Barnaby, Hannah. Wonder Show. Houghton Mifflin 274p $16.99 978-0-547-59980-9 ms/hs E-BN Historical fiction
The year is 1939. Portia is a teenage girl who loves growing up hearing the stories told by her extended family. But as times get tough economically, the family scatters. Her father ultimately leaves Portia with an aunt, who abandons Portia at a home for wayward girls after a few months. The owner of the home places the girls in what amounts to indentured servitude. Although she establishes friendships at the home, she does something that leads to the death of her best friend, and Portia decides to flee. A traveling-circus flyer leads her to her next stop … as part of a circus tour, where she seeks refuge in the sideshow of human oddities. Because she is a “normal” in the troupe, she becomes a barker who entices paying customers to see the “freaks”.
As the circus travels from town to town, Portia never gives up hope that she will see a member of her family come through the gates of the show. The sideshow performers become her friends and ultimately her rescuers. The deformities and unique abilities of the sideshow entertainers are secondary to their personalities, which are vibrant. Readers will come to care about Portia and the other people in the circus and wish for a sequel to find out what happens next. This is a book that has intrigue, untimely death, revenge, and compassion, all rolled up in one. It is great historical fiction about a time and lifestyle in history that is not often covered in young-adult fiction. Anyone who has ever been to a state fair or circus and wondered what life is like in a traveling caravan will find the historical beginnings of this type of life revealed in this book, which bases its characters on actual sideshow personalities. -- Lois McNicol
Circus life – Fiction, Historical fiction