Oh, the teenage years. Insecurities, fights between friends, disagreements with parents, first loves, and broken hearts. Leap by Jodi Lundgren has it all and more. Natalie Ferguson is a fifteen-year-old who finds herself battling drugs and drinking, body issues, insecurities about dating, the struggle to hold onto childhood friends all while coping with divorced parents who are ready to move on with their lives. The amount of things on her plate would be overwhelming for anyone and through diary entries the reader goes through it all with her. Natalie’s one savior is her love of dance though she finds herself at odds with her strict dance teacher. While she explores a newfound love of modern dance, Natalie comes into her own and finds confidence in her ability to handle all of the crazy things life has thrown her way.
Lundgren’s prose shines when she creates the dance scenes. It’s clear that she loves dance and that she wants her readers to feel the same way about it. Not knowing anything about dance doesn’t matter at all because her descriptions are so vivid and so clearly filled with passion for it: “As the music started and the curtain rose, I disappeared into the piece. For eight and a half minutes, I melded with the movement, the other dancers, the wooden boards under my feet.” It would have been nice for dance to take more of a center stage in the storyline.
As the story progresses, dance becomes Natalie’s saving grace but her true love for it doesn’t come until she finds modern dance. Hints of why she had loved it before under a dictator-like teacher would have helped the reader understand the impact it had on her earlier in life, especially during her parent’s divorce which is an integral part of the story. There are a few points in the book where hints of Natalie’s past, or her relationships with people before all of the drama unfolds, were needed. Her best friend, Sasha, who we learn is dealing with her own family troubles, quickly spirals out of control and is terribly mean to Natalie. It would be expected of anyone to miss his or her closest friend, which Natalie does for Sasha. However, the reader never really gets to know the Sasha that Natalie grew up with, so when they almost make up a few points through the story one can’t help but wonder why Natalie still wants to be friends with her.
Questions like that could have been cleared up in Natalie’s diary entries but instead of the introspection one expects to find in a diary it is mostly a play-by-play account of Natalie’s experiences. Without seeing the dates and times at the beginning of each entry there rarely would have been anything distinguishing them as diary entries. As a protagonist Natalie is likeable but her voice isn’t consistent. At one point she’s using all capitals and punctuation markers and at the next she’s dropping bits of prose that seemed far too elegant for the fifteen-year-old the reader had gotten to know:
The sky blazed fuschia. The disc of sun slipped, second by second, behind purple hills on the horizon. Clouds sponged the light and the sky shimmered peach, pink, yellow, and even green. A plume of airplane exhaust twisted vertically, like a tornado. With every breath, the colors changed. The brilliance faded, slowly, and left us standing in the dark.
At one point Natalie calls a fight a “rumble,” and that one word leapt off the page because it seemed so out of character.
Lundgren balances a web of storylines, and it is a miracle that Natalie is able to carry herself with such poise at the end. There will be something in this book that everyone is able to relate to because Lundgren exposes Natalie to such a wide range of issues and tests. Despite the fact that Lundgren’s prose can be inconsistent, the protagonist that she creates is realistic and it’s impossible not to root for her in the end.