by Mariko Turk
Publication: May 11, 2021
Alina’s dreams of one day joining the American Ballet Theatre are dashed when an accident leads to a shattered leg. She is forced to put away her pointe shoes and reassess her future. When she is finally able to venture outside her room, she auditions for musical theatre.
I was fully immersed in the book because Alina’s story was compelling. She tries to come to terms with her new reality while transitioning into a “normal” teenager, but it’s difficult. Her devastation was more than enough to tug at my heart, and I couldn’t help but sympathize with her even though it leads some decisions I didn’t like. I don’t think I’ve ever loved something the way Alina loves ballet, but Turk’s prose captures Alina’s grief and allowed me to experience Alina’s struggle alongside her.
Being permanently sidelined from what she thought was her future forces her to confront the racism within ballet and its traditions. It’s both difficult and satisfying to see Alina come to these realizations because it adds another layer to her current situation. Would she have eventually come to the same conclusion, taken similar actions had she not been forced to give up ballet? Maybe, but probably not nearly as soon as she should have. It’s not necessarily that Alina is completely unaware of the racism but she does have blinders on. She equates tradition with being “right” and those in authoritative roles as knowing best when it is not always the case. I found this to be an important reflection on life, especially because Alina’s sister has a different experience at her dance school. Authority figures play pivotal roles in our lives. They help shape our beliefs and values, and it can be difficult not to view ourselves through their eyes. In this case, Alina’s dance teacher was pivotal to her perception of ballet and her abilities, which helps explain some of Alina’s convictions about ballet. The trauma of forcibly giving up her dreams leads to transformative growth, allowing her to challenge her beliefs and accomplish what she couldn’t do before, speak up for herself and her friends. Although Alina hates the saying, there is some truth that “when life shatters your leg, it opens a window.”
With its emphasis on friendship, Alina meets new people and forms multiple relationships throughout the book. While her connection to each is slightly different, the most interesting one is her connection with Diya. Although Diya’s role is smaller, there are parallels between the two that are immediately apparent. The connection provides Alina with some eye-opening breakthroughs and was probably one of my favorite parts of the book to read. As with many of the elements in the book, Diya’s life provides Alina another glimpse of what it’s like on the other side.
I cannot end this without mentioning the multiple supporting characters I adored. I’ve never enjoyed so many characters popping in and out of a book before! They all contribute to making the book well-rounded.
- Mom and Dad
They’re professionals in their jobs but they’re loving and supportive parents who encourage Alina to keep moving forward. They’re “hip” and use words like “bae” just to get reactions from their teenage daughters. Alina’s parents only make small appearances but I loved their interactions with their daughters.
- Laney and Ada
These two are hilarious. Not only do they remind me of high school me but also adult me. Yes, my friends and I still play a version of what Laney and Ada refer to as Love Realism, making up a story about how your life plays out with your crush.
As a potential love interest, Jude is positively swoony. He’s patient and understanding. He defies gender norms with his love of knitting and he doesn’t care who knows about it. He’s wonderful. Can there be an adult him who exists in real life?
Overall, The Other Side of Perfect was a deeply satisfying read. I meant to pick it up and read just a few chapters before bed, but I couldn’t sleep until I finished the whole thing.