Books & Literature

Book Review: Dancing Barefoot, by Alice Boyle

Young Adult: Dancing Barefoot is a feel-good romance about growing up queer, figuring out your place in the world, staying true to yourself and your friends, finding love, and learning to embrace the obstacles life throws in your path.

A heart-warming story of first love, fitting in and friendships.

Dancing Barefoot won the 2021 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. Written by Melbourne-based teacher and writer Alice Boyle, it is about a girl called Patch who is in Year 11 as a scholarship student at the very prestigious Mountford College in Melbourne.

Patch doesn’t really fit in as she lives a long way from the leafy suburbs where the school is located, in a flat above her father’s record shop with her younger brother Lou. Patch feels she can’t get life quite right. She never wears the correct clothes, she isn’t particularly sporty, and Edwin, her best friend ever, is transitioning to a boy and needs her support. To top it all off, Patch has been secretly in love with the most popular girl at school, Evie Vanhoutte, who is also the star of the basketball team.

At Mountford, socially awkward Patch is bullied by one of the girls in the cool group. She has done her best for years to stay anonymous but one day she is asked to sit with the cool girls by her long-time crush Evie after an incident with ink. Patch thinks about telling Evie how she feels, but has hesitations; Patch hasn’t even come out to her family or best friend. And maybe Evie is into boys, not girls.

Writing in the first person, Boyle manages to convey the angst involved in young love, the questioning of yourself, wondering what others may think, and whether the other person even feels the same way. Sometimes it may seem that everyone else in the world knows how to do love except you.

Patch loves music and art, and for those readers who also enjoy the arts, there are lots of references that will appeal. Patch’s relationship with her family is also delightful; it’s a welcome relief to read about a family who just love and support each other.

Edwin, Patch’s best friend who is transitioning, feels very real. We are privy to his need to become who he was meant to be and all the medical things he needs to navigate. And he sits comfortably with his decisions.

Dancing Barefoot shows teenagers in all their messiness, selfishness, and flaws—particularly, the need to be grown up but the realisation that they still have a lot to learn. The book also feels very Australian, and in particular, Melbournian. It feels familiar.

Dancing Barefoot is a well-written story about fitting in, believing in yourself, being a good friend and navigating first love, whatever that may look like.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Text Publishing
Released: August 2022
RRP: $24.99

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