review: The Other Side of Perfect

title: The Other Side of Perfect
author: Mariko Turk
date: Little, Brown; 2021
main character: Alina Keeler

Marigo Turk received her PhD in English from the University of Florida, with a concentration in children’s literature. She currently works as a Writing Center consultant. Her inspiration for this book comes from her personal experience as a ballerina who broke her leg in college.

Alina Keeler , the main character in The Other Side of Perfect is mixed race, Japanese American and European American young woman who lives with her parents and her sister. She begins this story as a junior in high school who now attends high school full time because of a traumatic bone fracture that ended her dance career. Previously, when Alina was a ballet student, dance consumed her life. She only attended school part of the day and consequently, knew few students. Consumed, indeed. Alina was unaware of her neighbors or even much of what her sister was doing. Breaking her leg changed and cause to to completely shift her focus. This sudden disruption to her way of being caused Alina to have to take stock and re-assess; to realize how much she’d never really seen before. In the course of the book, she comes to terms with the role of ballet in her life, with its racist practices and with the important relationships in her life. And, she falls in love. This book is, after all, a romance.

I truly enjoy books where characters come to know, love and accept themselves and this is one of those books. Through most of the story, Alina is a mess. She’s methodically removing the blinders that ballet put in place. She’s pretty hard on herself while she explores the racist tropes in ballet, the quiet ways she’s accepted oppression, her inablitity to relate to others and her general blindness to the rest of the world. I really appreciate that Turk doesn’t rest on the ‘prima donna’ stereotype with this former ballerina. Rather, she builds for Alina a friendship with Diya, a talented young actress, to delve into the idea of passion and talent; how one essentially gives themselves over to their career and how this harms their personal relationships. It can create a pathway to success, until someone breaks their leg.

Alina’s character is empowered through her authenticity. Rather than giving us a sweet girl whose good at relating to others and always kind and gentle, Turk is transparent with Alina’s faults thus creating a complex young woman that we can watch develop. I’m glancing at the title of the book and I’m wondering, which side of Alina’s life did she find to be the other side of perfect? I’m not into ballet and I don’t recognize showtunes any more than Alina, but this was a pretty perfect novel.