Review: “Wonder Show” by Hannah Barnaby

Title: “Wonder Show”

Author: Hannah Barnaby

Genre: MG, young YA, historical fiction

Release Date: March 2012

Summary: 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.

☆: 4/5 – a very charming MG/YA debut!

Review: This one was really charming, guys. I think a lot of MG female readers are going to relate to Portia’s character (especially if they’ve gone through/are going through what she’s gone through), and a lot of the other characters constructed in this wonderful world of the past. Though we’re not solidly set in one year, it seems like we’re set somewhere between 1935-1941 for the duration of the novel. This is a marvelous world of circus/carney folk (which I LOVE), whose hayday was dying out around this time right before WWII. “Wonder Show” does indeed inspire wonder and insight into this dying art of the ballyhoo and the position of one girl within it, who’s also looking for her own place in the world as a whole.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a bit, you guys know I love anything with circuses. It doesn’t matter what kind of circus, or when it’s set. So for placing a coming-of-age story within a circus, Barnaby automatically gets a nod for being awesome. We actually have two main arcs within this book – that of Portia’s journey to find herself/be found by her father and that of the world of the circus/freakshow, which at this point was dying in the US a slow and sad death. Barnaby doesn’t go into too deep a history of the circus industry, but she does talk about past famous acts and acts that always attracted the “rubes” (or rubbernecking normal folk), as well as how the industry for a traveling circus with a freakshow worked in terms of territory. Those parts made for some of the most fascinating reading of the whole book as I’m interested in all of that quite a bit.

And Portia’s journey is a satisfying one – Barnaby really emphasizes Portia’s question of “Who am I?” from the first page on, and every page where Portia is, continues to emphasize it through little hints scattered throughout the text like so many breadcrumbs. There are so many answers and extensions of this question – “Who am I without my gypsy family but with only my father?”, “Who am I without my father?”, “Who am I at Mister’s House?”, “Who am I with Mosco’s Circus?” and so forth. At each stage of the book, according to her location, she finds an answer, but it’s not enough. Her persistance in her search to become someone other than the girl she used to be was really quite a wonderful read.

The rest of the characters in the novel – even from the least mentioned to the most mentioned are almost as rounded out as Portia is, and overall were given a very real feeling to them. Barnaby manages to do this best, however, once Portia enters the Wonder Show and starts traveling with them. She manages to do it in so few words, which impressed me. And she also gave chapters to extend history to the freaks – which were small but made them feel very tangible as real people. And the matter of Caroline, well…she continues to haunt the story throughout, making Portia ask herself darker questions that I won’t spoil here.

So all in all? I really enjoyed this one, guys, and recommend it to late MG/young YA readers, as I think they’ll really get the most out of it in terms of the whole coming-of-age theme, but really, any reader at any age will be charmed by Barnaby’s wonderous “Wonder Show”. “Wonder Show” is out now in North America, so be sure to check it out! It’s a really fun read.


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