In “Freeing Finch,” author Ginny Rorby does what she excels at — the creation of a main character who is in need of love, understanding, and a place where she feels safe. Part of Finch’s problem is that she was born Morgan, the son of two loving parents. But since she was old enough to articulate the thought, Finch has insisted that she’s a girl. Her mother didn’t mind how she dressed or wore her hair, although it was a source of tension with her father.
But her father left Finch and her mother when her mom received her second diagnosis of breast cancer. After her dad left, Finch’s mom married Stan. He was a nice guy, but when her mom died a few days before her tenth birthday, Stan remarried within a year. Now Finch lives with her stepparents, and she feels it’s a burden on them. Her stepfather doesn’t believe that Finch is a girl, and her stepmother Cindee believes that Jesus would not have made a mistake, and Finch just needs God in her life.
Luckily, Finch has a friend in Maddy, their next-door neighbor who rescues wildlife and was a good friend to Finch’s mother. Maddy is someone Finch trusts and can talk to. When Maddy falls from her roof and is in the hospital and rehab for weeks, Finch takes care of the animals, including a dog who has been showing up for food but is scared of people and unapproachable.
Finch is determined to find her father, and she dreams about their reunion. She refuses to believe that he just left and thinks up excuse after excuse for why he hasn’t returned. Sometimes, we just want to reach into the book and shake some sense into Finch’s mind — her father is a creep and he isn’t coming back. Everyone warns her, but she won’t believe it until she experiences it.
The pace of the story is quick, and it’s engrossing, so we keep turning page after page to find out what happens to Finch, to the stray dog (what is his story?), to Maddy, and to Stan and Cindee.
One of the most powerful parts of the novel is when Amanda, the mean girl at school, tells the new boy, Gabe, that Finch was born a boy. He turns to Finch to ask if that’s true, and when Finch nods, he turns to the mean girl and asks her why she cares. That’s a huge thing for readers to think about. Why does anyone care what children or people believe about themselves? Finch’s gender does not affect Amanda’s life, so why torment Finch? Rorby handles sensitive topics with a deft hand and there is much to discuss that’s going on in this book including animal abuse, LGBTQ issues, and questions of family — blood or those who love you — those feelings that make a group of people family.
This book is a fabulous choice for school libraries and classrooms. It would work well as a read aloud. Rorby also wrote “How to Speak Dolphin” and other middle grade novels.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reading copy provided by Starscape, the publisher, for review purposes.