I must admit, I don’t read many books with a circus as the setting. So I guess you could say this one was a bit of a stretch for me. Still, it’s historical fiction which is my favorite genre so…
Two women thrown together in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Young Noa finds herself cast out and alone after a one night stand with a Nazi solder leaves her pregnant and a disgrace to her family. Astrid finds herself in the same situation after her marriage ends. They both find their way to the circus. Astrid has been here before. She did, after all, grow up as the child of circus performers. For Noa, it’s all strange and scary. But she has to protect not only herself but the young baby she’s caring for. Both women have much to lose.
This is a story of friendship, of love and loss. It’s a story of hardship and resilience. But most of all, it’s a story you won’t soon forget.
To reread or not to reread…that’s a question that I rarely ask myself. Although many people may disagree, I hardly ever find myself with the urge to reread a book, regardless of how good it was the first time around. Books just don’t usually hold my attention if I already know how it’s all going to end. This book is an exception to that self-imposed rule.
Ivan is a gorilla. Not just any gorilla, but instead a silverback, the most majestic of all gorillas. But instead of reigning over his tribe in the jungles of Africa, Ivan has spent the better part of his life behind a glass wall. For 27 years he’s been the star attraction at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Arcade. He spends his days watching humans, who in turn watch him. He’s formed a low opinion of most humans who he has come in contact with, but he holds the other animals around him in high regard. There’s Stella, a wise and gentle soul in an elephant’s body. There’s Bob, a stray dog who has found his way into the mall and on top of Ivan’s belly for naps. And then comes Ruby, a baby elephant brought into the mall to revive lackluster ticket sales.
The story is told completely from Ivan’s point of view, complete with some of his gorilla-created vocabulary. He’s often puzzled by humans and the things they do, but until Ruby arrives he’s never really questioned his circumstances. Then the memories begin to come along, subtle at first. The taste of a mango, the colors of the jungle, the feel of his mother’s fur, the sound of his father’s voice. Suddenly Ivan’s no longer content with his dismal yet predictable life at the Big Top Mall.
So why was this one a reread for me? One simple reason-I wanted to share the innocence, joy, and sadness of Ivan’s story with my students as a read aloud. The story brings to mind questions that young children seem to innately know the answers to. What are animals thinking? Can they feel emotions such as sadness? Do they remember? And what right do we, as humans, have to dictate how and where they live? Although the book is intended and marketed toward a younger audience, it’s such a beautiful, heart-wrenching story that it will resonate with readers and listens of all ages. The chapters are short, the language is beautiful yet simple, and the well-spaced illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the story. Buy it for yourself, buy it for a friend, or buy it to read to a young person in your life.