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This book offers a lovely portrait of a girl grieving a lost dream and finding a new way forward. Alina is messy and complex and funny, and it's a joy to move through the story with her. The supporting characters are well-realized, with perspectives and ideas of their own. The discussions of the flaws within ballet and the racism Alina and her friend Colleen faced as dancers are deeply nuanced, allowing space for Alina to criticize the broken parts while remembering the parts that matter. Alina's romance with Jude is delightful, too--I spent the whole book rooting for them! Beautiful dynamite indeed!
Beautifully written, funny and utterly absorbing story. Loved the book's deft and layered discussion of multiple themes, including systemic racism in traditional ballet, art vs. relationships, coping with loss and change, all wrapped up in a Japanese American girl's coming-of-age story. A must-read for fans of YA and children's lit.
I loved this book and felt like it nailed nuanced, introspective change like no other YA book I've read. It's perfect for fans of dance, ballet, musicals, and young love. I've already bought copies for friends!
4.0 out of 5 starsA beautiful tale of art, theater, and overcoming adversity
Reviewed in the United States on 4 April 2021
I am so fascinated by stories about dance and ballet because of the discipline it requires and the fascination I have with people who can turn their living, breathing bodies into art. So when I found out I could get a copy of THE OTHER SIDE OF PERFECT to read, I didn't think twice. This is an amazing book that's about a girl's second chance at finding her dreams, as well as confronting injustice and grief head-on, and it does it in such a clear-eyed, refreshing way that I was in love.
Alina is not the typical, gung-ho, eternal optimist heroine that many of us have come to expect in YA. She's bitter and she's angry, with good reason. After breaking her leg, she has found out that she will never be able to do ballet for a living and to make matters worse, it happens right as she is on the verge of making it. When she ends up in musical theater, it feels like a second place trophy and she isn't exactly thrilled with the cliquish, snarky theater kids, and their loud vaudeville banter.
That changes when she ends up becoming friends with Margot, Ethan, and Jude, and finds that their companionship can make some of her grief abate. But she still feels an intense jealousy that makes her unable to talk to her ballet friends, and her feelings put a wall between her and the rest of her family, especially her younger sister, Josie, who looks up to her but is also resentful of her in some ways, too.
THE OTHER SIDE OF PERFECT is a great book because it never does the expected. I love the way that Alina, who is half-Japanese, ends up being able to confront the people who discriminated against her or treated her unfairly at various points in the book. I like the discussions of art, and how harmful representations are often immortalized because people believe that art, being what it is, is infallible and pure, even if other people sometimes end up emulating in it because it is never really framed in historical contexts that could provide insights into some of the problematic elements of art. I liked how Alina talked about her heritage, and the open communications she had with her friends when they hurt her by acting like ambition was a negative trait in women. I liked the subversion of the mean girl trope.
The only thing I didn't love about TOSOP was that it could be a little slow-paced and some of the conversations Alina had with her friends felt more like an adult talking to prove a point than it did like teenagers. You definitely got the impression at the end especially that the author was using her platform to tell a message and even though I liked the message, I'm not necessarily sure it always felt like it was occurring on a level of self-reflection that most teens are capable of, or that it fit in with the characters.
But if you love dance, cozy stories that aren't too fluffy, and unlikable heroines who have a rich character development arc, this is a great book for you. Definitely a fascinating book that manages to convey an intense passion for art and an awareness of what the human spirit is capable of.
Also, major kudos to the author for crediting her cover designer and artist by name in the afterword.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
4.0 out of 5 starsPsychologically sound and well-presented
Reviewed in the United States on 29 April 2021
“The Other Side of Perfect” by Mariko Turk is a well-crafted YA novel dealing with the protagonist Alina’s evolution from an obsessive determination to be a prima ballerina to becoming a “normal” teen with a reasonable amount of angst. Turk’s narrative includes a significant amount of “social awareness”. Before the fall which shattered her leg and made it impossible to continue her grueling pursuit of a career in classical ballet, Alina, as a Japanese American, like her African American best friend Colleen, thought the racial/ethnic bias of their teacher was “just the way things are”. However, slowly coming to grips with the loss of her “dream”, Alina becomes aware that ballet needs both cherishing and saving, and that although she may never achieve a career in it, she can still love it and support Colleen’s aspirations.
The book is also extremely progressive with respect to issues of sexuality. Two gay male characters are cast in romantic light rather than censure, but two heterosexual guys are called out for their chauvinism and harassment of girls in no uncertain terms. With respect to family dynamics, bi-racial families are depicted as being well-balanced, while the “absent father” syndrome is applied to an ethnic majority case.
The only thing I felt was a bit “unfinished” about this book is that the author seemed to somewhat “lose interest” in the story after the main resolution of Alina’s emotional trauma, and there are several aspects that I would have liked to have seen further developed, including the improvement in Alina’s relationship with her younger sister Josie and future aspects of Colleen’s story. As a whole, though, the narrative is psychologically sound and well-presented.
4.0 out of 5 starsBeautiful writing covering important issues
Reviewed in the United States on 6 April 2021
I was excited to get a copy of this book, as the storyline - what one does when your one-and-only dream is shattered after you've given everything to it - fascinates me. Alina Keeler has dedicated her life to ballet and is on her way to becoming a professional ballet dancer when an accident forces her to give up that dream and to enter high school as a full-time student for the first time. At the encouragement of one of her few friends that she had in the school, she auditions for and gets a part in the school musical, introducing her to a new range of people and talents - but her heart and her mind are still with ballet, her lost dream, and her best friend who is continuing on in the dance world. The story focuses on how she works through all of these issues while addressing persistent racism in the ballet world.
The writing in the story is beautiful without being flowery, opaque, or over the top in any way. Alina is a likeable, relatable character who is dealing with some very tough emotions and issues, like how to deal with losing a dream that one of the people closest to her in the world is still able to pursue. Her feelings and actions are completely understandable. The other characters are well-developed, interesting, and the reader is able to connect with them. The material regarding racism in the ballet industry is eye-opening.
The one flaw of the book is that it does move fairly slowly until you start closing in on the end. I can't say that I thought there were parts that were wholly unnecessary, and the slower pace is perhaps indicative of what working through these issues in real life would be like, but the pace was just a tad slow. That said, it's still definitely worth reading if the subject matter and story line interests you or an YA reader.
5.0 out of 5 starsCute book, this would make for an entertaining series :)
Reviewed in the United States on 26 April 2021
I am a 25 year old med student that happened to be a dancer for 17 years -- that's what drew me to this book. I haven't read a young adult novel in a long time, but I found this one to be quite entertaining. I appreciated that even though it's targeted toward younger readers, there were some heavy topics that were addressed in this book including racism and sexism, particularly in the context of the professional realm. I appreciated that this book explored cultural awareness, as well as the dichotomies of being of mixed descent (which I also am), or being first/second generation American, which can sometimes create a sensation of "un-belonging" to one, or both cultures. I felt like this book brought the characters to life as well; I have gone through a lot of the same internal "crises" and debates as Alina had, particularly given I have also felt the drive of perfectionism, and the willingness to sacrifice in the social area of my life in favor of my "craft." The book did also do justice to the dichotomy of feeling happy for someone, but struggling to fully celebrate their victories with them due to jealousy, or past bitterness. Overall, I felt like this book really was a celebration of the pursuit of satisfaction and the coming of age of a young Asian-American girl, in the setting of having to completely change directions from a future that she'd planned. I would recommend this book to readers looking for something fairly quick and easy to read, and would also say that this book could easily be turned into a series that follows the lives of the characters into their professional endeavors.
5.0 out of 5 starsKeeps You on Your Toes - a Masterpiece!
Reviewed in the United States on 30 April 2021
Books about the art medium of dance are of great interest to me. People using their bodies as the tools and instruments of art and transforming motion into something magnificent is what professional dance is all about.
Alina is not a stereotypical anorexic dancer and ruthless competitor as many dancers are portrayed in literature. Instead, she is coping with grief and loss and humbly grateful at having another chance to realize her dream which is to be a professional ballerina. Being half-Japanese and coping with bigotry is another hurdle she must jump.
A broken leg sidelines Alina's aspirations of a career in dance and instead she feels relegated to musical theater. The theater troupe consists of the ruthless and spiteful competitors engaged in off stage drama. To add insult to injury, Alina's accident takes place just when the golden apple of ballet success was within her reach.
Heartbroken and disillusioned, Alina makes the best with her options. Fortunately she falls in with a friendly trio, Ethan, Jude and Margot and see in them real friends. Their bond helps take the edge off her pain and trauma.
Her sorrow and resentment over not being able to pursue ballet impairs her relationships with her immediate family and she just cannot bring herself to have anything to do with the ballet crowd.
Alina is a very strong character and one to be admired as she takes on those who have wronged her with their bigotry and other unjust treatment. She is like David confronting Goliaths of discrimination and exclusion. What makes this book a masterpiece is that the author includes talk about art and how it can be interpreted or misinterpreted from the artists' original intentions.
4.0 out of 5 starsThe Other Side Of Perfect Review
Reviewed in the United States on 18 May 2021
Alina was an aspiring ballet dancer and after a devastating injury she can no longer compete. Due to these unfortunate events, Alina starts lashing out and pushing those who are close to her away. I felt like her sister, Josie got it the worst. I’m also curious as to why Alina’s parents didn’t put her in therapy or counseling. It was evident throughout the story she was suffering mentally and needed help besides going out and trying to make new friends and new activities.
I do appreciate the diversity and inclusion in this story. One of the secondary characters, Chloe is Black. Ethan is gay. I liked how they weren’t portrayed as the token diverse characters. This book touched on racism that Alina and Chloe faced in the ballet world as well. Given the stereotypical roles and being passed over for white ballet dancers because they have a certain look.
Alina’s growth in this story warmed my heart. When she realized the errors of her ways, she held herself accountable and made genuine steps to be a better person and I couldn’t help, but root for her through out story. This was a solid debut novel and I can’t wait to see what Turk writes next!
Alina Keeler was well on her way to a career as a ballet dancer before an injury made her dream impossible. This is the story of how she comes to terms with her loss and deals with the changes that come from leaving a pre-professional program and entering full-time high school. We see how her relationships with family and her best friend fare as she struggles to accept the loss of her long-held dream, and how she finds her place with a group of new friends when she gets a part in the school musical that allows her to dance, but in a different style. Along the way she recognizes how her time in ballet has been shaped by racism and confronts this, as well as harassment from students.
Although I am not a ballet fan, I do love musical theatre, especially Stephen Sondheim, so I found a lot to enjoy here. Alina’s friends were relatively realistic and likeable, and her romantic relationship with Jude was sweet and believable. Confronting racism is important, but I found sections of this part of the plot, especially the dialog, became a bit preachy and less realistic. Still, I enjoyed the vast majority of this well-written story.