As stated in her website bio, Meg Howrey is a classically trained dancer who has performed with the Joffrey, Los Angeles Opera, and City Ballet of Los Angeles. She knows the competitive world of the ballerina and in The Cranes Dance, she shares it with her readers.
For me, the best things about this novel are its insider view of the competitive world of dance and the narrator’s sarcastic sense of humor. Kate is the older sister, carrying around a lot of guilt, questioning whether she should have taken better care of her younger sister, Gwen. She is hurting, both emotionally and physically. But her voice is quick, witty, and mocking. Even though she’s a little older, she sounds a bit like a teenager. Maybe because her whole life has been spent focused on one goal, she can be immature in her attitudes and reactions.
Her attitude is partially illuminated by the author in her post on Largehearted Boy’s Book Notes. As she states, “There may come a time when the thing that once inspired and fed you ceases to do so. At that point you might curse it, mock it, turn away and hide from it. But you’d also give anything to get it back again.” That is exactly the state of Kate’s relationship to dance in this novel. A big part of whether Kate will survive this time in her life is dependent on rediscovering joy in her talent.
There are dark moments in this book, and although its cover and subject matter will appeal to younger teens, girls especially, I would limit my recommendation to mature teens (perhaps 16 or 17 and older) unless you have read the book yourself and know the teen involved.
Adult/High School–Kate Crane moved to New York City as a teenager to join a prestigious ballet company. The following year, her even-more-talented younger sister, Gwen, followed, and they have both moved steadily up the ranks ever since. Kate begins her story on the night she throws out her neck during a performance of Swan Lake. In a tour-de-force introduction to her sense of humor, Kate breaks the fourth wall and addresses her reading audience, narrating the plot of the ballet in spectacular smartass fashion. Unfortunately, that night also begins her descent into Vicodin dependency. She starts using to control the pain, then to make it through performances, and eventually to avoid her feelings. Three weeks earlier, she had called her parents to take Gwen back to Michigan, fearing she would do herself harm. Only days later, Kate’s boyfriend asked her to move out. Now she’s living in Gwen’s apartment, living “with the knowledge of what she had done, what she allowed to happen. All alone.” And despite being cast in role after coveted role, Kate knows that her remaining seasons are numbered. Even her friends cannot convince her to look past her fear. What will she become when the strain on her body is finally too much? Days full of classes and rehearsals followed by evening performances, never eating enough, never getting enough sleep or enough emotional support–it all adds up until Kate seems to be following her sister’s self-destructive path. This novel will appeal particularly to readers interested in any type of high-performance art or athletics. Kate’s voice is one that teens will immediately identify with, as it wavers between hilarious and heart-breaking.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City