Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Historical Fiction


Spring 2013 Historical Fiction
Ages: 10 - 14 yrs.
Author: Kieran Larwood
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 9780545474245
Hardcover Price: $16.99

Set in a cold and rank Dickensian London, Freaks is a grisly and thrilling read. It centers around a close-knit group of circus attractions known as the Peculiars. The Peculiars live with and toil under the wrath of nasty Plumpscuttle who displays them in dingy cages for a shilling a pop. Among them are a giant man, the aptly-named Monkeyboy, Mama Rat, and kind-hearted Sheba the wolf girl. It's a grim life, and when a young girl befriends Sheba, she's delighted. When the girl and an alarming number of other "mudlarks" (children who scrounge in the riverbank muck for salvageable trash) disappear, the Peculiars investigate.

Freaks is set in the year of the Crystal Palace and London's great World's Fair, but the bulk of the story unfolds amidst the city's stench and decay. Larwood captures the era well, and adds an informative historical aside at the end of the book. His language is a treat. "Fat gobbets of stinking mud" and "rotting litter" pervade, and a character named Grunchgirdle is "a rheumy, skinny old man with the aroma of a long-dead trout."

A horrific mystery unraveled by a group of well-meaning oddities, Freaks is as gruesome as it is fun.

Teresa DiFalco   ©2013 Parents' Choice
Teresa DiFalco is an award-winning ghostwriter, writer, and mother in Vancouver, Washington. She's been a contributing editor for Parents' Choice for over ten years. She's a strong speller, a menace at badminton, and makes a decent soufflé.

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