Thirteen-year-old Natalie Minks loves machines, particularly automata—self-operating mechanical devices, usually powered by clockwork. When Jake Limberleg and his traveling medicine show arrive in her small Missouri town with a mysterious vehicle under a tarp and an uncanny ability to make Natalie's half-built automaton move, she feels in her gut that something about this caravan of healers is a bit off. Her uneasiness leads her to investigate the intricate maze of the medicine show, where she discovers a horrible truth and realizes that only she has the power to set things right.
The Boneshaker is by far my favorite book of 2010 (to date). Milford has mastered the art of storytelling--the way she introduces her cast, their histories, deep fears and desires... her prose, their dialogue, their demons and finest moments. Evil is evil and can be overcome. Old stories are true stories and help those wise enough to remember. There's action, poetic justice... this story has it all!
Milford's worldview can be a bit confusing, though. On the one hand, she presents a time and place where the devil is alive, and no simpleton. On the other, the only way to best him is through cleverness and "some kind of grace." But what kind, exactly, pray tell?
Two characters strongly hint at the existence of third parties in our universe--neither angels nor demons, friend nor foe, forces outside the rigid lines of good and evil. One, a guardian angel (of sorts) who did not fall from heaven, but jumped of his own free will, to avoid conflict between two dear friends. The other, an eternally wandering "recruiter" of defecting souls, souls who desire neither heaven nor hell.
Also, be aware that, as with all tales told around the village campfire, there are characters who sometimes speak like the rough adults they are.
But the storytelling, friends, the storytelling! Pages like,
"You are the collector of hands," Natalie said, because it sounded like the kind of thing a brave girl in good story would say, and because she didn't feel brave at all. "You are the gambler of souls. You are the gingerfoot, and you are evil. You can do anything at all, as long as it's wicked."The Boneshaker is a gem for those seeking their next read-aloud. Just be sure to pull in your chairs.