Title: Phantom’s Dance
Author: Lesa Howard
Genre: YA Contemporary/Retelling
Number of Pages: 271
My Rating: 2 out 5 stars
I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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.
I just couldn’t review this book without having a spoiler section. My problems with Phantom’s Dance are deeply rooted in a very “spoilery” plot point, so I’ll be doing a quick non-spoiler review, and then a more in depth review that includes spoilers (and probably a lot of preaching and ranting). I’ll start out with the spoiler free section.
Phantom’s Dance is a YA retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, which is one of my favorite stories of all time. I love the romance, the beautifully atmospheric setting, and most of all, the tension and horror. In the original story, the Phantom is constantly lurking in the shadows, striking fear into the hearts of both performers and opera goers. The Phantom’s formidable character is EXTREMELY important, and the story wouldn’t be as powerful (in my opinion) if Christine (and really, everyone else) wasn’t legitimately afraid of him. However, I just didn’t get this “horror” element in Phantom’s Dance. Until nearly halfway through (maybe even farther) it felt like I was reading a story about a ballerina’s struggle with performance anxiety and family issues. I was really let down that the author didn’t take the chance to make Phantom’s Dance a little more creepy and atmospheric.
There were quite a few points in Phantom’s Dance where I absolutely could not stand Christine. She’s a very naive character, and often is selfish and impulsive. Honestly, she’s a bit of a brat. I will say that once I stepped back and thought about how I acted when I was her age, I was able to understand her a little bit more. Christine and I have very similar family circumstances, so I was able to put myself into her shoes and understand her actions. However, I think that Christine will be pretty unlikable if you’re not able to identify with her in some way. Erik’s character was unlikable, point blank. In The Phantom of the Opera, you feel sympathy for the monster that the Phantom has become. I felt none of that for Erik. He’s just creepy, and not in the good way I mentioned earlier. I don’t really have much to say about Raoul, simply because his character was so flat. I didn’t feel like the relationship between Raoul and Christine was very believable, let alone interesting. He was just there to be a foil to Erik, and not much else.
With that, I’m going to start my spoiler section.
SPOILERS AHEAD. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.
My biggest problem with this book is how it handled sexual assault. In Phantom’s Dance, Christine takes nighttime lessons from Erik, which require her to sneak out and break in to her dance school in the dead of night. At one of these “lessons”, Erik drugs and rapes Christine after leading her into his “lair”.
Christine gets up the next morning and doesn’t tell a soul.
She knows exactly what happened, and she knows that Erik is an unstable, dangerous person. Erik is fully capable of doing something drastic, and he’s already physically harmed multiple people at this point. He is mentally ill and obsessed with Christine, but she doesn’t care. All she does is tell him not to call her anymore. She doesn’t tell her parents, she doesn’t tell the police. She finally ends up telling her “best friend”, but her friend doesn’t bother to get Christine any real help either. The author allows Christine to walk around, completely destroyed by what happened. She even tries to break up with Raoul because she’s afraid that he won’t want her because she’s “ruined”.
I understand that this is indeed what happens to some rape victims. They’re terrified, and even ashamed of what happened. However, I think that Lesa Howard had the chance to empower Christine, and not allow her to suffer like she does. She had such a great opportunity to send a message to readers, telling them that rape isn’t their fault, and that they don’t need to be ashamed. Most of all, she had the chance to tell rape victims that they are in no way “ruined” for other sexual partners. The author didn’t choose to spread a more positive message. Instead, she allowed Christine’s rape to become a plot device that really could have been cut out of the story.
The way the subject was handled just really disappointed me, and ended up taking my rating for this book down even farther.