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Monday, November 11, 2013

Wild Boy, written by Rob Lloyd Jones. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $19.00 ages 10 and up

"Finally, Wild Boy saw beneath the hood, and he had to bite his lip to stop himself from crying out. It wasn't a man that he saw, but a mask. It was one of the carnival masks that were sold around the fairgrounds - a white porcelain doll's face, eerily featureless except for a long, hooked nose, like a bird's beak, that protruded from the center."

When Wild Boy is born, covered with hair and considered a freak of nature, he is placed with the unscrupulous and evil Bledlow, the master of the workhouse. He allows visitors to have a look at the boy for money, and keeps Wild Boy isolated from the others as much as possible. Treated with derision by all, the boy finds comfort in watching what is happening outside the workhouse windows. As he watches, he develops an uncanny ability to observe and surmise much about the people who pass by. He reminds me of a young Sherlock Holmes, in fact.

Augustus Finch, a greedy, menacing showman comes to the workhouse to take Wild Boy off to the circus where he will attract many paying customers who want a chance to see the 'freaks'. Wild Boy thinks that life will be better for him; how wrong that thinking proves to be. Finch is a mean tyrannical drunk who gives Wild Boy little to eat, treats him with anger and intimidation and forces him to do his bidding. Sir Oswald lives with them in the caravan:

"Sir Oswald had no legs. Instead he got about on his hands, which were as tough and leathery as his wrinkled old face. But, despite his disability, he always looked immaculate in his tailcoat, top hat and tie. There wasn't a speck of dirt on his face, a rare achievement in a place as filthy as a travelling fair."

Sir Oswald looks out for Wild Boy, and tries to give him advice that will keep him safe from Finch. Alas, Wild Boy is independent, feisty and not willing to take the abuse that Finch likes to hand out. One night while trying to avoid a beating from Finch, Wild Boy takes note of an interesting visitor to the fair, and soon finds himself the object of a manhunt as suspect in a pair of murders. We know he didn't do what he is accused of; who will help him prove it?

Why, Clarissa will!  Clarissa is an young acrobat and she doesn't like Wild Boy any more than he likes her. It turns out that they make a pretty good team, each with special skills and abilities that allow them to find the answers to the mysterious deaths. In doing so, they discover that it's not what is on the outside that really counts. There is lots here to hold attention, and I found myself tearing through it. I must admit that books about nineteenth century London intrigue me, partly due to the terrible conditions that so many children found themselves in; yet, they often proved much stronger than the circumstances that threatened to overwhelm them.  Wild Boy and Clarissa do just that!

The killer was a surprise to me! I wonder if you will feel the same. I closed the book in hopes that I will meet Wild Boy and Clarissa again, in the near future.

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