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Saint Vitus' Dance Hardcover – October 18, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6-10?As long as she possibly can, 14-year-old Melanie pretends that nothing is wrong with her mother. However, as Huntington's Chorea (now called HD, Huntington's Disease) progresses, causing spasmodic movement, dementia, and erratic behavior, Melanie can't ignore the crisis. Her father, remote and involved in his work, sees nothing. After her mother's diagnosis, she fears that she will inherit the terminal, genetically carried disease. She turns to faith and solitude, and from that point, the plot is developed mostly internally. Some of the characters are memorable, especially Melanie, tortured and alone, and Miss Rosilda, the fortune-teller who provides comfort though she can't really see the future. In the final chapters, Melanie's father acknowledges the importance of their small family. Finally, Melanie steps from the shadows to feel love and empathy for her institutionalized mother and to accept the future. Told with first-person immediacy, the narrative is realistic and the language is sometimes rhythmic. Detail suggests that the story is set in a middle-American mill town sometime in the middle of the century, and the flavor of a tight community is well captured. An author's note about HD is appended. The themes of this title, the damage of prejudice, awareness of HD, and the importance of caring, are valuable. Readers will be engaged by the plot and characters and learn a bit along the way.?Carolyn Noah, Central Mass. Regional Library System, Worcester, MA
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Gr. 8^-12. Huntington's chorea, or Saint Vitus' dance, a progressive dementia that eventually kills the sufferer, is the diagnosis as Melanie's mother slips further into madness. In spite of the family's prominent standing in the community, Melanie must endure the whispers of the adults, the mimics of the children, and a guilty fear that she is carrying a genetic time bomb within. Rubalcaba writes beautifully, so beautifully that we almost forget to care about Melanie. Yet, Melanie's struggle to reassure herself that she does not carry the terrifying gene, and her inner battle to love rather than hate her mother, whom she misses so much, eventually ring true. The self-absorbed adolescent as well as the self-absorbed husband and father finally nurture the woman who had nurtured them, and both begin to heal themselves. Frances Bradburn

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 - 6
  • Lexile Measure: 880L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 103 pages
  • Publisher: Clarion Books; First Edition edition (October 18, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395727685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395727683
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,075,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By JOAN M KIND on April 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Perhaps there is a little redeeming value in this book since it purports to discuss the feelings of a child who discovers her mother has an incurable disease that the child may have inherited. The story, however, is not believable. Because of the sudden onset of the disease and her mother's strange behaviors, Melanie feels the whole town is laughing at her family. In a small town where all kinds of eccentricities are chalked up to "cabin fever" this is hard to believe. Maybe the writer intended to show that Melanie just imagined this, but we are never quite sure whether this is Melanie's imagination or the meanness of her neighbors.
Her mother is apparently a fully functioning member of society; a fine mother, wife of one of the leading citizens and an excellent homemaker, until one day boom!, she has Huntington's with full blown dementia. This is a very misleading picture of Huntington's Disease. The sudden onset and quick death depicted in the book are not a true picture of the progress of the disease. A person with Huntington's would probably have shown personality changes much earlier than the noticeable onset of the classic symptoms of chorea. The average life expectancy after onset of these symtoms is closer to 15 years, not a few months.
Melanie does not arouse much sympathy in the reader. Her behavior is erratic and perplexing.
I do not know of any young person I would give this book to, either as an explanation of Huntington's or as a guide on how to confront hard facts about one's family and oneself.
The book also gives the mistaken impression that St. Vitus' dance is Huntington's disease. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, St.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Katey Gibb ( on April 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a very touching book that I will definitely read again and that I would recommend others my age read. It helped me understand how it would be to have a Mom with an incurable illness and how scary it would be. It's a sad book that left me thinking deeply about how I would feel if the same thing happened to me. I am 12 years old.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 4, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This beautifully written novel effectively introduces
readers to a disease that is both devastating and widely
misunderstood. Young Melanie, with her eloquent and honest
voice, draws readers in by sharing what she sees and feels
as she witnesses her mother's descent into Huntington's
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By A Customer on November 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I recently reread Saint Vitus' Dance and it was as exquisite as the first time. No one writes like Ms. Rublacaba. The prose is beautiful and the portrayals of a stricken family are sensitive. Excellent!
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