Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What we're reading: Circus!

Girl on a Wire, by Gwenda Bond
386 pages
Fantasy / mystery / realistic
Reading level: 13 and up

Many or most circus books seem to start with someone running away. This one is no exception, but Julieta Maroni is already a circus performer, and she's running away to make an impression on the rest of her family. She believes her father, the best wire walker in the world, is passing up the opportunity of a lifetime by refusing to join the giant Cirque American because of a decades-old feud between the Maronis and the Flying Garcias, and with this gesture she manages to make him change his mind, despite her grandmother's vehement objections. The stage is thus set for hidden agendas, sneaky vendettas, and star-crossed love fueled by tragedy. (Yes, the protagonists' names are Romeo, called Remy, and Julieta, called Jules. I know...but go with it.)

My dithering about what genre label to paste on it comes from the book itself--there is a firm belief by several characters in the power of superstition and the ability to perform magic that required the fantasy label, while the mystery of who was trying to sabotage the return of the Maronis to the Big Top and the contemporary setting of the story mandated including "mystery" and "realistic" as well.

This is not my favorite from an admitted obsession with circus books (that would have to be A Stranger at Wildings, otherwise titled Kirkby's Changeling, by Madeleine Brent), but I did enjoy it. There were a few awkward, clunky moments and some missed opportunities to be better than it was, and I felt like the suspense was maintained so long that the ultimate payoff fell a little flat. But the descriptions of the performances on the high wire and trapezes were completely engaging, as were Jules and Remy (and Sam and Dita) as the young protagonists bent on solving the mystery and uniting the families--and at the end of the day, who doesn't love a book about the circus?

I also liked that it featured an historical figure who actually did what the fictional character emulates in this book--Bird Millman, who was an extraordinary high-wire artist, performing with several prominent circus acts (Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey) in the 1920s.

Bird Millman walks a wire above Chicago, 1922.

I wrote a piece about circus books for our main library blog back in 2013 when I had just finished reading another YA circus book (That Time I Joined the Circus, by J. J. Howard) that mentions a lot of other titles you might enjoy if this sub-subgenre is also one of your favorites. Rather than re-blogging it here, I will just provide a link. Check it out for many more circus-based tales!

(BPL also has this as an audio book if you'd rather listen.)

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