Summary: Natalie is a newly fifteen year-old girl who is about to have a life-changing summer. With plans to take an intensive summer dance course with her friends, those plans go askew when attentions from Kevin, her best friend Sasha’s older brother, alienate Natalie from her friends. Before she knows it, Natalie is involved in a relationship she doesn’t fully understand, crossing physical boundaries in the moment she later regrets. Unable to take the flak from her dance class friends and drawn to a different type of dance anyway, Natalie finds herself taking more chances with her talent. As Natalie waffles between the worlds of childhood and adulthood, dancing provides her with a place to belong and mature.
Number of Pages: 217
Age Range: 15-17
Review: Here’s what I love about Leap by Jodi Lundgren. While some teen fiction books are about a teen’s definitive coming-of-age experience, Natalie’s road to adulthood is not so clear cut. There are challenges and setbacks, times when she is vastly more mature than her fifteen years and others when she seems like a child. Because that’s usually the way growing up is, something that happens in fits and starts.
It’s messy and complicated, and Natalie quickly realises that. Getting involved with Kevin, a nineteen year-old, puts her in a situation beyond what she can handle. In less than a month Natalie goes from her first kiss to losing her virginity, and the messages her body is sending her are conflicting with those from her mind which tells her she is not ready.
Add to that the reaction of Kevin’s younger sister Sasha, who even before she knows Natalie and Kevin have slept together labels her a slut for even going on a date with him. Combined with a rocky relationship with her father, the big secret Natalie finds out her mother is keeping, and it is easy to see why Natalie’s resolve when it comes to Kevin crumbles easily, because she feels a connection with him she’s never experienced before.
The beautiful part is how Natalie finds her sense of self through her dancing. There it isn’t about relationships, parents or secrets, it’s only about expressing herself through the use of movement in a wholly authentic way. I loved Lundgren’s detailed exploration of Natalie’s growth as a dancer, moving from traditional jazz to modern techniques. Through her dancing she finds friends and a place where she can be herself just as she is. I liked the thought Lundgren presents near the end about Natalie teaching her own dance classes in the future, because she is a talented dancer but also a wonderful instructor.
Natalie’s experience is raw and conflicted at times which made me love her as a character because I though Lundgren truly captured something real through her reactions. My favourite character though has to be Natalie’s younger sister Paige. Just ten years old, she’s not quite dealing with hormones yet and is still a child, and the relationship between the two sisters is such that sometimes Paige can pull Natalie back into being a child as well. She was just great.
If you pick Leap apart, it’s a little over-the-top and I was skeptical at times about how everything came together and the over-dramatization of certain characters. But Leap‘s true strength lies in its realistic themes of the ups and downs of becoming an adult: the mistakes made, the need for belonging and good role models, and finding the self-esteem needed to be confident in the choices you make as you mature. In that sense, Lundgren has nailed it.
“The sky blazed fuchsia. The disc of sun slipped, second by second, behind purple hills on the horizon. Clouds sponged the light and the sky shimmered peach, pink, yellow, and even green. A plume of airplane exhaust twisted vertically, like a tornado. With every breath, the colors changed. The brilliance faded, slowly, and left us standing in the dark.” – from Leap by Jodi Lundgren, page 59
“She uses books the way some people use illicit substances. Is there a support group for that? ‘Hi, my name is Denise and I’m a recovering bookworm.'” – Natalie talking about her mom’s obsession with books from Leap by Jodi Lundgren, page 82
“This morning I acted like nothing happened. I’m walking around under a veil. This must be what they call denial. It means things are too screwed up to deal with so you pretend they never happened, that you didn’t notice. You gloss over the facts with little half-truths like ‘Sasha’s mom was sick.’ You avoid looking each other in the eye because you’re both hiding what you know. It deadens you. Layers of something like gel separate us. All we’re left with are secrets and shame.” – Natalie from Leap by Jodi Lundgren, page 89
“It sucks to be fifteen! This has got to be the worst possible age in life. We have adult experiences, adult responsibilities, adult worries, but a kid’s resources. We need support. We need role models. We need attention and love. Sometimes we even need supervision! But most adults can’t even take care of themselves. They just give little kids the illusion that they’re in control. At fifteen, you see through it and discover you’re on your own.” – Natalie from Leap by Jodi Lundgren, page 118