Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman -- a surefire winner in my book, as I always enjoy Karen Cushman's writing, and always enjoy Katherine Kellgren's audiobook narration.
Will Sparrow's father sold him to an innkeeper in return for ale. When the innkeeper catches Will stealing a meat pie, he threatens to send Will to London to be a chimney sweep's boy. Preferring the dangers of the open road to the dangers and drudgery of cleaning chimneys, Will runs away. After a few days of running and hiding, Will falls in with the itinerant crowd of performers, artisans, and hucksters who travel from one fair to the next. It's a colorful ensemble, and though Will prides himself on being a liar and a thief, he is more than once taken in by some sly character. Eventually, he reluctantly takes a place as an errand boy for the owner of a booth featuring "prodigies and oddities," including a three-legged chicken, a mermaid in a jar, a bad-tempered dwarf, and a fur-faced girl a few years younger than Will. As Will gets to know the members of the small company, he learns to look beyond appearances and see things, and people, as they truly are. And, despite his oft-repeated claim that he cares for no one but himself, he finds that there are other people in the world for whom he cares, and who care for him.
Cushman walks a fine line with Will's character: he is indeed a bit of a liar and a thief, as well as conceited, somewhat ignorant, and occasionally naive -- but for all that, he remains likeable and sympathetic. The secondary characters are likewise complex and rounded; the reader gets the sense that each one features as the star of their own story, though some of those stories overlap onto Will's only briefly. At times, I suspected that the narrative was leading to a saccharine and unrealistic ending, but Cushman is too talented an author to fall into that trap. As for the audiobook production, it was excellent -- as in other projects, Kellgren researched the songs that are included in the text, and her performance of them was authentic to both the period and the characters. Highly recommended!
(Reviewed from an audiobook given to me by a friend.)