Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wonderful Only In the Dark


Published:  March 20th, 2012
Wonder Show
By: Hannah Barnaby
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
ISBN-13: 9780547599809

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show, a
menagerie of human curiosities and misfits guaranteed to astound and amaze!
But perhaps the strangest act of Mosco’s display is Portia Remini, a normal among
the freaks, on the run from McGreavy’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister
watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, that she could never leave.
Free at last, Portia begins a new life on the bally, seeking answers about her father’s
disappearance. Will she find him before Mister finds her? It’s a story for the ages, and
like everyone who enters the Wonder Show, Portia will never be the same.

     Portia Remini has always lived a life of uncertainty, with only one thing she knows to be true - even though her Father left her with Aunt Sophia, he will return for her someday.  So when Sophia sends her to live at McGreavy's Home for Wayward Girls because she can't deal with her wild spirit, Portia is angry and confused.  Add into the mix a sinister benefactor known only by the name "Mister" who might possibly be a Bluebeard-esque murderer and you have plenty of reasons for Portia to run away.   Joining together with Mosco's Traveling Wonder Show, Portia becomes an apprentice to the ballyhoo under the pretext of looking for her Father.  Along the way, Portia may just find something more important - who she is and what her place in the world happens to be.  But when Mister finally catches up to her, will Portia be able to make a stand for her future and set herself free once and for all?  I went into this book expecting a fun, thoughtful circus-oriented novel.  What I got was a book about a girl named Portia, the normal girl traveling with the freak show and on the run from a twisted benefactor she wants to escape from.  I liked the balance of vulnerability and snark in Portia and her familial issues made her very easy to relate to.  I wanted (alternately) to give her a hug and to smack her upside the head for making dumb decisions.  I think that her friend Caroline served as a portrayl of the road not taken in Portia's own life.  It felt like she was the contrasting side of Portia's personality.  The whole book gave off a dark, magical feeling like the world was trapped inside a snow globe with a dust storm raging around everything.  It was beautiful prose, that was on the verge of poetry.  Including narratives from so many characters was a bold choice for a debut author and even though I was disappointed that I couldn't get closer to Portia through perspective focusing, I did like the extra insights.  The ending was wonderful, and not overly cliched which made it all the better to me.  However, there was a very clunky plot twist explaining away Mister's 'graveyard' with the missing girls.  I felt that it came from nowhere and did not fit into the book, or his previous characterization at all.  My overall feeling is that this was an unusually haunting and strong debut novel and I am definitely putting this author on my watchlist; you should too!
VERDICT:  4.5/5  Stars
**No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

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