Review by Booklist Review
In 1939, life for orphans is bleak at the Home for Friendless Children, where 11-year-old Lucy Sauvé has adopted selective mutism to cope with harsh treatment from the matron and teachers. When left momentarily unattended during her outdoor chores, Lucy makes a run for it, along with the other three children working with her. After a couple of setbacks, the fugitives find refuge with Saachi's Circus Spectacular. The catch? They must each find an apprenticeship with the circus if they wish to stay. This proves especially challenging for Lucy, who longs to work with the elephants but is required to speak to do so. Her struggle to reclaim her voice is intercut with letters to the orphanage from her older sister, Dilly, who is frantically trying to locate Lucy. Choldenko fills her narrative with authentic circus lingo and well-researched historical tidbits--explicated in an author's note--that make Lucy's journey ring true. This story of friendship, inner strength, and family comes in an adventurous package that will appeal to readers of realistic fiction.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Left at the Home for Friendless Children five years ago, 11-year-old Lucy Sauve, once a singer with a beautiful voice, has been relentlessly tormented by the head matron and music teacher until developing selective mutism. While working outside one spring day in 1939, Lucy escapes, hoping to make her way to Chicago and her older sister, Dilly. She's joined by three other orphans, and the four hitchhike to that city, where they are connected with Jabo, a dwarf and the aspiring ringmaster of Sacchi's Circus. If they secure an apprenticeship in one week without making three mistakes, they're told, they can stay with the circus permanently. Lucy desperately wants to help care for the circus's elephants, but it's deemed too dangerous unless she speaks. Choldenko (the Tales from Alcatraz series) includes lively details about circus life in the 1930s as well as vividly wrought characters, such as prickly Bald Doris and kindhearted Jabo. Choldenko intersperses letters from Lucy's sister that reveal the orphanage's sinister attempts to keep Lucy from her family, adding a welcome layer of mystery to the story. With Lucy's undaunted determination and boundless compassion, this uplifting tale of hope, survival, and belonging has all the ingredients to become a beloved middle grade book. Ages 8--12. Agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. (May)
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Review by Horn Book Review
Orphanhood and running away to the circus-both narratives have their conventions, and in this novel set in 1939 starring eleven-year-old Lucy, Choldenko makes the most of them. The Iowa orphanage where Lucy, who is selectively mute, is kept is gothically bleak, gray, and cold, presided over by a cruel matron. The circus Lucy escapes to along with three other orphans is vibrant and full of rough kindness and iconic circus characters: the knife thrower, the strong woman, the roustabout, and elephants. The escape drama involves cunning, courage, negotiation, and close brushes with danger of all sorts. The interpersonal story involves the occasional benevolent adult, some two-timing rogues, the loyal among the circus family, and disputes among the four escapees. Tension and hope are maintained with the parallel story, told in letters, of Lucy's older sister's attempts to locate her. A historically based element of the plot introduces a mystery that ties in to Lucy's inability to speak, involving an actual experiment performed on orphans in the 1930s in which verbally fluent children were treated to derision and criticism to see if stuttering could be induced. Underlying it all is a straightforward but compelling story arc: Lucy needs to find a voice and a family, and readers will root for her to regain both. An author's note provides detail on the use of historical source material; a glossary of circus terms is also appended. Sarah Ellis May/June 2020 p.122(c) Copyright 2020. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Fleeing an orphanage, 11-year-old Lucy finds a home with a traveling circus while searching for her older sister. For the past five years, Lucy has lived at the Home for Friendless Children, where she stood out as an A student with a beautiful voice until chosen for special lessons with a "university lady." Subjected to constant criticism and humiliation during these lessons, Lucy begins stuttering and eventually stops speaking. One day, when left unattended outside the orphanage fence, Lucy and three other orphans bolt, hitch a ride to Chicago, and connect with a sympathetic dwarf named Jabo, who works for Saachi's Circus Spectacular. Under Jabo's guidance, the three other children find apprenticeships with the circus, but no one will take Lucy on unless she speaks. Unaware the orphanage is desperately hunting for her and actively thwarting her sister's efforts to find her, plucky Lucy must overcome her fear of speaking, earn a place with the circus, and connect with her sister while uncovering the sinister cause of her selective mutism. Set in 1939, Lucy's dramatic story plays out against the disparate, but carefully researched and authentically rendered, environments of a bleak orphanage eager to exploit its wards and the colorful, dynamic, diverse circus world eager to welcome four homeless orphans (all evidently white). The author's note reveals the horrifying reality that inspired Lucy's story. A fast-paced, intriguing, and surprising orphan story. (glossary) (Historical fiction. 8-12) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.