Review: A Time to Dance

“There are no dancers / on this temple’s walls. / Here, even Shiva / stands still.” page 99

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2014.
Novel in verse, 307 pages.
Lexile:  720L  .
AR Level:  4.8 (worth 5.0 points)  .

Veda is a classical dance prodigy starting out on a glorious career in Bharatanatyam when her leg has to be amputated.  But dance is her life and the center of her being.  Can she forge a new life?  Can dance be part of it?

A Time to Dance

Pretty sure this is going on my favorite 2017 reads list although the competition will be steep this year.  Not what you expected me to say about a novel in verse, right?

My biggest problem with novels in verse is that they are incredibly difficult to balance.  I love novels, and I love poetry, but inevitably most novels in verse lose out either in plot or in poetry.  This book has ample plot and appropriate narrative arc, while still having generally gorgeous poetry.  I’m in awe of how Venkatraman pulled this off, because it is very, very difficult to do.

The sense of music and rhythm helped greatly.  The beat of the story changes at various points in Veda’s life.  If you look through the book, initially Veda’s poetry is very balanced.  On page 34 (second page of the chapter Speed) we find a convention overturned – the single word lines come early and in the middle, then a paragraph starts with the single word Pain.

From this point, the lines are unbalanced until Veda is moving again.  Once she is, we begin to see some symmetry but not much at first.  The flow of the lines builds up gradually until, by the end of the novel, there is a rhythm to them again.  It’s not exactly the same as before, but builds on what what there originally.  This new, less perfect, poetry is more evocative.

There’s more, such as the way she is constantly incorporating not only sight and movement but also other senses into the writing, the clever break-up of scenes, the narrative arcs… I could go on and I’m sure I will discover more as I read this again and again.  This novel is just technically excellent, beyond telling a great story.

Since Bharatanatyam uses precise movements of the hands to tell part of the story, parts of this reminded me strongly of reading about ASL.  The evocative movements of her hands means her mastery of them (previously not as important) becomes one of her strengths.

One thing I did find odd is that the title of the book is drawn from a quotation from the Bible, even though this is a Hindu book.  Readers who aren’t familiar with the book (but know scripture pretty well) could find that confusing.

I loved the connections between Veda and her family and how those relationships were explored and subtly developed in the admittedly difficult medium of a novel in verse.  Veta is especially close to Paati, her grandmother, and I’m a sucker for grandparent stories all the way.

The romance was very interesting as well.  Veda is not a typical or traditional girl despite her deep devotion to traditional dance and her connection to Hinduism.  At first, I didn’t like the romance plot – until it went differently than I expected and developed realistically.  It was so nice to see a realistic romance plot as insta-love seems to have become the YA fictional norm.

However, don’t just take my word for it.  Disability in Kidlit reviews it saying:

“This is easily the best representation of an amputee’s experience that I’ve ever come across in fiction. I was surprised to learn that the author wasn’t an amputee, because she’s written Veda’s experience so well.”

ReadingAsIAm and Huntress of Diverse Books also highly recommend this book, which is part of what encouraged me to buy it rather than check it out from the library.  They were definitely right.  I will be rereading this (beyond my second reread for #AsianLitBingo and writing this review).  After I started writing this, Misfortune of Knowing also posted about it as her family was inspired to read it by Sinead too!

I highly recommend this book.  You will learn about Bharatanatyam, Hinduism, prosthetics, and life as a new amputee.  You will laugh and cry and despair and pray along with Veda.  There’s a good chance that you will want your own copy so that you can reread it over and over again.

I’ve marked this as middle grades, but recommend it for teen or adult reading also.  The traumatic car crash and romance subplot mean I wouldn’t use this for younger than 3rd grade, but your children may vary!


Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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