That Time I Joined the Circus wasn’t originally on my Debut Author Challenge list, and after reading it I’m sort of wondering why. This is the second time I deviated from my list (the first was when I read Splintered), and in both cases I was happy I did.
The first thing that jumped out at me about That Time I Joined the Circus was the voice. Lexi, Xandra, Lex, X (or whatever you want to call her) sounded like a real teenager with genuine problems. As the story progressed, I discovered I really liked Lexi and actually cared about her situation. She wasn’t the perfect mc, which I loved, since I’d much rather read about a flawed protagonist. Lexi made mistakes, including one particularly big blunder that unraveled her limited social life and contributed to a portion of her emotional journey in the book.
A number of boys in the story gravitate toward Lexi, which is more than the average high school girl usually has on her plate. Initially, this worried me. I thought the author was going to turn the story into a full blown love square, but luckily she didn’t go that route. At least one of these relationships doesn’t progress further than a passing interest, which seemed realistic to me. As far as the male characters in the book, I wanted to smack them all in the head at one point or another. Especially Eli. Poor, kind of sweet Eli, who really bungled things up. That isn’t a criticism of the book, because I’m fairly certain the author wanted readers to feel that way. Again, none of her characters were perfect, thus there’s some conflict for Lexi to work through.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book in terms of the setting. It largely takes place at a circus (hence the title), so I thought it might get kind of kooky and outrageous. This wasn’t the case though. For a book about a circus, that aspect of the story isn’t over the top. It’s not full of tacky costumes and flashy performances and carnies. In fact, the author doesn’t swamp readers with excessive descriptions of the circus at all. Instead, it’s about the people Lexi meets and their lives behind the scenes.
Without giving anything away, I appreciated the conclusions Lexi came to at the end of the story. I felt like she grew up quite a bit, while also getting to know what she wanted and who she was as a person. I thought the author did a good job of showing how Lexi identified her own faults and learned from the mistakes she made. By the conclusion, it seemed that Lexi saw many people in a different light—some that were new to her, and others that she had known for years. While this book definitely has romance woven in, and this plays a big role in the plot, I didn’t feel it was the main issue. Ultimately, That Time I Joined the Circus was about Lexi figuring out her direction in life, especially in light of the crappy hand she’d been dealt and the fact that she always struggled to belong somewhere.
There are a couple other details worth discussing. This story addressed the shortcomings of Lexi’s parents. They fouled up pretty badly on some things while raising (or not raising) her. That being said, I didn’t feel the author demonized Lexi’s parents, nor did she allow Lexi to give in to resentment over the mistakes they made. While I think I would’ve been a lot harder on them, I appreciated that J.J. Howard didn’t go overboard on this aspect of the story. Another thing worth mentioning is the chapter titles and the music quotes that accompany them. I thought this was very fitting to Lexi’s character and helped to highlight her interest in music and her voice throughout the story.
Overall, I really enjoyed That Time I Joined the Circus. I do wish some of the characters and relationships had been fleshed out more, and there was one plot detail that I found a little convenient, however, I don’t necessarily see this as being the fault of the author’s writing, but more due to time and space constraints. As far as I know, this was a standalone, and there was a lot to squeeze in on a limited number of pages. (Can you tell how much I despise word counts?) And it’s a good thing that I wanted to know some of these characters better, because they were fun to read about. Soooo, should you choose to delve into That Time I Joined the Circus based on this or any other review, I hope you find it as enjoyable as I did.