The Bonaventure Adventures by Rachelle Delaney

Sebastian Konstantinov comes from a long line of talented circus performers. Somehow, however, he has not inherited any of their acrobatic skill: he has no balance, he’s afraid of heights, he can’t even turn a somersault. But there’s one thing he does know: his father’s circus, which travels through Eastern Europe, is out of date and is fast running out of money.

Seb has a solution, though: if he can somehow get into the Bonaventure Circus School in Montreal, Canada, he might be able to learn something valuable to help his father. Seb secretly writes to the Directrice (an old friend of his father’s) and is accepted into the school. All he has to do is convince his father to send him away — oh, and keep his lack of talent a secret from all his teachers and classmates. Fortunately for him, he befriends two other students, who also don’t seem to quite fit in.

Seb is not the only one with secrets, it turns out. The school is literally crumbling beneath the feet of its students, and the directrice may be counting on Seb’s “talent” to save the day. Can he and his new friends figure out what’s really going on in the school that bills itself as the World’s Best Circus School?

Everyone has dreams to run away to join the circus, but what would you do if home was the circus? Sebastian may be the son of the famous (or infamous) Dragon Konstantinos, but he knows that he doesn’t have the same talents as his father, or of anyone else in his family’s circus for that matter. What Sebastian does have, however, is a knack for storytelling and a determination to not let his make-shift family fall apart, and he knows he can help if given the chance. Rachelle Delaney’s delightfully fun new novel mixes acrobatics with adventure, fire-eating with friendship, and circus feats with self-acceptance.

Billed as “Harry Potter meets Cirque du Soleil”, this is the perfect middle grade read with fun circus tricks and one of the most intriguing boarding schools you’ll read about this year. What really grabs the reader, however, is the sense of familiarity that you feel throughout the story. Seb and his fellow “bêtes noires”, Frankie and Banjo, are initially outcasts in a school for those who are already outside the norm. Seb suffers from being held to his father’s reputation, while Frankie’s incredible talents are suppressed because they don’t meet traditional standards and Banjo’s freewheeling internal compass hasn’t adjusted to the scheduled life at circus school. Each has their reasons for being at The Bonaventure Circus School, all tied to their love of their respective families. The three voices are uniquely written, with the cadence of their young age clearly mixed with the sense that each of them have had to grow up a little too soon. Over time, the three develop a strong friendship and a support structure that gently gives each student the confidence to shine in his or her own way. Middle grade readers will identify with that feeling of not fitting in and trying to find their place in an increasingly complicated world, and will wish for their own dynamic duo of friends.

While the story may start off in the exotic locales of Europe and under the big top, the narrative soon shifts to the more familiar (at least to Canadian readers) environment of Montreal, home to the real-life Cirque du Soleil and the renowned National Circus School. It’s clear that Delaney has done extensive research, as her authentic, vivid descriptions brought to mind the Immaculate Conception Centre, the original home of the National Circus School mixed with Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal. The introduction of the narrative storytelling currently changing the face of modern-day circuses is done well; Seb uses the internet to find examples of modern circus shows that readers can find themselves. Her view of life in the circus school is fascinating, and I’m sure more than one reader will be googling “how do I attend circus school” after reading this book. Additionally, some lovely interludes in and around the streets of Montreal may inspire parents to book a family vacation.

It would not be a Delaney novel if there wasn’t some mad-cap escapades including a truly memorable circus show in the final pages. Without spoilers, the last quarter of the book could have come direct from a screenwriter’s notebook, and readers will wish that someone picks up this book as the basis for a really great show (are you listening, Netflix?). If nothing else, I can only plead with the author for this to be only the beginning for Seb and friends’ written adventures, as readers of this delightful book deserves an encore.

The Bonaventure Adventures is available now from Puffin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House of Canada. A copy was provided by the publisher as part of the blog tour, but does not affect my review. You may purchase a copy from your favourite independent, online or bricks & mortar bookseller.  ISBN: 9780-1-4219-8505, 288 pages.