As I’m sure you know, there’s a celebration day for pretty much anything you can imagine. Today, April 18th is—according to various sources and among other things—International Amateur Radio Day, National Lineman Appreciation Day, National Velociraptor Awareness Day, Newspaper Columnists Day, Adult Autism Awareness Day, and World Heritage Day.
It is also National Animal Crackers Day—because why not?—and with that lightly-sweetened deliciousness in mind, let’s take a look at some circus-themed YA books:
The Weight of Feathers, by Anna-Marie McLemore
This book was a 2016 finalist for the Morris Award, which honors “impressive new voices in young adult literature”—the Printz medal is certainly more well-known, but I always find the Morris picks more exciting because the authors on the list are at the beginning of their career, rather than at the height. The Weight of Feathers is about star-crossed love—a boy and a girl from feuding families of circus performers, one a family with scales who do a mermaid show, the other a family with feathers who do a tightrope act. There’s superstition and magic and long-held resentment, and everyone I’ve heard talk about it has raved about the prose for being lush and poetic and entirely riveting.
I’m especially attracted to these books because they’re companion novels set in the same world, rather than a straight-up serial-type series. More family secrets and rivalries! More suspicions and magic! More star-crossed love! What is it about circus stories that attracts this specific sort of drama? Maybe because circuses are insular communities that exist on the edge of larger society; claustrophobic, but largely by choice? I don’t know, but I’ll always be here for it.
Learning the Ropes, by Monique Polak
Oh, hello—a contemporary realistic set at a Canadian circus camp? That’s basically Fame with tightropes. Loads of female characters and relationships and rivalries (yes, MORE RIVALRIES), and plenty of detail about different forms of aerial art—the more I read about aerial silks, the more I yearn to tr y it out… except I’m terrified of heights, so I will continue to content myself with just reading about it.
Wild Rover No More, by L. M. Meyer
I haven’t been able to bring myself to read this last book in the Jacky Faber series, because once I do, it’ll be over forever. In this one, Jacky is no longer a pirate—in addition to serving as a governess for the future Edgar Allen Poe, she joins a circus—but she is still, as ever, in danger of being hanged for one reason or another. Jacky has always been a wonderfully complicated heroine, a girl who is first and foremost a survivor, and it’s been a joy to see her grow up and come into her own. When I finally work up the bravery to say goodbye, I know I’m going to miss her so, so much.
Back in 2013, I wrote about J.J. Howard’s That Time I Joined the Circus and a few other circus books—including Laura Lam’s Pantomime and Shadowplay, which I LOVED. The demise of the YA imprint Strange Chemistry had me worried that I’d never get the ending of the story, but in putting together this column, I ran across the EXTREMELY WELCOME news that Book #3, Masquerade, is scheduled to be released next January! (The first two books are currently available in ebook form—if you haven’t read them yet, do.)
As always, recommendations are welcome—adult and middle grade market crossovers especially!
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.