Ears on the Odyssey

Audio review: Freakshow

Billy Bloom is a little oblivious, a little spoiled, a little inexperienced, but he is a lot of drama, glamour, and attitude. Billy’s unstable mother boots him out of his Connecticut home to live with his crazy rich and disapproving father in Fort Lauderdale. Billy suddenly finds himself in a snooty private school full of Ken and Barbie doll conformists.

Billy’s flamboyant outfits and unwavering inability to hide his true self garner him insults, slurs, and isolation from his closed-minded and cruel classmates. This attention turns violent and almost deadly when the football team attacks Billy in a class. But golden boy quarterback, Flip Wilson, rescues and befriends him. Billy wants nothing more than Flip by his side forever and ever, but what about Flip? And together can they win over this bigoted school as the prom approaches?

In this multicast audio main narrator Ben Estus shines as Billy Bloom. Estus truly embodies Billy’s every extravagant, intense emotional outburst, and giddy inner dialogue. Told through Billy’s perspective, there is an intimacy that Estus projects in this audio that makes the listener feel that they are inside Billy’s bouncy and battled brain. Billy’s reactions to the world around him can be a lot but Estus’ voicing of Billy’s persona doesn’t feel overdone for what is happening in the text. Estus can also capture the more muted moments of heartbreak and pain when Billy is suffering from violence at the his hands of classmates or the rejection from his father.

The other actors in the cast- Suzanne Toren,‎ Tracey Petrillo,‎ and Caitlin Kelly- also voice believable characters especially when multiple people are talking all at once. Most successful of these are the bullying scenes when the multicast narrators yell and harass Billy. It is physically painful to listen to Billy’s utter shame and embarrassment in these intense moments.  I think that’s exactly right reaction to have to what’s happening. There are also a lot of production additions such as sound effects and music that give this listen a fullness that one could miss out on in just reading book.

St. James, a television personality, originally published Freakshow in 2007 and it is now a 2018 movie. Although it is a hallmark for queer literature for teens, there are few problematic elements, like fat shaming and ethnic slurs, that listeners of today might find off-putting. That said, Freakshow is an excellent multicast audio worth a listen!

Freakshow, by James St. James, read by Ben Estus,‎ Suzanne Toren,‎ Tracey Petrillo,‎ Caitlin Kelly. 8 hours and 24 minutes.‎ Hachette Audio.


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