Thursday, January 17, 2008

Book Review: Freak Show by James St. James

Book: Freak Show
Author: James St. James
Published: 2007

Billy Bloom is starting his senior year at a new school, and he wants to make a good impression. So he dresses in tight satin pants, a ruffled shirt, and just a teensy bit of makeup . . . just the basics, really. It’s a pirate look, and what’s more manly than a pirate?

He quickly discovers that a out-and-proud drag queen isn’t exactly going to have the easiest time in a conservative Florida high school. But there’s no way he’s going to be anything but himself, no matter who has a problem with it. Through loneliness, constant torment, and even a gay-bashing that puts him in the hospital, Billy holds onto his sense of self. There might even be unexpected rewards in store.

I have to say, this is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read, and yet one of the most compelling. Alternately hilarious and hideous (and sometimes both at the same time), Billy’s story is like bubblegum encasing a razor blade. In some parts, I got a little queasy at the ugliness that he faced every day with a smile. It’s the kind of treatment that should have detentions and even expulsions passed out like confetti, but the teachers turn a blind eye and even blame Billy for bringing it on himself, highlighting the way that homophobia needs to be addressed on every level if we’re ever going to cleanse ourselves of it.

If you have a hard time with deliriously over-the-top dramatic narration (it's exactly like listening to him talk--I'd love to hear the audiobook on this one) or bullying of the darkest kind, approach this book with caution. Otherwise, grab it up and don't let it go until you've read the last page.

P.S. Check out this interview on YouTube, with James St. James himself. He talks a little bit about the autobiographical elements in the book, and how the world has changed. I’d fast forward to about 2:00 to get to the meat right away, but he’s pretty fun to watch.


Jen Robinson said...

"like bubblegum encasing a razor blade." What a great image! I'm not sure whether I want to read the book or not, but that line from your review brightened my day.

Bibliovore said...

If I'd known everything it was about, I'm not sure I would have risked it either, Jen, but I'm really glad I did. And it is freakin' hysterical in spots--the kind of funny that gets you strange looks from co-workers when you're reading it in the lunch room.

Jen Robinson said...

Laugh out loud funny is definitely worth seeking out. And I actually do like books that make me laugh and cry. I think I will check it out. Thanks for the recommendation, Maureen.