Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From the teen New Books shelf

That Time I Joined the Circus, by J. J. Howard

Which of us has never had the impulse to run away from home, especially if the circus is your destination? Who hasn't fantasized about flying on the trapeze, standing on the back of a horse as it gallops around the ring, or perching atop the head of the biggest elephant as it majestically parades past an appreciative audience?

Lexi, the protagonist, didn't really intend to run away specifically to join the circus, but since that was the last word she had of where she might be able to find her mom, that's where she ended up. In this story, what she's running from (some bad times in her life in New York City) is equally as important as what she's running to, and she has to resolve a bunch of issues relating to both these destinations before the end of the book. I liked the style the author chose--the jumps back and forth between past and present, so that you come to a gradual understanding of everything involved, always in the moment with Lexi.

I saw in the author's acknowledgments that she thanked someone for insisting, "Add more circus!" and I'm grateful to that person, too, because those descriptions and incidents were my favorite parts of the book. There are some nice friendship and romance moments, and these are not completely predictable, which I also appreciated.

I liked this book. I would have given it four stars, but am giving it three instead (okay, call it 3.5), because some of the clichés and coincidences are just too glaring. I had two gripes: One was a particular piece of a scene that was either accidentally left out or wasn't sufficiently thought through, and you may say it's not a big deal, but it really bothered me!

Lexi arrives at the circus grounds (after a looong bus ride from NYC to Florida, so already presumably hot, tired, and slightly funky), and is immediately put to work by the circus master shoveling you-know-what out of the animals' cages. At the end of a very long evening, she is shown to her bed in the bunkhouse where she will be sleeping, and realizes that she left her bag (with all her clean clothes and stuff) in the circus owner's trailer while talking him into letting her stay, and can't retrieve it now (because it's late), so she goes to sleep in her dirty clothes.

Next day, she wakes up, rolls out, goes to meals (with cute boys she has never met before), works all day at other jobs (some of which would require a presentable appearance!) and never a mention is made of bathing (or even washing up), nor of borrowing a comb and dragging it through her hair, examining her filthy fingernails, being dismayed by the stains on her clothing--all those things of which a a teenage girl would be conscious in these circumstances! I'm sorry, I don't care how laid-back you are, this is preposterous. At the END of that day, she goes back to the bunkhouse and discovers her bag on her bed. So--she's covered in dirt, sweat, and less savory filth, and neither she nor anyone around her says "Phew! Girl, WHAT is that SMELL?"?!

The other gripe was excessive use of time-worn phrasing (speaking of a time-worn phrase!). For instance: "I still loved Nick--some part of me always would." [teeth-grinding ensues] Sorry, there's GOT to be another way to say this. Please find it.

But...the circus fantasy still won this book my good will, and I will suggest it to others!

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