by Dave Amaditz and
One year of First Friday reviews is now in the books. Thank you to all of the fabulous debut authors who have agreed to participate. Marcy and I are looking for many more reviews to follow.
Welcome to March’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.
This month we're pleased to highlight debut YA novelist, Robyn Bavati and her novel, Dancing in the Dark. This was a book that I read in one sitting, unable to put it down because I was so drawn to the characters, to the story. The world Robyn created was so believable and so compelling that I found myself not wanting the story to end. Dancing in the Dark reminded me of another of my favorite novels by one of my favorite authors: My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. So now, there are two novels for you to put on your reading list as highly recommended.
1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?
Dave – At this point of the story, the main character, Ditty, is involved in an internal struggle over doing something that she loves, dance, or following her father’s rule that she not participate. She’s rationalizing why following the rules of dance were so much easier than following the rules of her religion.
You could hurt yourself if you worked incorrectly, but there were no threats of punishment, no dire predictions. If you got it wrong, no one made you feel guilty, or worthless, or afraid. The rules were there to help you, and if you manage to follow them, the reward would be instant - you’d be able to dance. It was simple. Rules were something I knew all about, but here there were no pangs of conscience, no mental anguish. There was nothing that could not be understood or demonstrated or proven. The rules made sense. They were rules I could keep.
Marcy – The main character Ditty dreamed of learning ballet but never thought it was possible because of the strict rules of her religion. At this point in the story, Ditty starts to allow herself the slightest bit of hope to dream about real ballet lessons.
I continued to teach myself as much as I could through books and the occasional snippet of ballet on TV, but what I really, badly wanted was a teacher. I started to dream of real lessons, but it didn’t occur to me that the dream could ever become a reality.
2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?
Dave - Again, this particular section gives insight into how torn, how conflicted Ditty felt about her choice to dance.
There was a certain logic to what Linda had said. But religion went beyond logic, beyond reason. If my parents were right, if all our rabbis and sages and scholars were right, then I had sinned so badly I’d be spending an eternally wretched and miserable existence in the Olam Haba after I died. But if they were wrong, and I believed them? Then I’d miss out on this world and all it had to offer. Either way, I was doomed.
Marcy – There were so many chapter endings I enjoyed, it was hard to decide. This passage really shows Ditty's passion about dancing.
But this was my chance – maybe my only chance – to find out what a real ballet lesson was like. How could I pass up the opportunity? I knew I would never forgive myself if I did.
3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?
Dave – I went back and forth about this so often, and originally, I was going to pick Ditty’s father simply because he was so confident, so sure of himself and his beliefs. In the end, I picked Linda, Ditty’s cousin, who in such a light-hearted way, was also so sure of herself and everything she chose to do. I think this particular dialogue between Ditty and Linda gives good insight into Linda’s character. She has such powerful arguments for why Ditty should be able to pursue her dreams of dancing.
“But Ditty, that’s ridiculous. That’s just like saying that if your parents happen to be criminals, then God would want you to be a criminal, and if your mother’s a prostitute, then you were meant to be a prostitute. Or if your parents happen to be alcoholics-“
“No. Hashem would want you to rise above that…”
“Then maybe He’d want you to rise above religion, too.”
In another section, Linda talks about Ditty’s sister, who so easily accepts the religious rules placed upon her.
“Well, maybe you’re right. Maybe faith really does make her feel peaceful, and maybe ignorance really is bliss. But given the choice, Ditty, I don’t think I’d choose ignorance no matter how happy it made me. Given the choice, I’d rather have the truth.”
Marcy – Like Dave, I was torn between two characters – Linda and Ditty’s ballet teacher, Miss Mitchell. Ditty finally confides in Miss Mitchell and tells her the truth. Ditty is afraid of her teacher’s reaction, which ends up being both heartfelt and compassionate.
“We’ll sort out your living arrangements after we get Giselle out of the way,” she says. “But don’t worry, Ditty. In the meantime, you can stay with me.”
A rush of gratitude overwhelms me. Miss Mitchell cares. She always has.
4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?
Dave – I picked this particular section because it is not only beautiful imagery, but it gives an insight into how Ditty felt when she danced and how dance made her view the world around her.
Miss Mitchell continued to encourage me, and I was determined to keep on earning her praise. I spent hours doing dance steps in my head, and on the days I had ballet, everyday life began to recede even before the class had begun. With each step closer to the National, I became lighter, freer. Each lesson was a gradual soaring, and by the time it was over, I felt weightless. I could’ve sworn I left the studio noticeably taller than when I’d arrived.
Ballet was beauty, and I took pride in executing even the simplest of steps. It was also perfection, but I knew that perfection could never truly be achieved, and there would always be something to strive for.
Dance opened my eyes to other kinds of beauty I’d never paid much attention to before - the different shades of green on the large oak outside our school, the way the forget-me-nots in Harlston Park were more fragrant in the evenings. Happiness broadened my perspective of the world, so that the familiar seemed new.
But it was short-lived happiness, tinged with guilt.
Marcy – By this point, Ditty’s character is changing and she begins to see the world, especially her small community quite differently.
I remembered how proud my cousin Shoshi was when we found out she was pregnant soon after her wedding. And suddenly it struck me that in haredi circles, the number of children women had was almost like a status symbol. As if there was nothing else a woman could do that would be worthwhile.
5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?
Dave – In this particular section, Ditty’s father is speaking with her uncle, who is not as conservative as Ditty’s father. They are talking about the philosophy of raising children and whether or not to give them choices as well as what kind of choices to give them. To me, it gives so much insight into the type of struggle Ditty faces living by her father’s rules.
“But don’t you want them to know there’s a world out there? Don’t you want them to have a choice, a real choice?”
“No, I don’t,” said my father. “I want them to live as Jews are supposed to live. And it isn’t what I want, Yankel, it’s what Hashem requires.”
Marcy – This line kept with me long after reading the book - both funny and poignant.
I was the lowest of the low. I should have been in shule by now, praying for world peace and the salvation of my wayward soul. Instead, I was riding a tram down Brighton Road, praying that no ticket inspector would ride the 67 route that day. I was all too aware of the inherent contradiction in the fact that I had not paid for my ticket because it was forbidden to handle money on Shabbos.
Congratulations to Robyn Bavati, whose Dancing in the Dark, was named a Sydney Taylor honor book and on her second book, Pirouette. To read more about Robyn, please go to: