Catherine Hastings is a 16-yr-old living in a Boston household with an emotionally and physically abusive father and a dying mother. The circus comes to town! Catherine, with sudden, unexpected, and urgent pushing from her mom, runs away from home but on an impulse detours for the first evening show at the Big Top. Afterwards she presents herself to the circus-master and owner, Cornelius VanDrexel, and asks for a job. A father of grown children himself and a wise, perceptive man, he acquiesces, assigning her a train car in which to sleep and putting her under the direction of other circus staff to find her jobs to do.
Catherine plans to stay only long enough to put distance between herself and her father, and she adopts a false name (Victoria Davis) and age (18). Surprisingly enough, she quite takes to circus life and eventually becomes a very successful high-wire walker. Along the way she becomes an unwed mom (courtesy of one of the VanDrexel sons) and has a daughter, Quinn. Quinn grows up in the circus life herself and also becomes an unwed mother to daughter Callie, but her expertise lies in the interest and care of the circus animals.
When the circus eventually divests itself of its wild animal acts, Quinn takes her daughter Callie and travels to a wildlife sanctuary in Florida to undertake caring for the animals and other wildlife there. By this time Callie is a teenager and, like her recently deceased grandmother, a very accomplished high-wire walker. She is furious at being removed from the life she knows and loves, and she pretty much makes life hell–as only unhappy teenagers can–for just about everyone in Florida with whom she comes in contact.
The book is told in alternating chapters between Victoria’s life and Quinn’s/Callie’s lives. Not until the end of the book do you learn the whole story of How Things Came To Be. Callie and her mom must come to a better understanding and appreciation of each other, and Callie must learn to fit into and to value association with her school peers. This is all worked out in an interesting and pleasing manner.
The author addresses the issues of domestic abuse and parental neglect in effective narration, without going overboard into gory details and without excusing bad parental behavior. The practical and realistic (but not bitter) look at these plot situations is instructive and helpful. The author casts a sympathetic eye on the animals in the story and on the love and care circus members display for them. I have zero familiarity with the circus world and so cannot attest to the book’s authenticity, but the author portrays it in a very interesting and admiring manner.
In this book are descriptions of domestic violence and neglect. A few characters behave badly, but most are kind and helpful toward each other. There is some bad language. There are sexual references and situations, but they are few and not graphic.
With the caveats above, I would recommend this book for its unique plot and thoughtful attention to important issues. It will hold readers’ interest.
Categories: Books We Recommend, Death and Grieving, Dysfunctional Relationships, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Violence
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