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Avalanche Dance

by Ellen Schwartz

Everything about Avalanche Dance relates to essential conflicts: between children and parents, between friends, and between societal expectations and personal will. Veteran B.C. children’s author Ellen Schwartz walks these narrative tightropes with ease, rarely tilting too far in one direction or the other. The result is a neatly executed, authentically told coming of age story.

Schwartz addresses all these conflicts through Gwen, a young dance student, and her former best friend, Molly. The girls aren’t getting along, and Molly’s increasingly bad behaviour alienates Gwen and their entire circle of friends.

Gwen, on the other hand, has her eye on a prestigious, expensive dance program. She argues with her dad about the program while on a ski trip, moments before an avalanche overtakes them both. It’s the first time Gwen has bickered with her dad, and she takes the avalanche as a sign that she should be punished for it. A second, parallel accident throws Molly and Gwen back together, and both must learn to live with their actions.

Schwartz understands teenage girls, and she finds redemption for both characters in a realistic way. The novel explores both sides of the good girl/bad girl dichotomy by continuously switching the narrative’s point of view between Gwen and Molly. Gwen’s story is told in the third-person, Molly’s in the first, as if she, as the bad girl, needs that additional connection with the reader to explain herself. It’s an interesting device, which also creates some necessary distance from Gwen’s too-good-to-be-true attitude.

So it’s a huge disappointment when Schwartz resolves that dichotomy in a predictable, safe way, with Molly absorbing more of Gwen’s sweetness and goodness than Gwen does of Molly’s willingness to buck expectations. This aggravating – though not earth-shattering – moralistic hiccup occurs in the novel’s final leg and does not really mar the rest of the book, which remains a good pick for teen readers.