describe Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe. Freeze Frame is about a teenage boy who kills his best friend with a gun. It’s disturbing that Freeze Frame is about a tragedy caused by the main character. Furthermore, for the bulk of the book we don’t even know if the death was intentional. Yet we still have to care for Kyle because we’re constantly in his head. That Ayarbe is able to pull off such a novel is impressive.

That isn’t all. For example, how did Ayarbe write over one hundred pages about just one week in Kyle’s life? Even if those chapters centered around the aftermath of the shooting — which includes Kyle’s arrest, trial, and initial meetings with his probation officer — it still blew me away how masterfully Ayarbe stretched such a short timeframe into so many pages. Just as amazingly, once Kyle returns to school and tries to settle back into routine, how does Ayarbe keep up the momentum? Consider that Kyle frequently escapes to his friend’s grave, thinks about ways to die, and relives that fateful day at the shed. Freeze Frame could have easily become a depressing and wallowing mess. Instead, Ayarbe introduces school bullies, an adult mentor in the form of a librarian, and Kyle’s new goal of becoming a protector of his best friend’s younger brother. Ah-ha, but here again Freeze Frame could have become another movie-of-the-week, wrought with heavy-handedness over its topic of teen violence. But it never did. In fact, even though Kyle’s mind regularly revisits the shooting, Freeze Frame felt to be just as much about family, fitting in, books, movies, moving forward, choices, and a thousand other things. Eventually Kyle also starts talking to a school outcast who likes to take photos of everyday sights, believing each one has a story. Finally, how did Ayarbe write about such a disturbing topic and yet manage to so intensely pull the reader into Kyle’s world? Whenever anything interrupted me during my reading of Freeze Frame, I felt a jolt — as if Kyle’s reality had become mine own. Even when the truth of that tragic day is finally revealed, I had no compulsion to shut the book. Because Freeze Frame is about more than that single life-changing moment. It’s also about the life that follows.

At this point, let me take a step back. Freeze Frame is part of my round-up on misfit and troubled kids. Before that fateful day, Kyle had actually been a fairly ordinary teenage boy. Afterwards, he keeps spiraling into trouble. The judge almost finds Kyle in contempt of court. His assigned psychologist can’t get him to talk with her. Once, after being allowed to return to school, Kyle breaks curfew to run his own tasks after school. He also begins to fail all his subjects. At this point, his probation officer warns Kyle that there are no more chances. And yet, after that, Kyle gets into a fight with some other kids. Kyle seems bent on messing up his life. In his mind, once you’ve shot your friend (whether by accident or on purpose), there is little point to anything else. The natural question to ask is: Once a teen lands himself in trouble, how does he pull himself out? Ayarbe explores that question with perfect balance.

I do have two issues with Freeze Frame. The first involves an unwarranted change of heart by one of the significant adults in Kyle’s life. And the second is that Jeff’s death causes the few religious characters to abandon God, which may be a turn-off for some Christians.

Freeze Frame is a stellar novel about the mental anguish one can face during tragedy. Ayarbe never hurries her story, but at the same time she keeps the pace quick, making for an addicting read. As such, she is a novelist to be watched.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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