Rummanah Aasi
  Wonder Show was nominated for the William Morris award, an award given to debut authors, last year. I haven't heard much about the book until the book awards last year and decided to check it out.

Description: 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.

Review: It's difficult to call Wonder Show a novel as it is more like vinettes showing the slices of Portia's life. The story takes place during the Great Depression. Portia is burdened with guilt over the sudden death of her friend. She escapes from the McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls to search for Max, her father. Portia believes her father escaped from their Gypsy camp and followed the circus in hopes of finding a job and getting enough money to come back for her. With this hope in her heart, Portia escapes on a stolen bicycle and joins a carnival and finds a family of sorts in Mosco's Traveling Wonder Show.
  The story moves rather slowly in a sort of dreamlike fashion due to the predominately third person narration, making the reader an observer rather an active participant in the story. The pace picks up when Portia is introduced to the various characters of the circus.  She shares a trailer with Violet, a restless teenager whose parents and brother are albinos; trains for the ballyhoo under Jackal, who lures spectators to the sideshow of "freaks"; and enjoys the protection of Gideon, a young man whose father was impoverished by the stock-market crash. Portia has an unique place in the circus, while she is shunned for and constantly reminded of being 'normal' amongst the freaks, she is protected when her safety is threatened by the incredibly creepy and smarmy "Mister," who runs McGreavey's, comes to the circus in search of Portia.    There is plenty of melodrama in Wonder Show, but author balances this with the book's vivid setting and wide variety of secondary characters which Portia learns some of their back stories. The author also adds some nice information and insights about the circus life to give her story some context especially in some of the steamy aspects of the circus. I'm not exactly sure how popular this book will be with teens or if it's a book for everyone, but it's certainly worth checking out if you're curious about circuses.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are dark themes including the inferences of molestation, abandonment, animal cruelty as well as a sideshow act where beautiful conjoined sisters do a naked dance which gives enough detail to know what is going on. There is also a handful of strong language in the book too. With these reservations, I would recommended the book to strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try:  August Acrobat by Ron Roy, Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan, Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus of Life by Michael De Guzman or for older readers Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern,
5 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    I haven't read any books set at a circus Rummanah, so I have to say I'm intrigued by this one even if it didn't exactly blow you away. You mention animal cruelty though, so that has me worried. Is it just alluded to, or are their significant on-page details?


  2. Wow, that sounds a lot like Night Circus, both in plot as well as pacing and the vignette style. Do you feel like it's too similar?


  3. @Jenny: It's just alluded to it but it still made my heart hurt.

    @Alison: It sort of did in terms of its description and narration, but I found this one much more interesting than Night Circus.


  4. Candace Says:

    I love books like this, but the slower pace would concern me. I do love circus books though, especially during the Great Depression. I think I'd give this one a try!


  5. I like circuses but will probably skip this one due to the slow pace. Not having enough time to read lately means that I unfortunately have to be more selective with my reading choices. Great review though, Rummanah!


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