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The Bonaventure Adventures by by Rachelle Delaney (Review and Q&A)

I love Rachelle Delaney’s The Metro Dogs of Moscow series. They were some of the cutest, most perfect middle grade reads, and they are books I always recommend when I am working with younger readers at the library. They are just plain fun! Rachelle’s latest book is a departure from that series, but it is equally amazing! Seriously, I cannot wait for more people to get their hands on The Bonaventure Adventures.

Penguin Canada approached me in regards to sharing both a review and a Q&A with Rachelle for you all. I hope you all enjoy my review, as well as the intriguing responses Rachelle has shared in regards to my questions. Make sure to check out The Bonaventure Adventures when it releases today, May 2nd!

Title: The Bonaventure Adventures

Author: Rachelle Delaney

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: 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 But there’s one thing he does know: his father’s circus, which travels through Eastern Europe, is out of date and is fast running out of money.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?

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved Rachelle Delaney’s Metro Dogs of Moscow series. They were fun, quirky little adventures that warmed the heart and offered tons of excitement. Her latest effort The Bonaventure Adventures offers a similar feel for those familiar with her work, but I will say that this book is easily her most magical.

Sebastian has grown up in Europe as part of his father’s travelling circus. Everyone who works for the circus is a part of his family and when the circus starts to fall on hard times, Seb decides to find a means to keep the circus in business. One day his father is sent a letter from the Benventure Circus School, and Seb decides that even with his lack of skill, this might be the only way to save his father’s business and the only family he has ever know.

Seb is a wonderful protagonist. I love that given the setting for this novel is a circus school and our hero is hapless when it comes to performance. It makes for a great coming of age story! And Seb is lovable, and he his a strong desire to protect his family, his father’s business, and he wants to become someone worthy of of both those things. Seb is sweet, but determined, and I loved reading about him. I found I could relate to a lot of his desires. I also want to point out that his supporting cast in Sylvain, Frankie and Banjo were just utter perfection. They were hilarious, supportive, and I loved how they compliment both Seb and the story.

And truthfully, I simply loved this story. There wasn’t any point where I wasn’t enjoying myself. While I questioned the existence of Seb’s mother on more than one occasion, I got the sense that this was more about Seb’s desire to become someone better, someone worthy of himself and others. This book is so genuine, it’s funny, it’s quirky, it offers so much for every kind of reader. If you haven’t read her previous books, check them out. I really cannot wait for readers to get their hands on The Bonaventure Adventure, because you’re in for a magical treat of a story.

Q&A With Rachelle Delaney!

  1. Where did the inspiration for the The Bonaventure Adventures come from?

The idea came to me about five years ago, when I was teaching creative writing to some kids enrolled in circus arts classes. It struck me as such an interesting way to study art, sport, and performance at once, and so I started researching circus school as a potential setting for a novel. Through my research, I discovered that Montreal is not only home to a national circus school for young performers but also to a unique circus arts scene. So I spent some time there and quickly became enamoured with both the city and the circus world.

  1. I’ve been told that for research purposes you took some circus lessons. How did that help with the shaping of this novel?

I did indeed take some circus classes, which is kind of hilarious because I’m terribly uncoordinated and not at all acrobatic. But I wanted to know what it felt like to attempt all these amazing skills, like juggling and trapeze and aerial silks. Answer: it’s really, really hard. And painful! The day after my aerials class always involved a lot of whimpering. But that was helpful, because my main character, Sebastian, is a hopeless beginner with very few skills. So I was able to put myself in his place and understand what he might feel like.

I also mustered up the courage to take a parkour workshop, since one of my other main characters, Frankie, is a parkour expert (and also I have this little-known, inexplicable love of ridiculous parkour movies). That ranks up there with the most humbling days of my life. I can’t say I recommend taking up scaling walls in your mid-thirties.

  1. Speaking of your circus lessons, what was your favourite thing you learned?

Once I’d developed some strength, I came to love the aerial hoop. I only ever learned the most basic tricks (and my minor fear of heights will prevent me from ever progressing), but it felt amazing to find myself able to do them. Watching a professional performance never fails to blow my mind. If you haven’t ever seen one, get thee to YouTube.

  1. Sebastian is a young boy with no talent for the circus, but has a ton of heart when it comes to keeping his family together. Do you think younger readers will be able to identify with Sebastian?

I hope so! Seb adores the circus, but he’s had to come to terms with the fact that he’s not cut out to be a performer, at least not in the traditional sense. I think a lot of readers, young and old, have had the experience of realizing that they’ll never be an expert at something they love, whether that’s playing hockey or violin or juggling knives. And yes, I think Seb’s desire to keep the Konstantinov Family Circus together also makes him relatable. When we’re deeply ingrained in a family or community that’s in danger of falling apart, I think a lot of us are compelled to fight for it.

  1. One thing I noticed is that Sebastian’s mother is never really mentioned or revealed. What’s the story there?

She is a mystery! Seb’s mother left the Konstantinov Family Circus when he was very small, and Seb has given up trying to find out why, since his father always offers a different story. His father, as you know, is a giant narcissist, but inside he harbours a lot of guilt about her leaving. It’s easier for him to make up stories (like the one about her taking off to fulfil her dream of going to dental school) than admit that he and his travelling circus lifestyle were a big part of the problem. Seb’s mother decided that the caravan lifestyle wasn’t for her. I picture her living a quiet life someplace, maybe in a little flat in Paris or Barcelona.

  1. I love novels that take place in a boarding school. Why have this novel take place in a boarding school, and more specifically what prompted you to select Montreal as the location for The Bonaventure Adventures?

It was the idea of a boarding school for future circus stars that drew me in. I figured you’d have the usual boarding school antics, but with acrobatics and juggling pins! It’s like my dream. And I set the story in Montreal because it’s such a unique city culturally, and like no place else in North America in terms of its vibrant circus scene.

  1. Sylvian loves his candy, and in fact has candy for breakfast. I will admit that I like cookies for breakfast once in a blue moon. Have you ever had candy for breakfast?

I think the question should be: how often in any given week do you eat chocolate for breakfast? Answer: way more often than I should probably admit to.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada and Rachelle Delaney for their time in answering my questions and sharing this wonderful book with me. Remember that you can pick your copy up at your favourite local bookstore!

Middle Grade Monday – LGBT Issues in Middle Grade

This is the first time I am attempting Middle Grade Monday, as I was encouraged by my dear friend Vikki VanSickle. We discuss middle grade a lot, and I always appreciate Vikki’s recommendations when she finds a new middle grade novel to squee over. I thought for my first post for this Middle Grade Monday, I’d look at a topic that has kind of hit me in the face recently, and that is LGBT representation in middle grade fiction, particularly in the books We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (2015) and From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun
by Jacqueline Woodson (1995).

19405297One thing that I found interesting about both We Are All Made of Molecules and From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun was the approach to the protagonists having homosexual parents. In We Are All Made of Molecules, Ashley’s father comes out as being gay and end ups moving outside the family home and into the guest house in the backyard. Ashley spends a lot of the novel struggling with he father’s newfound sexual identity and blames him for the divorce because of this. Interestingly, Stewart, Ashley’s step-brother, is the one who ends up be-friending Ashley’s father, ultimately treating him as though his sexual preference shouldn’t matter. It’s an interesting parallel in the novel, as Ashley worries frequently that her classmates are going to find out about her gay father and start treating her like she’s a “gay lover.”

I could empathize with Ashley in this situation, even if I didn’t agree with her behaviour. She spends a lot of the novel questioning if she’s going to be come “like him” and feels as though because her father is gay, her social world is completely over. She blames him for everything going wrong in her life because she cannot accept that her parents aren’t together anymore, and that her father is a gay man. It’s interesting, therefore that it’s Stewart who forges a relationship first with Ashley’s father — but Stewart being an outcast in the story I feel is why their connection is so instantaneous, Stewart has nothing to judge Ashley’s father on and therefore is able to listen and share his feelings in an honest and open way. What I loved even more in We Are All Made of Molecules is how long it takes Ashley to befriend her father again. It felt very realistic given the situation and how long it takes her to learn to accept others (including Stewart), and it makes for some wonderful character development.

Similarly, I read From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson, a book that was 8285986already tackling what We Are All Made of Molecules did back in 1995. In Woodson’s novel, Melanin Sun’s mother also has a sexual awakening and attempts to tell her twelve year old son that she is a lesbian who happens to be in love with a white woman. Melanin has so much angry towards her mother, stating that she has ruined their family by not essentially being hetrosexual. Moreover, he outright asks his mother why she can’t “be like everyone else,” making the assumption that everyone is hetrosexual. What I loved in this particular novel is that Woodson doesn’t shy away from the topic, but she still fuses strong family values into the narrative as her way of approaching the topic. Melanin thinks that because his mother is a lesbian that there is something wrong with his family, that she won’t love him anymore, and that he might “become gay.” The resolving conversation is what won me over in this novel, as his mother states that gay or straight, love is love and it shouldn’t matter who Melanin Sun wants to become in his life and that you shouldn’t be constrained to your sexual identity. Since Melanin and Mama grew up in a single family household, he has a harder time accepting Kristin, his mother’s lover because she is a white privileged woman. He even goes as far to say “What would people think of a black woman dating a white woman?” to which Mama states that “it shouldn’t matter.” However, Melanin refuses to get to know Kristin because of what he has pre-conceived as the truth, which is the other problem.

I really loved when Mama tells him that he shouldn’t pass judgement on someone he doesn’t know and that he needs to try and accept Kristin. Woodson does this phenomenal job by the end of the novel in making Melanin see the error in his ways, and while he hasn’t totally accepted them by the end of the novel, you can see that he has somewhat changed his tune.

Both of these novels explode children having homosexual parents in such a realistic and valuable way. While both Melanin and Ashley has the same response to their parents newfound sexual identity, it’s interesting how both novels have very similar outlooks on this subject matter. Both authors do a great job of exploring the topic on a level that a middle grader can understand and comprehend, while being able to see a clear resolve to the situation. Both novels open a dialogue for children and parents to discuss the topic, which is ultimately why they both work so well. I definitely would recommend checking out both these middle grade novels if this is a topic that interests you. We need more approaches to LGBT in middle grade, and I feel like both We Are All Made of Molecules and From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun successfully investigate this topic with such an open eye.

If you have any recommendations for other middle grade novels that focus on LGBT issues, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!