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

ThatTimeIJoinedtheCircusTitle: That Time I Joined the Circus

Author: J.J. Howard

Genre: Contemporary

Publisher: Point

Pages: 259

Rating: 2.5/5

Lexi Ryan just ran away to join the circus, but not on purpose.

A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake–and facing a terrible tragedy–Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi’s mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.

When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn’t there . . . but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus’s fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi’s ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it’s Lexi’s own future that’s thrown into question.

With humor, wisdom, and a dazzlingly fresh voice, this debut reminds us of the magic of circus tents, city lights, first kisses, and the importance of an excellent playlist.

For some unknown reason, I was pretty excited about this new debut. Maybe it was the title and premise – joining the circus?! – or perhaps it was the pretty cover, or maybe it was just because it was a new debut and I always come into them with relatively high hopes. Really, it was probably a combination of all three. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t go as well as I had hoped.

The two-page prologue started off by informing us that the MC was a bit of a music snob, but because she admitted it rather than showing it to us without acknowledging it, it didn’t seem like it would be a big problem. Then there was this line on page 5:

“You’re so funny!” I said in my best fake voice. “For a retarded person, I mean.”

Maybe I’ve just been lucky and haven’t come across many books that just throw the word “retarded” around, but it was pretty shocking to just randomly come across it without it being addressed. They just move on to more banter or something, making it clear that this is supposed to be the way Real Teens talk, and while yes, unfortunately, there are teenagers who easily throw around the word “retarded,” do you really need to use a term like that to make your dialogue seem “authentic”? You couldn’t capture real teens without using an offensive term?

Anyway, moving on. That was my first sign that I might not be a big fan of this book, but I kept going because five pages isn’t nearly enough to figure out if I like a book or not. But main character Lexi kept doing some things that seemed to want to tick me off. Calling her “best friend” or at least best girl friend “Adventure Barbie”? Getting a job as the substitute teacher when she still has a semester and a half left of high school (OK, this probably will only tick off someone like me who is currently is school to become a teacher), especially when it’s clear she seems to treat it more as day care than an actual school. The fact that she insists on calling her father Gavin instead of Dad and seems overall kind of pretentious… Really, all of these things do not make for a good book for me.

Lexi is also a Jane Austen fan. Now, this is not a bad thing, of course. Most book bloggers are Jane Austen fans and I have plenty of friends that fangirl over Jane Austen and the like. So, I kind of rolled my eyes when Lexi mentioned loving Jane Austen, because it seems like that’s the only way to prove that your character is a real reader, but I didn’t care that much. Then, when introducing someone to Jane Austen, she said not everyone gets Jane Austen. This bothered me – it was like she was saying that not everyone has to like Jane Austen, but the people who do like her are the smart people who understand what she’s saying completely. Now, I’m not saying that’s what the author intended, but that’s the way it came across to me personally. I consider myself a fairly smart person and I’m obviously a big reader, but I’m not a Jane Austen fan. I’ve only read part of Emma (I Sparknoted the rest – I know, I’m a bad students sometimes) and all of Northanger Abbey (while also Sparknoting it – what, it’s helpful!), but I wasn’t a big fan of either book. I’m just not the type of person who enjoys the kind of books that Jane Austen writes – I prefer more modern books. I don’t look down on people who do enjoy her books and I hope that they do the same for me, so it just ticked me off that the MC seemed to be suggesting that I’m just not smart enough to understand her writing and that’s the only reason I don’t like her books. I know this probably isn’t the author’s intention and it barely has anything to do with the book itself, but it was just one more reason for me not to look this book.

Not to mention that Lexi seemed very judgmental of those paperback romances you can buy at the grocery store. She reads them, a lot, but she seems to be putting them down at the same time. Yet, when her friend suggests that the romance books might be silly, she instantly gets defensive. I’m not a romance novel fan, but I was already offended by her reaction and I know I would be even more offended if I liked romance novels. Again, it was quite small and probably wasn’t something the author or most other people would think about, but it was yet another thing that bothered me.

So, around page 60 or so, I decided I was done. I wasn’t totally interested in the story and I was quite annoyed with Lexi/Xandra/X (yeah, that was something else confusing – the summary says Lexi, but for the first thirty or so pages she introduces herself as Xandra because her name is Alexandra and most people with that name go by Xandra, right? – again, probably just me and it was probably because at that point I was just looking for things to nitpick). So, I decided to mostly just skim the chapter titles because I was interested to see if any of them had songs I recognized (oh, yeah, each chapter opens with two lines of lyrics, and unlike many books that do this, I actually recognized some of them!).

I actually ended up enjoying the story more when I was skimming it, though. I would read the last few and first few paragraphs of each chapter and would randomly skim pages as I flipped through the pages. Sure, I missed plenty that way, and I’m not going to claim that I know completely what happened, but I did get a good enough idea of the story to know that I probably would have liked it more if the protagonist didn’t frustrate me so much. Maybe I would have ended up giving this book a higher rating if I read the whole thing through, but I don’t think it should be my responsibility to keep going when I’m bored just because a book might interest me more later on.

So, the main reason I couldn’t really enjoy this book and read the whole thing without skimming is my dislike of the main character. Skimming the majority of the book made it clear that I might have enjoyed this story otherwise, though, so I think there’s a good chance I’ll check out future efforts from this author and hope that I like the protagonist better!




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