Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 2nd 2015 by Dial Books
Circus Mirandus is touted to be one of the best middlegrade reads of the year and I will let you know if, in my opinion, the book deserves the illustrious title. First, let’s discuss the book as an object.
The book is beautifully designed by Jason Henry and features an illustrated hardcover with a jacket illustrated like the outside of a circus tent (implying, cleverly, that treasures lie inside). I appreciate the thought and care that must have gone into creating this beauty of a book. The illustrations both within the narrative and the cover are done by Diana Sudyka. The paper used is of good quality and the book has that satisfying weight to it common to well made books.
The reason I spent the last paragraph talking aboutthe physical book is because I believe books physical objects deserve attention separate from the stories they contains. Reading a book is about more than the words printed on the pages. Tactile experience aside, I believe the relationship a reader has to a story is also determined by the medium the story is read. I’d also encourage publishers to go that extra mile to make physical books beautiful.
Okay, now, let’s talk about the story within the pages.
Micah’s grandpa is dying. No matter how much Micah might deny this and wish it weren’t true, there is no other way to say it. Once Micah’s grandpa is gone, his sole relative will be his grandpa’s sister, Great-Aunt Gertrudis, who is cruel, mean, and does not believe in magic. Micah’s grandfather, Ephraim, has been telling him wondrous stories about a circus named Circus Mirandus all his life but unfortunately, no one else will believe Micah when he tells them that the circus is not the imaginings of an old man.
Ephraim, knowing that his time is near, writes a letter to the Lightbender, one of the performers in Circus Mirandus, and asks to claim the miracle he had been granted so many years before. Micah thinks his grandpa will ask to get better so they can live together once again but Ephraim knows that there are some miracles even magical beings cannot grant.
My favourite character in this novel is Chintzy, the foul-mouthed messenger parrot, who has some of the best (and funniest) lines in the novel. She delivers messages to and from the Lightbender in Circus Mirandus. She is written so beautifully as a grumpy curmudgeon who has a heart of gold.
Micah reads as an authentic child; his vulnerability to his circumstances, all of which are out of his control, is particularly heart-tugging. He lost his parents and now he is in danger of losing his lone relative; it is as though he is being orphaned twice. His faith in magic and his grandfather’s stories is absolute. Watching him be so certain that the Lightbender is going to save his grandfather is particularly difficult because as an adult you understand that things are going to be a little more complicated than that.
The circus is a magical place and though it wasn’t as elaborately written as say The Night Circus I did appreciate the glamour, the fun, and yes, the magic which seemed to inhabit the circus grounds. The antagonist of this piece, Great Aunt Gertrudis, is given her motivation by a backstory but this does little to make her sympathetic because as sad as her experience was, the manner in which she treats Micah is foul. Micah’s friend, Jenny Mendoza, is one of the only kids who sees beneath Micah’s surface and yet she is unable to experience magic because she is more logically minded than Micah.
There is not much discussion of diversity present in the novel though it does contain POC as side characters who make minor contributions to the plot.
The narrative also utilizes an interesting framing device which allows the reader to experience Ephraim both as the sickly grandpa and as the young boy who first came across Circus Mirandus.
All in all, the book made for an entertaining read. I am certain children will appreciate the story and feel for Micah. It does not crossover as much as say a Frances Hardinge novel because the prose is simple and the story relatively simple but Circus Mirandus, I dare say will be a great favourite among the target audience.