Pam Jenoff writes the story of two women trying to survive Hitler’s Europe. Noa and Astrid have absolutely nothing in common. They’ve both had troubles with men, compounded by the deadly prejudices of the time. In order to survive, they’ve team up as aerialists in a traveling circus.

Astrid has a lifetime of experience on the flying trapeze, but her Jewish heritage puts the entire circus at risk. And she’s responsible for training Noa, who’s completely inexperienced. Noa also has a baby with her, and that complicates the situation even more. Astrid is moody and superior. Noa is emotionally wounded and immature. Still, I admired and even liked them both.

On the other hand, I didn’t love all the melodrama in this historical fiction tale. Characters make decisions based on faulty or absent logic. And then everyone has to figure out how to survive the fallout. Sometimes it’s a small choice, and other times not so much.

But Astrid has a heart hidden beneath her prickly exterior. And Noa is much stronger than she realizes. The plot spins around a simple question—are they stronger together or apart?

My conclusions

I have no doubt Jenoff researched this time period and the circus setting extensively. But instead of immersing us in the myriad details of that research, she delves more heavily into the characters’ feelings. And while I couldn’t help but care about Noa and Astrid, sometimes the emotions felt overwrought. I’d recommend this as a “borrow don’t buy” book.

Jenoff is a highly intelligent woman. I saw her at an author event this weekend and admire her experience and drive. (The bookstore posted her talk and the audience questions here.)

That said, her writing style isn’t one I’ll rush to read over and over. I prefer more lushly detailed descriptions and less melodrama. But I did buy a copy of her latest book to be signed. So don’t be surprised to see another review in the near future.

Interestingly, Jenoff also talked about the sub genre of WWII historical fiction. She said that, yes, sometimes she wonders if the market is saturated with books set in that time period. But she’s still finding stories she wants to tell.