5.0 9
by Kieran Larwood

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Weirdest. Crime Fighters. Ever.

Sheba, the fur-faced Wolfgirl, can sniff out a threat from miles away. Monkeyboy clambers up buildings in the blink of an eye -- then drops deadly stink bombs of his own making (yes, THAT kind)! Sister Moon sees in the dark, and moves at the speed of light. Born with weird abnormalities that make them misfits, these FREAKS spend

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Weirdest. Crime Fighters. Ever.

Sheba, the fur-faced Wolfgirl, can sniff out a threat from miles away. Monkeyboy clambers up buildings in the blink of an eye -- then drops deadly stink bombs of his own making (yes, THAT kind)! Sister Moon sees in the dark, and moves at the speed of light. Born with weird abnormalities that make them misfits, these FREAKS spend their nights on public display, trapped in a traveling Victorian sideshow. But during the day, they put their strange talents to use: They solve the most sinister crimes. And in a dank, desperate world of crooks and child-snatchers, they're determined to defend London's most innocent victims: the street urchins disappearing from the city's streets.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
From the Publisher

Praise for FREAKS

"Thrilling, original, full of zest and wit." -- THE LONDON TIMES

Children's Literature - Heidi Quist
In his novel Freaks, Kieran Santjen takes his readers through early Victorian England with the stories of a group of oddly entertaining but empathetic characters. Written in third person, Santjen focuses on the experiences of Sheba, a girl with lots of hair and a tendency to become more wolf-like under duress. But we readers also get plenty of insight into the other anomalous characters: Mama Rat, who ringmasters a troupe of performing circus rats; Sister Moon, a Japanese ninja who otherwise appears normal but for her cat eyes; the Monkey Boy and Gigantus, whose names speak for themselves. Every evening the freaks perform for their uncompassionate boss, Mr. Plumpscuttle, to paying audiences who pass through his house expecting titillation. But while Plumpscuttle snores his way through the day, the quintet find themselves caught up in an adventure involving the mystery of missing children, some curious mechanical contraptions in the muddy Thames River, and some very evil conspirators with a few freaky quirks of their own. After the novel, Larwood provides an explanation of the truths and fictions presented in the novel compared to England's back street life in the early Victorian era, adding more pathos and ethos to the story. Reviewer: Heidi Quist
VOYA - Liz Sundermann
"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. Reviewer: Liz Sundermann
School Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews
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)

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Chicken House
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