A Wrinkle In Time–inspired adventure.
Sasha and her family live at the Cirque Magnifique; they are different from the Islanders with whom they share their town. Formerly home-schooled, fifth-grader Sasha and her little brother, Toddy, are now starting public school. Sasha is responsible for making sure that Toddy isn’t teased or mistreated—he’s different from most other kids—but Sasha’s being bullied herself. As if that’s not enough, the Cirque’s longtime enemy, the mysterious Smoke, is making an appearance, slowly billowing around it. Sasha, who is growing more and more frustrated with her family as she approaches adolescence, is not entirely unhappy about a dark, sullen force slowly overtaking the Cirque—that is, until it engulfs the Cirque during a performance and turns her parents into birds. Sasha and her brother struggle to subsist on their own before setting off on an adventure to rescue their parents. They solve riddles and defeat monsters along the way. Halbrook’s writing is artful, and her portrayals of bullying and child neglect are pointed and troubling. The pacing of the novel is uneven, with the setup taking up disproportionate page space compared to the Where the Wild Things Are–esque seafaring rescue adventure. Sasha and Toddy are biracial, their father dark-skinned and their mother pale.
The L’Engle inspiration is unmissable, but her fans will likely not be deterred; patient readers unfamiliar with her work may find it an entree. (Fantasy. 8-14)