Monday, June 21, 2010

Freak Show by James St. James.

Dear James St. James,

To be honest the Club Kids were a little before my time so I don't know a lot about you guys and what you did, I just know that you were a Club Kid, and you partied a lot, and were somehow famous for it. All I really know is that I love your book Freak Show and I love that you wrote it because I don't know if anyone else could have written a book about a teenage drag queen suffering through high school like you did. And you did it really well. I was continually impressed.

You had me laughing OUT LOUD within the first few pages, and let's be honest darling I hardly ever laugh out loud while reading. I hardly laugh out loud when something really funny happens on TV. I am a laughing-in-my-head type person I think, but this Billy Bloom character you created is just freaking hilarious. And sad, too. Let's talk about how sad he was, at parts, but how he covered it all up with fabulousness, with increasingly ridiculous outfits and schemes, by increasingly separating himself from his humdrum Abercombie & Fitch straightie classmates. Because what else can a drag queen in high school do? I have to say I thought at parts that the ALL CAPS PURPOSELY DRAMATIC STATEMENTS and the over the top sassiness would eventually get a little, well, over the top. And I can see how it would for many (most?) people, people who haven't watched Paris is Burning multiple times, people who aren't in general in love with the gayness. But, really, I loved it the whole time.

Billy Bloom was so goshdarn FABULOUS and entertaining all the time, even after being beaten to a pulp by his classmates, but there were moments when he got to the heart of things. Like here, when the apple of his eye, the beautiful quarterback and town hero Flip Kelly, is cursing himself for not getting to school in time before Billy's beatdown by the homophobe Bernie:

"My godamned car wouldn't start!" he rasped.
"Stupid, goddamned car! Stupid, goddamned car!" he repeated angrily, and pounded his thigh--a flawed response, I thought, as he seemed to be missing the entire point of "Stupid, goddamned Bernie! Stupid, goddamned Bernie!" or even: "Stupid, goddamned homophobia! Stupid, goddamned homophobia."

I have to say that during the last half of the book I felt like the homecoming campaign which occurred (don't want to give away too much) was maybe a little didactic, or preachy; we had already kind of gotten the gay-rights mantra. Although, to continue being honest, I feel like being 'didactic' or 'preachy' are terms I've heard a lot in literary criticism circles and so I use them to sound like I too can be critical, when really most of the time, at least when it comes to kids and young adult lit, I fervently agree with everything that is being preached and moreover feel it really needs to be preached, and people like you preach it so well. SoIreallydon'thaveaproblemwithit. Really I think I felt a little anxious during that whole section because I just missed Flip. I love me a good love story, and I loved that empty-headed, gorgeous, golden-hearted Flip Kelly. Billy and Flip's friendship felt remarkably well-developed. I felt like their dialogues and behavior around each other were some of the most natural and believable teenage friendship story lines I've ever read, gay or straight, and when Flip just wasn't there for awhile Billy and the story didn't feel complete. You know?

Overall, I'm sure this book would inspire lots of offended, incredulous parents, and lots of offended, incredulous kids too. But for as many right-wing kids there are who might hate it, there are countless fabulous young people out there who have been waiting for a book like this to be written. So, as someone who wants to look out for those young people, I thank you. You are doing important work, James St. James. I also really like saying your name, James St. James.

Sincerely,
Jill

1 comment:

  1. I've not heard of this book, but I think I will have to check it out.

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