Book Review Wednesday: Jersey Tomatoes are the Best

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The summer 2012 Olympics in London are only weeks away. After the opening ceremonies, with its choreography and flames, the athletes will get down to doing what they do best– playing their sport. For most of them, it has been a lifetime of preparation and training. Before my son completed school this year, their class read an article about the olympic athletes and the teacher asked, “Do you think that the training the olympic athletes go through is worth it?”

Maria Padian’s Young Adult novel JERSEY TOMATOES ARE THE BEST gives readers an inside look at the training of two high-level female, best-friend, teen athletes. Henry (Henriette) is a tennis champ and Eva is a ballerina.

The book is told in alternating first person chapters with spot-on dialogue and voice unique to each character. Padian keeps the story moving forward, a difficult task with two narrators. She also captures the nuances of each sport beautifully with details that reveal a well-researched story.

The book is emotionally honest and at times, heart wrenching as Eva struggles with anorexia, Henry struggles to rediscover her love of the game, and both girls try to define themselves as separate from their “obnoxious parents.” The book, with themes of body image, family, sacrifice, secrets, and first love, is a thought provoking, page turner.

An amazing summer read. Don’t miss it!

The agent and the ballet

I have had an amazing couple of days in the big apple. Hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen there are bound to be lots of smiles and maybe a squee or two.

On Tuesday, I was pleased to interview Cameron Dieck, and up and coming 19 year old from Mount Cisco, New York who has been dancing since the age of 3. He entered the School of American Ballet his fifth grade year and has had his eye set on the New York City Ballet ever since. He was the recipient of the 2007 Mae L. Wien award for outstanding promise. Cameron is  on the far right with the other young people.

Below is an excerpt from my notes of the experience:
“The teachers break room at the School of American Ballet (SAB) is furnished with modern furniture: strong lines, steel and chrome are joined with grey and black cube inspired furniture. The young man seated across from me is the opposite of his surroundings. Tall, a little over six feet, Cameron Dieck sits folded into a couch in a cozy maroon Harvard sweatshirt and jeans that accent his lean long legs. He has an infectious grin and sparkling eyes that light up when he talks about ballet and cloud over when he discusses the bullying he had to endure in middle school because of his love for dance. Our interview was more of a conversation and lasted for about an hour. These are the best interviews of all. Cameron is intelligent, well spoken and kind. I keep wondering if he is this way with all reporters or if we’ve so quickly become friends.”

Yesterday, I spent the day at SAB. Amy Bordy, the public relations person at SAB has been welcoming, friendly, and supportive and really opened the whole school to me. I know this is a treat and an honor and I am thankful beyond words. Amy took me on a tour of the school taking particular pride in the newly built additional studios which are suspended above two original studios that once had 30 (?) foot ceilings.
They each have deep, sprung floors and are surrounded by glass walls to take advantage of the huge windows in the original studio below. I also got to learn more about the residential program for students. Security is number one priority for the students who are sometimes as young as 12 in the summertime. Programing provided by the Residential Director helps build community, and integrates these talented young people into New York City safely. Many of their students are selected from a national audition tour so they have young people from all over who may be new to city living. After the tour, I was honored to observe the partnering class for advanced students taught by retired NYC dancer Jock Soto who is famous for his partnering techniques. More here. I will never watch ballet the same way again. His instruction was precise, demanding, and filled with examples from the everyday. Teaching 14 and 15 year olds is never easy. Teaching them to  create characters that understand the intricacies of relationships (including intimacy and sensuality) is near impossible but he did it all with a lovely sense of humor. The next class I saw was the 12 and 13 year olds. I was struck by their strength, centering and ability to remember the combinations. My kid can’t even remember the lunch box on the counter. The instructor John Stafford, principal dancer for the NYC ballet, was kind and gentle even when they lost focus. According to Balanchine, all music at SAB is live. The baby grand pianos are staffed by experienced accompanists who are able to pluck the perfect bit of music out of the air to go with the combinations that the instructors develop on the spot. If you are a boy interested in ballet SAB is the place to be.

I was a little star struck at meeting veteran ballerina and school administrator Kay Mazzo. I’m afraid I said little but “thank you so much,” over and over again. The thank you’s continued when Amy produced two press tickets to the NYC ballet for last night’s performance. My sister-in-law Sarah and I sat 10 rows back from the stage at dead center of the State Theatre at Lincoln Center. More here. We watched “Double Feature,” a homage to the black and white silent movies of the 20’s choreographed by broadway choreographer Susan Stroman. (The Producers, Young Frankenstein) One ballet was a melodrama the other a Buster Keaton type comedy and both were infused with humor and of course incredible dancing technique. While the choreography was not difficult for the dancers it must have been fun. The storyline required a bit of over acting which was fun to watch. Sets and costumes were all shades of black, white and grey and the occasional subtitles on the back screen completed the cinema feel.

I feel that I’ve gone on too long, but let me just say my meeting with Secret Agent Man (Don’t you love that song?) was so uplifting that I ended up on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building with the city wind in my hair. Everything looks rosy from up there.

On Sunday, I’ll go home, see my children and get to work feeling validated as an author/illustrator. Someone with good work to add to the world. But first, the conference…

Five things on a Saturday

1. It is amazing how normal things continue to happen even though extraordinary things dot the landscape of life. Preparing dinner, cleaning up after, walking the dog, carpooling children… these things still need to be done even though I’m staring at a contract from a lovely agent.
2. Because of snowdays and Martin Luther King Day my children will end up with only one full week of school in January. Those luck dogs. No wonder I’m behind on my blogging duties.
3. Anne Marie is right. (Of course) Just having the agent offer has given me a sense of purpose and time to create. No longer do I have to worry about where the proposal is going next or running to check my mailbox for rejections. I can concentrate on the project that is most important now and give it my full attention. I got so much done on Ballet yesterday.
4. My trip to NYC is fast approaching and I am so excited. If you are going to SCBWI-NY I hope to meet up with you. Leave me a comment. While I’m there, I’ll be able to meet with “my agent” (oooo, that sounds so sweet) and hopefully do more Ballet research at American Ballet Theatre and School of American Ballet. I’m crossing my fingers that I get to meet Angel Corella. (swoon)

5.When I get up at 5 am on a Saturday to work, my children (who refuse to get up at 7 am on school days) manage to wake up by 6:45 needing me.