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Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina Hardcover – October 14, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up—In this moving memoir, DePrince, who in 1995 was born in war-torn Sierra Leone but went on to become an acclaimed professional ballerina, tells her story. Her struggles started early: it was discovered that she had vitiligo, a medical condition that results in blotchy, irregular patches of skin, and her biological parents both died when she was only three. DePrince was sold to an orphanage, where she was starved and abused and where she witnessed the brutal murder of her pregnant teacher, a memory that would forever haunt her. After the orphanage was bombed, DePrince and the other orphans fled to a refugee camp. When she was four years old, she and her best friend, Mia, were adopted by the same family and taken to live in the United States. Just before leaving, DePrince found a magazine photograph of a ballerina, and her dream of becoming a dancer was born. Her supportive family did everything they could to help her attain her goal, but the girl still encountered challenges, including prejudice from those who believed African American dancers to be less suited for the craft ("'Black girls just shouldn't be dancing ballet. They're too athletic. They should leave the classical ballet to white girls.'"). However, she persevered and succeeded, becoming the youngest principal dancer for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and joining the Dutch National Ballet. Though the text is accessible and engaging, there are events that are glossed over or not fully fleshed out, such as details of her adopted sister's medical problems. Overall, though, DePrince is an inspiring narrator, wise beyond her years. An uplifting story about overcoming the odds.—Stephanie Farnlacher, Trace Crossings Elementary School, Hoover, AL
Starred review, Publishers Weekly, August 11, 2014:
"A compelling narrative . . . The book’s strong thread is Michaela’s lifelong passion for ballet and her candid depiction of the physical and emotional struggles of becoming a black classical ballerina. There is plenty of ballet detail for dance lovers to revel in, and the authors achieve a believable, distinctive teenage voice with a nice touch of lyrical description."
"Readers will find her life story gripping whether or not they are dance fans...the heart of the journey resonates in this mother/daughter collaboration. A revealing and absorbing journey through dance classes and competitions to success."—Kirkus Reviews
“From her earliest days as an orphan in Sierra Leone to the stages of world-renowned theaters, Michaela’s incredible determination to not only survive, but triumph in the face of unthinkable adversity is an inspiration to anyone who has fought for a dream. Her grace and strength bleed through in each of her breathtaking performances. This is a story of great courage that all women—young and old—should read.” —Tina Brown
“Extraordinarily written. Hardship ads to the strength of the people and artists we become and Michaela is nothing short of a miracle, born to be a ballerina. For every young brown, yellow, and purple dancer, she is an inspiration!” —Misty Copeland, world-renowned ballet dancer
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Although the book is largely about Michaela's journey, there is another star in the book, and that is her American mother. It is without a doubt that Michaela had the fortitude and determination to make things happen for herself, but the support of her parents (all four of them) afforded her many opportunities she likely would not otherwise have had. The brief details about her American mother make me want to know so much more about this remarkable woman, I hope she writes her own memoir as I would love to read it. I won't spoil anything for you readers, but I will just say the quiet impact this woman has had on the lives of her children and in turn, humanity, is breathtakingly admirable.
It is true that there is a fair amount of ballet jargon in some of the book that might be over the heads of people not in the dance world, but there is so much more to her story than that and it shouldn't detract from a larger, non-dance enthusiast readership (it may even serve to inspire readers to learn more about the art of ballet). The book is first and foremost a memoir and ballet is an important backdrop to the overall story of overcoming the odds to achieve your dreams. I think this book will appeal to anyone who likes to read about any one or several of the following: the unwavering human spirit, feminism/gender equality, breaking racial barriers, family (the one you're born in and the family you choose), adoption, grief and loss, challenging fears, ballet, bridging cultural gaps, early childhood trauma, paving new paths, friendship, what it takes to succeed, and at the heart of it all...love.
This book offers a personal account of the tragedy as well as the triumph over being born in a war torn country. There are many people on this planet that are a victim of their circumstances. When I closed this book on its final page, I had a new appreciation and gratefulness for the life I was born into. I was also reminded that help is needed out there in the far reaches of the world. This book moved me in many ways. I have little to feel sorry for myself about compared to what many helpless souls out there have to deal with. This book was inspiring and thought provoking.