May 2024
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Review: Circus Queen and Tinker Bell: The Memoir of Tiny Kline, Tiny Kline, edited by Janet M. Davis

Tiny Kline spent her entire life doing stunts.  From youth to middle age, she worked with the circus, her love for which is apparent throughout the pages of her memoir.  She continued doing iron jaw stunts, descending inclines at ridiculous speeds suspended only by her teeth, into old age and performed as Tinker Bell at Disneyland when she was in her 70s.  By all accounts, Tiny Kline had a fascinating life.  She really wrote two memoirs in an attempt to share that life with us.  One contained mainly personal anecdotes, related to her work on the circus.  The second mainly contained circus history and was stripped of these more intimate details.  The editor, Janet M. Davis, combined the two to produce a memoir that is still Tiny’s but in a form readers will be more eager to consume.

This book was a very educational experience.  Circus history, while an interesting topic, is not something that I’ve ever learned in school and there don’t seem to be many accessible books written on it.  There is the fiction bestseller, Water for Elephants, which I read and loved earlier this year, but that’s about all I’ve seen on my book radar.  When this popped up on LT Early Reviewers, I knew that I simply must read it.  And good choice by me; this is a terrific memoir.  The combination of memoirs is brilliantly done and I never noticed a gap between Tiny’s two styles of writing.  It’s fascinating to see how the circus changed over time, the insider’s view of circus politics, and just how some performers climbed the career ladder faster than others.  Tiny’s ambition was tremendous and it’s easy to see why she advances so quickly.

The book does read precisely as someone’s account of their life.  Tiny was not the best writer and it’s evident at times that she had little training, but it never hampers this book, just makes the author more real, if that is possible.  It reads like a letter written by a friend; conversational, easy tone.  There were some nice touches put in by the editor, such as including photographs with Tiny’s descriptions of some of her fellow performers,  all bringing the circus to life. Tiny admits one lapse in her introduction; she included some fictional romances to make the book more “exciting”, even though she never had a romantic interlude after her husband died shortly after their wedding.  The fictional parts are obvious and only in one part of the book; I don’t count this against it, especially as she admits their existence before the book even begins.

I’d definitely be recommending this book and if you’re interested in circus history, you shouldn’t miss it.   I’m glad that I didn’t! Buy this book on Amazon.

Many thanks to Michael Roux and the University of Illinois Press for sending me this lovely book!


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