It shocks me that this was a debut novel because had I not known that, I would have assumed this book was written by a veteran bestseller author. Swyler has a language all her own and a sharp eye for literary detail. I listened to the audiobook instead of reading a physical copy so that may be why I was so in tune with her descriptions. In an audiobook you’re forced to hear every word as opposed to accidentally skipping occasional lines when reading. There are such vivid descriptions in this story that on several occasions I actually felt transported into the world of Simon Watson and Amos and Evangeline. I loved how the narration went back a forth between the modern world and the world of 18th century traveling circuses. The two stories blended together beautifully and ended very appropriately together.
I think my favorite part of this book was the main theme of the importance of family. The fact that all the characters in Simon’s story were in some way connected to the characters from the 1770’s storyline was very poignant. It drew along the lines of fate entwining in the most unexpected places. It was ironic, and fitting, that Amos, the main character of the 1774 story had no family and that the circus became his family and that his story led into Simon’s story where the characters all stem from the circus people.
The second most important theme in this book was the importance of paper. As a librarian, I cherish this lesson. Once written on paper things seem to be finalized, and they become real. Reality is something neither Simon nor Enola wanted to face in this story but as a necessity to life they had to. The important thing is they didn’t have to do it alone. It took going through trials together to understand and appreciate one another.
I think my only complaint about the book was the flatness of some of the characters. Simon did become interesting to me toward the end, but his complacency was extremely irritating at times! I think there was a small part of me that wanted to see more of his relationship with Alice. I’ve always been a fan of childhood sweethearts (even if their romance did not blossom until adulthood). I did, however love the switch in the voice of the narrator at the very end. Instead of narrating from Simon’s perspective, it switched to third person and it just seemed to fit.
I recommend this book to book lovers especially. We can all understand the connection we make with certain books, especially very old ones. I also recommend it for anyone who has made sacrifices for family and understands the instinct to put blood before all else.