Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley (Dial, June 2015) has been getting tons of love from readers and reviewers, and is showing up on lots of Newbery prediction lists.....and indeed, it's a tremendously imaginative and moving book.
10-year-old Micah Tuttle's life has been pretty much shattered--his beloved Grandpa Ephraim is dying, and his utterly unsympathetic Great Aunt Gertie has moved in, bossing and nagging and keeping him away from his grandpa. Micah misses his grandpa something fierce; the two were very close, and Micah loved hearing all Grandpa Ephraim’s wild stories of the magical Circus Mirandus...never dreaming that the circus really was real.
But it was real, and Grandpa Ephraim was promised a miracle by the circus' mysterious Lightbender. And now he wants his miracle...
When Micah learns about his, he figures his grandpa wants to be all better again, and so he sets off to find the Lightbender and call in the miracle. With the help of a new friend, smart but very real-world oriented Jenny, he sets off to the Circus....
It is a place full of magic, real genuine beautiful magic. A place where Micah feels at home. Jenny, however, doesn't--she almost can't get into the circus at all, because she has such a hard time acknowledging that magic is real. Interspersed with Micah and Jenny's story in the present are flashbacks to Grandpa Ephraim's own discovery of the circus and its magic, and how his life was changed by it.
And in the end, there is a miracle, although it's not what Micah had expected. And there really is magic, as long as you can believe in it.
So on the plus side, this is a circus story for those who think they don't like circuses--there aren't any scary clowns, and it is really a magical enchanting place with flashes of humor. The development of the friendship between Micah and Jenny is a pleasure to watch, and Micah's love for his grandpa gives tender emotional weight to the story.
That beings said, I am really not at all sure if this book, enchanting and moving though it might be to grown-ups who want to believe in magic, and for whom the sadness of loss may well have been a lived thing already, has all that much kid appeal....perhaps there are lots of kids for whom running off to a magical circus will be wonderful, but I just couldn't help but feel a tad that this is one grown-ups will like more....I could well be wrong though!
My one specific complaint is that Aunt Gertie is perhaps too much of a negative caricature of the Bad Grownup who Lacks Sensitivity; I could have used more nuance in her character.
So I wouldn't be surprised to see it get a sticker in January, but it's not tops on the list of books I'm going to press on my own fantasy reading 12 year old, who likes magic more firmly separated from the quotidian world....
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher