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Horn Book(Young Adult)
Fans of Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart might enjoy the triple-decker saga of Jackie-a.k.a. "Jack"-Cross as she seeks to avenge the murder of her friend Nance, stabbed by the dastardly Teddy Zeph. Jackie met Nance after the two become servants after being sent West courtesy of the "orphan trains" of the New York Children's Aid Society. Their meeting comes late in the novel: while Jackie's vow of vengeance at Nance's deathbed begins the story, the narrative flashes back to the girlhood of Jackie's grandmother Claudette, as she, too, is forced into servitude upon the death of her parents. Readers will take a while to catch on, but the hop-scotching and gradual meeting of Jackie's and Claudette's stories are skillfully done, culminating late in the book with a repetition of the first chapter, now excitingly part of a larger whole. In between comes betrayal, murder, baseball, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and cross-dressing; the novel spans the second half of the nineteenth century and both sides of the Atlantic. While the scenery is sketchy and there's little atmosphere, the characters are rich and the dialogue is pungent, both demonstrated in the person of the Red Ruby, an English music-hall star whose avocation is giving a kind of last rites to the men at Newgate prison: "Men that's about to be hanged gets an 'earty meal, if they wants one. But most of them hungers for something else and all. That's what I gives them." The book is long, but the characters and plot are big enough to handle the challenge. r.s.