Told through free-verse poetry, Kehoe’s first novel about an aspiring ballerina pairs dancing with coming-of-age themes. When 16-year-old Sara receives a scholarship to study at the Jersey ballet, she moves from her rural childhood home in Vermont to dance with an intense choreographer. While she has natural talent, her technique pales next to the other girls, making her feel like a “backward ballerina.” Even so, she catches the attention of an older dancer/budding choreographer, Remington, and begins a relationship with him, though Rem seems to be in charge of directing their romance. Between Rem, private school demands, and the ballet’s “endless auditions, eternal scrutiny,” Sara feels overwhelmed: “I’ve half forgotten/ Who wants this life I lead/ Or who ever really chose it to begin with.” The author, who has a performing and choreography background, stages Sara’s dance world clearly through her spare verse, from ballet moves and body aches to studio drama. Most of Sara’s problems are predictable, but readers will empathize as she struggles with everything from sore shins to Rem’s fickleness and whether she wants to continue dancing at all. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
VOYA - Stacey Hayman
Coming from Darby Station, a small town in Vermont, sixteen-year-old Sara should be thrilled that she has won a year-long scholarship to study at the Jersey Ballet. She is not. She has been dancing for years now, but she is still not sure it is her dream. Boarding with dance instructor Senor Medrano and his family is just the first set of unfamiliar circumstances for Sara; she also has to adjust to the big-city buses and the fancy private school her mom chose for her. Discovering her talent for writing, Sara wonders if she should dance at all. Written in free verse poetry, this book looks deceptively simple, but the numerous plot lines and vaguely addressed issues make for more complicated reading. Older teens may want to delve into the oblique references to eating disorders, peer pressure, parent/teen relationships, using sex as a way to feel connected, and what it means to follow your own dreams; younger teens are unlikely to see beyond what is written. It is difficult to engage with any of the characters, and for a sparsely written book, it is hard to decipher which plot line and which details are meant to be important. There is potential for an interesting discussion, perhaps led by an adult so teens can be referred to outside resources if needed, or the book might appeal to a reader looking to explore beyond the pages. Reviewer: Stacey Hayman
Children's Literature - Sarah Maury Swan
Hard as it is to write a novel in regular prose without getting wordy, try writing in verse. That is a whole other level of succinctness. On top of that, to write so the emotions show through and the plot advances seamlessly is masterful. Ms. Kehoe wrote a winner of a book. Sara, who has lived her sixteen years in small town in Vermont, where her dad grows apples and her mother is a driven business executive, wins a year's scholarship to the prestigious Jersey Ballet. Now four states away from her home, Sara is lonely and overwhelmed and soon enamored of the handsome, compelling, twenty-two year old Remington. Her dancing grows stronger, but her body aches all the time and she is not quite good enough for the solo parts. Still, she does make tentative friends and, with the help of her English teacher at the private school she now attends, discovers a gift for writing. Is dancing really what she wants, she now wonders. Is it wrong for her to make love with Rem? Probably, but she likes being his dance-creating muse, until he begins to distance himself from her and selects someone else to perform the dance Sara helped Rem create. In the end, she realizes ballet will always be a part of her, but it is not the only thing she wants. She does not want ballet enough to put up with the pain and rigor and constant dieting, so she heads home to Vermont, wiser and stronger. A bit more description of what the many ballet terms mean would have been nice, but all-in-all an excellent read. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—A Boston audition opens doors for Sara-the chance to study with a professional ballet company, attend a private high school, and dance before ecstatic audiences—a dream world away from her rural Vermont home. Now a rising junior, Sara is both scared and excited about her opportunity, wondering if she'll ever measure up to her fellow dancers. However, tendus, relevés, and piqué turns are not the only thing she learns there; she also is smitten by the attention of Remington, the lead male dancer and burgeoning choreographer who delights in both her artistry and her innocence. When the two become lovers, a relationship destined for failure, Sara begins to doubt everything about herself. Told through short vignettes (poemlike in their spare yet precise language), Sara's coming-of-age tale is one of passion and romance, colliding with her vision of whom she ultimately hopes to be. Her confused feelings are believably expressed, and her attitudes toward her friends and the adults in her life will ring true, especially to those readers who are also involved in the performing arts. While Sara's exposure to smoking, drinking, and sex, as well as her attempts to balance her newfound freedoms with her one-time innocence, are fairly predictable, her self-questioning is well handled, and she grows, both as a dancer and as a person, throughout the book. Kehoe's tale will appeal to teens yearning for a life on the stage and give them food for thought via an easy read.—Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, The Naples Players, FL
This verse novel debut follows a reticent Vermont girl through a scholarship-funded year at the elite Jersey Ballet school.
Sara's always been the best dancer in the neighborhood teacher's basement classes. The summer before junior year, she leaves Darby Station's orchards and woodstoves behind. Adjusting to New Jersey is difficult; she's older than the other dancers at her level and feels "like a hick." She's terribly lonely and shy, her voice "[a]n unflexed muscle." Despite first-person narration, Sara's withdrawn personality keeps her at bay from readers as well as characters. There's little joy in her ballet-skill improvement or going to bed with her object of desire. Sara's 16, and Remington is "God, maybe twenty-two" (an unsettling double meaning). She stretches naked in his apartment and becomes his choreography muse, but he casts other ballerinas—not her—to dance those roles in public. Sara tires of "endless auditions, eternal scrutiny" and "giving pieces of my body away." As she finds agency, she offers conclusions that seem oversimplified given earlier ambivalence: that ballet was only ever "a dream others dreamed for her," that sex was solely "a price to be paid / For company," "in hopes / Of feeling my worth." Her attitude about food, moreover, is an inconsistent point in the writing.
No romance here, but copious ballet details and hard-won steps toward independence. (Fiction. 13 & up)