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House of Dance - a young adult novel by Beth Kephart

by Robert Abrams
July 5, 2010
House of Dance, a young adult novel by Beth Kephart, is a moving coming of age story. Rosie, the main character, takes care of her dying grandfather one summer, and in the process learns about her family and herself. She also discovers a passion for dance. The book is filled with characters you will care about, and in some cases, care against. Characters grow over the course of the book. The descriptions of dance are both beautiful and accurate.

The language in the book feels marked, the way a good Argentine Tango feels marked, especially in the beginning. The text has a rhythm. For instance, on page 7: "But their happiness together was the kind that made you feel banned, barred, and excluded, and besides, I couldn't imagine cleaning other people's windows, whisking things off their windowsills, altering the color of their sun." Yes, it is repetitious, but I think the repetition is used to good rhythmic effect, and this pattern has especial value in a young adult book because it acts as a kind of thesaurus. These textual patterns become less obvious as the book progresses, which is as it should be.

As a former competitive Ballroom dancer myself, I loved the descriptions of studio life. For instance, on page 20, a series of fleeting images are presented – what the main character, Rosie, first noticed through the studio window: "A girl frowning at her own reflection. A man with jet black hair dancing beside her, explaining something, placing his hands on her hips, swirling her body. A couple out on the edge of things, strung up, it seems, by puppet strings." Later on in the book as Rosie experiences more of the studio, the text strikes a good balance between presenting technical terms as Rosie first experienced them (with some bewilderment) and avoiding using so much slang that the reader would get lost (for instance, Ms. Kephart had experienced dancers in the studio use the term "competition" rather than the common slang abbreviation "comp").

Overall, I found House of Dance to be moving, well paced and well rounded.

That said, I think there is room for improvement, although these suggestions may be most relevant for audience segments narrower than young adults in general. I loved the chapters that talked about dance. I just wish there were more of them. I would have happily read through ten or twenty more of Ms. Kephart's detailed depictions of dance lessons. I wanted more descriptions of performances. This might not appeal to a general audience, but it probably would appeal to a dance audience. Perhaps Ms. Kephart can write and sell a supplement to the book that would contain extra, optional chapters that can be inserted at various points in the main book. This would be a good use of non-linear narrative. In addition, I wanted more technical details of the grandfather's illness, perhaps in an appendix. One way to battle the fear such illnesses create is through knowledge. And if Ms. Kephart really wants to narrowcast, she should add a section with more food scenes and baked goods recipes. You will understand why if you read the book.

I also couldn't quite tell if Rosie's father, who is referred to several times as a celebrity, was an actual celebrity or someone who acted like one. This could probably use a touch of clarification.

Even without these improvements, I highly recommend House of Dance to anyone who is interested in dance and fiction.



House of Dance is published by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

For more information, go to www.beth-kephart.blogspot.com.
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