The movement is all that matters. For as long as Samantha can remember, she’s wanted to be a professional ballerina. She’s lived for perfect pirouettes, sky-high extensions, and soaring leaps across the stage. Then her body betrayed her. The change was gradual. Stealthy. Failed diets. Disapproving looks. Whispers behind her back. The result: crippling anxiety about her appearance, which threatens to crush her dancing dreams entirely. On her dance teacher’s recommendation, Sam is sent to a summer treatment camp for teen artists and athletes who are struggling with mental and emotional obstacles. If she can make progress, she’ll be allowed to attend a crucial ballet intensive. But when asked to open up about her deepest insecurities, secret behaviors, and paralyzing fears to complete strangers, Sam can’t cope. What I really need is a whole new body. Sam forms an unlikely bond with Andrew, a former college football player who’s one of her camp counselors. As they grow closer, Andrew helps Sam see herself as he does—beautiful. But just as she starts to believe that there’s more between them than friendship, disappointing news from home sends her into a tailspin. With her future uncertain and her body against her, will Sam give in to the anxiety that imprisons her? For fans of Center Stage, and with shades of The Breakfast Club, this is a compelling novel about body, mind, and the courage that it takes to become who you’re meant to be.
How It Feels To FlyFeatured
Powerful Story with Social Agenda
How It Feels to Fly, sophomore novel by Kathryn Holmes, unabashedly deals with serious issues such as body image, anxiety, self-harm, and general mental health. The novel can be uncomfortable at times as Holmes does not shy away from the ugly reality her characters, all elite athletes and performers, face each and every day. The story is told by Samantha, an aspiring ballerina, who may have the talent of a professional, but not the standard body type. This catch-22 is exactly what has Sam counting each bite of food, fearful of showing her body to others, and on the brink of a devastating panic attack at any moment.
The book is narrated with what is happening in real time and what is happening in Samantha’s head. Her toxic thoughts certainly are not the most palatable, which makes the read challenging; it is heart breaking to imagine people being so hard on themselves. Simultaneously, it also made me confront my own negative self-talk and to see how damaging it really is. Through relatable characters, people who could be us or those we know, it is a stark reminder to always be kind as we truly are unaware of the battles others are fighting.
While the author is not necessarily saying anything new about mental health, the success of this story lies in the character development. Sam certainly is not perfect and because of her disorder, her views of the world and the motivations of those around her are skewed. However, she is fiercely motivated and skilled. While she may fit into the standard stereotype surrounding the dance world, Samantha and the others at Perform at Your Peak, the camp she has been forced to attend, certainly prove that anyone can have anxiety, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, or religion.
Consequently, this is an incredibly important book that can be beneficial for all who read it. However, the story, because of the subject matter, takes time to digest and as a result, it took me longer than usual to finish. Because How It Feels to Fly is quite subtle, it may not appeal to those who enjoy action and intrigue. The story is slow moving in certain parts, particularly during the more clinical pieces when Dr. Lancaster is guiding the campers through activities she feels will help them. The tasks the campers are given can seem relatively mundane and their responses to them are expected. As a result, it takes reading the novel in its entirety, allowing all the little moments to add up, to get a full grasp on how powerful this story really is.
Overall, Holmes took on a very arduous task in writing about a topic that is not very enjoyable or entertaining. However, she accomplishes what she set out to do by serving up the agonizing truth, without sugarcoating it, but instead, painting it with delicate and detailed strokes.