Plot/Idea: Thirteen-year-old Oscar, son of circus ringmaster Master Brimfire, is struggling to find his place when the enigmatic Silver shows up and literally steals the spotlight. He mistrusts her from the start, though her quirky ways grow on him as the story progresses—but when darker forces seem to be at work behind the scenes, Oscar must decide which path is most important to him. The plot moves at a steady clip, with no unnecessary asides to distract from the storyline, and the ending maintains a cryptic feel that will please readers.
Prose: The worldbuilding here is steady and creative, and the author ties in fantasy elements so naturally, they feel completely believable. The circus life feels fresh and exciting, while tense scenes breathe danger and uncertainty.
Originality: The story’s setting comes to brilliant life in the author’s capable hands, and the deeper themes portrayed throughout make it as meaningful as it is entertaining.
Character/Execution: Oscar’s inner anxieties and desperate need for belonging are vividly wrought, as are Silver’s mysterious origins and strange ways. As the two navigate their world together, while on different paths, their characters become more haunting and arresting.
Date Submitted: August 28, 2023
Quinn's spirited breaking of the fourth wall, with Oscar talking directly to the readers, will engage and hold young audiences’ attention from the opening pages. Oscar just wants to be accepted by his father and make him proud, but it seems to him that he faces constant disappointment and unfair orders, a pattern that persists when he’s tasked with shadowing Silver. He’s a believably flawed character, indulging in jealousy, but his heartbreak at being overlooked is resonant and relatable. "I’m an outcast here—an outcast, in my own home," he declares, in a typically heated moment. When Oscar does the unthinkable he is forced to either own his mistakes or run away. Shrouded in secrecy for unknown reasons, the reasons behind the ring master's decisions and rules creates unresolved tension between father and son and throughout this fast-paced middle grade novel.
Lily and the Ringmaster boasts, fun, lively prose, an exciting big top milieu, and an ambitious, discontent young narrator who struggles with a sense of duty, father issues, and following his dreams. Oscar’s battle of wills with his father and as he struggles not to join the rest of the circus in falling under Silver's spell is compelling, inviting readers to guess at who is right—and even whose story this is to tell—as it all builds to an action-packed conclusion.
Takeaway: Engaging story of a circus scion’s jealousy at the arrival of a mysterious girl.
Comparable Titles: Lorelei Savaryn’s The Circus of Stolen Dreams, Lori R. Snyder’s The Circus at the End of the Sea.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-