Welcome to my stop on the TBR and Beyond Tours Book Tour for The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk. I am so excited about being part of this tour and having the opportunity to interview Mariko Turk. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom to see the tour schedule for other content creators.
Thank you to Mariko Turk and Little Brown Books for providing me with an ARC for this review
Mariko Turk grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in creative writing. She received her PhD in English from the University of Florida, with a concentration in children’s literature. Currently, she works as a Writing Center consultant at the University of Colorado Boulder.
She lives in Colorado with her husband and baby daughter, where she enjoys tea, walks, and stories of all kinds.
About The Book
Title: The Other Side of Perfect
Author: Mariko Turk
Publisher: Little Brown Books
Publishing Date: May 11th, 2021
Page Length: 336
Age Range: YA
Alina Keeler was destined to dance, but one terrifying fall shatters her leg–and her dreams of a professional ballet career along with it.
After a summer healing (translation: eating vast amounts of Cool Ranch Doritos and binging ballet videos on YouTube), she is forced to trade her pre-professional dance classes for normal high school, where she reluctantly joins the school musical. However, rehearsals offer more than she expected–namely Jude, her annoyingly attractive cast mate she just might be falling for.
But to move forward, Alina must make peace with her past and face the racism she had grown to accept in the dance industry. She wonders what it means to yearn for ballet–something so beautiful, yet so broken. And as broken as she feels, can she ever open her heart to someone else?
Touching, romantic, and peppered with humor, this debut novel explores the tenuousness of perfectionism, the possibilities of change, and the importance of raising your voice.
I just wanted to thank Mariko for taking the time to answer my questions.
What inspired you to write The Other Side of Perfect?
I’ve always been interested in how people grapple with the negative aspects of the things they love. For instance, I love ballet, but I know it has its share of harmful aspects—like its lack of diversity and its reliance on racial stereotypes in many classical pieces. So I started wondering, if ballet perpetuates these negative things, does that mean I shouldn’t love it? And if I do still love and support it, what does that mean about me?
When I decided to try writing a YA novel, I imagined what would happen if a 16-year-old half-Japanese girl who dreamed of dancing professionally had a career-ending injury and had to deal with losing something she loved with all her heart and with wondering if she ever should have loved it in the first place. Her story became THE OTHER SIDE OF PERFECT.
Were there any interesting facts that you found while researching for this book that didn’t end up being used?
Yes! I found out how pointe shoes are made, and it’s fascinating. Many professional ballet dancers wear handmade pointe shoes that are crafted and customized by one specific pointe shoe maker. Dancers can get so attached to their makers that they won’t wear pointe shoes made by anyone else. Here’s a video that talks a bit about it: Pointe Shoes – YouTube
Do you have any background in dance that helped influence The Other Side of Perfect?
Growing up, I loved to dance, but I wasn’t nearly good enough to be on the professional track. When I was in my twenties, I broke my leg while I was dancing ballet. It was painful, but I remember being so grateful that the injury hadn’t happened when I was a teenager. Dancing was such a huge part of my identity then that losing it would have felt devastating. My injury and recovery experience definitely influenced what Alina goes through in THE OTHER SIDE OF PERFECT.
Singing in the Rain, Nutcracker, and Giselle are mentioned a lot in the book. Was there any reason you picked those ones?
The Nutcracker is probably the most beloved and popular ballet in the world, and it’s performed every year by ballet schools and companies. Its popularity and status as a “classic” make it the perfect example of how traditional ballet perpetuates racist stereotypes. And since Alina’s school would no doubt perform it every year, I thought it would be a great way for her to begin recognizing and challenging ballet’s racism.
As for Giselle, its themes of death and rebirth, weakness and power, anger and forgiveness fit so well with THE OTHER SIDE OF PERFECT. And I picked Singin’ in the Rain specifically because of Cyd Charisse’s role as the “Vamp.” It’s exclusively a dancing role featuring a sexy dance with the male lead. Perfect for Alina!
If you could spend one day with each of your characters (Alina, Margot, Ethan, Jude, Diya, and Harrison) what would you do with them?
Alina: watch ballet videos on YouTube.
Margot: eat waffles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Ethan: walk around downtown and take artsy photos.
Diya: also karaoke!
Harrison: ballroom dancing classes.
What inspired the Love Realism Game?
Love Realism was inspired by the types of games my friends and I would play in middle and high school (and college, too, who am I kidding). We liked to imagine odd scenarios and then play them out until they were these intricate, elaborate tales. For example, when my friend and I were on a spring break trip, we pretended a divorced woman from the Midwest named Debbie was traveling with us. She had a whole backstory and everything. I guess it was good practice for becoming a writer!
Without spoilers, what was your favorite scene to write?
When Alina and Jude see Giselle. I love writing bittersweet moments, and there are a lot in that scene.
Racism in ballet was brought up a lot in The Other Side of Perfect and in your acknowledgements you referenced yellowface.org as a valuable resource to learn more. How important was it to include this in your book?
Super important! I knew that if I wrote a book about ballet, it would have to acknowledge the systemic racism that has always been part of the art form. It was so important for Alina’s story to explore the beautiful and the ugly parts of ballet. I was very glad to have yellowface.org and Phil Chan’s book Final Bow for Yellowface: Dancing Between Intention and Impact as resources when I was writing and revising. Phil Chan was also generous enough to read an earlier draft of THE OTHER SIDE OF PERFECT and give me feedback on it, which was vital. I’d encourage anyone who is interested in antiracism and ballet to check out Final Bow for Yellowface.
Rep: Japanese (Own voices), Asian, LGBTQIA+
Content Warning: protagonist is dealing with a lot of anger and some depression, various experiences of racism, bullying
I was so excited for this book when I found out about it – and not just for the cover! I find I’m drawn towards books about dancers. I had high hopes–and it exceeded them!
I enjoyed Mariko’s writing. I found it easy and well written. Mariko writes amazing characters that felt realistic and you become attached to them quickly. I loved Alina, Margot, Ethan, Jude, Harrison, and yes even Diya! I found them all memorable and very relatable. Diya is meant to be the snobby outcast and misunderstood, I felt horrible for her–to be surrounded by that many people, but to always be alone. There were moments where I couldn’t stand Alina–but I understood why she had acted the way she did. Alina was dealing with a lot throughout this book and there were many points in her struggles where I could relate to her. I loved that Mariko gave each character their time to be in the spotlight, not just Alina. I learned more and more about each character as Alina did and that made them all-the-more interesting to see in scenes. There was never a point where I was uninterested in learning more about each character–I didn’t have a character where I would be ok if we never saw or learned more about.
The things we learn as readers and the messages coming across are ones that need to be made. I like that Mariko was able to show multiple dimensions of depression and racism–both uncomfortable topics. At no point during this book did I feel talked down to or belittled–which isn’t always easy to do.
If you enjoyed Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra for the dance aspects and The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen for the theatre then I highly recommend this to you. If you want more dance/theatre/musicals in your books then 100% pick this one up!