Sasha and her family live at the Cirque Magnifique; they are different from the Islanders with whom they share their town. Formerly home-schooled, fifth-grader Sasha and her little brother, Toddy, are now starting public school. Sasha is responsible for making sure that Toddy isn't teased or mistreated—he's different from most other kids—but Sasha's being bullied herself. As if that's not enough, the Cirque's longtime enemy, the mysterious Smoke, is making an appearance, slowly billowing around it. Sasha, who is growing more and more frustrated with her family as she approaches adolescence, is not entirely unhappy about a dark, sullen force slowly overtaking the Cirque—that is, until it engulfs the Cirque during a performance and turns her parents into birds. Sasha and her brother struggle to subsist on their own before setting off on an adventure to rescue their parents. They solve riddles and defeat monsters along the way. Halbrook's writing is artful.
– Kirkus Reviews
Fans of Cirque Magnifique are as amazed by the sequined and feathered performers as they are enchanted by the magic of the Light at the center of this unconventional family of gifted outcasts. Fifth-grader Sasha, the daughter of the Cirque’s trapeze artists, was taught to believe that the Light is the only thing keeping the sinister Smoke at bay. When she and her little brother begin attending school with the rest of the Islanders, who constantly bully and harass Cirque kids, Sasha’s connection to the Light wavers, and she begins to resent her family and everything that makes her special. After Sasha blows up at her parents, the Smoke emerges stronger, causes a high-flying accident, and takes her parents away. She and her brother must voyage to the Edge of the World, the source of the Smoke, to save their parents. Halbrook writes a heartbreaking account of a young girl’s spirit buckling under her longing to be accepted and her negotiating of a complicated legacy. The novel’s wistful prose and a relatable search for the Light will be rewarding for readers who can see in the Smoke any number of metaphors for the things that haunt us.
– BCCB *STARRED REVIEW*, July/August 2018
Sasha has always loved her life at the Cirque Magnifique. She finds joy in the sights and sounds of the Cirque and the magical people who are part of it. Fifth grade is the first time Sasha and her brother leave the Cirque to go to school with the Islanders, who brand her a freak and do not want to be her friend. The experiences outside the Cirque make Sasha question the magic of the place. Her questioning and her anger at being different set into motion a series of events that force her to think about what it means to be different. Adventure and magic unfold in this captivating story that is sure to draw the reader in and establish Sasha a friend. This is a touching story about being different, seeing past the smoke and mirrors people put up, and learning to love the differences between people. Pamela K. Simmons, Librarian, Penn Yan (New York) Middle School
– School Library Connection, October 2018
A fairy-tale atmosphere wafts through Halbrook’s story of magic, love, belonging, and circus....The story centers around Sasha's inner turmoil, but its strongest aspect is her relationship with Toddy. Their love for each other keeps them afloat as societal and otherworldly dangers loom. Personal revelations and faith in magic lead to a happy resolution to this enchanting tale.
– Booklist, September 1, 2018