February 26, 2013

That Time I Joined the Circus - J.J. Howard

That Time I Joined the Circus book cover
That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard
Publisher: Point
Publication Date: April 1, 2013
Source/Format: Netgalley (Thanks Scholastic!) || e-galley
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake--and facing a terrible tragedy--Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi's mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.

When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn't there . . . but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus's fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi's ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it's Lexi's own future that's thrown into question. (from Goodreads)

I’m not going to lie – I love circuses. There’s something magical about entering that big tent with the ring in the middle, popcorn and prizes in hand, and settling down to have the performers completely dazzle you with their antics. That Time I Joined the Circus promised to share an insider’s view of the circus experience, which prompted my desire to read it. While I did enjoy the circus tidbits along the way, I finished this novel feeling disappointed with the multiple plot lines and their saccharinely sweet, perfectly tied up endings. 

What I Did Like

I enjoyed reading about the circus. Obviously, this has a lot to do with my own personal preference. While we did get to see bits and pieces of the performances, I actually enjoyed seeing more of what was going on behind the scenes.  It was interesting to read about how things were run, and what people did for different parts of the circus (the performance tent and the midway, basically). I liked the feeling that most of the people who were longtime members of the circus were like family to one another.

I liked Lina, Liska and Louie quite a lot. While they certainly weren’t the main focus of this story, they did appear in a few important moments in the book. Louie is the circus ringmaster, and he struck me as being gruff, but having a soft heart. He ended up treating Lexi very well (despite her first night’s job at the circus) too. Lina and Liska are his daughters who do the trapeze act together with their brother Eddie. They’re also opposites – while Lina is friendly and bubbly, Liska is a bit more reserved. It takes some time for the ice to thaw but eventually, they both end up being really good friends with Lexi.

Musical references are always welcome. As it says in the summary, Lexi is obsessed with music. She could basically be BFFs with Anna Kendrick’s character in Pitch Perfect, as she knows how to pick the perfect songs and make up awesome playlists. Each chapter starts with a line or two from a song, and I recognized a couple of them. I like that the lyrics seemed to perfectly go with each chapter (and I personally preferred them to most of the chapter titles).

What I Didn’t Like

I couldn’t relate to Lexi. I did think it was great that she read books, knew music and was pretty determined to get by. But overall, I just couldn’t connect with her. She was overwhelmed by the situations she faced with her family, her friends, the boys and her own hopes and dreams, and the switching off of each problem as a focus in her life just made me feel disjointed. She did redeem herself when she finally started standing her ground, but that took a while. 

There was so much going on for Lexi. Honestly, it might not have been all Lexi’s fault that I couldn’t empathize with her. She did have a lot of drama on her plate – her missing mother, the problems she’d left in New York and the guys who show up and become a part of her life, to name a few.  I personally could have used more focus on her family situation, and perhaps even Lexi herself, as opposed to the boy angle that the story does have.

Everything is wrapped up nice and neat – perhaps too neat. I’m all for getting the loose ends in a story tied up, and that certainly happens in this book. However, in my personal opinion, everything fell into place a little too neatly, to the point where it felt orchestrated and not organic. When I’m conscious of the fact that a character has everything perfectly falling into place, it often makes me feel uncomfortable and dissatisfied. This usually happens because I can’t connect with the character or if I feel like the story is missing some essential parts that could have made the conclusion seem natural.

I really wanted to like That Time I Joined the Circus. There are certainly some promising elements, like the music and the circus life, and a few characters that I truly enjoyed reading about. But overall, the execution of this novel just didn’t work for me, and I was left disappointed with how it all ended.


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