I have to be honest - when I downloaded this free ebook at the Kindle store, I forgot about it; nothing about the title or cover enticed me enough to read it. More than that, it was free, so I didn't expect anything spectacular. After finding the download recently, though, I couldn't put it down.
The Queen Bee of Bridgeton tells the story of Sonya, an African American dancer living in a broken down neighborhood. Sonya's sister, Sasha, is the academic of the two girls. She gets them both enrolled in the city's top college-prep school - Bridgeton Academy. But Sonya can't wait to get out of there. Her dangerous neighborhood and the snooty school are places she has never fit in. Then Sonya realizes something strange is happening at school. Pranks begin to pop up, and not the harmless "Girls Have Cooties sign on your locker" kind of prank. Sonya finds another girl crying and naked in the stairwell - the stranger has been abused, her car has been vandalized, and she transfers to another school the following day. Suddenly, Sonya can't be invisible anymore. And she can't keep quiet.
Structure: 4.5 out of 5 stars
What starts out as a story about a lost teen quickly turns into a gut-wrenching drama with a few honest to goodness gasp-out-loud surprises. The author has written Sonya's life in two parallels - her battle to steer clear of her neighborhood (literally her past and present) and her fight to not succumb to the typical teenage life at her high school. To counteract these struggles, Sonya excels at and embraces her ballet career. On the street or in the hall, she may be a nobody. But on stage, she is everything.
Of course, a gentleman caller gets involved - the misunderstood basketball champ, Will. Then things get topsy-turvy when Sonya's life goes haywire and her enemies become friends and her friends become enemies and she doesn't know who to trust. Great plot, even if just a touch ultra girly at times.
Character: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Sonya is a great role model for YA readers. She admits she isn't the best at school and she doesn't know how to make friends. She's awkward, self-conscious, and unsure of her strengths and weaknesses. But by God, she can dance. Sonya throws her unknowns, her hopes and dreams and wishes, onto that stage. It is the one familiarity in a big world. I appreciate the way the author uses dance as a metaphor throughout the novel, and not in an obvious way. DuBois takes care in crafting Sonya's character, and her interactions with Sasha, her mother, Will, and the folks at school. The author provides depth, desire, and remains consistent.
In a similar way, Sasha blows it out of the water. Her personality has been particularly crafted, with just enough foreshadowing to prepare the reader for later chapters.
Will, on the other hand, I had a hard time trusting. He makes a huge character shift and the protagonist accepts him without a grain of salt, but the reader doesn't. I needed more reasons to believe in his intentions.
Voice: 4 out of 5 stars
Not only is Sonya a great role model for ladies, but her voice is pure and true. She doesn't hide anything from the reader. To round out her character, though, I would have liked to see more self-doubt, which would have made her arch more powerful. The elements Sonya despises - her neighborhood and her school - remain negative areas of her life, while dance remains the one saving power. If the author had messed with the protagonist a little, made her really struggle with those positives and negatives, it would make her voice and character more believable.
The Queen Bee of Bridgeton was published in March 2011 by Little Prince Publishing, and is the first of a dance series. DuBois's second installment, The Devil of DiRisio (Dancing Dream #2), was released in September 2011. Like the first book, Devil had a short-term free stint in the Kindle store. As such, the author notes that book sales have worked in her favor after the free runs on Amazon.
Don't make the same mistake I did and write-off those free ebooks just yet. It turns out that publicity - and subsequent sales - often skyrocket for authors who release their novels at $0 charge for a few days. But more about that another time...
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