by Hannah Barnaby
Portia is a Wayward Girl. Not in the traditional sense of wayward, but rather because she lives at McGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister manages the girls’ lives with an iron fist and creepy calmness. After an awful event, Portia decides it’s time to get away from Mister and try to find her family.
Naturally, she decides to run away to the circus. Sort of. She gets a job working with the side show – a conglomeration of human oddities put on display for “normals” to point at and talk about.
A book about running away to the circus? You know I was sold. Okay, so not exactly the circus. But the Wonder Show, a carnival attached to the circus. Either way: sold.
Barnaby has made some interesting choices in her debut: she uses multiple perspectives WHILE switching between first and third person throughout the book. For the most part, I found it worked. It made the story interesting and gave the reader insight into the various personalities that appear in the book and the actions they make. The real issue I had with the changing perspectives is sometimes it changed perspectives too soon – I didn’t get enough emotional connection in some of the important scenes because immediately after the event, the perspective changed.
It was unique, though. As I’m writing about it, I’m realizing that it gave the book a documentary feel: the action happens in third person, then there’s a first person interview-type section with a key character. Interesting, if problematic emotionally.
I also would have liked a bit more meat in the part where Portia joins the Wonder Show. That was the most fascinating part of the book and it took place in something like a few weeks. I think if I would have felt a stronger emotional connection between Portia and the Wonder Show crew, the end of the book would have had a bigger impact.
Basically, I just wanted more. More depth, more backstory, more Wonder Show, more connection.
That’s not to say Wonder Show was a bad book – it isn’t. It takes a pretty unique premise (I’m having trouble thinking of YA books about running away to the circus?) and an emotional story about trying to find your family and it makes for a good read.
The historical nature of the book – Barnaby based many of the Wonder Show “freaks” on actual people who toured in Side Shows – was well-done and the creep-out factor of Mister was awesome.
I also was a fan of the simmering under the surface romance and of how things played out for Portia’s family – that rang true for me.
While I would have preferred more of Portia’s story and her time with the Wonder Show, I can acknowledge how the switched perspectives gave a unique look at the secondary characters in the book. I also think the premise of the book was fascinating enough to make it a great read for any one that finds circuses an interesting topic.
Where this book came from: e-galley provided by the publisher
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt