Allow me to introduce you to Billy Bloom, the fabulous and loveable narrator of Freak Show by James St. James. Billy, seventeen-years-old and originally from Michigan, is a fiery-haired, label-loathing, self-proclaimed “superfreak”. Gay and an aspiring drag queen, if you want to get right down to the nitty gritty of it.
In the beginning of Freak Show, Billy has just moved from Michigan, where he lived with his eccentric mother, to Florida to live with his standoffish and rich father in his huge estate. Billy’s not too thrilled by the big move – and the reason for it? Well, for one thing, he barely knows his dad, and for another… let’s just say that his dear ol’ mom, who otherwise always enabled his uniqueness, had her limits.
The story really kicks off on Billy’s first day at his new high school, brimming with your stereotypically southern hillbilly-ish teens – the football jocks and the bible belles. Needless to say, Billy didn’t fit in at all. In fact, the student body collectively hated just the thought of him, and taunted him with mean and crude jokes every chance they got. But Billy, ever fabulous, ever positive, continued to show up for classes despite the harassment, hoping that by standing his ground with his head held high and being friendly, his peers would eventually warm up to him. Not so, oh no! But maybe it’s for the best, see; the greater good. Because one day, after their teacher leaves the classroom and Billy is beaten to a serious pulp by each of his biology classmates, leaving him in a couple-day coma and out of school for a month, he develops a deep but unsuspecting friendship with Flip Kelly, the star of the football team (whom he’d been secretly crushing on).
Through Billy’s friendship with Flip, both boys guide each other to figuring out who they really are, what’s truly important to them, and where they hope the future will lead them. That’s not to say that they don’t have their ups and downs as new BFFs, because they definitely do, as you can imagine seemingly polar opposites might.
Now, the crux of the story comes when Billy, freshly healed from the fight, returns to school more fabulous than ever (thanks to Flip’s help) and comes up with the greatest payback scheme and the most radical of his ideas yet to gain the acceptance he’s been looking for – running for homecoming queen! Does he get his chance? Will his peers finally accept him? Does he win the title of Florida’s first gender-bending homecoming drag queen? Of course I’m not going to tell you! You’ll have to find out for yourself!
But what I will tell you is this…
If you read Freak Show by James St. James (and you should), you will fall in love with little Billy Bloom. And you will root for him like you never expected you would of a fictional character. You will laugh out loud, even at the most awkward of times, at the clever way St. James has with the written word and his knack for sprinkling in subtle pop culture references and way-too-relatable prods here and there. And, when you are finished, you will feel happy and proud and strangely satisfied, and you’ll want to recommend it to every young person (hell, even every middle-aged person) you know. Because it’s just that hilarious, just that sweet, and just that, well, fabulous!
How this book isn’t as, or even more prominent in young adult fiction than Twilight or The Fault In Our Stars, for example, I’d really love to know because I surely don’t understand it (and I mean no disrespect to those particular books and their authors). Freak Show is a gem of a book, and as you may have guessed, I highly recommend it.