The Circle by Cindy Cipriano

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First, the Horribly Truncated Summary: Young Calum Ranson must convince himself that the new girl is NOT cute while he helps her search for her twin brother.

Middle-Grade delusions are fun!

I was given a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Netgalley, for continuing to indulge my crazy whims. Also, thank you Odyssey Books for using Netgalley.

Before I begin, I must confess that I had no clue this book was Primary/Middle-Grade Fiction when I originally selected it. If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It’s not that early-reader books are a bad thing, it’s just been several (fifteen+) years since I’ve read in that category and I’m not familiar with the field. Unless we’re talking about Sailormoon manga.

We’re not talking about manga. How depressing.

Let’s get to the book! We start with Calum Ranson, a young boy about to go into the sixth grade. He is assured that his cousin is still alive, but in the meantime, he’s stuck working with his mother in their family bookstore. It’s not a difficult job, since Calum and his mother are both Sidhe and use their magical abilities when humans aren’t looking, but it is a boring waste of summer vacation.

We then meet Laurel, who comes to town when her father takes the job of Assistant Principal at Calum’s school. Laurel comes to get her summer reading books, but also gets a book on fairies for her spare time.

Aaaand I ran into my first problem. Laurel entered the store with her mother, then when her mom needs to meet with the real estate agent, she leaves the kid in the bookstore. That’s right, a mom left her 11 year old kid with strangers in a bookstore in a new town. It’s one of those things adults hate but kids never notice while reading. Doesn’t help that Calum’s mother uses “special” tea on her guests to get them to relax and buy more books.

Granted, this isn’t as neglectful as the parents in Erdrich’s The Round House, so it’s a small complaint.

Anyway, Calum and his mom find Laurel interesting because of her choice in books and the odd Sidhe pendant she wears around her neck. She doesn’t like the new town because her twin brother disappeared in their old town in Virginia and she believes she can still find him, the same way Calum believes he can still find his cousin.

Of course, there is a connection between the two disappearances. I’ll just stop there to annoy everyone. It’s what I do.

Tiny gripes aside (seriously, who drops a viola and DOESN’T get their hindside whipped for it?), this book had a great overarching story. I loved the camaraderie between Calum, Laurel, and Hagen (Calum’s cousin). There’s enough tension to make it seem like they’re good friends on a mission together. Also, Calum’s parents are intriguing in their own right. I love the name Kenzie for a woman. Calum’s family seems like any other normal family with magic heritage thrown in.

I had a few larger gripes, though. Any time we are in Calum’s school, the story dies. We have minor plot arcs that are never resolved. Calum’s friend Arlen never comes back for the book’s finale. Neal and his sister are dismissed without much thought. The school trickster plot doesn’t resolve itself (if it does, it’s not obvious). Basically, if we removed the school setting and placed the book over the summer break, it would have been a tighter story.

Also, while the school stuff is explained in agonizing detail, the magical stuff goes so quick that you are left rereading in order to figure out what just happened. Any time Calum left the normal world, I wasn’t clear on what happened or why it was important. I think the problem was an excess of dialogue where simple explanation would have sufficed.

There is a sequel to this book, but I can’t say I would return to find out what happened.

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