Eleven year old Aya has just arrived in England with her mother and baby brother. Being asylum seekers, fleeing the war in Syria, Aya finds herself with her family at the community centre, waiting to see their caseworker. Whilst there, she finds herself drawn to the music of a dance class where the ballet teacher recognises her exceptional dance talent. The chance for a place at a prestigious ballet school offers Aya hope and happiness for the future, but first she and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in England and must continue to seek for her father, who was separated from the family during their flight from Syria.
Combining the present with flashbacks from the past, Aya’s story unfolds with great sensitivity and compassion. Her feelings of disorientation and anxiety are brilliantly portrayed and through her eyes, the reader can feel the impact that the thoughtless words and deeds of others can have. Small acts of kindness are also celebrated throughout the story, offering hope and acceptance. The reader learns of the very ‘normal’ life Aya had before war came to her country, before her world was torn apart, before she became an asylum seeker- how her life was similar in so many ways to that of others.
The story is not just that of Aya and her family. Her ballet teacher, Miss Helena, was also a refugee, reminding the reader that victims of war and persecution have been seeking safety for generations. Her story is also painful to hear, yet told with great empathy. That such stories should be told is essential and this book is a very powerful, moving way of doing just that.
Full of ballet language and technical detail, this is a book which can still be enjoyed by everyone, not just ballet fans. The dance scenes are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the story, adding to its colour and interest.
‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria’ is a beautiful story, in turns heart breaking and heart warming. Highly recommended, it is a must read for everyone.
No Ballet Shoes in Syria Catherine Bruton
Nosy Crow ISBN: 978-1788004503
Published 2nd May 2019