A Time to Dance

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

First and foremost, Veda is a likable teenager who deals with many types of normal teenage problems including conflicts with her parents and friends, crushes, insecurities, as well as the loss of her leg. Readers will connect with Veda because she is an imperfect teen who feels an array of emotions. Throughout her journey, Veda refuses to give up. Despite the loss of her leg, she is determined to continue Bharatanatyam dance. For Veda, dance is “a sacred art, an offering of devotion to God.” When Veda wrestles with the way her disability affects her dancing, her grandmother tells her, “There are as many perfect poses as there are people. . . Shiva sees perfection in every sincere effort. He loves us despite—or maybe because of—our differences.”

When Veda is learning how to use her prosthetic limb, the story skips past the difficulties of learning how to use the prosthetic as well the other physical ailments. Instead of explaining the difficulties, Veda’s time with the doctor is spent describing her infatuation with him. To learn more about how amputation can affect an athlete, The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen is an engaging story that can give you more insight.

A Time to Dance is written in beautiful verse that magnifies emotions and conflicts but is never confusing. The inspirational story shows Veda’s courage, perseverance, and the importance of personal growth. A Time to Dance is an entertaining story that contains positive life lessons and teaches readers about Veda’s traditions, culture, and religion.

Sexual Content

  • Veda’s grandmother tells her about the history of dancers. Brahmin dancers “weren’t allowed to marry. And somehow, somewhere along the way, / society retracted / its promise to respect these women. / They were treated as prostitutes / and their sacred art degraded / into entertainment to please vile men.”
  • Govinda helps Veda overcome her leg’s phantom pain. “His fingers feel good/stroking my invisible skin./So good I want him stroking my real skin. / Want to reach out and stroke his. / My desire scares me, and I reach for the safety of my teacup.”

Violence

  • Veda is on a bus when it crashes. “Pain / sears through me / as though elephants are spearing my skin with sharp tusks and trampling over my right leg. . .” Her dance teacher covers her eyes, but “through his fingers I see / shredded skin, misshapen muscles. / Mine. Feel sticky blood pooling / below my right knee.” Veda’s leg is amputated below the knee. The bus driver “hit a tree. He died.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Veda’s Hindu religious belief is an integral part of every aspect of her life. Below are some specific examples; however, it is not a complete list of everything in the book.
  • When Veda was a child, she climbed up a ladder to touch Shiva’s feet. The priest tells her, “You don’t have to climb ladders to reach God. He dances within all He creates. . . God is everywhere. In everybody. In everything. He is born at different times, in different places, with different names.”
  • Veda believes in reincarnation, which is mentioned often. For example, Veda’s grandmother says Veda was always able to “shape thoughts” with her fingers. “It was as if you remembered the sign language of Bharatanatyam from a previous life you’d lived as a dancer before being reincarnated as my granddaughter.”
  • When Veda dances, she loves “portraying Shiva, who, through the steps of His eternal dance, creates and destroys universes.”
  • After Veda’s accident, her grandmother says, “God’s grace moves the mute to eloquence and inspires the lame to climb mountains.”
  • After the accident Veda doesn’t “feel God is anywhere nearby let alone inside of me.”
  • Veda wonders if losing her leg is a punishment from God or for “bad Karma we built up in a past life.” Her grandmother says, “I don’t believe in a punishing God. I believe in a compassionate God. To me, Karma isn’t about divine reward or retribution. Karma is about making wise choices to create a better future.”
  • Veda’s grandmother tells her a story about God. “The sight of you—poverty-stricken, overcome by age and illness—turned Buddha from a mere man into a reincarnation of God.”
  • When Veda’s grandmother is dying, Veda gives her “a drink of this water from the holiest of rivers. She believes it will help wash away her sins.” After she dies someone says, “I’m sure her soul doesn’t need to be reborn in the world. She’ll now be reunited with God.”

Parker Shines On: Another Extraordinary Moment

As she grows older, Parker Curry puts her whole heart into the art of ballet. At home, this passion manifests through silly dance moves Parker performs with her younger sister Ava and her younger brother Cash. These “dance parties” bring the whole family together.

In ballet class, Parker focuses more seriously on the movements of her teacher and vows to practice her skills more adamantly in the hopes of becoming a soloist like her friend Mira, or a professional dancer like those she sees featured on posters in the dance studio. With newfound determination, Parker waves away her sibling’s silly dances, instead dedicating herself to long hours in front of her mirror alone, practicing ballet steps over and over. “Becoming a real dancer is a serious business,” Parker thinks to herself. It isn’t until the day of her recital that Parker notices their soloist, Mira, is nervous. In this moment, Parker realizes it isn’t always practice, but the joy in the practice, that makes a performance beautiful. This realization, along with Ava and Cash’s encouragements to form a “Dance party!” help Mira and Parker showcase their hearts onstage.

The sequel to Parker Looks Up, Parker Shines On, is a true story from Parker Curry’s life, and works again to display the way powerful role models and positive experiences can shape a child’s life. Parker Shines On has dynamic and eye-catching digital illustrations by artist Brittany Jackson. On each page, readers follow Parker as she gathers dancing guidance from the posters of famous ballet icons, the movements of her best friend Mira, and the silly shenanigans of her siblings Cash and Ava.

Each illustration contrasts Parker’s carefree adventures at home — reading books, playing piano, dressing up, eating the last slice of cake, holding dance parties on the bed — with the precise and structured dances of Parker’s ballet classroom. With this contrast, readers can quickly see the way these two environments impact Parker’s approach to dancing. This adds an interesting tension to the story by displaying the way in which influences can negatively impact a person if they cause that person to pull joy away from their passions. In resolving this conflict in the end, Parker Shines On exemplifies how one can balance the structure and fun of life to not just improve on a skill, but also enjoy the process of that improvement. Each page holds scattered sections of text ranging from two to five lines and a simplistic vocabulary perfect for emerging readers.

In addition, the end of Parker Shines On is followed by Jessica Parker’s story behind the story, a note from famous ballet dancer Misty Copeland, and a biography for each dancer illustrated on the posters Parker sees throughout her practicing. These additions add another interactive piece for the readers of Parker Shines On, as these sections grant parents an opportunity to discuss real-life role models with young readers.

Though Parker Shines On will mainly appeal to those with a passion for dancing, it aims to truly capture the attention of all young readers looking for inspiration while practicing a new hobby. In showing the way Parker celebrates her own unique way of dancing, all readers are encouraged to express creative endeavors on the outside in the exact way they feel on the inside.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

Professional ballerina Michaela DePrince hasn’t always lived in the world of ballet. Adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone when she was young, her life was forever changed by her adopted family and a picture of a ballerina, ripped from a magazine, floating in the wind. Upon seeing that ballerina, ballet became DePrince’s love. Taking Flight is DePrince’s memoir of her life as a war orphan who became a professional ballerina in the United States.

Taking Flight begins with many of DePrince’s memories of her native country of Sierra Leone, which was experiencing a destructive civil war. DePrince’s recollections of events are often harrowing. Her birth parents, who were clearly a shining light in her life, died in quick succession due to events surrounding the civil war. She talks about the orphanage that her uncle dragged her to, and the terrible treatment of the children there. However, DePrince’s narration shows that despite the terrible situation, she was still bright and animated, making friends with the other children and making up games.

Much of the story describes DePrince’s experiences in ballet after the DePrince family adopted her with a couple of the other girls from the orphanage. Family is an important feature of her story and considering her earliest memories, it is a relief to watch her life improve thanks to her jovial spirit and the loving people in her life.

DePrince, being a professional ballerina, talks a lot about ballet. When she describes seeing the Nutcracker with her family and eventually performing in various productions of the show, the reader can feel the love she has for her chosen profession. Not all that glitters is gold, however. DePrince also addresses the extreme lack of diversity in the ballet world, and her own struggles being a black ballerina. She sometimes describes comments from other parents, ballerinas, and instructors about her race and how it affects or will affect her dancing in the future.

Despite these obstacles, despite the odds, DePrince is a professional ballerina living well in the United States with her loving family. DePrince ends the book by discussing how she hopes she can be a role model for other aspiring ballerinas and how she wants to help other people affected by war in their home countries. Taking Flight oozes DePrince’s love for ballet and her family. It is a wonderful and wondrous thing that DePrince found a picture of a ballerina that day in Sierra Leone, jump-starting the rest of her life. This book will appeal to people who like dance as well as people looking for a book about overcoming adversity. DePrince had the odds stacked against her, and her story is inspiring for people from all walks of life.

Sexual Content

  • The critics discuss Michaela DePrince’s Odile in Swan Lake, “She was the sweetest seductress you ever saw . . . but she has yet to develop any ballerina mystique.” DePrince discusses how she needed to become mysterious and a “seductress” in the role.
  • Michaela says of her boyfriend Skyler, “I was lucky enough to fall in love with a young man who was capable of doing all the things my mother had described to me.”

Violence

  • DePrince’s Uncle Abdullah had three wives and fourteen children, and DePrince says at night they could hear Uncle Abdullah “beating his wives and daughters . . . He blamed any and all of his misfortunes on their existence.”
  • DePrince is originally from Sierra Leone, where a civil war has been brewing since 1991. “As the war progressed, the youth lost track of their goals and started killing innocent villagers.”
  • A man came to DePrince’s family “moaning and wailing. He told us that he was the only survivor of his village. The debils (rebel forces) had forced him to watch as they killed his friends and family. Then, laughing, they asked if he preferred short sleeves or long sleeves. He said that he usually wore long sleeves, so they cut off his hand and sent him on his way to spread fear and warnings throughout the countryside.”
  • The debils shot and killed DePrince’s father while he was working in the mines. DePrince describes, “I woke up to the sound of my cousin Usman’s voice. ‘Auntie Jemi,’ he hissed quietly. ‘Auntie Jemi, the rebels came to the mines today. They shot all of the workers.’”
  • DePrince’s mother refused to marry Uncle Abdullah, which angered Uncle Abdullah. He abused both DePrince and her mother, starving them. DePrince says, “We often went hungry, and for months Mama gave me most of her food.”
  • DePrince’s mother dies of Lassa fever. DePrince notes that “Most of the night I had heard Mama tossing and turning. Just before dawn I heard her sigh loudly three times and finally grow quiet.” DePrince did not realize that her mother had died, and instead thought that her mother had finally fallen asleep.
  • Within a couple of days of both of her parents dying, DePrince ends up at the orphanage, where “If [DePrince] awakened Auntie Fatmata (one of the workers) with [her] crying, she will beat [DePrince] with her willow switch.”
  • Another girl was going to be whipped in the orphanage for wetting her mat, but DePrince steps between the girl and the worker and tells the worker that the punishment is unfair. As a result, “Auntie Fatmata raised her switch and struck [DePrince] first and then Mabinty Suma. She struck us over and over again, raising welts all over our bodies.”
  • It is noted that in the orphanage, the “aunties loved to tug on our tightly braided cornrows, because it hurt so much but left no evidence of their abuse. This was important to them. Andrew Jaw needed to send our pictures to America, so he did not want to see bruises on us.”
  • In order to make DePrince cry, Auntie Fatmata “ground chili peppers into a fine powder” and “sprinkled it all over [DePrince’s] face until it filled my nostrils, eyes, and mouth.”
  • When most of the children in the orphanage contracted malaria, Auntie Fatmata made “one of the younger children go to the bathroom on [DePrince’s] hair and face while [she] was asleep.”
  • DePrince’s teacher, Sarah, is killed by the debils, and they cut her unborn baby out of her body. One of them, “slashed downward with his knife and cut into Teacher Sarah . . . The debil reached inside of Teacher Sarah and pulled out her unborn baby.” The nightwatchman, Uncle Sulaiman, saves DePrince. It is assumed that the baby died.
  • The director of the orphanage “beats [DePrince] with a switch for leaving the orphanage.”
  • When they are forced to walk into the jungle, DePrince and the other orphans, “saw hundreds of dead bodies on our way out of Sierra Leone. The debils had taken machetes to many of the people, but the majority of them, even small children, had been shot in the head. They lay sprawled on the ground with their eyes and mouths open in terror.”
  • DePrince vomits on herself and Uncle Ali out of nervousness on the plane ride to Ghana. Uncle Ali “dragged [her] into the toilets and spanked [her] soundly before bringing [her] back past everyone a second time.”
  • DePrince’s new mom (Mama) made a list of rules for DePrince and her sister. They were, “No hit, no bite, no pinch, no scratch, no say caca.” They soon stopped doing those things, except to their dolls because they were “mimicking the way Auntie Fatmata had treated the children in the orphanage.”
  • DePrince notes a statistic about Sierra Leone. She says, “More than 90 percent of girls in Sierra Leone endured genital mutilation.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • As a child in Sierra Leone, DePrince had contracted a form of mononucleosis and had not recovered from it, leading to an infection five years later in her left eye. The doctor “put [her] on an antiviral drug.”
  • While attending boarding school, some of the older high school students taught DePrince “that alcohol mixed with a power drink would relax [her] muscles, relieve the stress of Auntie Fatmata, and ease the pain of tendinitis. Someone suggested I try it once when I was off campus, and I did and never tried it again because it made me violently ill.” Some other students suggest fad diets, smoking cigarettes, and “taking laxatives and vomiting after meals.”

Language

  • Uncle Abdullah is extremely sexist and uses plenty of sexist language. For instance, he says of DePrince, “All she needs to learn is how to cook, clean, sew, and care for children.”
  • Uncle Abdullah tells DePrince’s father that DePrince, “needs a good beating.” He then says about DePrince’s mother, “And that wife of yours, she too needs an occasional beating. You are spoiling your women, Alhaji. No good will ever come of that.”
  • DePrince and her adopted sisters experience racism in the United States. Once when she and one of her sisters were having a tea party on the lawn, “a neighbor walked over and said, ‘You girls will need to take your things and move your tea party out of sight of my property. I’m trying to sell my house. Someone is coming to look at it, and I don’t want them to see the two of you.’” DePrince describes these experiences over the course of a chapter, and some more stories are littered throughout the novel as well.
  • DePrince notes that “unless I’m in physical danger or my civil rights are being violated, I ignore [bigotry aimed at DePrince]” except for the “racial bias in the world of ballet.” DePrince spends a chapter explaining some of the things parents, other dancers, and dance coaches said about black dancers. In one incident, “one of the mothers who was chaperoning us said, ‘Black girls just shouldn’t be dancing ballet. They’re too athletic. They should leave the classical ballet to white girls. They should stick to modern or jazz. That’s where they belong.’”

Supernatural

  • To get revenge on Auntie Fatmata, DePrince pretends to be a witch and have “voodoo powers.” She does this by rolling her eyes back into her head and turning her eyelids inside out, saying, “I am a witch. I will place a spell on you if you harm me.” She then says, “The aunties were superstitious, and we lived in a place where many people practiced voodoo, so I knew my trick would scare them.” They never again physically abused her.
  • While working as an apprentice on a touring company for The Nutcracker in New England, DePrince lived in a house with other ballet dancers. She and the other dancers thought that the “Victorian house looked and sounded haunted,” and DePrince confesses to being afraid of “getting up to go to the bathroom at night, fearful of running into a shadowy specter in the hallway.”

Spiritual Content

  • DePrince and her family are Muslim, and to learn to read and write, DePrince would be “outside, sitting cross-legged on a grass mat, studying and writing my letters, which I copied from the Qur’an.”
  • DePrince notes how loving her parents are and says that at night she would “thank Allah because I had been born into the house on the right, rather than the one on the left,” meaning the one where her uncle beat her cousins.
  • DePrince’s mother notes that the debils (rebels of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone) spared DePrince’s family’s home and their lives when they burned the crops. Her mother then says, “We should be grateful to Allah for that.”
  • When DePrince’s father died, she and her mom had to move into Uncle Abdullah’s house because “according to Sharia, Muslim law, Uncle Abdullah became our guardian.”
  • Uncle Abdullah often refers to DePrince as the “devil child” because she could read several languages and had vitiligo, the condition that causes patches of her skin to lose coloration.
  • DePrince was knitting a scarf for her brother, Teddy, when he passed away from complications with hemophilia. DePrince said, “What should I do with this? I was knitting it to go with Teddy’s favorite hoodie. I wanted to give it to him for Hanukkah.”
  • DePrince had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem where she “left a prayer for her [mother] in the chinks of the Wailing Wall, and [DePrince] wore [her] hamesh (or hamsa), a hand-shaped charm, for protection during our travels to the Dome of the Rock and the salty Dead Sea.” The reason why DePrince wears it is because “Muslims believe that it represents the hand of Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed, and Jews believe that it represents the hand of Miriam, the sister of Moses.”
  • DePrince’s mom explains to DePrince the story of Moses. She says that “thousands of years ago, when the pharaoh was killing Jewish baby boys, Miriam had watched over her baby brother, Moses, after their mother floated him down the Nile River to protect him from the pharaoh’s wrath. He was then found by the pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a son of Egypt.”

by Alli Kestler

Out of Step

Mercy loves to dance, but she has been having trouble lately. She just can’t seem to get the steps, let alone land her cartwheels, round offs, walkovers, or handsprings. After a particularly hard practice, Mercy’s mom provides some insight into her struggles: Mercy’s four-inch growth spurt has thrown off her center of gravity.

Mercy’s mom suggests asking the dance coach, Sara, for some extra lessons. Mercy is hesitant though because she doesn’t want Coach Sara to think she isn’t good enough for their upcoming competition. One of Mercy’s friends suggests booking a private lesson with another dance coach. Mercy, excited at the prospect of a private lesson but knowing her family doesn’t have a lot of spare money, decides to get a job walking her neighbor’s dog every morning before school in order to save up enough money for the lesson.

Mercy discovers having a job is tiring and now her dancing is worse than ever. When she messes up at a dance competition, she finally comes clean to Coach Sara. Graciously, Coach Sara offers to stay after dance practices to give Mercy extra help. These extra practices, along with Mercy’s determination, finally pay off at the quad city tournament, where her team wins first place.

Out of Step focuses mainly on Mercy’s inner conflict. She is admirable for her resolve, but she relies on herself too much instead of asking others for help. Mercy suffers from a lack of adult leadership; her parents see her struggling but do not intervene. Coach Sara only offers Mercy extra lessons when she messes up at a competition. In addition, Mercy’s feelings are hurt when one of her teammates, Jill, makes a snarky remark about how tall Mercy is. Eventually, the two girls make amends when Mercy finds out Jill takes extra lessons, too.

Mercy is an overall good example for readers, especially dancers. She never gives up and does everything she can to make herself a better dancer, thus making the team stronger. At a competition, she makes the difficult and selfless decision to sit out on their routine because she is too tired to perform. Mercy’s dance team also highlights how teammates should be steadfast in their support for one another.  After reading Out of Step, readers will learn it’s okay to ask for help and being a teammate means doing what is best for the whole team.

Out of Step is part of the Jake Maddox JV Girls series, a series of standalone sports books. It has a simple plot and is separated into short, easy-to-read chapters, making it good for reluctant readers.

Some readers will need to use the glossary to understand the scenes where the choreography is described in detail. However, readers do not need to have an understanding of dance to enjoy the book. The back of the book also has discussion questions and writing prompts. Out of Step is a feel-good book that will inspire readers to overcome their challenges.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jill Johnson

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Hermione Winters doesn’t want people’s prayers. She’s used to the labels: a Palermo Height’s cheerleader, captain of her team, one of the most popular girls at her school, and Leo’s girlfriend. When someone slips something into her drink one night, she also becomes Hermione Winters, “that raped girl.” With her support system, Hermione must wade through the aftermath of her trauma. Exit, Pursued by a Bear presents the aftermath of a rape through the eyes of a leader who learns more about her inner strength and the strength of her friendships in ways she never could have imagined.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear touches upon sensitive topics including rape and abortion. Johnston handles these topics with seriousness and dignity. Hermione’s experiences with these topics are not universal, but Johnston gives Hermione the tools necessary to come out of these situations in the best way possible. Some readers might be troubled by the fact that Hermione’s situation leaves out some of the nastier aspects. The story focuses more on the good people supporting Hermione and her recovery. The negative reactions from the community towards rape victims exist as barriers occasionally, but Hermione overcomes most of these experiences. Because the story focuses on Hermione reclaiming the good in her life after her trauma, some readers may feel this narrative is too light or too feel-good for the content.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is powerful because it diverges from the standard commentary about the failures of the justice system and the negative reaction of the community when someone is raped. Instead, the story focuses more on the victim’s reclamation of life. Hermione has a strong voice, is an intelligent leader on her cheer team, and her teammates respect her level head. Although she suffers after a terrible event, she runs on an inner monologue of refusal—she will not stop attending class, she will not quit cheerleading, and she will not be beaten down.

Without her incredible support system, Hermione would have encountered more difficulties. Her best friend Polly, her parents, her teammates, and her coach stand by her with unwavering support in all her decisions. When Hermione finds out that she is pregnant as a result of the rape, her parents and Polly help her proceed with an abortion. When Hermione’s triggers threaten to overtake her, Polly is there to give her the help that she needs. Despite the traumas that Hermione faces, her friends and family stand by her and aid Hermione’s slow return to normalcy.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear tells a different type of narrative about a rape victim, and Johnston succeeds in showing Hermione’s recovery process. Although this story may not be a universal experience, it presents a story where life continues, and the heroine isn’t stuck with being “that raped girl.” Hermione Winters, a future university student, will not have anyone’s judgment but her own. Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a must-read because its displays the strength of heart and mind, and the inspirational spirit that encourages Hermione to never give up the fight.

Sexual Content

  • At cheer camp, Leo, Hermione’s boyfriend, “in his esteemed wisdom, has given [her] a box of condoms.”
  • After she was raped, Hermione finds out that she is pregnant and decides to have an abortion. There are descriptions of her going to the clinic and describing the procedure, though it is somewhat vague. Hermione says, “The collection bag isn’t see-through, exactly, but I can tell there’s a mass inside it that wasn’t there before.” The scene is described over several pages.
  • Polly admits that she and Amy, a cheerleader at another school, have been dating. Polly tells Hermione, “We’ve been doing the long-distance thing since camp, mostly, though I went to see her over Thanksgiving.”
  • Of Hermione and Leo’s former relationship, Hermione says that they “hadn’t done much in the way of fooling around.”
  • In a conversation with Hermione, Polly says, “Um, I may have looked up some of [the ‘rules’] when I was wondering if having sex with another girl would mean I wasn’t a virgin anymore.”
  • Hermione starts to have lustful thoughts about Dion, one of her male teammates. After the Halloween dance, Dion helps her out of the gym. Hermione thinks that “awkward thoughts about Dion [are] floating around my head… If I can still feel, then maybe someday I’ll be able to have sex with someone I like and it won’t be a problem.”
  • Dion asks Hermione out, and he then kisses her. She describes the kiss. Dion “kisses me. Not like I’ll break, but not forcefully either… One hand is on my hip and the other is on my neck, tangling my ponytail.”
  • At nationals, Amy wanders into the cheer team’s cabin, and Polly “pulls Amy right down into her lap.”
  • Hermione gives a speech about the “curse” upon Palermo Heights Secondary School. She says, “Every year one of the girls at PHSS gets pregnant.”

Violence

  • At cheer camp, Hermione is drugged, raped, and left in the lake. Twelve hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed. Because the book is from Hermione’s perspective and she has no memory of that night, Polly gives the details to Hermione. While Hermione is in the hospital, Polly tells her, “They found you in the lake… You were still in your dress, but your underwear was gone, and you were up to your waist in water, lying on the rocks… Someone spiked your drink at the dance. And then he got you alone and took you down by the water. And you couldn’t stop him, because the bastard drugged you. And then he raped you.” Hermione mentions that she has bruises and is in pain for some time after. The scene is described over a couple of pages.
  • After she’s raped, Leo treats Hermione like a pariah, and she hears that he’s most likely spreading rumors about her. Weeks later during chemistry class, Hermione finally sees him in person. She walks up to him, “slap[s] him across the face as hard as [she] can, and stalk[s] out of the room.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a dance, someone slips a date-rape drug into Hermione’s drink. She narrates right before she loses consciousness, “There’s something wrong. I wasn’t this tired until right this second… There’s a moment when I know that I should scream. But screaming would be hard. And blackness would be easy. Black picks me.”
  • According to Hermione, the other part of the “curse” upon Palermo Heights is that “Every single class at Palermo Heights since 2006 has lost at least one student to a drunk driver.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes shit, damn, bitch, bastard, hell, and ass.
  • Throughout the book, Hermione’s best friend Polly verbally threatens people, sometimes playfully and sometimes with serious intent. However, she never makes good on her promises. For example, when Hermione and Polly are competing against each other, Polly says playfully, “Damn straight. I’m going to kick your ass all weekend.”
  • When Leo verbally accosts Hermione, Polly says to him, “Get your ass to your cabin before you get caught, and if I ever hear you talk like that about any girl, alive or dead, I will skin you.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Hermione runs into the church she and her dad used to attend and asks Pastor Rob for a favor, saying, “Please don’t ask people to pray for me.”
  • Pastor Robs tells Hermione, “I’ll leave the specifics to God, and pray for your peace of mind.”
  • Pastor Rob and Hermione talk about her abortion. He tells her, “If someone starts throwing around stupid words like ‘It’s a gift,’ or ‘It’s in God’s plan,’ you come right here, and I’ll find you ten ways in which it isn’t.”
  • Hermione says of the nurse in the abortion clinic, “I’m now convinced that God put her on this earth to do exactly this job, and I hope she gets one heck of a karmic payoff for it later.”
  • Several women sit in the recovery room of the abortion clinic. One woman says the fetus “didn’t look like a person. Not even a little bit. Not like those religious people say. I did the right thing.”

by Alli Kestler

Tumbling

Tumbling takes place over the course of a two-day gymnastics meet, but it’s not just any meet—this meet determines who will represent the United States at the Olympics. The story is told from the perspectives of five different girls, each of whom deals with her own struggles.

Leigh is a closeted lesbian and worries about the implications if her secret gets out. Grace has a distorted view of what a perfect gymnast is and ends up paying the price. Monica is a nobody and feels she isn’t good enough to be there. Wilhelmina’s shot at the Olympics was taken from her four years ago because of a rule change, and now she is determined to prove she deserves to go more than anyone else. Camille was injured four years ago in a car crash and is making a comeback to gymnastics, but she can’t decide if this is what she truly wants. Is the Olympics worth sacrificing her boyfriend and her happiness?

Although each girl’s problem is unique, they all struggle with the complexity of competing against friends. Everyone is paranoid; no one’s words can be trusted. Tumbling explores the enormous pressures that come with gymnastics—on bodies, mental states, friendships, and relationships.

Tumbling is an intense book with routines so detailed that readers will hold their breaths as they read them. Readers will cheer when the girls land their routines perfectly and ache when they make mistakes. Readers who know nothing about gymnastics will be able to understand Tumbling, but there is a glossary in the back of the book to help with the gymnastics terminology if needed. Rather than focusing on the intricacy of the sport, the story focuses more on the girls’ struggles. Readers will relate to the girls’ problems, which include sexuality, eating disorders, confidence, family relationships, and boyfriends.

The characters invoke sympathy, but none of them are truly likable. They are petty and constantly play mind games with each other. Because the story takes place over two days, there isn’t enough time for the girls to develop. The book ends abruptly and leaves the reader with many unanswered questions. Overall, Tumbling is best suited for those looking to read an entertaining book. Readers who want a mix of spots, teenage drama, and intense competition will enjoy Tumbling.

 Sexual Content

  • Leigh has a crush on Camille and fantasizes about her a couple of times. Leigh is distracted at the meet and thinks about “Camille’s cushy lips.” Camille comes to Leigh’s room with the other gymnasts to watch an interview. “It wasn’t going to be like it had been in Leigh’s fantasies last night. When Camille had sat down with Leigh on her bed and told her she was dumping her boyfriend because she’d realized she thought Leigh was so much hotter. And then had laid down next to her and. . . ”
  • After Leigh performs a perfect floor routine, she hugs teammate after teammate until eventually, Camille hugs her. “Camille was hugging her, actually pressed against her body, like Leigh had imagined so many times in the privacy of her own head.”
  • Dylan Patrick, a member of a famous boy band, messages Grace and says she’s “hot.” He, Grace, and Leigh send flirty messages throughout the book, such as, “It means a lot to know someone is watching me. Especially someone as cute as you.”
  • Monica flashes back to when she got waxed “down there.” She describes how “…the wax job from a few days ago had replaced her pubic hair with angry red welts.” She remembers she lay “half-naked” and “her crotch burned like any other fifteen-year-olds.”
  • During the meet, Monica is uncomfortable being “basically naked” and having “every line on her body on display.”
  • A doctor asks Camille, who is sixteen, if she menstruates.
  • Camille lists the things that were different about her before she met her boyfriend. “Different height. Different weight. Different voice. Virgin.”
  • Camille talks about how she has grown since she took a break from gymnastics by saying, “…a woman of five feet and one inch with breasts and hips.”
  • Wilhelmina almost wishes she could be a mean gymnast, someone who would “message Dylan Patrick something suggestive tonight to get under Grace’s skin.”
  • There are several instances of Wilhelmina fantasizing about kissing her boyfriend, such as, “She’d wrap her arms around his and press her lips to his.”
  • Wilhelmina and her boyfriend almost kiss. Wilhelmina’s “lips were just centimeters away from his. She could feel her breath on his mouth.” They don’t kiss because he says he can wait until Wilhelmina is done with the Olympics.
  • Leigh thinks Grace wraps herself in multiple towels because she didn’t want Leigh to see “a bit of skin besides her face and her feet.”

Violence

  • Grace has an eating disorder. She “pared herself down to three hundred or five hundred calories a day just to be a bee to keep up with the skinnies.” She worries Leigh will “see how far my collarbone is sticking out today, afraid you’d notice that my legs are like twigs growing out of the hotel carpet.” She eventually confesses she doesn’t eat to Leigh and Camille, with the intention of confessing to her dad, and promises she will get help.
  • Wilhelmina sees evidence of Grace’s eating disorder a few times throughout the book and is saddened by it, but chooses not to do anything about it. She sees Grace throw away an entire plate of food twice. She notices how skinny her body is a few times. “Wilhelmina swore she could see through Grace’s quadriceps to her femur. Even when Grace was bent over, her hip bones were visible.”
  • In a flashback that takes place four years ago, Camille is ecstatic after making it onto the Olympic team. She is having an out-of-body experience when she gets into a car crash. “…almost like she wasn’t in the car but was instead floating about it, watching and saving the joy for later. And it was good she wasn’t in her body at that moment. Because that’s probably why she didn’t feel her head go through the windshield.” Her doctor says gymnastics caused “‘…the stress fractures in your back that caused it to break in three places during the crash.’”
  • Gymnastics is discussed as being dangerous to your health. Camille’s doctor tells her, “‘It’s gymnastics that almost killed you.’” Camille thinks, “Everyone had some sort of scare when she fell head-first off the bars or whacked her back into the balance beam from three feet in the air.”
  • Grace suggests to the reporters Leigh is a lesbian, and Leigh gets angry. “Leigh was going to slap her. If it weren’t for the cameras still in the vicinity, her hand would be imprinted on Grace’s face.”
  • Grace almost falls off the bar due to her eating disorder. During her routine, “her body almost crumpled off the bar and whacked it before falling 8.2 feet to the floor.”
  • Leigh falls off the beam and gets injured. “A hammer bashed into her forehead just above her right eye. Her body stiffened and her blood was sharp and painful, like razors running through her veins, and her eye was going to fall out and roll on the floor, that floor, which was coming up beneath her limbs much too quickly, and then, thankfully, she blacked out.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Leigh and Grace watch as Monica picks her wedgie. They say she needs to “‘buy better butt glue’” and call her the “Wedgie Queen.” They continue to joke about this a few more times throughout the book.
  • God, Oh God, Oh my God, and For God’s sakes are used frequently as exclamations.
  • Christ is used once as an exclamation.
  • Leigh’s coach calls a reporter an asshole.
  • Leigh worries she is a bitch on the mat.
  • Profanity is used sparingly throughout the book. Profanity includes: shit, bullshit, damn it, damn, badass, freaking, and kick ass.
  • “For the hell of it” is used once.
  • A girl says, “That was some effed-up stuff.”
  • Wilhelmina tells Camille to “cut the crap.”
  • “Get her butt back on the beam” and “Kicking butt” are each used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Grace meditates before her beam routine. “It would look like she was praying, but Grace didn’t pray…It was her own body she counted on, not some Great Unknown Creature in the Sky.”
  • Camille made the Olympic team four years ago, but she had to withdraw due to a car accident. She describes her moment of happiness in the car as “this hoped for, prayed for moment was almost otherworldly, almost like she wasn’t in the car but was instead floating above it, watching and saving the joy for later.”
  • Leigh is tired of being mean during the gymnastics meet, so she promises to be nice and still win the meet. “So when Leigh had closed her eyes last night, she had made a promise to the Gods of Gymnastics or the Universe or whoever was in charge out there. Tomorrow, I will be me, and I will still win. I will win while being nice.
  • After Leigh falls, Grace says, “I think I accidentally prayed for it.”
  • After Leigh falls, Monica tells Grace and Ted, “You aren’t gods.”

by Jill Johnson

 

Roller Girl

Ever since second grade, twelve-year-old Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. When Astrid’s mother takes her and Nicole to a roller derby event, Astrid decides she wants to be just like roller derby girls and signs up for a roller derby summer camp. Astrid assumes Nicole will sign up with her, but Nicole signs up for ballet instead. This starts a conflict between the two friends and is the start of a difficult summer for Astrid.

At first, Astrid seems like an angry, bratty character who chases her best friend away. However, as the story progresses, the reader begins to see deeper into Astrid’s mixed emotions. Astrid struggles with the idea that Nicole wants to spend time with other people, including boys. When Astrid eavesdrops on one of Nicole’s conversations, she is upset that Nicole doesn’t stand up for her and reacts in anger. Like many preteens, Astrid must learn the difficult task of navigating friendships, but, in the end, she learns some valuable lessons including how to control her anger, how to forgive, and how to put other’s needs first. Another positive aspect of Roller Girl is that Astrid shows that through hard work and perseverance, a person can improve their skills and contribute to their team.

Readers will be drawn to Roller Girl because of the colorful cartooning that excels at showing the characters’ emotions. They will continue reading because of the fast-paced plot that covers many issues that preteens deal with: friendship, boys, parents, honesty, and feeling like a failure. The conclusion is heartwarming because Astrid changes from an angry girl into a supportive friend.

Sexual Content
• When Astrid sees her friend with a boy she thinks, “Was she on a DATE with Adam? I don’t know why this made me feel so weird . . . but it did.” As her friend walks away she wonders, “Was she going to hold hands with Adam? Was she going to KISS him?”

Violence
• In one of the pictures, siblings are shown hitting each other.
• When Astrid overhears her best friend talking to someone else about how to stop being friends with Astrid, she feels angry and throws soda at them. “I don’t know why I did it. I didn’t mean to hit them—I just meant to throw my soda at their feet.”
• Astrid is learning roller derby, which has pushing, shoving, and blocking. At practice, Astrid is thinking about hitting Nicole and hits someone else instead.

Drugs and Alcohol
• A girl tells Astrid’s friend that Astrid is “probably on drugs or something.” Astrid does not do drugs.
• When Astrid’s mother finds out Astrid has been lying to her, she says, “. . . and you’re going to be a teenager soon. How do I know you won’t lie to me about smoking, or skipping school, or doing drugs?” Astrid wonders, “Why does everyone think I’m doing drugs?”

Language
• Several characters call others names including “jerk”, “moron”, “rat-faced jerk”, “weirdo”, and “losers.”
• “OMG” and “OHMYGOD” are used as exclamations.
• “Crud” is used once.
• A character calls her siblings “turd buckets.”
• Astrid talks about how other kids call her “Ass-turd.”

Spiritual Content
• None

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