Title: The Museum of Extraordinary ThingsAuthor: Alice Hoffman
Synopsis: “Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.
“The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.”
Review: Hoffman has an art for taking the ordinary and making it seem magical. At first I was jealous of Coralie. How awesome would it be to grow up surrounded by fantastical objects like “the hand with eight fingers, the human skull with horns, the preserved remains of a scarlet-colored long-legged bird called a spoonbill, rocks veined with luminous markings the glowed yellow in the dark, as if stars themselves had been trapped inside stone . . . . the jaw of an ancient elephant called a mastodon and the shoes of a giant found in the mountains of Switzerland” (2 & 3) as Coraline describes them. It would be like growing up in a natural history museum combined with items that belong in a store like Obscura Antiques & Oddities (if you haven’t seen the television show Oddities check it out here). My jealousy tapered off as Coralie’s father made more of an appearance and I realized that she is as trapped as the one-hundred-year-old turtle in The Museum.
Eddie’s story truly brought to light the working and living conditions for the working classes during the early part of the 20th century. I learned about it in school, in several different classes in fact, but it somehow seemed so far away. Even though The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a fiction novel, it is based on some major historical events that did happen during the early 20th century. I took pleasure in watching both characters grow emotionally until they are eventually both right for each other and come together with violent results for those around them. Fans of magical realism, the television show Oddities, and those looking to breathe some magic into their everyday lives will love The Museum of Extraordinary Things.
If you like this book you should definitely read:
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (ISBN: 978-0425190371)
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (ISBN: 978-0553384833)