This review is spoiler-free and can also be found on goodreads.
The Plan. It has been in place since sixth grade. Kate and I have followed it religiously — devoted to dance and to each other.
This book is an unexpected gem: fun, hopeful, a little bittersweet. Anyone who’s ever felt like their life has no direction, or who has been confused and anxious about their future, will respond to Harper’s story. Anyone who’s had to give up on a lifelong dream, or who’s felt drawn to nontraditional paths, will connect.
The plot: Harper has spent her entire life training to be a ballerina. She has no Plan B. When her dream is shattered, she flees to Antarctica to do some soul-searching. The story alternates between the present-day, following Harper’s six months in Antarctica, and the past, set in San Francisco and showing the events that led to Harper’s decision to leave.
If you dedicate your entire life to what you truly love and put all you have into it, then there is no way it will not happen. It is, in fact, impossible that it will not happen.
Where do I start?
1. Characters. Harper is a great protagonist, likable and believable. Her voice is distinct and fun to read. Better yet, she has a lot of strong female relationships. Despite the romance, the most important and complex relationships in the book are between Harper and various women in her life.
2. Race is touched on in a way that’s both lighthearted and smart. The fact that ballet is very white, limited to the wealthy, and only open to those with a specific body type is not ignored. And diversity is about more than just skin color. When characters of different backgrounds are included, the author takes the opportunity to show how their culture is significant to who they are as a person.
3. There is no insta-love. There is… kind of, but not really, a love triangle? (See goodreads review for mild spoilers on that). Anyway, the romance is a subplot, not the main story, and it’s approached in a way that’s healthy and authentic.
4. Seriously, some of the discussion on finding your path and figuring out your future is so very on point (ha). One of my favorite moments came from Owen, when he talked about how his Chinese family believes money and security are the key to happiness, but he grew up on idealistic American philosophies related to following your dreams and seeking a fulfilling job. How that created so much conflict within him. (That whole passage could’ve been pulled straight out of my head).
5. Tons of research went into this book, and it shows. The detail brings richness and substance to the story.
6. This author juggles both settings, San Francisco and Antarctica, equally well. They’re vivid, well-written, significant to the narrator in different ways, and they are three-dimensional – they’re not just a trendy city and an exotic cold place. As a reader, I felt transported to these places.
“Your love is evident,” she says. “But, darling, sometimes the ballet does not love us back.”
1. Certain subplots were resolved too quickly and easily. The ending felt a bit rushed. In particular, the resolution of the conflict between [redacted – spoilers!] happened off-screen, which is disappointing because that was easily the most important relationship of the book.
2. Harper hallucinates a historical figure who gives her advice. Their conversations are well-written and plot-relevant, and it makes sense that Harper’s subconscious mind would be trying to tell her certain things. Still, I’m not sure how I feel about hallucinations as a way of moving a character along their arc.
3. The resolution of the kind-of-but-not-really love triangle was the weakest part of the story. (See goodreads review for spoilery details.)
Overall, I adored this book. It’s an enjoyable story that had me totally absorbed. There’s a little bit of adventure, a little science, a little romance, a little introspection, and a lot of hope. It’s about losing everything that mattered to you, restructuring your ideas about who you are and what your future will be, and ultimately, finding ways to follow your dreams, even if they don’t turn out exactly how you expected them to. I would strongly recommend this book if you’re in the mood for realistic YA, or if you connect to the themes I mentioned. (Fellow millenials – I’m looking at you.)