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Thursday, February 11
The Shrunken Head
(Curiosity House #1)
Written by Lauren Oliver & H. C. Chester
My rating: ★★★★
Date of publication: September 29, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 6
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Themes: murder, thievery, curiosities & marvels, orphans, New York City,
Three orphans have happily called "Dumphrey's Dime of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders" home. Of course, that's because they're quite extraordinary—Phillipa with her mind reading, Sam with his amazing strength, and Thomas with his contortionist body. But when a fourth orphan shows up, a girl named Max who can throw knives with frightening accuracy, strange things begin to happen. The newest exhibit—Mr. Dumphrey's prize shrunken head—is stolen, and leaves in its wake a trail of deaths and murders. Could the head really be cursed? The four orphans are determined to solve the case, and in the process, stumble upon the shocking truth about their pasts.
The book itself is an "oddity and wonder"—I'm still trying to figure out just how to describe it! It's so perfectly quaint with endearing characters and a fascinating storyline, yet is punctuated with touches the weird, the terrifying, and the gruesome. Basically, it feels like you're cuddling with the Addam's family (snapsnap). I reveled in its uniqueness. Plus the periodically-placed illustrations are just fantastic. Look at that cover!
The four orphans are just about my most favorite characters that I've read in a juvenile mystery. Yep, I said it. Their individual "powers" are not distracting or awkward in the story, but really contribute to their personality, depth, and endearing qualities. Then, their interactions with each other just build on all that and make me love them all the more; there's punches of humor, touches of the emotional, and surprising discoveries. Having the chapters be told in their alternating points-of-view helps, too. Seriously—you get invested in these kids!
Which is why I may have gotten frustrated with some elements of the story. It does drag a bit in the middle ("oh wow yet another murder...and yet no one is particularly worried about the kids") and is weighed down by some confusing side elements and discoveries ("yet another possible clue!"). I wish that some of that bulk had been trimmed down so that the ending was that much more of a pow (fantastic twist there at the end, by the way).
So overall, yes, I do want to know what happens next! I would definitely recommend it, but I bet I'd have to push the sell a bit harder. The extra murders and length make me wonder if younger kids will really go for it, yet the cover/marketing is targeted at them—turning away some older readers. A bit of tough sell. But a fantastic read for sure!
A good pre-read to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Find it at your library or on Amazon