Did you ever dream about joining the circus and running away when you were a kid? Did the thought of never-ending popcorn and cotton candy thrill you? What if it was more than a simple desire to escape chores and cleaning your room? For Matthew, that decision has a much darker motivation than riding the Tilt-A-Whirl all day.
At one time Matthew was a star football player one of the lucky few to be part of the upper crust of his high school. When his mother marries Walker, everything changes. Instead of scraping by and eating out of cans, they are eating lamb chops and watching the ocean from the windows of the mansion they live in. People on the outside think Matthew is fortunate, but they do not know that his mother has become a slave and is beaten more days than not.
By his sixteenth birthday, Matthew has decided that he can no longer live a carefree life and continue playing ball and going to parties. He hopes that sacrificing his youth will protect his mother. So far, his presence at home has done nothing to keep her safe, but feeling trapped, he gives up. Fortunately, on his birthday he dares to go to the fair, filled with dreams of the days when his mother would take him. This time, he does not get lost in the joy of the side-show but falls in love. A week later, Walker is dead and his mother is on trial for murder. With no other way out, Matthew becomes carnie Robert Frost and a missing teen. A year can really change a person, and when the fair returns, Robert is faced with the choice between hiding with the circus and putting on Matthew’s shoes again to help his mother.
It is not often that a story blows me away, but this one did. I was afraid that the back and forth from the present and the future that is throughout the entire book would distract me. Luckily, it added to the story and created a rich mystery. Ideas swirled around in my head as I tried to figure out where the story was headed, and while I did eventually reach the correct conclusion, it was a joy to get there. The characters were splendid and the pace was fast, keeping perfectly in synch with the past and present. The journey of Matthew was fantastic to read, and was easier to see having a more realistic outcome than other books with a similar plot. This book might be labeled Young Adult, but it is a wonderful read for those who are looking for something deeper to tug on the heartstrings.
Genre and general reading age – mystery/social and abuse issues for teens and adults.
Level of sexuality – very low and appropriate for teens.
Is there graphic language? Only a few words.
Did I cry? No, but it is far from a light story.
Did I laugh? No.
Is there part of a series? It is a standalone.
Level of character development – very high. From Matthew to the girl he loves to his broken mother, each character has a clearly defined purpose and they meet those needs perfectly. It was easy to slip into Matthew’s shoes and feel what he was going through.
This book does not disappoint. From start to finish it is a rollercoaster of emotions and tough choices. Do not jump in expecting a fluffy feel-good YA. It is heavy and can elicit some strong feelings. Abuse is a major theme, so be prepared when you pick this up. I hope you love it as much as I did. I am excited to give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.