Tuesday, May 14, 2013

That Time I joined the Circus, by J.J. Howard- Review

From Goodreads:
Lexi Ryan just ran away to join the circus, but not on purpose.
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.

Um, so let's be serious here.  Who hasn't wanted to join the circus? Especially when you were a teenager? Don't lie...I know you did.  The closest I came was the summer I worked at the exhibition and got asked to go on the circuit with all the carnies and concession people (they needed someone to keep the ice cream stand going).  It almost killed me when my mom said no (shocking, I know!), I was 17, and after spending a week working long hot days and nights with these people, and coming in early to join them for tent breakfasts I couldn't think of anything more exciting or fun.  Plus there were cute boys.  So when Scholastic sent me That Time I Joined the Circus, I was uber excited to dig in.

I have to be honest, there were a lot of soft spots in this book, where if you poked at them the whole thing would collapse.  How Lexi ends up with the circus is beyond ridiculous, and the idea that any lawyer, will or the parents of childhood friends would let her be evicted with no money and send her chasing down a circus in the hunt for her mother is so unbelievable I won't even bother talking about it further.

However, if you can suspend your disbelief through this intro, then you get to the circus, and you quickly get caught up in that part where you can vicariously enjoy running away with the circus.  Friendships are made, cute boys are flirted with, circus families and the traditions are touched upon (I would have liked more of that actually), and in the end happiness is had.

Although I enjoyed the bulk of this story, at least the Circus part and a small amount of when her best friend Eli shows up and all is revealed about what actually went down in New York before she left, there were, as I said, a lot of holes.  There was also a considerable amount of mush towards the end with her mom, the reveals about her parents relationship and how and where Lexi decides to settle down in the end.  So it was tempered, a bit of fun with a handfuls of stuff I had to overlook to continue enjoying the story.

What I found totally intolerable was the music theme throughout the story.  Every chapter title is followed by a song reference, and over and over again Lexi talks about how important music is in her life. OK. I get it.  Teens like music, and her dad was a radio DJ, so music = big deal.  I'm not sure bludgeoning me to death with this fact instead of working it more into the story was really how this should have been dealt with.  Also, I can't take anyone seriously about music if one of the music references is Britney Spears. I kid you not, page 48.  Nobody references Britney Spears unless you're talking about how your dance major roommates spent hours learning the dance routine from her first video Hit Me Baby One More Time (true story) or how you watched endless pervy old guys drool over that video in bars (sadly, also true).

Although I found this story heavily hit and miss for me, I can see the appeal for a younger (girlie) audience who aren't necessarily going to roll their eyes at some of the plot softness or at least not feel the need to poke at them until the story collapses and they stop enjoying it.  Who knows, they likely won't even be old enough to know the full train wreck story that is Britney Spears, and Howard can introduce them to all new nuances of fun while they mock her school look and sexy dance moves from the early 90's. Then someone can tell them about the Smurfs and they can totally have their minds blown.  Good god, I am so old!

That Time I Joined the Circus, by J.J. Howard
Published by Point, April 1st, 2013
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy That Time I Joined the Circus on Amazon


  1. This sounds like an adorable read, and I mean I would love to read a book about a kid joining the circus (of course it was a dream of mine!). But I'm sad to hear that the story has some plot holes and is a little unbelievable at times. Still one I'm interested in though. Great review!

  2. Sounds like an interesting read but the music thing would bother me. It's like those people who always have to point out how "into music they are" and talk non stop about what bands are the next big thing.

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  5. I know I'm late to the party of this blog post, but like you, I really didn't love this one. The music references, which I wasn't always familiar with, and really didn't care to look up were part of it, though I've read other books that name chapters after song titles or lyrics, and it didn't bother me. I was excited about it, but it wasn't as magical as I expected and is more behind the scenes of a circus than about the magic of performance. Also, I had a hard time sympathizing with Lexi's angst while I was reading it, though with a little distance from it, I can realize that it made sense given she'd just lost her dad and her mom abandoned her ages before.

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