Friday, December 2, 2011

YA dance books in brief

I've been reading and reading and READING, and I keep thinking that I need to tell you all about these awesome books, but I've found that it's pretty tough to read and write simultaneously. I can't type with my feet no matter how hard I try.

But today, I'd like to talk about a handful of books with dancing in them. Because I danced way back in the day. And because I just got back in touch with an old friend whose daughter is now a competitive dancer. And because I CAN.

AUDITION by Stasia Ward Kehoe

In this verse novel, Sara leaves her home to study ballet in a new city, living with a host family and trying desperately to make up for the fact that she's undoubtedly behind everyone else her age, skill-wise. When an older choreographer starts taking an interest in her, she throws herself into the relationship in a desperate attempt to feel content. It doesn't work.

I think the verse form really works for this book, because it really captures what it's like to dance--both the highs and lows. I think it particularly works in those moments where Sara loses herself in the dance. I felt like Kehoe really captured the movement in words, so much so that I really REALLY wanted to dig out my old dance shoes and lace them up.

This intimate look at the inner struggles of a dancer would absolutely appeal to fans of Ellen Hopkins, even if they're not into dancing themselves. Because at the end of the day, it's the story of a girl who is living her dream...and realizing that maybe the reality doesn't quite measure up to her expectations.

BUNHEADS by Sophie Flack

BUNHEADS is another ballet book, but instead of student dancers, Flack takes us right into the world of professional ballet. Hannah's only 19, but she's living in NYC and dancing in the corps of the Manhattan Ballet. This is a fascinating slice of life tale that doesn't involve a single alien, sparkly vampire, or shirtless werewolf but nonetheless feels like we've been transported into a different world altogether.

Flack's experience really shines through on these pages. We see Hannah go through her days, prepping pointe shoes in the dressing room while chatting with her friends, going to the obligatory fundraising events, and occasionally wondering how the "normal" people live. She realizes that her world is limited to the ballet and to ballet people, and she's not sure how she feels about that. Especially when she meets a cute musician...

If you're into dance books or movies, you know all the stereotypes. I felt like this title took a balanced approach to them, which was nice. Yes, there's a weight subplot, but it's not all-consuming. Hannah's worried about her weight gain and what it will mean for her future as a dancer, but she realizes on her own that maybe there's a healthier way to approach the problem. I liked that the book didn't totally disregard those stereotypes but still made an effort to tell a different story.


If you're interested in reading a dance book but have a strange aversion to tutus, STRINGS ATTACHED is the story of an aspiring Broadway dancer in the 1950s. Kit Corrigan has left home in an effort to make it big, but things are a lot harder than she expected. When her maybe-kinda-ex-boyfriend's dad offers a little help, it seems harmless to accept it, right? And if he's curious about his son, that's normal. And if he asks her to do errands every once in a while...

Maybe it's not as normal as she'd like to think. Maybe all those mob rumors are true after all.

I loved the glimpses of backstage 1950s Broadway, and I thought this book was at its best during those sections. There's a lot going on here, with the muddled romance, the mob ties, and Kit's struggles to survive. But die hard Broadway fans and history buffs would probably love this read.

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