cover image Freak Show

Freak Show

James St James, . . Dutton, $18.99 (298pp) ISBN 978-0-525-47799-0

As big a splash as St. James (Disco Bloodbath ) made on the Club Kid circuit in the 1980s and '90s, his entree into the YA world may prove to be equally fraught with controversy—and over-the-top fabulousness. Billy Bloom, a scrawny, pale redhead, plays the novel's underdog and champion—a 17-year-old for whom the phrase "drag queen" is scarcely sufficient. Frenetically narrating with a tongue seemingly dipped in both acid and silver, Billy recounts his abrupt transplant from life with his mother in Darien, Conn., to Fort Lauderdale, where he now lives with his wealthy and distant father. Billy finds himself a high school senior enrolled at the Eisenhower Academy, populated with "Stepford teens in full preen. In your choice of blond or blonder." St. James pulls no punches in describing the escalating verbal and physical abuse Billy suffers at the hands of his classmates. On a day when he comes to school outfitted as a primeval swamp queen ("This is not a dress, it's an ecosystem"), Billy's peers so brutally attack him that he goes into a coma. Yet he finds an unlikely ally in the gorgeous and universally adored football player Flip Kelly. Rather than leave the academy, Billy takes a stand for outcasts everywhere by running for homecoming queen, and attracts statewide media attention. In Billy Bloom, St. James has created an archetypal hero for outsiders and freaks. Though the subject matter and language will likely prove controversial, it's nearly impossible to remain untouched after walking a mile in the stilettos of someone so unfailingly true to himself and so blisteringly funny. Ages 14-up. (May) Agency: World of Wonder.