Cover of We Walked the Sky by Lisa Fielder. A woman walks a tightrope between a circus tent and a lifeguard stand, both at a 90 degree angle from her perspective

About the Book

Title: We Walked the Sky
Published: 2019

Cover Story: Walk of Life
Drinking Buddy: Mixed Bag
MPAA Rating: Adult Situations, Sexuality, Some Violence, Alcohol and Tobacco Use
Talky Talk: Stunt Writing
Bonus Factors: Non-Traditional Lifestyle, Juan Ponce de León
Bromance Status: Grandma’s Boy

Cover Story: Walk of Life

Very gripping cover, with the aerialist walking between the 1965 circus and present day Florida. It still has kind of a weird Stranger Things upside down world vibe, though.

The Deal:

In 1965, sixteen-year-old Victoria, with the blessing of her dying mother, ran away from her rich, powerful, and violently abusive father. Falling in with a traveling circus, Victoria sees it as a way to escape town and maybe hitch a ride to Austin where she wants to start a new life. But she doesn’t expect a few things. The weird circus people quickly adopt her as one of their own, providing the strange and loving family she never had. She begins training as a tightrope walker, something she finds she excels at. She also meets James, the teenage lion tamer and son of the ringmaster. He’s a guy who could teach her a lot about acrobatics, and without a trapeze. But it’s not like Victoria could make a life here on the road. No. Best that she doesn’t consider that.

Over fifty years later, Victoria’s granddaughter, Callie, is following in her grandmother’s fifty-feet-off-the-ground footsteps. She loves circus life and plans to live it forever. When her mother, Quinn, lands her dream job of managing an animal sanctuary in Florida, Callie is perfectly happy to stay on the road with her grandmother. Unfortunately, Victoria unexpectedly dies. Callie is going to have to drop out of the circus and move to Florida. Because Quinn is worried that her daughter is getting a little too circus-y and needs to make some normal friends, Callie will have to enroll in public school. Callie is enraged, and plans to move in with her estranged father, who manages a circus in Italy. And yes, she does make a few friends at her new school, but what’s the point? She’ll be off to Europe just as soon as her father responds to her letter. Best that she not consider staying.

Told from alternating points of view, we see how the two women’s lives both parallel and diverge from the other’s.

Drinking Buddy: Mixed Bag

Two pints of beer cheersing
Two pints of beer cheersing with a "Denied" stamp over them

Victoria, the 1965 heroine, won me over hands down. Forced to abandon her mother on her deathbed, Victoria flees from her violent father by adopting a new identity, a new job, and a new name. Thrown out into a world she doesn’t understand, she discovers new talents, new friends, and maybe even a new love. She was truly a relatable character, as were most of the oddball circus people.

Callie, on the other hand, I didn’t care for. She’s understandably angry about her mother taking her away from the circus. However, she expresses this in the most obnoxious, petulant way possible. She deliberately insults her mother’s new boss, she recoils from any overtures of friendship, and ignores the very real and serious problems of the other characters. And unlike the 1965 secondary characters, all of Callie’s peers are straight out of central casting:

Jenna, the tough, smart girl who basically announces she’s Callie’s new BFF, but who’s hiding a terrible secret of her own. Kip, the badass surfer dude with a sensitive side.  Kristi, the spoiled mayor’s daughter who holds Callie in contempt and wants to shut down the sanctuary. Brad, the wealthy owner of the sanctuary who seems to have a thing for Callie’s mother and is awkwardly trying to play stepfather.

I’d have been happier with just Victoria’s chapters.

MPAA Rating: Adult Situations, Sexuality, Some Violence, Alcohol and Tobacco Use

Victoria lives in the heady days of the 1960s, and the author doesn’t shy away from the great changes sweeping the nation in terms of women’s rights, race relations, and the sexual revolution. Of course, circus people were always more laid back in that respect. James takes a shine to Victoria and soon they’re swinging without a net. But circus guys (and gals) tend to hook up with locals in each town. James can’t be serious about his affection for Victoria, can he? Besides, Austin is only a few towns away. Better she cut ties before she gets her heart broken.

Callie, on the other hand, makes an almost cruel effort to keep people away. She refuses friendship from Jenna, despite the fact Jenna kind of needs a BFF at the moment. She blows off Kip. She’s willing to sacrifice both her mother’s job and her burgeoning romance with Brad in order to get out of Florida. Nope.

Talky Talk: Stunt Writing

Victoria’s chapters are written in the first person, in present tense. Callie’s chapters are third person, in the past tense. Even though Victoria’s chapters are in the past, while Callie’s are in the present. As an author, that makes my head ache, and I salute Fielder for being able to pull that off.

The book opens with Callie finding Victoria’s old jewelry box, which is stuffed with random bits of life advice written on odd scraps of paper: cigarette packages, popcorn boxes, an Oklahoma police officer’s business card, etc. Callie will read the advice, then we’ll flash back to the scene where Victoria originally wrote the note. Nice gimmick, and it’s done well.

Unfortunately, Callie was so unlikable, compounded with a deus ex machina ending, and I was left disliking that part of the book. Victoria carried the novel.

Bonus Factor: Non-Traditional Lifestyle

a painted 1970s VW van

Victoria viewed the circus as a fast ticket out of town. She figured they’d put her to work selling popcorn or picking up trash. Nope, the circus is a family, and the ringmaster instructs his employees to find something Victoria would be good at. And so begins her life under the big top. She learns the secrets of the show: how the clowns are circus royalty, the hidden code words used in the industry, and how despite the transitory nature of the employees, theft is almost unheard of.

Callie, who knows no other life, finds it hard to start over at an animal sanctuary. She’s not pleased, especially when she realizes the wealthy locals aren’t thrilled with the idea of living so near a park filled with abused and neglected predators. But there are parallels to the circus, and if Callie actually thought of someone other than herself, she might end up fitting in.

Bonus Factor: Juan Ponce de León (1474 – 1908)

The "Welcome to Florida" sign at the state line

Juan Ponce de León, the explorer, first governor of Puerto Rico, and alleged discoverer of the fountain of youth, lived near Callie’s new high school. So of course the town has a Ponce de León Day, complete with surfing conquistadors. Hey, anything for an original school mascot.

Bromance Status: Grandma’s Boy

I only enjoyed half of this book. You can guess which half.

Literary Matchmaking

Girl on a Wire (Cirque American #1)

A girl runs off to join the circus in Gwenda Bond’s Girl on a Wire.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor circus peanuts for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.