Saturday, January 31, 2015

What we're reading: Alice Hoffman

Set in Coney Island at the beginning of the 20th century, The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a mystery and a love story, book-ended by two devastating fires. It tells the story of Coralie Sardie and Eddie Cohen , two young people struggling to move past their respective circumstances.

Coralie’s father runs the Museum, a “freak show” on the Coney Island Boardwalk. Coralie is an exceptional swimmer, and appears in a water tank as a mermaid in her father’s show. She resents her father’s strict rules and his insistence that she stay at home so no one will discover she’s not a real mermaid. One night she sneaks out of the house to swim in the river, where she meets Eddie.

Eddie is a photographer who is estranged from his Orthodox Jewish community. He becomes involved in the mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance after photographing the chaos of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.

Coney Island’s Dreamland amusement park, which was advertised as having one million electric lights (a novelty at the time), and Alice Hoffman’s magical writing add great atmosphere to the love story of Coralie and Eddie. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the devastating Dreamland fire place the book firmly in historical New York City.

Reviewed by Leslie R., reference librarian

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