Cover image for The phantom twin
The phantom twin
Physical Description:
202 pages : color illustrations ; 23 cm

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Isabel spent her life following Jane's lead. Literally--of the two conjoined twins, Jane was always the stronger one, both physically and emotionally. But when Jane dies on the operating table during a risky attempt to separate the twins, Isabel is left alone.Or is she? Soon, Jane returns, attached to Isabel from shoulder to hip just like she used to be. Except Isabel is the only person who can see Jane--a ghost, a phantom limb, a phantom twin.Against a vivid backdrop of the hardscrabble life of circus sideshow freaks at the turn of the century, Isabel's story unfolds as an unforgettable coming-of-age tale from picture book star Lisa Brown.

Author Notes

Lisa Brown is an award-winning writer and illustrator of many picture books and comics. She is allegedly married to Lemony Snicket and definitely lives in San Francisco. This is her first graphic novel.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Raised in a sideshow since age three, 16-year-old conjoined twins Isabel and Jane, who share an arm and a leg, have made a life in a traveling carnival and a family of the other performers. When Jane, the dominant and more outgoing twin, agrees to an experimental separation surgery in hope of marriage and family, things go badly: Jane dies but abides as an angry spirit, still attached to her sibling as a "phantom twin." Artist Isabel lives on, learning to use prosthetic limbs, struggling with the loss of her livelihood and her changing position within her found family, and developing an interest in a local tattoo artist. As a muckraking journalist descends on the carnival, Brown deftly explores the insular community's relationships, capturing internal tensions while exploring the fragile protection the group offers its members against a world that shuns "freaks." Though many characters remain two-dimensional--especially the sadly underutilized titular twin--the atmospheric story's strengths lie in its relational nuance, in a beautifully evoked setting aided by Brown's uncomplicated drawings, and in Isabel's journey into autonomy. Ages 12--16. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary. (Mar.)

Horn Book Review

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. Jonathan Hunt May/June 2020 p.119(c) Copyright 2020. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Conjoined twins Jane and Isabel "Jan-Iss" Peabody are performers in an early-20th-century carnival sideshow. Sold by their parents to the sideshow manager at the age of 3, the twins are exploited to perform for gawking audiences. The other performers (or "freaks," an insult they have reclaimed) become their family. Now 16, Jane is ambitious and outgoing while Isabel is more appreciative of their carnival support system. When a doctor who aspires to medical fame offers to surgically separate the sisters, Jane jumps at the opportunity to lead a "normal" life. Isabel is less convinced but agrees for her sister's sake. Tragically, Jane dies as a result of the surgery, and Isabel, who loses their shared arm and leg, is fitted with prosthetic limbs. Haunted by her twin's ghost, Isabel struggles to come to terms with her new identity. Brown's clean, cartoonlike images in subdued hues enhance the story. The novel touches on the ways that marginalized people were exploited by sideshows but also, at times, gained the ability to avoid institutionalization and support themselves. However, the story fails to deeply explore the nature of exploitation of difference both historically and today. Strong pacing will keep readers engaged, but the characters are not well developed enough for the story to resonate on a deep emotional level. Jane and Isabel are white; secondary characters are black, Japanese American, and have various disabilities. A tale of longing and belonging. (author's note, bibliography, glossary) (Graphic fiction. 13-16) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Brown ushers readers behind the curtain of the ten-in-one in her nuanced tale of a sideshow freak. Isabel and Jane are conjoined twins, sold to a showman when they were very young--much like history's Daisy and Violet Hilton. Though performing as oddities has drawbacks, it also provides the girls with a supportive family in the other performers, such as fat lady Baby Alice and Nora, the tattooed snake charmer. One evening after their act, the sisters are approached by a doctor who believes he can separate them. Despite Isabel's misgivings, Jane, always the more dominant of the two, pushes her to agree to the surgery. Tragically, only Isabel survives, left with a cumbersome prosthetic arm and leg and the still-attached ghost of her sister. Now freakish in an entirely new way, Isabel returns to the sideshow to figure out what to do. Brown's simply lined artwork favors shades of blue, green, and red and draws upon vintage sideshow banner art as well as Sailor Jerry--style tattoos, injecting the tale with just the right aesthetic. She also incorporates commentary on the mixed experiences of freak performers, always treating this subject with respect. What emerges is a marvelous story marked by tragedy, courage, personal growth, and first love that is as singular as Isabel herself.