Set in 19th Century Paris we follow the story of Sylvia as she tries to grow those extra needed centimetres to graduate from student to dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet. But there is more to this story; the history of the time has been richly woven into the fictional world of Sylvia. War, bombardments, revolution, massacres, famine, and the closure of the Opera Ballet for only a handful of moments. This is the true stuff about the story. Sylvia and her family is the imagining of the author based on a painting by Degas.
The cover was what drew me in. I love Degas works and knew instantly what it was. Then I turned it over and read the blurb and that was that. Ballet and art and Paris. Too bad we hardly see anything of the artist. I honestly thought that he was going to play a bigger role, instead he’s in the corner with his sketch book and then only ever mentioned occasionally by Sylvia as a wish to be painted by the artist. That too me was a missed opportunity.
The story focusses mostly on Sylvia. She grows from a sheltered little girl, to a bold ballerina with a desire to expand her world. She’s caring and kind and a little insipid. Since this is aimed at kids, I’m a little annoyed that she isn’t more diverse in her emotions and personality, it feels like she’s just the good parts and isn’t allowed to have any “unattractive” qualities like a temper or being a flake. Yeah, I have a thing for well-rounded characters that everyone can at least find common ground with and see that being yourself isn’t a bad thing. Gender stereotypes piss me off.
I liked the ballet that was described. It was beautiful, full of magic and the different personalities of the dancers.
And the history was a nice touch. A great way for introducing people to Paris’s past. I never knew that the 19th Century was such a turmoil time. I always thought that it was a peaceful time and the arts dominated everything. In fact, I want to go forth and research more.
The writing style is very clear and simple. Great for young readers. It flows into each scene. Would’ve loved some more emotions described, but that’s it. The fact that it’s well written means that it can be read quickly, you’re not stumbling over yourself or getting bogged down in intricate details.
I have issues with this book, (obviously) but it is still a very good story and I will probably pass it along to my friend’s daughter for her to read in a couple of years time.