Tag Archives: Friendship — Fiction.

That Time I Joined the Circus

That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard, Point (April 1, 2013). ISBN: 9780545433815. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS


Lexi Ryan was blindsided several times. The earliest one happened when her mother left her with her musician father with no explanation. Next came the romantic relationship between her two best friends, Eli and Bailey that made her feel like a fifth wheel. The two most devastating events happened on the same night. She let her feelings for Eli overpower her common sense and her dad was killed by a drunk driver.

If all that wasn’t enough to shatter her emotionally, she soon discovered that her father apparently directed that any money he had was to be sent to Lexi’s absent mom, at least that’s what the lawyer handling her father’s estate tells her. Left with no money, no friends, loss of her place at the fancy private school and her apartment, Lexi does the only thing she can think of. She buys a bus ticket and heads south to find her mom and confront her about why she abandoned her.

All she has to go on is what the lawyer told her—that Mom was working as part of a traveling circus. When Lexi finds the circus, Mom isn’t there, but the possibility of a job and a place to live are. Despite having to deal with odd characters and animal poop, Lexi discovers that she feels pretty good as part of the show and when she breaks through the icy reserve around the owner’s daughters who are trapeze artists, she also discovers that family is a lot more than blood.

Her voyage is far from over. It involves falling in love, not once, but twice, pushing through a web of lies she believed were truth, as well as learning how to forgive other people. Following that journey makes for a very satisfying read.


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Filed under Fiction, Uncategorized

Optimists Die First

Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen, Wendy Lamb Books (February 21, 2017), ISBN: 9780553496901. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Things can get really messed up in families that lack meaningful communication. While everything can seem functional on the surface, when a tragedy happens, everything can go off the rails quickly, leaving everyone in their own web of grief, denial, or craziness. Meet Petula De Wilde, a sixteen year old who is currently so boxed in by her phobias and trauma-induced OCD, she barely exists. When something horrible happened, she started isolating and shutting down. Several years later, she’s pushed away her best friend, can’t do a class presentation without her brain filling with so many awful possibilities that she collapses, or has an emotional meltdown and finds herself part of YART-Youth Art Therapy.

It’s an interesting group; Petula, Alonzo-talented, but shunned by his family because he came out, Koula-who struggles and frequently fails to recover from her addictions, Ivan-locked inside grief and anger because of what his mother did and the newest member, the bionic giant, Jacob.

New guy won’t let her be, hanging with her and asking questions until there’s a tiny crack that he manages to open wider and wider. His skill with a video camera and scripting is the gateway that starts Petula on a scary, scary road, one that leads through the Forest of Fear and Pain, with a side trip to betrayal, but when she (and everyone else in YART) comes out on the other side, the emotional sunshine there makes every awful, agonizing moment of the journey worth it. Too bad Jacob got lost on the journey. Want to find out why? Get the book.

This is an excellent look at how guilt and grief, especially in the absence of parental support and intervention, can chew up a teen and spit them out an emotional mess of yuk. It’s a worthwhile addition to libraries where issue-oriented fiction is an important part of the YA collection.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

The Female of the Species

The Female of The Species by Mindy McGinnis, Katherine Tegen Books (September 20, 2016), ISBN: 9780062320896. reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


When Alex looks at her future, she sees nothing promising even though she’s on track to be class valedictorian. She’s reclusive, has no real friends and her home life is bleak. Her older sister was kidnapped, tortured and murdered three years ago, her father, the only person she felt any connection to, left shortly afterward and her mother lives in a perpetual blur fueled by scotch in large quantities.

When her sister’s killer got off, Alex gave in to the darkness that permeates her and exacted revenge rather graphically. She was never caught, but knows that darkness waits patiently inside, hence her having no plans for college or anything similar following graduation.

Despite her efforts to fly under the radar, two classmates find her intriguing. Jack Fisher, her only competition for top spot in their class, could have any girl he wants, and often does, but there’s something about Alex that makes him feel different and alive and despite her efforts to keep him at arms length, they both feel such a strong attraction that coming together is inevitable.

Then there’s Peekay, short for Preacher’s Kid, who ends up doing community service with Alex at the animal shelter. They bond over abandoned and neglected cats, dogs and even a rabbit.

As you read this book, you know something bad awaits, but Mindy does such a good job of pulling you in and getting you to care about all three teens, you also care about the peripheral players, especially Branley, the cheerleader Jack can’t seem to distance himself from. The twist at the end was a shocker for me and I expect it will be for many readers.

There are books you read casually, others you put down with reluctance when something needs to be done and there are a few that refuse to allow you to stop reading until the last page. This falls solidly into that last category. In the acknowledgments the author says she let the manuscript sit for 15 years. I’m ever so grateful she pulled it out and got it published. It’s gritty, has violence and strong language, but teens living hardscrabble lives or who love realistic fiction will devour this one.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

The Memory of Things

The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner, St. Martin’s Griffin (September 6, 2016). ISBN: 9781250095527. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


How do you think you might have reacted if you were sixteen and close to Ground Zero on 9/11? Add in the realization that your NYC police detective dad probably rushed to the tower as soon as the first plane hit and that your mom and little sister are supposed to fly back from California, but all flights are grounded. Now factor in that phone service is extremely spotty because of everyone being frantic, not to mention that both cell and landline circuits were destroyed or damaged by the terrorist attack. In addition, Kyle Donohue’s Uncle Matt waits at the family apartment. He’s paralyzed following an accident that nearly killed him and needs plenty of personal care.

While running with classmates to escape the chaos and toxic fumes from the towers’ collapse, Kyle sees a girl about his age wearing bedraggled angel wings, clinging to the side of the Brooklyn Bridge. He impulsively rescues her, bringing the frightened and confused teen home with him. His action is the beginning of a touching and intriguing story about two young people dealing with different fears and feelings during one of the most traumatic events in recent memory. At first, Kyle isn’t sure whether she remembers anything and is scared she’ll vanish in another attempt to harm herself. In addition, he has to respond to his growing fear that Dad might be dead, another tower victim, that Mom and his sister may be stuck in California forever and that Uncle Matt may completely freak out because he’s also a NYC policeman, but is completely unable to do anything to help.

As the first few days go by, Kyle walks on egg shells for fear of saying or doing something that might damage the mystery girl, but after she begins talking, something starts creating a bond between them, in part because she relates well with his Uncle Matt. The longer she stays in the apartment, the more smitten Kyle becomes.

Told in alternating voices, readers get a very gut level feel for what happened on 9/11 to those directly impacted as well as how love can blossom even in times of disaster. Along the way, they also learn the girl’s story and what brought her to stand on the bridge. This is an emotional and satisfying story, one teens will very much enjoy.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Historical Fiction