The Premise: fourteen year old Sante is a member of a traveling circus, adopted by Mama Rose after being washed ashore as a baby. Sante was the sole survivor of the sinking of a ship carrying migrants and refugees and remains haunted by the idea of her lost people even years later. Arriving in Cadiz with her adopted family and the circus, Sante encounters trouble in the form of figures from the past and a deep web of corruption and crime.
Thoughts: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is a wildly original novel and something really different in YA. The juxtaposition of Sante’s past as a refugee and the tragedy of her lost family with the modern day issues of human trafficking and forced prostitution which arise later on create something quite shocking and very hard-hitting. In combination with this, there are varying kinds of magic realism within the novel too; Sante is literally haunted by the ghosts of those who didn’t survive the shipwreck, and she has strange psychic powers. It’s ambitious for Badoe to combine these realistic and magical features into one narrative, although it is also quite confusing; I sometimes felt like I was reading two books spliced together and it was occasionally difficult to keep track of everything that was happening.
For some reason, I’ve read a handful of novels set in and around circuses this year, and, as in the others, I really enjoyed the descriptions of Sante’s act and the rest of the troupe’s performances; although these bits didn’t use magic, there was something really special about the descriptions that made it easy to feel absorbed into the action. The risks involved in the circus performances are reflected in the sense of danger seen throughout the novel, as Sante and her friends take on the sex traffickers who threaten a newfound acquaintance. The book certainly conveys a sense of danger throughout, particularly in the sections that see Sante in direct conflict with the villains.
In Conclusion: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is an ambitious, diverse and challenging novel, the like of which I’m really pleased to see in YA. It’s vastly different to anything else being marketed at teens and also features plenty to engage an adult reader. I found it a little too free-wheeling, with dramatic plot events preventing me from fully caring about the characters, which is a shame given the seriousness of the subject matter. It’s definitely an interesting and intriguing book though, and one which is worth looking up.