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Freewill by Chris Lynch
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Freewill

by Chris Lynch

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2.5

Freewill is a Printz honor and one of those books that you appreciate what the book is trying to do more than enjoy the execution.

Told in the second person, in a sparse and almost repetitive cadence, the story is about Will, who is disconnected from life and whose only outlet seems to be strange woodwork projects that he doesn't even particularly enjoy. When the wood totems show up in a series of suicides, unwanted attention is drawn to him and he must decide if he should speak up or let himself become part of the nothing he feels he has to live for.

I think Lynch made a lot of smart choices in framing. While many people would find the "you" off-putting, it helps reinforce the reader's own questions. However, Will is still so much a nonentity and passive character that he is neither a proper cypher for the reader to insert their own desires into nor interesting enough to carry the story's odd and morbid tone the way the narrators of Silver Linings Playbook or Perks of Being a Wallflower manage.

The other characters don't work as complex or lively characters either, partially from the remoteness of Will's relationship with them. This leaves most of their discussions feeling like talking points of the plot, anti-suicide PSAs rather than their own motivations.

This novel is not without compelling moments. While the choice to make the prose simple and sparse, Lynch has passages that are vivid. One example that made me take notice was when Will was taking a shower after forgetting clean himself for three days and remarks on the wonderful feeling of scrubbing skin, reminding himself to remember it because it's a nice small pleasure that is easily forgotten.

Unfortunately, the sparseness and the vagueness work against the story more than help it. The mystery of the totems and the suicides are left unresolved or even commented it on, as the story winds off into a palatable non-ending where Will finally makes a choice not to be so passive. I do like an open-endedness to my stories, but there's not enough to structure to make the suggestion of possibilities. On the bright side, the story is a brisk novella more than anything else and there are some passages that create a thoughtful starting point for the weighty topic.

And perhaps that is all that Freewill wanted to do, was to present the reader with a choice to do so... ( )
  gaisce | Sep 24, 2013 |
While Lynch's choice to use second person does give this book a strong feel of immediacy that will probably connect with young adults, I simply did not get this book. I wanted to know more and was mostly frustrated by this one. It oblique and opaque and I never really felt like I understood if Will was crazy or not very bright. I particularly wanted to know what was going on with the teenagers who committed suicide and I know that the whole theme of "you can never really know" played into not finding that out as well as the limits of the narrator but still....frustrating. Definitely interesting stylistically though. ( )
  JenJ. | Mar 31, 2013 |
This book would be great for an honors high school course, but also good for juniors and seniors who are mature enough to discuss issues like suicide and mental health. At times it is abstract in the way it is written (main character's stream of consciousness), but overall a quick read. ( )
  lhicks5 | Jul 19, 2009 |
Anthony Gonzales
EDCI 4120

Lynch, C. (2001). Freewill. New York: Harper Collins.

Grade Levels: 9-12
Category: Realistic Fict50-57 ion
Read-Alouds: pp. 1-10 (introduction), 30-38 (First suicide), 50-57 (The sculptures disappearing), 87-97 (Will explains why he is taking the sculptures), 134-148 (Conclusion).

Summary: Will had just lost both his father and step mother’s death and was living with his grandparents. Because of his mental state, he was placed in a woodworking program at a vocational high school. Will was a very talented wood worker, made beautiful furniture and pieces his teacher asked him to make, but Will felt that he did not belong in wood shop. He felt that he needed to be a pilot. When suicides began to appear in his school, Will started making sculptures instead of the projects that were given to him. Somehow he felt that he was connected to the suicides and he kept sculpting different sculptures to help lay them to rest. He kept hearing voices in his head and he was going insane. Finally, he went to the ocean and began swimming. It is there that the realized the value and importance of life.

Themes: This novel was very difficult and confusing to read. The novel is written in second person, so it was as if reading through Will’s thoughts. I struggled very much with this novel and had to go back and re-read quite a bit. The biggest theme present in this novel is that of suicide and the importance of life and death. It complains that suicide is the easy way out, and questions how someone could get so low, so fed up with life to end it themselves. I believe that a teacher could use this novel in a classroom to expose the truth of suicide and the seriousness that it has and the effect that it has on its victim and those around the victim.

Discussion Questions:
What is the significance of Will’s problems and him wanting to be a pilot and fly?
Why did Will feel responsible for the deaths around him?
What helped Will change his mind about life?


Reader Response: This novel was very difficult for me to read. I think that the idea and creativity of the novel is great, but the writing in second person really made the novel a challenge. I feel that if a teacher used this novel for students, they man be discouraged by the difficulty of the novel and turn it away. This novel really struck my interest though because of the issue of suicide. I have read a good number of my personal books about suicide. I am fascinated with the idea of suicide, not because it is something that I am into doing or have ideas about, but I always wonder how life could be so bad. I have mentioned my struggles in youth with life, but mine were elementary compared to those that actually have the pain to actually commit suicide. I want to make a difference in somebody’s life and save those who may be the next to commit suicide. My freshmen year of college, I was involved with a situation where a young woman was slightly intoxicated and she was threatening to commit suicide. She had already begun cutting herself with a knife and said she was going to end it herself. I was with a couple of people and we had called for help and she was taken in for care. When she was out of her treatment, she came to each one of us and thanked us for not letting her kill herself. That is one of the greatest feelings in the world knowing that I have saved someone’s life. ( )
  agonzal3 | Aug 3, 2008 |
Will, age 17, is in a therapeutic woodworking class. Will is lonely and confused after the death of his father and step-mother. The dark story is told in the second person - Will is speaking to himself. He express himself through woodworking. He places his sculptures at the sites of teen suicides. Then, people begin going to his sculptures to kill themselves.

Other books to try: Rough Waters, Tears of a Tiger

Other books by this author: Slot Machine ( )
  libraryleonard | Feb 27, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0064472027, Paperback)

Chris Lynch has long been one of the most stylistically daring of teen novelists, and in Freewill, his innovative use of language redefines the possibilities of the genre. Strikingly, the story is told in second person. The voice is in the mind of Will, a boy who is moving in stunned bewilderment through a life leeched of meaning by the death of his father and stepmother in what may have been a suicide and murder. This speaker (who is not Will) constantly admonishes, challenges, and questions reality in clipped, enigmatic sentence fragments, and Will only occasionally answers back. The events of the story are dimly seen through this distorting haze of interior dialogue (as the events of Lynch's Gold Dust were seen through the protagonist's obsession with baseball).

Will, in a therapeutic woodworking class at "Hopeless High," has moved beyond furniture and garden gnomes to strange pole sculptures. There he is disconnected from reality and other people, except for occasional brief encounters with a tall black runner named Angela, who remains sarcastic and deliberately distant. When a girl from the school drowns in what is perhaps a suicide, a floral tribute accumulates around the death spot, with one of Will's sculptures as the centerpiece. A second possible suicide, and then two more are all marked with the strange poles, and a cult begins to grow around Will as the "carrier pigeon of death." A reporter forces him to see the connection between the sculptures and his father's ambivalent end, and Will begins to sink into total oblivion, saved, finally, when Angela and his grandparents reach out in "freewill," in this very dark, very odd, but riveting novel. (Ages 14 and older) --Patty Campbell

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:03 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A teenager trying to recover from the tragic death of his father and stepmother believes himself to be responsible for the rash of teen suicides occurring in his town.

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