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Book Reviews

84 Ribbons

Reviewed by

In this riveting ballet story set in 1950s America, Paddy Eger reminds us that not every ballerina gets her fairy-tale ending.

Seventeen-year-old Marta Selbryth always dreamed of being a professional ballet dancer. When she secures a position in an esteemed dance company, she discovers that the world of professional dancing is no warm and fuzzy haven. A mean-spirited Madam, a skeptical choreographer, a nasty neighbor, and a series of injuries plunges her into anorexia, heartache, and self-doubt—moments that are gently written and always believable. Eger, a former dancer herself, brilliantly details the day-to-day life of this world.

“If she wasn’t dealing with her tiredness and almost losing her position, she’d be exhilarated by the fragile strength that blossomed inside her, allowing her to dance even though she should collapse from lack of sleep and food. Maybe this was how it felt to be an adult,” thinks Marta. In such moments of interiority, the author’s passion for the subject is restrained; she does not overstate the character’s sacrifices and successes.

One of the novel’s themes is an unusual one for YA: the recognition that one is not entirely in control of destiny. For example, Marta wonders, “What do you say to someone like Madam who dislikes you, someone who controls your future?” Indeed, it becomes unclear not only whether Marta will maintain her position in the company, but whether she will survive it. A pure coming-of-age tale with moments of quiet drama, 84 Ribbons is about thriving despite the imperfections of life.

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