In this loosely woven series setup, a relentlessly ordinary lad who has taught himself to juggle is kidnapped by the owners of a traveling medicine show.
Repeatedly drawn to jovial pitchman Master Melville’s horse-drawn wagon, 11-year-old Sullivan finally nerves himself to crawl into a box on stage as the magician’s volunteer. When he wakes up, the wagon has traveled on, and he’s locked inside with three young performers who are likewise kidnap victims. In a beguiling if startlingly unlikely development, Sullivan soon develops such strong familial ties with the rest of the troupe and becomes so wrapped up in developing and practicing a compelling juggling act, that he puts any plans to escape or even to contact his family on hold. Meanwhile, the general belief back home that Sullivan drowned in the nearby river leads two schoolmates to organize a memorial celebration, while Sullivan’s stubborn little sister Jinny sets out with an octogenarian ally to prove he’s still alive. Fagan cuts his three-stranded tale off abruptly, leaving these plotlines in midair—but readers willing to go with the flow will at least get a glimmer of how Sullivan could become so distracted from his most obvious purpose by the profound inner rewards of acquiring a difficult physical skill.
Food for thought here about varieties of motivation, though with too many unanswered questions and a sudden, resolution-free ending that is more annoying than tantalizing. (Adventure. 11-13)