________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 10 . . . . November 7, 2014


Off Pointe. (Orca Limelights).

Leanne Lieberman.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2014.
120 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $10.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0280-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0281-0 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0282-7 (epub).

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Mary Harelkin Bishop.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


"“Now you must dance as if you are the color purple. What does purple feel like to you?”

I stop. Purple? It’s a color, not a feeling. My mind goes totally blank. The other dancers start to move in contract-and-release movements across the floor. I back myself against a wall, watching them. This is too weird. I start edging toward the exit then flee, down the hallway and into the bathroom.

It’s cool and dark in the bathroom. I crouch on a covered toilet seat, my head resting on my knees, and imagine doing pas de valse – a waltz step – to normal ballet music. I’ll never be able to do contemporary. All that contract-and-release stuff was weird enough, but pretending to be purple? I close my eyes. Maybe I could bring a book to class and read at the back. Or slip out the door and find a room to practice some ballet exercises. That would be a good use of time.

Except that isn’t why I’m here. I’m supposed to be learning to be more flexible. Less rule-bound. Before I fled the room, I caught a glimpse of Logan’s purple dance. She was swinging her arms around her head as if she was a warrior. I stretch out my back and then wilt into a slump. What does purple feel like anyway? "



Meg, 15, is a ballet dancer. Her whole life revolves around rehearsals, dance classes and performances. She has been a dancer since she was four, and doing anything else in her life is not an option. Meg loves the rigid routines of ballet and thrives in this environment. Her plan is to attend a ballet summer program. When it is suddenly cancelled, Meg’s summer plans change and she is given a choice - stay with her grandmother or go to a contemporary dance camp. Introverted Meg reluctantly packs her bags and goes to camp where cell phones and other electronic devices are banned, and traditional classical ballet is looked down upon.

     With noisy, boisterous campers surrounding her, many who know one another from previous summer camps, Meg feels left out. It doesn’t help that the others are all contemporary dancers who seem at ease with improvising dance movements and incorporating feelings while Meg’s mind and body are completely at a loss as to what to do. Meg feels like she has stepped into a foreign world. Her main reason for staying is that her ballet teacher has told Meg that she needs to work on the emotional side of ballet – she needs to express her feelings more in order to be a better ballet dancer. Meg is not sure what her teacher means, but she knows that, in order to be a great ballerina, she needs to figure it out, and contemporary dance camp is one way to go about it.

     During her stay at camp, Meg meets many colourful and interesting teens who love to dance, including a 16-year old boy, Nio who seems to like her, and Logan, who is a nemesis and annoyance to Meg. Logan ridicules Meg’s stiff ballet moves and is sure Meg will ruin every contemporary dance routine she takes part in.

     Part of the “Orca Limelight” series, Off Pointe is a high interest, low vocabulary book, one which I really enjoyed. The writing is easy to understand and would be attainable for readers who are having difficulty. More challenging words are used in such a way that the reader can usually understand the author’s message through context. This in no way detracts from the story, but helps the story flow.

      The characters are real, with realistic feelings, and their actions are genuine. They do things one would expect of teens these days. The book is written in the first person, and Meg is thoughtful and reflective, explaining to readers what she is thinking and why she makes the decisions she does. Meg shows a lot of character, putting herself into a very uncomfortable situation, knowing it will be difficult, but doing it to improve her dancing. Readers will understand that sometimes one has to do something hard in order to grow.

     Meg is not above complaining about being separated from her cell phone and instant messaging, but this, too, is realistic and shows that one can survive without being ‘attached’ to a communication device. She also worries about her lack of friends at camp and her feeling like an outsider, but then she problem-solves by getting involved and trying to do things to fit in with the other campers. Meg’s actions keep the story moving, I always wondered what would happen next.

     The plot is interesting, starting off at the beginning with a detailed description of Meg’s ballet performance. The author describes the ballet moves in such a way that the reader can visualize and learn about ballet. Throughout the book, the dance moves and routines are described in this way which helps the reader. Readers who have no dance experience will be able to follow the dance routines and should be able to visualize the dancers in action, all of which helps make the story real.

     Lastly, I love the title, Off Pointe. Meg is off pointe in many ways throughout the book, from being away from her beloved ballet, to feeling awkward and inept at contemporary dance, to trying to fit in with a crowd who seem very different from herself, as well as being detached from her family and her ballet friends. The reader will feel for Meg in these situations and cheer for her as she finds ways to learn and grow.

Highly Recommended.

Mary Harelkin Bishop is the author of seven books and is most well-known for the “Tunnels of Moose Jaw” time travel adventures. She is currently working as an Instructional Consultant for Saskatoon Public Schools. ...

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