No Ballet Shoes in Syria is not the kind of book you would expect me to enjoy as thoroughly as I did.
It is one of those very emotional stories, which if you are a softie like me, can quite easily reduce you to tears. However, the book’s driving pace and exhilarating climaxes glued my eyes to all 259 pages.
This book is all about refugees. I had always sympathised with refugees, but until I read this book, I had never really understood the treacherous journeys they were forced to run head first into, nearly always on an empty stomach. I had never really understood, how vulnerable they were, with no one to help them if they fell ill or there was a famine. But then I read about how the moment a refugee arrives in a country they can be easily sent back to their war torn home. This can only be prevented if they win a court case.
This information made my heart break for refugees out there, struggling against worldwide cruelty. That’s an unfair match, right? One refugee against all the people who don’t know how lucky they are to be sitting on their sofa at home, with a telly and plenty of food.
In this case, it’s a refugee called Aya. She is looking after her baby brother, Moosa and her mother who is suffering serious anxiety. On top of all this, she has also lost her father out at sea. The way Catherine Brunton describes the weight of this responsibility on the shoulders of an eleven year old girl is the first glimpse into the risky and perilous world of being a refugee.
I like the layout of this book. At the end of each chapter there is a memory of Aya’s peaceful days in Syria that is linked to what was said in the rest of the chapter.
One of the memories is how Aya used to love ballet and when she finds out lessons are happening in the refugee asylum, she is hooked. One day, the ballet teacher finds Aya outside her classroom, pirouetting away to the music. The teacher is impressed and decides to to take Aya into the lessons free of charge.
Aya has to deal with bullying from one of the children in the ballet lesson. The other children don’t bully Aya, but they exclude her, and treat her like a bomb that might go off any minute. She doesn’t only have to deal with this though; her mother’s mental health is worsening. As a reader you wonder how much longer Aya can hold on. Then when she seems on the brink of losing it all, Aya makes a friend. Her friend’s name is Dotty. They build a strong bond and there is some hope left.
Then Aya finally has a chance to show her inner ballerina, at the audition for the Royal Northern Dance School.
But then it all goes horribly, horribly wrong.
Will Aya ever be able to leave her terrible past and become a prima ballerina?
I love this book. However, some parts can be very distressing and alarming. So I would strongly suggest that if you are not at least nine then you wait a few years before you even think about his book.
Have you read it yet( if you are a suitable age group)?