In the tradition of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Mary Cecilia Jackson's devastating but hopeful YA debut is about a ballerina who finds the courage to confront the abuse that haunts her past and threatens her future.
There are two kinds of people on the planet. Hunters and prey
I thought I would be safe after my mother died. I thought I could stop searching for new places to hide. But you can’t escape what you are, what you’ve always been.
My name is Savannah Darcy Rose.
And I am still prey.
Though Savannah Rose—“Sparrow” to her friends and family—is a gifted ballerina, her real talent is keeping secrets. Schooled in silence by her long-dead mother, Sparrow has always believed that her lifelong creed—“I’m not the kind of girl who tells”—will make her just like everyone else: Normal. Happy. Safe.
But in the aftermath of a brutal assault by her seemingly perfect boyfriend Tristan, Sparrow must finally find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past, or lose herself forever….
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If not for its foreboding opening a Shakespearean quotation, "What's past is prologue," followed by the narrator's declaration that "I am still prey" Jackson's debut would initially seem to be the simple story of 17-year-old ballerina Sparrow. She's passionate about dance and her new handsome, if possessive, boyfriend, and devoted to her coterie of artsy friends, especially longtime dance partner Lucas. The novel soon escalates, however, into a threatening tale of abuse. Since the death of her mentally ill mother when Sparrow was five, she has buried the psychological damage caused by her mother's physical cruelty; her relationship with Tristan awakens the familiar wounds. Jackson gives Lucas a voice in shorter sections that first add perspective to Sparrow's experience but eventually trace his descent into and return from destructive behavior following his father's unexpected illness and death, and his guilt at failing to protect Sparrow from the brutal assault by Tristan that the narrative steadily builds toward. Sparrow's slow and stumbling physical and psychological recovery following her hospitalization and coma is depicted credibly, though the explanation of the roots of her damage by a therapist feels facile. Jackson skillfully balances authentic teenage dialogue in the form of conversations and text messages with evocative lyrical descriptions en route to an uplifting conclusion. Ages 13 17.
I was excited when I saw this book come out, and being around the dance world for a large portion of my life I was looking forward to reading this. However I was extremely disappointed with Mary Jackson's first novel. The book tells the story of Sparrow, a talented and dedicated ballet student. After a chance encounter with Tristan, the story begins to develop between Sparrow, Tristan the abusive boyfriend, and Lucas her dance partner. As stated by another reviewer the background stories seem more developed than the present relationships. The relationship she has with her deceased mother is a case in point, and although it is used in part to explain Sparrow's behavior it still it could have been used to better develop the present situation.
I found the writing non-inspiring and at times pedestrian. Though I am sure the writer has good intentions it seems like much of her expertise in these areas (abusive relationships, ballet) was obtained by reading magazine articles. The ballet experience was really only a minor part of the story and at times seems contrived. I am glad she had a classically trained dancer to help her review the ballet terms as per the author's acknowledgments, but it lacked the passion of someone who has experienced ballet. In addition it appears that her biological mother was not part of her life as she acknowledges only her stepmother. If this is the case it may explain how some of Sparrow's experiences are portrayed but it could have been stronger.
All in all I was disappointed in this book. As it is a debut novel I am hoping the author takes these reviews to heart as she works to greatly improve on additional books.