There’s magic in Cassie Beasley’s debut novel, “Circus Mirandus,” but the emotion – some of it quite raw – is real. Main character Micah Tuttle’s grandfather, with whom he lives, is terminally ill, and the fifth-grader is terrified of losing him.
Just because parts of the book are set in a fantastic circus populated by invisible tigers, powerful illusionists and intelligent elephants doesn’t make it an escapist work. Micah still has to find a way to handle Grandpa Ephraim’s mortality – with or without supernatural help.
“I’ve always wanted to write the kind of book that ‘child me’ would have loved and ‘adult me’ would love,” Beasley says from her home in southeast Georgia. “That’s a real sweet spot and something a lot of writers try to do.”
As a writer, she gravitates toward the junction of childhood and maturity, of magic and reality. Micah’s best friend, for example, views the book’s magical happenings with a rational, scientific mind, though she respects Micah’s need to believe there’s more to life than what can be objectively observed. Beasley loved writing about best friends whose fundamental disagreement on the nature of the world around them didn’t keep them from having each other’s back.
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Tuesday night, Beasley appears at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. We caught up with this author to ask what it is about writing for her chosen audience of middle-graders that appeals to her.
A: What is it about the cusp of childhood and the teenage years that made you want to write to that age range?
A: It’s that moment when you’re starting to grow up enough when you’re encountering really difficult problems you’ve never had to deal with before. That is the age when kids often lose their first loved one and things like that, and I think there’s something really fascinating about watching that transition from young child into teenager and seeing how a character deals with that. I think it’s something readers remember from their own youth.
Q: When you were a kid, who were some of the authors you looked to for that?
A: I had a load of favorite authors. I did enjoy Roald Dahl – I loved “Matilda,” in particular. A lot of his villains are so bad, so much worse than any adults I ever actually encountered in my life. I enjoyed Louis Sachar’s work: He wrote “Holes” and “Wayside School.” I thought those were great when I was that age. I loved Scott O’Dell’s “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” When I was in sixth grade, “Harry Potter” took off, and I was completely hooked.
Q: “Harry Potter” – that one starts with tragedy.
A: It absolutely does.
Q: How do you find the balance in writing about mortality for kids without being too brutal, but without tiptoeing around it either?
A: I was more worried about being less than honest. It seems so important to me not to lie about how things are in that situation. I really wanted to tell a truthful story, but not one that was traumatic. I think I’ve managed that. I feel like, at its heart, “Circus Mirandus” is a very hopeful book. I feel like it ends on a very positive and happy note, but I didn’t want to shy away from the reality that Grandpa Ephraim is very sick and he’s actually suffering. It’s a very hard thing for Micah to deal with, it’s tough. Just like it is in the real world, there’s good and bad and we have to deal with both.
Q: You’re using fantasy to tell a real-world story. Why do you gravitate toward that?
A: I naturally head toward fantasy because it’s what I loved reading as a kid. When I write, I tend to add a bit of magic. I think fantasy is a really good vehicle for delivering any kind of story that might not be palatable if you were to tell it in a very on-the-nose sort of way. I think that’s one of the reasons we see a lot of fantasy these days, because you’re dealing with these tough issues that you can deal with in a way that’s a little bit more subtle, a little kinder, in a way.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I have so many stories to tell. I am very excited to keep writing. I want to continue to explore the world of “Circus Mirandus.” I’m not saying there’s going to be a sequel, but I do have more ideas, and that’s something I might come back to if I can get it just right. This is the age group I plan to keep writing for.
Meet the author
Cassie Beasley will read from “Circus Mirandus” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Quail Ridge Books, 3522 Wade Ave., Raleigh. More info at quailridgebooks.com.