Book Review: How It Feels To Fly

How It Feels To Fly
Published By: HarperTeen
Publication Date: June 14, 2016
Page Count: 368
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary

Samantha has always wanted to become a professional ballerina. She can't remember a time when this wasn't her dream. In fact, it's become her mother's dream as well. Samantha has thrown her entire life and every bit of passion into making this happen, but things change when her body does. Suddenly, Samantha doesn't fit the body type for a ballerina anymore. She hates the curves that taunt her every time she looks in the mirror. How is she supposed to compete with the thin girls at her studio? How is she supposed to make her dreams come true when her body turns on her? 

Samantha's doubts and constant internal nagging lead her down a dangerous path which lands her at a summer therapy camp. She can no longer see her worth due to her changing body and the ballet world's perception of how a dancer should look. Samantha finds herself crippled by anxiety, self loathing, and the incessant desire to lose weight. Her ballet instructor and her mother hope her time at camp will help Samantha find ways to cope with her anxiety. 

At camp, Samantha meets other highly talented teens who are struggling with anxiety and other serious issues that impact their performance. They have all attended the camp in the hopes of overcoming their emotional and mental obstacles. All except Zoe - she has no desire to be at camp and claims nothing is wrong with her except overbearing parents who force her to play tennis.

Samantha's first few days at camp were heartbreaking. She is so hard on herself and finds so many ways to engage in destructive behavior. For example, Samantha is so disgusted by her body that she believes others watch her eat and judge everything that goes into her mouth. As a result, she chooses to eat alone or avoids eating altogether. I felt for Samantha from the first moment and kept hoping that somehow, someway she'd turn a corner and learn to love herself again.

As the novel progresses, Samantha does find ways to become more comfortable in her own skin, but it is not without difficulty. She has a lot of inner turmoil that forces her to make some unwise decisions. I loved that the other teens at camp became her support system. The majority of the relationships she forms while at camp were positive and provide an example of how friendships should work. I also loved the connection she had with her best friend, Bianca, once she was able to see the truth.

One thing about this novel that irked me was Samantha's mother. She was a somewhat stereotypical dance mom - always pushing, always nagging, always focusing on diet. She didn't stop to truly see how much her daughter was hurting. 

All in all, I feel this is an important YA novel that will appeal to many teens. Being a teenager is not a walk in the park. There are moments of stress, anxiety, and pain. It's strong relationships that help teens navigate the swift current of life. When those relationships fail or the situation is more severe, there is nothing wrong with seeking additional help. I was proud of all the characters in this novel who were brave enough to tackle their demons and find coping strategies. Nobody should have to suffer alone.

One Last Gripe: I was not a fan of Samantha's crush. 

Favorite Thing About This Book: The friendships

First Sentence: I focus on the movement.

Favorite Character: Katie

Least Favorite Character: Samantha's Mom

The movement is all that matters. 

For as long as Samantha can remember, she’s wanted to be a professional ballerina. She’s lived for perfect pirouettes, sky-high extensions, and soaring leaps across the stage. Then her body betrayed her.

The change was gradual. Stealthy.

Failed diets. Disapproving looks. Whispers behind her back. The result: crippling anxiety about her appearance, which threatens to crush her dancing dreams entirely. On her dance teacher’s recommendation, Sam is sent to a summer treatment camp for teen artists and athletes who are struggling with mental and emotional obstacles. If she can make progress, she’ll be allowed to attend a crucial ballet intensive. But when asked to open up about her deepest insecurities, secret behaviors, and paralyzing fears to complete strangers, Sam can’t cope. 

What I really need is a whole new body.

Sam forms an unlikely bond with Andrew, a former college football player who’s one of her camp counselors. As they grow closer, Andrew helps Sam see herself as he does—beautiful. But just as she starts to believe that there’s more between them than friendship, disappointing news from home sends her into a tailspin. With her future uncertain and her body against her, will Sam give in to the anxiety that imprisons her?