Freak Fair, or The Book of Extraordinary Children

By Betina González


Lola Rubio

Responsable de Obras para Niños y Jóvenes

About the book:

Betina González, winner of the 2006 Clarin Award and the 2012 Tusquets Prize, walks us through a parade of remarkable boys and girls who bear unique gifts but also terrible sufferings. The characters in this book have been crafted almost alchemically and laid out as the results of peculiar and mostly imperfect families. Poet Girl, Melancholic Boy, Raging Girl, and Mud Boy are just some of the names that weave in and out of family scenes, awarding a sinister element to everyday life. With riveting craftsmanship, González has shaped eight fantastical and unpredictable stories that resist all categorization, while addressing philosophical concepts such as that of the animate and the inanimate, being and nothingness, essence and heritage.


Fire and the Girl

Raging Girl plays with Fire. She sits by the heater and talks to him. Sometimes, Fire answers. Like the day he climbed onto her nightgown, first with a little blue hand, then with a hurried orange arm that swallowed her hem whole in a matter of seconds. Raging Girl got a little scared, but she kept playing with Fire because he doesn’t have many friends. It’s not fair for him, being trapped inside heaters, furnaces and chimneys. Or being forced to work in burners, doomed to making insignificant things, like coffee or noodles. Fire is destined for greater things, reckons Raging Girl. And that’s why she’s resolved to set him free.

She carries around twigs, matches and pieces of paper in her coat pockets. She makes bonfires in the yard, in teapots, in flowerpots, by the railroads. Some fail because of high humidity; others get smothered by her own cough or stomped off by the neighbors. (People don’t care much for fire).

The other thing Raging Girl loves the most is to scream. She screams if she likes something and screams if she doesn’t. Chocolate, butterflies, cockroaches, and rice soup make her scream.

“Stop screaming,” says a woman.

“Stop moving,” says a man who happens to be her dad, and takes her hand. Yet Raging Girl keeps jumping, kicking and screaming because she’s seen a beautiful boy walking down the river pathway, and because neither the man who is her father nor the woman who isn’t anybody understand that to scream is to start a fire where only words existed.

Words that are useless, Raging Girl thinks, and breaks loose from the man’s grip, snatches the cigarette from his other hand, and runs after the boy until she manages to put it out on his cheek.

“Done!” Ragins Girl screams with satisfaction, because now the boy is not only beautiful but also belongs to Fire.

Everywhere Raging Girl sees things that need to be set free, discovered, conquered, scorched. Things that belong to Fire. She hears the pleas of witches, martyrs, and books (the world is always in need of women who know too much, people who uphold beliefs to the death, and stories that kindle one’s spirits). There are things that hide other things, the girl reckons. They aren’t really destroyed by the flames: they are claimed by them. One by one, these things pay the price of having a burning heart. Fire goes with Fire, the girl sings and wanders around the world, frenetically, furiously and festively, and a bunch of other things that start with an F.

And in the world, she finds:

A shoe who’s lost his pair and is dying of sadness.

A house no one has lived in for a while.

A factory of idiotic dolls.

A military government.

A love letter.

I wish I could burn it all, the girl thinks as she clenches her teeth and makes a practice fire inside a jar. She knows she’s not ready for the Big Fire yet. (Fire is not an easy creature to release. He doesn’t always respond. You have to learn to wait for it).

When she’s not playing with Fire, Raging Girl helps her father in his office. Her father mends people. He cuts through bones, rasps them, and puts them back in place. They come to see him from all over with broken legs, knives or handsaws sticking out of the most inconvenient places. The girl’s job is to watch and learn “what it means to have a Mission in Life.” Most of the time, she gets it. In the process, she learns not to fear anything.

One day, halfway through a procedure, there’s a knock on the door. When the father opens it, he sees a group of very serious people. They are carrying picks, shovels and even a fork. They’ve come to take Raging Girl. They’re taking her because she’s a lunatic, a pyromaniac, a nihilist, a misfit, and a bunch of other words.

“This girl goes around burning stuff,” says the group leader, a short and stout man who, for the first time ever, has left the sofa in his house, which now sighs, thankful for having regained its shape and no longer being molded after that man’s body.

“No more loose fires around the neighborhood,” seconds another man carrying a briefcase stuffed with papers stuffed with words stuffed with ink stuffed with so much useless blackness.

“This girl … ” says the woman who isn’t anybody and is not pleased about it at all. But she can’t think of a way to finish her sentence, so she shakes her head.

Raging Girl’s father, with two hemorrhaging bodies to mend lying on the table, has no choice but to hand over his child. He gives her a little nudge and the girl shuts her eyes while everyone shakes, points and tugs at her. Others nod, grumble, and mutter, which is as far as commotion can go in a place like that.

Raging Girl opens her eyes and screams. She screams because of what she likes and what she doesn’t like. Because of what no longer is and what remains. But, above all, she screams because of what only she can see, like the fact that these people don’t have and won’t ever have a flame burning inside. Raging Girl screams so much she burns them. And then, their hands let her go, their backs arch down, their mouths go dry. But she won’t stop screaming. She screams until she turns into a beast, jumps on the operating table, and then on to the window, where she takes a few minutes to stretch out happily in her new skin, much more elastic and resilient than the previous one. She steps in front of the glass and admires her long red hair, her wild eyes, her blazing will, as everybody gapes at her from below. Then she puts on her uniform and her shoes and goes to school, like any old day.


Translated by Rocío Molina Biasone - Edited by Paula Galindez