tl;dr || ✭✭✭✭✩ || This is not an easy read. This book tackles some extremely heavy topics, and can be really quite difficult to read at times because of it. But its important. Its dirty and gritty and hard to swallow, but thats what makes it important. Trigger warning for anorexia, rape, child molestation and abduction. Also, this is kind of a long review. So, sorry if that bothers anyone.
Gosh. Its taken me a long time to write this review, and I think thats because of all the topics this book covers.
Description (from Goodreads) Theo is better now. She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor. Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.
Oh man. This book. It covers a LOT of ground. So lets just start at the beginning. The writing of this book was pretty well done. It did feel a little slow at first, especially when you're just starting to get to know Theo and her friends. And at times, this book felt longer than it was. But I think that really plays to its advantage in this book. Because Colbert goes into some really gritty and deep topics, had this book felt like it was flying by it would've been too much. The book had a slow but steady pace, and that suited the story very well. Because it starts out slow as you're learning about Theo and her past, and her friendship with Donovan. But as you learn more, as details emerge, the book picks up pace - right when it should.
One thing I loved is Theo. She's one of few black kids in this very white suburban area, and she talks about what thats like. Having to deal with teachers who think they're teaching history in a... relatable (i guess) way ("what does slavery mean to you, the only african american person in this class/city? how does it make you feel? what does your family think and feel?"), to being a ballerina which is another exceedingly white activity. There is such a small population of people of color that are ballet dancers (I think there is one black male dancer in the Pacific Northwest Ballet, a few asian male and female dancers, and the rest are white), that it is just one more thing bearing down on Theo's mind. It helps really set the tone for how easy it was for Theo to keep quiet about everything that happened, to feel so isolated and stay that way.
I also liked that her eating disorder was never just a ballet thing. Ballerinas get such a stereotype of having eating disorders and it being caused by the art they pursue and the difficult, competitive path they've chosen. But with Theo, it wasn't so much because of that. It was because of her inability to cope with losing Donovan, with the things that happened in the past, and the lack of control she felt she had in her life. And her slipping up, I kind of liked that too. Not for the character, of course. But for the realism. These triggers came at her, and they pushed her back into the bad habits she had when she was succumbing to her eating disorder. It definitely is a subtle look at triggers and how they can affect someone, but its not overbearing or glaringly obvious. I didn't quite realize thats what it was until I started writing this review. Well done Ms Colbert.
And Theo's relationship - pre Donovan kidnapping. That was hard to read. It really was. You knew right away that it was wrong, even though it was coming from her perspective and she was, of course, biased. She was still in love with the guy, even though he took away her innocence and broke her heart. It was really hard to read because you want Theo to snap out of it, to realize just how terrible he was to her, just how wrong it all was. But thats not so easy. She thought she loved him, and of course you never want to think ill of the ones you love. It was really interesting in the parallels drawn to her relationships post- Donovan kidnapping too. You could clearly see how it was shaping her, how she would both fight against being treated the same way and then accepting being treated similarly to how she was before. It was sad. You really felt for Theo, for how hard it was for her to figure out a real relationship and how it should work.
I do kind of wish there had been more of Theo dancing. I wish there had been more of her practicing, and getting lost in dance, and what she experienced and felt while she was dancing. It was really more of a set up for Theo's character, some of the struggles she faced, and just a part of who she was - not her complete identity. And thats ok, but I guess the part of me that is in love with ballet wished there had been a bit more to do with it. But its definitely not a detriment to the book at all, and I'm sure most people will think there's just enough in there.
But yes. This was a good read. Heavy, and a little dark (but not overwhelmingly so, despite the subject matter), but definitely a one I would suggest to people!