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The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen

Review

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen

Lately, when rivers often overtop their banks and destroy houses and livelihoods, it can be hard to remember that they also symbolize not only the threat of destruction but also the promise of travel and adventure. After all, rivers connect places to one another and can provide passages --- either meandering or roiling --- from one way of life to another. Of course, the classic river adventure novel is Mark Twain's THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Geraldine McCaughrean picks up on much of the dialect, humor and downright good fun of Twain's classic in her latest novel, THE GLORIOUS ADVENTURES OF THE SUNSHINE QUEEN.

The story, which is a sequel of sorts to her earlier STOP THE TRAIN!, about the eclectic settlers of a small prairie town in the 19th century, starts off with a bang --- literally. Twelve-year-old Cissy Sissney has been bored at school ever since her beloved teacher, Miss Loucien, left Olive Town to pursue a life on the stage with the Bright Lights Theater Company. It doesn't help that kids are dropping like flies from the diphtheria epidemic sweeping the area.

But when Cissy's parents decide it's high time for her to quit school and help out at the family's store, Cissy is even more down in the dumps: "Cissy loved Olive Town... She loved all the odd, desperate, varied people who had come there in search of a new life. But keep shop there? Forever? Abandon geography and history and daydreaming and playing 'stones' with Kookie in the lunch break and reading the books Miss May March lent her and writing essays entitled 'My Life: A Plan'?"

The answers to Cissy's prayers come about in a particularly dramatic fashion, and soon a motley crew, including Cissy, her best friend Kookie, the beautiful Tibbie, and the strict (but surprisingly effective) Miss May March find themselves bound for Missouri, where they have to spring a man named Curly from jail, where he's been locked up for quoting Shakespeare, and get reunited with Miss Loucien and the rest of the Bright Lights Theater Company.

Almost before Cissy (not to mention the reader) can catch her breath, they find themselves caught up with the theater company, gung ho on resurrecting the popularity of the showboat --- using a dilapidated, washed-up old riverboat left to mildew in the wake of an old flood. Before too long, they're all traveling down the Mississippi, staying one step ahead of disaster and on course for the adventure of a lifetime.

What's remarkable about THE GLORIOUS ADVENTURES OF THE SUNSHINE QUEEN is that this quintessentially American story was written so convincingly by a British author. But given that that writer in question is the expert storyteller Geraldine McCaughrean, that shouldn't be so surprising. The story itself flows like a river, maybe not like the slow and muddy Mississippi, but something altogether more rollicking and riotous. The rapid pace and huge cast of characters require a great deal of attention on the part of readers (especially those unfamiliar with STOP THE TRAIN!), but those who stay on board are in for the laugh-out-loud adventure of a lifetime.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 17, 2011

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen
by Geraldine McCaughrean

  • Publication Date: May 17, 2011
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0062008064
  • ISBN-13: 9780062008060