Dance becomes him.
After his half-Turkish father’s death, Johnny Emin, a 13-year-old British boy, feels like an outsider in his own life. Uprooted from his family’s house to a small flat in London, Johnny endures constant bullying from the Populars at his new school, who nickname him Swan Boy, and becomes the caretaker for his 5-year-old brother, Mojo, while their white mother struggles to make ends meet. With no friends and no one with whom to share his grief, Johnny is totally isolated until a series of encounters with a majestic swan result in his sprouting actual feathers and discovering a new sense of agency. Through a series of misadventures, Johnny is unexpectedly cast as Prince Siegfried in the school’s dance production of Swan Lake and must decide whether he has the courage to embrace his uniqueness despite what others may think. Sheehan’s second novel, which is part grief narrative, part anti-bullying/self-empowerment story, and part fantasy, addresses so many themes that it gets mired in its own good intentions. While Johnny’s anger at his father’s death is nicely rendered, the fantasy elements might have been better left as metaphor, since Johnny’s literal transformation detracts from the notion that dance is really what liberates him.
Still, this novel, with its solid message about finding courage through adversity, should resonate with teens who feel isolated. (Magical realism. 11-16)