DePrince was born in Sierra Leone, but after rebels killed her father and Lassa killed her mother, she was first sent to an orphanage and then adoptedDePrince was born in Sierra Leone, but after rebels killed her father and Lassa killed her mother, she was first sent to an orphanage and then adopted to the U.S. While at the orphanage, she came across a magazine cover featuring a ballerina, and -- although she did not at the time know what ballet was -- that cover was a catalyst that helped shape her future.
Midway through the book, DePrince talks briefly about some of the lasting impacts of her childhood in Sierra Leone (more to the point, the war in Sierra Leone -- her childhood was happy until her parents died). She doesn't say as much, but I imagine it was doubly difficult because it was impossible to articulate the things that scared her and why, and impossible for the adults around her in the States to guess. She makes brief mention, too, of health concerns (hers and her sisters'), although she doesn't go far into that -- perhaps because it wasn't the important part of the story, or perhaps because that felt more private. I'd love to know more about her sisters, and her family in general, but in this context it more or less works with what she offers.
The fourth star I gave the book is partly sentimental; it's a story that tugs on the heartstrings. But for a teenager's memoir (written with her mother), it's really well done, and it strikes a good balance between her past in Sierra Leone and her aspirations as a dancer. (There's a photo of the pirate dance, by the way, and I'm just sorry that I can't find a video on YouTube.) I haven't seen that many memoirs by young dancers. Perhaps this is because they still have, hopefully, their entire careers ahead of them (more common to see memoirs by young gymnasts, who might actually be at the end of their competitive careers); perhaps it is because there is not much outside the norm in their youths. There are also -- more importantly -- few black women in ballet, and fewer books by/about black women in ballet. It's nice to see this one.
I'd love to see an adult book from her some time down the line, when she's had time to figure out who she is as an adult and has seen more of the ballet world, but...call this a pleasant surprise....more
Story/Time is very much a thinking book. It's a performance in written form -- with more than a nod to John Cage -- but it's done in such a way that yStory/Time is very much a thinking book. It's a performance in written form -- with more than a nod to John Cage -- but it's done in such a way that you can really see all the thought that's gone into it.
Although this isn't a memoir or autobiography or anything like that, Jones's background as a performer -- not just a dancer -- really comes through here. The book is very thoughtful in terms of arrangement; it's not so much a book to read as it is one to experience. It's taken me almost a month to sit down to write a review of it, mostly because it the book gave me so much to think about.
Two impressions stayed with me after the performance: the first was just how bewildering the event had been, and the second was a realization that I had been bored and yet could not stop thinking about the event for days after. The event taught me that boredom is not a problem in and of itself. (2)
I don't want to quote from the middle section of the book, the stories, because ideally they should really be experienced as they're written, with visual cues for timing and the like. And I certainly wasn't bored reading those stories, or this book as a whole. But I loved that thought (not from that middle section, and therefore quotable here!), and in some ways it seems to sum up Story/Time. You might like the stories, you might not; you might like the structure, you might not; if they make you think, they've done their job.
I'm interested, too, in the randomised arrangement of the stories. It's the same format Jones uses in the performance of the work onstage, but using it in a book speaks to confidence in the work in a way that performing in the same way does not. The stage is ephemeral; if a particular arrangement doesn't go well, if someone flubs their lines or misses steps, there's always the next performance. In a book it's more rigid, more permanent. But it does work here, which says to me that a lot of work went into the creation of the stories and the timing and how they can be pieced together.
Again, I won't quote from the stories themselves, but my favourites were 155 ('Small boys thinking...') and 90A ('March 23, 2011...'). Things to think about.
I received a free copy of this book via a Goodreads giveaway....more
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; believeIt 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....more
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 pressureThe 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 professionaAsk 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....more
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 toThere'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....more