The Cranes Dance
This is a great book. Fantastic story, excellent character development, and vivid writing that didn’t feel forced. It’s what I want a book to be, frankly.
Kate Crane is a professional dancer with an NYC ballet company. Her younger sister has just had to leave the company temporarily, and Kate is dealing with her feelings about this. The book touches on some pretty universal themes, including mental illness, loneliness, and the desire for perfection. But it does it all set against the background of this elite world. It could have gone the ‘oh, poor little gifted princess’ route so easily, but Meg Howrey instead provides us with a very real, stripped down look at the decidedly unglamorous world of professional dance.
You don’t need to know anything about ballet to enjoy this book, but you probably should have some respect for and interest in it. The narrator Kate speaks directly to the reader, telling us the story, jumping around a bit from anecdotes to the here and now. She talks about growing up with her sister, being apart from her, the challenges of making it in this profession. She also takes us through a couple of ballets, describing how they should be danced, what they are trying to show, really bringing us along to the point where we can almost hear the music.
And while it is a book about a ballet dancer, it isn’t about close-up shots of dancers’ destroyed feet, or stereotypes of disorder-eating prima donnas (I’m looking at you, Center Stage). It’s about a young woman who may be peaking and heading down in her career. It’s about family relationships and dealing with mental health. It’s about friendships, what we choose to reveal about ourselves to our families and to others. How we all try to make it through, and what ‘make it through’ even means.
That sounds little deep, but it’s not an especially heavy book. There are certainly mature themes, and some fairly vivid language. Even though I’m not gifted in my field, nor am I a (current or former) dancer, and am about a decade older than the narrator, I related to her experiences.
I waver between giving this four and five stars but settle at four because the ending, while not entirely tacked on, did sort of come out of nowhere for me. If I were to read it again it might fit better with the overall theme, but because of that I’ll go with four stars and hope you’ll still add it to your list.