dancing with ana

In her debut novel Dancing with Ana, author Nicole Barker has put forth an earnest effort to shed light on issues teenage girls are dealing with — body image, friendships, family, and dating.  The sixteen-year-old protagonist Beth is the focus of the story and suddenly has a lot to think about.  Her father, who recently (and abruptly) walked out on her mother, has stopped showing up for his scheduled visits.  The boy-next-door, whom she has considered her best friend for years, has started looking at her differently.   And the diet she began, just to lose a few pounds, seems to be taking control.  As she tries to sort out her feelings, she starts to pull away from the three girls she used to be able to talk to about anything.

Dancing with Ana isn’t for everyone.  I found it to be unpolished and rushed, and the abrupt changes in perspective can be off-putting.  But Barker does capture the emotional tumult that is the essence of adolescence and placed her characters in starkly realistic situations, all of which could certainly be appealing to teenage girl readers.  In fact, the style, fast pace, and brevity of this book could be ideal for reluctant high-school aged readers.  Girls dealing with real-life versions of these problems may relate easily to Beth and her friends (particularly Rachel, whom I found to be even more interesting than Beth), and an accessible  book such as this may introduce them to the idea of reading as catharsis. 

I have the sense that Barker has a few things figured out about young adult novels — the importance of honesty, and an idea of how to build compelling characters.  I’ll be interested to see future work and how she builds upon these fundamentals.  In the meantime, I plan to pass Dancing with Ana on to my sister, who teaches high school English; I don’t doubt that she’ll be able to find a place for it on her shelves.

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~ by Molly on September 14, 2009.

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