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Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Pointe by Brandy Colbert is reviewed by Mary Malhotra

“Colbert builds characters whose flaws, struggles, and bad decisions make them real and indelibly memorable . . and it’s this complexity and empathy that set this gripping story apart.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Colbert has put out a stunningly poignant novel . . . Readers who discover this book will be unable to put it down.”—VOYA

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Pointe by Brandy Colbert, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

The narrator in Brandy Colbert’s debut YA novel Pointe (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014, $17.99, YA) could be a stereotypical prima-ballerina-in-training. Theo’s got the drive, the demanding instructor, the long, strong legs, the beat-up toe shoes. As you might expect, she commiserates with dancer frenemies, and escapes with school friends who have no idea what she goes through at the studio. She struggles with an eating disorder, too. But Theo is not a stereotype, and she has a lot more going on in her life than just dance.

The eating disorder, for example. It seems to be a response not to the demands of ballet but to two losses Theo suffered as a thirteen year old: her much-older first boyfriend unceremoniously dumped her, taking off without a trace; and her best friend Donovan was kidnapped. Pointe opens on the day four years later when Donovan is rescued from his kidnapper and returned home. Theo is upset that Donovan won’t see or talk to her. She’s also confused by news footage that appears to show he was happy living with his captor. She needs to understand why Donovan didn’t try to escape, especially once she realizes she knows the kidnapper — and will have to testify against him.

There is much to recommend in this book. Theo’s voice is real and raw, and she and her friends Phil and Sara-Kate make compelling, memorable characters. Their chemistry, like Theo’s warm relationship with her supportive parents, provides an island of hope in a choppy sea. The book’s natural presentation of diversity works well. Realistically, as the first-person narrator, Theo doesn’t announce that she’s African-American. Race doesn’t even come up until part way through the second chapter, when she recalls how she and Donovan bonded after a teacher mishandled a classroom discussion about slavery.

Parents sharing Pointe with teens may want to be ready to discuss some aspects of the book. Pot smoking is an accepted, routine activity for Theo and her friends. In fact, her love interest doesn’t just smoke; he also sells drugs to his classmates. He already has a girlfriend, too — but will that matter to Theo? There are sex scenes and references, and much of the sex is abusive, though Theo doesn’t realize it. Perhaps because of this, the scenes are not so explicit that the details got burned into my psyche. A last point to consider is best explained by including a spoiler, although you can skip the spoiler and walk away with this bottom line: if you start the book, be sure to finish it!

 

SPOILER: In case you want additional guidance before choosing this book, I’ll close out the review with the spoiler version of my “finish what you start” recommendation. Early on, Theo realizes that Donovan’s kidnapper and her first boyfriend are the same guy, Chris Fenner. This means he was actually twenty-six when she was thirteen, but Theo still thinks of him as her ex-boyfriend. She sees herself as an unlovable reject rather than seeing Chris as a pedophile. Eventually, she comes to the understanding that she and Donovan are both victims, that part of Chris’s crime was that he warped her view of sex and love. However, it takes her most of the book to get there; a reader without patience might give up while right and wrong are still upside down. Reading this book to the last page is not hard, but it is important.

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

Today Lindy Michaels shares her take on animal lover and Tony Award-winning actress Bernadette Peters’  STELLA IS A STAR ($17.99, www.blueapplebooks.com, ages 4 and up) with illustrations by Liz Murphy.

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I love actress, singer, children’s author, Bernadette Peters and her ‘dreams can come true’ books. “This is the story of Princess Pig… who really isn’t a princess… or a pig.” What a great start to grab a child’s attention, no?

Poor, poor Stella doesn’t think any of the other neighborhood doggies like her. That’s right, she’s a dog! Perhaps they just don’t understand her. Perhaps she tries too hard. Or, perhaps it’s because… “She masquerades as a pig princess of the highest order.” Hey! She never takes off her ballet tutu and her big red crown!

Oh, woe is Stella. But wanting to make friends so badly and already pretending to be a pig princess, she signs up for lessons at If Pigs Could Fly School Of Dance. Of course, the other piggies there just aren’t quite sure Stella is a real pig. Smart swines, they are. “You smell and sound just like a dog.” “If you’re a pig, where is your curly tail?” they ask.

Unfortunately for Stella, not only isn’t she really a little porker, she also can’t dance, has absolutely no rhythm, whatsoever. But Stella is one determined dog/pig, to make some piggy friends and to be a dancer. And so she practices and practices and practices. But does practice make perfect? “She pirouettes at breakfast. She jetes at lunch. She plies at dinner.”

And then it’s the night of the big show. Rose, the prima ballerina pig is spinning and spinning, warming up for her big solo debut, when yikes, she falls and yes, twists her ankle. Oh, snort, who will take her place? Okay, you guessed it. Stella!! (Wow! This sounds just like how Shirley Maclaine got discovered on Broadway!) Although very nervous, to say the least, once on center stage, she is perfect as she twirls and twirls. But then, panic! Her red crown, her security blanket if you will, falls off, but an amazing thing occurs. She suddenly feels free. Free at last. Free to be who she really is… a pit bull ballerina who loves to dance, and ain’t that bad at it, after all.

Of course, the moral of this delightful tale, children, is that you don’t have to pretend to be a princess pig to find friends, learn to dance or have all your dreams come true. You just have to believe in yourself and twirl your way through life!

lindymichaelspic1The very versatile Lindy Michaels aims to inspire young minds through children’s literature. Lindy owned L.A.’s first children’s bookshop, OF BOOKS AND SUCH (1972-1987) where she did storytelling, taught drama to children, had art and poetry contests and the like. According to Lindy, “It was truly a ‘land of enchantment.” She also spent years lecturing on realism in children’s literature at colleges in the state. For close to five years Lindy has worked for Studio City Barnes and Noble (BookStar) in the children’s section and does storytelling every Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

Point and Twirl

BRONTORINA, written by James Howe and illustrated by Rand Cecil is reviewed by Lindy Michaels, a woman with a dream.

0763644374medBrontorina had a dream. She wanted to dance! And so she enrolled in Madame Lucille’s Dance Academy For Girls and Boys. There was just one teeny, tiny problem. Brontorina was… wait for it… a huge dinosaur! When Madame Lucille pointed this fact out to her, she replied, dreamily, “True, but in my heart I am a ballerina.”

The children in the dance academy didn’t seem to care about Brontorina’s dream, at all, chiding her with taunts of, “She is too big!” And “She does not have the right shoes!” Although Madame Lucille had to agree with them, never one to crush another’s dreams, she accepted the dinosaur into her ballet class, but with the warning, “Please try not to squash the other dancers.”

Well! Amazingly, Brontorina proved to be quite the “little” twinkle toes, graceful and agile, although she did crash her head through the dance studio’s ceiling while doing relevés and jetés:  And no boy could possibly lift the humongous beast over his head, as is often the necessity in the craft of ballet dancing.

With a tear in her eye, just when Brontorina’s dream was about to fade away, a solution was found that not only allowed the dinosaur to continue her pliés and arabesques, but also encouraged others of largeness, like cows and hippos and other dinosaur friends to have the opportunity to ‘point’ and ‘twirl,’ also.

And just think, it all began with a dream. So children of all ages, listen closely and never, ever give up on your dreams, even if you bang your head on the ceiling trying to fulfill those dreams.

lindymichaelspicThe very versatile Lindy Michaels aims to inspire young minds through children’s literature. Lindy owned L.A.’s first children’s bookshop, OF BOOKS AND SUCH (1972-1987) where she did storytelling, taught drama to children, had art and poetry contests and the like. According to Lindy, “It was truly a ‘land of enchantment.” She also spent years lecturing on realism in children’s literature at colleges in the state. For close to five years Lindy has worked in  Studio City for Barnes and Noble (BookStar) in the children’s section and does storytelling every Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

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