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The Turning    by Gloria Whelan order for
by Gloria Whelan
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The Turning is a character-driven story narrated by seventeen-year old Tatiana (Tanya) Ivanova, a ballerina at the Kirov Theater (once named the Mariinsky Theater) in Leningrad. It is 1991, the time of Gorbachev and Yeltsin in Russia, and the old Communist regime is unwilling to let go. Citizens are on guard with no freedom of opinion, reading and literature are limited, and the arts are controlled.

Vera Chikov comes from a wealthy family. She speaks to Tanya about her plot to escape the Soviet Union during the Kirov tour. Vera's father at one time held a high position in the country's army, and it is rumored that he is involved with the black market. Vera encourages Tanya to defect too, a notion that has been in Tanya's mind for some time. She dreams of joining the Paris Opera, or the New York City Ballet. Tanya's parents work hard to support their family, and take pride in their daughter's accomplishments. Grandfather Georgi is a courageous optimist, who speaks out for his political beliefs. When the time comes for the Kirov tour, he asks Tanya to deliver a letter to a delegate at the Moscow parliament house.

Sasha, an artist, is the caregiver for his elderly grandmother Nadya Petrovna. He is forced to buy her medications at high prices on the black market. Vitaly is a well-liked, good-natured show-off, who struggled hard to become a dancer against his father's wishes. Gregory is a highly-competitive dancer, who expects the best leading parts because his grandmother was once a diva. He is vindictive and shuns Vitaly because of his low social position. Marina is in her twenties, and her father has a high government position. She is jealous of Tanya's dance acumen. Natalia is housed in a shelter because of an abusive father, and is one of four youngsters tutored by Tanya in ballet. The twelve-year old is a natural who has fire in her dance. Tanya wants more for Natalia and arranges to bring her to Madame for an audition.

Gloria Whelan is an exemplary writer, and does a great job in The Turning of portraying the 1990s turmoil in Russia. The country's history is shown through Tanya's eyes, along with her passion of ballet. An Author's Note explains that though this is fiction, 'descriptions of the coup and many of the events that took place at the parliament building in August 1991 are based on actual happenings.'

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