Note: I received a digital copy of 84 Ribbons from NetGalley for review consideration.
As I started reading through this book, which is about Marta, a seventeen-year-old ballet dancer who has just landed her first professional dancing position, I thought to myself, please don’t let this book be about anorexia. And guess what–of course it was. At times, this message got heavy-handed, but the book was still enjoyable–with a few caveats, which I’ll go over below.
So Marta is a young ballet dancer in 1950s Montana, where she is starting her new life as a professional dancer. The title of the book refers to the number of pointe shoe ribbons that Marta thinks she will have to collect before she begins receiving solos with the ballet. She makes big (uncomfortably big) mistakes, and she has to fight for her position as a corps dancer. With the help of her new friends, Lynne and Bartley, Marta does her best to impress Madame and improve her dancing, but when a tragic fall breaks Marta’s ankle, all of her hard work is swept away. Depressed and unable to dance, Marta turns to diet pills to keep her in shape, and she pushes herself to the breaking point in the attempt to receive her spot back with the ballet.
As a former ballet dancer (okay, for one year) and a ballroom dance instructor, I was really looking forward to reading a lot about ballet. Sadly, there wasn’t much there in terms of descriptions of Marta’s dancing and the classes and rehearsals she attends. There is much more focus on Marta’s strained relationship with her almost-boyfriend, Steve, tension with Marta’s boardinghouse mates, and Marta’s struggles with injured body parts and diet pills. I really wanted more ballet from this book, and I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get it. In fact, this feeling typifies what I felt for most of the book. I wanted the book to delve more into eating disorders and the pressure for dancers to stay thin, but I got a somewhat heavy-handed message that still didn’t provide solid answers. I wanted more about Marta settling in to a new town with new friends and new places, but I only got Steve. I wanted some answers about why Marta’s housemate, Carol, was such a jerk to her, but I never found out.
Now, this is supposed to be the first book of a series of at least three books, so maybe there will be answers there. I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to reading the sequels if they came across my path. But just taking a look at this book left me with more questions than answers, and not in a good way. It just felt unfinished and left me wanting more.
Rating: Good but Forgettable