• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: Harper (January 26, 2016)
An enthralling literary debut that tells the story of a young girl’s coming-of-age in the cutthroat world of New York City ballet—a story of obsession and perfection, trust and betrayal, beauty and lost innocence.
In the roiling summer of 1977, eleven-year-old Mira is an aspiring ballerina in the romantic, highly competitive world of New York City ballet. Enduring the mess of her parents’ divorce, she finds escape in dance—the rigorous hours of practice, the exquisite beauty, the precision of movement, the obsessive perfectionism. Ballet offers her control, power, and the promise of glory. It also introduces her to forty-seven-year-old Maurice DuPont, a reclusive, charismatic balletomane who becomes her friend and mentor.
Over the course of three years, Mira is accepted into the prestigious School of American Ballet, run by the legendary George Balanchine, and eventually becomes one of “Mr. B’s girls”—a dancer of rare talent chosen for greatness. As she ascends in the ballet world, her relationship with Maurice intensifies, touching dark places within herself and sparking unexpected desires that will upend both their lives.
In the present day, Kate, a professor of dance at a midwestern college, embarks on a risky affair with a student that threatens to obliterate her career and capsize the new life she has painstakingly created for her reinvented self. When she receives a letter from a man she’s long thought dead, Kate is hurled back into the dramas of a past she thought she had left behind.
Moving between the past and the present, Girl Through Glass illuminates the costs of ambition, perfection, secrets, and the desire for beauty, and reveals how the sacrifices we make for an ideal can destroy—or save—us.
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Sari Wilson trained as a dancer with the Harkness Ballet in New York and was on scholarship at Eliot Feld’s New Ballet School. She was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, a fellow of the Provincetown Fine Arts Center, and her fiction has appeared in Agni, the Oxford American, Slice, and Third Coast. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the cartoonist Josh Neufeld.
Connect with Sari:
When I was five or six, my Auntie Annette brought me a pre-release copy of the book A Very Young Dancer, which was the story of the young girl who was playing Marie in that year’s production of The Nutcracker. Like most little girls who grew up in the seventies, I took the requisite ballet classes when I was little. While I switched to tap and jazz before I was ever on pointe, my body still remembers a lot of those early ballet classes, and it’s no coincidence that the railing in the upper hallway of my house is barre height.
I don’t dance anymore. I haven’t in years. But I’m still a fanatic for ballet, so when I was offered the chance to review Girl Through Glass, I didn’t merely leap at the chance; I did a grand jeté.
First, I really loved the way this novel was structured. By alternating contemporary sections with visions of the past we got to see the world of ballet from two angles.
From Mira’s point of view, we saw the harsh reality of dance training, especially when one is good enough to be elite. We meet her apparent benefactor, the older man many girls fantasize about, though Maurice is no typical object of adolescent fantasy: limping and a little peculiar. Even so, he helps Mira glimpse a world beyond that of her mother, who is constantly searching for her true self, and her father, who is establishing a new relationship.
I really liked the details included in Mira’s young life – not just descriptions of classes, and the way different teachers interact, but the different sources of ballet slippers, the behind-the-scenes behavior of dancers, etc.
In the contemporary story, there were times when I wanted to shake Kate, former dancer-turned-professor, and demand to know what she was thinking. This is a woman who seems to shoot herself in the foot by making low-percentage choices, to the point where they affect her career. When she receives a letter from a childhood acquaintance, it’s enough to send her into an emotional tailspin, and motivate her to leave her teaching position in Ohio and return to New York to confront the secrets of her past.
It should be noted that one of the other structural elements that makes this novel particularly haunting, is the change in person. The Kate sections are written in first person, while the Mira sections are in third person. This serves to further distance the past from the present, and I found it to be an incredibly effective choice by he author.
While this novel is likely to be more enjoyable to those readers who know the smell of leather and rosin, who have, at times, owned more leotards than t-shirts, and who danced around their living rooms pretending they were on stage, I believe it’s an appealing read to anyone who is fascinated by the way we change as we move between different stages of our lives.
Goes well with smoky Russian blend tea, strong cheese, and crusty bread.
One person in the US/Canada can win a copy of Girl Through Glass.
How? You have two options:
1) Follow me on Twitter (@melysse) and retweet MY tweet with the link to this review.
2) Leave a comment (make sure there’s a valid email address – no one will see it but me) telling me about one of your childhood passions. Were you a dancer? Did you love horses? Were you on a softball team?
You have until 11:59 PM US Central time on Monday, February 1st.
Winner will be informed by email or direct message on Twitter (as applicable).
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Wednesday, February 24th: Dreams, Etc.