Monday, September 28, 2015

Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner, 2014

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Twelve-year-old Circa Monroe has a knack for restoring old photographs. It's a skill she learned from her dad, who loves old pictures and putting fun digital twists on them. His altered "Shopt" photos look so real that they could fool nearly anybody, and Circa treasures the fun stories he makes up to explain each creation.
One day, her father receives a strange phone call requesting an urgent delivery, and he heads out into a storm. The unimaginable happens: a tornado, then a terrible accident. Just as Circa and her mom begin to pick up the pieces, a mysterious boy shows up on their doorstep, a boy called Miles who remembers nothing about his past. The only thing he has with him is the photograph that Circa's dad intended to deliver on the day he died.
As Circa tries to help Miles recover his identity, she begins to notice something strange about the photos she and her father retouched-the digital flourishes added to the old photos seem to exist in real life. The mysteries of the Shopt photos and Miles's past are intertwined, and in order to solve both, Circa will have to figure out what's real and what's an illusion.
With stunning prose, captivating photographs, and a hint of magic, Circa Now is a gripping story full of hope and heart. 

(288 pages)

This book was not at all what I expected it to be. It was much, much more than that. I thought it would be a pretty frilly book about a girl who misses her father after he dies, but then realizes that this boy who shows up on her doorstep is really her father reincarnated (sort of like Fluke, but the father becomes a boy instead of a dog), and they all live happily ever after because their family is reunited again.

This is not what happened. And I'm not spoiling anything, just correcting a misconception that you'd probably get from the teaser, because Circa Now never pretends to be a book about reincarnation. Circa and her mother aren't just there as placeholders to mourn for Circa's father; they are real, complex humans who are dealing with their own issues. Circa's mother in particular is nothing like I expected her to be - she is actually a recluse struggling with depression, who never goes anywhere except her home, her studio (where she's a professional picture-taker), and her church five blocks down the road. Circa's father always helped her through the rough spots, cushioning whatever he could for her, but now he's gone and Mrs. Monroe has to fend for herself in the big, bad world. When Miles shows up on her doorstep, her strength is tested even more as she has to take care of him (including taking him to the police, the doctor, etc).

Circa is still in deep mourning for her father, and she struggles to deal with her feelings as she must also try to fill his role in helping her mother cope with the world. She wants to finish her father's big project, which is a wall of pictures from her hometowns history. It was supposed to be a huge community service project, as well as a labor of love for the elderly citizens of the Alzheimer's facility in which the pictures are going to be placed. Circa is desperate to complete the job both in honor of her father and because she wants to help the patients at the facility rediscover their pasts. Her method of coping with her father's death is to try and "step up to bat," picking up all of the pieces she can (while also straining to believe that he somehow hasn't left her for good).

There's some conflict between Circa and her mother, because they have a very hard time understanding each other. Their methods of coping are often opposite, and cause them to butt heads as Circa is determined to finish her father's project, but her mother is just as determined to keep Circa from doing it because she doesn't want Circa to feel like she has to fill her father's place. This conflict felt very real, and added another dimension to the story.

My favorite dimension, though, was the one with Miles. From the minute he walked onto the page I knew that he was going to be a very interesting character. No matter where his amnesia came from, it made him very fascinating - and turned him into a very tortured, lonely boy. I was rooting for a happy ending from the very beginning, because I couldn't help but feel that he (along with all of the other main characters) desperately needed one.

I enjoyed Circa Now, but it wasn't my all-time favorite book. Because it's MG it didn't dive as far into the concepts as it could have, which was frustrating at times. It could have taken things to such wonderful depth! Circa Now still raises some fascinating points about the meaning of life, family, and happiness, though, and I'm glad I read it. If it interests you, then definitely give it a try!

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