Summary: Life in Grey Bay, Newfoundland is harsh and unyielding, but Rachel is determined to save up her money, get a scholarship and go away to school to become a teacher. Rachel and her friends Rick, Johnny and Patty all have different reasons to feel the future is bleak, but Rachel’s friends try to hide their hopelessness in drugs and sex. When Johnny, the leader of their group, suggests a suicide pact and Rachel’s careful plans for her future unravel, Rachel desperately looks for hope and a way to save all of her friends from the pact.
Number of Pages: 82
Age Range: 16-18
Review: A complex novella dealing with hopelessness, mental illness and substance abuse, Desperate Freedom by Melinda Cochrane is not the easiest read. I loved how she was able to capture in her characters dialogue the lilt of Newfoundland speech though.
Rachel is caught by circumstance, but she sees a way out. Her hope and plans for the future separate her from her friends, and also serve to alienate them from her. Johnny, Rick, and Patty can sense that she is different from them, and for Johnny it is enough to want to destroy her spirit by bringing her down to his level.
With Rachel’s mother and her mental illness, wanting to keep Rachel in her place is a common theme. Something about her dreaming about a better life is threatening, because to some it feels like a judgement on their own lives. Although both characters who felt that way were influenced by mental illness and/or drugs. And even though there are reasons why Rachel should discount their opinions of her, she can’t entirely, because she feels responsible for everything that happens.
I respected Rachel as a character because achieving her dreams isn’t the most important thing to her. She’s determined to get what she wants, but it has to be done in a way that doesn’t take advantage of others. Even when those close to her don’t have her best interests in mind, she remains loyal to them.
The end of the story brings death, but also hope. There are people who believe in Rachel, and, on her own terms, she will persevere. It’s an intense, but worthwhile read of a teen who has the grit to forge a new life for herself. Definitely for older teen readers.
“‘We see’s it, we always did, like you’re famous already, you got this way of making life seem possible, we just see’s it as wanting oblivion, that’s why we smokes this shit.’
I wish they’d stop saying that to me. I held my stomach.
‘I just wants to leave is all, it’s not special, it’s wanting something more.'” – conversation between Rick and Rachel from Desperate Freedom by Melinda Cochrane, page 33
“It was about a mile walk to the makeshift cabin we made together. The trees filled in around us as we made our way through a narrow opening leading us to it. All we heard were birds, the movement of small animals, and a steady stream of water directing itself to the ocean. We were surrounded by forest in Grey Bay. I didn’t talk when we walked through the woods. I never did. For some reason it made me feel as if god was her with us. Johnny said god didn’t exist, but I thought something did, something bigger than here. I looked at the fir trees and they swayed with the sound of the ocean behind them. They were dancing together hand in hand.” – Rachel from Desperate Freedom by Melinda Cochrane, page 55
“I didn’t lift my head. The things making me want to leave were the things I couldn’t change. The only way out for me was through school and I knew it even at my age. I always knew it for some reason. Teachers seemed so much smarter than everyone else in Grey Bay and I wanted to be like them.” – Rachel from Desperate Freedom by Melinda Cochrane, page 57
Desperate Freedom by Melinda Cochrane is published by Brian Wrixon Books (2013).