Up to this Pointe begins like many ballet books do, but it doesn’t stay that way. Up to this Pointe opens with Harper, our heroine, preparing to dance “Snow” in The Nutcracker. She slips and falls, and this, essentially, is what the book is about. While Harper does have food issues, even though her father is a baker and there are more taunting description of cinnamon rolls in this book than one would expect of a ballet book, none of the cattiness typical of most books about ballet is present in this book. Essentially, though, this book isn’t about a ballerina but a failed ballerina. A ballerina who worked so hard and was so utterly convinced that she would BE a ballerina that when she fails to get past even barre work at auditions she is sent into a tail spin. A tail spin that causes her to run, literally, to the farthest corner of the world.
Because Harper is distantly related to Robert Falcom Scott, one of the explorers of the South Pole, she is able to secure a spot during Winter Over at McMurdo station on Antartica. Perhaps a bit implausible, but Longo does an amazing job of making that very implausibility work with Harper’s character. During Winter Over, people are isolated from the rest of the world because the harsh conditions prevent any planes from taking off or landing. This makes an excellent and highly unusual setting. It feels almost as if Harper is on another planet, and indeed it is not much different.
The beginning of the book alternates between scenes at McMurdo and scenes back in San Francisco, and introduces two male love interests, Austin, on McMurdo Station, and Owen, the supportive friend of her brother back home in San Francisco. It does a excellent job of slowly unraveling the story of how she came to the realization that she was never going to dance for a major company. An it does a good job of describing life inside McMurdo station, and the scary, raw, beautiful, and isolated icy scenery of Antarctica. Longo makes it seem both otherworldly and alien, and very, very real.
Longo also has an easy hand with Harper’s voice. Her dialogue is excellently done, which perhaps comes from her background as a playwright. Indeed, I can see much of the playwright here, in her well crafted scenes, and smooth plotting. While you sympathize with Harper for her plight, you also clearly see a solution for her problems. It takes Harper time to get there, and for once, I don’t mind going along for the ride. The ending is satisfying and rather elegantly done. I recommend this book for anyone who likes character driven YA, ballet, or has an interest in Antartica. I will definitely be reading this author’s first book, and watching out for anything she does in the future.