Contemporary, Drama, Family, Romance

Outside the Limelight by Terez Mertes Rose

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dance is a big part of my life. I have been learning Indian Classical forms of dance since I was 4 years old and I still dance today. At one point in my life, I was just doing it for fun (and also because my parents were forcing me) but now, I can’t imagine not doing it. I was very excited to read a story on the competitive and strenuous life of a ballet dancer, so thank you to the publisher and author for giving me the opportunity to read this book!

Dena Lindgren’s career as a ballet dancer is at its highest peak when disaster strikes in the form of a brain tumor. Following surgery, Dena discovers that half of her face is paralyzed. Her dreams of continuing to dance are marred by the long road to recovery, and the deficits she faces in presenting emotion. In light of this tragedy, Anders Gunst, the ballet company’s artistic director, shifts his attention to Rebecca, Dena’s older sister. Under Anders’ heady attention, Rebecca makes her mark as an artist, while her sister languishes on the sidelines of a ballet word that demands beauty and perfection. Rebecca will have to make a painful choice: focus on her own career by playing by the rules of the artistic director, or risk it all to help her sister.

What a wonderful story that showed a glimpse into the dance world! This is definitely one of my favorite realistic fiction novels so far!

The rigors of the dance world and the toll it takes on the dancers was depicted so accurately. This novel makes even those who aren’t entrenched in that world understand how a passion can drive a person to go to extreme lengths. I could connect with every single character in the story, the way they pushed themselves to keep going despite numerous injuries, their doubts as to whether they were good enough or whether they should just give it a rest. But most of all, the joy and the exhilaration that the dancers felt when they performed well… that was captured and explained beautifully. With every triumph they had, I shared in that feeling with them.

The sisters’ relationship was both complex and simple at the same time, and in a way it reminded me of my own relationship with my little sister. It was complex because they are both in such a difficult environment, where one person’s success means the other person failed. To still support your sister through that is a difficult task indeed. The sisters showed that even the strongest ties can be weakened by ambition, fear, and selfishness. But it can also be restrengthened through growth, consideration, and love for each other. Throughout the novel, we read about these sisters going through their own emotions and how that affects their interaction with each other. By the end of the novel, they feel at peace with their life and where they are at, which was just amazing to witness.

All of the other characters were equally strong, and were necessary to show other sides of the sisters’ personalities. Their respective interactions with other characters showed how they managed to make it as individuals, while also highlighting the competitiveness and pettiness that can emerge in this industry. I’m not going to say more in case I spoil the story but every character played an essential role, and helped to make the story work.

I really enjoyed this book, with its insightful view of the ballet world. This novel explored relationships, ambition, and fate in a touching way, and I still feel the impact of it hours after reading the story. This novel will make you connect on an intimate level with Dena and Rebecca, and will show you that a tragedy can sometimes lead to a better place.

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