The Daring Escape of the Misfit Menagerie: Misfit Menagerie, Book 1
At Mumford’s Farm & Orchard, the animals are the main attraction. Smalls the sun bear, Tilda the rabbit, Rigby the dog and Wombat, (you guessed it) the wombat, charm the crowd with their games and tricks. Unfortunately, the Misfit Menagerie also captures the attention of evil circus master, Claude Magnificence, who is always looking to make a profit. Soon, the four animals find themselves captured and forced to perform for a different type of audience as the newest members of the Most Magnificent Traveling Circus. Jacqueline Resnick’s debut novel follows the animals as they plan to break free from Claude’s clutches.
"Resnick has the reader passionately rooting for them all to find freedom. The novel delivers a heart-pounding escape sequence every bit as daring as the title promises."
The story presents the parallel fates of the captive animals and the kids who work in the circus. Bertie Magnificence is Claude’s 10-year-old nephew, but the two couldn’t be any more different. Bertie’s father died in a car accident, leaving Bertie’s mother distraught and hospitalized, and Claude as the boy’s sole guardian. The boy is horrified by his uncle’s abusive treatment of the animals, and he dreams of being a hero. Resnick does an excellent job portraying Bertie’s urge to defy his uncle, exploring the many forms of imprisonment and rebellion.
Bertie befriends Susan, an acrobat his age who performs with the circus in order to pay off her parents’ debt. Deprived of food and affection, the kids feel sorry for the caged animals and help them whenever possible. I appreciated the message they take away from their adventures: “sometimes you can find family in surprising places” (264). Resnick has the reader passionately rooting for them all to find freedom. The novel delivers a heart-pounding escape sequence every bit as daring as the title promises. Although it ends with a cliff hanger, enthusiastic readers won’t have to wait long for the continuation; the author has included a sneak peak at the sequel that is due in fall 2013.
Resnick creates an assortment of vivid characters whose theatrical dialogue just begs to be read aloud. Claude’s nasal voice, hot cocoa obsession and habit of biting his fingernails and spitting them out at hapless bystanders easily make him one of the more despicable storybook villains I’ve encountered. Some of my favorite minor characters include Claude’s dimwitted henchmen, the identical twins Lloyd and Loyd. These and other colorful characters find life in Matthew Cook’s black-and-white illustrations.
Early in the novel, Claude forbids Bertie from owning books, claiming ‘They fill boys’ heads with rubbish.’ That doesn’t stop the imaginative boy from seeking out things to read, like a newspaper clipping about the Misfit Menagerie (back when they still lived on the farm): “as Bertie read about the four unusual animals of Mumford’s Farm & Orchard, he felt that warm rush of excitement that comes from a great story” (41). I’m confident young readers will feel that same rush when they get their hands on this first installment in Resnick’s series.
Reviewed by Emma Kantor on November 18, 2012