May 1, 1910: The world might end in sev enteen days when Earth will pass through the possibly lethal tail of Halley’s Comet but thirteen-year-old Hope McDaniel isn’t too concerned. Her world already ended, in a way, when her mother died years ago and Hope’s father, Nick, joined the small time vaudeville circuit.
Hope is tired of living out of train cars, boarding houses, and not having any friends her own age. She’s sick of being a magician’s assistant for Nick and reading Tarot card fortunes to unsuspecting customers with their fellow troupe member Cross-Eyed Jane.
Hope wants out of vaudeville and with the world possibly ending in less than a month, she’s willing to try something desperate to get that normal house and a normal life.
All around her Hope sees hysteria rising as Mr. Halley’s comet comes closer and closer to Earth. Everyone is looking for some protection from the comet. So Hope invents just that: anti-comet pills meant to counter the effects of the dangerous comet.
With the help of another troupe member, young Buster Keaton, Hope has all the tools to market the pills, earn some money, and maybe finally get away from vaudeville. But with the end of the world looming Hope starts to wonder if maybe she’s been wanting the wrong things. In fact, all of the things Hope hates–the things she’s never wanted–might be exactly what she’s needed all along in Selling Hope (2010) by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb.
This book really charmed me.
2010 is the hundredth anniversary of the Halley’s Comet scare of 1910. The comet was last seen in 1985 and (it is predicted) will not be visible again until 2061. But 1910 was the first time and Tubb has magically bottled the hysteria and wonder created by Halley’s comet and used it as a sweeping backdrop for a story about a girl trying to make sense of her world and find her own place in the midst of the chaos her father’s choices have made.
Hope’s first person narration, complete with original newspaper headlines at the beginning of each chapter and authentic one-liner jokes interspersed throughout the story, presents a very clear snapshot of the vaudeville circuit and of Chicago in 1910.
Like all good stories, Selling Hope is peppered with pieces of fact including real vaudeville performers like Bert Savoy, the Cherry sisters and, of course, Hope’s rather dashing accomplice Buster Keaton. It’s hard to say what was more impressive: making Hope, a fictional heroine, as real and dimensional as the now larger than life Buster or making Buster such an important and believable part of this fictional story.*
Selling Hope is a rich, fluid story that captures the spirit of a very specific point in history and a sense of shock and awe rarely seen in modern times. On top of that Hope is a delightfully original narrator in a story that’s full of surprises.
*The dynamic between Hope and Buster was so genuine and so convincing that, upon finishing, it was a bit disappointing to remember that Buster Keaton lived a whole different, real, life that had nothing to do with Hope or pills.
Possible Pairingsº: Murder at Midnight by Avi, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
ºKristin O’Donnell Tubb has a list of her own recommended reading list at the end of the book–definitely worth a look!
Exclusive Bonus Content: So, I have two cover images here. The top one (with the girl) is what I think is the final cover will look like. I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher (Feiwel and Friends of Macmillan) for review. The second cover (with the moon) is the cover that from my ARC.⋆ I like both covers. I think the top one captures the time and the vaudeville vibe with the font and framing. I like that bottom one because it doesn’t show Hope (while capturing the vaudeville/period vibe with the font and artwork). Her sense of self is so muddled throughout the book that I kind of liked the idea of not having her on the cover. I also thought the ARC cover captured the spirit of the time and all of the cartoons and adverts Tubb describes in the book. Maybe that’s just me. Draw your own conclusions.
Also, if you’re still reading, check back tomorrow for a related swag giveaway!
⋆The image is literally from my ARC because I scanned it. Which took forever because I have a new printer and the scanner apparently didn’t set up properly and I don’t even know what’s going on with it now. See what I do you for all, dear readers?