Wednesday, January 16, 2013

ARC Review: Dancing in the Dark

Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati
4.5/5 stars
Flux Books, 2013
Originally published Penguin Australia 2010
323 pages
YA Contemporary Dance
Scheduled for release February 8

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I just adore dance books so I was very excited to get this one with the additional bonus of religious conflict and the presence of sisters! This book ended up being a standout read for me so far this year. An additional bonus is that this book is set in Australia and takes place over years, allowing for more time with our main character as she grows in the art of dance.

That main character is Ditty and she is a Haredi Jew-basically the most orthodox and conservative type. Although this book is set roughly in the present (as indicated by technology such as cell phones), for the most part, her religious community eschews such gadgetry. She attends a religious school and people mostly live and die in that community. But Ditty manages to discover ballet and after being forbidden by her parents, sets off to dance, managing to keep it secret for over five years before confrontation breaks out and Ditty has to choose between her love of dance and her love of family.

As mentioned, Ditty's family is very conservatively Jewish and follow customs that may be unfamiliar to some readers. I am very interested in religion and was pleased to recognize most of what was mentioned, also with the assistance of a glossary in the back. Most shocking to me was Ditty's rebellion, starting relatively small by taking dance lessons behind her parents' back and escalating to eating non-kosher food and working on the Sabbath (the most shocking parts of the book to me).

I loved the dance scenes and how Ditty's world opens up when she enters it, meeting new people, having new experiences, and dreaming beyond the narrow walls set up by her parents. She brings her best friend and cousin into her ever expanding web of lies but keeps it going for over five years with her parents none the wiser. This time passed very quickly but it was nice to see Ditty grow up like that. 

Still I did have some problems with the book, most probably stemming from my perspective as a Christian. In general, I thought that the people who did believe were somewhat discounted as brainless sheep. The fact that they were not our main focus probably had something to do with that but I think they had their own questions, doubts, and struggles and were not actually unquestioning drones as Ditty sometimes seemed to think. I also found the ending quite heartbreaking

Discussion Question (would really love your thoughts as I'm confused about how I feel):
At one point in the book, a guy asks out Ditty and she refuses because he's not Jewish. His response is that that is racist. My question is in two parts:
1. Is Jewishness considered a race? Wouldn't "bigoted" be a more appropriate word if you were going to make that argument?
2. Is it in fact bigoted? My immediate response was no but being Jewish is considered as immutable as skin color in this world. Either your mother was Jewish, making you Jewish or not; there's no in-between, making a comparison between the two "traits". But it's also very personal who you choose to date and I think religious factors are super important given that it shapes your worldview and values so I can't fault her for being bigoted. I hope that's clear but I'll be stopping by this evening to sort out any clarifications and to participate in discussion with you.

Other Opinions:
Marjoleinbookblog: 5/5 stars
Ravenous Biblioworm: 3.5/5
Wandering Librarians: 2/5 stars
Words on Paper: 4/5 stars


  1. Sometimes I don't like how religious belief is portrayed in YA fiction. It is too bad that the book was uneven in that way.

  2. Oooh, I like that the dancing is well-described. I haven't read this, but some thoughts on your question:

    No, I don't think being Jewish is necessarily a race, although there's a long history of people thinking that it is. That conception is common enough, I'm not surprised the kid would make that comment.

  3. I love books about dance too. Plus, this one sounds fascinating. I'm not usually big on YAs that discuss religion, but this one sounds quite different from the others I've read.

    As for whether Ditty is bigoted, in my opinion, no. Being bigoted implies intolerance, and it doesn't seem like that fits what Ditty is doing. To me, it just seems like she's saying that religion is the most important factor to her in dating, not that she doesn't respect the guy for not being Jewish. People choose their dating partners based on the other person's values and lifestyle all the time without being considered discriminatory, and since religion has a strong affect on those elements, I usually see it as just an extension of the same selection process. Especially since she's part of a religion that has such strong traditions, I think it's natural for her to want to be with someone who shares and understands those unique traditions. Obviously, I'm generalizing here, but I think I've already gone on about this long enough :)

  4. I completely agree with Karen on the dating subject!! Now if she refused to be just friends with someone because of their race/religion, I'd consider that being racist/bigoted, for sure.

    Thanks for putting this one on my radar. It looks very interesting! :)

  5. Being Jewish is both a race and a religion.

    I haven't gotten around to reading this yet, but I love dance books too, and the religious aspect makes it stand out from other stories. I'll have to get to this!

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  7. I enjoyed this one overall, but had similar issues as you.

  8. Wow -- haven't heard of this and it sounds really different. And I tend to love Australian fiction.

  9. Sounds like an interesting read! Nowadays I wish I could have done dance when I was younger. Ah well, maybe I can find some way to dance in the future. LOL

    That's good they have a glossary in the back for people like me that don't know a lot about religions (apart from Christianity). As for you question though, I guess it would be bigoted and not racist. I don't see religion as race, but I don't know. It's all very tricky.

    But I don't think there is anything wrong with what she said. Religion is a big part of people's lives. I think it's difficult to dismiss someone based on one thing, but in the end, if you want to marry a might need them to have certain beliefs for it to work. It's just personal.

  10. Bigoted versus racist in my brain. Though for many Jews, their religion is deeper than just a system of beliefs, it's who and what they are so maybe it could be called racism? Anyway, I wouldn't say she was being either, just being selective and knowing what she wants. *shrugs* Maybe?

  11. This sounds really good, and unlike anything I've read before. I love that it's set in Australia and that she's Jewish, especially from a strict order (or whatever they call it). I've worked with people who are very strict Jewish (though I really don't know that much difference) and I found the beliefs interesting. It's definitely something I'm curious about, that's for sure!
    And I don't know if it would be being racist or a bigot, but I would say that it's neither because if you believe in your religion whole heartedly you have to keep it in mind when selecting a partner because not everyone will be accepting of your beliefs. I don't necessarily believe it's right or wrong, it's an individual's preference. I married outside my religion and it didn't go over well and it's been VERY difficult with children. While I'm happy I married him of course, I probably would have given it more thought if I had known how hard it would be to balance everything.

    I'm definitely going to watch for this book, I think I might love it!

  12. Sheesh! you're always reading books with the most beautiful covers!

  13. I'll have to check this out. I'm often intrigued by books featuring Orthodox Jewish characters. It's a different lifestyle. Have you read Hush by Eishes Chayil (spelled wrong). It's about a Hasidic Jewish girl in New York. Very depressing but a fabulous book.

  14. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention, don't know how I missed this Aussie author and I like books about dance too. As for your question, racism and bigotry = intolerance, prejudice and discrimination. I believe that choosing who you date because of your belief system or religion is no different to not dating a smoker or someone who is against having children and I'm not meaning to trivialise it, I just believe it's personal choice. Having vastly different beliefs in a relationship makes for a very challenging road.


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