Freymann-Weyr, (Rhoda) Garret (Michaela) 1965-
FREYMANN-WEYR, (Rhoda) Garret (Michaela) 1965-
Home—Baltimore, MD. Agent—Robin Rue, Writers House, 21 West 26th St., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected].
Writer. Worked in children's publishing.
Best Book of the Year designations from School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, and Booklist Editor's Choice designation, all 2002, Best Books for Young Adults selection, Young Adult Library Services Association, and Michael L. Printz Honor Book, American Library Association, both 2003, all for My Heartbeat.
(As Garret Weyr) Pretty Girls, Crown (New York, NY), 1988.
When I Was Older, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
My Heartbeat, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
The Kings Are Already Here, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
The author of the 2003 Michael L. Printz Honor Book My Heartbeat, Garret Freymann-Weyr writes about "how and why people make choices." As Freymann-Weyr once said, "The choices made early are usually made with more care and self-awareness than the ones made later on." The highly acclaimed author of three young adult novels—When I Was Older and The Kings Are Already Here, in addition to Heartbeat—Freymann-Weyr has also written an adult novel titled Pretty Girls. However, the world of young-adult fiction particularly interests her. "I write books where, so far, the main characters are fourteen to seventeen. There are some things about that age which are appealing to any writer. A fifteen-year-old girl is able and likely to sound like she's nine and then fifteen and then thirty and then eleven and finally nine again all in the space of an hour. I like the challenge of trying to capture that range."
Born Rhoda Garret Michaela Weyr in 1965, the author was brought up in New York City with three sisters. After attending the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and earning a master of fine arts in film at New York University, Freymann-Weyr published her first novel, Pretty Girls, in 1988. Taking the advice of most writing books to heart, she wrote about what she knew, setting her novel at the University of North Carolina and building the story around her three best friends during their sophomore semester. Dealing with themes of loyalty, friendship, and coming to terms with one's own worth, the novel is "post-feminist," according to People's Joanne Kaufman. Best friends Alexandria—known as Alex since she was assaulted— Caroline—whose thoughts range from her brother who was killed in Vietnam to the boyfriend from her freshman year—and Penelope—who is trying to get her busy and important father to notice her, even to the point of getting pregnant—are members of the Amazon Club. Nonstandard "pretty girls," the three learn, over the course of this one semester, about becoming young women. "One of the strengths of this novel is how well it captures the relentlessness of change in the lives of twenty year olds," wrote Linsey Abrams in a Los Angeles Times review of Pretty Girls. Freymann-Weyr's novel "charts a journey from innocence to experience," Abrams further commented.
A dozen years passed, during which time the author worked in children's publishing and married, before Freymann-Weyr published her next novel. While her first book deals with young women on the brink of adulthood, her second, When I Was Older, is consciously directed at a young-adult audience. Its themes, however, are no less sophisticated and demanding. A dead brother also figures prominently in this novel of "transition, love, and loss," as Angela J. Reynolds described the book in her review for School Library Journal. Fifteen-year-old Sophie Merdinger is a top student and a committed competitor in swimming, but her life is nonetheless still in a shambles, thrown upside-down with the death of her younger brother Erhart from leukemia three years earlier. That death not only affected Sophie, but also brought her parents' marriage to an end. Sophie can not yet forgive her father for having an affair during Erhart's final illness; she still has trouble relating to males on any level. All but Henry, that is, a brilliant chess player who is her classmate. Neither can she share her emotional state with her gorgeous older sister, Freddie. Dating is anathema to her, for she is afraid she will lose her own personality in such a relationship. Then her mother begins to go out with a history professor who has an interesting seventeen-year-old son. Francis lost his mother nine years before and can relate to Sophie's pain and confusion. He is more open than Sophie about his loss, bearing a teardrop tattoo under his left eye, and he helps her become more open as well. Sophie slowly learns to trust again as she builds a relationship with Francis, visiting the coffee shops and museum of Manhattan in the process.
Framed by a school essay written by Sophie, the plot of When I Was Older is "fairly standard," according to Booklist contributor Debbie Carton, although the philosophical issues covered by Freymann-Weyr provide the novel with "depth and meaning." For Horn Book reviewer Anita L. Burkam, the strong points of When I Was Older "lie in the concrete New York City setting and in Sophie's voice, a blunt, declarative sensibility that the author invests with ingenuous humor." Carton also had praise for Sophie's narrative voice, calling it a "delight," full of the black humor and biting wit of a teenager in transition. Reynolds felt that Freymann-Weyr tells "a fine story" in When I Was Older, while a reviewer for Publishers Weekly applauded the author's use of "humor and angst" in this tale of teen issues, and further noted that Sophie, "full of vinegar and sass, …carr[ies] the tale." Burkam concluded that Freymann-Weyr had written an "affecting" novel.
More life lessons are served up in Freymann-Weyr's 2002 award-winning novel, My Heartbeat. Susan Geye, writing in a School Library Journal review, called the author's third book a "tightly constructed novel about love, family, and the ambiguities of sexual identity." The author again sets her novel in contemporary Manhattan and tells of fourteen-year-old Ellen, who loves and idolizes her older brother, Link—a track star and math whiz—and his best buddy, James, both seniors. For James, with his long eyelashes and subtle smile, she has a particular affection, one she knows she will not outgrow, despite the older boy's teasing. Ellen hangs out with the older boys at every opportunity, even going to foreign films with them. A freshman, she enters their private Manhattan high school and begins to hear rumors of her brother's friendship. A popular classmate notes that Link and James actually seem like a couple. Ellen begins to wrestle with the question of whether they could actually be a couple, but is open-minded; if her brother and James are gay it is not a problem for her. A simple but curious question sets things off; Link denies that he and James are lovers, ends the friendship, begins dating a girl, and turns from math to music. This saddens and confuses Ellen, but also leaves the field open for her with James. After much discussion and much time spent together, she has her first sexual experience with James, which turns out to be James's first sexual experience with a female. Meanwhile, Ellen also attempts to understand her brother and make her overachieving parents accept both her and her relationship with James.
Highly acclaimed by reviewers, My Heartbeat earned starred reviews in several publications. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the novel a "sophisticated but gentle" story as well as a "thoughtful approach" to budding sexuality. Geye applauded Freymann-Weyr's "profound insights" on her characters' motivations and choices, while a critic for Kirkus Reviews dubbed the book "lovely and passionate," as well as "breathtaking in the purity of its emotion." Writing in Horn Book, Burkam felt that the author "sets up a riveting love triangle around Link's sexual ambiguity and Ellen's love for James and her brother," and Booklist's Hazel Rochman found the novel "beautiful," a "frank, upbeat story of teen bisexual love in all its uncertainty."
My Heartbeat became a 2003 Michael L. Printz Honor Book and was highly praised for helping to fill the void within YA literature for such topics as teen sexuality. Freymann-Weyr, however, did not "set out to write something that could fill a void—it was just a story," as she told Whitney Matheson of USA Today Online.. "I was really interested in family loyalty and what you know about someone that you love and difficult siblings. And I was interested in an older man" for Ellen.
With her success, Freymann-Weyr has not rested on her laurels. Her third young-adult novel and fourth book, The Kings Are Already Here, appeared in 2003. Once again a precocious young woman is at the center of Freymann-Weyr's tale. Fifteen-year-old Phebe Knight is training to become a ballerina and is fixated on the goal of joining a dance company by the time she is sixteen. Then, suddenly, she begins to lose her focus and hopes that a summer spent with her father in Switzerland will help her regain it. In Switzerland, she meets sixteen-year-old Nikolai Kotalev, a chess champion who has become friends with her father. Unlike Phebe, Nikolai does not lose his focus. He is trying to train with the legendary chess champion Stas Vlajnik and thereby become a legend himself. Phebe aids him in his search across Europe for Stas, traveling with Phebe's father and his girlfriend; meanwhile she and Nikolai begin to examine the obsessions that drive their lives. A reviewer for Horn Book had high praise for Freymann-Weyr's "clarity of thought" and "remarkably lucid exposition," noting that the author has developed a new lexicon to describe "the pangs of coming of age." In School Library Journal, Sharon Morrison called The Kings Are Already Here "beautifully written" and praised the author's portrayal of the "spiritual odyssey that both characters undertake," while in her Voice of Youth Advocates review, Diane Masla noted that Freymann-Weyr's protagonists, both "sophisticated beyond their years," build a "tentative friendship [that] reveals to each other the beauty both of other disciplines and of human relationships."
Often described as a writer whose primary focus in on family relationships and connections between friends and lovers, Freymann-Weyr rejects the idea of such theme-driven writing. "It would be really misguided to have a goal in writing," she once remarked. "Or to think about your audience while working. Or to want to reach them in any way. I write to satisfy my own standards. I sit down every day knowing that I am going to fail in some way. There's always a massive gap between what is in my head and what gets on the page. No one in their right mind would go through this for an audience. It's a private task which every now and then finds outside readers."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 9, 2002, Julia Bookman, review of My Heartbeat, p. F3.
Booklist, November 1, 2000, Debbie Carton, review of When I Was Older, p. 524; June 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of My Heartbeat, p. 1708.
Book Report, May-June, 2001, Deb I. Den Herder, review of When I Was Older, p. 58.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 2002, review of My Heartbeat.
Horn Book, January-February, 2001, Anita L. Burkam, review of When I Was Older, p. 90; May-June, 2002, Anita L. Burkam, review of My Heartbeat, p. 329; March-April, 2003, review of The Kings Are Already Here.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of My Heartbeat, p. 491.
Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1988, Linsey Abrams, review of Pretty Girls, p. 9.
New York, May 27, 2002, Susan Avery, "When We Were Young and Gay," p. 84.
New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1988, Constance Decker Kennedy, review of Pretty Girls, p. 32.
People, May 2, 1988, Joanne Kaufman, review of Pretty Girls, pp. 25-26.
Philadelphia Inquirer, May 13, 2002, review of My Heartbeat.
Publishers Weekly, December 18, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Pretty Girls, p. 54; November 6, 2000, review of When I Was Older, p. 91; March 18, 2002, review of My Heartbeat, p. 105.
Riverbank Review, fall, 2002, review of My Heartbeat.
School Library Journal, October, 2000, Angela J. Reynolds, review of When I Was Older, p. 160; April, 2002, Susan Geye, review of My Heartbeat, p. 148; April 2003, Sharon Morrison, review of The Kings Are Already Here, p. 158.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 2003, Diane Masla, review of The Kings Are Already Here, p. 48.
Freymann-Weyr Web site,http://www.mindspring.com/~rhodagarret/freymannweyr (February 13, 2003).
Houghton Mifflin Web Site,http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (February 13, 2002), "Garret Freymann-Weyr."
USA Today Online,http://www.usatoday.com/ (May 16, 2002), Whitney Matheson, "Weyr's 'Heartbeat' Thumps with Passion."*