The title and the cover of Pointe suggest that this is a ballet novel – and it is, to a degree, but it is also a complex, subtle portrait of a young Black woman who is at a point of crisis in her life.
Four years ago, Theo’s best friend Donovan disappeared and has not been heard of since. Now, a junior at high school, Theo has come to terms with the fact that she most likely will never see him again. So when he reappears and she realizes that she knows his abductor, Chris, Theo starts to lose control of her life.
Theo relives her secret relationship with Chris, which started when she was 13 and he was 18. It would be destructive at any age, but at her young age it is clearly abusive. But Theo did not see that then, nor does she fully understand that now, and when he just walked out of her life, she became anorexic as a way of getting to grips with the emotional disruption. After her parents intervened, she got back on track but the life of a dancer is not an optimal one for a person with an eating disorder, even if she does not recognize it herself.
Debut novelist Colbert has done an exceptional job of creating a narrator who is multi-dimensional, nuanced and, at times, infuriatingly misguided. Though Theo is an extraordinarily good ballet dancer who is on track to become one of the greats, she is also a confused and challenged 17 year-old. Theo’s distorted perceptions on many aspects of her life are written so subtly that it takes a while to understand how wrong she is.
Theo has solid relationships with her parents and her two close friends, but Colbert has made the interesting decision to keep both Donovan and Chris virtually silent, so we only ever get Theo’s perspective of what happened four years ago, and what is happening now. And then there’s Hosea – who plays piano for her ballet class, is at her school and sidelines in dealing pot. Theo is undoubtedly attracted to him and he is to her – but he has a longstanding girlfriend that he isn’t inclined to finish with. I found this thread a little frustrating as Theo doesn’t seem to realize what is going on when Hosea wants to keep their relationship a secret (just like with Chris, though for different reasons), and it is only towards the end of the book that she sees the truth.
Race is a quiet undercurrent throughout the book: Theo and Donovan are Black in a largely white town, and it’s unstated, though maybe hinted at, that the reason she and Donovan were targeted by Chris is because they’re Black (Chris’s race is unclear, I think); Theo is the only Black dancer in her class and there are very few Black ballerinas who have reached the top, so she feels to has to work harder than her classmates, particularly with the ultracompetitive auditions for summer intensives looming.
There is a lot going on in Pointe, and though Colbert meshes everything together well, the arc of the plot seems a little unbalanced, and I would have liked more of the resolution and its aftermath, as well as more of Donovan’s story.
Overall, I think Pointe, with its multi-faceted appeal, will be perfect for a diverse range of readers looking for something both challenging and thought-provoking.