Rated Reads

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

by Alice Hoffman

Rated: Moderate

Coralie Sardie lives with her father at the Museum of Extraordinary Things at Coney Island. The Professor has spent years collecting “freaks of nature,” both living and dead, human and not. These “wonders,” as he calls them, he displays at his museum during the summer months for tourists to gawk at. Coralie doesn’t get to see any of these unusual items until she turns 10 — which also happens to be the time her father presses her into service, as the Human Mermaid, because she was born with webbing between her fingers. Her adolescence is spent in a tank of water, for her father also had spent years training her to hold her breath for long periods of time and to swim like a fish.

But other, more amazing attractions coming to Coney Island threaten the livelihood of the Sardies, and the Professor spends all his spare time figuring out a way to catch the tourists’ attention again. Unfortunately, it involves Coralie, at least in part. And when, one night after a swim in the river, Coralie makes a find that could help the unsavory plan, her life starts to change.

At the same time, Eddie Cohen is just getting by as a photographer, using equipment left to him by his mentor. He mostly photographs news events and sells them to the papers. He is most profoundly affected by the horrible spectacle of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which kills so many young women who had been trapped by factory owners in a tall building to do their low-paid work. The fire engines of the day simply could not reach high enough to save them.

Coralie’s and Eddie’s paths cross in unusual fashion, but their attraction is immediate. Can they possibly break free from the constraints of their lives, the misunderstandings and dangers, to be together and enjoy love?

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a lovely book that opens an interesting window into early-20th-century New York, where unions are struggling against unfair business owners and dangerous working conditions and people are just getting by, but enjoying some recreation when they can at Coney Island. It’s magical, lyrical, and fascinating.

Rated: Moderate, for one use of strong language and a few occasions of milder language. There is some reference to sexual behaviors and perversions but pretty much not detailed. There are a few scenes that are somewhat disturbing but mostly not very detailed, either.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

One Response to The Museum of Extraordinary Things

  1. Siopao says:

    He is a man who stands for what he beveiles and I admire that. We don’t all have to put up billboard size signs to make our point or to make our voices heard, but we do have to get off our duffs and do something instead of just complaining about how things are. Things are the way they are because we as a nation have been too layed back, believing that the things that threaten us today could never happen. Well, guess what, they did and they are here to try to stifle any and all rights that we have been so fortunate to have; all due to the fact that our forefathers gave all they had to fight for and to make sure that we could become the greatest nation that ever existed on this earth. Now we have forces that are working overtime to change everything that we have known as Americans. I don’t recognize my America anymore. We are treated with the utmost disdain when we try to exercise our right to free speech or freedom of religion, but let anyone try to stop a Muslim from exercising their right to speak freely or practice their religion and we are told we can’t do that. They have their rights. Pardon me and what about our rights? We are told we cannot have guns to protect ourselves, but our government puts guns and rifles into the hands of known drug cartels that kill innocent people. Are we becoming a Islamic society? It sure is beginning to look like it. Is our Bible going to be replaced by the Koran? If we, as Americans do not soon start standing up for our rights, they will be taken from us and yes, then the Koran will have replaced the Bible. It’s not a pretty picture that I’m painting, but it can happen. If we, each one of us, who are citizens of this land we profess to love do not band together in unity and make our voices heard loud and clear and if we do nothing, if we do not demand that these things change back to what our founding fathers and our God meant this country to be, then shame on us. We will have lost not only our land, but the very fiber of faith, morality and honor that has been what our country is all about. I pray that it is not too late and that we are the strong Americans that I’ve always believed we were. I pray that we will retake America and make her the strong lady she once was and can be again.

  • The Museum of Extraordinary Things
  • by Alice Hoffman
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: