"Vertebrae clicked and clacked as the anomalous boy swiveled his head forward and shut his eyes."

Hug Chickenpenny is born into this world already looking at a mountain of challenges. His father is absent and unknown, and his mother perishes in childbirth. So when he is discovered by his mother’s friend, he begins his life in a peculiar orphanage. To make matters worse, he is physically unique, deformed, or anomalous, depending on who you ask. He has silver hair, a lumpy head, a retractable arm, mismatched legs, and a clicking spine. This leads to his adoption by Dr. Hannersby, a teratologist who sees Hug more as a fascinating find than a family member. Adoption follows adoption, and Hug’s life changes around him in ways that would crush the spirit of virtually anybody—but he keeps a kind heart and a willingness to go with the flow, even if most of the world thinks he’s some kind of monster.

Employing a gothic and bizarrely macabre brand of imagery, this story should remind readers of James and the Giant Peach, the works of Edward Gorey, or by the author’s own admission, The Elephant Man. The ironic contrast of Hug’s name and demeanor with his horrific, visual appearance creates a character who is as easy to root for as to be repulsed by. The book’s protagonist is young and relatively innocent, but the narrative and vocabulary would certainly challenge younger readers who aren’t already magnetized by these kinds of genres. At its heart, this is a book about looking beyond the exterior and being patient with those who fail to do so, and the way in which the author lays that path before his audience is captivating and unforgettable.

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