Robyn Bavati – Pirouette

robynbavati-pirouetteSimone has been raised as a dancer, but she hates performing. Hannah loves nothing more than dance, but her parents see it as just a hobby. When the two girls meet for the first time at age fifteen, they choreograph a plan to switch places and change the role that dance plays in their lives. Yet fooling their friends and family is more challenging than either girl expected. And when someone threatens to reveal the truth, it could cost the sisters everything.

In this clever twist on the twin-swap story, Robyn Bavati delivers a poignant tale about changing your fate—one step at a time.

One of my (not so) guilty pleasures is watching dance shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and films such as Step Up and Honey. So when Robyn Bavati’s Pirouette came across my radar during my prep for last summer’s anticipated books posts, unsurprisingly it set off all kinds of “you have to read this”-alerts. And well it should have, because it was just as entertaining as the best episodes of SYTYCD, those where there are choreographies that make you cry they’re so beautiful and emotional and choreographies that just make you grin like mad at their tricks and entertainment value. 

A variation on The Parent Trap, a film the book itself references at one point, Pirouette starts out in an orphanage in Brazil when a nurse discovers that the twin baby girls she’s caring for are to be adopted separately. Shocked at the cruelty of this, she does what she can to nudge fate along a bit and give the girls the best chance at meeting one another by chance. Fast forward fifteen years and we meet Simone and Hannah, now in their teens and both living in Melbourne. While their lives are completely different from each other, unbeknownst they share one thing: dance. And it’s dance that ultimately brings them together.

I loved the way Bavati introduces the situation the girls find themselves in through the viewpoint of their Brazilian nurse. The ways she introduces the girls to each other is equally well conceived by first having one glimpse the other out of the corner of her eye and dismissing her as her own reflection in a window. It made me wonder whether they’d passed each other before and dismissed it in a similar manner. When the actual meeting occurs it is at once lovely, but also a bit surreal. The girls instantly accept that they’ve been separated at birth and now reunited. There’s no denial, no anger at what they’ve missed in not having a sister, just joy at having found each other, which is all well and good, but I’d have expected at least a token attempt at anger and/or disbelief.

Bavati structures her story well, using the time spent at camp to establish both the girls’ characters and the differences between them and allowing them to get to know each other, in addition to creating a plausible reason for the twins to decide to swap. The second act sees the girls separate once more, but this time they learn more about one another by getting to know those who love them. In the last act everything is brought together and all is resolved. The story is followed by an epilogue that returns us to Brazil, to the nurse who started the girls off on their journey, who know learns how it all ended. I found this a very satisfying way of telling the story, tying off all loose ends and firing all Chekov’s guns that the author had slipped into the story.

What I really appreciated about this book was that there were no villains. There aren’t mean girls, bad boys, or awful parents, this story is about these girls and their journey discovering each other, but more importantly discovering themselves. It puts the focus squarely on Simone and Hannah and it makes even the dance secondary to the development of their relationships, with each other, but also with their families and (boy)friends. The parents are present in the story and even Simone’s somewhat distant, seemingly cold stage mum is depicted with empathy. What I did find hard to swallow was the fact that none of these parents suspected anything during the swap. No matter how much they look alike, how can you not notice this? I might have believed it of Simone’s mum, who in addition to being emotionally distant is also a busy professional and away from home a lot. However, in the case of Hannah’s parents it felt rather forced and far-fetched. Their home is described as loving, warm, and close-knit. If that is true how could they have missed the fact that the girl that came home was so different from their own daughter?

Despite this huge hurdle to my suspension of disbelief, I really enjoyed myself with Pirouette. The scenes set at the dance summer camp and later at the dance school where great and the final performance was beautifully described and I almost wish I could see the dance for real. Hannah and Simone’s story is a lovely re-imagining of an age-old story and a really fun read to boot. If you enjoy dance shows and films, then I highly recommend you pick up Pirouette. Meanwhile, I’m off to watch another episode of So You Think You Can Dance…

This book was provided for review by the publisher.