If not for its foreboding opening—a Shakespearean quotation, “What’s past is prologue,” followed by the narrator’s declaration that “I am still prey”—Jackson’s debut would initially seem to be the simple story of 17-year-old ballerina Sparrow. She’s passionate about dance and her new handsome, if possessive, boyfriend, and devoted to her coterie of artsy friends, especially longtime dance partner Lucas. The novel soon escalates, however, into a threatening tale of abuse. Since the death of her mentally ill mother when Sparrow was five, she has buried the psychological damage caused by her mother’s physical cruelty; her relationship with Tristan awakens the familiar wounds. Jackson gives Lucas a voice in shorter sections that first add perspective to Sparrow’s experience but eventually trace his descent into—and return from—destructive behavior following his father’s unexpected illness and death, and his guilt at failing to protect Sparrow from the brutal assault by Tristan that the narrative steadily builds toward. Sparrow’s slow and stumbling physical and psychological recovery following her hospitalization and coma is depicted credibly, though the explanation of the roots of her damage by a therapist feels facile. Jackson skillfully balances authentic teenage dialogue in the form of conversations and text messages with evocative lyrical descriptions en route to an uplifting conclusion. Ages 13–17. Agent: Lindsay Mealing and Mandy Hubbard, Emerald City Literary. (Mar.)
Mary Cecilia Jackson leaves no perspective unexplored in this beautifully woven story of love, loss, self-acceptance, and strength. Sparrow and Lucas are heroes in every sense of the word, as they navigate a new, unfamiliar dance—the pain of knowing when to stay grounded and when to fly.” —Jennifer Brown, bestselling author of Hate List
Gr 8 Up—Ballet is Sparrow's life and joy. Her goofy dad, Aunt Sophie, and closest friends Lucas and Delaney fill up the spaces in between until Tristan enters, almost instantly sucking up what's left of Sparrow and then some. Tristan loves Sparrow. She knows it. He might be scarily possessive and mean, but he's always ashamed when he behaves badly. Sparrow and Lucas (her friend and ballet partner), tell this story in alternating chapters, first from Sparrow's point of view and then, in retrospect, from Lucas's, propelling the narrative forward. Sparrow's story resonates strongest when she's dancing. Readers can feel her athleticism and passion, and the difference between a performance deemed flat by Madame Levovka and one wrought with emotion. Similarly, Sparrow's haunting dreams, often saturated with feather imagery, pull readers into the murky depths of her sorrow and hurt, effectively evoking devastating folkloric and personal histories while foreshadowing violence still to come. Other parts of the narrative feel less developed. Sparrow's relationship with Tristan, especially her near-immediate and blind commitment to him, feels told rather than shown; readers are asked to accept their intense relationship immediately with little build-up from their first meeting to her sudden unwillingness to extricate herself. Further, at times, the teens' dialogue lapses into phrases more often heard by older people, jarring readers and rendering conversations slightly less believable each time. VERDICT Despite some lapses, a solid debut with evocative imagery that will fit well into a collection in need of stories featuring teens grappling with unhealthy relationships or demons in their past.—Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ
A gifted young ballerina confronts her dark childhood after the violent culmination of an abusive relationship.
Preparing for the role of Odette in Swan Lake for Virginia's Appalachian Conservatory Ballet is a joy for 17-year-old Savannah "Sparrow" Rose, until she becomes consumed with her boyfriend, Tristan. Her closest friends, including her dance partner, Lucas, remember him as a schoolyard bully and are concerned. Perhaps inevitably, their volatile romance, defined by Tristan's jealousy, violent temper, and controlling ways, ends in tragedy: Tristan assaults Sparrow, putting her into a coma. Sparrow eventually awakens, and though her body is recovering, nightmares of her deceased mother still plague her, and she disengages from her family and friends. To truly heal, she must face both the dark legacy that her mentally ill and physically abusive mother left as well as how her well-meaning family's failure to confront it shaped her life. Meanwhile, Lucas feels like he failed Sparrow and spirals into destructive acts. A three-month time jump soon after Sparrow begins dating Tristan slightly shortchanges character development, but Jackson, through Sparrow's and Lucas' dual narratives, ably explores Sparrow's healing journey and its effects on those who love her without sugarcoating the path. All major characters are white, but Sparrow's therapist is cued as black.
A heartbreaking yet hopeful debut. (Fiction. 13-18)