book review

5* New Book Review: The Dangerous Dance of Emma JJ


It has been my pleasure recently to receive a review copy of  The Dangerous Dance of Emma JJ by Annie Try.  This is written for young adults and I am the first to admit that I have passed the point where I can get away with claiming to be in that age group. Indeed, it is many years since I read fiction aimed at mid-to-late teens. However, the subject of this contemporary novel intrigued me as it deals with a vulnerable girl and her life-changing experiences – something close to my heart given my decades of working with young people in similar situations.

Emma is a LAC – a Looked After Child – and she bears the emotional scars that often accompany young people who have been in the ‘system’. Through her eyes we learn of the trauma of a disturbed childhood and her desperation to be normal. Even though she is now settled in a caring family and supported by an exceptional Social Worker, Emma’s past haunts her. Her lack of emotional security leads to unpredictable behaviour and outbursts that have, until now, alienated her from previous placements.

But things are about to change. On the cusp of her sixteenth birthday, Emma discovers a passion for dance. With the help of her friends and the support of her carers, Emma’s exceptional ability enables her to connect with the emotional side that has, for so long, held her back.

This is a book for young adults written from Emma’s point of view and using language accessible to a wide range of ages. It is clear that the author has an in-depth understanding of young people in Emma’s situation. We see and feel Emma’s emotional roller-coaster ride, how she develops, and her coming to terms with her past and hopes for the future. Refreshingly, the roles of Susie the carer and Jen the Social Worker are depicted in a constructive light, showing the positive impact professional, dedicated individuals can have on a broken life. There are times when Emma’s behaviour is anti-social and self-destructive. We are led to understand those behaviours from not only Emma’s perspective, but also the impact on those around her and the tireless efforts of her friends and carers to help her. Through this interaction, Emma learns to understand and reflect on her actions and how she might change them in the future.

This is an engaging, well-written book offering a rare insight into the unique world of Looked After Children by an author with many years of experience working with young people. The story is told with insight and compassion and without judgement or sentimentality. It offers a realistic view of what it is like to be a Looked After Child from both the carers’ and the young person’s points of view. Past trauma is dealt with clearly but without resorting to overly dramatic details. There is a subtle faith element, although faith is not the focus of the story, but rather a natural result of Emma’s search for identity and belonging.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dangerous Dance of Emma JJ and highly recommend it for mid to older teens and adults alike.


Annie Try has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University. She is a speaker at book clubs, libraries,  schools and churches and runs workshops in Creative Writing. Contact her at:




New Book Review: BRAVER by Deborah Jenkins

I read Braver as a new book review copy, keeping an open mind as this is not a genre I would normally choose. Braver, however, has turned this around, demonstrating the power of a simple story involving seemingly unremarkable people. It’s told with a powerful intelligence and absolute conviction of people’s inner strengths and had me hooked from the start.

The story revolves around three ordinary individuals, for whom everyday life is compromised by traumatic events and lingering fears: Hazel’s acute anxiety, Harry’s home and school life, and Virginia’s struggles with her past and burdens of the present.

The characters are deftly crafted, evolving as the novel progresses from the roots of their differing pasts. Each is treated with empathy and respect, and without judgement, letting them speak for themselves.

Hazel’s anxiety is particularly well handled, especially considering such a complex range of difficulties. However, all the characters stand out as engaging and beautifully human individuals. 

Deborah Jenkins writes with a light touch, illuminating the story and characters through moments of brilliant imagery. Through her skill and elevated prose she roots the reader in the tender reality of the everyday.

‘It’s a drab day with a sky the colour of lead and the kind of spring chill that makes you sulk. Of course it is.’

Demonstrating the power of a simple story, Braver by Deborah Jenkins is a study in humanity and an unadulterated joy to read.


Published by Fairlight Books, Braver is released on 30th June 2022.