Show Stopper by Hayley Barker book review

Performing is the only way to survive in Hayley Barker’s fiercely topical YA Show Stopper

Tightrope walker Hoshiko is a star. Graceful and beautiful, she’s the main attraction of the glittering Cirque, her daring antics captivating audiences everywhere.

She’s also a prisoner, forced to perform to a crowd that wants nothing more than to see her fall to her death. In Hayley Barker’s dystopian YA novel, Britain has torn itself apart along racial lines: the “Pures” live in clean, safe cities, while the “Dregs” are pushed into grim ghettoes. Talented Dreg children are drafted into the Cirque, but that’s even more dangerous, because what the ticket-buying Pures want is to see Dregs suffer.

When Hoshiko meets Ben Baines, son of the terrifying Minister for Dreg Control, both of them feel an irresistible connection, but love doesn’t come much more star-crossed than theirs.

The obvious comparison here is The Hunger Games, because both books see children in an authoritarian near-future world forced to participate in dangerous games for the entertainment of the rich and powerful. Hoshiko’s got quite a lot in common with Katniss, too, from her physical agility to her mental determination; she’s even got a younger sister figure to protect.

But while some readers might’ve missed The Hunger Games’ condemnation of our current political situation, there’s no missing the righteous anger that runs through Show Stopper. Its characters are in a horrible situation, they’re furious about it, and even if it seems impossible, they’re determined to do something about it.

Some of the emotional beats work better than others – while the love story is a little too instant to be convincing, the relationships between Hoshiko and her fellow performers are touching – but that rallying call to face down fascism is hard to resist.