Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Pointe, and Ballet Books In General

I've been thinking about what ballet books might have in common with nun books, because I feel like there's a common thread in what draws me to them. I've talked about nun books before; I think there might be more people who are into ballet books, but for me they're a distant second.

What they have in common, I've decided, is the singleminded devotion of the character's life to an esoteric calling, a search for perfection, where perfection is rigorously defined and everything else can be stripped away.  That simplicity of vision is what makes both of those lifestyles so fascinating to read about, and to try to understand.

It turns out I haven't read many ballet books, though I have a lot of my list (incidentally, the prevalence of titles including a pun on the word "pointe" is almost embarrassing).  Maybe at some point(e) (sorry) I'll have enough to give a top 5 list, like I did for nun books. For now, though, let's talk about the one I just finished.

Pointe, by Brandy Colbert (point(e)s for using the word straight instead of in a pun) is a decent book, but I'll tell you up front, is kind of disappointing as a ballet book. The main character is a serious high school ballet dancer who's planning her professional auditions, but that is such a small part of the book, it really feels kind of divorced from what the book is actually about.

Theo is a junior in high school and things are going pretty well--she has friends, she does okay in school, and she is one of the stars in her dance class.  When a friend-of-a-friend is hired as the pianist to accompany her class, she's worried about worlds colliding, but Hosea is cool (and hot), and things are going all right until the news breaks: Donovan's been found.

Donovan, it turns out, was her best friend until he disappeared four years ago.  They were the only two brown kids in their suburban school for a long time, and they were super tight.  When he disappeared, Theo's life and her family and her community all suffered under the strain.  But it had been four years, and things were mostly back to normal--until now he's back.

The unfolding of the story involves a lot of revelations about the past, which I find to be a weak way of maintaining tension in a book; if your narrator knows what her big trauma was, and the people around her mostly know, why keep it from us?  That's not exactly what's happening here, but the way information is doled out slowly, I can't quite tell if it's supposed to be tension or pacing.  Theo is in recovery from an eating disorder; she had a messed up boyfriend years ago.  These important story elements are doled out gradually as Theo keeps secrets from everyone important in her life.

Theo and her friends drink and smoke pot--Hosea's their dealer--and I actually found it pretty refreshing that this was all treated as fairly trivial--they don't get wasted, and pot is not treated as some sort of signifier of moral turpitude.  (Though the line between ballet, school friends, and her family gets clearer with every detail that one or the other group is unaware of.) 

But the kind of distancing issue about these normal teenager things is that they are so far away from a life of dance.  Theo goes to class several days a week, but she has a lot of time off--time to go to parties, volunteer at the school fair, hang out in a diner with her friends.  There are comments made about how her devotion to ballet separates her from the crowd, partly because of the time commitment, but you never see it--you never see her stressed by her responsibilities, or missing out on anything. 

Basically, ballet is a small part of this story.  It's what makes Theo special, and what connects her to Hosea, but it didn't feel as integral to the story as I would have expected from the title and cover.  The story itself is dark and intense, and I would like to ask someone who's read it what they think of how clean the resolution was to the very messy issues the book raised without really addressing some of the shadowy parts (Theo's secrets damage more people than just herself). But as an aftermath of an abduction story--a story of survivor guilt, of how lives are shaped by things that happen around them--this is a good read.

(Also, FYI, the best ballet book is The Cranes Dance, which you should read immediately.)

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