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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Book Review: The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown

Isabel and Jane are so-called Siamese twins. conjoined along their sides, they are rejected by their parents and go to live at a circus, literally becoming part of the sideshow act. When they are young adults, Jane, who is by far the more opinionated and demanding sister, who wants to date (they do already but it's understandably awkward) and not be dragged down by her more reticent and reluctant sister, arranges for them to have separation surgery. This is a very new and experimental thing (I think this book is set in the 1930s?) Isabel goes along with it because she always goes along with what Jane wants.

Isabel wakes up with one arm, one leg, and no sister. Jane did not survive the surgery. Except, well, she seems to now be a ghost, still attached to Isabel (sometimes). Isabel isn't familiar with making decisions for their lives and wasn't prepared for this outcome at all. She has to navigate a whole new world, learn how to be a single person, figure out her prosthetics, and decide if she wants to (or even can) stay part of the circus. In the mean time she meets a nice guy at a tattoo parlor, but he can't really be interested in a freak like her, can he?

This book flirts with the fantastical but always does stay squarely in reality. The historical era makes it feel a little less real, but that was the height of the circus popularity not to mention, when this surgery first could be attempted, so it makes sense. I was truly worried at parts that Isabel wasn't going to find her way in the world alone. And Jane's ghost is sometimes malevolent. The only thing I wish was different was that the ghost part was both better explained and had more of an outcome. But this is a really cool book. The graphic novel format works especially well for a story so reliant of the physicality of the main character.

This book is published by First Second, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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