Number of pages: 400
Publishing: September 13th, 2023
Opening Line: Dare Coates was an awful girl."
Everyone in Barrow's Bay has always said that she's an awful girl. She's even being setup to be the monster for Founders Day, when she'd rather be playing Louise, even though Louise doesn't get saved in time. Dare is perfectly happy not being considered as one of the "good" people. Her dad is the Captain of the Guard, chief monster hunter. Although everyone says that the monsters are all gone, killed off. Yet, Dare senses it's not true. Especially, when her father is killed while on patrol and the governor tries to pass off his death as an encounter with a thief. He even gets her mom to marry him and now she's being shipped off to a great aunt on the mainland. How is she to uncover the truth now?
Once at her aunt's, Dare is shocked to learn of the difficulties that her aunt's theater is having, and she then becomes immersed in a local Palace of Wonders whose owner knew her father. The city is very different from her previous life on the island. It's corrupt, loud, crowded and both dirty and cold. The primary means of income are its factories which don't pay a fair wage and are ruining the air quality in the city. It's here she meets Nell, a young girl performer her age and Gil, a mysterious boy who comes and goes helping Dare on her search for answers. The story has lots of twists and turns as Dare navigates the city. She's also faced with many troubling truths. And more questions, like did her father infiltrate Tupper's gang (a sailor she met from her voyage across to the mainland), and for what purpose? Meanwhile, monsters continue to haunt Dare's dreams and theirs a lingering stench in the city that she can't explain. When Dare goes to a Millinery shop, she's awakened to the question whether the creatures she's seen are monsters or marvels.
Dare is considered an awful girl, but she's very proud of that distinction. She's clever, decisive, willful, and maybe a little judgmental but she loved her father with all her heart. His death has left a huge hole. When she comes to learn that the story's she's been told don't match the facts around her, she's left questioning her father, Tupper and even Gil and Nell. When they try to be nice to her, she can't figure out why? I enjoyed the message of the story, to question things and seek out your own answer's. To not except things at face value and just because something is told over and over it doesn't make it true. This a lovely story with its themes about social inequality, labor exploitation, environmental degradation and commentary on endangered species.
I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE