Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dance Divas: Showtime! by Sheryl Berk

I'm really torn about this new series. So, it's one of those dance/friendship plots. There's a group of girls, The Dance Divas, and they're going up against another team of dancers. Unfortunately they've got their own personal problems too. The main protagonist of this story is Scarlett. She's worried about the new girl, Liberty, who seems to be more popular with Miss Tony. Liberty has a pushy mom who's designed costumes and routines for famous Hollywood stars. Scarlett's also annoyed with her little sister Gracie, who isn't handling their parents' divorce well. Her friend Bria is worried about school, especially since her mom thinks good grades are more important than dancing. Rochelle is kind of left out of the dance troupe because she does hip-hop and jazz and not so much ballet or group dancing. They have a big competition coming up and Miss Tony is pushing them all to excel, bringing each girl's issues and arguments to the surface.

Of course, by the end of the story we learn that Miss Tony has her own friendship problems with the rival dance group leader, but she really just wants her girls to have strong friendships and focus on teamwork. Except...she never says or does anything about all the gossip and backbiting the girls partake in. She's very strict and makes it pretty clear all she cares about is winning, although she does say she doesn't want them to win unethically by spying on the other team. She doesn't explain why Scarlett is no longer dancing solos or offer her more help when Liberty starts taking her place as teacher's pet.

There's a real mean girl flavor to this story that no amount of happy, feel-good endings could diminish for me. While the girls do come to a kind of agreement, there's a lot of hurt feelings and general meanness distributed that's never addressed. Now, I'm not in favor of didactic stories, but when a book is so obviously trying to teach friendship with a fun coating of pink sparkly dance, it should do a better job. As far as the dance, I am not a "ballet mom" as the author is, but a lot of things struck me as unrealistic. The girls seemed very young to be going on pointe and I couldn't figure out exactly what kind of dance they were doing; it also seemed odd that they would just co-opt Gracie to do a lot of dangerous-sounding acrobatics without even really asking her parents. Then again, this is kind of a dance fantasy, so maybe those details don't matter. It's like those series where the girls all go to expensive private schools and have brand clothes and accessories, only for dance. The final thing that bothered me was the stereotypes. None of the girls seemed like individual characters. They were just the average girl (except for being a redhead) who tries to keep everything together, the mean girl, who's being pressured by a pushy mom to succeed. The Asian girl whose parents only care about grades and studying. None of the girls seemed unique or really stuck in my head.

Verdict: On the one hand, this would definitely fly off the shelves. Girls love these formulaic books no matter how old they are - look at Gossip Girl and Clique. It's pink and sparkly and the author knows what will sell a book; she's the author of the popular Cupcake Club and other celebrity projects. On the other hand, I'd rather hand the girls something like Whoopi Goldberg's Sugar Plum Ballerinas that's a little more realistic, not to mention diverse and closer to the middle/lower class income of my town. I'm going to think about it some more. Again, the cover is really attractive and girls do like reading these gossipy fantasies. I don't like being a gatekeeper and my objections are just the way I see the book. I don't know, I can't decide. The only professional review I've seen is Kirkus, and they pretty much agreed with me - stereotyped, but dance fans will love it. I think I will give the galley to some of my pink dance fans and see what they think.

ISBN: 9781619631823; Published September 2013 by Bloomsbury; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Annual 2013

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