Freeze Frame: Intense Material, But Gripping And Wonderful In Its Own Way

Freeze Frame is written by Heidi Ayarbe. It was published in 2008 by HarperTeen. It is Ayarbe’s first novel. Ayarbe’s website can be found here.

Genre: Realistic, Tough Read, Young Adult


“No matter how many times Kyle rewrites the scene, he can’t get it right. He tries it in the style of Hitchcock, Tarantino, Eastwood, all of his favorite directors—but regardless of the style, he can’t remember what happened that day in the shed. The day Jason died. And until he can, there is one question that keeps haunting Kyle: Did he kill his best friend on purpose?”

~Inside Flap


Igor raised his left eyebrow. “Did you aim the gun at Jason?”

Did I? Did I point and aim and shoot and kill? I squeezed my eyes shut, only to see the red lens and a pool of blood.

“Can you tell us who taught you how to shoot a gun?” Gollum smiled. His lips stretched thin across yellowed teeth.

“I—I—I never—” I stuttered. “I don’t know.” I didn’t even know I had shot the gun.

~Ayarbe 35

“So, Mr. Caroll, I think our trial period went well. I’ll expect you here very day after school as well as at lunch. On time.”

Our trial period? Every day? On time? What about Chase?

“Uh, Mr. Cordoba. I can’t.”

“You can’t what, Mr. Caroll?”

“I, um, I can’t be on time.”

Mr. Cordoba arched his eyebrows and cracked his knuckles. “Because?”

Because I stand behind a Dumpster to watch out for my dead best friend’s brother. Too weird. I didn’t want to sound like a stalker. “I just need a half hour.”

~Ayarbe 183

Cover Art

Warnings: Death, attempted suicide, swearing

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 5/5

What I Liked:

This book just messes with your emotions. If you don’t cry at least once while reading it, then…well, you’re a lot tougher than I am. This book will tear your insides out and then jam them back into your body. Several times over. Sorry for that gross imagery.

I love Kyle’s developing relationship with Mr. Cordoba and how Mr. Cordoba helps him out, I like Kyle’s friendship with Kohana, I like the tension and the emotions that run high all throughout the book until the very end. Ayarbe did a fantastic job with this book. Wanted was written better, but this one tugs at your heartstrings more. Also, I loved, loved, loved the ending.

Oh! And Kyle being the Orange Dragon/bodyguard to Chase and Mike was great, too. This book was just great. It’s a very heavy, dark subject that it’s dealing with, but it’s handled really well. Things do get worse before they get better, but it ends on a hopeful/happy note.

What I Didn’t Like:

This is more of a warning than an actual dislike, but there is intense material dealt with in this book.

Overall Review:

Freeze Frame is still my favorite Ayarbe novel, despite the fact that the topic is extremely heavy. Ayarbe expresses Kyle’s emotions and thoughts really well through the text, and she also handles the material very realistically in regards to process, conflict, and all the rest. Don’t read it if you don’t like heavy content or don’t like crying while reading books.

Coming Up Next: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Wanted: Ayarbe’s Best Novel By Far

Wanted is written by Heidi Ayarbe. It was published in 2012 by Balzer + Bray. Ayarbe’s website can be found here.

Genre: Tough Read, Realistic, Young Adult


“A one-word text message: That’s all Michael “Mike” Garcia needs to gather a crowd. Mike is a seventeen-year-old bookie, and Sanctuary is where she takes bets for anyone at Carson City High with enough cash. Her only rule: Never participate, never place a bet for herself.

Then Josh Ellison moves to town. He pushes Mike to live her life, to feel a rush of something—play the game, he urges, stop being a spectator.

So Mike breaks her one rule. She places a bet, feels the rush.

And loses.

In an act of desperation, she and Josh—who has a sordid past of his own—concoct a plan: The pair will steal from Carson City’s elite to pay back Mike’s debt. Then they’ll give the rest of their haul to those who need it most. How can burglary be wrong if they are making things right?”

~Inside Flap


I believe him. Like by being with Josh I’m covered in lucky fairy dust. He splits a chocolate graham cracker in two, handing me the bigger half. “Living in the land of the exiles isn’t so bad after all, right?”

“Depends on who you’re talking about. I don’t think Napoleon was too into Elba or the Jews were particularly fond of Babylonia.”

“Nah. But our little Babylonia isn’t so bad.” He raises his eyebrows. “Right?” he says through a mouthful of graham-cracker crumbs.

I nibble on the chocolate cracker. “No. Not too bad.”

“That’s it,” Josh says. “Babylonia.”

“What about it?”

“That’s us,” he says. “Babylonia.”

“Babylonia,” I say. He’s right.

~Ayarbe 113

Back at home, Lillian and I eat our pot pies and salad. The games are over. I organize the bets, payoffs—a spreadsheet of wins and losses. Nim lost. Again.

I’ve done an extra-credit assignment for calculus and one for physics, and I was considering writing an essay on the Donner party for AP History. Somebody should rescue me from me.

Night falls. Messages have been sent—losers and winners notified.

Josh hasn’t called.

I listen to the wind outside my window and stare out the black square of night. It feels like normal again. Like how things were just a couple of weeks ago.

A life of predictability. That’s what I want, what I like. That’s what makes sense to me, how I’ve survived.

Others’ lives unfold. Great sideline view.

~Ayarbe 164

Cover Art

Warnings: Swearing, gambling, death, violence

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 5/5

What I Liked:

Personally, I think this is Ayarbe’s best novel. I enjoyed Freeze Frame more, but this is superior in character depth and development, writing, and everything else. This was a really, really good book. I didn’t even enjoy it that much, but it was still really good.

Ayarbe tackles some great issues in this book: identity and right vs. wrong are the two main ones that I noticed. She also portrays the addiction of gambling really well. Really, there are just fantastic things going on with this book. There’s the whole Robin Hood principle going on: stealing from the rich to give to the poor or to those who need it, but Michal constantly wonders if they’re doing the right thing when more and more people seem to be getting hurt by it. Ayarbe also brings up illegal immigration, which is a more controversial topic, but is handled decently well.

Almost every chapter ends with a six-word memoir, an on-going assignment for Michal’s Creative Writing class. If I ever become a Creative Writing teacher, I want to use this. It’s a great idea. It teaches someone to be concise, but also to have some sort of depth and meaningful content.

The ending was killer. In more ways than one. I don’t know whether I liked it or not. It was definitely impactful, and maybe even necessary and/or inevitable. It was…shocking. But also not shocking.

I applaud you, Heidi Ayarbe!

What I Didn’t Like:

Ayarbe tackled some great issues, like I said, but I’m not sure if I like the way she handled/resolved them. Actually, I’m not sure if she even resolved anything. She just left it up in the air.

Um, was there some sort of romantic vibe going on with Michal and Mocho, or was that just my imagination? The whole “I’ll marry you, Moch” and “Te quiero, hermana” made me wonder. Maybe I’m just imaging things and/or really bad at Spanish. Also, it’s not that I didn’t like this; I’m just wondering.

Overall Review:

Wanted is, in my opinion, Ayarbe’s best novel. While I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I thought there was great character development and important issues being addressed, and the ending was definitely something that you will remember because not a lot of authors end their books this way. Also: double meaning title for the win!

Coming Up Next: LIE by Caroline Bock

Compromised: Don’t Ever Be A Runaway

Compromised is written by Heidi Ayarbe. It was published in 2010 by HarperTeen. Ayarbe’s website can be found here.

Genre: Realistic, Tough Read, Young Adult


“Maya’s life has always been chaotic. Living with a con-man dad, she’s spent half her life on the run. Whenever her father’s schemes go wrong, Maya finds a scientific way to fix it. But when her dad ends up in prison and foster care fails, Maya grasps at her last possible hope of a home: a long-lost aunt, who may not even exist.

So Maya formulates a plan, and with her wits, two unlikely allies, and twenty dollars in her pocket, she sets off in search of this aunt, navigating the unpredictable four hundred miles from Reno to Boise. Life on the streets, though, becomes a struggle for survival—those scientific laws Maya has relied on her whole life just don’t apply. And with each passing day, Maya’s definitions of right and wrong are turned upside down when she’s confronted with the realities and dangers of life as a runaway. She can’t help but wonder if trying to find her aunt—and some semblance of stability—is worth the harrowing journey or if she should compromise and find a way to survive on her own.”
~Inside Flap


I hate when that happens, when the observer becomes the prey. I wonder how I’ll deflect the attack when I blurt out, “This is definitely an issue of territorialism.”

The three of them stare.

“You know,” I say. “When an animal stakes its claim to an area. It has to suss out its possibilities to win the battle, depending on the size of the other animal, maturity, which one already possesses the territory, and value of the territory in relation to other available locations.” They continue to stare, so I continue to talk, never taking my eyes from Nicole. It’s like we’re in some kind of staring contest.

I won’t lose.

~Ayarbe 29-30

“This is kinda fun.” Nicole adds another stick to the fire. The man dropped us off at a campground on the outskirts of Boise. We were pretty lucky that he took us all the way from McCall to Boise. That’s like a hundred miles. In Nevada, that took Nic and me about three days to cover. We never got real long rides.

The only thing that sucked was crouching down in the back of a metal truck bed for two hours, trying to keep from freezing in the wind. We huddled to cover Klon and tried to protect his chest. I can’t believe I didn’t steal those cough drops.

~Ayarbe 280

Cover Art

Warnings: Swearing, violence, description of abuse

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 3/5

What I Liked:

I’ve noticed that each viewpoint character in Ayarbe’s books so far have some sort of obsession or in-depth knowledge about something. In Freeze Frame, it was movies; Compulsion, numbers; and in Compromised, it’s science.

The ending was super sweet. Loved it.

I suppose Ayarbe was trying to show what it’s like in foster care and what it’s like to be a runaway, and she definitely succeeded. It’s just downhill from the moment Maya decides to run away.

There’s nothing near this level of cute in this book

What I Didn’t Like:

What the heck does Ayarbe have against Christians? Every (named or in some way significant) Christian in this book was some sort of abusive maniac. I’m not saying that Christians are all angels of goodness and light (unfortunately), but still. Put some balance and subtlety in there so it’s not so obvious that you’re trying to rag on Christians.

This book was overall meh. It wasn’t as gut-punching or sad as the other two books I’ve read by Ayarbe. It wasn’t really that thrilling or exciting, either. It wasn’t memorable, and it wasn’t bad enough to get me ranting about how bad it was. It was plain vanilla; that’s it.

Overall Review:

Compromised will probably evoke some sort of feeling in you about foster kids and runaways, but overall, it was uneventful and forgettable.  It was so forgettable that I’m having trouble finding words to write this. You know what? Forget it.

Coming Up Next: A special one-year anniversary post on Friday! Then,  Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

Compulsion: Take A Leap Into An Obsessive Compulsive Mind. There’s Spiders.

Compulsion (also known as Compuls1on) is written by Heidi Ayarbe. It was published in 2011 by Balzer + Bray. Ayarbe’s website can be found here.

Genre: Tough Read, Realistic


“Saturday will be the third state soccer championship in a row for Jake Martin. Three. A good number. Prime. With Jake on the field, Carson City High can’t lose because Jake has the magic: a self-created protection generated by his obsession with prime numbers. It’s the magic that has every top soccer university recruiting Jake, the magic that keeps his family safe, and the magic that suppresses his anxiety attacks. But the magic is Jake’s prison, because sustaining it means his compulsions take over nearly every aspect of his life.

Jake’s convinced the magic will be permanent after Saturday, the perfect day, when every prime has converged. Once the game is over, he won’t have to rely on his sister to concoct excuses for his odd rituals. His dad will stop treating him like he is some freak. Maybe he’ll even make a friend other than Luc.

But what if the magic doesn’t stay?

What if the numbers never leave?


Just focus.

I know, though if I can work out the numbers, the numbing pain will go away and I’ll be able to hear what Dad has to say. The world will become clear again. So I turn, slightly, and glance at the time.


Seven forty-three. Seven plus four is eleven minus three is eight plus seven is fifteen minus three is twelve divided by three is four.


Seven forty-four. Seven minus four is three plus four is seven. OK.

~Ayarbe 17

“I stare at the numbers on the clock, working them out, making the patterns.

A heavy silence until Jenny Roark talks into the microphone. “Apparently, M&M, the greatest athlete to come out of Carson High, is concentrating? On—” She taps my shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“Winding. My. Watch.” I try to keep my voice steady. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

“Winding his watch,” she says.

Mera squeezes my arm. “Are you okay, Jake?”

Are you okay?

No. I don’t think so.

Wrong answer.”

~Ayarbe 112-113

Cover Art

Warnings: Swearing

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 3/5

What I Liked:

I read Ayarbe’s Freeze Frame about two summers ago and loved it, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading some of her other books until now. I reviewed Jennifer Brown’s Perfect Escape which was about a girl who had a brother with OCD; Compulsion takes place from the point of view of someone with OCD, and boy, is it a rollercoaster. Don’t read this book if you don’t like to cry when you read; in fact, don’t read Ayarbe because I’m 2 for 2 with her books.

Very intense, very angsty. You can really feel Jake’s confusion and his determination to be normal. The ending was perfect—almost. I wanted more openness with his dad. But I loved the “I don’t think so” as the last line

Not much more I can say—it’s definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Freeze Frame was more angsty, but this one has its moments. Ayarbe, I will definitely read more books by you.

Handy thing I found about the editorial process for Compulsion.

What I Didn’t Like:

Good gravy, there was a lot of swearing. There was one or more swear words on every single page, it felt like. A lot more than what is usually in the books I read.

The last scene with his dad was a little confusing. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on there. Was it just a moment of comfort between them or what?

Overall Review:

Compulsion dives deep into the head of someone suffering from OCD and tells a story that is stark, gripping, and compelling. Be prepared to cry. A little too much swearing for my tastes, but overall, wonderful.

Coming Up Next: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher