“Any money for Mr. Punch?”
For fifteen years, Caleb and his father have roamed southern England with little to their names but the signet ring his father inherited and the theater and puppets with which they stage popular, raunchy Punch and Judy shows.
“She will help you. Tell her she must.”
One summer day in 1752, Pa is convicted of a theft he didn’t commit and sentenced to transportation to the colonies in America. From gaol, Caleb’s father sends him to the family he never knew he had: an aunt on the coast.
“Filthy thing! How can you bear to have him in the house?”
His welcome at her house is strange, and her neighbors and stepdaughter seem to see only Caleb’s dark skin.
“I found him. On the beach. He’s dead.”
When Caleb finds a body washed up on shore, he stumbles into something much bigger than a man’s death in the high water.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination
Booklist starred (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 6-9. Landman’s Dickensian novel takes readers to eighteenth-century England, where a mixed-race teen and his father, Joseph, who is white, travel the countryside putting on Punch and Judy shows. Their itinerant life crashes around them when a thief drops a purloined silk purse at Joseph’s feet, framing the puppeteer for the crime. To Caleb’s horror, his father is dragged to prison and sentenced to be transported to America. Following Joseph’s whispered instructions, Caleb makes his way to his heretofore unknown aunt’s house, where he is welcomed by his aunt, though her stepdaughter, Lettie, is standoffish, and the town is downright hostile to a “darkie” like Caleb. Not long after his arrival, he discovers a disfigured body on the beach wearing Joseph’s beloved ring, but while Caleb runs for help, the identifying ring is stolen. Though no one believes Caleb’s claim that this man is his father, he knows something is deeply wrong. As he seeks the truth, he and Lettie grow closer, and they uncover rampant corruption and family secrets. This story is both a taut mystery and an excellent piece of historical fiction that brings issues of class, race, and justice into sharp focus. The compelling, complex characters come to life through Landman’s sophisticated writing, and the plot’s many twists strike like expertly timed smacks from Punch’s slapstick.
Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2017)
Murder and mystery abound in this engrossing and atmospheric tale set in 18th-century England.Fifteen-year-old Caleb Chappell is a mixed-race boy whose life is shrouded in mystery. He knows nothing about his black mother, and his white father—a talented puppeteer—is the son of a disgraced earl but never discusses his past. When his father is falsely convicted of theft, Caleb is forced to seek protection from a hitherto-unknown paternal aunt who married a sailor and resides with her stepdaughter in a small port town. After settling into his new life, Caleb receives a shock when a body bearing his father’s signet ring washes up on the shore. Though he knows the corpse is his father, everyone in the town, from the parson to the local lord of the manor, is determined to convince Caleb otherwise. In her latest novel, Carnegie Medalist Landman (Buffalo Soldier, 2014) crafts a scintillating story of corruption headed by a winsome and tenacious protagonist. The author’s concise descriptions of the sea’s frightening vastness, the confining and insulated spirit of the small English town, and the provincial xenophobic attitudes of its denizens are almost cinematic in scope. Often mistaken for a slave, Caleb must endure whispers and pointed racism that are as historically accurate as they are disheartening. So riveting that the pages seem to turn of their own accord. (Fiction. 13-adult)
About the Author
Tanya Landman is the Carnegie Medal–winning author of a number of historical novels for young adults, including The Goldsmith’s Daughter and I Am Apache, in which she explores the lives of history’s dispossessed and disenfranchised. Tanya Landman lives in Devon, England.
Her website is www.tanyalandman.com
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