Well, this book ended up a disappointment for me, mostly because it got off to a rip-roaring start. The book opens with the story of two young girls in London, both wanting to become dancers with all their hearts, but only one of them has enough talent. But it takes more than talent to make it in the highly competitive world of dancing, and Tracey--the one with the talent--has other odds stacked against her, including a less-than-desirable home life. Tracey is a fascinating character, complex and almost frightening at times. We see her through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, who may or may not be reliable and who has family issues of her own. Between the riveting Tracey and the wonderfully detailed world of dance, I thought for sure this would end up on my year-end "best of" list.
But no. Partway through, when I'm completely invested in seeing how Tracey's life turns out, our unnamed narrator begins recounting her adult life as the personal assistant to a pop star named Aimee, who appears to be a mashup of Madonna and Angelina Jolie. Aimee wants to be a do-gooder, so she decides to build a girl's school in Africa. There are some wonderful scenes that detail how a do-gooder who doesn't want to be bothered with the details can cause more harm than good, and some interesting scenes on life in a rural African village. But ultimately, this storyline, which pretty much takes over the second half of the book, is nowhere near as riveting as the first part with Tracey. Sadly, Tracey barely appears in the second half, and it's a big loss.
I'm also puzzled by the narrator. I think it was a mistake to not name her; it created a kind of distance for me, even though the book is told in the first person. She is frankly not all that interesting and served better when telling Tracey's story than when telling her own story about her life as Aimee's assistant. The book opens with a prologue (can we be done with prologues now?) that does some ominous foreshadowing of a huge negative event in the narrator's life, but when we finally learn what that was at the end, it's a letdown and not all that interesting. Better to have not had the prologue at all. And the ending felt very rushed.
Smith is a beautiful writer. I haven't read her previous books, and part of me thinks I should, just on the strength of the writing. But I'm also leery because of the plot issues with this one. Still, I'll keep an eye out for her next book.