The Turning Pointe by Vanessa L. Torres

In the cover image, a Latinx dancer with curly hair leaps gracefully, arms held over their head, one leg kicked back.

Review by Makenna Vanegas

Alfred A. Knopf (BFYR), February 22, 2022

432 pages, Hardcover, $28.99 CAD, 9780593426135

Age 12 and up

Young Adult, Fiction, LGBTQ+

Principals are the elite, the company’s top dancers, Geno reminds me to exhaustion. Every.
Single. Day. On the outside, I have all the pieces. Paris Opera Ballet feet, flexible back, complete
one-eighty turnout, and strong tireless extensions. Stuff my genetics get all the credit for. If only I
had the heart. I was born with one, I know this because I feel it speeding up everytime Geno
circles back around me. But only a tiny part of it belongs to ballet. The rest…well this is the
reason why I’m here. Because she can’t be. The Dominguez-principal legacy rests in my
God-given high arches now.

Throw on your high–waisted jeans and tease your hair up even higher because the 80s are back in Vanessa L. Torres’ debut novel, The Turning Pointe. Set in 1983 Minneapolis, 16-year-old Rosa Dominguez dégagés her way to a dreamy life as a ballet dancer at the Minnesota Dance Company–though this life is of her father Geno’s dreams, rather than her own. As the tyrannical master of the company, he constantly pressures Rosa to fall into a familial legacy of principal ballerinas.

Up until the past year, being a principal dancer was not in the cards for Rosa, and she was fine with that. Her sister Gloria–the more poised and polished of the two–was fated to have the role. But after Gloria suffers a terrible accident that leaves her unable to dance, Rosa feels she must step into her place or risk disappointing her family and ending the long-standing Dominguez-principal legacy.

As time progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious that Rosa’s true passion lies beyond the pointe shoes. In ballet class, she is described by others as “going through the motions.” She feels most alive grooving to Prince over Prokofiev and flirting with the “work of art” that is her crush Nico “Nikki” Madera, but guilt forbids her from fully embracing these desires.

Rich in cultural context and candid 80s lingo, The Turning Pointe introduces readers to all that shaped teens of Generation X. MTV, synth-pop, and eclectic fashion are heavily referenced, giving the novel an upbeat, playful quality. Balancing this playfulness is a contemplation of relevant political events such as the Soviet Missile Crisis and the AIDS epidemic, providing readers a chance for historical reflection.

From Rosa’s first-person perspective, readers are able to experience everything from normal growing pains to the extraordinary stresses of life as a Mexican–American ballerina. Torres’ captivating, sensory-heavy prose showcases what it means to be a dancer in its entirety: the complicated, the unsightly, and the charming. Not afraid to stand out in the crowd, Rosa pulls back the curtain on traditional tropes of teenage love and falls for fellow dancer Nikki, a cross-dressing boy whose makeup skills rival that of Cindi Lauper. An angsty, ungovernable vibe of teenage rebellion pulses throughout the novel, reminiscent of classic coming-of-age films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Dirty Dancing.

For all of Rosa’s trials, a theme of hope remains centre stage. In the face of adversity, she continues to demonstrate that there is little that can defeat steady resolve and a positive mindset. Choosing to see crisis as opportunity, she utilizes struggle as a medium to bring about personal evolution. Ballet, in particular, is a tool for her to make peace with the past and forge a greater future. Through her persistence, Rosa poses as a powerful role model for a new wave of young readers, especially balletomanes.

Makenna Vanegas is a UBC student, originally from Lake Oswego, Oregon. Between ballet
classes, she spends her time creating music, digital art, and perfecting her Flock of Seagulls

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