Erik Shaw is a 15-year-old footballer, ballet dancer and keen student. His ambition is to audition for the Royal Ballet School. When his regular teacher is taken ill, Erik discovers that the sister (Ruth Pacey) of his best friend (Richard Pacey), also learns ballet, and he joins her class at the same time deepening in his friendship with her as he finds himself distanced from his football-playing mates since he’s sacrificed his place on the team to prepare for the audition.
This book came out after Billy Elliott, and one is tempted to see it as a bandwagon-jumper. But while the basic idea is the same, the setting and characters are different and the story stands on its own feet quite well. The story is one of an ordinary young man trying to succeed in his unconventional ambition, and who has to make some hard choices along the way concerning his other activities and the girl to whom he finds himself attracted.
There are different points of view on the subject of boys in dance, and in ballet in particular. This book portrays seriously those boys who take ballet, and the principal character in particular, as normal and healthy without any especial hangups. While there’s obvious scope for sensuality in the descriptions, there’s very little of the sort, merely on one occation a realisation by Erik that he’s holding a girl’s waist for the first time.
Erik has several difficult decisions to make throughout the course of the story, not least that of foregoing his place on the football team to concentrate on ballet, knowing that this would alienate him from his teammates. While he wobbles at one or two points, usually where Ruth is involved, he is lucky to have support from several of the other characters, especially and surprisingly his dad.
Erik’s parents are an ordinary married couple. Ruth and Richard’s own mother ran off when they were younger, and their father now lives with a younger woman to whom he is civilly married. There are a couple of mildly violent scenes, one where Erik rescues Ruth from an older footballer who is trying to molest her, the other in the Pacey’s home where their dad loses his temper. We learn that Ruth and Richard’s own mother had run away some years before, presumably because of their father’s drink-induced violence, and he is taken away by the police when he assaults their step-mother towards the end of the book.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer. This review first appeared on his website, goodtoread.org.