Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson. Harper| January 2016| 304 pages | $25.99| ISBN: 9780062326270
Utilizing the ballet world in 1970s and 1980s New York, author Sari Wilson provides a fascinating and dark character study in her debut novel Girl Through Glass. Readers are introduced to 11-year-old Mira, a talented ballerina with immense potential. She’s forced to become savvy and self-sufficient after her mother and father divorce. Perhaps Mira develops an unusual [and rather disturbing] relationship with 47-year-old Maurice because she’s essentially without parental guidance and attention most of the time. Mira’s mom isn’t like other ballet moms – perhaps the equivalent of today’s helicopter parents—but she’s rather a free spirit occupied by her own interests rather than those of her daughter. Wilson writes: “Ballet mothers pack tiny, neatly wrapped sandwiches of sardines (good for the bones), little plastic bags of celery and carrot sticks, and yogurt with prunes.”
“But Mira’s mother makes Mira chickpea sandwiches on bread that crumbles when she touches it. Mira’s mother wears orange jumpsuits and culottes, and drops her off and leaves her to do errands, floating in at the end of class, smelling fresh and sour, lie the ocean and a cloudy day.”
Dance becomes Mira’s escape and addiction. This warps her self-esteem and sense of self. She begins investing as much time as she can to ballet and her body, even counting calories with anorexic obsession as she earns a spot at the prestigious School of American Ballet under the direction of legendary George Balanchine. At this point she’s living with her father and his new wife while her mother searches for self-fulfillment in California. While Mira might be a street-smart New Yorker she’s also still a teenager when something unimaginable shatters her idyllic cocoon.
In present day, Kate, a professor of dance and dance historian at a midwestern college. concentrates on illuminating the cutthroat world of ballet—that Black Swan-type competitive focus on perfection, being the best at all costs and winnowing out the wheat from the chaff. Kate re-invented herself after a tumultuous event and retreats into a new career although she remains involved with dance in another facet. She’s not abandoned her passion, she’s merely grown-up and into a fresher perspective on it. Kate’s liaison with a student shifts her trajectory. She also receives a mysterious letter from a man she knew in her childhood. She travels to New York to sleuth out what happened to this man who nearly destroyed her 30 years prior.
A former ballet dancer, Wilson provides intimate details about New York’s ballet scene. While this isn’t solely a novel about the ballet world, girls straddling the line between youth and adulthood provides fascinating reading. The novel flawlessly describes the razor sharp focus on becoming the best, earning a particular status and securing one’s place in this strange world overflowing with beauty and sacrifice. And what happens to all those girls who aren’t’ quite the best? Those girls who do not make the right school or earn a place in a prestigious ballet company? This absorbing, riveting novel does what a wonderful novel can do: it completely transports readers to a specific time and place in such an effective and specific manner that one thinks about the subject and characters well past finishing the last page.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper.
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