By Hannah Barnaby
Expected publication March 20, 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Portia Remini has joined the circus. Well, it's a bit more complicated than that. See, the dust made her father leave - in search of a better life for them - and Portia was left behind with her aunt. But she was much too spirited for Aunt Sophia, so off Portia was sent to McGreavey's Home for Wayward Girls. But Portia has a faint memory of her father and the circus, so when Mosco's Taveling Wonder Show rides by, she sees her escape and perhaps a way to find her father again...
I picked this up at Midwinter because I'm basically a sucker for the circus (true story: I drove to Cincinnati from Indiana to go to an art exhibit of circus posters). There is something about this book - the chapters are short and episodic and don't necessarily create a narrative, but they have a flow and there is just something about this book that made me not want to put it down. I was completely sucked into this story and spent nearly every free moment I had engrossed in the book, trying to see how it would end. It is hard for me to determine what exactly about this book made it so compelling. I think Barnaby has woven a storytelling spell around the reader - it seems so simple but there is more to the story than one might think. This book is full of fascinating characters - as most books about the circus are - but they are all incredibly easy to relate to. One of Barnaby's strengths here is showing that the circus folk are, in the end, just regular people with desires and dreams that may not be all that different from our own. Portia is a very interesting protagonist and her story is full of new and complicated developments. One thing that I can't decide if I liked or not: there is no indication on the book itself that this is a historical novel. Yet, once you begin reading, it slowly becomes clear that we are in Dust Bowl America. However, this setting never becomes a focus of the novel. I can't decide if I'm annoyed that the setting is so subtle or captivated by the way Barnaby crafts her story in a way that makes it impossible to imagine it taking place in any other context. This was a really excellent read for me, a book I was terribly sad to see end.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.