Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pantomime by Laura Lam

“All the world’s a stage,/And all the men and women merely players” (Shakespeare As You Like It 2.7.138-39).

Pair it up with the idea that pantomime is “a theatrical entertainment in which words are replaced by gestures and bodily actions” and “an action without words as a means of expression" (from the World English Dictionary).

The word adds tantalizing layers of meaning to this coming-of-age story set within a circus in a subtly steampunk world that has seen better days full of magic and advancements.  Several stories are told, stories within stories, even a pantomime within this pantomime. It switches between Iphigenia “Gene” Laurus who is raised as a proper noblewoman but is too much a tomboy and Micah Grey, a runaway who joins the circus.  Both of their stories are connected by secrets, finding love (which is further complicated by gender issues and identity), and a desire to understand who they are and find a place where they can truly be themselves. Their stories intertwine with an intersex character who is both male and female but does not truly belong, considered both a mythical figure and real-life freak. 

There are hints of a bigger story at work, the world’s fallen past lingers, and some change is looming, which elevates this beyond just a coming-of-age novel.  The circus as a place for the low-born, outcasts, and freaks makes an appropriate setting for a story about those without a place to belong.  Gene and Micah’s narratives are flipsides of the same coin, both expressing the same universal needs.  The presence and experience of an intersex character is handled thoughtfully and candidly, made more intriguing with the multiple narratives and hints of information about this story’s world.  Lam balances a coming-of-age story, family problems, gender issues, budding romance, drama, action, politics, magic, and intrigue into one juggling act of a debut.

Look for Pantomime and its sequel, Shadowplay, in the VBPL Catalog.  For more teen fiction with gender identity and transgender issues, try Kristin Elizabeth Clark’s Freakboy, Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Jumpstart the World, and Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect.

NOTE: For any who have read this title or may read it, I have left out a major detail out of the review to avoid spoiling the revelation and effect of Gene and Micah's switching storylines!

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