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Pointe of No Return ( A Dani Spevak Mystery) – by Amanda Brice

When this book came up as the November selection for the Washington Loves Romance bookclub, I hesitated.  I seldom read young adult books, and this book borders on mid grade (young teen and pre-teen).  I wasn’t sure how I’d like reading a young adult book with a 14 year old protagonist who goes to an elite arts school to practice dance (ballet specifically) and solves mysteries.  But hey, I did have fond memories of Nancy Drew, so I took the plunge.

I’m glad I did.  Dani Spevak is a typical young teen (extraordinary dance skills aside).  She’s a freshman at a nationally recognized dance school in Arizona, a boarding school where the kids have a grueling academic, as well as arts schedule.  Tryouts are on for the Nutcracker production, and although good, Dani realizes that this first year, she’ll probably be assigned a snowflake role.  Imagine her surprise when she discovers she’s an understudy to the Sugar Plum Fairy role, and the dreaded diva Hadley Turner.  It’s a great honor to be an understudy to the lead, especially as a Freshman, but since she’s been given no other role, Dani will work hard for the production and never make it on stage.  Unless, that is, something happens to Hadley.  Hadley vanishes, and Dani enthusiastically begins investigating her disappearance, as much because she loves amateur detective work as to clear her name as a suspect.

The plot is nicely put together, and everything moves along at a steady pace.  There is a bit of a love interest, and a whole host of friends and frenemies.  This book is written from the point of view of a 14 year old, and not an adult stuck into a young body.  The language, the tone, the thought process is absolutely true to the age of the heroine.  That’s a skilled bit of writing on Brice’s part.  I’ve got a 15 year old son, teen nieces, and since I horseback ride, I hang out at the stable with a lot of teenage girls.  Teens are desperately trying to find themselves, and their place in a competitive and fast moving society.  Dani Spevak is no different.

The one complaint I have about the book is something that I’ve found typical with teens, especially girls.  Dani meets Hadley’s mom and can’t see anything past the designer clothes, the bumpit hair, the botox and fake boobs. Kristen Taylor comes across as vapid, shallow as a saucer.  There’s got to be something deeper, something about Hadley’s mom that we can connect with, but we just can’t see it through a 14 year old lens. Later in the book we see Kristen Taylor a wreck, crying over the disappearance of her daughter, but even that seems flat.  Yes, I know, the protagonist is 14, and I should give her a break, but I wanted Dani to be more sleuth-like in her assessment of others.  I wanted her to shrewdly see beyond the surface.

That made it difficult for me as an adult to fall in love with the book, but I did enjoy it, and I think it will absolutely appeal to teens and to those adults that love young adult fiction.  Rating it within the genre and as a book suitable for ages ten to fourteen, I’d give it four stars.  I’ll be buying a copy for my 11 year old niece.  Uh oh, hope she doesn’t read my blog!

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