Monday, February 25, 2013

Wonder Show, by Hannah Barnaby


"Sometimes promises are even harder to kweep than secrets. Promises are easily made - we toss them lik ecoins bound for a fountain and leave them there, under the water, waiting to be retrieved."  (52).

Lies, promises, fantasies, and the blur between reality and fiction is where this tale pits itself. Like any novel centered around the circus, in this case 'Mosco's Traveling Wonder Show,' Wonder Show has a mysterious aura that keeps you guessing and wondering just when tragedy will strike. 

Portia, the child of gypsies, finds herself parentless and living with her harsh Aunt Sophia. Sophia soon decides that she cannot care for Portia, and sends her to McGreavey's Home for Wayward Girls. Run by Mr. McGreavey, the place is vaguely creepy and reminiscent of a work camp. Portia knows that Mr. McGreavy has a secret "file" on her that will tell her where her parents are. But, after enduring his degrading treatment and witnessing a death, even this knowledge is not enough to keep her there - she escapes by night and joins up with the traveling circus, hoping to find her father somewhere along the way.

Once with the circus, Portia becomes a "bally" girl, leading patrons through the tent which houses all the "freaks" of the show - a bearded lady, the world's fattest woman, a family of albinos, the tallest man, the shortest man, etc. Portia learns much about the value of a story and realizes that everyone is searching for something, for fulfillment, just like she is searching for her father. 

Portia's stay can only last so long though, McGreavey sends two private investigators to look for her, and she is taken "home" to McGreavey's. Will this last, or will the Wonder Show family find a way to save her? 

This is author Hannah Barnaby's first novel, and what a great way to start! I loved this book and fell so in love with the characters. She did a really great job of showing the subtle tensions in the life of a circus and between the "normals" and the "freaks". She also made me think a lot about the stories we tell ourselves, and how we're sometimes capable of convincing ourselves that lies are truth. The novel is full of really rich language and beautiful imagery. Despite some mildly questionable content, it's definitely a must-read! 

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