Title: The Life and Deaths of Frankie D.
Author: Colleen Nelson
Publication Date: April 13, 2021
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy (Magical Realism)
Number of Pages: 256
Summary: From Goodreads: Could a hundred-year-old circus sideshow be the key to Frankie’s mysterious past?
Seventeen-year old Frankie doesn’t trust easily. Not others, and not even herself. Found in an alley when she was a child, she has no memory of who she is, or why she was left there. Recurring dreams about a hundred-year-old carnival sideshow, a performer known as Alligator Girl, and a man named Monsieur Duval have an eerie familiarity to them.
Frankie gets drawn deeper into Alligator Girl’s world, and the secrets that kept the performers bound together. But a startling encounter with Monsieur Duval when she’s awake makes Frankie wonder what’s real and what’s in her head.
As Frankie’s and Alligator Girl’s stories unfold, Frankie’s life takes a sharp twist. Are the dreams her way of working through her trauma, or is there a more sinister plan at work? And if there is, does she have the strength to fight it?
Review: Thank you to Dundurn Press for inviting me to participate in this blog tour and for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Frankie Doe is a foster child with a rare skin condition who is currently living with Kris, her support/social worker, who has been helping her since she was mysteriously found in an alley when she was a child. Frankie has no recollection of her life before she was found in the alley that night; she doesn’t remember who she was, if she had any family, or anything that might help her figure out her past. When she starts having dreams about a carnival sideshow, with a performer known as Alligator Girl who has the same rare skin condition she has, she begins to wonder if maybe these eerily familiar dreams are the key to figuring out her past. As she dreams more about Alligator Girl, and the lines between her dreams and reality start to blur, things start to get more complicated, and she begins to wonder if something else is going on.
I want to start this review by talking about the main character, Frankie. Frankie has a rare skin condition called Ichthyosis Vulgaris, which means that her skin is almost scale-like and constantly dry and flaking off. Frankie is very self-conscious about her skin, and she wears heavy goth makeup to cover it up. Frankie has been through a lot in her short life, including being bounced between different foster homes, and she’s built up a pretty hard shell to protect herself. She might not be the most likable character that I’ve encountered, but I had a soft spot for her, and I wanted her to succeed and figure out the mystery behind the sideshow that’s been haunting her dreams.
I enjoyed the carnival sideshow aspect of this book, but it does have the potential to make people feel uncomfortable. In Frankie’s dreams, Alligator Girl is an act in a sideshow that took place around 100 years ago. The performers in this sideshow are all people who are discriminated against by society because they have a condition or a disability that makes them different; for example, there’s a set of conjoined twins, an albino performer, and Alligator Girl who is put on display because of her skin condition. I didn’t like how these characters were treated by the public who came to view their performances, but I liked the sense of camaraderie among the group. I also liked Alligator Girl, and I was rooting for her to find the strength that she needed to achieve her goals.
The other thing that I enjoyed about this book was the Egyptian aspects. Throughout the book, the Ankh plays an important role, and it pops up often. I liked reading about Frankie exploring this symbol’s meaning and the other ancient Egyptian rituals and symbolism that pop up in her dreams.
I want to mention a few more things before I get to trigger and content warnings. I loved Frankie’s art teacher; he seemed like the kind of teacher everyone deserves to have in their lifetime. I loved Kris, and I especially love that she always encouraged Frankie but never pushed her to do anything she wasn’t ready to do. I also loved the relationship between Kris and Frankie, and I am so happy for both of them that they have each other. Finally, although I enjoyed the ending, it did feel a little bit rushed, and I wish it were a bit more drawn out.
As far as trigger and content warnings go, there is mention of sexual assault, child abuse, child exploitation, and bullying. There are also themes of trauma and PTSD because of the things that Frankie experienced. There is also discrimination against the performers at the sideshow.
Rating: 4 stars!