Joe Lang was born and bred in the circus. At age fifteen he is ready to transition from being a child performer to being the star of his own bareback riding act. But when a mishap in the ring leaves him an orphan, a judge orders Joe to stay at a school for boys in Pineville, Oregon until custody can be sorted out.
Desperate to make it back to the circus, Joe soon makes a run for it. A tangle with a barbed wire fence leaves him laid up, and a kindly farmer named Pop Dawson offers him bed and board. With his dreams crashing down around him, Joe learns the business of how to run a farm, acting like an elder brother to Henry, Ann, and Shelley and overcoming Mom Dawson’s suspicions about his vagabond past. When a chance comes to rejoin his old life, Joe must decide whether the new roots he’s put down are worth tearing up for a chance at fame in the big top.
Sawdust in His Shoes is a coming of age story that deals with themes of gratitude, responsibility, and belonging. Joe is a suspicious chap at the beginning with only scorn for the “gillies,” the regular folks who are not part of the circus. His insistence on looking out for his own interests is challenged by the unexpected kindness of the Dawson family, and he learns to open up his secrets and his heart. In the end, Joe’s ambitions come head to head with his sense of responsibility, and he must make the ultimate sacrifice, not knowing how events will play out.
This novel is an excellent children’s story that can be read with enjoyment by teenagers and adults as well. I especially enjoyed the local color, with part of the story set in my hometown of Oregon City and surrounding locales such as Canby, Portland, and Eugene receiving frequent mention.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
“Mr. Dawson,” said the stranger, “I had to take your doctoring and I had to take your bunk because I couldn’t help it. Now I’ve got to take your food. I can’t kid myself that I’d get far without something to eat. But I think you ought to know the pitch. I haven’t got a dime to my name. I can’t even work, with my leg like this. There ain’t a thing in it for you.”
“I know it,” said Pop….