3 out of 4 stars
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One of the happiest memories of my childhood is getting to see the circus when it came to our town. It was thus a joy and a privilege to revisit this wonder-filled place in Ameera Almousa’s Mama Is Gonna Take You to the Circus. As the “Mama” in the title, Almousa takes readers on a guided imaginary tour of the circus and all the attractions within, with each element reframed as a metaphor about growing up and living one's life.
Our “amazing circus sojourn” starts with the queue. There’s the obvious lesson in patience here, but Almousa cleverly transforms this mundane experience into an allegory about having a sense of direction (Are you in the right queue?), owning your dreams, and following your passion. The succeeding sections cover other circus acts (e.g., the clown, the acrobat) and attractions (e.g., carousel, animal show), with the discussions proceeding in a discernible pattern. First, Almousa sets the scene, immersing you in a mental image of where you are and what you’re surrounded with. She then draws your attention to the things, individuals, and events that you might “see” around you and what they could possibly mean. Almousa ends each chapter with a brief summary of the lessons you’ve hopefully learned.
As far as books for personal development go, Mama Is Gonna Take You to the Circus gets points for novelty and creativity. The circus analogy creates a nice blueprint that ties the entire book together. The circus is your life; the clown represents you; the lion in the animal show signifies your ego; the cotton candy is a quirky lesson in creativity and taking risks. The book is packed with quaint thoughts on these matters, with inspirational quotes and anecdotes sprinkled here and there to reinforce the insights learned. The writing is also simple and clear, making the book accessible to its target audience — adolescents who need a bit of guidance in their lives.
Unfortunately, the metaphors do tend to overlap. While Almousa likens life in general to a circus, she also draws the same parallel to specific acts like walking on a tightrope or swinging on a trapeze. The comparisons can be somewhat unclear, as what she calls the “juggle called life” in an earlier section becomes the “juggling act of the circus called life” toward the end. Is juggling like life itself, or is it one aspect of life? Perhaps sticking to one metaphor for each element would make the lessons more memorable. Sometimes, the interpretation also shifts from figurative to literal. For instance, music is said to be the “passion that resides within you” that serves as your “inner compass,” but an accompanying discussion of the messages embedded in a song's lyrics presents a very literal view.
Almousa’s advocacy to empower adolescents everywhere is exemplified in her determination to write the book in English (which isn’t her mother tongue). Considering this, the book is free from any glaring grammatical errors. There are, however, several issues in comma usage that are too numerous to ignore. Both UK and US spelling variants are also present. For instance, the UK spelling is used for “succour” but not for “color.” Both “realise” and “realize” are also used throughout the text. Finally, the points of view in the book pose a challenge for me. While Almousa starts the narrative in the first person (“I hold my children’s hands”), she refers to herself in the third person (“Here, Mama will give you this advice”) and ends the book in this way (“She held your hand”). This approach underscores Almousa’s “mama” persona, but there’s just something about adults referring to themselves in the third person that I find off-putting.
That said, this metaphorical trip to the circus gets 3 out of 4 stars from me. Despite some flaws, the book does offer a fresh and creative way to tackle the subject of growing up and living a meaningful life. Adults may not respond too well with some of Almousa’s narrative choices and may find some metaphors quite overdone. However, adolescents struggling with developmental issues may benefit from a day in the circus with this trusty mother figure as their guide.
Mama is gonna take you to the circus
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