Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Retro Reading - Freeze Tag

All the neighbourhood kids hate Lannie. But she has a gift that makes her dangerous and powerful - she can freeze people with a mere touch of her hand. So when she extracts a promise from a young and frightened West, he knows everyone he loves is at risk unless he agrees. As the kids grow up, they forget how dangerous Lannie really is...Until she comes to collect.

Freeze Tag is one of the Point Horror books I remember most vividly. I read a fair few Caroline B Cooneys, and I love her dreamy, almost surreal style, and I think this is the book where that style is at its most elegant and memorable. It helps that the storyline is compelling too. We all knew a Lannie, I think. That weird kid that nobody really wants to be friends with, but everyone kind of feels guilty about ignoring, because clearly her home life is shit.

And her home life is shit. Throughout the book, over and over, we are told that nobody loves Lannie. Nobody ever has. Her parents don't want her. The neighbourhood kids are flat out scared of her. She has nobody to hug her, play with her, include her, or care for her. But on the flip side, she can literally freeze people with a touch, and has definitely murdered at least two people and one dog this way. So is Lannie unloveable because she's a monster, or is she a monster because she's unloveable?

It's a question the heroine of Freeze Tag, Meghan, battles to answer. Meghan's boyfriend, West, is the object of Lannie's sociopathic affections, and she blackmails him into dating her by threatening Meghan, and West's younger siblings. Meghan is the antithesis of Lannie. She's loved by her parents, has a handsome, considerate boyfriend, close friends, and is doing well in life. As she struggles to win West back from Lannie, she grows to understand how much she's taken all that for granted, and her hatred for Lannie is tempered by empathy for her. It's a pretty nuanced portrayal, and makes Meghan a wonderful heroine. As Lannie sinks her claws into West and casts her shadow over Meghan's happy life, Meghan fights to stay compassionate and kind, to find a solution where nobody gets hurt.

Between Meghan's warmth and Lannie's coldness, we have West. He starts out doing his best to protect Meghan and his siblings by giving into Lannie. But as the book progresses, we see Lannie's icy cruelness rub off on him. Is he still acting, or is Lannie changing him for real? Does evil spread, and can someone be pulled back from the edge? By the end of the book, West is not the same thoughtful, generous person he was at the start, and his dispassionate cruelty seems to be infecting his younger brother and sister too as they fight to get rid of Lannie.

Ultimately, this story isn't about defeating Lannie. It's about Meghan deciding what kind of person she wants to be. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing," as they say. Meghan has a choice - she can passively allow her boyfriend to "end" Lannie. She doesn't have to be involved - she just has to do nothing. Or she can save Lannie, even though Lannie would never save her. What's the right call?

If I have one frustration with this book, it's that we never learn if Meghan makes the right choice. We see her act, but we don't get a resolution. At the end of the book, Meghan has decided that she can't be passive, she can't be hateful, and she can't let West's own growing malice infect her. But is her compassion and bravery going to change Lannie? We don't know. I don't have a problem with ambiguous endings under the right circumstances, but the facts remain that Lannie has killed and blackmailed her way through life. Will one kind act change that?

We don't know, and I guess maybe that isn't the point, because this isn't Lannie's story and her redemption isn't the point. The point is that Meghan rises above the hatred and poison of the people around her, that she fights to be a good person and succeeds. That's pretty cool.*

*Puns always intended.

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