Singer, Marilyn. The Circus Lunicus. Henry Abrams, 2000. ISBN 978-0805062687. 168 pp.
A modern Cinderella, Solly lives with his stepmother Casey (aka Staircase) and his stepbrothers Jason & Mason while his dad grieves his first wife’s loss overseas. In a life overrun by chores, Solly anticipates the coming arrival of a bizarre circus whose performers are rumored to be from outer space, but his stepmother forbids him to go to punish him for a crime he didn’t commit. Solly luckily stumbles upon the circus as it is setting up, and before he knows it he is performing for the Ringmaster he idolizes, befriending a red haired girl who looks like his mom, and trying to discover why people only say his mother is gone, not dead.
Singer’s fast paced mystery has adventure, humor, and magic. Add talking lizards, a few spells, a giant guinea pig, mischievous step-brothers, a mysterious scrapbook, and real spaceships, and you have a quirky puzzle of a novel that somehow comes together logically. The ending is a bit too neat, but satisfying nonetheless.
Solly is a likeable character with appeal to both sexes – curious, sympathetic, and independent. He steps out of character once to cuss. Throughout the novel, Singer freely invents not only adjectives, but also a whole new lizard language–a creative curse would have fit nicely here. The brightly colored cover and festive fonts fit well with the circus theme. Offer to your Lemony Snicket fans for something a bit more cheery and less dreary and funny in an entirely different way.