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Reviewed by:
  • Wonder Show
  • Kate Quealy-Gainer
Barnaby, Hannah . Wonder Show. Houghton, 2012. 271p. ISBN 978-0-547-59980-9 $16.99 R Gr. 6-9.

When the Great Depression visits every member of Portia's loud, boisterous family with either death or despair, Portia finds herself at the McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls, under the care of the creepy and abusive Mister. Portia initially resigns herself to the drafty halls of the Home, until the accidental death of her only friend sends her fleeing from Mister and chasing the one thing that resembles her concept of family: a loud, boisterous traveling circus that includes a handful of storytellers and freaks. A few well-told lies secure Portia a position in the caravan, but with Mister in hot pursuit, Portia knows she will have to face up to her past if she is to have any sort of future. An elegant, lyrical style marks Barnaby's satisfying debut novel about fate, family, and identity. From the damp, forgotten dorm rooms of the Home to the hot, dusty trail of the circus route, the settings are strikingly evocative, brought to life with vivid imagery and lush prose. Broken but resilient, Portia is a sympathetic heroine whose simple, unadorned need for love and acceptance will be immediately recognizable to any young reader, particularly as she begins to realize that the feeling of love does not always translate to the act of care. While most of the third-person narration is focalized through Portia, the perspective occasionally shifts to those in the circus around her, offering up such a devastating portrayal of fellow lost souls that the somewhat sentimental ending nonetheless feels richly deserved. An author's note discusses the historical figures that served as inspiration for several of the sideshow people and will most likely elicit further interest in the wondrous world of the traveling circus.



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