From School Library Journal
Grade 7-10–In Victorian England, two poverty-stricken siblings, left by their mother at the workhouse and then sold to an abusive farmer, try to get to Manchester to find her. Joe and his younger sister are helped by a friendly tramp, encounter hideous Dog-woman, and join a traveling fair. Annie has some rare gifts: she can see the dead and prophesize the future. Joe, in a move he will deeply regret, leaves her with the performers and continues on to the city, where he takes up with a gang of orphans who fend for themselves. Next, a wealthy gentleman takes Joe in, but the boy eventually realizes that his benefactor thinks the poor are animals and runs off. He connects with a radical printer and his friend, Nell. When Joe finds Annie and discovers that their mother has died, the four of them make a family. This episodic novel moves from one tragedy to another, yet manages to end in hope. Joe is an engaging narrator who, through his love of stories, continually reinvents himself. Michael's depiction of 1830s Manchester is one of the best aspects of the novel. The chaos, poverty, and disease brought by industrialization are vividly drawn. With its blend of magical realism and grim history, this novel reads like David Almond meeting Charles Dickens. Although the book drags a bit in places, there is much that will appeal to teen readers.–Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
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Gr. 5-8. With a Dickensian flair, Michael follows Joe and his little sister, Annie, on the long and winding road in search of their mother, who abandoned them at a workhouse with a promise that she would return. But Mother is a long time coming, and the children are farmed out to an abusive master. Their escape from his clutches makes for a rousing beginning to the story, and their initial contacts, including one with strange Dogwoman, who runs with a canine pack, are hair-raising. But while the writing style remains vivid throughout and the odd assortment of characters piques interest, the story loses steam somewhere in the middle. By then, however, readers may be hooked, especially after Annie's gift of seeing spirits reveals their mother's whereabouts. Give this picaresque tale, which is not quite fantasy, to children who like long sagas; they will respond to the parade of people Joe meets, whose fragilities are hidden by their bravado. Ilene CooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved