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by Shelley Hrdlitschka

Allegra is not just the title of Shelley Hrdlitschka’s newest novel for young readers, it is also the name of the protagonist and a piece of music that becomes the girl’s salvation and downfall.

After transferring to an arts school so she can focus on dancing, Allegra is furious when Mr. Rocchelli won’t let her drop his music theory course in order to add yet another dance class to her schedule. But when he gives Allegra a special assignment and ends up working on it with her, she finds herself giving both music and her handsome young teacher more of her attention than she had anticipated.

At first Allegra comes across as bizarrely immature for 17, but the reasons for her stunted social development soon become apparent. Though never made explicit, it is obvious that Allegra suffers from some form of anxiety disorder. Her anxiousness and love of dance (and, as the book progresses, music) feed into each other, resulting in a character who might have little in common with the average teen, but is deeply sympathetic and interesting. As an examination of mental health troubles, the book is a sophisticated and subtle anomaly in a genre that often places emphasis on the “issues” first and characters second.

Hrdlitschka’s prose is clean and clear as she balances Allegra’s school and home life, which includes the dancer’s complicated relationship with her musician parents. Avoiding the one-dimensional depictions often foisted on older generations in YA, Allegra’s mother and father are fully realized, flawed, and believable.

Unfortunately, the conclusion doesn’t measure up to the rest of the book. Some of Allergra’s schoolmates lie to the administration about the nature of her relationship with Mr. Rocchelli, then are never heard from again and receive no punishment. And when the teacher is forced to resign, he is ridiculously accepting of his fate. These missteps are regrettable, but that shouldn’t deter readers. You can’t hear the music, but you can feel it in this fresh, engrossing story.