Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood
I received an advanced reader’s copy of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This book will be available to the public as of June 1, 2016.
This is a very magical and entertaining (although sometimes very dark) story highlighting the days of freak shows and carnival workers on Coney Island just after the turn on the twentieth century.
We first meet Miss Kitty Hayward as she sits alone, confused and vulnerable on a public park bench near Coney Island in the spring of 1904. Shortly after arriving in America via a steamer ship from South Africa, her mother becomes very ill. The hotel doctor sends Kitty on a wild goose chase for medication only to have her return to tell her that they don’t recognize her, know her mother, or have a room for her. Kitty notices that certain hotel staff will not look her in the eye, yet nobody will help her, tell her where her mother was taken, or even if she is alive.
Alone, scared and hungry…Kitty happens upon Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet…a sort of museum of the strange and unusual. There she meets all sorts of “Unusuals”….the cast offs of society… people left to be the entertainment of carnivals and freak shows all the while looked down upon by the rest of society. People like; Zeph, the Legless man…Rosalind, the half man/half woman….P-Ray, the mute boy. The Unusuals decide to take Kitty under their wing and help her find out what happened to her mother.
Pretty soon after befriending the Magruder’s crew of people, Kitty and the Unusuals realize that Kitty’s mother isn’t the only sick person who has quickly & quietly disappeared with no trace. Within days, it’s pretty apparent that there is a plague outbreak and almost immediately, Coney Island is put on quarantine. The once popular vacation destination is now closed off and left to the “freaks”, madmen and anarchists all trying to survive.
I really enjoyed reading this book. The cast of characters is wonderful and sort of reminiscent of Water For Elephants with the carnival/circus/freak show people and their story being the main focus. While this book is very entertaining and does have it’s “fun” parts….it also has some dark and disturbing areas as well. There are also quite a few serious and realistic topics addressed such as; discrimination, gender roles, classism, etc.
It was a very quick and enjoyable read for me with a unique and interesting plot. The cast of unusual characters was, by far, my favorite part of this story. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book with such a colorful, unique and well written cast of characters as are in this story.
As a side note: I’ve seen some of the negative reviews on this book claim that they were caught off guard because they assumed this was a children’s or YA book. It is definitely not. Maybe it’s the cover art that confused some…but this is, for sure, is an adult read.
I would like to thank NetGalley, Sourebooks Landmark and H.P. Wood for the opportunity to read and review this book.
My Rating: 4/5 Stars