Reviews for Freaks

Booklist Reviews 2013 March #2
Winner of the London Times Children's Fiction Competition, this highly readable, energetic first outing pits steampunk, peculiarly talented tweens against dastardly villains that would give Lemony Snicket's baddies a run for their money. Sheba, a wolf girl covered with a pelt of fine hair (and in moments of stress, the possessor of clawed hands and fanged teeth), has little memory of her past, but when she becomes part of a London freak show in early Victorian England, she finds a family of sorts among the other "peculiars": a giant, a rat trainer, a ninja, and a boy who resembles a monkey. A missing local waif attracts the gang's attention to a mystery involving a river-trolling apparatus that snatches children from the Thames' mudflats. Plans to foil the plot take them across the Dickensian cityscape all the way to the Crystal Palace, a historical exhibition of wonders. There's enough bashing, slicing, and close shaves to excite action fans, and just enough loose ends to presume a sequel is the offing. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Fall
Performers in a Victorian freak show are the heroes in Larwood's first novel. Sheba, a hirsute girl who can morph into wolf form, joins with a "monkey boy," a gigantic man, a Japanese ninja girl with cat's eyes, and Mama Rat to save London street urchins from a predatory group of inventors. Despite some weak writing, this has energy, color, and creative verve.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2013 #2
Performers in a Victorian freak show are the detective heroes in Larwood's first novel. Sheba, a hirsute girl who can morph into wolf form, joins with a "monkey boy," a gigantic man, a Japanese ninja girl with cat's eyes, and Mama Rat (custodian of intelligent rodents) to save London street urchins from a predatory group of scientific inventors. The misfits travel throughout the less savory areas of London as well as the Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition in their efforts to retrieve the lost children. Larwood emphasizes solidarity, loyalty, and each character's special gifts in orchestrating his plot. Stock moments of suspense and action are laced together with a thread of inventive scatalogical humor ("holy pigeon turds on toast," Monkey Boy cries), and a better-than-usual evocation of the Victorian setting. A concluding author's note on mid-Victorian London is informative and engaging; it tethers the fantasy elements of the plot to sober reality. Despite some weak writing (the Crystal Palace is described as "a jaw-droppingly amazing man-made structure" by the narrator), this has energy, color, and creative verve. deirdre f. baker

Kirkus Reviews 2013 February #2
Debut novelist Larwood introduces Sheba, a 10-year-old crime-fighting Victorian werewolf. Sheba's lived in a dilapidated freak show as long as she can remember, displaying her furred snout and clawed hands alongside Flossy the two-headed lamb. Her purchase by a new master introduces her to the first friends she's ever had: Monkeyboy, a foulmouthed and foul-smelling tailed boy; Sister Moon, a Japanese ninja girl; Mama Rat the rat trainer; and the enormous Gigantus. Newly introduced to London, Sheba's lupine nose is nearly overwhelmed by the city's legendary stench--but it comes in handy when she and her new friends embark on a detecting mission. The poor trash-pickers of the Thames mudflats are losing their children, and only Sheba and her freak-show friends--the Peculiars--can find them. They must rescue the children from a nefarious fiend, aided only by Sheba's nose, Sister Moon's ninjitsu skills, Mama Rat's rodent sidekicks, Gigantus' fists and Monkeyboy's putrid odor. Their adventures bring them from wretched sewers and taverns to the Victorian optimism of the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. There's a little too much reliance on stale tropes of fat villains and exotic (and unrealistic) foreigners, but this mystery, peppered by gentle gross-out humor, will appeal to young steampunk fans. (historical note) (Steampunk. 11-13) Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 February #1

Victorian London gets a little weirder in this fast-paced tale of outcasts serving as champions of the oppressed and underprivileged, which won the 2011 London Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition. Ten-year-old Sheba, better known as the Wolfgirl for her layer of fur and ability to sprout fangs and claws, is an orphan who ends up as part of Plump-scuttle's Peculiars, a freak show that also stars a teenage ninja, a trash-talking monkey boy, a romance-writing strongman, and a woman who talks to rats. This gang of unlikely heroes gets caught up in a mystery involving missing street urchins, steampunk monstrosities, and a fiendish set of villains. Newcomer Larwood spins a whimsical yet touching story, injecting the unpleasant reality of Victorian-era poverty with a touch of humor and fantastical elements, making for an enjoyable and none-too-serious adventure. A good deal goes unexplained, meant to be taken at face value (such as Sheba or Monkeyboy's animal natures), but the weird and serious sides of the story balance each other nicely. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2013 June

Gr 5-8--Larwood takes readers to gritty parts of Victorian London in this novel about performers in a freak show. There's actually little performance involved in their nightly exhibitions. It's more a matter of letting people gawk at their physical anomalies or unusual proclivities. Sheba the Wolfgirl is covered in fur; Mama Rat has a troupe of trained rodents; Gigantus is (as you might surmise) a giant; Sister Moon is a ninja; and Monkeyboy has a tail. When they learn that young children have been disappearing from the riverbanks, the misfits use their strangeness to their advantage, solving the mysterious kidnappings and thwarting evildoers. Much is attempted in this book, but the development of plot, characters, and setting is superficial and unconvincing. Larwood resorts far too frequently to the scatological humor of Monkeyboy, who delights in fouling the air with gaseous emissions and any available surface or receptacle with his fecal matter, which pales rather quickly. The combination of the improbable and the impossible sits uneasily beside Larwood's efforts to depict the grim realities of underclass life in 19th-century England.--Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NY

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VOYA Reviews 2013 June
"Sheba the Wolfgirl" is an orphan who has long been the property of a bottom-rung freak show. Her fate changes when she is purchased by the detestable Plumpscuttle, who operates a larger show out of his London home. Shortly after her arrival in London, she and her troupe of deliciously bizarre friends set out to scour the underbelly of Victorian London for clues about the mysterious disappearances of some of the city's poorest children The mystery to be solved will keep readers turning the pages, but other elements are just as strong. The reader is led, along with Sheba, to question whom her freak show companions really are, beyond their shocking appearances; characters who, at first, seem reviling or frightening, end up being portrayed as complex and wholly human. Aside from a few steampunk elements, the author is very careful with historical details, and the time period is vividly brought to life. There is a thoughtful afterword by the author explaining the historical era, and where and why he took some creative license. This book will appeal to most middle school students who enjoy a good mystery, as well as those interested in the Victorian/steampunk trend.--Liz Sundermann 4Q 4P M J Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.