A year and a half ago, we collected a list of gritty teen dance narratives in “Read-alikes: First Position.” That trend is still going strong, as evidenced by two new reviews in the April 1 issue of Booklist (The Walls around Us, by Nova Ren Suma, and Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton). The following list collects those and other edgy YA novels published in the last year that, as before, fuse dance with the mysterious and the macabre, as well as a new crop of tales about dancers battling illness.
Hider, Seeker, Secret Keeper, by Elizabeth Kiem
This generation-later companion to Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy (2013) follows Lana, who, like her mother and grandmother before her, is a dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. When the injuries of several star ballerinas put Lana directly in the spotlight, those around her begin to grow suspicious of her involvement.
Maybe One Day, by Melissa Kantor
Best friends Zoe and Olivia can’t imagine anything worse than being cut from their ballet troupe, and are stunned when it happens. Livvie may be able to move on, but Zoe can’t. And when Livvie is diagnosed with leukemia, it’s just another tick on the list of things Zoe isn’t ready to lose.
Pointe, by Brandy Colbert
Seventeen-year-old Theo is single-minded when it comes to her desire for a career in ballet, and Summer Intensive auditions should help get her there faster. But all her plans go awry when her long-lost best friend suddenly reappears in her life, along with the man who abducted him: the same man with whom Theo had an intense relationship in a past that could destroy her future in ballet.
The Strength of Ballerinas by Nancy Lorenz
At 16, ballerina Kendra is at her peak, poised to join the Manhattan Dance Company. Her father’s layoff is a setback in more ways than one, forcing the family to move from New York to small-town California. Though she eventually finds another dance school and prepares to continue her training, fate has another twist of the knife for Kendra: bouts of dizziness and numbness send her to the doctor, who confirms that she has MS.
Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
Three students at a New York ballet academy alternate telling their stories of the very real and dangerous pressures of dancing at the elite level. Perfectionist June struggles with both her multiracial identity and an eating disorder as she tries to be the best; African-American Gigi just wants to dance, even though it could possibly kill her; and Bette, living in the shadow of a dancer sister, is isolated and maybe dangerous.
Unlovely, by Celeste Conway
Recently broken-hearted Harley, home from his freshman year of college, is, like his father before him, slowly seduced by a ballerina from the local dance school. The school has long been regarded with suspicion ever since the mysterious death of a local boy there. As Harley gets drawn into a relationship with star ballerina Cassandra, he slowly grows aware of the threats lurking inside the school in this blend of romance, mystery, and horror.
The Walls around Us, by Nova Ren Suma
This dual narrative splits focus between two girls, both hiding terrible secrets: Amber, locked for years in a juvenile detention center, and Violet, a Julliard dancer days away from achieving her dreams. The two are tied together by the memory of Orianna, the “Bloody Ballerina,” who was Violet’s best friend before she killed two girls and became Amber’s cellmate, only to then die mysteriously herself.