Review: Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch

Title: Orphans of the Carnival
Author: Carol Birch
Pages: 352
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Free ARC from Doubleday

Rating: C-

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Doubleday via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Summary: Julia Pastrana was born with a rare condition called hypertrichosis, which left much of her body covered in hair. Born in the 1800’s and left with very few options, she chose to take an offer to tour with a freakshow, and eventually found herself married to her last manager, Theo Lent. Together they toured the world. Years after being married, she lost their only child during childbirth, and died shortly thereafter.

Review: This is an especially difficult review for me to write because I didn’t particularly love the book, but I’m not sure those feelings are wholly to do with the book itself, as I’ve been in a bit of a slump. There is a chance that given a lighter mood, I might have better appreciated it. I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt and rated it one mark higher than I would have otherwise.

The writing style was fine, and I really did like Julia a great deal. Her story is both sad and hopeful, and I appreciated the attempt to see her life from her own perspective. It takes a strong person to live with that kind of condition, and it does seem like she tried to make the best of it. Some of the supporting characters were interesting, particularly Cato, whose relationship with Julia was rather compelling. But that wasn’t really enough to save the book for me.

Ultimately, I think a lot could have been cut, and the story would have been improved if it had. Entirely too much time was spent discussing each location and each change in her act, her new clothes. It felt like the same point was made repeatedly and unnecessarily. Truthfully, there were bits that dragged, and I found myself having to push through.

Perhaps if you are the kind of person who is interested in freak shows, circuses or carnival acts, or if you are someone who enjoys unique historical fiction, this is a book you might enjoy. Sadly, it was not for me.

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