Martha Schabas’ debut VARIOUS POSITIONS has had a less-than-stellar reputation amongst my friends and other online reviewers, with a lot of hatred going towards it. I went into it not knowing what to expect other than ballet and sex. But something about the premise intrigued me, even though I am normally not a fan of contemporary books, nor do I know ANYTHING about ballet. What I found, though, was a book pitched as young adult that really should be on adult shelves only, a book about a girl going through a sexual awakening in the competitive world of ballet.
VARIOUS POSITIONS is about a 14 year old ballet student named Georgia, who has recently been accepted to the most prestigious ballet school in Canada. With girls pushing each other to do horrible things (become anorexic, lose their virginity to strangers, etc), Georgia has set her sights on the school’s notorious head teacher, a famed choreographer named Roderick. Famous for his harsh words and brash teaching mechanisms, he incites fear in most of the girls. Showing any emotion to his criticism, girls claim, is grounds for expulsion and the end to their ballet dreams. But for Georgia, he is the object of her affection. She imagines a relationship between them despite their massive age difference, and even thinks about having sex with him. Things only escalate from there.
This is definitely not a book for everyone. As I mentioned, I don’t think this book should be targeted at the YA audience. The book is heavily based on sex between teacher and student – Georgia with her teacher and then again between Georgia’s parents in the past. She spends a great deal of time fantasizing about sex, watching porn, and getting into compromising situations with Roderick. Although the protagonist is 14, she comes off more as a 19 or 20 year old, with her thoughts, mannerisms, and words. The publisher says this book is for teens aged 14-18, but I disagree with this. This is a book for girls 16 and up, if not adults outright, and I think marketing it to adults instead would have done this book a much greater service.
While I did not sympathize with Georgia, I did enjoy her narration, looking at it from a purely outsider perspective. Her thoughts were strange and repulsive, yet at the same time they draw the reader into her world. The life she has adopted for herself and decided to love is utterly fascinating, from the lengths these girls go to in order to succeed or their relationships with one another. Schabas portrays the trials and tribulations of young ballet dancers well, from their struggles with weight to the expectations put on their heads by their teachers, their families, and themselves. In addition, after reading this book, I really wanted to rewatch Black Swan. Totally random thought, I know.
The writing was for the most part strong, although there were a few too many awkward metaphors used too often, comparing smiles to leaving the lights on when you leave a room. Schabas definitely shows promise, but I think with better marketing, this book would have been a much stronger debut. It is not YA and marketing it as YA really did take the book down a notch for me.
VERDICT: A strong debut in a category where it doesn’t belong, VARIOUS POSITIONS is a well-written story of a girl’s sexual awakening in the world of ballet. But really, this book is not for young adults, and I would not recommend this to girls under the age of 16 at all.