Zelah Green: Who Says I'm a Freak? by Vanessa Curtis

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Zelah Green: Who Says I'm a Freak? by Vanessa Curtis

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Super and accessible story about self harm and coming to terms with grief. It's kindly and down to earth and the central character's voice is wonderfully authentic. Great stuff.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Egmont
ISBN: 1405240539

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(Formerly published as Zelah Green, Queen of Clean)

Zelah's mum died. Her dad married again and her stepmother is awful. Life isn't good and it's complicated further by Dirt Alerts. And as if Dirt Alerts weren't bad enough by themselves, they also have an alarming knack of escalating to fully-fledged Germ Alerts. Zelah copes by washing her hands thirty-one times and by jumping on the top step one hundred and twenty-eight times. Several times. Every day. She also spends a great deal of time checking power switches, changing her shoes, and taking plastic gloves on and off.

Then her father disappears and her stepmother packs her off to therapy at Forest Hill, where Alice doesn't eat, Sol doesn't speak, and Caro plays Marilyn Manson while she cuts her arms.

It's all sounding rather depressing, isn't it? But it really, really isn't. Vanessa Curtis brings an incredibly light touch to this book about OCD and it allows readers to explore some tremendously serious issues without breaking their hearts to do it. You feel desperately sorry for Zelah and her fellows at Forest Hill, but Zelah's bright, almost spunky, first person narration gives you real sense of the potential she has if only she could learn to control her OCD. And as she begins to understand and empathise with the struggles of her peers, so she begins to understand how to cope with her own problems.

So while there aren't exactly many laughs, there are plenty of light moments to balance the tragic ones. At one point in her therapy, Zelah asked to touch the inside of a toilet bowl with her bare hand. As she runs an internal commentary on her stress levels - Zelah Green wins the gold medal for toilet touching! - you just can't help but laugh. At the same time, you feel an overwhelming sense of solidarity with her suffering. Zelah herself is fascinating both as a person and an OCD sufferer. She's sparky, original, bright, and - most of the time - she's honest with herself. As a character bringing awareness about a horrible illness to thousands of readers, she's an absolute triumph.

It's difficult to think of some fault or pick to balance my gushing here, to be honest. Zelah's stepmother is a bit of a cardboard cutout really, and her eventual seeing-off is a tad unlikely, but she's such an unimportant part of the book it's barely worth mentioning. Otherwise, Zelah Green: Who Says I'm a Freak? comes highly recommended by Bookbag.

My thanks to the nice people at Egmont for sending the book.

If they enjoyed reading about Zelah, they might also like Just Listen by Sarah Dessen.

Booklists.jpg Zelah Green: Who Says I'm a Freak? by Vanessa Curtis is in the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2009.
Buy Zelah Green: Who Says I'm a Freak? by Vanessa Curtis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Zelah Green: Who Says I'm a Freak? by Vanessa Curtis at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Zelah Green: Who Says I'm a Freak? by Vanessa Curtis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Zelah Green: Who Says I'm a Freak? by Vanessa Curtis at Amazon.com.


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The Author said:

Dear Jill Murphy

Thank you very much for your fabulous review of my novel. It means a lot - as a reviewer I've probably reviewed your wonderful books for children in the past, so I was thrilled to see you reviewing mine.

Kind regards

Vanessa


Jill replied:

Hi Vanessa

I'm glad you liked my review of Zelah. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, so we are equal!

I am, though, obscure Jill Murphy of Devon, not Jill Murphy of Worst Witch fame, although I confess to misleading my children once or twice when they were small!

I hope Zelah does well for you. It deserves to.