Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Flirty Dancing, by Jenny McLachlan

I loved this book! Despite being at least two times the intended reading age (and the rest), having no interest in dancing at all, not to mention an intense hatred for all TV based search-for-a-star type programming, I still really enjoyed this book.

Bea is little, shy and the wrong shape and she has a curly mass of cloud hair that will not be tamed. Her tight-knit bunch of pre-school friends has fractured somewhere along the road to year 9, and it leaves her and Kat the last two of their gang of four. Pearl is now a Regina George-style queen bee/uber-cow and Betty is one of the kooky art kids that handles school with a large helping of sarcasm and irony.

When the school announces that it will be entering dance groups for a national TV talent show, Bea imagines her and Kat could enter one of their made up routines- but Kat skulks off, guiltily, but undeniably, to form a dance troupe with the popular girls. That leaves Bea with nobody but her three year old sister and her Nan to vent to. When Nan hooks her up with a professional dance tutor and a mystery partner, Bea initially doesn't want to compete- she's too awkward, too shy, it will never work, But the dance partner turns out to be Ollie 'McFittie' Matthews, and the temptation to spend some time with him is just too strong, even if he is Pearl's boyfriend. And after all, Nan has worked so hard to arrange everything...

I loved the evolution of Bea throughout the book, how finding a talent and a passion changed her from a retiring, slump-shouldered shadow into a confident and composed person who was able to stand up for herself and confront the people that had tormented and harassed her. Not only that, but defend others from them too. Her mantra: "Though she is but little, she is fierce" was so spot on. I thought the way she kept reminding herself to be brave was very accurate. McLachlan really did a good job of getting into the head of an insecure school girl; the second guessing why people are being nice to you, the fear of humiliation and praying that nobody notices you. The constant internal monologue was very effective, telling you that that thing you just said was stupid, and your coat is weird and everybody is looking at your spot.

So often it is a cute boy that brings out the best in YA and MG characters, somebody with sultry eyes and tousled hair that can see the beauty in the dork...but Bea found her confidence through dancing, and through being good at something. I liked that she never had to compromise to become the more-confident Bea. I guess Ollie helped, but he was certainly not the main catalyst. I guess I liked that Bea was the author of her own change, and she got to choose who she became, rather than being shaped and moulded by a boy.

A brilliant, funny and heart-warming book about being loyal to your friends, about finding the confidence to be the person that you suspect you really are, and about navigating the tricky territory of secondary school, with its hormones and frenemies and undetected girl gang warfare. It's a brilliant mix of Geek Girl, Angus, Thongs etc and Mean Girls. I'm assuming this year's year 7 haven't seen Mean Girls- because it's as old as them *feels ancient*. It's easy to dismiss books like this as cutesy fluff, but I think that does a disservice to the quality of the characters and the warmth of the story, and the importance of saying YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! SCHOOL IS CRAP FOR LOTS OF PEOPLE!! BEING 13 IS HORRIBLE!!. I especially liked the renegade nudist that was 3 year old Emma, who made me laugh out loud with some of the loopy toddler stuff she said, and the quilting, Topshop-jumpsuit wearing Nan, who always believed in Bea.

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