It's so awfully nice when you read a fun, imaginative book that offers some of your favorite motifs! This just happened to me with Circus Galacticus, by Deva Fagan (Harcourt Children's Books, 2011, mg/ya, 304 pages), and so here, checkbox style, is why I liked it:
1. Trix, our heroine, is an orphan. We first meet her at an unpleasant boarding school, where a mean girl's taunting ("freak" is a word Trix hears a lot) ends with Trix being booted from the gymnastics team (I like stories with orphans who are outsiders. I'm not sure why).
2. Trix is a romantic at heart, dreaming that the universe holds wonders....dreaming that she will one day leave the mundane behind (like so many of us do, especially when contemplating the chaos of our homes). Happily for Trix, this chance comes when she is taken in by an intergalactic circus! How cool is that?
Sure, the whole "I dream of being special...." becoming "I'm special!" story might seem shopworn, but what I liked about Trix's journey through this process was that she actually isn't all that extraordinary. Sure, she has lots of gymnastics talent, and yes, her hair turned pink overnight, and (most specially) she has a magical artifact of unknown power that her parents left her. But mostly she accomplishes what she does through persistence and loyalty.
3. Trix has to find a place in the circus. She anxiously wonders if she will make friends, and worries about what contribution she can make as a performer. This part of the book reminded me lots of Noel Streatfeild's "shoes" books, which was very nice for me. It also reminded me of another favorite type of book, the New Girl at School, wondering if she will make friends (the answer almost always, as is the case here, being a resounding Yes, which I find very comforting, although there are always trials and tribulations that must be overcome, and I don't like those bits as much).
4. The setting of the story, the circus itself, was simultaneously a new and wondrous place (it has a life of its own, it travels through space bringing magic and wonder to the masses, it can make things for its inhabitants) and comfortably reminiscent of other marvelous edifices (most recently the castle in Jessica Day George's Tuesdays at the Castle).
5. Trix is fifteen, and the young Ringmaster of the Circus is dazzlingly charismatic. The possibility of romance electrifies their encounters. When I realized this was happening, I was at first a bit uncomfortable--I was reading along assuming Trix was 12 or so. But I went back, and saw that I had been told she was fifteen. I wish this had been stated more explicitly--it's told near the beginning in a "nine-years ago when she was six" way, and my mind didn't do the math as I was reading. Once I knew she was fifteen, I could enjoy the sparks between Trix and the Ringmaster, and I hope there's a sequel in which they actually get to be in love with each other for real! He is Haunted as all get out...which I find swoon-worthy.
There a plot to the story too, but I wasn't reading the book for its plot (In case you are wondering, it involves an ancient conflict between Conformity and Creativity, with a somewhat unsatisfying Bad Guy whose role was to mess things up for Trix. This was perhaps the least convincing aspect of the book). As is my usual shiftless wont, I skimmed the exciting Characters Heading Into Real Danger part. To heck with that--I was busily reading the book for the relationships between the characters and the wonderful setting.
I'm happy to have in my mind the lovely image of the Circus Galacticus, sailing onward through the stars, and I want more about Trix and the Ringmaster please!
Here's part one of an interview with Deva Fagan at TheHappyNappyBookseller, and you can read the first chapter here at Deva's website.
Note on age: This is one of those books that teeters between middle grade and YA--perfect for an eleven or twelve year old girl, especially one who hasn't read and fallen for Twilight etc. to the point where she wants the Romance to be capitalized in the books she reads. And even more especially recommended to the girl who, like Trix, feels like an outsider--it's total wish-fulfilment for such a reader!
Note on diversity: Trix's last name is Ling--which opens the possibility that her father is Asian. I didn't see any mention of this in the text (edited to add: I missed it! Deva Fagan commented to let me know that there's one sentence that makes it clear her dad from Taiwan), and here's how she's portrayed in the on-line character gallery. It's nice (and all too rare) to have a character who is not of European ancestry whose non-European-ness isn't a plot point. And Trix's best friend is described as having medium brown skin, as shown in her gallery picture! So Circus Galactics is joining Fagan's earlier book, The Marvelous Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle, in my list (above) of multicultural sci fi/fantasy.
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.