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The Key to Circus-Mom Highway by Allyson Rice 

The Key to Circus-Mom Highway was an extraordinary story, exciting and enjoyable, from cover to cover. 

Jesse receives a call that she and her sister, Jennifer, have been left a hefty inheritance by their birth mother but only if they both come to a meeting at an attorney’s office in Florida. Since Jenn won’t return her calls, Jesse quits her awful job bartending at a strip club managed by her sleazy, cheating boyfriend, grabs all her stuff from his apartment, including the puppy he’d recently acquired, and hits the road to Chicago to convince her sister to go to Florida with her in person. Jenn, married to Sean and mother to two children in college, says she doesn’t need the money and doesn’t want to go, but the real reason for her refusal to leave home right then is heartbreaking; she thinks Sean is having an affair, and her absence would allow him free rein to indulge in his new passion. However, after seeing how much this sudden windfall would help Jesse, Jenn agrees to go. 

At the attorney’s office, the two sisters learn the truth about the couple they had always thought were their parents; they were their birth mother’s childless sister and husband, and their mother had taken off, abandoning the two toddlers in their care. They had been wonderful people but had never gotten around to telling the girls the truth before tragically dying in a car accident. This revelation is not the only surprise, though. The girls’ birth mother has left them over $1M, but to collect their legacy, they must journey across the southern United States together, finding and talking with the people who held significant places in their mother’s early life. They are only given a week to complete their task and must be accompanied by a third beneficiary: a younger brother they never knew existed. 

The Key to Circus-Mom Highway was so enjoyable I would have read it from cover to cover in one sitting if I could have managed. The three siblings are delightfully fun, yet each is hiding secret sorrows or traumas that come to light over the course of the story. Their no-holds-barred banter had me laughing out loud as the pages flew past. But even after the story is over, I’m still thinking about these sisters and brother and their families and hoping everything in their lives worked out as if they were real people. 

The exciting plot froths forward at speed as Jesse, Jennifer, and Jack follow their mother’s final instructions, literally from the grave, to attain the promised inheritance. Each stop along the way is peopled with interesting and sometimes outrageous supporting characters who reveal a small part of the narrative their birth mother wants to be told. I loved how the estranged sisters and the newly discovered brother come to terms with each other on their journey and truly create a family that includes them all. They blend and support each other as if they’d been together their entire lives, not just for a single week. They pick at each other unmercifully at times, and their exchange of barbs was hilarious. 

The siblings’ journey to discover who their mother was swiftly takes them from Chicago to Louisiana to Savannah; they must complete their task within one week or lose out. The plot moves fast, and there’s never a dull moment with these three. Then, just as I got comfortable with where the story was going, a twist or turn occurred, sending any feeling of complacency out the window.

 But within the laughter and exciting action, there are also the tragic sorrows and long-held secrets to exorcise. After all, the siblings’ entire lives have been lies. Although wonderful, the parents they knew and loved were never who they thought they were. And just the truth about their birth mother abandoning them, albeit in good hands, would have been huge to wrap one’s mind around. 

With engaging main characters in triplicate and a second chance plot, I recommend THE KEY TO CIRCUS-MOM HIGHWAY to contemporary fiction readers who enjoy a modern quest story and witty dialogue. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

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