Although he’s only 13, Will Sparrow is definitely on his own. After his drunken father decides to sell him into the service of an innkeeper for more drink, he knows he must run away. In threadbare clothes, no money and no special place to go, Will wants to get as far away as possible. He can’t trust his father, and his mother has abandoned them because (or so his father says) she couldn’t stand the boy who’s probably just a changeling. Now Will is going to make his way into the world because he is free, clever and yes, a thief. He'll show them!
"Along with the insights into a bygone life, the growth of young Will as he struggles to find security and family is a wonderful theme for young adults. This is a book that both boys and girls from middle school and up will find to be both educational and fun."
On the road he encounters an assortment of crazy, fun and fascinating characters. The first he puts his trust into is the young woman known as Nell Liftpurse. He discovers too late that her name is well-suited, and soon, without his boots, blanket or food, she disappears leaving him all the more bitter. He vows he will never speak to anyone again, nor will he ever trust a woman. Life is turning much harder than even he anticipates, and his hungry stomach is not pleased with this turn of events. He must be the most sly to outsmart the world of grown-up liars and thieves, and this is something he is determined to do.
Doctor Hieronymus Munster, the great tooth puller, is the next person he meets. For some brief moments, he has hope that with a few pences from the doctor, he can find food and shelter. But, like Nell before, Will is abandoned before he is paid for helping the “said” doctor put on his show. Thus, on and on the young boy goes, one disappointing encounter after another. The world is full of tricksters, conjurers, charletons and liers far worse than himself.
When Will encounters Master Tobias and his wagon of “oddities” he senses life is really changing. Although he is much put off by Tobias’s helper, a dwarf named Fitz, he now has a full belly and a most interesting life. There is also a frightening creature called Greymalkin who is half cat, half human with hair over her face. Will knows that it is thanks to the clever Master Tobias that they are so successful. Other strange things in the wagon include an infant mermaid, a two-headed lizard, a chicken with three legs and a unicorn scull.
But Will still has many lessons to learn. He will learn that he cannot judge by what he sees. He will learn the beauty of Grace Wyse, known as the cat/human creature. He will learn that perhaps Fitz is not the mean and selfish person he thinks. He will learn that Master Tobias has other sides and he will learn that the smartest pig in the world, “Dutchess” really is a very smart pig. Still there is even more in Will’s 17th century world that teaches him about the truth of real friends and family.
Karen Cushman, winner of the Newbury Honor Award for THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE, recreates, in fascinating detail, the life of a young boy on the run during Elizabethan England. Her careful research on the fairs and exhibitions with their “oddities” are discussed in her author’s note at the end of the book. Along with the insights into a bygone life, the growth of young Will as he struggles to find security and family is a wonderful theme for young adults. This is a book that both boys and girls from middle school and up will find to be both educational and fun.