Thrilling Wonders and Dark Delight, A Look At “Curious Toys” by Elizabeth Hand

Angie Ybarra, Writer

Trigger Warning: This story contains topics that some may find disturbing.  Sexual suggested content, murder, cross-dressing, and other content that might be disturbing to some readers.


Imagine being transported to the late 1800s in Chicago. Everything is different yet familiar all at the same time. As you walk through the pages of “Curious Toys” by Elizabeth Hand, you come to the corner of Western Ave and Addison. The streets are dirt and cobblestone, street lights are burning by candlelight, and the steamy heat of Chicago’s summer nights stifles the air. The one beacon of relief for the citizens of the city is fun to be had at Riverview Park. Elizabeth Hand does a good job of mixing reality plus fiction and within that mix creating an intriguing, page-turning thriller that captures the reader’s imagination.

Within the story, you are given historical facts that call to you, asking that you investigate a bit more. This is a tale of a young girl who lost her little sister, a single mother, a disgraced ex-police officer, drugs, a life-sized doll, a secret society, disappearing children, and of course a serial killer. We become suspicious of everyone that the main character does. Pin, a young 11-year-old who’s forced to grow up a great deal faster than most takes us along for this thriller of a read. We deal with the loss that Pip and her mother must deal with.

Throughout this story we see part of the history of Chicago, which at the time the story is set is recovering from The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Chicago’s World Fair of 1893, and the Eastland Disaster that killed over 800 people and so many other events. Throughout this story, we are lured into it by the historical facts and the fictional intrigue that help to build the momentum of the story. All the wonderful sounds and great smells of amusement park food are overtaken by the danger that lurks in the shadows stealing the lives of young little girls.

I recommend this book. It is a great escape so pick it up and enjoy your time away from studying. You are given a thrill that leaves you turning pages in anticipation of what will happen next. Hand uses Chicago as a brilliant backdrop to her tale and leads you to rediscover long-forgotten Chicago history. Whether you are a lifelong resident of the city or a recent transplant, you will discover or rediscover the city by means of your imagination and of Hand’s storytelling.