Saturday, May 2, 2015

Circus Mirandus

It's no big secret that I don't like circuses.  Circi?  Whatever, I don't speak Latin.  What I do speak is the language of a strong, visceral dislike of clowns and a hatred of animal mistreatment.  Oh, and also the fetishization and commercialization of persons with disabilities as "freak show" members.

But have no fear.  Circus Mirandus is a perfectly lovely, charming book.  It's not so much about the titular circus as it is about the bond between family members and the power of faith.  When I say faith, I mean it in the sense of believing in something even though everyone else is telling you that you're wrong.  Faith means many different things to different people.  This isn't a Christian faith or a Muslim faith or a Zoroastrian faith: it's the faith that we have in those whom we love.  The implicit trust and belief that we have in them.




Circus Mirandus also deals with a belief in the unbelievable.  I'm a bit shy of saying "magic," because then people will read this and think, "Well, it wasn't anything like Harry Potter."  But it is magical.  It is miraculous.  And the end will make you bawl your eyes out in a good cathartic cry-session.

Many of the books I've come to love the most fiercely are those of which I was at first skeptical.  The books I didn't want to like.  I thought they weren't for me and I was going to try my darndest to hate them.  Or to find some sort of fault in them.  And again and again I am proven wrong, which is actually a great thing.  It means that the barriers in my mind are being broken down.

Micah Tuttle's grandfather, Ephraim, is dying.  His lungs aren't working anymore.  Instead of fun days around the house, Micah must endure the endless disapproval of his Aunt Gertrudis, who is bound and determined to keep grandfather and grandson apart.  You see, when Ephraim was just a boy, he found a sort of door to a wonderful, magical, secret place called Circus Mirandus.  Walking over the water into the sun, he finds a mystical world of joy and intelligent elephants, of flying girls and illusionists.  Ephraim has something special inside of him, and one of the circus members, the Lightbender, notices it.  He offers Ephraim something very rare: a miracle.

Now, on his deathbed, Ephraim calls in his miracle; only it's not so simple.  Micah and his friend, a skeptic named Jenny, risk everything to find Circus Mirandus and complete Ephraim's wish for a miracle.  Micah is a tenacious guy, and his love of his grandfather prompts him to do things that we would call mad.  But love is madness, too.

In the beginning, I said this was a story about faith.  It's true.  But I think it's something more: it's a story about love.  Notice I didn't say "a love story."  Because love, too, at its core, is a kind of faith.  You give the deepest parts of your soul to someone else and you trust them to keep them safe.  You would probably do anything for someone you loved.  And in the end, Grandpa Ephraim's love for young Micah performs a miracle: it creates hope when hope has seemingly flickered out of existence.

As I got closer to the end of the book, I didn't want to stop reading, so I took it with me to the gym.  This resulted in me grabbing the grips of the elliptical machine and sobbing.  It wasn't the most attractive sight, I assure you.  But strangely, I wasn't ashamed.  Cassie Beasley made me feel for these characters in a deep, soulful manner.  Her prose is elegant and the kids act spot-on for their age (too often younger kids talk far above their level).

This is a book to be read, shared, and treasured.

ARC received from Penguin USA.

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