Saturday, May 4, 2013

Novel Review: That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Rating (Out of 5): ~4
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. (Point)
Publish Date: April 1st, 2013
Spoilers?: Minor-ish

Goodreads Synopsis:

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.

With humor, wisdom, and a dazzlingly fresh voice, this debut reminds us of the magic of circus tents, city lights, first kisses, and the importance of an excellent playlist.

Something Specific:

  •  Lexi's thoughts as she's reading a Regency romance novel: "This book I'm reading is really making me mad. [...] There are just millions of them, all really short, and all romances set around the same time as old Jane [Austen]. They're awful. I just can't stop reading them." (ARC, pg. 67) I know that this is a feeling that other readers will relate to, much like I do, whether they're talking about Regency romance novels or some other genre.
  • "Was he flirting with me? Or did he just have so much male charm that the excess just flailed out of him and landed on any girl who happened to be there?" (ARC, pg. 80)


I was a bit surprised at this book. I was expecting it to be good, expecting the writing to be very graphically gorgeous, and for this to be a much longer book. I turned out be wrong on several points, although I ended up liking it much more than I thought I would, in a very different way.
The writing isn’t graphically gorgeous; it’s rather simple at points, actually. But the voice of the main character, the dialogue, is very witty, very funny; I found myself laughing several times while reading. This is actually a kind of small book, too, at around 260 pages, and it’s a rather quick read when you get into it.
The story was rather good; it had some faults and it started a bit slow, took a while to really snag me, but it was overall good. Lexi (sometimes known as Xandra, X, and Alexandra) has to go search for her mother, seeing as her father died and her mother left a while before then and ended up joining the circus. So Lexi, broke, temporarily kicked out of school and her home, and not talking to her best friend, goes to the circus.
My first fault with the plot was that Lexi’s search for her mother had very little focus. At first, she goes to the circus looking for her, and she asks maybe two or three people if they’ve seen her, but then she ends up joining the circus and the search for her mother kind of just ends. I had a feeling, a hope, that she would show up near the end of the book, but it bothered me that Lexi just stopped looking for her.
Another fault was with the way no one tried to help Lexi. I believe that she’s under eighteen, but the state, no one, tried to do anything about a minor, now with no guardian, living on her own. I didn’t understand how that was supposed to have worked. I guess, perhaps, her lawyer worked it out that she was going to find her mother? None of that was ever mentioned, though, so it just left me confused. Also, with the legal matters: I don’t understand how neither Lexi nor her new guardian tried to get the money back, or officially find out where it went, or even confront the person who apparently took it. They all just let it go, and I didn’t understand the reasoning behind that.
Now, what I believe was my last fault with this book, was the romance. So, I love romance, and it overall wasn’t all that bad, but it was very fast, and I don’t feel like enough got cleared up by the end. I mean, there was the thing with Jamie, and they never talked about it afterward, which I thought was a bit weird. Then there was Nick, and they never really talked anything through, either. Nor did a lot really happen between him and Lexi, and yet they acted like they were in love with each other, without actually speaking the words to each other. I feel like they had one of those relationships that is just more, you know? Or, at least they could have, but it didn’t get to develop as much as it should have. Lastly was Eli, who made sense, and I guess wasn’t as fast as the other two, but still bothers me for some reason. I guess, actually, that my problem with these relationships is that they didn’t get enough time, enough attention, to fully develop into what they should have been.
At the beginning, I had a little bit of the same problem with Lexi’s relationship with Lina, just in that the first impression she had, that lasted for a couple of brief meetings, was never mentioned or thought of after they became close. Also, I don’t feel like the reader got enough insight into what happened between Lina and Jamie, even if we were strictly in Lexi’s head the whole time. What with the impression we were given of Jamie, I feel like some more insight into what happened between them, what happened to change him, would have been nice.
I think the relationship with Liska was well done. We met another character, a fire-eater named Julian, who I think could have turned into a bigger character, but who was really only in one scene, rather briefly. The relationships with Lexi’s old friend, Bailey, could have been more developed, and was a bit too stereotypical (mostly in how Lexi called her Barbie and her reasoning behind it).
On the other hand, I really liked Lexi and thought she was done really well. I think a big part is that I am just rather similar to her, but, to me, she had a really honest, witty voice, and I really liked her. She was fun, she was immature in her thinking at the beginning but noticeably grew up, which I could relate to. She was also a big bookworm, particularly in the fact that she actually read a lot, including classics and Regency romances, and tended to spend her free nights at home reading. I’ve mentioned this before, but sometimes the reader is simply told a character is a reader, but doesn’t ever get shown that the character actually reads, and that wasn’t the case here, which I very much liked.
The circus was fun, the flashbacks were well done and mostly well placed. I say mostly because some of the flashbacks were in a non-chronological order (meaning that the flashbacks started in September, then skipped back to May, and then moved back to September), which was fine with me once I realized it, but I know that a lot of people tend to have hard time with that. Plus, I think it would have made just as much sense if it had been in chronological order, although maybe some of the suspense/intensity wouldn’t have been there.
The ending was really good. I was unsure for a while where it was going to end at, and at first I wasn't sure what I felt about the ending, but now I'm sure that I rather liked it. More maybe would have been nice, but it was a rather satisfying place to stop. Also, I really liked what Lexi decided to do with her future, particularly because it does make a lot of sense for her.
Overall, I really liked this story. It was witty, fun, and generally just enjoyable. I think the characters were rather great, particularly the main one, but that the relationships and some of the side characters should have gotten more development and attention.
I’m looking forward to getting a peak at a finished copy of this book (since I got an ARC), mostly to see if certain details and order of some of the flashbacks were changed, and to see if the cover is particularly shiny or something, since the artwork is just so gorgeous. And I’m being sure to put Howard on my watch list, because I will surely be checking out her next book whenever it comes out.

 A review copy was provided by Cuddlybuggery's Little Blogger, Big Ambitions project and Leila of Buried Under Books. Thank you so much!

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