By Ekta R. Garg
December 11, 2019
Genre: Middle grade magical realism
Release date: August 16, 2016
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
A boy and a grandfather share a wonderful secret: when the grandfather was young, he visited a special circus meant only for children to attend. The boy makes it his mission to go back that same circus and call in a favor when his grandfather becomes ill. Author Cassie Beasley introduces several wonderful, endearing characters in her excellent novel Circus Mirandus.
Micah Tuttle knows two things for sure: he’s really good at tying knots, and his best friend in the whole entire world is his Grandpa Ephraim. The two go together for Micah; after his parents died in an accident, Micah moved in with Grandpa Ephraim, and it was his grandfather who taught him about tying the right knot for the right situation. Grandpa Ephraim also told him about Circus Mirandus, a place with fantastic acts and all sorts of magic.
He wishes he could have a dose of that magic now. Lately Grandpa Ephraim’s been sick. So sick, in fact, that his sister, Micah’s great-aunt Gertrudis, has come all the way from Arizona to take care of him. When Micah first heard about Aunt Gertrudis coming, he couldn’t wait to meet her. Anyone close to Grandpa would be just as fun to be around and just as loving. But Aunt Gertrudis is the opposite of Grandpa Ephraim. She’s super strict, she doesn’t let Micah sit with Grandpa long enough, and she definitely doesn’t believe in magic.
Micah wishes there was something he could do to help. Then Grandpa Ephraim tells him a really big secret. The Lightbender, one of the performers in Circus Mirandus, promised him a miracle when he was young. Grandpa Ephraim’s saved it all these years for when he needed it most, and he thinks that time is coming. If there’s any way Micah can contact the Lightbender, then things will definitely get better.
The trouble, of course, is that Aunt Gertrudis seems to be around every corner, and Micah doesn’t even know how to contact the Lightbender in the first place. He becomes friends with the smartest kid in his class, Jenny, but she’s so smart she doesn’t believe in magic either. All Micah knows is that if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll lose the one person he loves more than anyone else.
Author Cassie Beasley offers middle grade readers relatable, likable characters. Micah’s worry about his grandfather and frustration with his great-aunt jump off the page. Jenny, too, is a true best friend. Even when she questions Micah about the fundamental principles in his argument, she stands by him.
Readers may find themselves frowning at Aunt Gertrudis’s disdain for Circus Mirandus, but she represents the complicated reality many adults live in: deep disillusionment. Beasley doesn’t spend much time on Aunt Gertrudis’s back story and with good reason, but even the feather touch is enough to give readers the idea that some angry adults are grieving young children inside. Even when she has the opportunity to set things right from the past, Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t. It’s both frustrating and understandable.
Beasley builds a circus that sparkles in its imaginativeness, but most of the book focuses on Micah and his fight to save his grandfather. If the book can be faulted anywhere, it’s in not offering more information on the circus itself. The few acts described induce a sense of gleeful expectation, but before readers can explore all magic on display the scene shifts. With another book in the offing, hopefully readers will get to spend more time in Circus Mirandus.
Those who enjoy books about strong family relationships and the importance of believing in something even when you can’t see it will appreciate this novel. I recommend readers Bookmark Circus Mirandus.