I enjoy books in which writers take on challenging topics, particularly when the topics are timely or provide some perspective on how things have or haven’t changed. The Man Dance is a book like that, tracing the coming of age of an artistic boy, George, from his school days to the cusp of manhood in 1960s Britain. Removed from his beloved childhood home by his parents, who relocate to London for his father’s work, George feels as though insult is added to injury when he is sent to boarding school. His parents wish for him to be well educated and challenged, but the bullying and other abuse that occur at the school introduce a resentment that intrudes on George’s otherwise loving upbringing and his relationship with his parents. Despite it all, George succeeds. Taking advantage of connections, wholesome and otherwise—including an American couple who take an interest in his talents—he pursues dancing, his passion, to wild heights. And yet through it all, the trauma of his youth taints his ability to enjoy fully the fruits of his talent and dedication to his art.
The Man Dance a brave book both because it touches on harrowing violations and because the main character is a older teenager. At that age, children can be so full of angst, naivety, emotion, and impulsivity while at the same time feeling that they know more than the adults around them. It’s also a time of exploration and hormones and awkwardness. Rollins captures this perfectly in George’s thoughts, actions, and reactions. You come to love this young man for his deep feelings and devotion to his family even when his tenderness and sensitivity give way to petulance and volatility.
Also captured well are a sense of place—including the love of place, which is so moving in this story—and the sights and sounds of the London and the English countryside. The pacing of the story is excellent, with just the right balance of scene setting and action and the suspense that comes with a character-driven narrative. The fine writing makes it easy to feel the emotions of George’s growing pains and the aches of his losses.
The Man Dance is a serious yet satisfying read. Sadness and dismay are balanced with times of great joy and abandon. All the elements of a good story are within these pages—along with the reminder that young people have much to offer with their enthusiasm and youthful interpretations of life while still requiring the protection of vigilance and the guidance of nonjudgmental adults. 3.5 stars rounded to 4.
I’m grateful to Independent Book Publishers Association for providing an advance reader copy of The Man Dance via NetGalley.