13. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, 288 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/08/2012

Portia’s life has been anything but ordinary. First, Portia is growing up during the Dust Bowl and times are tough. Her mother vanished when she was young. Her father stuck around and encouraged her penchant for telling stories, but as times grew worse, he left as well and Portia is stuck living with her spinster aunt. Try as she might, Portia’s aunt is not prepared to deal with a willful, imaginative girl. Portia is then sent off to live in a home for “wayward” girls. It’s a brutal place with little hope. But Portia is not your average girl and craves freedom more than anything. She is convinced that her father is traveling with a circus and is determined to find him one day. Eventually, after some tragic events, Portia finds the will to escape the home and sets off to join up with the circus/sideshow that recently passed through. She figures that will be the best way to begin her search for her father.
While her father isn’t with this particular outfit, Portia joins up with the sideshow anyway. Since she isn’t a “freak” or a “human oddity”, she has to take one of the few other positions available. She quickly fails at the domestic aspects of keeping a sideshow running, but her quick thinking and talent for storytelling land her a job with the head “talker” (the guy who draws people into the sideshow and speaks on stage). Bit by bit, Portia becomes ever more immersed in the sideshow until it becomes apparent that this is more than just looking for an absent father. Just when Portia is trying to decide what her next move will be, the secrets from her past catch up with her.
I really enjoyed this quirky tale of sideshows and their inhabitants. The setting is amazing and the narration entirely charming. While most of it is told by an omniscient narrator, there are excerpts from Portia’s notebooks, documents and letters and narration from a variety of colorful characters. I love the setting; there are entirely too few books out there set in depression-era sideshows. It’s historical fiction with a defiant flair.

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