Book review: The Circus

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The Circus

By Olivia Levez

304 pages

Published by Rock the Boat

Age Range: YA, 13 and up

For parents/ educators: Be aware this book contains homelessness and the risks a young girl alone on the street might face.

Summary: (from Goodreads)

Willow has everything: a rich daddy, a pony and a place at a prestigious boarding school. Everything except the one thing she really wants—a father who cares enough to find her when she runs away from home.

On the eve of her father’s wedding, Willow runs again into the unknown. Her mother was a circus performer and Willow longs to follow in her footsteps. But when all of her money is stolen and her only friend, a street performer called Suz, betrays her, Willow is left penniless and alone. So begins a journey.

Will Willow ever make it to the big top and find a place she can truly call home?

 

Silviya turns around and her eyes are tender and heavy. She is stripped bare of make-up, her face shiny with cream.

‘Come closer, little bird’, she says.

‘I am going to tell you a story.’

Behind her the mirror shimmers with a thousand costumes, a thousand dreams.

This took me a while to get into, but I very much enjoyed it, especially after we actually reach the circus, which is fairly late on in the story.In this sense, the title is probably slightly misleading as so little of the story actually takes place in a circus, but the parts that do really are magical.

Unfortunately, our main character, Willow, goes through a lot of the nasty real-world on her way to becoming a circus performer. This part of the book painted a bleak, though probably realistic, view of being a girl hitch-hiking and sleeping on the streets. At times though, I did begin to wonder why she met so few nice people. In fact, almost everyone seemed to be out to rip her off, harass her, etc.

As some other reviewers have mentioned, one note that struck slightly false throughout the book is that Willow repeatedly tries to run away, yet the main cause of this, the ‘evil’ stepmother, turns out to not be so bad after all…so much so that a single letter from her is enough to change the protagonist’s point of view completely. Willow herself is a flawed, realistic character but it can be hard to sympathise with her when she has a lot of opportunities and, in comparison with others she meets on the streets, has had a relatively easy life.

I enjoyed the use of layout, particularly during scenes in the circus, which were almost poetic and provided a stark contrast with the grittiness of real-life.

I have hardly swung away from her when she shouts, ‘Hands Off!’ and I let go like a flying angel, like a bird spreading its wings, like a child running downhill.

Kit laughs and takes pictures on his phone but I m hardly aware of it because

oh my God, I’m flying

I’m flying

I’m flying

and the world is just one huge

rush

before

‘There you go, that’s perfect. Now the bar. Legs out. Legs up a little bit. And drop!’

And I fall, into the safety net, legs out and bouncing hugely, and

Ican’tspeakIcan’tspeak

for laughing.

What I liked: The scenes in the circus and the language used to describe them, the contrast between real-life and the fantasy

Even better if: There were more scenes in the circus – I was hoping for more based on the title of the book. Willow’s problems with her stepmother, her father and their resolution had been explored more fully.

How you could use it in your classroom: It would be an interesting read for secondary school pupils, though not suitable for primary school pupils. I think it could be used to spark a debate about the tug-of-war between wanting to be independent and finding your individuality and the role of parents as protectors and, sometimes, obstacles to this. The scenes of life on the streets and hitchhiking provide a counterpoint to the magic of the circus. This, along with Willow’s search for a place where she fits in this mad world, would also provide ample opportunities for discussion.

(Thank you to Netgalley and Rock the Boat Publishing for my free review copy)

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