This book was just so excellent.
I was keen to start it because of the disability rep and ballerinas, but it only took a few chapters before I knew this would be a book to remember. The characters! The themes! The writing! I loved it all?!? It unpacked a lot of really difficult and messy themes, too, and gave us conversations that are really important and that I don’t see enough of in YA. Things like jealousy, losing your purpose in life, knowing when to stand up for yourself, making horrible friendship mistakes and yet finding a way forward. It had a huge theme of forgiveness. Not just forgiving others, but forgiving yourself. And honestly I got emotional in several parts. 🥺💛 You know when even a scene or a line of a book jumps out at you and you feel SEEN? That hit here. As an artist, I just connected a lot to Alina.
First we have to talk about the characters!! I LOVED them so much. Lately I haven’t been connecting to the characters in my recent reads, but I just fell into this book and adored everyone immediately. They’re all dimensional. Complex. Messy and loving and proud and funny and broken and beautiful. After Alina shatters her leg in a fall, she can never go up on pointe again. So her dream of a professional ballet career is over. She’s back to normal high-school and the “real world”. Her grief and rage is so so palpable. Like why her?!? She was so focused on ballet that literally nothing else mattered. Now ballet things trigger her grief, she’s wretchedly jealous of her old ballet friends. She gets angry and isolates herself and I felt for her down to my soul. We feel Alina’s excruciating pain and we wince with her as she hates the world and we melt with happiness as she starts to find friends. You go on such a journey with Alina as she tentatively tries out for the high school musical when she thought she’d never dance again.
I still loved ballet, but it didn’t love me back. All I could do was linger on, like a sad, rejected ghost, hurting people who didn’t deserve it.
And the secondary cast is AMAZING. I loved Jude, the absolute softest Soft Boi, who knits and does musicals and purposefully deconstructs toxic masculinity. Then there’s Ethan, his BFF, who is gay and a photographer and so lovely. And Margot!! Who is terrifying and sharp and stabby, and she and Alina collide when they most needed each other. And Colleen, Alina’s ex-BFF from ballet school, who she can’t bear to talk to but Colleen doesn’t give up on Alina 🥺 They were the only two girls of colour in the school too, so they went through a lot together.And I cannot forget Josie! Alina’s younger sister, a modern dancer, and they have this fractious relationship but the arc there is [chef’s kiss] relatable and so well done. Alina and Josie are also biracial Japanese and their parents are from Hawaii.
Friendship-group dynamics that are complex and beautiful but sometimes hurt? We gotcha.
A huge theme of the book is jealousy, and it’s a hard topic to tackle because jealous can make you into a nasty person. But it happens in real life a lot? And actually reading about Alina going through being broken by jealousy and learning to face her feelings was so good. It also talks about racism in ballet, how Alina accepted a lot of it in order not to “rock the boat” or risk being purposefully overlooked for a part. She wanted the top parts so she thought she had to accept a side-dish of racism — which she comes to realise is gross and unacceptable.
I just loved how the book gave us real-life messy issues full of strife and ugliness — and TALKED ABOUT THEM. Unpacked them. Talked about the difference between thinking horrible things and being a horrible person. Life isn’t fixed and tied up into a neat-little-bow in the book either, but it definitely tackled everything fantastically.
I could pretty much go on forever about how much I adored this book! It was so perfectly crafted, with characters who literally danced off the page and writing that swept you up and kept you hooked on every word. A beautiful and emotional story about being broken and being beautiful.
Maybe ballet was like beautiful dynamite. Stunning and dangerous at the same time, so you couldn’t love it simply. You had to figure out how to handle it. How to love the beautiful parts and defuse the dangerous ones.
Thanks Allen & Unwin for the review copy! Published May 2021.
A stunning and unique story about healing that offers a gentle hand to anyone who struggles with perfectionism, competition and an all-or-nothing mindset, as well as those who don’t understand ambition.Alina Keeler was destined to dance, but one terrifying fall shatters her leg – and her dreams of a ballet career along with it. After a summer spent healing (translation: eating vast amounts of Cool Ranch Doritos and bingeing ballet videos on YouTube), she must trade her preprofessional dance classes for normal high school, where she reluctantly joins the musical. Rehearsals are nothing compared to Alina’s past life at the acclaimed Kira Dobrow Ballet School. But the stage does offer more than she expected – namely her castmate Jude. He’s annoyingly attractive, ridiculously optimistic and, worst of all, Alina just might be falling for him. However, finding a new normal means making peace with her past and acknowledging the racism she faced. Deep down, Alina still yearns for the world of ballet she left behind. But what does it mean to love something beautiful, yet broken? And as broken as she feels, can she ever open her heart to someone else?
Lyrical, romantic and peppered with humour, this debut novel explores the tenuousness of perfectionism, the possibilities of change and the importance of raising your voice.