Fantasy lovers proceed with caution when publishers promise a book will be “the next Harry Potter,” as so many new titles given that moniker ultimately disappoint. But Lauren Oliver’s latest—billed as co-written by the shadowy H.C. Chester—may be the closest thing to another Potter book to hit shelves in a long time.
Of course, that depends on what aspects of Harry’s adventures attract a reader most. There are no epic battles between good and evil here; instead, four children with unusual abilities live in a place where magical goings-on (both real and faked) suffuse their daily existence. The scene is 1930s New York City, and Pippa the mind reader, Sam the strong man and Thomas the extraordinarily foldable boy have lived in Mr. Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders for as long as they can remember. They’ve recently been joined by knife thrower Max (don’t call her Mackenzie!), as well as by Dumfrey's strangest attraction yet, a shriveled and ugly object purporting to be a famous shrunken head. The head draws much-needed crowds to the museum, but when it disappears—and everyone associated with it starts turning up dead—the four children decide to investigate. As in Rowling’s classic stories, details planted in unsuspecting places turn out to be important clues for solving the mystery.
Best of all, Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head is the first in a planned series—so watch for more humor, friendship, marvels and magical adventures coming soon.
Jill Ratzan matches readers with books in a small library in southeastern Pennsylvania.