Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) is a young adult novel as engrossing as its Depression-era carnival freak show backdrop. Portia Remini watches as the adults in her family clan flit away like moths, one by one, in search of opportunity during the Great Depression. After a few years with her steel-hearted aunt Sophia, she finds herself under the oppressive stewardship of Mister, proprietor of the for-profit McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls, many of whom, like Portia, are orphans by parental abandonment rather than death. Portia endures the horrors there by remembering her papa, whom she's convinced has run off to join the circus. She is determined to find him, and when her path crosses with a traveling circus, she seizes her chance.
But earning the confidence of the carnival freak show won't be easy. She's a "normal." What can she do to trick rubes into parting with money? People ogled for a living don't easily trust. Runaways come and go in the circus; most of the sideshows don't bother learning their names. Portia is determined to fit into her new traveling family. She's convinced the circus's route can lead her to her Papa. But Mister McGreavey never allows his wayward girls to escape. He has far more lucrative plans for Portia, after he's broken her spirit.
Jane Eyre-meets-Ringling-Bros-in-the-Dust Bowl; a gorgeously written YA debut that does not shy away from darkness, but leaves room for hope, even in a hopeless era in US history. A 2013 William Morris Debut Award finalist, and the fruit of the first-ever Boston Public Library Children's Writer-in-Residence Program. Hannah Barnaby is an MFA graduate of my alma mater, the Vermont College of the Fine Arts program for Writing for Children and Young Adults. Go VCFA!
Note re: readership/age level: Some brief content re: circus performing is mature in nature; very tastefully handled.
Find Wonder Show in hardcover from your local bookstore. Strongly recommended.