“Something began to move in Portia’s memory, reluctant as a rusted wheel-the old story she had made for herself, in which Max had run off with the circus. How many circuses were there? Fewer, Portia knew, than there had been before. Movie theaters and dancehalls cropped up like pretty weeds, common and alluring, and without the strange elements that came with traveling shows. Mister had frequently lectured her on the topic of such distasteful forms of entertainment.
But Max loved a good time. And a circus was certainly that. Even if he wasn’t still with this circus, someone might have seen him, known him, heard about his beloved daughter.
Only a few miles away, Portia thought.”
All Portia has left of her family are the stories her father used to tell her, and even the stories have grown worn and thin from constant repetition. Her dad left, long ago; now Portia is the reluctant resident of McGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls, her days filled with drudgery and brightened only by plans of escape. When she learns of a traveling circus passing nearby, Portia takes her chance and makes her home as a Normal among the performers in the sideshow. Here, she puts her storytelling skills to work, running the bally at the freak show. All the while, she watches the faces in the audience, searching for one she recognizes.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for stories about carnivals and the circus; there’s no way I could pass this up. I think you’ll really like this eerie, clever debut novel from Hannah Barnaby. It’s set during the Great Depression, and is a quirky take on the orphan story, featuring repurposed fairy tale elements and a host of fantastic sideshow performers. Not only is their a sinister mystery (what happened to all those girls whose tombstones populate McGreavey’s cemetary?), it’s a story about nontraditional families and the importance of promises. Added bonus: many of the sideshow characters are based on real-life historical figures! You can read about them in the Author’s Note at the end. Let’s hope for more of these stories from this stellar new author.
Author’s website: http://hannahbarnaby.com/
Barnaby, Hannah. Wonder Show. Houghton Mifflin: New York, 2012. 266 pp. Ages 11-14.
These books have a lot in common with Wonder Show! I think you’ll love them!