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Pressure to Succeed
Today I’m combining two books about pursuing competitive, pressure-filled fields — dance and basketball. One is nonfiction, one fiction. Both are full of struggle, family difficulties, and the stress of expectations.
Misty Copeland is a phenomenon, and her book is a gift to the many young people obsessed with ballet (or dance of any kind). She has overcome several hurdles to find success as a rare African American soloist. She is honest about what it took for her to succeed. Teens should be encouraged to take a look at her website–gorgeous photographs, a full bio and plenty of reviews and interviews. Listen to her tell her own story on Youtube or on GMA. The GMA interview emphasizes ballerinas as hard-core athletes and mentions her collaboration with Prince.
In Timothy S. Lane’s debut, Jimmy is a half-Japanese high school basketball prodigy living in small-town Oregon. Everyone expects him to make it to the NBA. The novel revolves around learning why Jimmy self-destructs in a most disturbing scene at the beginning of the book. Friday Night Lights comes up a lot in descriptions of this novel. Like that book, great (in this case) basketball scenes will thrill the sports fans, while the family drama will draw those interested in relationships.
COPELAND, Misty. Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. 288p. Touchstone. Mar. 2014. Tr ISBN 9781476737980; ebk. ISBN 9781476738000.
Of all the little girls who dream of becoming ballerinas, only some will be fortunate enough to attend dance classes. Of those, some will develop a love for classical ballet and, of those, some will survive puberty with a slender, dancer’s physique. Very, very few of these girls will dance with a professional ballet company. And then there’s Misty Copeland. At 13, she was introduced to ballet through her local Boys & Girls Club. It seemed there was nothing the little black girl couldn’t do: her body molded into every pose; she could pick up steps simply by watching; and her concentration was fierce. In addition, Copeland had the ideal body for a “Ballanchine ballerina.” As her instructor described, “The perfect ballerina has a small head, sloping shoulders, long legs, big feet, and a narrow rib cage.” After two months of classes, she could dance en pointe. By the time she was 16, Copeland had won a scholarship to attend The American Ballet Company’s summer intensive program in New York City. Her story is much richer than her succession of dance triumphs, which continue to this day. While discovering her amazing talents in those early classes, she lived in a motel room with her mother and five siblings. She relates the highly publicized custody battle that followed with tempered emotions, speaking gratefully and compassionately about all involved. With the same introspective balance, Copeland writes on race, body type, and speaking her truth. It’s an incredibly inspiring story that has carries a bit of wisdom for any reader, but for Misty’s “little brown girls,” it’s a road map to success.—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN
LANE, Timothy S. Rules for Becoming a Legend. 240p. Viking. Mar. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780670 014880.
A tragedy-laden debut novel opens with a profoundly disturbing scene that becomes the reference point for the remainder of the book: Jimmy Kirkus, son of an almost-pro basketball player (Todd, aka Freight Train), and once considered a star himself, repeatedly runs into a brick wall as fast as he can until he has “gone down”. The narrative weaves between Todd’s high school basketball days and Jimmy’s recovery, with each chapter indicating how much time until or after “The Wall” incident. Todd is all set to be a Division 1 or NBA legend until he gets drunk, is caught, and ruins his knee. He settles into small-town life after marrying his high school girlfriend and they have three children. Jimmy, their middle child, shows great skill at basketball at a young age, but the pressure gets to him and he becomes known as “Jimmy Soft”. His sophomore year is miserable and the town wonders if this is a continuation of the “Kirkus Curse”. The author’s use of foreshadowing is relentless, making this is a sad yet compelling book filled with deeply flawed characters. One can only hope that Jimmy will continue forward after his rebound.—Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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