The Other Side of Perfect means many different things to me. It’s a ballet book that challenges ballet’s deeply rooted racist history. It’s a love story where the heroine often does unlovable things. It’s a coming-of-age story with equal parts swoon and seriousness. But maybe most importantly of all, it’s the first book I ever finished.
I can’t count the number of times I started writing a book only to stall a few weeks later when what was on the page didn’t live up to what was in my head. I finally realized that if I was ever going to finish writing a book, I had to tell a story that drew on my own memories, experiences, and passions as much as possible. That way, even if the words disappointed me, the inspiration would keep me writing.
So I thought about dancing—how difficult and rewarding it was. I thought about the joy of performing on stage in my high school musicals. I thought about breaking two bones in my leg while doing fouetté turns and the long recovery that followed. I thought about how grateful I was that the injury happened in my twenties and not my teens, when dancing was such a big part of my identity that losing it would have felt catastrophic. I thought about ballet’s longstanding issues with race—the lack of diversity in professional companies and the racist stereotypes in many beloved ballets.
I started imagining what would happen if a 16-year-old half-Japanese girl who dreamed of dancing ballet professionally suffered a career-ending injury. What would happen if she had to deal with losing something she loved with all her heart and with questioning whether she ever should have loved it in the first place? What would happen if she had to dance in a high school production of Singin’ in the Rain with a bunch of raucous theater kids?
That was when Alina took up residence in my brain. Getting into the mindset of a preprofessional ballet dancer was strange at first. I was never even close to being good enough to think about dance as a career. But as I wrote, I realized Alina’s story was bigger than ballet. It was about change—the kind that upends everything, the kind that divides your life into before and after. These big changes happen a lot to young people. They happen to older people, too.
It happened to me seven months ago, when I became a mom. In a pandemic. Trying to do everything “perfectly.” Struggling to remember who I was. Since then, I’ve taken comfort from Alina and what she taught me about change and recovery. I know now that the road out is rocky and nonlinear. That perfection is impossible and not what I want. That all the pieces of myself are still here, just rearranged. I know now that the months ahead will be hard, but they’ll also be full of strength and surprises and a kind of love I didn’t know was possible.
I hope you find joy and comfort in Alina’s journey, and the light to see you through whatever big change comes next.
About the Author
Mariko Turk teaches writing and rhetoric classes and works as a writing tutor at the University of Colorado Boulder. She received her PhD in English from the University of Florida, with a concentration in children’s literature. The Other Side of Perfect is her debut novel.