The Girl Who Walked on Air – review

girlwhowalkedIsn’t this possibly the most beautiful cover ever? You can’t see from the image, but the blue title is foiled and embossed (that means it’s shiny like tin foil and raised so you can feel it with your finger), and the little blue stars are embossed too.

The Girl Who Walked on Air is Emma Carroll’s second book. The first, Frost Hollow Hall, was reviewed very positively and I meant to track it down but never got to it. But Faber kindly sent me a copy of TGWWOA for review, and frankly once I’d seen the cover, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

Louie Reynolds is a young member of Chipchase’s circus, having been left there as a baby by her mother, who never returned to claim her. Louie has been taken under the kindly wing of Jasper, the trapeze artist and ‘showstopper’, and the two of them have great affection for each other. But then Jasper suffers a terrible accident, and Louie’s future is thrown into jeopardy. See, Louie has a secret. Having once watched the great tightrope walker Blondin, she has been practising walking the rope herself. She knows she’s good, really good. And now there’s an opening for a new showstopper – a final headliner to make the audience gasp and cheer. But Mr Chipchase won’t hear of it. Indeed, he engages a new showstopper – a boy called Gabriel Swift, who is a tightrope walker himself – much to Louie’s fury.

This book is full of secrets. Poor Louie can hardly move for secrets. Where is her mother? Is she dead? If not, why hasn’t she come back for her? Why did she leave her baby in the first place? Why won’t Mr Chipchase tell her anything? Who’s the man in the top hat with the suspicious look? And why does Mr Chipchase hate Mr Wellbeloved, the owner of the rival travelling circus, with such a passion?

Understandably, L0uie runs away. Sort of. And her journey is a pretty perilous one too, involving risks so daring that one wrong step could literally mean death. A scene at Niagara Falls had my heart in my mouth. Because as readers, we desperately want Louie to succeed. She’s an engaging and feisty heroine (ooh, I don’t much like the word ‘feisty’ but it’s a good one here because she’s impetuous, fierce and passionate and stands up for herself) and I really warmed to her. The supporting characters are well-drawn too, and I particularly liked Gabriel Swift, who’s hiding unhappy secrets of his own. Even the great Blondin makes an appearance, in a genuinely frightening scene.

The real star though is the circus itself. I don’t know why circus life should seem so glamorous because it’s really not: behind all the spangly costumes and bright lights is hard work, a life constantly on the move and the constant risk of injury and unemployment. But I can remember reading Enid Blyton stories about children who ran away to join the circus, and there’s something about the whole experience that’s magical. Tightrope-walking is surely one of the most magical skills. The balance and concentration needed to walk, skip, jump on a wire thinner than one’s wrist is fascinating. And Emma Carroll does a wonderful job of bringing the magic of the circus to life – the showstopping glamour as well as the behind-the-scenes clamour.

If I had a gripe at all it was that I felt the middle section could have been a bit speedier. I got a little frustrated with Louie at one point because I wanted her to make a connection that she missed. But to be fair to Emma and the book, I read it over a couple of weeks in short bursts (because everyone in my family kept getting ill) and so perhaps I couldn’t get quite as swept along as I’d have liked.

A lovely book suitable for ages 10 upwards, I should think, but an advanced reader of 8 would find much to enjoy too.

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