Book Club Pick: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Astonish Me is a fascinating story about the intense world of ballet and a young ballerina in NYC. Joan Joyce, who is a good but not great dancer, will probably never be good enough to leave the corps de ballet. While dancing in Paris, Joan falls madly in love with a young Russian dancer Arslan Rusakov (probably modeled after Mikhail Baryshnikov) who she eventually helps defect to the United States. As his fame grows, he quickly loses interest in Joan (who is not 'good enough'), and she realizes she is never going to be a prima ballerina. She decides to leave New York and marries an old friend, moves to California, raises a son and teaches ballet to a new generation of young hopefuls. It's no surprise when her son Harry develops into a promising ballet dancer himself, a real protégé and brings Joan back into her old world of ballet and inevitably back to Arslan and her old friend Elaine. Set in New York, Paris and California, this is a story of ballet but also of relationships, family and truth.

Very well written, and with a cast of interesting characters, Astonish Me shows the many facets of professional ballet--the nature of talent, the idea of perfection, the decisions dancers must make and the inexplicable hold ballet holds over them throughout their lives.

-Ellen Bottiny, Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library

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