The Handcuff Kid

A spooky review for you just in time for Halloween.  The Carnival of Lost Souls was my nomination for the Cybils in the middle grades science fiction and fantasy category, so I probably owe it a review.  I can’t promise I’ll be totally unbiased.  The author, Laura Quimby, is a friend of mine.  However, I really did love it.  Pinky swear.

First off, I have to say that I love a book with good design and this one really had it.  From the excellent cover to the fonts and the interior pages with their faux weathered edges, the book design helps bring you into the creepy and wonderful world of the story.

Jack is an orphan who has bounced from home to home all his life.  His only real friend is is social worker, Mildred.  When he goes to live in a new home with the professor, Jack starts to think that he may have finally found a place to stay.  The professor even shares Jack’s interest in Harry Houdini and the art of escape and magic.  However, not everything is as it seems.  Soon, Jack is tricked into going to the Forest of the Dead, where his life is controlled by a magician called The Amazing Mussini, a traveling carnival performer.  With terrible monsters called Death Wranglers who can appear at any moment, escape seems impossible.  However, with the help of some of his fellow prisoners, Jack persists at looking for a way to get back to the land of the living, all as he is forced to perform Houdini’s escape acts for an audience of the dead.  Jack may be the “Handcuff Kid” in the show, able to get away from any pair of handcuffs, but the end had me guessing as to whether he would get away from Mussini.

The world of the book is a creepy one for sure.  The Forest of the Dead and the towns full of the dead are places brought to life with wonderful detail.  Jack is a bit of a rapscallion, but his longing for a real home, somewhere permanent that he doesn’t have to escape from, makes him sympathetic and real.  The book brings together the themes of escape and illusion throughout the story.  Because the story is a little on the scary side, it’s not for younger readers.  However, older kids may really enjoy escaping into Jack’s world.

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