by Kate Milford*
From the front flap: “Strange things can happen at a crossroads, and the crossroads outside of Arcane, Missouri, is no exception. Thirteen-year-old Natalie Minks knows all the odd, mysterious tales about her little town–she grew up hearing her mother tell them. But even Natalie is not prepared for the strangeness that’s unleashed when Dr. Jake Limberleg’s Nostrumm Fair and Technological Medicine Show rolls into Arcane with its bizarre tonics and elaborate, inexplicable machines.”
I loved Natalie, who is a great character. She’s smart and spunky, but she also had a lot of feeling for other people. I also liked the fact that there’s no romance here. I mean, I love a good romance as much as the next person, but not every story needs it, especially middle grade. Anyway, I was glad that Milford let the story be what it needed to, rather than trying to force something in.
One of my other favorite parts is the fact that our perception of almost all of the character changes over the course of the story. Natalie is pretty obviously our heroine, throughout, but the rest of them might seem creepy, good, or bad at various points. It’s not so much that the characters themselves change as that the information we and Natalie find out about them changes our reaction to them.
The book definitely has a fairy tale quality to it, with maybe a bit of a tall tale thrown in. I think it works very well, and allows Milford to talk about Big Issues, like good and evil, without coming across as preachy or odd. It also added some depth and richness to the book which I feel like it might lack otherwise.
I’m not often creeped out, but some of the scenes and characters were really freaky. The eerie aspect was really nicely done, all the more because some of the sympathetic characters were also some of the creepiest.
Book source: public library
Book information: Clarion, 2010; middle grade
* It seems that there are odd trends in titles. Recently it was Fire–one by Kristin Cashore, one by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson, and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Now we have Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, and The Boneshaker.