Thursday, September 11, 2014
Circa Now, by Amber McRee Turner
Twelve-year-old Circa Monroe lives with her parents in a home whose most important room is Studio Monroe, where Mom runs her portrait photography business out of one half and Dad does his photo restoration work out of the other. Circa has a knack for intricate Photoshopping just as her dad does, and she had learned many techniques from him. But most important of all to Circa is the special file called "Shopt," consisting of just-for-fun Photoshopping weirdness and Dad's fun little stories to go along with the fantastical pictures. In creating this cozy, artsy, family atmosphere, Amber McRee Turner wastes no time at all making me want to live in Studio Monroe right now.
But that, as we know, is the status quo, and the status quo must change. When Dad heads out into a threatening tornado to deliver a restored photo to a particularly unpleasant family's reunion party, the worst happens. The tornado strikes the reunion site, and Dad is killed. Mom, whose depression and possible agoraphobia have been pretty well controlled by meds and the balance provided by Dad's presence, loses some of her functionality. This year, I have read no end of novels that are about dead parents and/or dysfunctional moms. I tossed some aside because it was just so much of the same that I was truly astonished. Not Circa Now. For one thing, the writing and turns of phrase are truly fresh. For another, the author makes me love the characters in the beginning, as "whole" selves, so that I care when they begin to falter. For yet another, the mother doesn't devolve so completely that she and Circa reverse roles. Besides all this, there is the mystery boy who appears at Studio Monroe out of nowhere, calling himself Miles and having lost his memory. And when random items that have been Shopt into photos start appearing or vanishing in real life -- e.g., a bird's nest appears in the tree outside Circa's window when Shopt into a picture, and a blemish falls off her friend's face when Shopt out of a portrait -- Circa has to wonder if maybe the reason they can't find Miles's home, and Miles can't find his memories, is that he doesn't have any -- because he himself was Shopt into existence.
Color me hooked.
This is one of those books where, even amid sad things happening, you want to be part of the characters' world. Add the good writing, the mystery, the light magical realism aspect, and the interspersed Shopt photos with attached stories (and the whole originality of that), and this book comes out a winner. Highly recommended.