Friday, March 25, 2011

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen

McCaughrean, Geraldine. 2011. The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen. New York: Harper.

Out of prarie desperation tumble the most amusing predicaments you've read in ages! It's like Mark Twain for kids.

Cissy Sissney lives in the prairie railroad stop of Olive Town, circa 1890. Since her beloved teacher, Miss Loucien left town with The Bright Lights, a traveling theater group, life hasn't been the same. 
Beyond the window, a great tidal wave of Boredom rolled in from the eastern horizon, then broke over the school roofs and Main Street and the silo and the umbrella factory before rolling on to the western horizon.  Cissy knew the color of boredom; it was the color of prairie.  It was the color of northwest Oklahoma.  It was the color of schoolday afternoons.  Sometimes she thought they sky had been nailed down on Olive Town like a crate lid and that she was suffocating on Boredom.
And things were about to get worse. School might be boring, but at least she had friends there, including her best friend, Habakkuk (Kookie) Warboys. Now her mother wanted her to give up school, work full time in the family shop.  Her father's
heart ached for his little girl whose life had suddenly shrunk in the wash from a costume gown into a shopgirl's apron.
But life has a way of changing the best laid plans. A runaway silo accident (!) destroys Cissy's family's store and severely injures her father. To make matters worse, there is a diphtheria outbreak in Olive Town. Soon Cissy, Kookie, and the beautiful Tibbie Bolden, find themselves in the care of their prim and proper new schoolteacher, Miss May March. All are bound for refuge in Salvation - the town of Salvation, that is, current and temporary home of Mrs. Lucien Shades Crew and the Bright Lights Theater Company - at least until they can get Curly out of jail.

The Bright Lights Theater Company, currently residing in a grounded paddle wheeler, takes a highly unanticipated journey downriver, meeting up with actors, entertainers, gamblers, rogues - a complete cast of "characters!" And subject to their many unexpected situations, they become in turn The Bright Lights Theater & Shipwrecking Company, The Bright Lights Theater & Funeral Company, and The Bright Lights Theater, Last Ditch & Final Curtain Company.  The Bright Lights "family" takes it all in stride.  As Henry, the Bright Lights' English butler reminds Cissy,
Yesterday I was a butler, Miss Cecelia.  Today I seem to be the Prime Minister of England, ... Sometimes life has a way of asking us to take a step up.
And step up they do!  To the direst, funniest, most improbable situations that might be found on a dilapidated paddle steamer plying the 1890 Numchuck River, calling on such colorful ports as Salvation, Patience, Plenty, Woodpile, Blowville, and Boats-a-Cummin.

The Glorious Adventure of the Sunshine Queen is not for the reluctant reader; the reader who struggles with contextual clues.  Rather, it is for the reader who glories in wordplay, colorful language, and magnificent adventures.  Ms. McCaughrean does not stop to ensure that the reader has "gotten," the joke (and there are many!), she keeps on moving, toward greater exploits downriver.  Get ready to be swept away from Salvation to Golden Bend on an exuberant trip with the Bright Lights!
Highly recommended.

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen is a sequel to the 2005 novel, Stop the Train. I've never read Stop the Train, having only recently become a huge fan of Ms. McCaughrean after reading The Death-Defying Pepper Roux (my favorite book of 2010). I slipped easily onto the fictional Numchuck River, however, without the benefit of the Train.

A few comments on the cover art - Elizabeth Bird of Fuse #8 had an intriguing post about books which appear to be hiding the fact that they are novels of historical fiction.  Certainly no one can make that claim in this case.  However, I wonder if the cover looks a little too much like historical fiction and fails to hint at the hilarity and mayhem contained within.  One need only to look at the UK version (with its alternate title of Pull Out all the Stops) to see what I mean.  Of course, it highlights the Sunshine Queen's fieriest adventure, but it lets the reader know that there are more than petticoats, overalls, and paddle wheelers in store; there are grand adventures to come! However, in the end, as long as the cover says "Geraldine McCaughrean," that's enough of a draw for me.

Advance Reader copy begged from the publisher.  Due on shelves May 17, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fun, fun read, isn't it? Geraldine McCaughrean is amazing!


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