Title: Wonder Show
Author: Hannah Barnaby
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
ISBN-10: 0547599803 (Houghton Mifflin)
ISBN-13: 978-0547599809 (Houghton Mifflin)
Reviewed by: Macie
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.
Quick & Dirty: A surprising story of a girl trying to find herself while on the run by joining a circus in 1940’s America.
Opening Sentence: Wayward can mean a lot of things. It can mean lost, misled, unfortunate, left behind. That is how the girls at The Home thought of themselves, despite their best efforts to live some other way.
Wonder Show is hard to classify as a book with its multiple perspectives and its unusual subject matter, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Portia is part of a Gypsy family that slowly leaves her and her town, including her father. She is left alone living with her strict aunt who drops her off at the McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls. Portia has to work hard and live a life with no comforts. The girls pick apples during the day, and sleep in a cold shed at night. This portion of the story is very bleak, and it broke my heart to read. There is enough evidence of the unspoken life of work forces of abandoned children that Portia’s story could very well be true.
The first portion of the book is set at Mister’s house where Portia talks her way into doing housework instead of laboring in the orchard. She runs away to find her father, and to get away from the threatening, possibly murderous Mister. Mister is mysterious and we never learn much about him besides the fact that he has been taking in wayward girls for a long time, and knows how to get them back if they escape. Portia joins a travelling circus as a way to escape the house and to look for her dad. The book is divided into individual chapters that are either about what is currently happening, or from the view point of individual characters, or from Portia’s memories. Portia first meets Gideon, a boy not much older than herself, at the circus, and he introduces her to Mosco to see if he will hire her. She was supposed to cook chicken fried steak, but instead cooked the one dish she knew and introduced it with an elaborate story. Because of her storytelling abilities, Portia gets a job working inside the human curiosities tent introducing the people. She shares a trailer with Violet, who’s parents and brother are albinos in the circus, and learns more about those around her as they travel from town to town.
People come and people go in the circus, but there is always something that can be learned from others, whether it be about them or yourself. I really enjoyed the insight into the different type of people that make up a circus show since many of them, especially the human oddities, would rarely be accepted into mainstream society in their time. For the outcasts of society to come together and form their own society where they are accepted was interesting to read. The first person insights into the other characters give them more depth, but it is only a glimpse. It is often said throughout the book that people keep things close to themselves, and rarely divulge secrets or personal histories. The only time we find out more about the characters is during their individual chapters.
Even though this takes place in America, Wonder Show sometimes reads like a fantasy novel. The alternating narrators and point of view reminds me of modernist stream of consciousness novels. There is very much a dreamlike quality to Wonder Show as Portia continues her life while trying to find her father, and who she is as well. This is a novel about growing up, the search for self identity, and learning to accept others for who they really are. I would recommend this for anyone who is looking for a different, darker, but thoughtful read.
She found Gideon on the border of the midway, sitting on a water barrel and gazing toward the big top. “Better not let Mosco find you like that,” she said lightly. She knew, already, that there was always something to be done, some chore, some form of motion needed to keep the circus on schedule. Sitting still was rarely an option.
Gideon smiled. “I can always tell him I’m on clown patrol.”
Portia smiled, too. She didn’t know what to say next. She felt–not nervous exactly, but restless, jittery.
“You finished with Jackal already?” Gideon asked.
“I guess so. For today. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be learning from him. All he told me was a story about–“
“Yes. I thought you said people here didn’t like to talk about themselves.”
“Well, for one thing, Jackal’s not quite like everybody else. And for another, that story’s not really about Jackal. That story’s been bumping around since the talker before the talker before Jackal. According to Doula.”
“I figured,” Porta said. “Still, it was interesting.”
Gideon wiped at his forehead with the back of one hand, then shaded his eyes and looked toward the circus again. “First o’Mays think everything’s interesting around here. Especially the sideshow.”
“First of what?”
“First o’May. Somebody who signs on with the circus because they’re curious. Or in trouble. Running away from something, usually.”
“Is that what you think I am?”
“Aren’t you? Nothing wrong with it.”
FTC Advisory: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt provided me with a copy of Wonder Show. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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