Book Review: The Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby
“Lives only begin once. Stories are much more complicated.”
Portia has always grown up hearing the stories of her family, but when her family disappears there is no one left to care for her except for The Mister. The Mister runs the McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls and it is a place that you would do anything to escape if you could, perhaps even death. When one of the girls in the home, her friend Caroline, does indeed take her life, the thought that she may be a murderer haunts her. For a while Portia languishes at the home, biding her time and praying that her father will magically appear and rescue her, but when the circus caravan drives by and a card with all their routes on it falls out a window and glides slowly to the ground, she has a new plan.
Portia jumps on a bright red bicycle and pedals to a new type of freedom, she hopes. Her she stumbles upon The Wonder Show, a side show of circus freaks who caravan across the country and make a meager living based solely on their various oddities. Tall men, short men, fat ladies and a woman with no arms who throws knives with deadly precision – they are now the only hope that Portia has of out running The Mister and trying to find the father she knows once loved the circus. Portia knows it is only a matter of time before The Mister finds her, he is not the type of man to let someone get away. And Portia, more than anyone ever has, has upset The Mister.
I feel like I am completely making this up, but The Wonder Show is kind of a lyrical historical fiction with a great gothic vibe. I loved the characters and was rooting for Portia all the way. There are little vignettes within the story that gives the observations of the various “Freaks”, and you will love them, too. This is a haunting story about a girl haunted by her past as she tries and makes a future. This little gem of a novel sneaks up on you and just grabs your heart and keeps it. Every character is richly developed and nuanced and pearls of wisdom slip off the page and into your heart. In the end, this is a truly satisfying tale with an important message to us all: sometimes we find our families in the faces of strangers.
Back Cover: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and neighbors, allow me to change your lives! Step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show! You’ve read about them in magazines, these so-called human curiosities, this tribe of misfits—now come and see for yourselves. We’ve got a gent as tall as a tree, a lady with a beard, and don’t miss your chance to see the Wild Albinos of Bora Bora! Ask Madame Doula to peer into your future (only two dollars more if you want to know how you’re going to die).
And between these covers behold the greatest act of our display—Portia Remini, the strangest of the menagerie because she’s a ‘normal’ among the freaks, searching for a new beginning on the bally, far away from McGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, said she could never leave . . .
Oh, it’s not for the faint of heart folks. If you’re prone to nightmares or you’ve got a weak ticker, you’d best move on. Within these pages lies a tale of abandonment, loss, misfortune for the rich and glory for the poor (and a little murder doesn’t hurt). It’s a story for the ages, but be warned: once you enter the Wonder Show you will never be the same.
Definitely add this to your collections. 4 out of 5 stars
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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