The Cranes Dance (Vintage Contemporaries Original) - Meg Howrey "No one makes a ballet or a symphony or a painting that expresses dating or looking for an apartment or switching to decaf...it's all on this elevated and unrealistic level."

Kate Crane and her sister, Gwen, are both ballet dancers in the same New York ballet company. As the story opens, Kate has severely injured her neck, and Gwen was taken home to recuperate. Kate is trying to come to terms with this, but the pain in her neck, the strain of ballet dancing, the pressure of perfection, and her twisted feelings for her sister (love, jealousy, competition and more) begin to eat at her.

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When I was a young girl, I thought being a ballet dancer would be awesome. My mother was a smart woman, though, and refused to give me lessons. (Given how clumsy I am, that was a good move--I'd probably have broken every bone in my body had she capitulated.) But one thing that has carried on is a fascination with ballet dancing. I'm not an avid fan of ballet dancing and couldn't given you a description of what a plie is, but I love watching and reading about the determination these ladies (and gents) have. This book reminds me of a combination of the movie, Black Swan, and a book I read last year, The Mistress's Revenge.

The book opens with a pretty intense description of Swan Lake. I've never seen the ballet (other than in Black Swan) so some of the analysis was helpful. However, at one point, the description goes on far too long. And with as little time as the actual ballet takes up in the novel, it's a little silly to have so many pages focused on it. However, this is probably the biggest, most in-depth, most "Ballet Technical" part of the novel. The rest of it doesn't require more than a very basic knowledge of ballet. Which is great, for someone like me.

The characters were intense and gritty. Kate makes a very interesting journey, as she attempts to medicate away her pain but then struggles with her feelings to Gwen, her frustrations, her unraveling life. I am an older sister who dearly loves her younger sister; I can understand Kate's desire to protect Gwen, but also how Kate is jealous of Gwen's performance, how Kate is frustrated with her parents' treatment of Gwen's condition.

For some of the background characters, I tended to forget who they were and their shtick. Did Nina do the "deedle-deedle" thing or was it Claudette? What about Gareth? But others became quite vivid. Mara was a great friend; I loved how she stuck by Kate's side, even when Kate selfishly kept things to herself and refused to talk about anything but herself. Roger was funny and light-hearted. David, Klaus, Marius...all these characters did gradually get to be more real and interesting as the story progressed. There was a bit of racism in how Yumi, the Asian talked (calling Lawrence "Rawlence"), but I didn't interpret it to be insulting or demeaning to the character.

Howrey wrote in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, which worked perfectly for her novel. Kate slipped in an out of the present, filling the audience in on how she joined the company, the first signs of Gwen's problems and more as we also see her struggle day-to-day. And in the end, everything comes together quite nicely. I do think that the last chapter should have been labeled "Epilogue" as it wrapped things up one year after the "present day" events in the novel, and I think it was a bit too tidy. However, I did think the conclusion was good (not TOO optimistic and cheery).

I really had a good time reading this. It kept me quite engaged until the end, and there were more than a few parts that I tore through to see how they would end. It's nice to read a book about a girl that isn't all about death and cancer and dark things nor one that is all falling in love with guys. This was a beautiful novel about two sisters, their relationship to each other and to the world. If you liked Black Swan, I encourage you to check this out.