Dark Turns
Cate Holahan
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Buy *Dark Turns* by Cate Holahanonline

Dark Turns
Cate Holahan
Crooked Lane Books
336 pages
November 2015
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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At the Wallace Academy, an exclusive private school in Connecticut, emotions run high, oscillating from one student to the next. The situation is made even more pronounced when New York ballerina Nia Washington arrives to work as dance teacher and resident advisor. Just a few years older than the seniors, Nia can easily pass for a student--a view not lost on Ted Battle, the dance director, or on Peter Anderson, the handsome young English Literature tutor who takes a shine to her.

Wallace is a godsend for Nia, the appointment to the school hopefully making her feel a bit more secure. Years of pointe work have strained her tendon, and her ankle wobbles with each “small explosion.” Nia blames herself for the constant pain in her heel. Blinking to blur the memories of her ex-boyfriend Dimitri (a lead dancer for the New York City Ballet), Nia tries to think positive thoughts: of how she will soon be able to sign up for Wallace’s healthcare scheme and eventually reignite her professional career.

But Nia hardly has time to settle in before she discovers the body of a girl, a teenager dumped in Wallace’s reservoir with wet hair still clinging to her face “like a tangled net,” white skin sallow and translucent. Officious Dean Stirk tries to mask the tragedy by telling local police Detective James Kelly that the student, Lauren Turek, must have fallen, maybe by accident. From the rumors that Lauren committed suicide after she found out that her casual boyfriend, Theo, might have cheated, to Dean Stirk’s reiteration of the school’s policy that the issue with law enforcement must be handled with the utmost care, the assumption that Lauren was murdered spreads throughout the school, bleeding into Nia’s delicate psyche. Amid plies and arabesques and carefully calibrated attitudes, “the lake whirls by a shimmering blue” as Nia finds herself spinning though her days at Wallace in angst and fear. As she tries to teach, Nia can’t escape the image of Lauren’s dead body, “the net of hair” that fell back to reveal a bloated face.

Perhaps only Aubrey Byrne, star student and prima-ballerina-in-training, is aware of Nia’s true reaction, a commitment to stifle Nia’s agenda hidden beneath Aubrey’s insouciance and small acts of rebellion. The school’s email ups the volume on the hallway chatter in a world where life and death revolve around high school romances and college acceptance letters. Nia’s dance class becomes the epicenter of gossip, rumors led by Aubrey and by the other students: June, Talia, and also Alexei, who talks of a sex tape said to have been made by Theo.

While Peter is positive that Theo is innocent, at first Nia isn’t convinced, willfully disobeying Stirk’s multiple warnings to keep quiet. Nia is convinced Aubrey knows more than she’s letting on. The girl is a teenager’s fantasy: classically beautiful, smart and confident, and a contortionist's ability along with aggressive sexual presence. Aubrey also has a list transgressions, and her shadow is violent and voracious, consuming everything “like a giant funnel cloud.” Beautiful and terrifying, a force of nature, Aubrey will stop at nothing to achieve her desire to become star dancer in Wallace’s new show.

There’s no stopping the text messages and jangle of cell phones. Lauren’s death becomes the catalyst for a wave of paranoia and fear that sweeps the school. As Stirk tries in vain to protect both the student body and the institution, Nia plunges deeper into the investigation and the lives of Peter, Aubrey, and the other students. The eerie feeling of something unstoppable feeds on itself as the hallowed halls of Wallace come alive with treacherousness. Lydia, Nia’s favorite student, is most unsettled by the experience, when an accident--perhaps precipitated by Aubrey--causes her to lose her staring role. The incident leaves both Nia and Lydia desolate and searching for answers.

Events spiral downward. Nia’s determination to get to the truth of Lydia’s accident is obscured by Lauren’s body (“her purple and blue skin like a stillborn”) and by the constant a fog of erotic dancers, their youthful athleticism contaminated with arrogance and the desire to get into New York’s very best dance companies. As Holahan’s terrific first novel reaches its climax, Nia’s own career and freedom appear to be on the line while someone close to her has taken a beautiful, brilliant, and vulnerable girl and seductively unhinged her.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2016

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