Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Reading on a Theme: Young Ballet Dancers

I definitely have a thing for ballet books. This is not the first time I've featured a collection of ballet books, and I'm certain it won't be the last either. (More ballet books here and here.) This bunch is a rather serious one, with dancers who are dealing with difficult political, personal, and familial situations.

As Seen on TV
Magnolia (Mags) and her best friend George enter a SYTYCD-type competition. For George the show is a chance to be recognized for his skill, but for Mags the competition means much more. She sees a victory as a way to change her small town's opinion of her and her sister, whose reputations have been tainted by their mother's abandonment after a terrible accident. Spin the Sky gives readers look behind-the-scenes of a reality show. This one seems to have a lot of drama. Mags goes through a lot of personal growth in this debut novel from Jill MacKenzie, I especially loved how well she conveyed the feel of a small Oregon town. Spin the Sky was out November 2016. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Letters to You:
Una LaMarche sets her story at a prestigious arts school in New York City. You in Five Acts follows five of its students: two ballet dancers, Joy and Diego, and three drama students, Ethan, Liv, and Dave. Each character writes an act to one of the other four. It was difficult at first to get into the second-person voice, but it was interesting to see how the characters' stories were woven together and how the decisions they made impacted the others. It was obvious from the beginning that something tragic was going to occur in this story, but I was not prepared for how tragic it really was. The abruptness of what happens sheds a light on the unfairness and senselessness of these kind of situations. You in Five Acts was out November 2016. Copy from Penguin First to Read.

Dancing in Alaska:
The Smell of Other People's Houses four Alaskan teenagers' lives slowly become entwined. Ruth lives with her grandmother is drawn to less-repressive homes. Alyce's dreams of dancing conflict with her time with her father on his fishing boat. Dora is trying to escape the nightmare of her past. Hank and his brothers stow away on the ferry. It is difficult to express in words the simple elegance of Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's novel. I love books like this that create a quiet, contemplative mood. The language in this book is exquisite. The reading experience is beautiful both in content and in execution. Perfection from start to finish with a gorgeously rendered setting, it was one of my favorite reads of 2016.

Bolshoi Ballerina:
In 1958 Russia, Svetlana is a resident of an orphanage for children of Enemies of the People. Sveta is also an incredibly passionate and talented ballet dancer, and she's determined to be a star of the Bolshoi Ballet. Her road to stardom is hindered thanks to the black mark on her family's record. But Svetlana has other talents that the government finds useful; talents which a certain KGB agent promises will help erase that scar. Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn is part of Elizabeth Kiem's series that follows three generations of dancers in the Dukovskaya family. I really enjoyed this addition to the series. Svetlana's story is really where it all begins in the heart of Cold War Russia. Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn is out August 22, 2017. Review copy from NetGalley.

Camp Perform at Your Peak:
Samantha wants to be a professional ballet dancer. She's really good, but in recent months she's gotten curvier and taller, and she's received a lot of negative attention because of her new body. The result is crippling anxiety over her appearance. Sam is sent to a summer treatment camp for artists and athletes who are struggling with mental and emotional barriers. I love what Kathryn Holmes did with How It Feels to Fly. The book takes an honest look at some of the crueler aspects of dance. Holmes wrote about her own time as a dancer here, and I think that her personal experiences really made this book what it is. To me, this book just got better and better with every page. How it Feels to Fly was out June 2016.

All books reviewed by JoLee.

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