**I received a digital copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher, Boot in the Door Publications, in exchange for an honest review.**
Phantom’s Dance by Lesa Howard
Published: April 6th, 2014 by Boot in the Door Publications
Genres: Young adult, contemporary, retelling, romance
Trigger Warnings: Violence, stalking, rape (but it’s not detailed), drug abuse
Pages: 245 pgs.
Summary (from Goodreads):
Christine Dadey’s family uprooted their lives and moved to Houston for her to attend the prestigious Rousseau Academy of Dance. Now, two years later, Christine struggles to compete among the Academy’s finest dancers, her parents are on the brink of divorce, and she’s told no one about her debilitating performance anxiety and what she’s willing to do to cope with it.
Erik was a ballet prodigy, a savant, destined to be a star on the world’s stage, but a suspicious fire left Erik’s face horribly disfigured. Now, a lonely phantom forced to keep his scars hidden, he spends his nights haunting the theater halls, mourning all he’s lost. Then, from behind the curtain he sees the lovely Christine. The moldable, malleable Christine.
Drawn in by Erik’s unwavering confidence, Christine allows herself to believe Erik’s declarations that he can transform her into the dancer she longs to be. But Christine’s hope of achieving her dreams may be her undoing when she learns Erik is not everything he claims. And before long, Erik’s shadowy past jeopardizes Christine’s unstable present as his obsession with her becomes hopelessly entangled with his plans for revenge.
One major thing to know about me is that I absolutely do not mess around when it comes to The Phantom of the Opera. Whether it’s the musical, the book, the movie, whatever — if it exists, I will voraciously consume it. Of course, that definitely lends itself to the devouring of fan fiction regaling the tales of Erik and Christine after the events of the musical, or even an AU where they happen to meet a coffee shop. Those are usually delightful.
I wish I could say that this retelling of my beloved characters was just as delightful; instead, what I got was no better than the average contemporary high school AU that litters the archives of fanfiction.net. I don’t know if Howard was inspired by the recent successes of Cassandra Clare and E.L. James, but this probably wasn’t the story to use to launch a career.
As can be expected of a retelling, Phantom’s Dance vaguely traces the path of the classic Phantom story of a young ingenue having problems reaching the next level of her craft, only to be catapulted to success by a mysterious tutor living beneath the stage. Instead of an 1800’s Parisian opera house, this version is set in modern day Houston, Texas in the Rousseau Academy, a prestigious ballet school. Christine Dadey has all of the makings of a prima ballerina, yet cannot quite tap into the emotional well necessary for a killer performance. However, whispers abound about strange goings on in the school’s performance space, especially after a dance student becomes injured. Only Christine can get to the bottom of the mystery, but not without first facing some personal sacrifices.
First things first, if you’re going to submit a book for publication, please make sure that it’s properly proofread before it goes to print. I can understand the occasional typo here and there — they were even present in Harry Potter — but it’s like all editing went out the door by the end of the book. On more than three occasions, the name Erik is spelled wrong; I’ll reiterate: the name of a main character is spelled incorrectly more than three times. Other errors I commonly found included floating quotation marks, incorrectly-used words, and other misspelled words. The editor in me is absolutely screaming.
Furthermore, is it really necessary to have more than seventy chapters if your book is only a little over 200 pages long? Chapter breaks should come at the natural end of a scene, not after a cliffhanger sentence, only for the same conversation to resume at the beginning of the next chapter. There were many, many times throughout Phantom’s Dance where I found myself irritated because an important conversation between characters was cut in half by these unnatural breaks. The average chapter length in this book was about two and a half pages.
Now, finally I can talk about the characters. As a whole, I could not single out any character who wasn’t completely infuriating. Christine is painted to be this prim, proper young woman whose vocabulary doesn’t even contain the word “misbehave.” Out of nowhere, she begins acting impulsively, sneaking out, lying to her mom. Of course, I wasn’t the perfect child growing up, so this is the pot calling the kettle black, but any of my little spurts of rebellion were just that: spurts. Christine does a complete personality overhaul almost overnight. It’s a little hard to believe when all we hear from her, her friends, her mom — everyone — is that she is the image of the perfect, controlled ballerina. Even her relationship with Raoul seems contrived; it’s like Howard took these characters and said, “Well, they were together in the source material, so naturally they should go together here!” By all means, emulate the original story if you’re doing a retelling, but stories in this genre should not read like IKEA instructions: original plot line A goes into retelling character B. I, as a reader, still want to root for the natural progression of the relationship and see why Raoul finds Christine so attractive. In exactly what ways does his parents’ divorce effect him? What does he want to do with architecture?
Stemming off of that, there is a problem with starting plot lines, or introducing character traits, which are quickly abandoned. Even major plot points — which I will not mention due to spoilers — are literally just kind of cast aside near the end so we can get this rushed epilogue in the final pages. All of this craziness goes down between Christine and Erik and it’s just waved away? With no explanation? It’s almost as if this book was a victim of the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild Strike with how hastily and sloppily all of the ends were tied up.
I’ve tried to dig down deep to figure out if there are any positives that could possibly be brought to light here, I’m hard pressed. At first, I was kind of digging the way Howard was treating mental illness — it’s not often that I see characters that suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that aren’t part of the armed forces — but, as someone that actually struggles with the after effects of it on a daily basis, I would argue that Christine, given her diagnosis, should have felt far more emotional effects after the events of the novel. Furthermore, if she legitimately was diagnosed by a medical professional to have PTSD, and if her parents were as rich as they were, why wasn’t she seeing a therapist before? Why was she forced to steal medication from her friend’s mom? There are just so many poor decisions made in this book that needlessly compound the struggle with properly representing mental illness.
Okay, this review is really just boiling down to me asking rhetorical questions that I know will never be answered. There’s so much more I want to say, but I think I’ve said enough. I’m just so utterly disappointed with the way this book turned out, because I was excited to finally see a Phantom retelling reach publication and had such high hopes for it. Unfortunately, I think I’m just going to have to sit back and wait again, hoping to see the publication of my favorite fan fiction.