Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones

Bound to an cruel man who uses Wild Boy's unusual appearance to attract a crowd, Wild Boy has spent years traveling London's circus route as a sideshow attraction. His one joy is watching fair-goers and deducing details about their lives from clues found on their person.  When a mysterious fairground attendee is found dead, Wild Boy finds himself framed for the murder. Now he must put his uncanny skills of observation to use to find the real murderer and clear his name.

Born with hypertrichosis, Wild Boy is a unique main character in that he is the epitome of outcast. In Victorian England those born with unusual or deformed bodies were regaled to lives in sanitariums or working the circus circuit as stars of "freak shows". Wild Boy is a kind soul who is curious about the world around him, despite his brutal upbringing, and amuses himself by observing details of the circus patrons to uncover their activities, occupations and secrets. (Who is really rich? Who is cheating on a spouse? Which patron took a carriage to the circus?) This acute desire to uncover the details of other people's lives illustrates the depth of Wild Boy's loneliness without belaboring the point for the reader. When Wild Boy is arrested for murder he receives unexpected help from the aerialist Clarissa, daughter of the very woman who stands as Wild Boy's accuser.

Clarissa, is a gunge-ho, take no prisoners female who doesn't wait for a boy to solve her problems (a refreshing change from the damsel-in-distress trope). She is fast to create a plan and makes quick, gut-based decisions that sometimes lead to unfavorable consequences. Both of the main characters come from broken, abusive backgrounds but retain a sweetness (often masked with manger) that makes them solid, if unlikely, partners in crime solving.

The central mystery is well-crafted, with a couple misdirections thrown in to lead the reader astray. Victorian London is, thankfully, not romanticized but rather described in all it's malodorous and dirty glory. The main characters of this novel live past the edges of polite society and there are no teas, or table manners, or etiquette to detract from the rollicking adventure and layered mystery. Writing is vivid and direct which speeds the pace of the novel and encourages the reader to finish this novel in one sitting.

Book Source: Candlewick Press
Reviewer: Rebecca

Recommended Ages: 10+
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