Pantomime by Laura Lam. ★★★1/2
I liked Pantomime more than I thought I would, although I’ll admit that my expectations going in weren’t very high.
The back blurb for Pantomime is incredibly misleading (coincidentally, it also erases the LGBTQIA elements…). The blurb talks about a young noblewoman named Gene who’s hiding a secret and runs away from home and about a young man named Micah who joins the circus. These are the same person, and you know this from the first few chapters! Micah is intersex, genderqueer, and bisexual.
Pantomime is a largely character driven novel, focusing on what led Micah to run away from home and on Micah finding a home within the circus community. The drive comes from the personal stakes. Micah wants to find someplace where they can be themself, where they’re accepted for who they are. While Micah has a specific situation, the themes Pantomime deals with are universal.
The slowly unfolding insight into Micah’s past and their ongoing search for acceptance where my favorite part of the book. Micah’s still uncertain about who they are and their place in the world, and the growth and realizations they undergo through the course of the story are a delight.
There are other elements of Pantomime that I’m not so keen on. The world building seems sketchy, and I feel like it’s copying and pasting too many things from our own world in ways that don’t really make sense. The world doesn’t feel organic, but rather a haphazard construction of Victorian mores and Greek mythology.
Speaking of the mythology… there’s some things I want to address about the mythology and magic in the book that could be considered spoilers. It appears that Micah has some latent magical powers. However, these magical powers seem bound up with Micah being intersex, and in universe, intersex people are treated as a type of mythological creature that were once highly venerated by a past culture. I worry that in tying intersex people to the magic and mythology in this way, it’s otherizing them.
Despite my issues with Pantomime‘s world building and mythology, I’m planning on reading the next book in the series if it’s available at the local library. This might be one I’d cautiously recommend? It’s a hard book to pick out certain elements to recommend it for, since so much of the appeal is bound up in the character and themes. Maybe give it a go if you’re looking for some queer YA?