Today is my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk.
Special thanks to Netgalley and Little Brown Books for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Be sure to click on the banner below to check out the rest of the amazing bloggers on tour!
Goodreads: The Other Side of Perfect
Publisher: Little Brown Books
Publication Date: 11 May 2021
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
(actual 4.5 pandas)
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.
CW/TW: the protagonist is dealing with a lot of anger and some depression, various experiences of racism, bullying
BUY A COPY:
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.
TL;DR: Oh em gee, this one got me good in the feels and it was completely unexpected?! Mariko Turk’s debut is a beautifully written, deeply emotional YA contemporary that explores many important themes that I thought were handled so well. There were so many elements in this that I loved: relatable characters, hilarious and heartwarming friendships, a gender stereotype defying, adorable and swoon-worthy love interest, realistic family (particularly sibling!) relationships and really enjoyable and believable character growth. Alina’s story is one of grief, friendship, love, finding happiness and the power of standing up for yourself and for what’s right. It was so hard to put this book down and the story ends perfectly and left me feeling so happy and satisfied! 🥰
This is my second time (in 2021) reading a YA set in a high school around the production of a musical and I have to say that I loved this setting! The acting and dancing scenes were great, and the new friendships and bond that grows between those who have to spend so much time learning and performing together were heartwarming. Turk’s writing also flowed off the page seemingly effortlessly, especially when it came to the passages about dance and ballet—the words radiated with such passion that it was hard to not get caught up in the beauty of the art.
The story is told from Alina’s perspective. When we’re introduced to her she is full of bitter jealous rage as a result of losing her life-long dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. She has essentially walled off the world so that she can sit in her misery and pain, not only physically but mentally and emotionally. There are many times when she lets the anger take over and although she feels guilty for lashing out, she justifies it because she’s so lost in her grief. Characters like Alina usually put me off because they tread a fine line of being horrendously unlikeable or passing redeemable, so I was surprised when I found myself rooting for her from very early on.
Even though I was a swimmer in school, I participated in several musicals but neither was I so highly competitive or absorbed by either of these extracurricular activities, so it wasn’t that I related to Alina’s character on that level. However, I think her passion for ballet and drive to succeed at something she’s pursued her whole life is something many can relate to. What Alina experiences would be harrowing for anyone especially when they’re so intensely passionate about a thing as she was for ballet. It was easy to put myself in her shoes even during those times she would lash out negatively because it was such a realistic reaction and on top of that, the guilt, confusion and self-doubt she now feels in trying to move forward make it so easy to be empathetic to her situation. I thought Turk handles the processing of grief and loss (both with Alina and another character, no spoilers!) very well throughout the whole book—there’s no end journey when everything suddenly becomes perfect like before but that change is okay and not a bad thing. I also really enjoyed Alina’s growth in terms of acknowledging the uglier side of ballet and confronting the prejudices and racism she experienced as an Asian-American. There are many ways that Alina grows throughout the story and it’s never rushed as she is given the space to reflect and learn in her own time and terms but ultimately seeing her find peace and her spark again was so satisfying!
The side characters also didn’t suffer from a lack of personality. The SCs frustrated me at times, especially in their treatment of another SC, but overall, I did like Alina’s friend group with Margot, Ethan and Jude! Jude was my favourite and the romance here was ah, *chefs kiss*! I loved the comfort and friendship they built that slowly turned into more. Jude was just… perfectly adorable! So sweet, considerate and sensitive. I absolutely loved what we learned of his character and seriously, we need more love interests like Jude, please and thanks! I also really appreciated the realistic portrayal of the sibling relationship between Alina and Josie. They bicker and hurt each other but they also care deeply and it was nice to see Alina allow herself to be more vulnerable in front of her younger sister. There were times when I felt the characters thought or acted more maturely than a teenager would (I sometimes had to remind myself this was high school lol) but it personally wasn’t so unrealistic that it took me completely out of the story.
Needless to say, Mariko Turk’s debut really took me by surprise in the best way possible! This YA contemporary was so full of heart. I love when a book can send me down a Google rabbit hole researching things that I’m reading about and that happened here and it was very illuminating. While Turk’s messages came across quite strong at times, I think the intended audience (and everyone, really) will be able to easily relate to the messages. I’m so looking forward to reading more by Turk in the future!
Have you read The Other Side of Perfect to Find or is it on your TBR?