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A circus boat in the 1850s is the offbeat setting for Zimmer's (Reaching for Sun) lively historical novel. Readers will be hooked from the start by the voice of the narrator, Owen, first met in a Pittsburgh orphanage as he describes the difference between him and his younger brother, Zach: "Right follows Zach like a shadow, but wrong wears me like a skin." Wanting the best for Zach, Owen runs away when, just before the two are put aboard an orphan train, Owen learns that Zach will have a much better chance of being adopted without a brother; from this chaotic beginning, Owen stumbles upon Solomon, a former slave, who brings him aboard the circus boat and gets him a job. As the boat travels south, Owen's awareness of slavery grows in a way that feels organic to the story. Historical details, such as the workings of a printing press, give readers a deeper taste of the era, and animal lovers will especially enjoy Zimmer's portrayal of the circus elephant that Owen comes to know. Bittersweet and satisfying. Ages 8-12. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.