Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: That Time I Joined The Circus by J. J. Howard

Title: That Time I Joined The Circus
Author: J.J. Howard
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Rating: 4.5/5

Cover Impressions:
This cover is so pretty.  I love the backdrop of stars and the slightly blurred image of the circus.  The colors are muted and add to the ethereal quality of the image.  I'm not usually a fan of the almost pencil thin font, but in this case I think anything bigger would have covered too much of the night sky. 

The Gist:
Lexi Ryan has lost everything, her best friend, her father, her home and her future.  She spends her last few dollars tracking down the last known whereabouts of the mother who abandoned her - a traveling circus.  Once there, Lexi works hard to make a life for herself with jobs that range from cleaning cages to telling fortunes.  Just when she is starting to settle in, a piece of her past shows up out of the blue and Lexi must finally face the demons that thought she had left behind. 


I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed That Time I Joined The Circus.  It is a wonderful coming of age story that was surprisingly poignant.  Lexi is dealt a seriously devastating blow.  She loses her father, her best friend and her home all in the same night.  Facing a remarkably different future than the one that she expected, one would expect her to wallow in self pity, but Lexi Ryan is not that type of girl.  She is strong, independent and determined.  She sets off on a journey to find her mother, unsure of the outcome or destination.  When she finds that her mother is not at the circus as she expected, Lexi pulls up her boots and finds a way to be useful.  She does have a tendency to be self-deprecating, but it never bothered me in the way that it does with most characters.  Perhaps because she is never whiny about it and is willing to work hard to support herself rather than to rely on others.  There are also some great secondary characters who, and I hope the author is thinking along the same lines that I am, could support their own stories in upcoming books. 

This is not a particularly fast-paced story and there is very rarely a sense of urgency, but, for some reason it kept me enthralled from the very first page.  I think the setting played a strong role in that.  The backdrop was beautiful and whimsical.  I have read a few books set in circus' before, but none made it feel like a home for the characters in the way that this one did.  The constant musical references added charm and character.  By the end, I was searching each song on youtube and listening to it for the entire chapter.  In fact, if you check out the author's website, you will find a chapter by chapter playlist as well as one that includes all the music played outside Lexi's fortune teller trailer - have I mentioned how I LOVE when authors include these little extras?

Full disclosure: YES, ladies and gentlemen, this story did have multiple love interests.  BUT, they did not form your typical love triangle and the resolution felt right and very mature.  The one thing I do wish is that there had been more development of Lexi's relationship with her father.  If I had gotten to see a little more of their home life I think that the rest of the events in the story would have had a little more of an emotional impact.

I have to give cudos to J.J. Howard for writing a book that involves late teenagers, relationships and some (possibly) sexual behavior, but without including anything that would make me pull it from my classroom shelves.  From one teacher to another, thank you.

Given the beauty of this debut novel, I will be sticking around for anything and everything Ms. Howard writes in the future.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing, Allusion to more
Violence: Fist Fighting
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None


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