“I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud.”
As far back as he can remember, the orphan Grady has tramped from village to village in the company of a huckster named Floyd. With his adolescent accomplice, Floyd perpetrates a variety of hoaxes and flimflams on the good citizens of the Corenwald frontier, such as the Ugliest Boy in the World act.
It’s a hard way to make a living, made harder by the memory of fatter times when audiences thronged to see young Grady perform as “The Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp.” But what can they do? Nobody believes in feechies anymore.
When Floyd stages an elaborate plot to revive Corenwalders’ belief in the mythical swamp-dwellers known as the feechiefolk, he overshoots the mark. Floyd’s Great Feechie Scare becomes widespread panic. Eager audiences become angry mobs, and in the ensuing chaos, the Charlatan’s Boy discovers the truth that has evaded him all his life—and will change his path forever.
A couple of misfits get more than they bargain for in this comical fantasy. The peddler Floyd exploits his deformed charge, Grady, so that they can both get by in the land of Corenwald. Money is hard to come by, so they capitalize on the legend of "feechies" with Grady pretending to be one of the mythical swamp dwellers to ensure their financial stability ("Wasn't we a pair? Floyd made his living by telling lies, and I made mine by being ugly. It wasn't a bad living, either," says Grady). That scheme is just one of many for Floyd and Grady, and as they travel from village to village dabbling in phrenology, miracle cures, and more, Grady learns much about human nature and himself. Rogers (the Wilder-king trilogy) crafts an entertaining middle-grade novel filled with hijinks and madcap characters. Suffused with backwoods vernacular, Grady's first-person narration should engage readers from the start and hold their attention as Grady navigates his life's surprising twists and turns with humility and humor. One final twist gives Grady a much-deserved happy ending. Ages 10 up.