I have been a Karen Cushman fan ever since reading The Midwife's Apprentice , Catherine, Called Birdy, and Alchemy and Meggy Swann. Since all her books feature spunky characters in medieval England and are expertly written, I was excited to hear of the release of her new book, Will Sparrow's Road.
From the opening of this middle grade book, readers discover that Will Sparrow, a small 13-year-old boy in 16th century England, is a runaway without a family or penny to his name. He is fast, quick-thinking, and a self-pronounced "lier and a thief" who is only interested in feeding his belly and finding a warm, safe place to sleep.
In his escape from servitude, he meets other characters who are better thieves than he as well as vendors and entertainers who travel from one Elizabethan fair to another. He finds employment with a traveling troupe of "Oddities and Prodigies;" a group that includes a feisty dwarf, a young girl with a hairy face, Grace, and an assortment of fabricated oddities.
Although at first Will's loyalty is to his employer, he discovers that things aren't as they appear to be. His employer never pays wages and abuses the young girl. The dwarf who Will dislikes, wrestles men triple his size to obtain their dinner and also protects Grace.
When Will first joins up with the troupe he separates himself emotionally from them; considering himself different and better than the oddities. Eventually, he discovers their true friendship and a family in which he finds acceptance and belonging. The book ends with his own actions bearing witness to the fact that he is a more than just a lier and a thief.
I listened to this book and found that Katherine Kellgren's portrayal of the characters was excellent. As usual, Karen Cushman's accurate portrayal of the time period and life in an Elizabethan fair formed a great backdrop to the story. Please visit Kirby Larson's blog for a wonderful interview with Karen that includes Karen's research techniques and the value of well-written historical fiction.
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