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.
A Fabulous Adventure
What I Loved:
FREAKS is a fast-paced adventure that never loses the heart of its very unusual characters. I really enjoyed the page-turning suspense. This book is impossible to put down for two reasons--we care about the main characters, and we aren't at all sure they can save the day.
The characters make this novel stand out in a sea of novels where the characters are pretty, accomplished, and fully equipped to stand up to adults with nasty agendas. In FREAKS, Sheba and her friends are the kind of people who can only survive in Victorian London by being part of a sideshow--the kind of show where others pay money to come stare at those who are incredibly different from the average human. Sheba's loneliness and shame at the beginning of the novel gradually transform into confidence and loyalty to her new found family of fellow freaks. The themes of courage, loyalty, and resourcefulness and woven all throughout the novel. Even though Sheba and her friends are determined to figure out what/who is stealing children along the riverbank, they are barely up to the task. Often, their efforts fail or increase the danger to themselves, and I found the story gripping because I wanted them to succeed, but I wasn't sure they could.
The setting is also brilliantly written. Vivid sensory details bring Victorian London to life. I could always see the story playing out in my mind as if I was watching a movie. I learned a lot about that time period both from the story itself and from author's additional notes at the back of the book. I also thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations at the back of the book. Each main character has a portrait done, and middle grade readers will love comparing the pictures with the characters they've built in their minds.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Not much, honestly. I really loved this book.
Vivid detail, memorable characters, and a thrilling adventure make FREAKS a book worthy of a space on my "favorites" shelf.
Who Needs Superheroes When You've Got Freaks?
You had me at “Weirdest. Crime Fighters. Ever.” I gotta tell you, Scholastic wasn’t lying. These are in fact the weirdest crime fighters I’ve ever heard of.
At first glance, it appears that Kieran Larwood’s “Freaks” might be about superheroes. The three kids on the cover (even though we all know never to judge a book by its cover) are all in fighting stances and have unusual amounts of body hair or are holding knives in a ready-to-strike stance. My first thought was this looks like a Middle Grade version of X-Men, but I’m happy to report I was so wrong.
Sheba, a girl with werewolf-like abilities, Sister Moon, a ninja-trained assassin, and Monkeyboy, no explanation needed, aren’t X-Men at all, they’re circus freaks. Despite being ostracized by their fellow Victorian England Londoners, they take it upon their shoulders to find out why poor children are going missing near their sideshow. It’s not their unusual abilities that make these characters superheroes, it’s their hearts of gold and desire to do what is right that make them worthy of the title.
What’s great about Larwood’s take on superheroes is that all of his characters are beatable. In today’s superhero culture we’re all in on the fact that even though some evil archenemy might make one tiny step toward world domination, ultimately these heroes are going to win, and we’re just one laser vision escapade away from the superhero thwarting the madman and the people of Earth rejoicing in (insert superhero’s name here) keeping us safe. Not so with Larwood’s freaks. They are regularly bruised, battered, and captured, leaving readers wondering if these freaks really do have what it takes to save these kidnapped children. All of the freaks “powers” really aren’t super, but they are used in ingenious ways to each character’s advantage. This vulnerability not only makes Larwood’s freaks/heroes more relatable, but keeps readers guessing as to how, and if, these characters will be able to save the day at all.
Larwood’s main freak, Sheba, is a great example on how to stand out in a genre that is seeing the same female protagonist over and over. First and foremost, she’s covered in hair, so she’s not your run-of-the-mill, drop-dead-gorgeous-but-doesn’t-know-it beauty. Instead, readers are subtly led to judge Sheba and each character on values that really count, such as their compassion and bravery. Not only that, but this story has zero love story at all, leaving Sheba and her freak following focusing on the task at hand to save the children. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good unrequited love moment, but Larwood’s plotline is so delightfully focused and not bogged down by heartsick bemoaning that his book really stood out.
Ultimately, “Freaks” was a fast-paced read that shows like books, no person, circus freak or otherwise, should be judged by their furry cover, but by their strength of character.
A sensory description of Victorian London.
A female protagonist that breaks the mold.