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Claire Handscombe

6 New Books about Ballet to Watch for in 2021

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Claire Handscombe
Claire Handscombe

Sometimes, a trend in publishing comes out of nowhere: yellow covers in 2020, split-colour covers this year. Other times, publishing jumps on a moneymaking bandwagon, hoping to replicate the moneymaking success of a bestseller -- hence all the books with "girl" in the title after Gone, Girl did so well. And sometimes, it's about the Zeitgeist: from around 2022, I'd put money on a glut of pandemic- and quarantine-themed novels.

But this year, seemingly out of nowhere, it's the turn of ballet to be in the spotlight. Megan Abbott, Queen of creepy literary thrillers, and Erin Kelly, a very succesful British thriller writer, have both taken dance as their backdrops for their latest page turners. But there's also a YA novel, a graphic memoir, and a non-fiction examination of the dance world among this year's choreography bibliography. (Descriptions are taken from the websites of online bookstores.)

And if you're wanting more, check out this previous post.

Kisses and Croissants, by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau (YA, April 6, 2021)
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Mia Jenrow has always known she's destined to be a professional ballerina. In fact, it’s in her blood—according to family legend, her too-many-greats-to-count-grandmother once danced for the Paris Opera and was painted by Degas himself! Her parents say it’s just a fantasy, but to Mia it’s so much more than that. It’s her fate.

Mia is planning to spend a magical summer in France pursuing her dream, but as she pirou-ettes into Paris, she soon realizes it may be a bit more complicated than she hoped. For starters, there’s her rival, Audrey, who will stop at nothing to show her up. There’s her ballet instructor, whose impossibly high standards push her to the breaking point. And then . . . there’s Louis. Devastatingly, distractingly charming Louis. He’s eager to show Mia his city—and Mia is more than happy to hop on his Vespa and wrap her arms around him as they pass the gleaming lights of the Eiffel Tower.

Mia’s summer was supposed to be about ballet—but there’s a reason Paris is called the City of Love. . . .

The Sea in Winter, by Christine Day (middle grade, January 5, 2021)
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It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions.

Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels. With everything she’s dealing with, Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up.

But soon, Maisie’s anxieties and dark moods start to hurt as much as the pain in her knee. How can she keep pretending to be strong when on the inside she feels as roiling and cold as the ocean? .

Tiny Dancer, by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel (YA, Graphic Memoir, October 5, 2021)
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All her life, Siena has dreamed of being a ballerina. Her love of movement and dedication to the craft earned her a spot at the School of American Ballet, with hopes of becoming a member of George Balanchine’s world-famous New York City Ballet company. Siena has worked hard for many years to be a professional ballet dancer, but injury and doubt are starting to take their toll.
Maybe it’s time to look beyond the world of dance—but Siena’s whole identity has been shaped by ballet. When you have spent your entire life working toward something, how do you figure out what comes next? And how do you figure out who you are without the thing that defined you? This is a moving and beautifully drawn memoir of a dancer struggling to find her next step—and a young woman finding her true footing in the world.

Turning Pointe, by Chloe Angyal (Non-fiction, adult, May 4, 2021)
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Every day, in dance studios all across America, legions of little children line up at the barre to take ballet class. This time in the studio shapes their lives, instilling lessons about gender, power, bodies, and their place in the world both in and outside of dance.

In Turning Pointe, journalist Chloe Angyal captures the intense love for ballet that so many dancers feel, while also grappling with its devastating shortcomings: the power imbalance of an art form performed mostly by women, but dominated by men; the impossible standards of beauty and thinness; and the racism that keeps so many people of color out of ballet. As the rigid traditions of ballet grow increasingly out of step with the modern world, a new generation of dancers is confronting these issues head on, in the studio and on stage. For ballet to survive the twenty-first century and forge a path into a more socially just future, this reckoning is essential.

The Turnout, by Megan Abott (literary fiction, August 3, 2021)
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Watch Her Fall, by Erin Kelly (thriller, ebook and audiobook only in the US, April 1, 2021)
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After years of blood, sweat and tears, Ava Kirilova finally has the ballet world at her feet. But away from the spotlight, whispers backstage make her lonely and paranoid.

Because someone is watching her from the wings. Someone who wants what she has. Wants it so badly two people will pay with their lives.