Book Review of That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard

Posted April 8, 2013 by Kara in Kara / 32 Comments

Publisher: Point
Release Date: April 1st, 2013
Pages: 272
Genre: Young Adult-Contemporary
Source: NetGalley

Description from Goodreads
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.

I was really looking forward to That Time I Joined the Circus. Unfortunately, it let me down in a really big way. Apparently, I am one of the few dissenting voices you will hear, but that’s okay because we can’t always agree. That being said, whoa do I have a lot to say about this one. Technically it failed me. The morals in the book also failed me. Like I said in my pre-review, I really should be awarding this one the one-star rating of doom, but because of the fun setting, I felt generous. So two stars it is. But even the circus setting was not utilized to its full potential. Everything about this book fell flat. 

So let’s get started, shall we?

The Characters: 

Are flat. And it stinks. 

Lexi, the protagonist, is hard to like because she cheats on her friend, Bailey, with her best friend, Eli. And then subtly proceeds to tell us all the reasons why Bailey deserved it–she doesn’t come right out and say it, but Bailey is the perfect adventure girl and Lexi could never be as awesome as Bailey is. Bailey’s family has money and Lexi is poor. Bailey shops too much. And she likes to eat at a different cafe than Lexi does, which disrupts Lexi’s life something fierce. Give me a break here. SPOILER So in the end when Lexi gets the guy, it’s okay because Bailey is a bad person. NOOOOOO. And I nearly threw up because I freaking HATE when cheating is rewarded. Cheaters should never prosper. And you might say that Lexi’s dad dies, so she does get her just desserts, but to me, one thing does not relate to the other. The girl who screwed up should not get the guy in the end. And I’m never going to like or root for a character like that. A person’s ethics matter to me. And then, in the end, Lexi decides to NOT apologize to Bailey because she figures Bailey won’t want to see her, but really I see it as Lexi taking the easy way out. So not okay with the way this all went down. Nu-uh. SPOILER (highlight to see).

All you need to know about the rest of the characters is that they are not memorable. Not Nick, Not Lina, Not Liska, Not Jamie. They are forgettable and I’ve already brain-dumped some of the characters’ names, unfortunately. I just finished this last night. That should tell you something.

The Plot & Writing:

Is disjointed, chaotic, and doesn’t know what it wants to focus on or what, exactly, it wants to be. I’m not even sure what the point of this whole book was. SPOILER Girl cheats. Girl’s dad dies. Girl leaves NYC to find mom. Girl finds circus instead. Girl doesn’t bother looking for her mom anymore (WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED THERE?!) even though her mom has all the money. Girl finds two boys. Ex-best friend shows up at circus. The end. No really. There’s a little part where Lexi decides where she wants to go to school and what she wants to be, but I didn’t like Lexi and I couldn’t have cared less. SPOILER (highlight to see).

To be quite frank, the book is boring. The reason it’s boring is because of all the telling in the writing. Lack of tension. Yeah, it’s a quick read, but there are plenty of short books that are better than this one. I didn’t hate this book(I know it sounds like I did), but it was not worth the couple of hours it took to read it. 
The rest: 

This majority of That Time I Joined the Circus is set in a–you guessed it– circus. What should be a really exciting and fun setting is a huge letdown because of the lack of skill used to bring the setting to life. I couldn’t even picture this backwoods circus in Florida based on the author’s descriptions. I had to make my own in my head. And the only reason I could do this is because I live here. In Florida. Where the majority of the book is set. I’m pretty sure the author has visited here before, but the essence of the state was not captured in the writing. There was simply too much telling. There was not nearly enough imagery and the sensory language was lacking in a lot of areas. It should have been full of life–sights and sounds–but it just…wasn’t.

So no, I cannot honestly recommend this book. I wish I could, and I never like being mean in my reviews, but if you are looking for a circus setting that is brought to life through writing, you should try Water for Elephants. Even The Night Circus (which I DNFed because of the slow pacing) was executed with much more skill than this. Just my opinion, though. Take from it what you will.

The one thing I did enjoy was the music quotes and song titles that head up each chapter. I love that in books.

Other bad thing? The R word was used on page 5. It was only once, thank goodness, but once was enough.


2/5 Dragons

32 responses to “Book Review of That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard

  1. Sam

    I looked at all the spoilers as I don’t plan to read this one anyway. Based on what you’ve said about Lexi, I don’t think I could root for a character like that either. And the non-plot only makes me glad that I didn’t order this one! Thanks for the helpful review, Kara.

  2. This book was on my maybe-reading shelf and it went to lost-interest after reading your review. I decided to take a peak at the spoilers and I don’t think I would like this book. Lexi sounds like someone I would hate in real life, so I don’t feel like meeting her on the pages. Thanks for the honesty šŸ™‚

    Mel@thedailyprophecy

  3. Amy

    I checked out your spoilers which I almost never do, but I’m so glad I did. I don’t think that I would like this book with some of the stuff you mentioned. Thanks for the honest review!!

  4. Aww … that’s too bad this one was terrible for you! I admit, I was definitely intrigued by the title and the premise … it *sounds* like a really good book. BUT I don’t think I’ll be giving it a go. It just doesn’t sound like something I would agree with!

    Great review, Kara!

  5. Nooo! I was so looking forward to this one šŸ™ I loved Water for Elephants and adored The Night Circus (but I can see why the slow pacing bothered you). What a bummer.

  6. DARN IT. Seriously? I was waiting for someone I followed to post a review, and this just sounds like I’m going to hate it. I’m so annoyed, because, like you, I LOVED this concept, but you’re picking up on things that really irritate me – flat writing, flat characters, and has no point.

    But then, I thought that about the Delirium series and no one else agreed with me, so…

    Anyway, thanks for the review – I probably won’t pick this up now, and I appreciate your honesty!

  7. Ergh, I really have problems with cheating in books. Even if it isn’t rewarded and made to look like the right thing, I have issues. But when it IS made to look okay, it’s way WAY worse. Gross. I’m not going to read this just for that alone, so thanks for letting me know, Kara.

    (Thankfully, my home Internet isn’t worried about your slot machines.)

    • I wouldn’t say it was made to look okay (she felt remorse but decided not to apologize), but I don’t feel that the cheater should get the guy in the end. THAT bothers me.

      LOL! Yes. Because we all know this website is just a front for online gambling.

  8. Ouch, this is one I’ll be avoiding for sure. I was never keen on reading it and the synopsis never drew me in, but this review has solidified it for sure. I hate characters who are flat – I can’t STAND it – so thanks for the heads-up. Wonderfully detailed review, Kara!(:

  9. I’ve seen a few more reviews of this one, and they are some good and some bad. Mixed-review books ALWAYS make me want to pick them up to decide for myself. However if I DO read it and the characters strike me as flat as they did for you, Kara, I’m gonna be mad. I HATE flat characters, because how lazy is that?! UGH. /rant. Anyway, so sorry you didn’t enjoy this one, love.

  10. Ew – thank you for the elucidating review! I can’t stand cheating characters either. I remember reading SOMETHING BORROWED by Emily Giffin and it did the SAME thing – the heroine sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend and it’s all okay because the BFF is a terrible person – not the heroine, for being dishonest, nor the “hero,” for being a weak-ass dink who refused to break it off with the BFF until the VERY END.

  11. Ugh, I am so sorry this one sucked the big one for you! I was really excited to read this one – even though it’s not my usual read, and I’d seen a few good reviews but from what you mention in your review I might be holding off on this one indefinitely. I really can’t stand cheaters – it’s something I can not get past. Period. So yeah, thanks for the honesty in your review. I’ll focus my attention on other books!

  12. I could not get into this book and so I skipped ahead to the end to see where it was going and decided not to bother as it was clearly not for me. This review is making feel vindicated right now. I had all the same issues with the writing in the part I read and I would have done some violence if I put up with it all the way through for that ending. Your constitution is better than mine.

    (I found this blog through your chats with Christina. So glad I did!)

    • That is probably the first time someone has ever said that to me. Usually I throw books at the wall that piss me off LOL but this one left me with no emotion whatsoever. Thank you for visiting! I hope you come back!

  13. Ok, in your spoiler alert you are criticizing how Lexi is hard to like because she cheats on her friend with her best-friend…….Hello, these are teenagers, and the story is written from THEIR perspective, not that of an adult who can use better judgment and higher morals before making life changing mistakes. Again, she is only 17 years old, she hasn’t had a mother in her life since she was like 10 years old to give her proper guidance, and a father who really isn’t a part of her life, because he is too busy with his.

    And saying that the plot is “disjointed, chaotic, and you don’t know what to focus on, exactly” – the story is written in flashbacks, not that difficult to follow!

    In all reality, this story is a great coming of age book, showing the hardships thrown at a young girl in the prime of her life and how she manages to deal with everything.

    If I was one of your followers I would take a chance on this book and see for myself if I liked it or not…..Not take your opinion because you didn’t care for it. That’s like saying “hey everyone, don’t eat chocolate ice cream because I didn’t find it fulfilling”

    People should think for themselves and decide if they like it on their own.

    • I don’t know about you, but at 17 years old, I knew better then to screw over my friends. SO no, I don’t think adults have higher morals than most teenagers but you are welcome to that opinion. Still not a character I can root for, however. I read a lot of YA novels and I’ve not read many characters like this one. My point is, being 17 is no excuse.

      Second point: that’s your opinion. I’m a developmental editor. I know what disjointed plots are.

      No, it’s not. It’s a really mediocre book.

      I’m glad. I never suggest to not read a book on this blog unless it is absolutely terrible. I never told anyone not to read this in my review. I stated there were better books about circuses–and there are–but that is not the same as saying “DON’T READ THIS.”

      They absolutely should think for themselves. I encourage them to. And for the record, one negative review is not going to kill this author’s books. I am entitled to my opinion and I have stated it. I think it’s a pretty unfulfilling book and I was not satisfied. That’s what I’ve stated. Perhaps this is not the blog for you if my opinion upsets you so much.

    • I may not be a teen now, but I know that, even then, I had a very strong sense of justice. Just like now, I hated stories about people who cheat. It’s not something I’ll pretty much ever find acceptable, and I’m thankful to Kara for pointing that out. That doesn’t mean cheating shouldn’t be covered in fiction; it should, because it happens in life. However, reviewers pointing out that it happened and they found it distasteful is helpful to people who like to avoid that subject matter or at least want to prepare themselves.

      As for being displeased that she told people she didn’t like this book and why, that’s the ENTIRE purpose of a book review. If you don’t like hearing what other people thought about books, then book review blogs probably aren’t great places to hang out.

      Most readers of book review blogs read for the opinion and then make up their own mind whether it’s a book they’re interested in. I, for example, still am thinking about maybe reading this book someday. I’m not going to strike it off the TBR for one bad review.

      Also, note that Kara never said that no one should read this book, just that it fell flat for her.

    • Hey I had a boyfriend at 17 and somehow managed to not cheat. Imagine that. Children from bad homes, with little parental interaction, make good choices all the time. If Kara wants to take issue with a character cheating, hey guess what? She totally can.

      And as for “it not being that difficult to follow” – hey, congrats! You have an opinion. Just because Kara thinks differently does not make her views WRONG.

      And if you were a follower of Kara’s, you would know she doesn’t tell anyone what to read, or judge them on the books they might like that she does not. All she does is offer well-thought out and comprehensive reviews.

    • Trixie – you are more than welcome to like the book. Kara has her own opinion. There is no need to bully her because she didn’t like a book. This site is to share our opinions about books, not turn people off of them. The rest of the literate world gets it. Seriously, go find a new place to play, because we really have no need for someone acting like an ass on this site, troll.

    • People should think for themselves and decide if they like it on their own. Show us where Kara said DON’T READ THIS BOOK or IF YOU LIKED THIS YOU ARE AN IDIOT. She presented her opinion–because you know, that’s the point of a review–and most readers are smart enough to know they can weigh her opinion in or not. I happen to disagree with Kara about books all the time, but we somehow still manage to get along, because we respect each other’s opinions. And even if you don’t respect someone’s opinion, it’s childish and rude to mouth off on someone else’s review space.

      I’m sorry I’m so late in commenting here, Kara. I’m glad you got some sort of apology for the way this person acted, although the explanation I saw on Twitter seemed very strange. I just hope this is all over.

  14. Lyn, I love the way you worded your comment and this is why you are one of my favorite people in the world. This was our first blog hater as a duo. YAY! We’ve made it. *snort*

    Thank you, Wendy, for being an amazing friend. It doesn’t matter if your comment was late. Knowing you have my back is enough. And yeah, this was a really weird situation, but I did get an apology and I THINK it’s over. Until the next time, at least.

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