In Elizabethan England, young Will hits the road with an assortment of human characters and Duchess, one smart pig.
His mother deserted him, his father sold him to an innkeeper for his fill of ale and the innkeeper is about to sell him for a chimney sweep just for stealing a pie to feed his empty stomach. Will, a self-proclaimed liar and thief, is also bold and quick-witted and so runs away. On the road, he encounters a thief, a cheating dentist, an illusionist, a blind juggler, the smart pig and her owner and Master Tidball, a purveyor of oddities. Traveling with the last from fair to fair, he slowly befriends one of those oddities, a girl who is advertised as a cat. (She has hypertrichosis, a genetic disorder causing facial hair, as Cushman explains in her note.) The ragtag entourage also includes a dwarf. Along the way, readers get a flavor for Elizabethan foods, clothing and song. Cushman, a Newbery Award– and Honor–winning author for her historical novels featuring girls, now presents a boy as her protagonist. She sends him on an inner journey as well as a physical one, allowing him to grow in empathy and to see past people’s physical appearances into their true character.
A compelling coming-of-age road trip. (author’s note, suggested reading, selected resources) (Historical fiction. 8-12)