NOCTURNE, by Alyssa Wees, Del Rey, Feb. 21, 2023, Hardcover, $23.99 (young adult/ new adult/ adult fiction)
A newly minted prima ballerina learns her patron is non other than death himself in Nocturne, by Alyssa Wees.
Growing up in Chicago’s Little Sicily in the years following the Great War, Grace Dragotta has always wanted to be a ballerina, ever since she first peered through the windows of the Near North Ballet company. So, when Grace is orphaned, she chooses the ballet as her home, imagining herself forever ensconced in a transcendent world of light and beauty so different from her poor, immigrant upbringing.
Years later, with the Great Depression in full swing, Grace has become the company’s new prima ballerina — though achieving her long-held dream is not the triumph she once envisioned. Time and familiarity have tarnished that shining vision, and her new position means the loss of her best friend in the world. Then she attracts the attention of the enigmatic Master La Rosa as her personal patron and realizes the world is not as small or constricted as she had come to fear.
Who is her mysterious patron, and what does he want from her? As Grace begins to unlock the Master’s secrets, she discovers that there is beauty in darkness as well as light, finds that true friendship cannot be broken by time or distance, and realizes there may be another way entirely to achieve the transcendence she has always sought. —Synopsis provided by Del Rey
Though not written specifically for a YA audience, teens are going to be drawn to Nocturne. The book’s cover alone is enough to draw them in, then add in a young ballerina and a mysterious patron, and they’ll be scrounging to open the cover. And, as far as content goes (some romance, but mostly death), there’s nothing in Nocturne that strays very far from YA. In fact, I read it assuming it was YA.
The problem is, YA or not, Nocturne is just sort of so, so.
While author Alyssa Wees does a good job of setting the tone — sort of dark and moody — her writing is languid and heavy handed. And for a story about a ballerina, I expected to get a sense of the dancing, but was instead handed a mashup of flowery, overly descriptive words.
Grace isn’t a particularly strong main character — she gets pushed around a lot and just kind of goes along with it. Although if you do stick with her, she grows immensely by the end of the book.
Nocturne isn’t horrible — I don’t feel any worse for finishing it. But tighter editing could have created broader appeal. Still, it will appeal to readers who enjoy melodramatic nods to Phantom of the Opera or the Hades and Persephone myth.
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