Review of The Phantom Twin

The Phantom Twin
by Lisa Brown; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School    First Second/Roaring Brook    206 pp.
3/20    978-1-62672-925-4    $24.99
Paper ed.  978-1-62672-924-7    $17.99

In this dark graphic novel with an unconventional cast and setting — an ode to outsiders, “freaks,” and misfits everywhere — Jane and Isabel are conjoined twins who work at a carnival sideshow. A doctor promises Jane that he can surgically separate the two, giving them a real shot at independence from each other, but Isabel, who doesn’t control their shared limbs, isn’t nearly as excited by the prospect as Jane is. Unfortunately, the operation proves fatal for Jane, and Isabel must now cope with her new reality. She gains a prosthetic arm and leg, returns to her beloved carnival community (where she invents a new act), and deals with the constant intrusions of the ghostly presence of Jane, the titular phantom twin. Isabel has two suitors — a smooth-talking newspaper journalist and a kind tattoo artist — and her eventual choice not only dramatically affects the carnival but changes the direction of her life. Brown’s expressive line illustrations (digitally colored) effectively serve the story, conveying the particulars of the sideshow, delineating the various characters and their nuanced relationships (particularly between Isabel and the phantom Jane), and driving the plot toward its satisfying conclusion. An author’s note places the exploitative nature of carnival sideshows in historical context; a brief bibliography and a glossary of “carnival lingo” are also appended.

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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