Larwood, Kieran. Freaks. New York: Chicken House, 2013. ISBN 9780545474245
Freaks is a Victorian mystery whose main characters are the member of a small, and shady, freakshow. Monkeyboy, Mama Rat, Sister Moon, and Gigantus are all seasoned members of Plumpskcuttle’s Peculiars when Sheba is purchased as the newest attraction.
While most novels focus on ‘showing rather than telling’ Freaks by Kieran Larwood takes a slightly different approach. While Larwood does make it easy to see Victorian London, he makes it far too easy to smell it as well. Perhaps the reason for this is that the third-person narrative follows Sheba; a wolf-girl.
Like several other ‘coming-of-age’ stories, the main character (Sheba) only has vague memories of her past before becoming a freakshow attraction. While this mystery underlies the story, it doesn’t overwhelm the plot. Nor are the unusual characters hard to relate to. While not everyone may turn wolfish when angry or be a ninja, the freaks’ feelings of isolation, regret, and longing to belong are common to all people. While initially the peculiars close ranks against outsiders, throughout the novel they not only allow certain outsiders in, they also become more of a family to each other.
While Freaks is likely aimed at a younger audience, likely fourth and fifth grade, any age can relate to it. Perhaps because of the blunt name, Freaks. While it is used as a period correct term for people in a sideshow in the novel, the word itself invokes a kindred feeling for anyone who has ever felt like a freak.
Discussion points could include what is a freak (both the historical and modern definition)? In addition, who was their favorite character, and why? While it is an entertaining novel, it also addresses things such as are the poor and ill useless to society, can a person be bought, and what truly makes a family?
Winner of the London Times Children’s Fiction Competition
Publishers Weekly—“Newcomer Larwood spins a whimsical yet touching story, injecting the unpleasant reality of Victorian-era poverty with a touch of humor and fantastical elements, making for an enjoyable and none-too-serious adventure. A good deal goes unexplained, meant to be taken at face value (such as Sheba or Monkeyboy’s animal natures), but the weird and serious sides of the story balance each other nicely.”
VOYA—“The mystery to be solved will keep readers turning the pages, but other elements are just as strong. The reader is led, along with Sheba, to question whom her freak show companions really are, beyond their shocking appearances; characters who, at first, seem reviling or frightening, end up being portrayed as complex and wholly human.”
Publishers Weekly. Publishers Weekly. Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/#/bookdetail/1/3/OEnoHkPplrhOIMIj/bdrtop
Sundermann, Liz. VOYA. June 2013. (Vol.36, No.2). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/#/bookdetail/1/3/OEnoHkPplrhOIMIj/bdrtop