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-thetop, sad, funny, brilliant, and unique way.
I like flamboyancy. You might find this a ridiculous statement if you had to be around me for more then a few minutes, but it's true. I like people who squeal at stupid things and wear bright colors and dance to a song only in their head. I like it, and I like Freak Show.
Billy Bloom. Seventeen. Drag Queen. Fabulous. And after a disaterish fallout with her mother, she is sent to live with her ultra-conservative father in his ultra-conservative Floridian town, sent to the ultra-conservative school filled with ultra-conservative preps. It's, um, ultra-conservative. Which I think is a kind of silly extreme, considering our protagonist, but I suppose it works as a plot device. Anyway.
We begin with Billy's first day of school. She decides to dress as "manly" as possible to, you know, test the waters. See what she's dealing with. And, of course, manly is, by definition, pirate-chic. Roc.
For some reason that I CAN NOT fathom, this doesn't work out incredibly well and Billy starts down a loooong road filled with ridicule, hatred and ARGYLE SWEATERS (in an UNIRONIC WAY!)
But these kids are mean. They're horrible, actually, at one point bringing all their hatred of Billy to a head in SUCH A HORRIFIC WAY I was sobbing like an asshole, it made me so sad. Add on a love interest who isn't even aware he's playing for Billy's team, Freak Show makes an enthralling read with a hero/heroine who more then lives up to the flashy cover's expectations.
Billy herself is a "gender obscurist"--one who does not answer questions on her sexual orientation or gender. She just is and, if you must, call her a she. I think this is probably the most important aspect of her character, the way she approaches her lifestyle. It makes her a very real character, instead of the initial cartoon she's made out to be during the first chapter or so. She's different, that Billy. Unique, flawed, with one of those voices that you miss horribly when it's done talking. Even during her lowest moments she's making you laugh.
Now, keep in mind, this isn't a "fun" book. It isn't light and cheerful and fluffy. It's violent, it's ugly and it reveals a lot of just as ugly truths about not only Billy, but the world around her. It's a book about bigotry, be it the far right extremes, and the unacceptance, be it from your own family, that comes with being something the world has deemed immoral for so long. It's also about how, in our quest to be open-minded liberals, to be the Good Guys, we somehow make even the most horrible of attacks about us, about our guilt and our lives. As Billy so elaquently stated:
WAY TO MAKE THIS STORY ABOUT YOU, DUDE.
James St. James, primarily known as one of the original "club kids" of the eighties, has woven a surprisingly heartfelt and hilarious LGBT story that stands out among the countless others like it---and I'll tell you why. It's because this isn't a "coming of age" tale. This is a "life is shitty but I have GLITTER" one. Billy isn't trying to "discover" herself, or come out of the closet or any of those other mile stones in a kid's formulative years. No, she knows she's as "out" as they come and she knows she is a "she", despite what her parents-slash-genatalia would have her believe. All she's doing is trying to find acceptance in a decidedly drab world and for that, James St. James has made it on my Automatic Buy list of authors.
Rating: 20. Yeah, I went there.