Pantomime by Laura Lam
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
CAUTION: Long Review
Comments on this thread are heavily moderated, meaning I am trigger-happy with the delete and block buttons. For a similar but less ranty viewpoint, check out this review by The Book Smugglers.
How the Description is Offensive (to me)
I’m offended that the description for Pantomime misled me into thinking this was a story about star-crossed lovers. It is not. This is NOT a spoiler; I repeat, this NOT a spoiler. Gene and Micah are the same person. This is a story about an intersex protagonist.
This is NOT a spoiler!
Misleading description is misleading and offensive on two fronts.
NOT. a. spoiler.
+ 1st front
It deceive readers because you think you're getting a YA romance when in fact it's a YA fantasy. Yes, I did assume it's a YA romance, but let me ask you this. If the description mentions a boy and a girl character, and the story is YA, and most YA nowadays, as in 99% of them, that mentions a boy and a girl characters are YA romances, can you honestly tell me my assumption is unreasonable?
There is a romance subplot in Pantomime, but it's not a romance book. The plot focuses on Gene and Micah but they're the same and one person. Pantomime is a YA fantasy.
To me this is the equivalent of reading a YA dystopian for the dystopian part when in fact the dystopian part is only 5% of the book at the most while 95% of it is ridiculous insta-love romance.
+ 2nd front
It smack of homophobia because there's no hint anywhere on the cover or in the description, especially the description, that it's an LGBT book unless you read reviews, “spoilers” reviews. Treating something a reader learn about the protagonist at The Very Beginning, especially when the protagonist is LGBT and there is a history of marginalization of LGBT people and whatnot, as a secret is disrespectful to say the least.
Not to mention the implication that readers have to be tricked in order to read about an LGBT individual.
You know what this is called? Motherfucking straightwashing. Well, just straightwashing but I added the motherfucking in to express my rage.
+ my 2-cents, take it or leave it
I do not believe for a second that the author nor the publisher intended the misleading description to be interpreted as so, but interpreted by me it did. What I do believe is that it's a very, Very Poor Marketing Decision.
I would understand why the description prevaricate the protagonist’s “secret” if it was not for the heavy clues dropped from The Very Beginning: the narrative voice, the red hair, the big brother, and the acrobatic talent Micah and Gene shared. And oh yeah, there were also the male-like body parts Gene had and how traditionally male she acted. I mean, seriously. You would have to be very disengaged from the book to not make the connection. At 20% of the book, it was bluntly pointed out that Micah was Gene in a way that suggested if you haven’t realize it you’re dense or very bored and thus very inattentive to the book or couldn’t care less. This was in no way some twist revealed at the end like the unmasking of the murderer in a mystery novel.
The protagonist was the best part of the book, and I feel strongly that the description should have been upfront about his LGBT trait. I understand some readers would not want to read LGBT YA books because there is a belief that such books are usually issue books, dark and depressing, life is a bitch and then you die. However, the description could have avoided that by emphasizing the fantasy part of the book because that is what the book was about anyway.
I am well aware of the great possibility that I may be the only one who have this interpretation because, let's face it, I'm almost always in the minority opinion when it comes to ratings and reviews. Still, it's my 2-cents, a very important 2-cents, and I'm letting it be known.
UPDATE: I am not only the who thinks so. Shoutout to book bloggers The Book Smugglers and LGBT author Malinda Lo.
What The Book Is About
Pantomime is about Micah who runs away from home to the circus only to later end up in big trouble there too. He has an unrevealed destiny that could change the world, but he first got to survive circus life. The circus is like Hollywood. Behind all that fame and glam, bad shit is happening.
Pantomime is a dazzling YA fantasy. It is not an issue book like, well, anything by Ellen Hopkins.
Why I Love Micah
Barring the description of the book, not a thing written in the book offended me. Pantomime dealt with intersexuality in a respectful and preferably non heavy-hearted manner. I loved how the book made Micah more than about his intersexuality, that it was in the way of “this is how Micah is different but readers can relate to him anyway even though they don’t share his difference because everyone has something different about them that caused an issue for them.” It was easy for me to relate to Micah.
Micah felt real and tangible; he had an all around elegant character development. I liked his silent courage and his won’t-let-shit-pull-me-down-I’ll-be-okay attitude. His kickassness was subtle but no less awesome.
What I Didn’t Like
+ the love triangle
I liked Aenea and Drystan, but I didn’t like the love triangle. I quickly established myself as Team Drystan because Micah had a brighter future with him than with Aenea. Micah had many things in common with Drystan, and most importantly they were honest with each other later in the book.
Aenea, on the other hand, shared intimate details of her life which Micah did not reciprocate. Thus, it was absolutely no surprise that later in a revelation scene she felt betrayed. One thing I did not expect was how permanent things were going to be with Aenea.
Regardless, It was very predictable how the love triangle was going to be resolved, i.e. which romantic interest would win. The book would have been better off without the love triangle in the first place. I get that one of the reasons it existed was to show how Micah could be attracted to both sexes, that sexual orientation was a large non-issue and apart from Micah’s gender identity. I liked that about Micah, his clarity of love and attraction. However, passing attractions to strangers would have accomplished the same.
Poor girl, as if she had not suffered enough shit. Micah should have kept his relationship with Aenea platonic. That was one of the few things I did not like about Micah.
+ the over-extensive flashbacks
The plot alternated between the present and past, when Micah is Micah and when Micah is Gene respectively. For the first half of the book, I didn’t mind the flashbacks despite them being the singular reason for the slow pacing. I can plainly see the necessity for backstory building and character development.
But by the last half of the book, I quickly tired of it. I didn’t find the flashbacks to be necessary anymore, and my patience for the slow pacing reached its limit. I wanted the book to focus on the action in the present plot where things were heating up.
+ the domestic violence
It was a background issue. I didn’t like how it was kept as a background issue. I didn’t like how no one helped the victim except for passing concerns. I didn’t like how the issue was later pulled to the front stage for a climactic confrontation where the victim’s fate was revealed like some cheap conflict. How it ended bombs, in more ways than one.
+ the cliffhanger
The ending was a cliffhanger. Things were finally getting epic, and the book forced me to wait for the sequel to see our heroes’ fate. I felt cheated. I felt like the book finally gave me pure awesomeness to chew on, but then at the last moment, when it was at my fingertips, ripped it away from my reach. Cheated and steamed. I was mad to the point where I seriously considered downgrading the book’s star rating a full star level.
I rate Pantomime 3-stars for I liked it. I came to this book hesitantly because it sounded like the YA version of The Night Circus, a book that I hold no interest for, let alone a YA version of it. Yet I decided to read Pantomime anyway because of the rave reviews. Great writing, vivid world building, and enchanting characters, the book merits the rave.
That said, I recommend waiting for the sequel to read the books back to back.
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