Thursday, February 23, 2012

Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Trapped between the hormone-driven world of her friends and the discontent of her dysfunctional family, fourteen-year-old Georgia is only completely at ease when she's dancing. When she is accepted into Canada's preeminent ballet school, Georgia thinks it is the perfect escape. Artistic Director Roderick Allen singles her out as a star, subjecting her to increasingly intensive training, and Georgia obsesses about becoming the perfect, disciplined student. But as she spends more and more time with Roderick, it's not so clear exactly what their relationship means. Is he her teacher and mentor, or is there something more? These blurred lines will threaten both Roderick's future at the academy and Georgia's ambitions as a ballerina.

This is an odd book, which makes it difficult to review.  I went into it thinking I would get real insight into the ballet world, all the hard work that goes into it, and how it feels to strive for something so incredibly difficult. But we didn't really get that. Well, we got some, and what was there was done really well. It's clear the author has studied ballet and knows the mechanics of it. I really liked that. I was just hoping for more.

I wanted to feel the aches and pain that comes out of hard, physical work, but there is only a brief mention of physiotherapy. I wanted to see the hours and hours of practice, but Georgia only practices on her own once, and that was a few extra minutes before class. To be good enough to get into the most prestigious ballet school, she would have to live and breathe ballet. But she lives and breathes something else: Sex.

This is where the book lost me. Entirely. Granted, at age fourteen many girls are discovering their bodies as well as sexuality. There were brilliant moments of this, but they were lost in the complete saturation of sex everywhere else. I'll come back to this...

The environment at the ballet school didn't seem very different from regular high school. Some of the girls are horrible, pushing other girls into doing terrible things 'for their own good.' Georgia goes with the flow, only standing up for another girl once, and never stands up for herself. She allows herself to be led into bad situations (like the party at the end), *not once* thinking ‘perhaps this is a bad idea,’ even after so many other bad things have happened. Then, when everything inevitably goes wrong, she does nothing to get herself out.

This kind of translates into Georgia’s inability to see anything beyond herself. Some examples:
*When Pilar comes to her school, she thinks it's because of her—even though the incident with Chantal has just happened and some really big clues are dropped beforehand.
*She doesn't even try to do the math regarding her parents' marriage and her birth, even though the margin is huge.
*She refuses to see the correlation between her parents and Roderick.

I realize that teens are self-centered, but Georgia takes this to the extreme. Some of this is explained by her extreme insecurity, which is fine because many teens are insecure, but she shows no growth or change by the end. In fact, she kind of gets worse. There is a scene where Georgia gets turned on at the prospect of being sexually assaulted. That's seriously disturbing. As is what she puts in her teacher's desk drawer. Only her father and principal seem to see this and want to get her counseling, but that doesn't happen. SPOILER WARNING: Instead she quits the school and auditions at another one (where there's another male ballet teacher—almost implying that history will repeat itself and she hasn’t learned a thing). That doesn't exactly send a great message to teen girls. END SPOILER

Overall, I found this book extremely uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to finish it. Just to be clear, I love books that don't sugar-coat the difficulties in life and make me see things in a different way. This book certainly doesn't sugar-coat, but not in a thought-provoking way. Georgia isn't likable enough for that.

Given the complete saturation of sex in this story, including exposure to pornography, this story is definitely not for younger teens. The fact that Georgia is 14 is a bit misleading. Actually, I wouldn’t recommend this story to any teen. It feels more like an adult book with a teen protagonist.


Kelly Hashway said...

Hmm, this doesn't sound like my kind of read, and I can see why it was difficult for you to review.

Christine said...

Wow. An interesting review; sounds like a difficult book. I'm not sure why the trend for YA books is to go so much into the sex/drugs angle...why no edgy/wholesome books for teens? Okay, I think I just answered my own question, lol...

Unknown said...

I wonder if there's a genre for TYA (Troubled Young Adults). :)

It was sounding a bit like Black Swan there for a bit.

Tabitha said...

Kelly - it was really difficult to review. I went into it thinking it was going to be one thing, and it ended up being something else entirely. Which is fine, as long as i can understand and follow along. For this story, i didn't understand why sex so permeated the story, or what that had to do with ballet.

Christine - if it feels natural to the story, I'm okay with sex/drugs/etc. It just needs to make sense with the characters and setting. For this story, i didn't get the connection. For either.

Dianne - yeah, it does feel like Black Swan at times. The biggest difference is that the focus of Black Swan is still the dancing. She's crazy, yes, but the driving force is to be a better dancer. In Various Positions, the dancing feels like an afterthought. I wish it had been more integrated with the rest of the story.