My first review on the blog! Ahh! My first review of an ARC!! Ahhh!!
Now that’s out of my system…
Nova in New York follows a teenager from a small town as she enrolls on a prestigious summer course at a ballet school in New York. Nova leaves behind her family – an absentminded father obsessed with the stars and an aunt who dreamed of dancing but lives with cystic fibrosis – to take on three weeks of intensive training under strict tutors. Struggling without their support and feeling lost in the big city, Nova has to figure out her place in the world of dance and decide whether or not to fight for it.
I took a moment to tip my head back and squint against the sun. I stared at the pillars and brick and glass that made up this city.
Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for two subjects when it comes to books: 1) New York and 2) anything set in the world of performing. Therefore, this book was already ticking a couple of boxes for me.
Aimed at younger teenagers, this is a sweet novel about a young girl learning about herself through her passion for dance. Think Centre Stage, but for 13 year olds (is that a niche reference? If so, check out this 2000 classic).
“You don’t have to dance because she can’t, you know,” she said gently.
“I know.” I swallowed. “But I feel like I should.”
The relationship between Nova and her aunt is one of the driving forces of the novel, despite it feeling a little underdeveloped. We barely meet Nova’s family back home before she jets off in only the second chapter, and they crop up sporadically on the other ends of phonecalls throughout. A lot of our information about them comes from Nova herself, as they are both her inspiration and downfall in dance.
Aunt Ivy would have been a dancer if not for her illness, so Nova feels obliged to take up the baton; part of the novel’s theme is her realising she doesn’t have to dance for her aunt, but choosing to alongside dancing for herself. However, often her guilt over leaving them creeps in to cause doubt and at points seriously hinders her progress.
The idea of obligation and guilt are pretty mature themes for a book aimed at young teenagers, but they were nicely handled and didn’t feel spoonfed or like an obnoxious moral.
I wasn’t self-conscious. I was only the pull of muscles and the push of feet against the floor.
Although Richards’ characters beyond Nova lack depth – they’re paper thin stereotypes of the overbearing bratty meangirl, the wisecracking best friend and the dopey but loveable father – one area her writing soars is in her description of what it feels like to dance.
Her experience as a professional ballerina clearly comes through here; each ache is noted, the protests of muscles are given a voice and every painful aspect that is usually hidden by a dancer to give the impression of ease here take centre stage. Anyone with dance training can relate to it – I felt every wince alongside Nova!
I turned to the barre and stretched my calves. I focused on the pull of muscle rippling along my leg and the prickle of heat on my skin.
Overall, this is a lovely read for any young teenager – I’d happily give this book to my ten year old cousin. The ending is a little on the nose, but it’s bittersweet note helps counter the fairytale win that seems out of place amongst the tough lessons the rest of the plot offers. It’s simply written, but contains a lot of warmth and honesty about the realities of being a ballerina and a teenager who hasn’t quite got it figured out yet. Spoiler alert Nova: none of us do.
I received Nova in New York through NetGalley in exchange for a review. Thanks to Orca Book Publishing for allowing me a copy!