A tale of longing and belonging.

Conjoined twins Jane and Isabel “Jan-Iss” Peabody are performers in an early-20th-century carnival sideshow.

Sold by their parents to the sideshow manager at the age of 3, the twins are exploited to perform for gawking audiences. The other performers (or “freaks,” an insult they have reclaimed) become their family. Now 16, Jane is ambitious and outgoing while Isabel is more appreciative of their carnival support system. When a doctor who aspires to medical fame offers to surgically separate the sisters, Jane jumps at the opportunity to lead a “normal” life. Isabel is less convinced but agrees for her sister’s sake. Tragically, Jane dies as a result of the surgery, and Isabel, who loses their shared arm and leg, is fitted with prosthetic limbs. Haunted by her twin’s ghost, Isabel struggles to come to terms with her new identity. Brown’s clean, cartoonlike images in subdued hues enhance the story. The novel touches on the ways that marginalized people were exploited by sideshows but also, at times, gained the ability to avoid institutionalization and support themselves. However, the story fails to deeply explore the nature of exploitation of difference both historically and today. Strong pacing will keep readers engaged, but the characters are not well developed enough for the story to resonate on a deep emotional level. Jane and Isabel are white; secondary characters are black, Japanese American, and have various disabilities.

A tale of longing and belonging. (author’s note, bibliography, glossary) (Graphic fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62672-924-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020


The Phantom of the Opera served as inspiration, but this wouldn’t last on Broadway.

Stephanie and her family move into an old mansion rumored to have been put under a curse after a turn-of-the-20th-century rich boy meddled with an Egyptian mummy.

After her young sister complains about strange events, high school student Stephanie befriends Lucas, a geeky, good-looking boy, and meets the other members of SPOoKy, the Scientific Paranormal Organization of Kentucky: Charlotte, Wes, and Patrick. Stephanie learns the history of her new home from Lucas, who attracts her romantic attention, but the usually levelheaded girl is soon drawn to Erik, the handsome phantom who first comes to her in dreams. The story is told in chapters narrated by Stephanie, Lucas, and Zedok, whose identity is initially a source of confusion to Stephanie. Zedok appears wearing different masks, “personified slivers” of his soul, representing states of mind such as Wrath, Madness, and Valor. Meanwhile, until gifted singer Stephanie came along and he could write songs for her, Erik’s dreams were thwarted; he wanted to be a composer but his family expected him to become a doctor. In the gothic horror tradition, Erik’s full background and connection with Zedok are slowly revealed. Romantic dream sequences are lush and swoon-y, but the long, drawn-out battle to end the curse, aided by a celebrity clairvoyant, is tedious, and the constant introduction of Erik’s different personae is confusing. Most characters default to White; Patrick is Black.

The Phantom of the Opera served as inspiration, but this wouldn’t last on Broadway. (Horror. 13-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-11604-3

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021


Bloody? Yes. Scary? No.

Someone is murdering high school students. Most freeze in fear, but a brave few try to stop the killings.

Senior Makani Young has been living in corn-obsessed Nebraska for just a little over a year. She has developed a crush and made some friends, but a dark secret keeps her from truly opening up to those around her. As the only half–African-American and half–Native Hawaiian student in her school, she already stands out, but as the killing spree continues, the press descends, and rumors fly, Makani is increasingly nervous that her past will be exposed. However, the charming and incredibly shy Ollie, a white boy with hot-pink hair, a lip ring, and wanderlust, provides an excellent distraction from the horror and fear. Graphic violence and bloody mayhem saturate this high-speed slasher story. And while Makani’s secret and the killer’s hidden identity might keep the pages turning, this is less a psychological thriller and more a study in gore. The intimacy and precision of the killer’s machinations hint at some grand psychological reveal, but lacking even basic jump-scares, this tale is high in yuck and low in fright. The tendency of the characters toward preachy inner monologues feels false.

Bloody? Yes. Scary? No. (Horror. 14-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-42601-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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