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Foreword Clarion Review -- 5 Stars

In Timothy Patrick’s young adult novel Ollie Come Free, a precocious boy becomes an artistic savant after being struck by lightning.

In late 1980s Southern California, on the anniversary of the day his father lost three platoon members in Vietnam, eleven-year-old Ollie is struck by lightning during a Little League game. The accident leaves him with trauma and neurological damage. He rocks compulsively, develops a sensory processing disorder, and parrots a trait known as echolalia. It also unleashes a remarkable artistic talent in him, though.

Ollie’s new talent is nurtured by his parents, extended family, doctors, teachers, and community. Guided by parents, he becomes determined to focus on the talent, rather than treat his potentially debilitating condition. He becomes famous for massive, stunningly precise drawings of city skylines that are completed over a series of days. He provides for himself financially, falls in love, and becomes a father (albeit in a somewhat untraditional way).

Ollie’s most persistent nemesis is not his brain damage, but his older brother, Cody. A handsome star athlete, Cody devolves over the course of the novel from a jealous sibling to a washed-out baseball protégé; his fall leads into revenge-driven murderous impulses.

With fascinating classical echoes, the book’s structure is chiasmatic: the more Ollie succeeds through his gentleness and open heart, the more Cody falls from grace, wallowing in bitterness, anger, and a poisonous sense of entitlement and misplaced indignation. Where Cody leaves a path of destruction and chaos in his wake, Ollie creates a sense of community that is inclusive and full of wonder. Good versus evil, childlike creativity versus Machiavellian cunning, and loyalty versus deception: these familiar conflicts provide an abundance of natural forward motion.

In a novel overflowing with interesting characters, one of the most interesting is the family’s ranch. One of the last cattle ranches in Southern California, it’s under constant threat of insolvency. The ranch is a throwback to another time; it lacks the vertical integration required of modern livestock producers. But what it lacks in modern efficiencies it makes up for with a deep history, requisite legends, and an artistic savant with an attachment to the land who overcomes all obstacles.

Classified as a young adult book but perfect for all, Ollie Come Free is a surprising, rewarding page-turner. At its core, it is a novel about family, love, and the resilience of the human spirit. Its pacing and storytelling is well honed, and its deep dive into savant research, coupled with a search for buried treasure, are natural parts of its sweeping story.

Ollie Come Free is a meticulous novel about a family forever changed by one unexpected day.

BookLife Review

A cattle ranching family faces the reverberations of trauma in Patrick’s sensitive and engaging first YA novel, a grounded exploration of recovery, resentment, and redemption.

Surrounded by Southern California suburban sprawl, the Buck Ranch has been home to Bob Buckmeyer’s family for generations. Bob and wife Cathy work hard to maintain their bucolic life for sons Cody, a promising baseball player, and happy-go-lucky Ollie. All eyes are on Cody during a 1991 game rather than on his brother, who’s just a half-hearted outfielder, but when 11-year-old Ollie is struck by lightning, the Buckmeyers’ illusion of normalcy explodes.

After the strike, Ollie suffers a traumatic brain injury, becomes withdrawn, and begins compulsively–and prodigiously–sketching his surroundings in unerring detail. Ollie is eventually diagnosed with acquired savant syndrome, which has many behavioral similarities with autism. Patrick’s story focuses on how this new reality affects the family unit. Stalwart Bob and nurturing Cathy become even more so, but Cody, 18 months Ollie’s senior, turns into something like the family’s villain “when envy slithers in and wraps itself around an unprotected heart.” Over a dozen years, the characters experience some level of growth and healing, except Cody, who becomes more embittered, calculating, and manipulative.

Patrick (Tea Cups & Tiger Claws, Death of a Movie Star) explores regional history, class disparities, and the perils of celebrity in Ollie Come Free, incorporating a family legend about buried gold, Cody’s covetous thievery, and Ollie’s transformation from social outcast to celebrity artist (drawing city skylines from memory like real-life savant Stephen Wiltshire). Patrick doesn’t try to represent Ollie’s interior life, choosing to detail the externals instead: Ollie’s coping mechanisms and the ways loved ones find to reconnect. Young readers interested in a realistic depiction of artistic savant experiences will find resonance in this atypical coming-of-age centered on a protagonist whose future is tied to a past that always calls him home.

Blue Ink Review

In Timothy Patrick's first young adult novel, Ollie Come Free, a freak accident leaves an eleven-year-old boy brain damaged, but also endows him with savant syndrome.

Ollie Buckmeyer survives being struck by lightning, but the once cheerful jokester displays autistic-like symptoms that have dashed any hopes of a normal life. He misunderstands social cues, flinches at touch, and is rigid and fearful. But when Ollie suddenly develops an obsession with drawing, his giftedness is revealed: He can recreate detailed scenes from memory. His parents are overjoyed that he might have a brighter future then they imagined.

But soon his brother Cody grows intensely jealous of the attention his father is paying to Ollie, whose love Cody has struggled to gain. Cody steals Ollie's drawings to sell them on eBay, and in an effort to make them more valuable, he contacts the media to publicize Ollie's rare talent. Meanwhile, the Buckmeyer’s ranch is failing, and there’s a tantalizing subplot about a stagecoach robber who buried 1,200 gold coins somewhere on the ranch in 1887.

Patrick has developed a truly original cast of characters, clearly elucidating their complex relationships, and creating an intriguing juxtaposition between Cody, a once-promising baseball player, and Ollie, who against all odds, flourishes. He is deft with description and some passages are stand outs: “...he understood that the difference between action and paralysis, between healthy fear and debilitating panic, is usually nothing more than a deep breath and a step in the right direction.”

The narrative also has a few flaws: Although Patrick ably interweaves several subplots, a couple of minor plot threads seem superfluous and abruptly interrupt the narrative. Additionally, the book's conclusion has some gaps in plausibility. Regardless, Patrick so skillfully sustains the dramatic tension that young readers may not notice; they'll be sitting at the edge of their seats, turning pages.