What is the plot of Alice Hoffman's The Museum of Extraordinary Things?

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The Museum of Extraordinary Things, set in early twentieth-century New York, is the story of Coralie Sardie and her overly protective father, the Professor. It mainly takes place in the titular museum, which the Professor operates in Coney Island. Under his strict control, Coralie performs as a mermaid and in the nude. She learns to reject this life when she meets and falls in love with Eddie, a photographer.

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Alice Hoffman’s novel The Museum of Extraordinary Things is set in and around New York City in the early twentieth century. The protagonist is Coralie Sardie, who develops from a sheltered girl into a courageous young woman. Her father, known as the Professor, is both overly protective and rigidly controlling. Because he lost his wife, Coralie’s mother, he fears losing his daughter as well. Much of the action occurs in the titular museum, which the Professor operates in Coney Island, but other settings in the city are also important.

Coralie, a strong swimmer, has long performed underwater as a mermaid, but as she grows up, her father forces her to appear naked for select male clientele. As Coralie’s strength and courage grow, she meets an idealistic photographer named Eddie and learns about the world beyond the narrow confines her father has imposed. Another significant character is Maureen, the family’s housekeeper, whom Coralie begins to believe is her mother.

Beyond Coralie’s romance with Eddie, other plot lines involve labor conditions and organizing, and their association with the mysterious death of Hannah, a young woman whose father believes she died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The decline and destruction of the museum is also significant.

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