An earnest but unfocused glimpse behind the curtain of Barnum’s career.



Noyes (Tooth and Claw, 2019, etc.) explores P.T. Barnum’s career from the perspectives of his family members, performers, and acquaintances.

Barnum, the “Prince of Humbug,” rose to fame by exhibiting—and exploiting—a collection of human and animal “wonders.” But here, Jumbo the elephant and the Fejee mermaid aren’t the showman’s only “creatures.” In 11 intertwined, third-person stories spanning from 1842 to 1891, the author imagines the perspectives of those in Barnum’s narcissistic shadow—from his belittled, overwhelmed wives and overlooked daughters to such celebrated performers as the little person Charlie Stratton, aka General Tom Thumb, who pays for his fame by losing his identity. The disparate cast is united by similar themes: loneliness; the simultaneously empowering and disempowering nature of performing; and the pressures of living in the public eye. Though the stories create a vivid, dark impression of Barnum’s personality, many other characters’ development is shallow and disjointed. Further details of characters’ lives are scattered among other characters’ stories, and keeping track of the crowded cast across a multigenerational time span is an occasionally taxing, ultimately underwhelming exercise. Several characters’ fates are rather abruptly summarized, and expository prose and dialogue dull poignant emotions and backstories. A slightly supernatural plot thread is left dangling. Most characters appear to be white. Archival photographs introduce each story.

An earnest but unfocused glimpse behind the curtain of Barnum’s career. (author’s note, image credits) (Historical fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5981-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

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After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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