Thanks to NetGalley and Mulholland Books for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: Available Now
Synopsis: In the sweltering summer of 1915, Pin, the fourteen-year-old daughter of a carnival fortune-teller, dresses as a boy and joins a teenage gang that roams the famous Riverview amusement park, looking for trouble.
Unbeknownst to the well-heeled city dwellers who come to enjoy the midway, the park is also host to a ruthless killer who uses the shadows of the dark carnival attractions to conduct his crimes. When Pin sees a man enter the Hell Gate ride with a young girl, and emerge alone, she knows that something horrific has occurred.
The crime will lead her to the iconic outsider artist Henry Darger, a brilliant but seemingly mad man. Together, the two navigate the seedy underbelly of a changing city to uncover a murderer few even know to look for.
I’ve been pretty fortunate in the book department this year, with very few disappointments, and I’m happy to add Curious Toys to my list of 2019 standouts.
Curious Toys is one of those literary gems that has something for just about everyone. Historical fiction readers will love the time period and setting of Chicago’s Riverview Park in 1915. Riverview was a big part of Chicago’s landscape from 1904-1967, and the author does a fantastic job detailing the splendor of the park as well as its seedy underbelly. She also thoroughly depicts the abject poverty that so many citizens lived under, and what they did to survive. Fans of classic cinema will appreciate the inclusion of stars like Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Wallace Beery and Essanay Studio in the story. Art enthusiasts will be ecstatic over Hand deftly giving the artist Henry Darger such a pivotal role. And mystery lovers will be both intrigued and repulsed at the actions of the pedophile serial killer, although his identity is fairly obvious by the midway point of the book.
This is both a plot-driven and character-driven tale, and fourteen-year-old Pin as the plucky protagonist is a wonderfully drawn personality. She’s definitely ahead of her time, and her struggles with poverty, her sexuality and the guilt she feels over the disappearance of her younger sister, makes her very sympathetic and easy to like even when her decision making is a little questionable.
Curious Toys will please not only readers who are already fans of Cynthia Hand, but also win many her new ones. The only reason why I’m not giving it a full five stars is because there are a couple of instances when Hand veers away from the main plot unnecessarily. But otherwise, I highly recommend this. It’s the kind of book where if you’re like me, you’ll wind up looking up the time period and real life personalities that are mentioned for further research. Speaking of which, I have to go peruse some more of Henry Darger’s paintings!