Henry can’t believe his luck. Just down the road from his ho hum town, a whole troupe of vaudevillians have moved in for the summer. There’s an elephant, a zebra, and, best of all, a boy Henry’s own age who can tumble and flip like you wouldn’t believe.
The rest of Henry’s community gets over the excitement quickly — the troupe seem nice enough, but the vaudeville lifestyle doesn’t fit well with their comfortable routine. Henry finds something special, though: not only a hint of the life he’d like to be living, out on the road, performing for sold-out audiences, but also a true friend in the one and only Buster Keaton. Buster, for his part, is glad to experience a bit of normalcy for a change. Henry slips away from the family store as soon as he can each day, and heads out to Bluffton to hear stories from the adults, and fish, swim and play ball with Buster and Lex, the son of another of the acts.
So it goes for two summers, but by the third, Henry has started to discover some of the benefits of his own world. When Buster visits Henry on his territory, a bit of jealousy might prove enough to end the friendship for good.
Matt Phelan turns his soft and whimsical style from illustration to graphic novel in Bluffton, giving the final presentation a nostalgic feel that fits Henry’s reminiscences perfectly. And though Henry’s story is fiction, much of Buster’s is true, so readers get a fascinating glimpse into a largely-forgotten era of show business. Recommended especially for readers with an interest in the history of the stage.
Check out the Kirkus review.
Read a Q&A with Matt Phelan.
Watch a Buster Keaton movie for yourself on the Internet Archive!
Releases July 23, 2013. I obtained an advance copy of this book from Candlewick via NetGalley. I received no compensation; my interpretation and opinions are my own.