A moving and powerful story about brother and sister, Joe and Annie, who flee from a pitiful existence as servants. They embark on a tough and perilous journey to Manchester in search of their mother who was forced to leave them at the workhouse when they were very young. Their future is tainted by the horrors of their past and as Annie is increasingly troubled by spirits, Joe is forced to make a tough decision. Driven by the lust for freedom, he sells Annie to a fair owner who plans to use her as a medium, and sets about creating a new identity for himself on the streets of Manchester. But the voices of the past won't leave Joe alone and ultimately he finds himself gravitating back to Annie and their original quest to discover the whereabouts of their mother.
Set in early 19th-century England, British author Michael\x92s novel starts off with an attention-riveting scene, as Joe and his younger sister escape from the callous farm family that has taken them in from the workhouse and seems intent on working\x97or possibly starving\x97them to death. After this, the siblings embark on an odyssey that seems to include just about every fate the era can dole out to a pair of destitute children: they encounter outsiders eking out a living from the land, are nearly sold as slaves and wind up joining a circus where Annie\x92s gift of second sight seems likely to make her a star. After temporarily abandoning Annie (she is eventually placed in a mental institution run by benevolent reformer John Sanderson, one of several actual historical characters), Joe joins a fierce gang of street urchins and eventually finds his niche as prot\xE9g\xE9 to Abel Heywood, the real-life founder of the radical newspaper The Poor Man\x92s Guardian. At times, the plot seems driven by the desire to include just one more well-researched bit of history. (The enclosure movement, for example, gets its moment in the sun when Joe is rescued by Travis, a character who surfaces earlier in the novel, a formerly carefree vagabond who lost his foot to a poacher trap on some newly enclosed land.) Still, it\x92s easy enough to ignore the whiff of pedantry, thanks to the sheer energy of Joe\x92s first person, present-tense narration. Ages 10-up.