Among the Wonderful by Stacy Carlson

Imagine that you could walk the streets of 1840s Manhattan.  Imagine that you could visit one of its premier attractions, P.T. Barnum’s newly opened American Museum.  Imagine walking through the galleries of the museum gaping at its wonders, from exotic animals to Italian acrobats to The Human Calculator.  Imagine that you are one of the human wonders, that you are Ana Swift, The World’s Only Giantess.

Welcome to Among the Wonderful, by debut novelist Stacy Carlson.  The story centers on two main characters.  Emile Guillaudeu is a taxidermist, an employee of the natural history museum formerly housed in the building now hosting Barnum’s panoply of attractions.  He is a man comforted by structure, by order, and made nervous by change.  An observer in life up to this point, Guillaudeu is exquisitely skilled at fixing formerly live beings in a permanent pose.

Ana Swift is Canadian by birth, the only child of a farming family whose whole world is turned upside down by her metamorphosis from ordinary child to giantess at age eleven.  She has resigned herself to a life in which her size separates her from others and keeps her from feeling like she belongs.  She views Barnum’s museum from the inside, as only a person who is one of the living exhibits can.

Bridging the two stories is the larger than life P.T. Barnum, one of American’s earliest and greatest entrepreneurs and showmen.  He is the driving force behind the events that dramatically change the lives of Guillaudeu and Ana Swift in ways beyond their wildest dreams.

This is a wonderful book, full of striking images and fascinating characters.  Various themes run throughout the story, from the inevitability of change among the living, to how the business of making money affects art, to the importance of dreams and stories.

But for me, the towering achievement of this book is the creation of the character of Ana Swift.  She is prickly yet vulnerable, worldly wise yet romantic, frightened yet fearless.  She will fire your imagination while she steals your heart.  And in perhaps the greatest tribute I can give a fictional character and the one Ana herself would most wish for—you will never forget her.

Find and request this book in our catalog.

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