Parry, Leslie, Church of Marvels, 320 pgs. Ecco, 2015. $26.99. Language: R (13 swears 3 “F” 1 “C”); Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG-13
In 1895, a baby is abandoned in a dark dank privy in the middle of New York City. It will be the job of the man who found her to discover where she belongs and in the process rescue her and maybe even himself. Meanwhile on Coney Island the story of the Church sisters, Odile and Belle, unfolds. Raised as part of their mother’s sideshow, the Church of Marvels, their insular world vanishes when the circus burns to the ground killing their mother and causing Belle to disappear to Manhattan leaving Odile to mourn alone. Another New York woman, Alphie, is experiencing her own tragedy as she finds herself locked up in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum living every day in terror waiting for her husband to find her and take her home. These different people are all linked in their desperation and aloneness, but they will soon find themselves moving toward redemption as their stories intertwine.
Numerous stories overlap to connect various strangers across New York in an intriguing book. At times readers may find themselves confused as more and more characters are introduced and continuous subplots are linked by small details. However, for the reader who endures, the final result is a charming story of love, loss, and triumph. The characters are well drawn and even those who appear only on the periphery are fully formed and catch the attention of the reader. The overall content is such that this book would not be appropriate for placement in a school library, but would not be inappropriate for a mature high school reader.