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: