From School Library Journal
Gr 5-8–Magician Nick McDaniels and his 13-year-old daughter have been on the vaudeville circuit ever since his wife died. Spending her time on trains and in grubby boardinghouses, Hope longs to settle down in Chicago, their hometown, and desperately wishes for a blue notice telling them that their magician act is no longer wanted, but how would they support themselves? She needs money to tide them over until her father finds another line of work. In May 1910, Earth is about to pass through the tail of Halley's Comet, and people are panicked. With the help of Buster Keaton, a lanky boy also on the circuit, Hope hatches the idea of selling anti-comet pills to gullible “Coins,” who will do anything to save themselves. Tubb uses rich historical material well in this clever story whose time line is a 17-day countdown to the comet catastrophe. Not only are Keaton and his family part of the scene, but so are Bert Savoy, a comedian in drag; Benjamin Franklin Keith, an impresario; and the Cherry Sisters, a dull act regularly pelted with rotten fruit. Wisecracks, most of them vintage, are interspersed in a way that makes readers feel Hope is muttering them in response to what is happening. In this lively first-person tale, Hope isn't always completely believable because the language and vocabulary of her internal thoughts are sometimes too adult for a girl her age, even one with a father who spouts Walt Whitman. Still it's a good show with heroes, villains, and heart.–Barbara Scotto, Children's Literature New England, Brookline, MA. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* In 1910, Halley’s Comet caused quite a pandemonium. Thirteen-year-old Hope, a smart and smarty-pants heroine, travels the country on the low-level vaudeville circuit with her magician dad, but she desperately wants to ditch the show and stay in Chicago. To do that they’ll need money, and in a flash of inspiration, Hope whips up a side business selling “anti-comet” pills (thinly disguised mints) to hysterical people convinced the comet will bring any number of horrendous calamities with it. She gets help from another kid in the show, Buster Keaton, who, aside from being adept at slapstick, is handy at bringing a blush to Hope’s cheeks. Tubb deftly ingrains a thoughtful ethical question into the story (is Hope really helping people by assuaging their fears or simply ripping them off?) but never overdoes it in this bouncy tale populated by a terrific cast of characters. The well-synthesized period flavor extends right down to the one-liners that punctuate Hope’s earnest, easygoing, and perfectly pitched narration (“This morning’s gravy was so thick, when I stirred it, the room spun around!”). In the end, though, it’s Hope’s relationship with her father—a sort of proto-hippy-dippy naturalist who often seems more of a child than Hope—that steals the spotlight with a gentle and well-earned tug of the heartstrings. Grades 5-8. --Ian Chipman