Mr. Dumfrey is head master and impeccable ringleader of Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. It’s post The Great Crash in New York City and times are hard. People are more concerned with how to get through the next day than the epic entertainments of Dumfrey’s wonders such as the Fat Lady, or the Bearded Lady, Alligator Boy, and Siamese Twins. That is, until he acquires a shrunken head with possible nefarious origins.
As people begin dying under extraordinary circumstances, and Dumfrey checks out under the stress of the pending closure of the Dime Museum, it’s up to Thomas, Max, Pippa, and Sam to find a way to save everything they know to be normal in a not-so-normal life.
There are books out there that leave you with a smile. And there are books that FILL you with smiles and wonder and all of the FEELS because they are amazing in every possible way. CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester is of the latter. From page ONE, I was sucked in by the outstanding voice popping off the page with a fine “How do you do” and brilliant humor. Page after page, I fell in love with the alternating point of views of our heroes: Thomas, Pippa, Max and Sam. Each character has a superb unique quality to their voice, and each of them has internal and external struggles that guide them through their journey. Though they were brought together for their uniqueness, their common need of finding a place to belong pulls at your heart.
Oliver and Chester paint a vivid world in the setting. The attention to detail in early 1930s New York is truly stunning. You can almost feel the somber desperation leaking from the pages in hues of gray and blue as the world around these children struggles to make ends meet. The writing is spectacular and the descriptions, as seen from a child’s eye, are spot on. For instance, on page 58 of the ARC I received, young Thomas describes two policemen who show up after the shrunken head is stolen. He says, “Standing next to each other, they looked very much like the number ten. The first was tall and extremely thin...The second man was short and as round and stretched and shiny as an inflated balloon.”
CURIOSITY HOUSE is a mystery adventure readers of all ages can enjoy. As with many middle grade novels, CURIOSTY HOUSE employs the value of our heroes needing to work together in order to complete their quest. They cannot do it alone, though they may try. I would caution there are some points where the content is a tad on the graphic side in its descriptions. As I noted, there is murder involved, and the children are exposed to some of it. Nothing to get an inappropriate rating, but I would use some caution with more sensitive readers.
What I enjoyed most about CURIOSITY HOUSE is that the authors didn’t use the childrens’ extraordinary abilities to define them as characters nor did they rely on their abilities to solve the mystery of the shrunken head. Thomas is seemingly made of rubber and can squeeze through the narrowest of vents. Pippa is psychic, though she can rarely see beyond the contents of another’s pockets. Max has a wicked eye and her aim is always true with her deadly daggers. And Sam, poor pimple-faced Sam, has the strength of ten thousand men. Sure, their abilities do play a vital role in the story, especially how they came together under one roof, but not once do the authors make their abilities a defining characteristic. They are merely an enhancement of their character.
I believe CURIOSITY HOUSE is meant for a new series, and I do hope that to be true. I hope this is the beginning of an adventure series for Thomas, Sam, Pippa, and Max. I would love to see them uncover the mysteries behind other crimes and have other adventures. I feel like we just got a glimpse of an amazing group of kids with much promise. With the wonderful writing style of Lauren Oliver and the mysterious relics uncovered by H.C. Chester, I’m certain CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD is just the beginning of a promising set of timeless journeys.