By Yelena Black
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books
Publication Date: February 14, 2013
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Dancing with someone is an act of trust. Elegant and intimate; you’re close enough to kiss, close enough to feel your partner’s heartbeat. But for Vanessa, dance is deadly – and she must be very careful who she trusts . . .
Vanessa Adler attends an elite ballet school – the same one her older sister, Margaret, attended before she disappeared. Vanessa feels she can never live up to her sister’s shining reputation. But Vanessa, with her glorious red hair and fair skin, has a kind of power when she dances – she loses herself in the music, breathes different air, and the world around her turns to flames . . .
Soon she attracts the attention of three men: gorgeous Zep, mysterious Justin, and the great, enigmatic choreographer Josef Zhalkovsky. When Josef asks Vanessa to dance the lead in the Firebird, she has little idea of the danger that lies ahead – and the burning forces about to be unleashed…
Vanessa had always wanted to dance, but it was really her sister’s dream to be a prima ballerina, not hers. She’s left to try to fill her sister’s shoes though, attending an elite New York ballet school that Margaret had attended just before her. Vanessa’s sister mysteriously disappeared from the school, right after she was cast as the lead in the production of Firebird. The explanation nearly everyone seems to be accepting is that she couldn’t take the pressure and ran away, which is a chilling pattern at the school.
This year, the school is staging a production of Firebird again, and despite her age and inexperience, Josef the choreographer casts Vanessa in the lead role. He pairs her with Zep, a handsome older boy that she falls under the spell of. He seems to encourage Vanessa into a relationship with him, but then he’s always unavailable to her with one excuse after another. Justin, his understudy, keeps warning her away from the school and Zep, but he’s hard to trust when he keeps showing up in suspicious places. The closer the school gets to the opening date of their Firebird production, the stranger things get for Vanessa when she dances. As she perfects her steps, the rest of the world seems a little less safe.
There’s a lot of ballet in this book – a lot of it. It’s both technical and then something Vanessa feels when she’s dancing, but there’s a whole lot of time spent on it. As a completely self-admitted klutz, even I can admire how lyrical the writing is and visualize the dance behind the words. Adding in bits about the dancers’ beat up feet was a nice touch of authenticity; it was offset though by showing them eating anything they wanted to. Even I’m pretty sure ballet dancers at that level don’t eat fatty desserts or croutons.
I think being reminded how old Vanessa was more often would have helped me with her character. She did a lot of foolish things and I didn’t have much context to judge it all with. She blindly trusted Zep but not Justin – it would have been nice to know if he was her first real boyfriend, if she was excessively sheltered, if he reminded her of someone. I wanted a reason for it and when I thought of her dancing lead in Firebird, I kept thinking she was older than she was and that she should know better. It took all of the girls a long time to accept that there was something unusual going on with the missing ballet students, but I gave them a small pass for this. At one point or another, all of them seemed to have doubts about being there and while for most of them it never rose to the level of wanting to run away, I could see that maybe briefly it could cause some suspicion.
I don’t know what to say about the guys beyond that I knew what was up with them from nearly the start. I didn’t like the way one of them treated Vanessa, like she was some sponge he was trying to squeeze something from. The other was far too cryptic when he didn’t have to be and the little twist in the situation at the end bothered me a lot. When did YA characters start taking huge, important roles in ancient secret societies?
I had a difficult time putting faces to names, let alone connecting with, most of the secondary characters. None of them had any more than a few lines of cursory backstory at the beginning and since they all hung out together, I couldn’t tell you anything about any of them beyond their names and that Blaine is a boy. There are twins who are always with Justin and I think they’re dancers too, but they’re never seen in classes that I know of and I believe at least one of them is overweight.
I loved the idea of this story. Dancers making deals with demons, mysterious disappearances and a sinister choreographer all sounded like the things that could make an exciting book. I liked the initial tension as Vanessa was starting school, feeling like she was making a mistake because this was her sister’s dream and then the first difficult dance classes. The story just seemed to lose direction until the very ending, which was a bit of a paranormal muddle of a demon, dancing and people poofing that left me vaguely unsatisfied. If you really love ballet and can’t think of anything better than to be buried in a story that puts you right at the barre, then this may be the right book for you though.
My Rating: C