________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 10 . . . . November 4, 2011


Love You, Hate You. (Ballet School Confidential).

Charis Marsh.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2011.
231 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-1-554889-61-7.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Beth Maddigan.

*½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



"Yes, Sukuuuya," Mrs. Demidovski said firmly. "Sukuuuya is a very good teacher. She teaches all over the world. Everybody likes her very much. I want everyone to take the contemporary class and work hard. Maybe those who do not have good feet, too tall, too this, too that," she mimed huge boobs, "you can do contemporary. Many things not okay for ballet, okay in contemporary. You try. See?" she said gesturing at Sequoia. "She maybe not have so good body for ballet, no good feet, try contemporary. Possible okay." Sequoia looked at her, her vague expression focusing into an expression of sadness for the unenlightened.

At the fictional Vancouver International Ballet Academy, drama almost outpaces dance as two new students, Julian and Kaitlyn, try to adapt to the strenuous demands of professional ballet while also attempting to fit in with the wiser returning students. This book is the first in a promised series called "Ballet School Confidential" from Dundurn Press. Author Charis March, according to her publisher, "has been dancing for as long as she can remember."

      Love You, Hate You has strengths that include the accurate portrayal of the intricacies and eccentricities of the dance world. There are definite glimmers of insightful writing, such as the advice from Mrs. Castillo, one of the more sensible teachers at the Academy: "Class, you must take care of your feet, your body. The choreographer is the artist, you are the brush, and your body, it is your paper. The feeling, the artistry is the paint, but you need the paper for the paint to be beautiful." The issues are heartfelt and timely, and the series may become popular with die hard dance enthusiasts, especially if future volumes are more coherent.

      The world of ballet is mysterious, magical, and many a tiny dancer's dream. This plump reviewer learned a little from her very few years as a primary school dancer, but through the eyes of a gifted adult colleague, also learned the dark side of this discipline. The colleague, an intelligent young mother and librarian, is a truly gifted dancer. Having given up a promising career to raise a beautiful, talented son, this colleague never lost the love of dance, and her performances and movements are breathtaking. Now a dance teacher and librarian, my colleague has entertained me with stories from her ballet academy, including the awe inspiring, the tear inducing, and the stomach churning! Love You, Hate You touches on all the horrors my colleague has shared, plus much, much more. Unfortunately, in this reviewer's opinion, far too much more. The issues introduced in this book include health (bulimia, anorexia, attention deficient disorder), prejudice (sexism, racism, ageism), sexuality (heterosexuality, homosexuality, pornography, bisexuality, and transgender issues), plus drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and more! Presumably, the author and publisher are planning to explore these issues with the appropriate depth in future volumes of the series, but planting all the seeds in this initial book makes following the plot difficult and frustrating.

      Love You, Hate You also suffers from a lack of content editing, leading to this reader's impression that the editor has not read enough quality teen literature. There are many, many characters in this novel, and keeping them straight is virtually impossible. The author has a penchant for certain letters of the alphabet when naming characters. For example, a few of the female characters include Angela, Alexandra, Anna and April. Julian and Jonathon have male roles in the dances, but Julian is also called Jules and Julie (and Caspian if he is using his fake ID). An editor should have insisted on more varied and memorable names, especially for the female characters. More importantly, with such a large cast of complicated characters, it is impossible to get to know anyone to the point of genuine empathy. There is no one to champion, with the possible exception of Kaitlin and the minor character, Grace. Love You, Hate You's characters have depth and potential, but there are simply too many of them for the reader to keep straight.

      The last criticism for this novel is the most problematic. Unfortunately, in trying to write dialogue that sounds like a variety of ethnicities, the author and editor have managed to sound mildly offensive to many, including Asians, Russians, and First Nations peoples. The intention of the author is commendable; she shows that, no matter where you were born, all races and cultures have unique and admirable characteristics. However, the dialogue needs much, much more editing to flow properly and accurately portray all the cultures that speak with accents in this novel. As someone that hails from a dialect rich environment, this reviewer understands how difficult it is to write accented dialogue. This could likely be remedied in future offerings if the novels concentrate on a single character, rather than the entire cast. Here, again, much of the fault lies in the editing.

      While impossible to recommend this first novel, it is quite possible that the series, like many others, will gain momentum, clarity and believability if later releases have serious editing by a teen literature expert and a few more rewrites by the author.

Not Recommended.

Beth Maddigan is the Faculty of Education Librarian at Memorial University in St. John's, NL.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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