Michael (Mike to his friends) Ellis has had it with his parents always telling him what to do, so he decides it's time to teach them a lesson. After one particular confrontation, Mike puts his plans into action, and decides to run away, along with his loyal dog, Barney.
His intention is simple: make his parents see they're wrong, then return after they've had a chance to miss him. But his plans are blown to smithereens when he falls asleep on a boxcar filled with hay and is transported from his home in Independence, Missouri, all the way to Georgia... with a traveling circus!
Once he's discovered, Mike is befriended by one of the lead clowns, Big Bob. The kind, older man lets Mike and Barney share his wagon, then eventually shares his own story: he was a runaway like Mike, only his story didn't end up very well. As a kid not much older than Mike, he joined another clown with the same circus, but the clown contacted Bob's parents. On the way to retrieve him, Bob's parents were killed in a car accident. Big Bob helps Mike see that his parents really do love him and are trying to look out for his best interest. Which is why Bob contacted Mike's parents, who are on their way to Georgia to retrieve him.
Mike and Barney are put to work while they wait, and Barney proves to be a great circus dog - so much so, they're asked to perform under the big top. But there's a problem with the circus: Sabotage has been happening, and unless it's stopped, the circus will be forced to close. Mike has spied two men in the circus who make him nervous, and they seem very interested in Barney's abilities. Then, the night before the first performance, Mike overhears the men making plans to steal Barney the next day. When Mike wakes up in the middle of the night, he discovers Barney is missing!
He races out and hears his little dog barking, buried in a crate in the back of a truck the two men are loading. Mike sneaks aboard just as the truck takes off, he releases his best friend, and when the truck slows down, the two jump off.
The next day, Mike tells Big Bob about the two men. He knows the men are trying to sabotage the circus, but no one knows how to stop them since they don't know where they are. The show must go on, and the first show of the day goes off without a hitch. During the second show - when Mike's parents are watching from the audience - the two men show up. Mike and Barney go outside and spot the men trying to set fire to the tent. All Mike can think about is that his parents are inside. The men must be stopped.
Big Bob and a bevy of clowns arrive just in time to help Mike stop the two men, and the security guard who had been assisting them. Finally Mike is reunited with his parents... and is invited to return to the circus anytime he wants.
What I Like: This is a very fast moving story, one I couldn't put down. I also liked the fact that Mike experienced natural consequences for his actions. As soon as the boxcar door was shut, he immediately regretted his decision to run away.
What I Dislike: There were several areas where the writing bothered me; for example, once the author stepped in and wrote:
"It was obvious that Mike hadn't paid much attention to the pictures of missing children on milk cartons. It was possible he didn't fully understand the seriousness of what he was doing."Most of the story is shown entirely from Mike's perspective, so the brief instances like this threw me.
I also ran into many typos. This probably wouldn't bother a young reader like it bothers me, but if your kid struggles in English class, there are a lot of things here that won't reinforce accurate grammar and punctuation.
Overall Rating: Very Good, in spite of the technical glitches mentioned.
Age Appeal: 9 - 12
Publisher Info: Comfort Publishing, 2011; ISBN: 978-0984559848; Paperback, 130 pgs., $10.99
Buy it at Amazon.com for $9.34.
Also available as a Kindle download for $6.99.