Show Stopper by Hayley Barker, published by Scholastic on 1st June 2017
Set in a near-future England where the poorest people in the land must watch their children be taken by a travelling circus – to perform at the mercy of hungry lions, sabotaged high wires and a demonic ringmaster. The ruling class visit the circus as an escape from their structured, high-achieving lives – pure entertainment with a bloodthirsty edge. Ben, the teenage son of a draconian government minister, visits the circus for the first time and falls instantly in love with Hoshiko, a young performer. They come from harshly different worlds – but must join together to escape the circus and put an end to its brutal sport.
‘Show Stopper’ by Hayley Barker was a really unique and original read. I whizzed through it pretty quickly because it was gripping and fast-flowing and hard to put down.
There were two things that I particularly enjoyed about the book. The first was that the author has chosen to base the concept for the story on the divide which is apparent in today’s society between natural born citizens and immigrants. The twist on this, is that she has depicted a near-future society where immigrants have become so reviled that they are called ‘dregs’. Their lives are not valued, they have been ostracised and pushed aside and in some cases, their children have been taken from them. In comparison, the ‘pures’ consider themselves to be the best of society and as the ruling class, they treat the ‘dregs’ as nothing more than servants or a tool for their own entertainment. I thought this was such a brilliant story idea as it’s so topical and explored at its most extreme.
The second thing that I loved about ‘Show Stopper’ is the fact that most of the action is set in the circus. There just aren’t enough stories which use the big tent as a back-drop and yet it’s something that always really attracts me towards a book. Barker’s circus is a place where dreg children are taken and made to perform for the entertainment of the pures. They are given little food, kept in squalid conditions and seen as expendable commodities. If their deaths provide an evening’s entertainment then so be it.
The way that the story wove between the two perspectives of Ben, a pure and Hoshiko, a tight-rope walker was fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Hoshiko who is at the mercy of the circus ring-leader and although physically beaten down, never lets her will to live and her desire for freedom, die. Ben is fascinated by Hoshiko and through her, his ideas about right and wrong, freedom and liberation, begin to change. It’s Hoshiko’s relationship with some of the other circus performers though that I especially enjoyed reading about. They have become a family in response to being taken away from their own flesh and blood.
If the thought of a YA novel set in the circus isn’t enough to whet your appetite, then I can tell you that this is also an imaginative and unique read which is wonderfully written and a treat to dive into. Get your hands on this book as soon as you can!