As a teenager and a college student, I was a ballet dancer. I never was good enough to have a shot at a professional career, but ballet was pretty much my whole life for a good seven years, and so it makes sense that I was drawn towards books in which the protagonist was a ballet dancer. For the teen reader, there aren’t as many out there as there are for younger kids. Despite my affinity for them, I don’t recall reading very many ballet novels, and I don’t remember the titles or the author’s names. But I do know offhand of three relatively recent books in which the main character is a ballet dancer, (although only one of them is primarily about ballet) and for the benefit of teens whose reading interests include ballet, I’m listing them here.
Pointe by Brandy Colbert, 2014
Theo is a promising ballet dancer, she has a crush on a boy, and her eating disorder is—apparently—under control, but her life is thrown apart when her friend Donovan, a kidnapping victim, returns home. Theo has a secret: she and the kidnapper had a romantic and sexual relationship shortly before the kidnapping, despite the fact that she was only thirteen at the time. He had lied to her about both his name and his age. Now Theo is faced with the decision about whether she should testify against her former boyfriend. Although this is my least favorite of the three and it’s more about emotional trauma than ballet, it is still an interesting and engaging read. Because racial minorities tend to be underrepresented in children’s and YA literature, it’s worth noting that Theo is African American.
Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo, 2016
Seventeen-year-old Harper Scott has a plan. She and her best friend Kate are graduating a semester early, and in just a couple months, they’ll be dancing professionally with the San Francisco Ballet. But everything goes wrong, and Harper finds herself following the footsteps of her relative Robert Falcon Scott, the explorer. Now she’s in Antarctica, participating in scientific research and mourning the loss of her dreams. Her story is told in alternating chapters, half taking place in San Francisco and half in Antarctica. For readers looking for a book about ballet, this might be the most appealing of the three because ballet is so important to the plot and because it gives an accurate idea of what a preprofessional ballet student’s life is like. Romance readers also will enjoy this book, as Harper has two highly likable love interests over the course of her story. Although there are only a few surprises in the plot, the gradual revelation of details is effective, and the writing is beautiful and, in the end, inspirational. As a couple added touches, Harper’s passion for her hometown is emotionally satisfying to read, as is her family’s liking for Star Wars. For me, Star Wars references are almost always a plus. So far, this is my favorite YA book of the year, although I am certainly biased because I relate to the main character so much.
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, 2015
Ori and Violet are both dedicated and skilled teenage ballet students, but after a horrible incident under a bridge just outside the theater where they were having a dress rehearsal, Ori is convicted of murder. This story is told in the alternating viewpoints of Violet, now a Julliard-bound senior, and Amber, Ori’s fellow inmate. Two different mysteries are slowly revealed: what really happened the night of the murder and what happened later to the inmates of Aurora Hills Juvenile Detention Center. The book has just enough supernatural elements near the end to categorize it as magical realism, but not enough to make it fantasy. However, the writing style is so haunting and compelling that it feels like a ghost story from the start. With its use of symbolism and motifs, this book is, in my opinion, a classic in the making. It’s a disappointment that it didn’t get even more attention than it did. Ballet is less important to the plot than the depiction of prison life or the themes of innocence vs. guilt and justice, but the ballet world makes a nice backdrop to this dramatic story.