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Second Position (District Ballet Company #1)…
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Second Position (District Ballet Company #1)

by Katherine Locke

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For more reviews, gifs, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.

Reading books by authors you know, whether just online or in real life, never really gets less nerve-wracking. I’ve never met Katherine Locke, but I talk to her fairly regularly on Twitter. When I saw she had a debut with Carina Press, I was happy for her, but I wasn’t sure if I ought to read it. Not liking the book of someone who might actually notice is just the worst. Still, I’m a curious cat, and I couldn’t resist requesting it, especially since I’m always looking for good new adult novels and have been in the mood, even more so than usual, for romances. Locke’s debut Second Position is everything I want from new adult: it’s raw, bantery, and all about dealing with problems.

Second Position doesn’t really follow typical new adult lines. Zed and Aly are on the older end of the new adult spectrum. They do have a whole host of issues, as is generally the case in NA, but the novel really deals with them. The issues aren’t merely obstacles to be tossed aside once the ship gets going. They’re presented in a very real way, with a good deal of humor, often dark. Second Position isn’t fluffy, but it’s also not melodramatic or angsty, because of the way in which the subject matter is handled. You should also be warned that there’s a good deal less sex in the average new adult novel.

Zed and Aly were both did ballet, until an accident shattered their lives togethers. That same accident took Zed’s leg. Their relationship didn’t survive. Zed’s mom pushed Aly out of the hospital room, and she left; once he was well, he didn’t feel like following someone who left. Fast forward four years to Zed spotting Aly in line for coffee in the coffee shop beneath his apartment. It’s a true coincidence, one that neither of them was ready for but that’s for the best.

Aly’s on year-long leave from her ballet company in Philadelphia after having a breakdown and hitting another dancer. She checked herself into rehab to deal with her anorexia, but that’s only one of a whole host of problems Aly’s dealing with. For those four years, Aly threw herself completely into dance, unable to cope with the everything she lost in that car crash. Finally, work wasn’t enough anymore, and Aly’s cracks became full breaks, visible to everyone.

The treatment of mental health in Second Position is just beautiful. My favorite relationship should perhaps be that of Aly and Zed, and I do like them a lot, but it’s not; my favorite relationship is Aly and her therapist. Told in a back and forth dialogue, with no dialogue tags or descriptions, her sessions with Dr. Ham are incredibly powerful. It was never hard to track which character was speaking in these long conversations, because the voices were strong enough to pull off this risky technique. Ham banters with Aly, and he knows when to push her and when to hold off until she’s ready.

More to the point, more beautiful than the artistry and banter of those scenes, is that no one every judges Aly for needing therapy. Aly, though she doesn’t always want to go, commits to therapy, and she checked herself in for help. Even then, she sometimes has setbacks. The reader gets to see Aly slipping and siding, Aly feeling fat or anxious. It’s very clear that her mental health is a process. It’s not simple, and Zed’s love cannot fix her. Being with Zed again helps her in some ways, because she feels loved and wants to be better for him, but it also adds more stress into her life. Love can be a catalyst for change and can help, but it can’t do everything. It’s very clear that Aly wouldn’t be making the progress she does without the help of her therapist and her medicines.

Zed’s doing better than Aly in Second Position, but that’s because he spun out four years ago and has already done a lot of work putting himself back together. In the wake of losing his leg, Zed became an alcoholic, but he too realized he’d gone too far and went to AA. There he made a good friend, Dan, who’s minimally in the novel, but who I really like. Zed too still has shit to truly confront, and I love that Second Position shows that no one’s ever completely healthy. We’re all working and growing and trying to face the hard truths all the time.

For both Zed and Aly, their jobs are important to them. Aly has to figure out how to fit ballet into her life without falling prey to anorexia and the rest of the things that can come with it. Zed’s managed to make a good life for him at the sundering of his leg and ballet career. He works at a private arts high school, teaching theater. His students love him, and he works incredibly hard trying to help them make their dreams come true. Though Second Position doesn’t focus much on his work, it’s there enough to show the way he helps two students Mia and Ainsley View Spoiler ». Zed’s actually assisted in this by his tough past, because he totally gets where the more troubled teens are coming from and knows how to help them funnel that emotion into the arts.

As for the romance, I liked it a lot. I didn’t ship them passionately, but I did care about them and wish for them to work it out. They’re sweet and bantery. I like a lot that they fight, sometimes about small things and sometimes about big ones. Fictional couples don’t do that enough; relationships are in the working out of arguments, because no relationship’s going to be perfect. Because of their shared past they haven’t entirely recovered from, Zed and Aly fall hard and fast, but they also fall carefully. There’s not much sex in the book precisely because they have to start fresh, even though in some ways being together feels just the same as it once did. They’re new people, and they’re not ready or able to be the same as the were before. I love the slow process by which they feel one another out and find a new dynamic.

What I adore about Locke’s writing is how dialogue-driven it is. A large portion of the novel is told through dialogue alone. The characters are built predominantly through their own words, and that’s a really wonderful thing. It’s hugely showing and not telling. The descriptions were a bit more typically new adult, sometimes tending a bit too much to the sentimental. I also loved the way that Locke ended the story with an article about the couple a bit after the rest of the novel. Having a different perspective was a strange choice, but I think it really worked.

Give me more new adult novels like Katherine Locke’s, which is primarily about figuring out how to be a healthy adult. The romance, ballet, and banter were pluses, but it’s the healthiness of watching two people trying to figure their shit out that really made Second Position work so well for me. I’m eager to see what happens in the next District Ballet Company novel. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Jun 2, 2015 |
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