Ballet books are like crack to me! As soon as I get a sniff of a ballet storyline, I’m one-clicking as fast as I can. But all too often the book doesn’t deliver. Often there isn’t enough actual ballet in the story or an insta-love ruins it or it’s clichéd. But 84 Ribbons delivered exactly the kind of ballet book I love.84 Ribbons by Paddy Eger
Published by Tendril Press, LLC on 2013-07-01
Genres: Dance, Friendship, Historical Fiction
A young dancer's realizes her life long dream, if only for a while.
Seventeen year old Marta Selbryth realizes her dream of becoming a professional dancer when the Intermountain Ballet Company in Billings, Montana invites her to join their 1957 season. As Marta's new life unfolds, she must learn to face not only the successes of dancing in the corps de ballet, but the challenges and setbacks that might crush the dream she's had for so long.
After a couple of mishaps, Marta settles into life in a boarding house located near the ballet company. Her landlady, Mrs. B., is friendly, reduces her rent when Marta's offers to bake for the boarder and later allows her to use the basement as a practice studio. The two male boarders are supportive; Carol, a fellow boarder, ignores her.
Marta spends her free time practicing when she's notspending time with her new friends Lynne and Bartley,her fellow corps dancers. Their time together becomesan important lifeline through their first year.
Madame Cosper, the artistic director, is a demandingwoman. Marta begins their association poorly when shemakes a disastrous choice. Expecting expulsion, Martareceives a second chance in the form of dancing the unpopularcharacter roles during the fall and winter performances.Marta determines to dance every role withconfidence in hopes of proving to Madame that she's upfor every challenge.
Steve, a young college man and a reporter, spots Martawhen he's assigned to write an article about ballet forthe local paper. He's attracted to her and begins his pursuit.Over the months ahead, he becomes her tour guideof the area and attempts to convince Marta to be his girl. But her steadfastfocus is ballet and some of her adventures with him lead to problems withMadame Cosper.
Shortly after Christmas, everything changes for Marta, Bartley andSteve. Significant events permanently influence their lives. Each mustdeal with exhilaration and heartbreak as well as frustration and changesthat test their ability to cope.
First Line of 84 Ribbons:
“Marta circled the narrow corridor outside the Olympic Hotel’s Grand Ballroom.”
My Thoughts on 84 Ribbons:
I read this on a sunny Saturday afternoon in my back garden, with Clair de Lune playing on my ipod and it was a perfect timeout after a hectic week. This book is set in 1957 which I hadn’t realised before I started but was something I really enjoyed. It added to the nostalgic, old fashioned charm that just jumped off the pages of this book.
This isn’t a fast paced book and it took a little while for me to really get a feel for the main character Marta. But when I did, I thought she was full of vitality and I admired her tenacity and dedication to her beloved dance world. She isn’t without her flaws though and this helps her feel really developed as a character.
The ballet setting is spot on. This isn’t just a book with token ballet shoes on the front, this is a realistic look at the ballet world and how it demands blood, sweat and tears if you are to ever succeed. It is also a coming of age book as Marta (age 17) has moved away from home and is learning to survive on her own in a new town where her ballet company is located.
It portrays all the fears and insecurities that dancers must feel. At times even when Marta is making short-sighted, dubious decisions, I could totally understand why she was choosing to make them. I didn’t agree but I did empathise with how she felt. The themes of fear of rejection, pushing your body to its limits, injury and the expectation for perfect bodies are all well explored and I felt I lived through the persistent pressure that Marta was under.
To balance that out, there is a lovely warm family feel to the book. Marta is close to her mother despite the physical distance between them and she also builds up sweet relationships with her soft-hearted landlady and the other borders in the house. She does feel isolated and alone at times but in reality she has a huge support cast.
One problem with ballet books is that they tend to focus on the competiveness and inevitably there is one spiteful ballet person out to get the main character. It was refreshing not to have that stale storyline delivered here. Instead we got to see a close bond between three of the new ballet members. And most of Marta’s competiveness was shown through her dedication to her work and her excessive high standards for herself.
There is also a romance in the book. It isn’t a huge part of the storyline but it is always present in the background waiting for its time to flourish. Like the book, the romance is old-fashioned and engaging and overtime I was a believer in it.
Overall, this book was a pleasant surprise. It is the best ballet book I have read in a long, long time and I’m excited to see that Paddy Eger has a follow up planned as I’m keen to see what happens next.
|Did I feel it?|
Who should read 84 Ribbons?
I’d highly recommend this to all who love books with a strong ballet setting and also to those who like an old-fashioned nostalgic feel from their reads. If you liked the Drina books by Jean Estoril or Girl in Motion by Miriam Wenger-Landis; then I’d also recommend this book to you.
Thanks to Netgalley and Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.