Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Marie, dancing

Marie, dancing

Carolyn Meyer
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005   ISBN: 0152058796

There is only one thing in Marie van Goethem’s life which really gives her pleasure – her lessons, her rehearsals, and her performances as a ballet dancer at the Paris Opera. Her personal and home life is miserable as she and her sisters are always hungry and always wondering where their next meal is going to come from. The Opera does not pay her and her sisters much for their hard work as dancers and their mother drinks a good portion of their salaries away. Marie is therefore pleased, though a little nervous, when the famous painter, Monsieur Edgar Degas, asks her to be his model. It will be a relief to have some extra money coming in and at least as a model Marie won’t have to take on a “gentleman friend” as her sister Antoinette has done.

Marie cannot help liking the odd Monsieur Degas and she greatly admires his friend Mary Cassat, who is also a painter. She also looks forward to seeing the figurine of herself once it is finished, wondering what it will look like and what people will think of it. She is therefore upset when Monsieur Degas dismisses her from the modeling job. Will she see the statuette when it is completed?

Unfortunately Marie has much bigger problems to worry about, for now her mother is determined that Marie should get herself a gentleman friend who will “provide for her” and thus who will help support the family. Marie abhors the idea and matters are made even more complicated by the fact that she now has a sweetheart whom she truly loves. How can she bear to be someone’s mistress? And yet how can she bear the idea of giving up the dance to get a job that will pay better?

For decades art lovers off all ages have admired and fallen in love with Degas’ little statuette, “Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen.” This is the story of the girl who inspired the creation of that statue. Some of this story is based on fact and the rest comes from the author’s own remarkable imagination. The author sets the story in Paris in the late 1800’s perfectly capturing the feel of what it would have been like to be a poor young teenager struggling to survive in the city at that time. Carolyn Meyer gives her readers a very real sense of how hard it was to succeed as a ballet dancer and how easy it might have been to give in to temptations that could lead a girl down a very slippery slope indeed.

Beautifully crafted, this is the book which many people have been waiting for, and it certainly serves as a grand tribute to generations of Little Dancers who bravely danced on with sore feet and empty stomachs.