Once upon a time, over a hundred years ago, some bicycles were referred to as "boneshakers" because of their uncomfortable rides due to metal frames, wooden wheels, and iron tires. I never knew this! So when I first heard about Kate Milford's steampunk novel THE BONESHAKER, and caught a glimpse of its somewhat creepy cover illustration, I never expected the title to be a reference to the bicycle Natalie is riding on the cover. I figured it had something to do with the scary man with fiery red hair who seems to be peering over his spectacles at potential readers.
The year is 1913 and strange things are brewing in the small rural town of Arcane, Missouri. Mostly since Dr. Jake Limberleg and his Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show rolled into town in their three-wheeled wagon. Natalie Minks' father is the town mechanic, of sorts, and promises to fix the wagon for the mysterious Dr. Limberleg, who in turn, decides to give the folks of Arcane a sneak peek at his show. The show soon becomes all the craze but Natalie knows there's more than meets the eye. Who is Dr. Jake Limberleg? What does he want with the people of Arcane? And how exactly does he make automata come to life?
Kids love to be scared. I can't tell you how many times I see a GOOSEBUMPS book in the hands of some of my students during silent reading time, or how many times DARE TO BE SCARED, DOUBLE DARE TO BE SCARED, and SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK are checked out of my personal classroom library. So naturally, where I became nervous when reading this aloud to my students, they became excited and thrilled! I wasn't sure how backstories involving characters making deals with the Devil (and the consequences of such deals) would be received by my students. But they loved it!
At 384 pages and with rather small font, this book is far from being an easy-read. But, the writing is incredibly descriptive and the plotting is undeniably taut. Intricate side stories of guitar players, deals made at a crossroads, missing wagon wheels, stranded ghouls, and medical quacks are all difficult to keep track of while reading, but are integral to the plot come story's end. For your average 5th grader, this book would be too much. But when read by and discussed with their teacher, my class of 5th graders couldn't get enough!
Great story of good versus evil!
Final Grade: A-