Book Review: Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati

15862108Title: Dancing in the Dark

Author: Robyn Bavati

Genre: YA Contemporary

Age Group: Young Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

North American debut of the Australian award-winning dramaDitty Cohen is passionate about ballet–she loves how it feels to stand en pointe, to rise and spin across the room. But her Orthodox Jewish parents want Ditty to focus on the teachings of the Torah and to marry at a young age according to their religious tradition. Although her parents forbid her to take dance lessons, Ditty secretly signs up for ballet and becomes entangled in a web of deceit. As one lie leads to another and another, Ditty knows she must stop dancing, but she can’t abandon the one thing that gives her freedom. She begins to question her faith and everything her parents have taught her, realizing just how much is at stake as her two worlds collide.

When I first started reading this book, I thought it was a paranormal mystery for some reason. I had read the blurb, but because I’ve read several books concerning ballet that were paranormal as of late, and the cover looked suitable for a paranormal book, I was convinced there was going to be one or other paranormal element. I have no idea why though because when I reread the blurb, there’s nothing whatsoever to indicate anything out of the ordinary is going on. Anyway, paranormal or not, I enjoyed this book so much that after twenty pages I forgot I was in the mood to read paranormal at all, and instead focused on Ditty and her friends.

The book didn’t stay that good, unfortunately. It started off great, but then made some time jumps a few times through, leaving out entire years of the character’s life, which made me feel more detached from Ditty. I wanted to get inside her head, but that didn’t work because she changed too quickly, grew older before I very well realized it. I would’ve preferred if the book focused on one year or maybe two of Ditty’s life instead of her entire journey into adulthood, because I had the feeling I was losing my grasp on her as a character. Even though she stays remotely the same from start to halfway through, I needed more detail to picture her growing up.

Anyway, the story starts with Ditty Cohen, one of the several children in an orthodox Jewish family. They live by the old beliefs of the Torah, like resting on Sabbath, celebrating the Jewish holidays, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that as far as Ditty is concerned. But her cousin Linda is modern orthodox, and a stark contrast to Ditty and her family. Linda wears tight-fitting jeans and short skirts, pierces her nose and ears and all other things you shouldn’t do, whereas Ditty walks around wearing heavy, shapeless dresses. But Ditty doesn’t mind her cousin being different as Linda is her favorite cousin. Linda doesn’t mind her orthodox family either, although she refuses to be like them. But the moment Ditty and her best friend Sara find a TV in Sara’s mom’s bedroom, things begin to change. Sara and Ditty watch the TV in secret, and when one day they find a ballet show, Ditty is hooked. She loves ballet. She goes to the library to find books about it and practises ballet in the bathroom every night. When she finds information about ballet classes, she decides to try them out, for a week. It would be a secret of course, but if it’s only a week, that might work. Right?

Wrong. Because Ditty gets hooked on ballet. It becomes her life, her dream. She spends years and years practising ballet in secret, and then finally decides it’s time to come clean because she has no choice. But the quesiton remains if her orthodox parents will ever allow her to continue to dance…

I liked Ditty although she was a pretty passive character. She doesn’t take matters into her own hands often, but I liked that her passion for ballet drove her to do so. She’s a convincing main character, and her feelings reflect the conflict going on outside: the conflict of her upbringing and community vs. ballet and the new friends she’s made there. I wish I got to know those friends more. They remained empty, personality-less, sketches of characters as opposed to real characters. The only characters truly developed besides Ditty were her friend Sara and Linda.

I’m glad this book was set in a community I knew little to nothing about. I was confused about the time setting at first because everything seemed so old-fashioned I thought it was set in the 1970s or something, until I read about one character’s mobile phone. So the book is contemporary, but it doesn’t feel that way.

I enjoyed reading Ditty’s journey, her love for ballet and her courage to stand up for herself. I felt angry at her parents most of the time. They wanted the best thing for their child but were convinced they were the only ones capable of making good choices related to the child’s life. I see this all too often, and every time it angers me. It’s not their life, but the child’s life, so the child ought to make those choices.

The clash between orthodox and modern orthodox was apparent as well, and I liked this turmoil. The story is good, but it’s not magnificent either. It sketches a situation, a few years of Ditty’s life, but lacks detail to make the reader entirely involved. Nevertheless, I read it in one sitting and enjoyed it. If you’re a fan of YA contemporary stories, feel free to try this one out. It was an interesting read that taught me a thing or two.

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