84 Ribbons (Ballet Trilogy #1)
by Paddy Eger
Release Date: March 15, 2014
2014 Tendril Press
Softcover Edition; 360 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from author
3.5 / 5 Stars
Seventeen year old Marta
Selbryth realizes her dream of becoming a professional dancer when the
Intermountain Ballet Company in Billings, Montana invites her to join
their 1957 season. As Marta's new life unfolds, she must learn to face
not only the successes of dancing in the corps de ballet, but the
challenges and setbacks that might crush the dream she's had for so
Marta spends her free time practicing when she's not spending
time with her new friends Lynne and Bartley, her fellow corps dancers.
Their time together becomes an important lifeline through their first
Shortly after Christmas, everything
changes for Marta, Bartley and Steve. Significant events permanently
influence their lives. Each must deal with exhilaration and heartbreak as
well as frustration and changes that test their ability to cope.
84 Ribbons is one of those books that had great and enjoyable moments in it, but it also had moments in it that I thought kind of plodded along and didn't necessarily endear me to the main character.
If you like dance, or anything to do with ballet, you will definitely enjoy the descriptions of Marta's dance classes and her performances. Marta came to Intermountain Ballet Company with a huge goal: once she earned 84 ribbons, she would be ready to earn solos in the company. Unfortunately for Marta, being inexperienced and somewhat immature, she got off on the wrong foot with Madame right from the beginning and had to work extremely hard to make up for her actions. Personally, I thought she deserved what she got. Despite her age, and she would have turned eighteen very soon, she should have known better than to do what she did; and whining about her treatment afterwards didn't really endear me to Marta as it just made her seem that much more immature, treating the incident as if it was Madame's fault. Personally, it drives me crazy when people don't take ownership for their actions. Yes, she eventually tried to fix the situation, but really, as a professional dancer, it shouldn't have happened in the first place - professionalism.
I liked how the author described the difficulty of the training, and how much responsibility was put on the dancers during this time period right down to purchasing their shoes and their stockings, all on a pittance of a salary. It was definitely a difficult world if one wished to pursue this career and while I love going to the ballet, I don't envy the girls this life.
Personally, I found Lynne to be the more interesting of the characters in this novel and wished the story had been about her as I found Marta to be a bit boring. To be honest, she was kind of annoying and immature; throwing in all those issues about food certainly didn't help endear me to her, as all I wanted to do was shake her while with Bartley, I was much more sympathetic. I also found some of the dialogue to be a bit stilted, making me feel like I was at a scheduled practice than reading a novel. It didn't happen all the time, but enough that it began to bother me a little bit. I really have no explanation for this except for the way the characters were written and perceived.
One of the things I had a problem with right from the beginning was the historical setting. I knew that it was set in the 1950s, yet there was little in the book that really featured this decade and set it apart from today. I really wished more time period information had been build into the story to make it seem more authentic as I was jolted time and again by little reminders that I was not in the 2000s. This very rarely happens so I do attribute this to the writing and descriptive style used in this book.
84 Ribbons had some great moments in it: the ballet descriptions, the practices, the performances, the ballet world itself and the author genuinely knew her way around this world. I would have liked to have read more about the ballet world though, as halfway through the book, Marta breaks her foot and the rest of the story is about how Marta deals with the injury; and this is where I began to somewhat lose interest as it was more about her lack of eating, how many diet pills she she take today, and so on. And while I understand her conflicting feelings toward Steve, I am really confused as to why he hung around so long as she didn't really treat him all that well in the beginning. Plucky guy, I guess. I definitely enjoyed the ideas in this book, liked most of the characters, would have liked Marta a bit better if she was less whiny and more mature, and thought the descriptions about the ballet world were fascinating. I would recommend this to anyone who likes ballet, and perhaps you may have a different perspective that I did on the characterization and setting. I am however, looking forward to Letters to Follow, Lynne's story when she travels to Paris on a dancer's exchange.