Bittersweet, because it’s the last book of the Traveling series. Yummy sweet because that Zef is some sweet and sexy hunky guy. And sad because there is loss in the book too. The whole family comes together in this book, we get to visit with all our favorite friends and get to see where they’re at and can anticipate where they’re going. It was such a poignant read!
This author has a brilliant writing style. It journalizes a story but it goes swift, always riveting. My all-time favorite of our carnie friends is Kes and we get a lot of Kes in this story. I had a feeling early on that Zef had some back story and when I realized that he’s the big brother in Dangerous to Know and Love, I had to go back and re-read that book. He’s a druggie in that book but he’s also a loving and concerned older brother. He ended up in jail, and when he got out, he went to sort out his life. I was so glad that he got his second chance and a good life with the carnies. He feels unworthy yet he’s a stand up guy and all his friends care for him. He’s admirable, helping others, anticipating needs. Proof of his worthiness is that Bo loves him so much, and animals are the best character judges.
Zef is a little doldrum because he sees all his friends established in relations and he’s feeling a little lonely. His sometimes girlfriend, Mireille, got pregnant with another guy, so she’s out of the picture. It’s not a big pain, more a nuisance, but it means he’s alone again.
Then they find they have a stowaway in their rig. A young girl, very pretty, scared. She keeps saying she’s sorry. Zef was initially annoyed with Sara, but Aimeé convinces him that she needs friends. So he accepts her into the group and quietly helps her when he sees her struggling. Aimeé finds work for Sara with Zach, helping with publicity for the Daredevils. Sara takes to follow Zef around like a lost puppy, and we learn that he’s partially the reason she stowed into their rig. She wanted to escape her problems and she was also very attracted to Zef when she watched the Daredevils show and after, when she spied on him as he took an outside shower at their campsite.
Later on they learn she’s pregnant and has no intention of returning home to her parents, the baby’s father or telling anyone who is the father. Little by little she’s absorbed into the daily life of the carnies, and with a camera, takes great photos of the carny life.
There’s a big age difference between them; Sara is eighteen and Zef thirty-three. This difference bothers Zef, Sara not at all. Initially, I found Sara to be immature, defensive and snarky. I really didn’t see the attraction for Zef, and the relation didn’t make sense to me at first. Sara was beautiful, goodhearted, talented and intelligent but she was sometimes very juvenile. He loved her sassiness and her understanding, but he was sometimes taken aback by her youth and innocence. It contrasted too much with his past history of drugs and addiction and the fact that he is an ex-con. Eventually, she sorted her feelings, and as she felt competent in her job, she started to behave more mature, and their relation made more sense to me. Their relation was good because she gave Zef redemption, she made him feel worthy of love and a better person. However, the secrecy on Sara’s part about her past and her reasons for hiding were an obstacle for Zef to let go.
As Zef and Sara develop their relation, Zef starts to lower his walls more than before, and he realizes the depth of the acceptance and support of his brothers. The feeling of being a big family intensifies and solidifies in his heart. There’s a reunion with Dan, his little brother that tears at your heart. It’s so heart wrenching to see a guy who lost his way, got burned by his bad choices, and then see the path he took to redeem his mistakes, then find a good place with good brothers and a work he enjoys. His redemption is completed in this book and it’s a joy to read.
“We sat in our folding chairs, ate breakfast under a perfect blue sky, sheltered from the California heat by the shade of the towering tree. And we were surrounded by friends who were family. It was pretty damn perfect.”
Eventually, life intervenes and Sara’s past comes up to visit her. She had made some bad choices and made some mistakes. There’s a lot of things happening in the book but I don’t want to spoil all the wonderful surprises to be read. The story is riveting all the time, and it moves forward smoothly and inexorably into a new reality for Zef and Kes and all the other carnies. There is loss, confusion, happiness, brotherhood and a lot of life and acceptance in this book. I cried and I laughed and I rejoiced. And then I decided to re-read the whole series because it is that good.
“I’d been down as low as a man could get: addicted to alcohol and drugs, selling shit that fucked up people’s lives, spending time in prison with the dregs of humanity, evil fuckers … and men like me who’d taken a wrong turn in life. It’s not easy to claw your way back up, but the carnival had done that for me, given me a second chance in life. And now I had everything I could want, which isn’t so much as it turns out. I had my friends and family; a woman who loved me, despite all my flaws and failings; I had a son that I’d lay down my life for. And I had the carnival. Life was good.”