Freaky Green Eyes
is a 2003 young adult novel by acclaimed writer Joyce Carol Oates. It tells the story of Franky, a fifteen-year-old girl who is trying to understand the disappearance of her mother in relation to her famous father’s controlling behavior. She is helped along the way by an internal voice, her alter ego Freaky, who encourages her to trust her instincts.
Oates has said that she took inspiration from the O.J Simpson case for the book, wanting to explore the relationship between celebrities and the tabloid press, particularly surrounding the subject of domestic violence. The character of Franky’s father, Reid Pierson, is a sports newscaster and former footballer, making the parallels with O.J Simpson fairly prominent.
The story is told from the first-person perspective of Francesca “Franky” Pierson as she attempts to make sense of her mother’s disappearance. Franky is a fifteen-year-old girl who lives with her parents Reid and Krista, younger sister Samantha, and half-brother Todd—Reid’s son from a former marriage. Because of her father’s success as a sports personality, they live a comfortable, affluent life in suburban Seattle.
A year before the novel’s main plot, Franky and her family are staying with one of her father’s friends in another city. She goes to a party of college kids and feels uncomfortably out of place as the youngest person there. A college freshman called Cameron starts talking to her and she feels flattered by the attention, dancing with him, and allowing him to give her beer.
He takes her to a private room and kisses her, becoming increasingly forceful as she starts to struggle. When he tries to take her shorts off, her instincts kick in and she uses the strong legs she has developed as a swimmer and runner to kick him and get free. Angry and in pain, Cameron shouts at her about her “Freaky green eyes.” As she runs back to her family, ecstatic at her ability to fight back, she thanks Freaky Green Eyes for saving her.
The next chapter picks up a year later at Franky’s home in suburban Seattle. Her father has just received a big promotion in his job as a sports newscaster. The family is celebrating together at a work event in his honor, except for Krista who has gone to a craft fair and is missing the party.
When she returns, Franky notices that her parents seem tense and overhears them arguing. Krista says she hates going to parties with Reid’s friends and coworkers because she feels left out and condescended to, with everyone there only having eyes for the famous footballer. Reid believes she is not fulfilling her role as his wife.
Over the following weeks, Franky notices her mother start to act strangely and pull away from the family. Krista starts covering her arms and neck, but Franky, feeling resentful of her mother’s increasing distance, does not ask about it. Franky blames Krista for the marriage’s problems and thinks she should try harder to be a good wife and mother.
Krista starts spending time at a small cabin in Skagit Harbor, slowly taking her art supplies, possessions, and dog there with her. Eventually, she no longer lives in the house with the family, except for when Reid is away on business. Both parents blame the other for this and Samantha becomes increasingly upset about the situation, culminating in Reid twisting her arm to silence her.
On the weekend of the Fourth of July, Reid and the girls go to stay with one of his rich friends. Franky discovers that the friend’s sons are mistreating animals, stealing them from a refuge and putting them in cages for their own entertainment. Under the guidance of Freaky, who tells her to do what’s right, Franky frees the animals. When this is discovered, Reid is livid and violently shakes Franky, only stopping when his friend pulls him away.
Later on, Samantha and Franky visit Krista at the cabin, where they get a tour and meet their mother’s friends. Franky is taken aback by the simple, rural community, and the relative poverty her mother is choosing to live in. Reid then descends on the cabin and takes the girls home, visibly furious. He says that their mother is having an affair and decides to cut ties off with Krista entirely, forbidding the housekeeper and the children from taking her calls. Franky is angry with her mother, finding her self-imposed isolation selfish and cowardly. When Franky finds out that Krista has been calling her best friend Twyla to check on her, she is angry and calls her mother to say she wants nothing to do with her.
This is the last time they speak, as Krista goes missing soon after, along with her gay friend Mero. A media circus ensues as Reid is interrogated as a suspect, with the press demonizing Krista as a cheater and a bad wife. Franky is unable to fully remember what happened the night of the disappearance but defends him to the police nonetheless. The family goes to stay with Reid’s defense lawyer, who trains Franky and Samantha to defend their father’s innocence.
After having a dream about the cabin, Franky goes to Skagit Harbor by herself. In a small secret burrow that her mother had previously shown her, she finds Krista’s journal. It details Reid’s abusive behavior throughout the past months and says that he had threatened to kill her.
With Freaky’s help, Franky accepts the truth about her father and remembers hearing him mysteriously return to the house in the middle of the night on the night of the disappearance. She goes to the police and turns him in. He is sentenced to jail, and Franky and Samantha go live with their aunt in New Mexico.
As well as a commentary on how people in the public eye are given a pass for their actions, Freaky Green Eyes
is a coming-of-age story about a young girl as she begins to understand the complexities of the adult world. The titular Freaky represents this journey towards adulthood, as well as Franky’s developing sense of self. Because of its honest and mature treatment of these complex themes, Freaky Green Eyes was well received upon release and has often been studied in classrooms.