The story had me hooked really quickly with it's switching between the main character's present and past. It's a very dark story which the author says she based upon historical accounts of life in 1930s American circuses. As a young man Jacob is a very naive runaway escaping the tragic death of his parents when he accidentally jumps onto a circus train.
Luckily for him there are some caring people in the circus as its a dangerous place to work. Anyone not contributing to the circus profits runs the risk of being redlighted - thrown from the moving train in the middle of the night. At best many find themselves being excluded on pay day despite working for weeks or not being given a meal ticket. This really goes against modern sensibilities and its not for the squeamish.
The cast of characters drew me in. Jacob falls in love with the female equestrian star of the show Marlena, but she is married to August the animal trainer who is a Jekyll and Hyde character. The owner of the circus only cares about money which is why he acquires the elephant Rosie from a bankrupt circus. It is the interplay between these and the other circus workers that kept me so hooked that I read the book in 2 days.
A lot of research went into the details of circus life behind the glitter and grease paint. Cruelty to both animals and people was just part of the normal routine. No wonder many of the crew were alcoholics.
I love the twist at the end and I'd love to know what happened after that. I gave the book 5 stars on Good Reads as part of my 100 books challenge. For more reviews please go to the host of my reading group Cara and see her links.