Daisy May Johnson's Reviews > No Ballet Shoes in Syria

No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton
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it was amazing
bookshelves: beautiful, brave, childrens-literature, classics, family, gritty, war, tearjerker, travel

Aya is eleven, Syrian, and seeking asylum in Britain. Her mum, her, and her baby brother, escaped from the war in Syria - but her father got separated from them on the way. Her whole family is suffering from the experience (and it's handled so delicately and sensitively and well by Bruton but fyi if you're working with children who may have undergone a similar experience), and her life is not easy. One day she comes across a ballet class, and it's there that everything starts to change...

In her introduction to this, Bruton name-checks some of the best dance stories out there - the Sadlers Wells books by the wonderful Lorna Hill; Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild; and The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown. It's a small thing, but incredibly important as it means that she knows her stuff. These are totemic books, in a perenially popular genre of children's literature, and I think that No Ballet Shoes In Syria more than stands up to them. In fact, it's out in May and I'm telling you about it now because I think it's great. It made me cry, and it made me smile, and it feels like one of those quietly classic stories that British children's literature does so utterly well.

It's full of a lot of heart this, not in the least with the representation of Aya. She's a powerful, brave character and the impact of her experience is never far from her. It's no easy thing to write somebody suffering from trauma, let alone to render that in such a beautiful, under-stated and kind manner, but Bruton manages it extremely well. The narrative engages in a series of flashbacks, talking about her life in Syria and the slow erosion of this by war, and the contrast is starkly rendered at some points. I was particularly moved by the points where the relative privilege and comfort of Aya's new life in Britain triggered some painful flashbacks for her. It's also important to note that this is a book that knows its stuff; the distinction between a refugee and an asylum seeker is carefully made, and the historic parallels of Aya's journey are sensitively and movingly explored.

This is a good book. It's honest, kind, heartbreaking and really rather utterly lovely.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 17, 2019 – Shelved
March 17, 2019 – Shelved as: beautiful
March 17, 2019 – Shelved as: brave
March 17, 2019 – Shelved as: childrens-literature
March 17, 2019 – Shelved as: classics
March 17, 2019 – Shelved as: family
March 17, 2019 – Shelved as: gritty
March 17, 2019 – Shelved as: tearjerker
March 17, 2019 – Shelved as: war
March 17, 2019 – Shelved as: travel

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