Friday, March 13, 2020

Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus
by Cassie Beasley
Recommended Ages: 10+

Once there was a boy named Ephraim who was thinking about maybe growing up to be a train robber – anything to avoid going to school – when he stumbled upon a magical circus called the Circus Mirandus. During one glorious week, he tasted unforgettable flavors of candy, reached out and touched magnificent creatures, fell in love with a flying girl and saved up a promise of a miracle from an illusionist known as the Man Who Bends Light. (Ephraim always thought of him as the Lightbender.) The experience is so wonderful that it changes the boy's heart. In this book's own words, he carried in him a new conviction that "a world that had such magic in it must not be as awful as he had sometimes feared."

Ephraim always wanted to go back to the Circus Mirandus, but life got in the way. Now that boy is known as Grandpa Ephraim, at least to a 10-year-old named Micah whose parents died when he was 4. As the cough in Ephraim's lungs settles in for a struggle that can only end one way, he finally decides to call on the Lightbender for that miracle. And Micah, who has heard all his grandfather's stories about the Circus Mirandus, becomes certain that if he finds the circus and the Lightbender, Grandpa Ephraim will be saved. He becomes so single-minded in that belief, in fact, that it becomes a point of contention with the magic-denying aunt who has come to stay with him during Ephraim's illness. It also threatens to mess up his chance of making friends with Jenny Mendoza, the smartest fifth-grader at Peal Elementary.

Like Micah's great-aunt Gertrudis, Jenny has learned at an early age to disbelieve in magic. Nevertheless, she allows Micah to drag her along on his adventure, trying to rationalize away everything she sees along the way – from a talking parrot named Chintzy to a real unicorn. When the head of the circus (known, funnily enough, as Mirandus Head) decides to ban Micah from the grounds, the boy takes desperate and dangerous measures – hilarious though they may be. When he must finally accept the limits of what the Lightbender can do, Micah and his wise, kind grandfather go through one of the most emotionally powerful passages I have read about this year. I'm a light touch, but I haven't sobbed so hard in a long while.

This book made me laugh, too. Written with great expressive beauty, it also carries a touching theory about what magic should (and shouldn't) be used for, and why that could be important for a world like Micah's. It even lends a touch of compassion to Aunt Gertrudis, explaining the reason she is so taken against any idea of magic – though the feeling the reader may experience during that chapter might lean more toward disgust at the character who turns out to be the story's real villain. Believable people in this book hurt with pain the reader can share, but the magic they find in the Circus Mirandus holds out a fragile possibility of healing that, in the end, proves to be what the whole show is about.

Georgia (USA) based author Cassie Beasley is also the author of Tumble and Blue and this book's sequel, The Bootlace Magician. Her sister, Kate Beasley, is also an author with the youth novels Gertie's Leap to Greatness and Lions and Liars to her credit.

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