After almost a month of reading far too much YA, I'm back in middle-grade territory at last! My Sunday Best this week is a debut novel published earlier this year; a delightful, poignant addition to the ‘magical circuses’ subset of kids’ fantasy.
Micah Tuttle’s grandfather is dying. But Grandpa Ephraim has lived a life touched by magic – as his stories of the Circus Mirandus can attest. Much to grim Great-Aunt Gertrudis’ disapproval, Micah believes every word of Grandpa Ephraim’s stories, from the flying birdwoman to the invisible tiger, guardian of the circus gates. And he believes in the miracle owed to Ephraim by the Man Who Bends Light, most powerful of the Circus’s members. Desperate to save his grandfather’s life, Micah decides there’s only one thing for it - he must set off for the Circus Mirandus himself, and call that miracle in.
Micah’s life-saving quest, and the mysterious nature of the Circus, are classic-feeling elements, and could stray readily into cliché at the hands of a less assured author. But there’s a vivid sense of real life, only more so, present in Beasley’s landscapes, both workaday and fantastical, which lifts the book out of a purely escapist rut. There’s genuine, deeply-felt sorrow here too; Grandpa Ephraim is the dearest, closest thing in Micah’s life, and the prospect of losing him feels almost unbearable. The power of friendship is also emphasised – and stalwart, sceptical Jenny, who overcomes hard-wired incredulity to help Micah into the Circus, is definitely more than your average ‘brainy girl sidekick.’ But it’s the Circus itself, and the tendrils of wonder it extrudes, slyly, into the everyday, that keep the book glowing softly in the reader’s mind after the turning of the final page.