by Georgie Penney
Compared to my usual reading choices, this was the furthest out of my comfort zone that I’ve read in a long time, and I’m so glad that I decided to give it a go.
Pantomime starts as the tale of two apparently unlinked young people: the young would-be trapeze artist Micah Grey, and the noblewoman who calls herself Gene who’s about to be married off, should her parents get their way. These boy-girl dual storylines are increasingly common in YA so I assumed something along the lines of a love story, albeit an unusual one. But Laura Lam weaves her first surprise of many into the opening chapters, and we realise that Micah and Gene are the same person.
Micah is intersex, and this was exceptionally well demonstrated throughout the novel. The alternating stories got closer and closer to each other as the narrative continued. It also felt very natural to me: the fact that Micah is intersex didn’t stick out to me, and although it was obvious from things he said, it didn’t feel forced by the author. Instead, Micah’s character simply unfolded: rather than seeming like Laura Lam just fancied writing about an intersex character, Pantomime had the rare yet wonderful concept of a protagonist that has been discovered instead of being created. As someone who is cisgender, it still felt extremely relatable, which can sometimes put people off reading queer books but needn’t do so.
The story itself is gripping, getting more and more intense as it goes on and building to an almost explosive climax that is so unexpected I literally had my mouth open. (Sorry for the cliché. Sorry. I had to). Supporting characters are also very well drawn, and there is a love triangle that for once isn’t annoying and ridiculous and with a no-brainer decision at the centre of it. For my taste, the writing in the first couple of chapters was (for want of a better word) too dense, meaning that it took some pages before I felt fully absorbed in the story, but once I was past that point I was absolutely hooked to Micah’s story. And the worldbuilding was truly impeccable. Not all the details are explained, which can be frustrating (in a good way!) but makes for a much better story – rather than chunks of explanation, we have constant action and character development with a world being set up rather cleverly in the background.
I now have to mention the high point, which was the way I felt after I finished the book. It’s left me inspired: both in a literary sense, and also in a more abstract way – full of ideas and emotions and awareness of bigger issues that I hadn’t previously considered. Pantomime gets two thumbs up and I absolutely recommend that you give it a go if you’d like something to read that is challenging, intense and hugely enjoyable.
Georgie Penney is a teen writer and bookworm from England. At the moment she’s working on a gay YA novel of her own and can be found procrastinating on Twitter (@missgeorgie) or else ranting on her blog (georgiepenney.weebly.com).