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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review: Freak Show by James St. James

Title: Freak Show
Author(s): James St. James
Genre: YA Contemporary, High School
Page Count: 304
Publisher: Puffin

The Summary: Meet Billy Bloom, new student at the ultra-white, ultra-rich, ultra-conservative Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy and drag queen extraordinaire. Actually, “drag queen” does not begin to describe Billy and his fabulousness. Any way you slice it, Billy is not a typical seventeen-year-old, and the Bible Belles, Aberzombies, and Football Heroes at the academy have never seen anyone quite like him before. But thanks to the help and support of one good friend, Billy’s able to take a stand for outcasts and underdogs everywhere in his own outrageous, over-the-top, sad, funny, brilliant, and unique way.

The Review: I will not lie, this book made me feel like I was on the sugar high of my life. (btw this is not a bad thing. I love my sugar!) Probably because our protagonist is outrageously funny, witty and all around awesome. I basically giggled my way through this book as Billy swoops in with theatrics and charisma pouring out of the pages, demanding you pay attention as she puts sequins onto her face. It’s like life and reality keep shoving Billy all this crap, but does our star of the story take this lying down? NO, BILLY BLOOM WILL ALWAYS BOUNCE BACK. She gets up again and again, striving to be true to herself. * She will come back at you, with more sparkle and charm than before, and win the heart of her audience. She certainly won my heart, at any rate.

Looking back, there were a lot of intense issues raised in this novel, and Billy had to go through some experiences of abuse and abandonment that was so very wrong. And yet, I do not recall feeling once deep bouts of angst or moments I wanted to cry in this novel. In fact, I mostly felt that sugar high happiness I mentioned previously, even during the bad times. (Okay, a bit towards the end I felt a little like crying and hurting a certain bastard, but then our author gave us the sweetest, darling ending ever of cute and happiness, and I totally forgot about the jerk, who totally wasn’t worth the expenditure of my anger, at any rate.) When faced with bigotry, bullying and abuse, she fights back with her endless supply of humour and refuses to change herself. And for the really scarring moments of her life, she relays them in this dream-like, disconnect fashion, implying that what’s past has past, and what’s important is moving on. I might be wrong about this, but this novel, above all, conveys the message that life’s too short to let bigots bring you down, and Billy’s attitude of never apologizing or changing herself, of bouncing back is so uplifting to see. How can you not help but root for her?

My favourite part about this novel though, outside of Billy’s narration, is the sweet romance that builds between Billy and the Golden boy of the school, the star football player, Flip. At first it just seems like your average crush that probably won’t go anywhere. But then towards the middle of the novel they start to become friends, and it’s so sweet and adorable as Billy learns about the person behind Everyone’s Nice, To-Go-To Guy. (I really like what he had to say about love and like, wherein – paraphrased, mind – he says it’s so easy for him to fall in love with a hot guy, liking someone was far more difficult, and how that made Flip special. No lie: I aww’ed *is such a sap*) Flip himself is sweet too, and he was so very typical dumb hot jock on the surface, but the author gives Flip such character nuances through Billy’s eyes, and I loved him very much as we start seeing his character grow and all the sweet, endearing moments he shares with Billy.

Of course, I adore the writing. Not so much because it’s sophisticated or pretty, but it captures Billy’s drama queen persona so well. James St. James doesn’t pull any stops; he brings on the capslock, the italics, the exclamation marks with unabashed zeal and fervour. And I love every second of it! I suppose theoretically one can be put off by this kind of writing, but I had too much fun reading this to take anyone’s criticisms on the capslock crazy seriously. I personally say that all the nay-sayers just need to find themselves a sense of humour. And I thought this novel covered a lot perfectly even sequencing that made sense. The novel passes by the three main stages of new-girl-in-town, romantic development, and then her empowerment as a transwoman and reaffirmation of identity sprinkled with flashbacks. (I especially love the third part of the novel, wherein Billy declares loud and proud that gender is a choice and sticks it to the Bible Belles of the school who won’t accept her or label her as a freak.) I suppose it’s all kind of predictable, but the theatrics of our lead character will keep readers entertained throughout the reading experience. Above all, Billy is a very sympathetic teen voice with very high school-esque concerns ranging from finding your place in the high school social hierarchy and what to wear for prom. You can’t help but love her.

And finally, this book may possible contain the best football game commentary ever. None of that game plan technical ramblings that no one cares about, and focuses instead on Flip, Flip, and more Flip. Our protagonist totally got her priorities down pat.

The Verdict: So much outrageous fun! You like YA contemporary and comedy? A sweet romance? Drama queen personas? If so, run and get a copy of this novel NOW. I had an absolute blast reading this.

Rating: 4.5/5
Enjoyment: !!!100+++%!!!

Title and Cover Discussion: I’ll say upfront that I have no way of weighing on this objectively. Every time I see this cover, the pink glow radiates off and colours my vision, and just looking at the pink cover of happiness makes me so, so happy. The sound of the title makes me smile and giggle like a fiend. I kind of, sort of, maybe remember a time when I first saw the cover and recoiled, but I decided that my past self simply had no taste. Am not going to rate this, and any criticisms of the pink cover of awesomesauce gets a LALALA CAN’T HEAR YOU from me. 8D

*I am purposely using the ‘she’ pronoun because it is pretty clear that the gender Billy identifies with is female.


Sara said...

Yay I'm glad you liked it! Amazing review, this sounds like such a good read. I've seen it in the library a couple of times, I'll definitely pick it up :D

Kelly McDermott-Bay said...

I found you through the hop.
Kelly Bookend Diaries

Morgan said...

This sounds so funny and good, even though I've never even heard of it. Great review, I love the cover!