February 5, 2015

The Painted Girls: A Review

So, today I finished reading a book that I bought the last time I was in Old Town Spring as Ariel. I came across this tiny little book shop tucked in between several other businesses, called "Glow Worm". The place was packed with used books, many of which were in great condition. I definitely want to go back there, but in the meantime I have other books to read. The one that I picked up the one time that I went there was "The Painted Girls" by Cathy Marie Buchanan.

I had heard about this book before, but just a little bit. I thought that it was a story based on a painting of ballet girls that is part of the cover of the book. It wasn't exactly like that, however. I did end up loving the book regardless.

The book is based on a work of the artist Edgar Degas, the little dancer of fourteen years. The sculpture is of a ballet girl, Marie van Goethem. About half way through the book, I ended up looking up the sculpture to see what the main character was supposed to look like, and I was surprised that the facial features of the figure are more masculine and, as said in the book, "ape-like" than what I would have expected. The sculpture is made of wax, which was more of a temporary medium. The tutu, hair, and hair ribbon are real though, although the hair is covered in wax to preserve it. There are apparently many replicas that have been made and the tutus of the replicas vary. The actual sculpture resides in Washington DC at the national gallery of art, if I'm not mistaken. I think it would be neat to go and see it some day. That is one of the few reasons that I would ever want to go to Washington DC.

Anyway, this book tells the tale of two ballet girls who were sisters, Marie and Antoinette van Goethem. I don't want to give to much away from the plot, but these two girls in the book have a rough life. They go through extreme poverty and abuse and all kinds of terrible things. Antoinette doesn't make it far as a ballet girl and circumstances cause... Never mind. There's just too much that I could give away by saying anything about the plot.

This book is really unique in both that it is written about an existing character and that it is written from the perspectives from both of the main characters. The chapters go back and forth between Marie and Antoinette telling what is happening. Unlike many books with this style of storytelling, this book doesn't get boring in constantly re-telling the same events in different perspectives. There is also another layer of interest added to this book because it takes place in Paris in the 1870s and has a lot to do with ballet and the opera. There were quite a few words that I had to look up, but I am all for this! I love when an author actually uses the proper language when discussing a subject matter. In the Acknowledgements, it is obvious that this author did her research.

This wasn't a book that I could read really fast because of the amount of information and new vocabulary that I was coming across. I spaced it out over a couple of months with some other books thrown in the mix as a break from it. It is definitely a higher reading level book. I would say that this book is appropriate for a high level, mature middle schooler or a high schooler. The subject matter can get kind of intense at times too, which makes me think that a high school level person would be better for reading this book. I'd rate it PG-13 if it was a movie. But the thing is, it attempts to accurately portray how life was at that time. Life, even today, isn't always pretty and nice.

I'd give this book a 4 of 5 stars, just because I felt like I needed a background with ballet to fully understand parts of it. There were also a few pages here and there that were just blah and I felt myself just skimming it, not really taking in the words. It was a very wordy book. But if you can get past that, its fantastic. I would definitely reccomend this book to someone interested in Opera or Ballet or dance of any sort. Or even someone interested in famous artists, since that plays a large part in the plot also. Happy reading!

-EW