The Phantom Twin

First Second. Mar. 2020. 208p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781626729254; pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781626729247.
Gr 6 Up–Isabel and Jane Peabody are conjoined twins, bilaterally bound since birth and sold to a “freak show” at age three. Fed up with mounting abuse and craving autonomy, Jane convinces a hesitant Isabel to undergo a risky separation. Jane dies during surgery but lives on as a literal phantom limb; meanwhile, a bereft Isabel must return to the midway short two limbs and her lifelong companion. Guided by her supernatural sister and her sideshow family (from Harold, a thoughtful young Black man playing the “Wildboy,” to Nora, a tattooed snake charmer who doubles as surrogate mother and street-smart older sister), Isabel must discover her place, now that she’s no longer a “freak” but not quite able to fit in among the rest of the world. With spare text and simple illustrations, Brown’s debut packs a wallop. Tight India ink linework brings to life flashes of Nora’s tattoos; digital washes suffuse tidy panels in muted hues. As Isabel copes with eviscerating loss, she grows from a naive adolescent to a more self-aware young woman, along the way learning hard-won lessons, self-reliance, and exploitation. Though romance does surface, it shares the stage with a death-defying sisterly bond, found familial love among midway performers, the honesty and empathy of healthy relationships, and the self-love Isabel cultivates as she comes into her own as an artist and adult.
VERDICT Brown delivers a sensitive, nuanced meditation on ability, agency, belonging, family, and otherness.

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