Thursday, July 1, 2010

Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus of Life Not Just Clowning Around

Another find from the new fiction shelf at my library and another really good book. I love these little surprises in the summer! Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus of Life by Michael de Guzman was one of these little surprise finds.

Henrietta is the only child of Hortense and Morris Mortimer (Momo) Hornbuckle. They are a clowning family, members of the small and struggling Filbert's Clown Circus. They travel in a caravan of RV's with the only family that Henrietta has ever known. She has never gone to school but is very wise and smart, she has never lived in a house, but always felt at home. Now the year's tour is beginning and the big show in Union Park, NYC serves as the incentive to learn a new act with her father.

Henrietta and Momo begin working on an act called The 8 Foot Clown. Henrietta will stand on her father's shoulders wearing a costume that creates the illusion of an 8 foot clown. The act will debut in NYC. Hortense Hornbuckle has a different incentive for this season's tour, she wants to meet up with her estranged sister, Carlotta, in Oyster Bay and try to reconcile the differences between them. Differences that stem from Hortense's life choice of marrying Momo, instead of pursuing the teaching career she trained for. This is the storyline that provides all of the foreshadowing for tragedy because it's all about "preparing for what happens when the circus is gone."

Henrietta isn't ready to accept the idea that her happy, carefree life with the family of clowns could ever end. Momo isn't much help with accepting it either since it's all he's ever known. It's interesting how author Michael de Guzman uses the various characters to show all sides of Henrietta and her family, there's Sweetpea, a 16 year old who wants something other than clowning, that forces Henrietta to examine her life and realize that she loves being a clown. It's her Aunt Carlotta that points out to Henrietta that she is an intelligent, pretty girl who is a clown as an act, but not as a person. Henrietta's beloved father Momo personifies her self confidence and makes her feel that she can do anything.

When tragedy strikes the family and the circus is forced to close, Henrietta learns that there may be life after the circus when all of her clowning family reveals their very "normal" life plans when the circus ends. Henrietta talks them into one more show, for Momo, in NYC and with the help of the mechanic Ixnay, Henrietta pulls of the 8 Foot Clown routine by herself and she and her mom ride of into the sunset with adventures unknown on their minds.

I liked Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus of Life. It was a quick read with great characters and plot line that kept me going. Even though Michael de Guzman dropped hints along the way of what was going to happen in the end, it wasn't predictable and I was surprised at the turn of events. I'll be recommending this to fourth and fifth graders in the fall.

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