cover image Earthly Astonishments

Earthly Astonishments

Marthe Jocelyn. Dutton Books, $15.99 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-525-46263-7

Jocelyn (The Invisible Day) ventures into historical fiction for this often vivid but incompletely realized novel set in 1884 New York City. Twelve-year-old Josephine measures only 28U"" tall, but she has outsize adventures. For the past five years, she has slaved away at Miss McLaren's academy for girls, an establishment that recalls Miss Minchin's from A Little Princess for its cruelty and hypocrisy. Exploited past endurance, Josephine runs away. Immediately she meets one R.J. Walters, the owner of The Museum of Earthly Astonishments, which displays ""curiosities,"" human and otherwise. Billed as Little Jo-Jo, the world's smallest girl, Josephine becomes a star attraction among the Coney Island amusement-seekers, and she also becomes friends with another of Mr. Walters's ""astonishments,"" a 14-year-old albino boy. But evil Miss McLaren is not so easily left behind, and the plot becomes a tangle of melodramatic sequences in which Miss McLaren attempts at all costs to get Josephine back in her clutches. The characters are colorful but one-dimensional; Josephine, for example, seems less an individual than a contemporary heroine assigned a period setting and a midget's body, and even her extraordinary stature is not entirely reflected in her perceptions and personality. The abundance of historical details demonstrates that the author has researched her subject, yet the characters themselves do not seem lifelike. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)