By Shelley Hrdlitschka
Available now from Orca Books
I was drawn to ALLEGRA by the summary, which promised both music and dance. Allegra Whitman transferred to a performing-arts high school to focus on dance -- her parents are both musicians, but she doesn't want to follow in their footsteps. But the school requirements mean she has to take music theory.
ALLEGRA deals with several thorny subjects. One subplot involves her parents' unhappy marriage. But the biggest thorny subject is that of student-teacher relationships. Allegra develops a crush on her music theory teacher Mr. Rochelli. He's young, attractive, challenges her, and respects her abilities. It's no wonder she crushes. When they start working on a composition together, he does act unprofessionally by treating her as a fellow professional rather than a student. They meet after school, use first names, et al. But I think Shelley Hrdlitschka does draw a clear line between Mr. Rochelli being a bit too chummy and actually returning Allegra's affections.
Part of the reason Allegra is drawn to her teacher is that she's quite introverted and has trouble making friends. Some kids at her new school do reach out, most notably fellow music theory student Spencer. Still, a few friendly overtures don't make it simple for Allegra to develop lasting friendships. My problem with the friends plotline is that all her prospective friends drop out of the story completely after one of them brings Mr. Rochelli and Allegra's relationship to the attention of the administration. They're totally demonized. I get that Allegra would feel that way, but . . . I just felt like they weren't the worst. Trying to help someone you think is in a bad situation is a good thing.
The few dance scenes in ALLEGRA are beautifully described, but this is mostly a music book. Allegra's composition consumes her life and her relationships. It is very wish fulfillment that her composition is brilliant, but the book does try to ground it by first establishing that she's very familiar with music theory and performance. And some of my favorite musicians started writing wonderful songs even younger than seventeen. What really crosses it over into unbelievable territory is that she's also talented enough as a dancer to consider going professional.
ALLEGRA is a quick read despite the difficult subjects it tackles. I think it will be of most interest to readers who enjoy books about musicians and dancers. Hrdlitschka does a wonderful job of writing about a teacher-student relationship in a realistic, rational way. There is drama in ALLEGRA, but little hysteria and no fear-mongering. Allegra can be frustration, but that's pretty average for a seventeen-year-old girl. ALLEGRA isn't, however, the best choice for someone looking for a really exciting read. It's fairly low key.