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Freaks: Alive, on the Inside!

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Gr 9 Up-Abel, 17, is the "normal" son of a legless father and an armless mother. He lives with other "oddities" in a midget village where they put on shows. He is restless and wants his own life. His romantic experiences have been limited to kissing the hairy Dog-Faced Girl. He runs away and joins a traveling circus, unaware that Apollo, 12, the hairy Puppy Boy, has followed him and stowed away aboard the circus train. Apollo is discovered and caged like an animal and Abel is thrown from the train by his fellow performers. Apollo escapes and they are reunited, working as servants in a brothel until Dr. Mink's Traveling Monster Menagerie arrives in town and Apollo is lured into joining them. Most of the show's "monsters" are children who were born with deformities and have been sold to or kidnapped by Mink. As Abel attempts to free them, he is plagued by dreams of a beautiful Egyptian woman who repeatedly throws herself at him. Somehow a ring he received as a gift allows this female mummy to come alive. Set in 1899, this gripping and sensual, but never explicitly sexual tale is a fascinating mixture of fantasy and reality. Abel's growth from an immature, irresponsible teen into a more mature, dependable young man ready to take charge is well done. The author never loses sight of the fact that despite their unusual appearances, all of the characters are human.-Sharon Rawlins, NJ Library for the Blind and Handicapped, Trenton Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Everything about the main character of Klause's (Blood and Chocolate) fin de siecle novel set in Middle America is appealing, including his name: Abel Dandy, 17, is the handsome son of a legless father and armless mother. The teen narrator never expresses anything but empathetic equanimity for the human "oddities" he lives among at Faeryland, an "educational" display of fat men, bearded ladies, co-joined siblings and the (un)like. But, "handicapped by [his] normality," Abel runs off to join the circus, seeking his fortune and, well, Abel "Randy" would have been an apt name, too. He's only ever kissed Phoebe the Dog-Faced Girl, and his burgeoning sexual desire has been exacerbated ever since he received an ancient gold ring as a gift. The ring is somehow linked to the beautiful dancer haunting his dreams ("Pleasure cupped my loins with a firm, hot paw," Abel says after one typically erotic session with her). During his journey, Abel learns he didn't so much flee but rather was called, and his mission expands from getting Apollo (Phoebe's equally furry brother, who followed him) back home to saving a whole horde of others from evil Dr. Mink, who runs an exploitative traveling freak show. Despite their unique physical characteristics, there are too many characters between Faeryland, circus and freak show to distinguish among them, but Abel makes an amiable hero and the narrative has a satisfying warm-heartedness to it. Teens, especially those who feel a bit freakish themselves, will gobble this up. Ages 14-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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