The Adult Beginner may or may not be emotionally mature enough for YA

Picked up Marie, Dancing By Carolyn Meyer the other day,
Not sure why but I went to the library Totally Determined to find some kinda ballet-themed young adult fiction. Not looking for anything specific, just figured there must be something. Sure enough, not only was there something, there was something loosely based in historical fact with an art tie-in!!!!!!!
And just to further the nerd alert, part way through reading the book I went back to the library and checked out Degas by Eduard Hüttinger, which is non-fiction with lots of prints and biographical info, and even risked tip-toeing past the napping baby to get my copy of Edgar Degas Ballet Dancers, which is prints with an introduction by Lillian Browse. You know, so I could catch all the references to paintings.
I guess this is how adults read young adult?
Am I alone here, cross referencing art books with this little 252 page paperback written for preteens?
This is totally beside the point, but: when the boy is napping I think of that entire side of the house as being, like, closed off in the way the way that things get closed off in horror movies. Like, “oh no, we can’t get the antidote because that whole wing of the hospital is over-run with zombies!!!” Or, “Oh no, we can’t turn on the generator, that whole wing of the research facility is submerged and over-run with super-intelligent great white sharks!!!!!” and I’m like, “Oh no, I can’t get my Degas book because that whole wing is over run with napping baby!!!!”
Ok so about the book:
It’s a fictional story of Marie van Goethem who was the real life model for the statuette, petite danseuse de quatorze ans. She was a real person, she really danced at the Paris Opéra and so did her older sister Antoinette and her younger sister Charlotte.
Historical fact goes: Antoinette was arrested and sent to prison and meanwhile dismissed from the Paris Opéra, Marie was dismissed also, Charlotte danced until her retirement, when she became a ballet teacher with the ballet school at the Opéra.
That’s it.
The novel fills in this very intriguing lack of info.
I’ll just point out here that it is very bizarre to read young adult fiction with adult eyes. I pretty much read the whole book with my hands covering my face, peeking out between my fingers, thinking crazy over-react-y things like “oh god, somebody is totally about to die horribly in childbirth. Or die trying to avoid childbirth. Why hasn’t Antoinette given Marie a talk about where babies come from??? Oh god maybe she doesn’t know either!!!! Oh god I can’t look. Oh god what happens next????”
I was a total mess.
Maybe The Adult Beginner is not emotionally mature enough for YA.
The major conflict of the book is the fact that Marie and her family are really really poor. Like starving.
Maman is a laundress (see painting) who spends what little money she earns on absinthe (see painting) at cafés (see painting see painting see painting). Papá is no longer with us. Older sister Antoinette is constantly pressuring Marie to come along to lé foyer de la danse and hook herself a wealthy patron already, which I’d been curious as to whether the book would even mention, I mean, we are basically talking prostitution, kinda putting the A in YA.
Maybe this is my adult eyes reading too much again, but I was totally with Antoinette. Maybe also because I’d just read Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin and Midwives by Jennifer Worth, (which is the book the PBS series Call the midwife is based on), both of which give devastating descriptions of poverty and starvation, and so I was kind of like, Dude, Marie, where is this oddly unmotivated sense of morality coming from? Take that man’s jewelry, dammit, let him set you up in an apartment! Jeez!
Oh yeah, and in the midst of all this she models for Degas. Who is a perfect gentleman. Don’t worry.
I kinda want to read the Not Young Adult version of this story, mainly because there were lots of places where I’d think Yeah Right! and then remember, Oh, YA, right. This is written with sweet young girls in mind, not cranky thirty-six year olds.
The ending made me really sad. I wonder if the audience it is meant for finds it sad.
A couple people have recommended I read The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan. So maybe that’s next.
I also want to read Bunheads by Sophie Flack, not because it has any Degas relationship but because it is ballet YA and because I follow her on twitter and I think that’s neat, to, like, kind of be internet friends with an author. My library doesn’t have the physical book, but they do have a copy available for download.
Maybe The Adult Beginner will get with the times already and figure out how to check out a book that newfangled way.

About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
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24 Responses to The Adult Beginner may or may not be emotionally mature enough for YA

  1. robin says:

    Oh, I read that book a few years ago! Now I want to read it again- seems it was really interesting.
    Bunheads was a lot of fun too :)

  2. Beth says:

    Was totally going to recommend The Painted Girls. Buchanan is a fantastic author.

  3. Paulina says:

    Thank you, AB. It is nice to learn about the background of “la petite danseuse de quatorze ans”. (Spelling? God, I am so bad at French!)

  4. nicola lynde says:

    I read a series of young adult fiction during the process of learning Danish and found a lot of the same things. I often thought I would’ve been better off steering clear for all the nail-bitting and squirming I did.

    • Ha! That sounds like a brilliant way to practice with a language! Since YA is all about big, universally understandable themes. Plus now you are probably totally better equipped to talk about crushes and emotions than most other non-native Danish speakers. Brilliant!

  5. This post inspired me to finally figure out a book I read when I was a kid that I remember for it’s somewhat gruesome description of a first class in pointe shoes. It’s called As the Waltz Was Ending and is about a girl dancing in Nazi-occupied (and later Russian-occupied) Austria. Looks like it’s out of print, but I’d love to re-read it.

  6. A couple of months ago I was packing up a bunch of my old books to give my 9 year old niece when I came across a ballet-themed Nancy Drew novel. I skimmed it for old time’s sake and OH MAN it was SO BAD. I’m sure I loved it when I was 9, though! I also remember a Sweet Valley High book (loaned to me by a friend, I think I realized they were too horrible to own for realsies… and I had a complete set of Babysitters Club so it’s not like I was all that picky) featuring ballet lessons and, I believe, a performance of Coppelia by first-year ballet students. Because that is totally the sort of thing you make beginners do, right?

  7. guyenne says:

    Two things are really funny/annoying to me in YA: themes/topics that would make many adults squirm to realize they’re in there (particularly in some of the sci-fi, where certain libraries I’ve been in shoved the whole category, and when you run into a parent who pre-reads all of their kid’s books), and the forced morality – I remember reading this Degas YA book and thinking how moralizing the tone was at the end, when dancers==working girls is pretty commonplace into the early-1900s, historically. I like the treatment of the dancer’s situation much better in the historical fantasy (w/magic users) Reserved for the Cat by Mercedes Lackey. Dodger by Terry Pratchett is another great historical fiction about London’s poor and morality (or lack thereof compared to people with more resources).

  8. Alyz says:

    Thank you for sharing! La petite danseuse is one of my favorite sculptures
    Have you heard about the ballet?

  9. Becca says:

    I just finished “Bunheads” and it was a really fast read. It gave a great insight into how hard professional dancers work and how much they give up to follow their dreams.

  10. Alexa says:

    Eva Ibbotson’s “A Company of Swans” is a fun YA novel that is both historical fiction and ballet-story (imagine a middle-class version of one of the girls from Downton Abbey running off to join the Ballets Russes). Evidently she wrote it for adults — it just got picked up and marketed for the teen crowd. I might be a little concerned about my 12-year-old reading it, but I am sure you can handle it!

  11. guyenne says:

    I just saw this again and thought of you:
    Twenty Edgar Degas’s Paintings (Collection) for Kids [Kindle Edition]

  12. Pingback: What are you good at? How did you know? | Adult Beginner

  13. Pingback: Blogroll: Ballet YA Authors | Adult Beginner

  14. Pingback: Blogroll: Ballet YA | Adult Beginner

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