Book Review: Freaks

Freaks by Kieran Larwood. March 2013. 9780545474245. Gr. 6-8.

There are a lot of great new books out there.  I am always amazed at the variety and diversity of books for kids; it seems that there is something for everyone.    However, I sometimes get jaded with media, as it seems like everything is too derivative of something else.  I like things that are unique, that haven’t been overdone.

A few things about Freaks piqued my interest and assured me that it would be unique. First, there is the eye-catching cover, depicting three of the “freaks”.  Second is the tagline, “Weirdest. Crime Fighters. Ever.”  Finally, the publisher’s note on the inside that describes it as the X-men meet Oliver Twist assured me that this title would be nothing if not unique!

Freaks is set in Victorian London, a time when sideshow freaks work in less-than-optimal conditions, and “street urchins” beg for money or work long hours at terrible jobs.  Both of these play central roles in Freaks.  The main character is Sheba, a wolf-girl who works as a sideshow attraction in Grunchgirdle’s World of Curiosities, alongside a two-headed sheep named Flossy.  Grunchgirdle is a despicable man that Larwood describes as, “…a rheumy, skinny old man with the aroma of a long-dead trout.” Soon, Sheba is sold to an equally unsavory man named Plumpscuttle.  It is here that she joins a group of other Freaks, including a giant named Gigantus, a ninja-like girl named Sister Moon, a rat-wrangler called Mama Rat, and Monkeyboy, who has a penchant for all things disgusting.

When a girl that Sheba befriends at the sideshow goes missing under mysterious circumstances, the sideshow performers team up to find out what is going on in the city.  Why are poor kids who work near the river disappearing? What is the monstrous, crab-like thing that has been sighted there? Who could be behind all of this?  Sheba convinces the other Freaks that they have to act and try to answer these questions, which takes them on an adventure throughout the city, culminating at the Crystal Palace of London’s Great Exhibition of 1851.

Freaks won the prestigious Chicken House/London Times Children’s Fiction contest.  Kieran Larwood is a Kindergarten teacher in Britain, and one can see this in his writing.  He obviously knows what children find funny, as Monkeyboy provides lots of one-liners and bathroom humor.  Larwood concludes the book with some teaching, in this case about real Victorian London.  He provides a nice history lesson about the impoverished state of the city, the history of freak shows, and the Great Exhibition.

In the book, a sign at the entrance of the freakshow reads, “A Collection of the Hideous, Horrid, and Humongous. Terror and Amazement Await You.  You Are Advised to Bring a Change of Trousers.”  While I won’t go that extent in encouraging you to read this book, I will say that it is a fun and unique story that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Freaks will be released in March.


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