cover image Punch with Judy

Punch with Judy

Avi. Bradbury Press, $14.95 (167pp) ISBN 978-0-02-707755-1

``One raw day in 1870,'' the owner of a touring medicine show takes in an eight-year-old orphan as ``company servant'' and dubs him Punch, a whimsical tribute to his beloved daughter, Judy. Four years later, the owner is dead, and a sanctimonious clergyman in a neighboring village calls upon the sheriff to arrest the showfolk: laughter, claims Parson Cuthwhip, ``is the voice of the devil.'' Following the troupe's unsuccessful run for the state border, a bet is waged: if they can make the sheriff laugh, their freedom is assured. Avi ( The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle ) creates a dark, eerie world as backdrop for his somber narrative; while the story starts slowly, it eventually becomes an absorbing tale centered around Punch's unrequited love for Judy. This beleaguered protagonist engenders such sympathy that readers will cheer him on through his many predicaments. Lisker's stark black-and-white spot illustrations suit the novel's melancholy tone. Ages 11-14. (Apr.)