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That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard

New York City girl Lexi Ryan is doing just fine—she’s got her music, her friends, and her dad, and that’s all she really needs. But when a terrible mistake and a terrible accident leave her on her own in the only city she’s ever called home, Lexi has no choice but to track down her estranged mother, who’s apparently somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus. Arriving at the circus’s next stop with her few worldly belongings and only a little bit of hope, Lexi is disappointed to find that her mother isn’t there, but with nowhere else to go and no idea what to do next, Lexi decides to stay on and join the circus. What she finds amongst the animals and midway rides are unexpected friends and the surprise that this traveling circus is starting to feel like home. But Lexi can’t ignore her past forever, though with a little help from friends both new and old, she just might be able to find what she was looking for all along.

That Time I Joined the Circus is a sweet and funny debut about family, friendship, love, and, of course, the sometimes hectic but somehow rewarding life at the circus. I found myself quite along for the ride (pun not intended) as Lexi navigated her transition from tough city girl to a girl running from her past to a circus performer, and I especially enjoyed how that narration switched between Lexi’s present story and the events that happened before Lexi left to find her mom. I felt like I really got to know Lexi’s character through seeing her background and her current hopes and anxieties, and that made reading her story all the more satisfying. That Time I Joined the Circus may not necessarily be particularly deep, but it does touch on a lot of important subjects, and I found the mix of humor and heart made this book a thoroughly worthwhile read.

That Time I Joined the Circus appeals to fans of Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson and The Beautiful Between by Alyssa Sheinmel.

Rating: 3.75

Review copy from publisher Scholastic

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