Freak Show by James St. James

November 23, 2009
By Kate Croome BRONZE, Burlington, Other
Kate Croome BRONZE, Burlington, Other
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Eisenhower High has never seen the likes of Billy Bloom before. Tradition will be uplifted. Conservative beliefs will be overthrown. Laws of fashion will be broken and created anew. In James St. James' 2007 novel, Freak Show, protagonist Billy is flamboyantly gay and proud of it, a fact that rocks his conservative new high school to its core. When Billy fights back against his tormentors by running for Home Coming Queen, the school is divided by a fierce campaign; Freak vs. Nature.

This is St. James' first YA novel, after the success of his Edgar-Award nominated Disco Bloodbath. While Disco Bloodbath detailed St. James' life as a club kid in the 80s, Freak Show is heavily based on his high school experiences. His narrative voice reflects that; while Disco Bloodbath was written with a distinctive, but mature tone of voice, Freak Show is noticeably more youthful, more vibrant, more explosive. St. James uses capital letters excessively, creating a sense of energy and exuberance that is so typically teenage. Rather than being grating, however, Billy's sense of wonder and enthusiasm is infectious for the reader, propelling them through the book even when the story is at times very ordinary. The book is current and aware, using countless pop culture references in an effective way that enhances the story and helps develop Billy's character.

Billy Bloom, at first glance, appears to be a character that is one dimensional and not compelling. He's loud, obnoxious, and seems unaware of the discomfort he causes others. When he moves to Florida to live with his father, it's a shock to him when the students of Eisenhower can't accept him and his “retro-new wave/Vivienne Westwood/pirate look”. The true nature of Billy's character is not revealed until he is the victim of a violent attack at the hands of his classmates, an assault that lands him in a coma. His coma-induced thoughts are documented, creating intimacy between Billy and the reader. This reveals his sensitive and vulnerable side, and by the end of the novel, the reader feels extremely close to Billy. Despite his seemingly unrealistic energy, he is very easy to relate to.

It is possible that the subject manner in this book will not please everyone. It's true, St. James is not about to hide his feelings about sexuality. He does not hold back in any way, and there are moments in the book that seem almost crude. Despite these moments, however, Freak Show is an extraordinary YA novel with a strong positive message.While Billy is a member of the gay community, this is a novel for anyone who has ever felt put down or like the odd one out. This book encourages strength over adversity, a lesson that is crucial to young people under peer pressure. Most of all, however, it stresses one simple rule that is key: be fabulous.

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