Review: The Mumbo Jumbo Circus by Jane George

The Mumbo Jumbo Circus

 Written:  Jane George [website]

PublishedApril 15, 2011

Publisher: Red Willow Publishing

ISBN: 9781936539086

Obtained via: Author


Magic. Mystery. Mayhem. The MUMBO JUMBO CIRCUS… 

When the enigmatic Ringmaster asks 15-year-old Evanja (Evan) Leane to run away and join the circus, she says yes. Anywhere’s got to be better than foster home Number Eight. Evan learns that this ragtag circus, a haven for throwaway teens, relies on more than spectacle and illusion. This circus is built on magic. Each of the teens possesses a donvrai, a true gift, that manifests only in the presence of the Ringmaster’s mysterious Ju-Ju. Unlike many of the other teens who must wait for their donvrai to emerge, Evan’s gift surfaces on her first night: she can read horses’ minds. This would be totally awesome except she has been deathly afraid of horses since foster home Number Three. But circus is a dying art. If Evan wants to save her beloved new-found home, she must concoct a brilliant horse act that will bring in the crowds. And she’d better get over herself and get on with it fast; there’s a traitor close to the Ringmaster who will stop at nothing to make sure she doesn’t succeed. 

With B&W illustrations. 
Contains: some swearing. Recommended for age 14 and up.

My Review (Which Contains Vague Spoilers, If You Care About Such Things): 

The Mumbo Jumbo Circus is a sweet and eccentric coming of age story filled with all the strangeness a circus story should have. I haven’t had this much fun with a circus novel since Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus. The writing is lovely and the story is a breath of fresh air. I really like it, and am looking forward to buying a copy for my niece in a few years.

I only have one or two beefs with the book. Jacques and his henchmen kidnapped Evan, and she was rescued — but there was no final confrontation. The good guys didn’t “win” so much as the bad guys were put off for another day. That plot line just kind of petered out and never resolved itself, leaving me feeling vaguely cheated. And what about Chandi the Tiger Tamer? Are she and her tigers stuck being tormented simply because the Mumbo Jumbo “ju-ju” said so?

Happily, I sent off a question to the author, and discovered that Mumbo Jumbo *is*, in fact, the beginning of a series. There are six books planned, each with a different POV. This fixes most of my issues  — namely, the unanswered questions. It still feels a bit like the big climax happened in the middle of the book, but since this is just the beginning of things I’m much more willing to forgive that.

Honestly, I was quite pleasantly surprised* and pleased with how well this book was written, and its deft exploration of significant teenage themes like fitting in, contributing to society, teamwork, and standing up to bullies. The illustrations were lovely. (Why don’t more books do that?) I recommend this for teenage readers who don’t mind a bit of whimsy; it’s certainly a nice change from the very necessary but fairly dark turn that some YA books have taken lately.

*The surprise wasn’t really this author’s fault. I’ve just had a bit of a bad run lately with the quality of books I’ve been asked to review. 

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