Weekend Pick for June 17,2022
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This week’s pick takes us to 1980’s Minneapolis in The Turning Pointe, a debut novel by Vanessa L. Torres. Rosa Dominguez is a sixteen year old Latinx ballet dancer studying under her father, who is an abusive teacher. Upstairs from her studio, Prince himself is in rehearsals, and Rosa wants nothing more than to take off her pointe shoes and dance for him.
This novel has so many compelling thematic branches, but they all lead to the idea that we must follow our own passions and not let anyone else tell us who we are or should be. Many of the characters are stifled for one reason or another, because their parents are controlling, society is homophobic, and so many restrictions placed on them from beyond themselves. But when these characters defy the restrictions, they begin to become more fully themselves, proving to themselves and others that it is okay to let them be in charge of their own destinies. It is a necessity.
Rosa’s sister, Gloria, used to be on track to become the principal dancer at the studio, but after a tragic accident, she was left unable to speak much or eat solid foods, let alone dance on pointe. Torres does a wonderful job letting readers into the sisters’ relationship, tender and close despite communication difficulties. She also brings her extensive knowledge from being a firefighter/paramedic into the depiction of Gloria’s medical realities. The novel culminates with Gloria defying expectations and assumptions not only about her abilities, but also where her passions truly lie and her gift for profound and artful communication.
Rosa’s friend Nikki is working towards someday joining the Ballet Trockadero, an all male dance company where men dance on pointe. Nikki’s femme and funky style of dressing as well as well as his unaopologetic self expression is inspiring to Rosa, but also to the reader. Nikki tries to hide his femme self from his grandmother, not knowing that she is supportive of him no matter what. Nikki’s father died of AIDS and conversations between Rosa and Nikki help readers learn a bit about the early days of the AIDS crisis and the many barriers to treatment.
Kat, Rosa’s best friend, might be incredibly financially privileged, but she is stifled by her plastic surgeon parents, wanting her to follow in their footsteps and dictating the course of her education. So she hides the fact that she is training to be a paramedic not only from her parents, but also from Rosa, leading Rosa to believe she is in real trouble and helping create a temporary rift in their relationship.
Rosa, of course, is dancing through her own self discovery, learning that it is okay to take a leap into following her dreams. Luckily, readers are invited on this journey with her.
For fans of Prince, of course, or anyone else who likes a funky beat.