The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown


Goodreads: The Phantom Twin
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020


Isabel and Jane, conjoined twins, star in a carnival sideshow as the Extraordinary Peabody Sisters. Jane, however, dreams of living life on her own and insists they take up the offer of a surgeon who believes he can separate them. When Jane dies, however, Isabel has to figure out how to move forward–not an easy thing to do when ghostly Jane is still sticking around.

Star Divider


The Phantom Twin is a sensitive look at experiencing loss and trying to find your way through it. Isabel and Jane were conjoined twins, acts in a carnival sideshow. When a surgery goes wrong, however, Isabel has to figure out how to move forward. It does not help that Jane was always the strong one. Or that her ghost is still sticking around. Isabel wants to try to use this opportunity to decide the direction of her own life. But, even dead, Jane still has her own ideas of what Isabel should and should not do. The Phantom Twin is a bittersweet story about forging one’s own path.

Lisa Brown’s take on the carnival sideshow is a nuanced look at a lifestyle that simultaneously exploited “freaks” while also providing them a level of independence they might not otherwise have experienced. As she portrays in the story and explains in an afterward, the freak show relied on “exotic” individuals to draw in crowds, putting on display people who may have had uncommon physical looks or abilities. For some, however, the show proved a chance for them to display their bodies or abilities proudly. And the show could be an escape from a life on the streets or in an institution. The label “freak” was ultimately adopted by some performers as a badge of pride. Even though the concept of the “freak show” can repel, it can also fascinate–the people involved, after all, often demonstrated extraordinary talent in their chosen skills.

The sideshow is the backdrop for The Phantom Twin, but at its heart, the story is one of relationships. Isabel is lost after Jane’s death, and she finds comfort going back to her sideshow family. These are the people who have always loved and supported her, even though she and Jane were social outsiders. As time progresses, however, Isabel has to figure out if the sideshow is all she wants in life, or if she is brave enough to try to make it on her own. Ghost-Jane certainly wants Isabel to leave the show behind; she always felt their outsider status keenly and wanted to live a “normal” lifestyle as separated twins. But Isabel does not have the same negative associations with the freak show; she sees it as home. Ultimately, Isabel has to decide what it is she–and not Jane–needs to be happy.

The Phantom Twin takes readers on a journey through a complicated part of history, exploring the contradictions of the carnival sideshow while highlighting the very human faces behind the acts. It’s a graphic novel that readers will sure to be talking about this year.

4 stars

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