When Perez Hilton gives a book a rave review (or at least a rave blurb on the back cover) my neck-hairs go up. It’s not that I don’t like Perez Hilton, it’s that I don’t see us having many similar interests (besides men). As it turns out, it wasn’t a bad thing that I didn’t put down James St. James‘ Freak Show but if I had, I wouldn’t have missed anything big.
I’ve always felt that the GBLTQ* community has been underrepresented in books, particularly the TQ portion and specifically in the young adult genre. As books about gays, lesbians, bisexuals have increased books about gender diversity have stayed fairly marginal. There was Julia Anne Peters’ lovely 2004 trans-focused Luna and there was of course… er, none else spring to mind. So what I’m saying is that we need more gender-diversity centered books for teenagers.
Freak Show bravely steps into where few other books go and it does it with feather boas, glitter and deliciously campy references. The story it tells is of Billy Bloom a, well, he’s not a cross-dresser or a transvestite (as Billy makes very clear on page 212) so we’ll use one of my favorite descriptions he uses: GLITTEROID! As a young male who sews his own costumes that screw with gender Billy really doesn’t fit into his Floridian high-school into which he was recently replanted after an episode with his mother. The plot meanders around during the first two-thirds of the novel but in the final bit it turns into an empowering story that skews the traditional school outcasts rebelling against the status-quo.
While the story is endearing I found Billy Bloom to be… I wanted to throttle him. I’m a fairly no nonsense sort of Lady and so dealing with Bloom’s hyperbolic narration (it was like being shouted at) was something that I personally found grating. Now I will say that Bloom is written to have mood swings which Mr. St. James pulls off wonderfully, though it will sometimes result in a brain cramp as you try to keep up with his highs and lows. My slightly homicidal feelings for Bloom did wear off during the climatic student rebellion during which point I was cheering him and his posse on.
There were some delightful scenes that made me chortle happily, particularly the ones full of references to various dramatic woman that have inspired homosexual America (Liza Minnelli, Martha Stewart, Zelda Fitzgerald, etc.) And when you come across lines such as:
I LIKE THE WAY THIS DAME THINKS! (201)
Really! How indelicate! In front of Flossie! And giving Flip an eyeful, I’m sure! (108)
He’s got that white-hot blond hair, with those killer bangs…a nose like a ski slope…those blazing, dragon green eyes…and smile so white and so bright, it guides Santa’s sleigh in dense fog! (119)
you can’t help but chuckle.
Despite having a frantic pace and an off-the-wall narrator that’s hard to pin down the story is sweet with moments of charm that are pulled off in a sometimes vulgar manner. Not one of the decade’s great books (though it was among this year’s Green Mountain Book Awards finalist) Freak Show is a fun read if you’ve a few hours to kill or if you feel the need to get in touch with your inner fabulous, fierce, flaming Queen.
*Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Queer/Questioning. I’m aware that there are many variations on this acronym but for simplicity’s sake I’m afraid I’ll be brief, explaining all the various pairings of letters can go on for years.