It has always seemed odd to me that there are so few YA books about gymnastics (or if there are books out there, they're really hard to find; believe...moreIt has always seemed odd to me that there are so few YA books about gymnastics (or if there are books out there, they're really hard to find; believe me, I've looked). This is middle grade, not YA, and despite the amount of time spent in the gym there wasn't all that much gymnastics, but...well.
This is the only one of the series that I've read, and it's number 14, so maybe I'd have gotten more out of it had I started at the beginning (and were I not way past the target age range). As it was, it felt quite formulaic -- just one in a long series of books that hit on a different hot-button topic every week. It assumes that the reader knows the characters already (or will read enough of the series to watch mini-dramas play out over the course of several books), but there just isn't enough space to develop issue and resolution, either. Feels like a potentially interesting idea that was never properly fleshed out.(less)
The best part of this book, to me, was how clear it was (even without reading the author bio) that the author knows the ballet world and the pressure...moreThe best part of this book, to me, was how clear it was (even without reading the author bio) that the author knows the ballet world and the pressure to excel, to be shaped a certain way, to land a certain part. Anna's focus throughout the book remains on ballet: she wants to dance, preferably at Ballet New York, but definitely in a top (American) company. There's a clash between the way BNY and National Ballet Theatre do things -- I assume these companies are stand-ins for American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet -- and an endless quest to improve, improve, improve. It's not enough to be good, and one good performance doesn't guarantee anything. There's romance, and there are endless interpersonal difficulties, but when it comes down to it, all Anna wants to do is dance.
All that said, the book has some problems. Too much telling rather than showing, for one; lots of places where ideas and events were summarized. I suspect that part of it is just that the author was trying to cover a fairly significant chunk of time in a limited amount of space, but it didn't work nearly as well as it could have.
The other big problem, which may tie in with the first: Major problems are brushed over like it's nothing. Multiple characters have eating disorders, and at least one character self-injures. A character experiences a career-ending injury. The latter, I think, is supposed to draw our attention to some of the harsh realities of ballet, but it ends up being little more than a blip in Anna's dream. As for the former...well, I've never been in the ballet world, or even close to it. I can't say how eating disorders and self-injury and the like are treated there. But it's so completely brushed under the carpet here that it doesn't even pay lip service. The book introduces the problem and then effectively ignores it. Is Anna equipped to fix those problems? No, of course not. But I'm disappointed in the way they were handled.
I like that Anna is devoted but not the best; I like that this is a YA book where romance plays a relatively minor role (though I dislike the resolution there -- feels quite rushed, as though it's in there just because it's 'supposed' to be). But this needed more to make the characters come to life and the scenes pop, and it just fell kind of flat.
Ask anyone, and they'll probably tell you that Theo's life revolves around ballet. She's good at it, good enough to have dreams of dancing professiona...moreAsk anyone, and they'll probably tell you that Theo's life revolves around ballet. She's good at it, good enough to have dreams of dancing professionally. They might also tell you that Theo was good friends with Donovan, who disappeared four years ago and hasn't been seen since. They might be able to tell you that she's a decent student, or that she comes from a happy, stable family.
But when Donovan is found, things change -- because there are things that nobody knows about Theo, things that she doesn't fully understand herself. Things she might have to face, because Donovan's not talking. And no matter how hard she tries to stay strong on the outside, Theo can't stop herself from wondering what would happen if someone found out and who she is under all of this. She can't stop herself from slipping backwards.
I didn't go into this book with particularly high hopes, so I was pleasantly surprised. Theo's complicated. She's a dancer, with all of the attached pressures, but none of her demons come from dance. She's trying hard to stay in one piece, but she's also working hard to make sure nobody notices when she starts falling apart. She knows her past, but she hasn't entirely put together what it all means. She makes bad choices.
Better yet, Theo's not the only complex character. Her friends, and her sort-of friends, are equally multifaceted. They're not only dance friends or school friends; that is, she might never see the people she dances with outside the studio, but they too have more going on in their lives than just ballet. There isn't a token mean girl making her life miserable.
I don't want to give too much detail because part of the enjoyment of the book is seeing things unfold, but this is definitely a 'dear author, please keep writing' type of book.(less)
There's a whole slew of teens-with-cancer and teens-with-friends-with-cancer books out there, and although it's not a topic of particular interest to...moreThere's a whole slew of teens-with-cancer and teens-with-friends-with-cancer books out there, and although it's not a topic of particular interest to me, I've read my fair share of them just by virtue of having read a lot of YA.
What I loved about this book was that, ultimately, it was about Olivia and Zoe's friendship. There's romance, but it's secondary; it complicates things rather than solves them. Calvin often feels like background music rather than a fully fleshed-out character, but somehow that makes sense to me -- as though, in context, he can really only be a distraction for Zoe, and she can't give him her full attention. Meanwhile, Zoe's not always likable -- she falls for her friend's crush (and lies about it); she gets mad at little kids; she's more interesting for it.
I did have some problems with the book. I'm not convinced on the timeline -- at the very least, wouldn't they run more tests and so on before starting Olivia on chemo? She basically gets diagnosed and starts treatment in a matter of hours, which seems...fast. While Zoe's frustration with the kids felt realistic -- she's out of her comfort zone, she doesn't really want to be there, etc. -- I'm not sure she ever really understood where they were coming from, or that Mrs. Jones is someone to be respected, not tolerated. Zoe makes strides over the course of the book, but maybe not as many as I'd hope for. And finally, the cheerleaders -- it's a pity, because most of the characters are pretty well fleshed out, but the cheerleaders are straight-up caricatures.
All that said, I liked it a lot -- that the focus was on friendship; that Zoe had to re-examine some of her beliefs about dance; that although the cancer was tragedy for the family, it was ultimately not something that was going to make ripples on a larger scale.
I received a free copy of this book via a Goodreads giveaway.(less)