Book Title: The Other Side of Perfect
Author: Mariko Turk
Publisher: Little, Brown
Release Date: April 20, 2021
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Content Warning: protagonist is dealing with a lot of anger and some depression, various experiences of racism
Alina Keeler was destined to dance, but one terrifying fall shatters her leg–and her dreams of a professional ballet career along with it.
After a summer healing (translation: eating vast amounts of Cool Ranch Doritos and binging ballet videos on YouTube), she is forced to trade her pre-professional dance classes for normal high school, where she reluctantly joins the school musical. However, rehearsals offer more than she expected–namely Jude, her annoyingly attractive cast mate she just might be falling for.
But to move forward, Alina must make peace with her past and face the racism she had grown to accept in the dance industry. She wonders what it means to yearn for ballet–something so beautiful, yet so broken. And as broken as she feels, can she ever open her heart to someone else?
Touching, romantic, and peppered with humor, this debut novel explores the tenuousness of perfectionism, the possibilities of change, and the importance of raising your voice.
Mariko Turk grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in creative writing. She received her PhD in English from the University of Florida, with a concentration in children’s literature. Currently, she works as a Writing Center consultant at the University of Colorado Boulder.
She lives in Colorado with her husband and baby daughter, where she enjoys tea, walks, and stories of all kinds.
The Other Side of Perfect is one of those contemporary debuts that’s hard to put down. Alina is a main character that is easily relatable but also depicted wonderfully. The whole concept of this story and the emotional journey Alina goes on is beautifully captured. Her journey is one that is immensely powerful and life-altering, not just for her but for those she’s gotten close to; and I have no doubt many readers will connect with her story and journey.
“It wasn’t just my body that was broken. My brain couldn’t let go of what I’d lost. And my heart – my heart clearly didn’t work anymore. It was mean and jealous and awful, and it couldn’t be fixed.”
Alina’s whole life changes when she shatters her leg, thus leading to her dreams of dancing being shattered, as well. She has no idea how to recover from this, and no idea how to process the new, overwhelming emotions that are taking over her mind. Depression. Anger (at herself, the world, her situation, and the racism she did face and continues to face). Jealously toward those that still have their dreams intact. All these emotions she didn’t think she’d ever feel intensely. With her dream of dancing completely gone, Alina has to find out how to navigate this new world and where she exactly fits in this new life. Then she reluctantly joins the school musical at her new school, not expecting to meet someone she needs just as much as he needs her (and their romance is just *chef’s kiss*; absolute perfection). Nor was she expecting the musical to help her in ways she didn’t think possible.
What I also loved about The Other Side of Perfect is how Alina’s character developed throughout the whole book. There wasn’t just one instance where she grew; the entire book illustrates her growth, which was great to see. Her character growth is not just in her mind, but also emotionally and physically. Alina learns there’s more to life than ballet and that there is always hope after an accident like hers. She learns that sometimes you’re placed on a different life journey, which turns out to be way more rewarding than the path she originally thought was her future. I also liked how Truk explored depression and anger after your future is completely changed – both are depicted thoughtfully and expertly with Alina’s character.
Turk’s writing is so lush and filled with beautiful prose. I enjoyed how Turk approached the multiple subjects presented in this book, and how she sprinkled moments of humor and hope in areas that needed them. Her writing is refreshing and her voice is strong, yet calming throughout the book. Turk easily brings this story and all of Alina’s struggles to life, and I know many will be able to relate to Alina and even some of the side characters.
The Other Side of Perfect is definitely a book I recommend, especially to readers interested in ballet and reading about the emotional journey a biracial teen goes on after her dream is shattered. It’s a wonderful debut that captures the emotions of change and discovering what it means to speak up in world that wants to push you down. This is a contemporary book you are not going to want to miss.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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