Monday 7 October 2013

Leo's Open Love letter to Pantomime by Laura Lam

Hi! Today we have Leo, talking about Laura Lam's Pantomime.

Pantomime, by Laura Lam, is quite possibly one of the most important YA books written in the last ten years. Not only does it openly address issues that have either been ignored or forgotten, such as homosexuality or bisexuality, but it is written and executed in such a way that the book, through its characters, becomes a very introspective experience.

Essentially a story about the journey of an intersex character, Pantomime follows the lives of Gene and Micah. Gene is who Micah begins the story as; who Micah is presenting himself as and how he has chosen to live. This is why, for the purposes of this, I'll be referring to Micah as "Micah", and as a "he" instead of a gender neutral pronoun.

Micah begins the story hiding who he is, and there's a lot to say about this. The fact that Lam chose to set the book in a society very interested in propriety is an excellent way of conveying the underlying tones of non-acceptance that fuel the need for YA books that deal with such issues with both sensitivity and sensibility.

I'm not especially knowledgeable in regards to LGBT themed YA books, mainly because I read exclusively fantasy, and the choice of LGBT themed SFF books is fairly limited. But that's where Pantomime is starting to straddle the lines between regular YA novels and those that cater more to SFF interests: Pantomime, with its subtle semi-Victorian Ellada and plethora of myths lurking just beneath the surface, is a book that doesn't boast the kind of fantasy themes that could overshadow the overall subtlety of just what Lam is trying to do.

In fact, my not having read too widely in the genre (should it even be called that?) of LGBT fiction gives me a completely fresh and new perspective. And that perspective is what tells me that Pantomime is an ideal sort of book: not only because it handles the themes so well, but that it presents so many relevant issues and themes that are entangled within the issue of being different and allowing yourself to discover that.

Ultimately Lam wrote a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance; I'm not sure there's anything more important than discovering who you are and accepting yourself.

Micah runs away from home to escape what is essentially surgery that will make him completely female, just as his parents want. Micah doesn't feel female, doesn't especially want to be female - so he runs away. This sort of idea doesn't apply just to someone who, like Micah, is intersex. Parents sometimes refuse to accept a gay or trans teenager, and the reaction presented would still be the same: to run. If we're talking about real life, teens don't always actually run. But you don't have to physically up and out to really be running. There are a thousand ways of running away from what hurts us. When you don't feel accepted for what and who you are, if the reaction isn't to try and bend towards what is expected, you run, close off, put up walls and defend yourself.

Micah does this by creating for himself a new life. Again, this reaction is mimicked by people who don't run. It's not difficult to, when pressured and you feel alone, to try on a new persona, one that feels more real and more like you. Whether it's coming out online where you can be openly gay, or playing a female character in a role play because you're discovering you're transgender, or even assuming a completely genderless existence where nobody pins a label onto you and your own physical or mental gender can be precisely what you do or do not want it to be - doesn't this sound like Micah leaving home and slipping into the persona he wants to wear?

I'm deliberately stretching a metaphor here, but imagine that the circus - its lifestyle, its dynamic - is the Internet. Micah encounters trouble because of his past and the threat of discovery. Micah meets other people who have secrets too. He finds himself discovering even more about himself sexually and mentally, then he would have done otherwise.

The circus is a freeing place for Micah, just like the Internet is a freeing place for people who need to get away from whatever lack of acceptance and understanding plagues their offline lives.

But it's not just this that makes Pantomime so special, there's more to it that's subtle and simply slipped so casually between the pages. Micah is forced by circumstance to explore the concept of bisexuality, something important to Micah, who had never considered that finding a male attractive whilst presenting himself as a male would be a gay romance, at the same time as accepting that dating a female as he is does not constitute a lesbian relationship.

Bisexuality is something so often overlooked in favour of homosexuality, and this is problematic. Someone of a binary gender can be attracted to both men and women. And this makes them bisexual. In the same way, someone who is intersex is precisely the same if they are attracted to men and women. Further, a transgender of transsexual person can still be bisexual. What is great with Lam's exploration of all this isn't just how Micah reacts, but how those around him interact with him and react to the romantic situations.

For the most part, Micah's former life as Gene is kept a secret, but when a male character does find out, the romantic advances (whether acted upon or simply implied by the non-POV character) must be considered male-to-male, since Micah has the choice to exact himself as male. That the character one knew Gene is irrelevant, because now he knows Micah.

One of the most well-handled issues that Lam managed to weave neatly into everything else, is uncertainty. Sometimes we're taught completely rigidly and in black and white. Micah, sometimes, is unsure. When he plays the part of a girl in a play - and enjoys it - he is unsure. When he handles feelings for the people around him, male and female, he is unsure. I'm hoping these themes of uncertainty continue into Shadowplay: they're too important to Micah's development to allow to fizzle out. But Lam will stay true to the issues she has introduced: she's got this.

Ultimately, when people talk about Pantomime, it's all about Micah and an intersex character. But it's really so much more than that, and that's why I get cross when I don't see Pamtomime on the shelves of my local bookshop, or being discussed by online forums, or by the world at large.

This is such an important story and Strange Chemistry landed themselves a stunner of a novel. Everyone should read and talk about this book - and definitely never shut up.

Pantomime can be found on Amazon and Goodreads
Leo can be found at his blog, Jet Black Ink, as a regular writer for Fantasy Faction, and on twitter


  1. Great open letter! Really enjoyed reading this. Pantomime looks *so* good! I requested a copy but I'm not sure if it's still coming- I may have to go buy a copy soon- I've heard so many great things about it :)

  2. What a great open letter! And thank you for discovering this book for me, I'll surely be checking it out!


Thanks for taking time to read this!
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Nina xxx

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