As the mother of a ballet obsessed 12 year old girl, I jump at any opportunity to read books about ballet. I’m calling it research since I know nothing about ballet. In fact, where ballet is concerned I’m the elephant in the corner of the room tripping over my own feet. That said, many of the books on this topic I’ve read, have tended towards being vomit worthy or saccharine at best. Up to this Pointe is neither. In fact, its brutal honesty, rent my aching heart in two. You see this is not a story about a young woman’s dizzy journey to success, rather, it is an account of failure, of life long dreams shattered irreparably.
Harper Scott is a dancer. She dreams of dancing for the San Francisco Ballet along with her bestie, and fellow dancer, Kate. In fact, the dream or “the plan” as they call it, is outlined neatly and to the minutest detail. When things don’t go to plan Harper decides to run. She runs to Antarctica, to experience the long winter in isolation following the tradition of her ancestor Robert Falcon Scott, the famous Antarctic explorer. Beautifully crafted in a narration which switches from telling the story leading up to the trip with a chapter situated in the American McMurdo Station in Antarctica, Longo reveals Harper’s heart breaking story of disappointment and enlightenment.
While Up to this Pointe will hold great appeal for YA readers from the upper end of the middle years with an interest in ballet, this is a story that will engage readers more broadly. Young people of course will easily relate to Harper. Absolutely, dedicated, beyond committed to her art, her failure is absolutely beyond her control. Of course Harper could be a footballer, a pianist, a basketballer or a hopeful in any one of numerous disciplines. Her experience of failure is a universal and unavoidable fact of life. What is interesting then, is Longo’s exploration of this experience and her evaluation of what must one do when confronted with this?
Up to this Pointe would make appropriate reading for independent close analysis by students from year 9 upwards. It would work well as a shared text, particularly in schools with elite specialist programs, giving a voice to discussions that are otherwise tricky to broach. What if you are not selected? What if, despite your best effort, you fall short?
Longo’s descriptions of ballet are vivid, thoroughly engrossing, particularly for readers with limited knowledge of the discipline. However this story reaches deeper, delving into a range of issues including those of body image, eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, love, friendship and depression.
Up To This Pointe is due for publication by Random House, January 19 2016