HERE WE GO!
Freak Show by James St. James is a very modern take on that age old question, can a social misfit find love with the popular high school quarterback? Freak Show, however, breaks new ground because the social misfit who narrates the novel is Billy Bloom, drag queen, twinkle queen, glitteroid, gender obscurist.
Though his story is often harrowing as you would expect, his narration is hilarious. (I laughed out loud twice, which is very good.) The story opens with Billy preparing for his first day of school at the exclusive Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy in a very posh section of south Florida. In order to blend in with the expected conservative student body, Billy chooses a much butcher ensemble than he might normally wear. He begins with a basically masculine pair of pants, adds a basic white shirt with ruffled sleeves, like a pirate might wear, just a little makeup and a dangling earring; he decides not to wear the eye patch as this might be over the top. He makes a grand entrance in first period science; the students react the way you might expect and things go downhill from there for Billy.
Once Billy hits bottom and has had enough, he comes up with a plan to force the student body, and the teachers, to deal with their intolerance and to change Eisenhower Academy for the better. The plan involves a loose network of social misfits who hide in the shadows, so to speak, so as not to draw the attention of anyone who might beat them up the way Billy is beaten up. With the help of these invisible outcasts, Billy plans to run for homecoming queen. Along the way he befriends the school’s star quarterback who has a secret or two of his own.
What could easily become a standard, Sweet Valley Highish plot line, with more than a few twists granted, is saved by the strength of Billy’s narrative voice. He is a great story teller, full of humor, fierce in every positive sense of the word. By the end of the book the reader may find some of the plot a little hard to believe, but the character of Billy Bloom takes on a fully fleshed out life of his own. Ultimately, the actual story matters less than how well Billy describes what he is wearing.
I expect a book like Freak Show will probably generate more than its share of controversy, but readers brave enough to give it a go will have a great time.
When I first ran this review back in 2008 on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B., I was expecting to read lots more about this book. How it was being censored, stirring controversy, etc. But I really didn’t see much more about it. Maybe those who stock the shelves never found it, or found it too far over the line to stock. I don’t know. But I do not that it’s a fun book. People who like fun books should read it. They will have fun.