cover image Freaks: Alive, on the Inside!

Freaks: Alive, on the Inside!

Annette Curtis Klause, . . S&S/ McElderry, $16.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-689-05143-2

Everything about the main character of Klause's (Blood and Chocolate ) fin de siècle novel set in Middle America is appealing, including his name: Abel Dandy, 17, is the handsome son of a legless father and armless mother. The teen narrator never expresses anything but empathetic equanimity for the human "oddities" he lives among at Faeryland, an "educational" display of fat men, bearded ladies, co-joined siblings and the (un)like. But, "handicapped by [his] normality," Abel runs off to join the circus, seeking his fortune and, well, Abel "Randy" would have been an apt name, too. He's only ever kissed Phoebe the Dog-Faced Girl, and his burgeoning sexual desire has been exacerbated ever since he received an ancient gold ring as a gift. The ring is somehow linked to the beautiful dancer haunting his dreams ("Pleasure cupped my loins with a firm, hot paw," Abel says after one typically erotic session with her). During his journey, Abel learns he didn't so much flee but rather was called, and his mission expands from getting Apollo (Phoebe's equally furry brother, who followed him) back home to saving a whole horde of others from evil Dr. Mink, who runs an exploitative traveling freak show. Despite their unique physical characteristics, there are too many characters between Faeryland, circus and freak show to distinguish among them, but Abel makes an amiable hero and the narrative has a satisfying warm-heartedness to it. Teens, especially those who feel a bit freakish themselves, will gobble this up. Ages 14-up. (Jan.)