Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: Wondershow by Hannah Barnaby

    Review: Wondershow by Hannah Barnaby
    Published by: Houghten Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2012
    ISBN: 978-0-547-59980-9
    Reading Level: Grades 9 and up
Sometimes it's the little things about a book. Things which have nothing to do with the story. With this book, it was the dedication. It states:

    For the lost and the lonely
    For the different and the same
The longing and the beauty conveyed in these two lines made me realize I was in for a treat of a book. I was not disappointed.
To explain the plot of this story gets complicated and detailed. On the one hand, it's a story of a girl in search of her family who joins a circus, telling stories as a "normal" and finds her true family. On the other hand, this is the story of Portia, set in the United States during the 1930s. Portia is our main character - a young girl in search of her family. Portia has always had a way with stories. Her father was her constant audience; her mother was "lean and restless" and departed, leaving a space which was quickly closed and was never spoken of again. Her father and his moods controlled the stories Portia told and through that, as a young child she learned the art of storytelling, the difference between a lie and a tale and how a family can fly away. A visit to the circus was quickly followed by the disappearance of her father, leaving the two mixed in Portias mind: her father must have left to follow the circus. Portia is left with her Aunt, a no nonsense woman who taught Portia to cook and sew and who eventually decided that she was unable to care for Portia as she should be cared for. Portia is left in McGreavey's Home for Wayward Girls with the Mister, a man who uses the home as a front to get cheap labour - the girls are put to work sewing mail order uniforms or picking apples. Portia quickly becomes friends with Caroline, a girl who has caught the eye of Mister. She becomes one of the house girls, who, with Caroline and Delilah the cook, take care of the main home where Mister lives. It is there she finds the files and knows that Mister knows where her father is - she just has to earn his trust enough to be able to access it. When tragedy strikes, Portia leaves and finds the circus, hoping she can find her father, or, failing that, employment. Through the strength of her storytelling skills she finds a place as a "normal' in the Mosco's Traveling Wonder Show and it is there she discovers what family truly means.
So... big set up for a fairly pat plot - discovering family, discovering self, discovering what a freak means vs what a normal means, finding out who the true monsters are in the world. However, all of this is boiled into beautiful prose where the reader is able to watch Portia develop from a headstrong young girl into a woman who is secure in her family and her future. As well, it gives a glimpse into the world of the traveling 'freak' show - shows popular in the 1930s. Through this novel the reader gets a glimpse into part of the world of the 30s. Barnaby creates a set of characters that the reader wants to learn more about and of whom the reader will form definite opinions. Beautifully told, a little different and smart - a fantastic novel.
I give this book a 5/5
Goodreads page


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