In this YA novel from Swanson (Perilous: A Ripple Novel, 2015, etc), a ballet-obsessed teenager in Oregon confronts dangerous sirens, her family’s mysterious history, and, most frightening of all, the need to forgive her mom.
Foulweather, Oregon, is “bucolic without being idyllic,” the sort of town Portlanders visit only if they take a wrong turn. But Foulweather is where Giselle Chekhov and her ballet-fixated family live—despite the danger presented by the enigmatic (and rarely seen) sirens. Giselle’s mother runs the ballet studio there. A star dancer, Giselle seems on track for the title role in a story ballet about menacing spirits, the very piece that she is named after. (And, according to her grandmother, the reason why the sirens are being seen again.) The students in levels four and five at the studio “would all kill to dance the part of Giselle. Giselle Chekhov, however, wouldn’t have to. The role had always been hers,” Giselle muses. But when her mom declares that Giselle is too tall for ballet, she is forced to attend the drama class at her performing arts high school. Fortunately, there’s a sexy boy in the class who makes her feel like she matters. Unfortunately, she has to process her mother’s ballet betrayal, her aching for her dancing life, and the maybe supernatural sirens who visit her in her dreams. Swanson sensitively captures a particular teen experience, detailing Giselle’s occasional bafflement over her immigrant grandmother and mother’s Russian ways, and her drive to succeed at ballet. But while Giselle may face quintessential (or, depending on the reader’s point of view, clichéd) teen dilemmas like getting into romantic trouble, she remains an engaging character, with her love for her younger sister especially well drawn. Swanson’s prose is strong and insightful. (And funny too at times: those who spent time in high school drama class may recognize the truth in Giselle’s arch remark, “Drama students in tears, thought Giselle. What a surprise.”) The author doesn’t offer many reasons to fear for Giselle—for instance, the audition she feels nervous about ends in a standing ovation. But there’s such a strong voice to the characters that it’s a pleasure to spend time with them.
A delightful drama with well-done supernatural elements that heighten the themes of anger and forgiveness.