The first sentence is a real grabber: "When a boy's first romantic interlude is with Phoebe the Dog-Faced Girl, he feels a need to get out into the world and find a new life."
The first-person narrator, Abel Dandy, has grown up living among performers at a resort called Faeryland, which features a "Pixie Village" inhabited by midgets and dwarves as well as a vaudeville theater where human prodigies such as his parents, a man with no legs and a woman with no arms, perform. Faeryland is not doing well financially, and early in the story, the Siamese Twins depart the show for a tour of Europe, where one twin hopes to be able to legally marry her fiance. One of the twins, in farewell, gives Abel an Egyptian ring. The ring, we gradually learn, is enchanted.
Abel's uncle has been training him in knife-throwing. Ironically, Abel runs away from home to join the circus.
The circus he finds has no "freak show" and all the performers are "normal." After seeing prejudice in action, Abel decides, guiltily, not to speak about his family immediately. Tolerance, intolerance, and living with disability are strong themes in the book, but I didn't feel at all lectured.
Abel's plans to make a place for himself are thwarted with Apollo, the "Puppy Boy" whom he often babysat, turns out to have followed him. Apollo runs afoul of the intolerant circus owner, so he and Abel end up trekking alone, working as kitchen help in a brothel before ending up with a freak show run by the mercenary "skeleton man" Dr. Mink.
All this time, Abel has been having strange dreams of a beautiful Egyptian dancer in which he is her lover. She says he is on his way to her, and warns him about the "man of bones." Then it turns out that Dr. Mink has in his possession a genuine Egyptian mummy, a woman. Hence the fantasy element in the book, which I will not spoil.
It's such a relief to find a book that is original, well-written, and instructive in a non-preachy way.