Book title: Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
Author: Michaela DePrince, with Elaine DePrince
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books)
Release date: October 2014
Format: Hardcover, 246 pages
About the book:
The extraordinary memoir of Michaela DePrince, a young dancer who escaped war-torn Sierra Leone for the rarefied heights of American ballet.
Michaela DePrince was known as girl Number 27 at the orphanage, where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a “devil child” for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life.
At the age of four, Michaela was adopted by an American family, who encouraged her love of dancing and enrolled her in classes. She went on to study at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre and is currently a member of the Dutch National Ballet’s junior company. She has appeared in the ballet documentary “First Position,” as well as on “Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America,” and “Nightline.”
In this engaging, moving, and unforgettable memoir, Michaela shares her dramatic journey from an orphan in West Africa to becoming one of ballet’s most exciting rising stars.
Taking Flight is a great glimpse into Michaela DePrince’s childhood and the struggles she overcame to reach this point in her life: being a successful ballerina. She shows that you can turn any kind of situation around and come out of it stronger than ever. Her story is very inspiring and the writing is easy to read; Michaela’s voice is relatable and sincere.
Michaela was born Mabinty Bangura, and started out life in Sierra Leone. She was orphaned as a toddler and after her abusive uncle refused to provide for her anymore, she was sent to an orphanage. She was adopted by a loving American family, who also ended up adopting many more children over the years. Mabinty was renamed Michaela, and she began a completely new life with new people who loved and her and gave her opportunities. She fell in love with ballet, and currently Michaela is a member of Dutch National Ballet, an esteemed European classical ballet company.
Michaela’s memoir chronicles her time in Sierra Leone and her upbringing in the United States. The book’s beginning, where she writes about her parents’ deaths and the terrible, violent things that happened around and to her, were heartbreaking. But she was a strong, willful little girl who thrived instead of withered away.
I did feel like I never knew quite how old Michaela was at certain points in her life. Ages aren’t completely missing, but they’re pretty sparsely mentioned. Mostly, “I did this, then I did this,” but no solid dates or ages were given. I know age is something a lot of people don’t like out in the open, but for someone so young with such pivotal points in her life, I would have liked to know exactly how old she was when she moved dance schools or did certain summer camps.
I would have also liked more commentary on her dance training, since I’m fascinated by all the technical stuff and little details — and because I’m a dancer myself. The book is short and reads quickly, so most of it is just a pretty straightforward story of her childhood, and not so much the teenage years. I’ve read Misty Copeland’s memoir, Life in Motion (Misty is the first black female principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre), and found it to have some very great insights into company life. Michaela’s memoir doesn’t go deeply into the details, but I found her story much more interesting (and more relatable) than Misty’s.
I also felt like there were a lot of instances that were perhaps “embellished”, a word I saw another reviewer use. Michaela was just a toddler when she left Sierra Leone. There are many times when she recalls exactly what people said to her and what she thought or said back to them. If all her recollections are true, then she must have been very smart and mature for her age as well as have a wickedly good memory — I barely remember anything from the first few years of my life. It just seemed unlikely that Michaela really remembered things in such great detail, but, hey, maybe she does and in that case, awesome.
Michaela was also featured in the documentary First Position. It’s an excellent film that follows a bunch of teenagers competing in the Youth America Grand Prix, which is the biggest and most prestigious of international ballet competitions. I highly recommend checking out the documentary (I believe it’s on Netflix, but don’t quote me on that), as well as Taking Flight if you’re interesting in ballet or dance at all. Michaela is a strong person who has grown even stronger over time. She’s likeable, she relatable, and she proves that you can do anything despite all the odds being against you at first. ♦
Have you read Taking Flight?
If you haven’t, would you be interested to?
What’s a ballet book you’ve read, fictional or real?
Comment below letting me know!
And, as always, happy reading!