CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 39. . . .June 10, 2011.
Chance to Dance for You.
Gail Sidonie Sobat.
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains, 2011.
172 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Rob Bittner.
I stood. Pushed the coffee table out of the way. And I danced. Nothing too theatrical or gymnastic. But I showed Jess me. I him Ian. The way I can turn and be perfectly centred. The way my arms extend in desire. The way I isolate the muscles of my torso. My stomach. The strength in my thighs. My back. The flexibility of my legs. And the way my body moves to the rhythm and music and the life, the pulse of music. I improvised and I let go. I took a chance. For him.
Books that are honest, unabashed, and realistic in their treatment of gay teens are not easy to come by, at least not books like Chance to Dance for You Gail Sidonie Sobat is a writer of great dexterity, utilizing humour, sarcasm, wit, and tragedy, all to create a narrative that is flowing, energetic, and inspirational. Ian is about to graduate from high school, he is great dancer—sorry, danseur—and he happens to be gay. He also happens to have a crush on the high school quarterback, Jess. When Jess corners him in the locker room one day and kisses him, Ian can’t help but be shocked—and just a little bit excited. Now he has to navigate his dancing, his school life, and a secret relationship with a self-hating football star. What is a young gay boy to do?
Jess and Ian’s tumultuous relationship is incredibly raw and emotional, bringing out the best and worst in both characters. Ian opens himself up completely to Jess and finds out a lot of things about crushes and first love; how easy it is to feel joy in love, but also how easy it is to be ruined by it. But Ian is resilient. And he has a host of wonderful influences to help him out. His friend Tilly helps him stay together even when he wants to give up, and his dance instructor, the indestructible and impenetrable Madame, shows Ian that life can be tough, but it’s far from impossible.
Ian’s dancing is the main thread that holds everything together, working in favour of and also against him at various points throughout the novel. Dance is what allows him to open himself up to the world, and to Jess. But it is also the thing that causes friction with so many classmates and bullies, because everyone knows guys who dance are always gay. Ian feels real, falling into only a few stereotypes—though who doesn’t, really?—but he is altogether sympathetic and engaging. His struggles are the struggles of many gay teens in Canada, and Sobat’s first-person narrative style pulls the reader in from the first sentence. Ian’s perspective on life is uncensored and intriguing, consistently bringing attention to aspects of life that many can so easily take for granted.
My one complaint—thought that may be too harsh a word—is that Sobat seems to engage with every pop culture reference she can get her hands on, and it sometimes feels slightly overwhelming. From Glee to Lady Gaga to flashmobs at the mall, from commentaries on suburbia and war to being Métis in a predominantly white neighbourhood, Chance to Dance for you packs in as much as it can. But even with all of this, Sobat doesn’t let it get away from her in the end. Each sub-plot feels wrapped up, every character feels complete, and the main arc is satisfying.
Rob Bittner is a graduate student of Children’s and Young Adult Literature at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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