cover image Girl Flees Circus

Girl Flees Circus

C.W. Smith. Univ. of New Mexico, $19.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-0-8263-6407-

Smith (Steplings) delivers a rousing if overstuffed story of an aviator who crashes a stolen plane in 1928 New Mexico. Katie Burke’s accident happens in the town of Noname, when she pulls up the Wright Whirlwind from a landing attempt to avoid a Model T driven by Mabel Cross, the town’s teacher whose suppressed sexuality is reawoken by her encounter with Katie after the crash. Various townspeople help Katie repair her aircraft, including Leonard, an 18-year-old electronics whiz; feminist Louise Larsen and her WWI veteran husband, Howard; and interracial couple Otis Jefferson and Mildred Jackson, who deal with racism while running a local café. Katie’s journey to California is delayed after Leonard has an accident at an oil rig, and she takes him to the hospital in Carlsbad. Her escape plans are further endangered by the arrival of Sheriff Brown, who had formerly harassed and humiliated Otis at a Juneteenth celebration. The author creates a squadron of great characters as well as a promising premise, though the chockablock social issues feel a bit too designed to appeal to contemporary readers. Moreover, Smith unnecessarily withholds key plot information—such as why Katie stole the plane—for too long. The scenery is pleasant, but there’s a bit too much turbulence. Agent: Amanda Sutton, Ampersand Communications. (Sept.)