- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Washington Square Press; First Edition edition (August 28, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743411935
- ISBN-13: 978-0743411936
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 28 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,268,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Book of Fred: A Novel Hardcover – August 28, 2001
From Publishers Weekly
When 15-year-old Mary Fred Anderson's parents are charged with second-degree murder in the neglectful death of their son, Mary Fred is sent from the fundamentalist commune she's grown up in to the nearby Maryland suburbs and the foster care of a quirky 1990s family headed by librarian Alice Cullison, in this topical but uneven debut. A single mom, Alice lives with her brother, Roy, and her sullen 15-year-old daughter, Heather. Bardi has set up a high-concept collision involving several timely issues: cult religions and drugs (Roy spends his days working a scam that enables him to buy heroin, but Heather is too self-absorbed to notice and Alice too flummoxed). Despite the use of multiple narrators the novel is divided into the Book of Mary Fred, the Book of Alice, the Book of Roy and the Book of Heather characters are not fully developed because they are captive to the plot. (Bardi is good at interior dialogue, however, as when Heather muses, "I don't like anything about Sara. For one thing, she's very polite and self-confident and she talks to adults like she's their oldest friend.") The result is unsatisfactory ambiguity: Bardi wants us to take seriously the members of her cobbled-together family, but throws in a kitchen-sinkful of colorful secondary characters for comic effect; the Cullisons' neighbor Paula, for instance, is a postoperative transsexual heavily dependent on astrology. The contrast between the hardworking, literal-minded Mary Fred and the materialistic, self-absorbed Heather is potentially most interesting, but their relationship is not thoroughly fleshed out. Bardi's message may be that cult member or not, we each carry the burden of a belief system a sound enough idea, but one only sketchily developed. (Sept.)Forecast: Bardi pushes lots of hot buttons here, and browsers may bite when they scan the cover copy; the quirky title will help, too.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This story of two 15-year-olds from disparate backgrounds is told with humor, understanding, and love. Mary Fred was raised in a fundamentalist community; her parents are jailed for allowing two of their sons to die from untreated illness. Alice, a single parent who lives in what seems to be an idyllic suburban neighborhood with her daughter Heather and her brother Roy, is appointed Mary Fred's guardian. From living with little schooling and in isolation, the teen is plunged into Heather's world of TV, pizza, high school, and a family that is shockingly disorderly and undisciplined. Mary Fred proceeds to clean and organize the household and get the family members to eat their dinner at the table and actually talk to one another. Heather metamorphoses from a TV and snack-food addicted couch potato into a reasonably polite and helpful daughter. In turn, Mary Fred begins to read books other than the New Testament and the Book of Fred, the dictum of her former community, and becomes a fan of Judge Judy. Just when these characters have melded into a caring family, a horrible act of violence at school leaves the protagonist close to death. The climax to the story, Mary Fred's return home, is both riveting and satisfying.
Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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I have to admit I was skeptical of being able to tolerate Mary Fred's narrative the first 20 pages or so, but after she left the cult and began to experience a new life and the other characters were introduced, I was totally emersed. I read the whole thing in about 4 hours on a Sunday morning. It was great. And by the end I loved Mary Fred just as much as her foster family. Highly reccommend this read.
Because she has never been allowed to watch TV, read books or newspapers, visit restaurants or stores, or wear any color other than brown, Mary Fred is lost in her new world. At first, Alice, Heather, and Roy are too lost in themselves to take much notice. Slowly, however, the four lost individuals come together and form their own family. When tragedy strikes, they slowly begin to come to terms with themselves.
When Mary Fred's mother returns from prison and attempts to reclaim Mary Fred into the cult, Mary Fred has to make a life changing decision.
I won't include spoilers, but this is not one of those predictable books where you pretty much know the ending from the beginning. It kept me guessing. Set against the backdrop of the doomsday predictions of Y2K, this book is an excellent character study, told in turns through the eyes of Mary Fred, Alice, Heather, and Roy. I was drawn to Mary Fred and her innocence. Bardi has drawn well-rounded characters- human and lovable, yet flawed. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I highly recommend it.
Read this novel if...
...you enjoy modern fiction
...you enjoy stories about family
...you are intrigued by religious cults and their followers
The story is separated into five books, the first four narrated in first person by Mary Fred, Alice, Heather and then Roy. The last is from Mary Fred’s perspective again. Bardi has done a fantastic job giving each of the narrators an individual voice and a different and fascinating point of view on the situation. It also seems as though a lot of thought was given to what portions of the story should be told from which perspective, as Mary Fred’s awakening seems to mirror and enhance what the other family member is discovering about him or herself. The novel is beautifully written, with excellent pacing. For example, more information is revealed to the reader about Mary Fred’s “religion” as she herself reveals it to her new family. Ultimately, the novel becomes more about family than about religion, as each person discovers what the concept means to them and how one knows where one’s true home is.
This would be an excellent book for a book club as it invites discussion of these themes – religion, family, motherhood, purpose – and each person reading it is likely to draw something different from the story.