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Various Positions

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Nuanced, fresh, and gorgeously well-written, Martha Schabas' extraordinary debut novel takes us inside the beauty and brutality of professional ballet, and the young women striving to make it in that world. Shy and introverted, and trapped between the hyper-sexualized world of her teenaged friends and her dysfunctional family, Georgia is only at ease when she's dancing. Fortunately, she's an unusually talented and promising dancer. When she is accepted into the notoriously exclusive Royal Ballet Academy--Canada's preeminent dance school--Georgia thinks she has made the perfect escape. In ballet, she finds the exhilarating control and power she lacks elsewhere in her life: physical, emotional and, increasingly, sexual.
This dynamic is nowhere more obvious than in Georgia's relationship with Artistic Director Roderick Allen. As Roderick singles her out as a star and subjects her to increasingly vicious training, Georgia obsesses about becoming his perfect student, disciplined and sexless. But a disturbing incident with a stranger on the subway, coupled with her dawning recognition of the truth of her parents' unhappy marriage, causes her to radically reassess her ideas about physical boundaries--a reassessment that threatens both Roderick's future at the academy and Georgia's ambitions as a ballerina.

368 pages, Paperback

First published June 28, 2011

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About the author

Martha Schabas

3 books35 followers
Martha Schabas is the author of two novels: My Face in the Light, just published by Knopf Canada, and Various Positions, named a book of the year by The Globe and Mail, Quill & Quire and NOW Magazine and shortlisted for an Evergreen Fiction Award. Her essays, arts criticism and short fiction have appeared in publications including The Walrus, Hazlitt, The New Quarterly, ELLE Canada and Dance Magazine. She was The Globe and Mail’s dance critic from 2015-2020, where she also wrote about theatre and books. . She holds an M.A. in English Literature from Queen’s University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she received the David Higham Award. In 2012, CBC Books named Martha one of the “10 Canadian women writers you need to read now.”

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 221 reviews
96 reviews505 followers
September 24, 2013

This review contains unmarked spoilers.

Dude, that was a really weird book.

Weird in the way that you're going to remember it, but not in a good way.

VARIOUS POSITIONS I'd love to see you try to come up with a dirtier title than that shit is the story of fourteen year old Georgia and her adventures in seducing her ballet teacher, copying porn poses, acting like an idiot, and hurting everyone around her.

I mean, it sounds about right to me.

VARIOUS POSITIONS had a really strange plot, because it wasn't about the ballet. It was about a seriously fucked-up girl from a fucked-up family living in a fucked-up world.

Sounds like me.

I didn't enjoy the odd plot. I had high hopes when I first read the blurb, mostly because it was being compared to The Black Swan for teenagers (which I loved). However, it wasn't what I was looking for at all.

I understand that VARIOUS POSITIONS is about a girl experimenting with her own sexuality, but as someone Georgia's age and ten times more perverted (hey, I was raised in a French family), her sexual thoughts were downright disturbing.

She gives forty-year old men 'suggestive faces', tries kissing her ballet teacher Roderick, and can't look a single person in the eye without imagining herself having sex with them.

I mean, I don't even do that and that's saying something.

The writing, I had to admit, was beautiful. Schabas is a very talented writer, because the style was quite beautiful. However, the plot and characters dragged her debut novel down. VARIOUS POSITIONS never got dull, but it was never quite absorbing, either.

I hated every single character in VARIOUS POSITIONS. There was not one redeemable character that I grew to love, and most of all, I hated Georgia.

Georgia screws up massively, and then blames everyone but herself. She constantly shames the more 'sexual' girls for not acting as virginal as she does. By sexual, I mean swiping on some lipgloss. That's right: Georgia mentally taunts the other girls and makes fun of them for wearing an ounce of makeup.

Bitch, when I go shopping, I do go for the shirt that makes my boobs look big! And I do like wearing makeup, because it makes me look better. I feel more confident with it, and as a result I TURN INTO A FUCKING BADASS.

And I have plenty of 'self-respect', so fuck you.

Georgia doesn't take responsibility for her actions, and her age is not an excuse to act like a fucking moron. Georgia puts her friend in the hospital for anorexia with her seriously flawed 'diet' and doesn't think about it twice. She has consensual, willing unprotected sex with another guy and suddenly gets up, calls him names, and acts like he's raped her. Georgia believes that her ballet teacher Roderick lusts after her (though there are absolutely no indications) and tries to make out with him. Even though he pushes her away immediately, he gets in huge trouble, and is labeled a pedophile and a predator.

I'm probably more immature than Georgia, but I know not to take naked pictures of myself and send them to Roderick.



Roderick is an asshole and a dickface, but he doesn't deserve what he got. Even though Georgia promised to tell everyone he wasn't the one that kissed her, his reputation will be forever tainted, and Georgia will just be that poor girl who made a little mistake and got to go to another new.

It's so unfair and I nearly threw the book across the room.

All of Georgia's 'friends' are bitchy, one-dimensional, and unlikable. Georgia's parents seriously screwed her up, and their relationship with her was strained and sad. I despised them all, really.

One last thing, though. A ballet dancer in VARIOUS POSITIONS was considered chubby because of her thighs, but by ballet standards, 'chubby legs' are probably more thin than mine are ever going to get.

*looks down at thighs guilty* I should've probably written this review on the treadmill, huh?

Even though I wasn't a fan of this book, Schabas sure knows how to reel us in and keep us interested. I'll probably read future books of hers.
Profile Image for Sasha.
344 reviews101 followers
February 2, 2012
Since the beginning of time (okay, so maybe not that long), there has been a great debate of "What is YA?". I mean, really? What makes a YA book different from a Middle Grade book and a different from an Adult book? I feel like most people would automatically assume it would be the age of the protagonist. If he/she is between 12-18 (the target audience), then the book is YA. HOWEVER, I would consider Sophie Flack's Bunheads to be YA and her main character is 19. The main character in Various Positions is 14 years old, a ninth grader, and this book is NOT YA .

The synopsis says that the main character, Georgia, is a ballerina and that the only time she truly feels alive is when she's dancing. She's accepted into a prestigous ballet school and then begins to have a crush on her (much older) ballet instructor.

This book is masquerading as a YA book just as much as it's masquerading as a ballet book. The content is neither YA nor does it have anything to do with ballet. Other than the fact that Georgia attends class, where she not-so-YA-ly has SEXUAL (not cutesy crush) thoughts about her 40 year old instructor, ballet is hardly ever mentioned.

Various Positions is an adult book. I don't think a 14 year old girl watching porn in her bedroom and then taking naked photos of herself (while trying to make "seductive faces" to imitate the porn stars) is the type of book I would consider YA. But, maybe I'm crazy.

Also, can I just say, especially in today's society where teen stars are getting younger and younger, that the words 14 year old and sexy should never go together. 14 year olds are CHILDREN, they are sweet and cute and NOT sexy, ever.

I can't even bring myself to give this book ONE star because it offended me so much.

If you're looking for an intelligent, funny, fresh contemporary YA book about ballet I HIGHLY recommend Bunheads by Sophie Flack.
Profile Image for H.
947 reviews1 follower
April 29, 2018
4.5 truly thought-provoking stars.
I couldn’t help but suspect that this was more than a coincidence. It was like Roderick knew what those girls were up to. They came into the studio, leotards snug on their bodies, and flaunted the sex that was taking over their insides. They had boobs, and you could tell they were proud of them, didn’t care who knew. Roderick hated it. It was an insult to ballet. It turned the line of an extended leg into something impure, made pervs out of everyone.

Various Positions is a nasty piece of work. Here is the gritty underbelly of a teenage girl's hopes, dreams, and wanton desires thrust before us, illuminated by glaring fluorescent light. Here is a highly sexualized world examined through the lens of the arduous journey towards becoming a ballerina. For the blunt (but never indulgent) sexualization of the teenage dancers within its pages, Various Positions is inevitably polarizing. It is provocative and, quite simply, brilliant.

Various Positions is the literary equivalent of a Georgia O'Keefe painting: beauty with a distinctly sexual undercurrent. Georgia is our 14 year old anti-heroine, recently accepted to a ballet company where the artistic director is renowned for his skill, but also for his abrasive nature. Rumors about inappropriate treatment of the female dancers only add to his mystique. Soon after her arrival, Georgia is chosen for one-on-one dance instruction with Roderick; as she spends more and more time with the enigmatic director, Georgia weaves a fantasy that seems set become increasingly, unnervingly real. Navigating her sexual awakening is further complicated by family conflict and the seductive pull to join her catty peers in their malevolent yet alluring antics.
Veronica fiddled with the plastic tab of her lid, wiggled it up and down until it came off. “The whole point of this is for Chantal to practice being strong enough for ballet class. So she needs to experience something even worse than Roderick’s insults.”

Her voice was quiet but full of purpose. Something about it frightened me.

“Like what?” Sixty asked.
Veronica moved in closer. “It should have something to do with sex.”
The word stung me. We all sat motionless.
Veronica kept going. “She should go over to the guys and ask them if she can do anything for them.”

This novel does an amazing job at capturing the often nasty politics of teenage female friendships. Power is asserted through peer pressure, ill-meaning pranks, and psychological taunts; the weak are banished to social oblivion, and the competitive atmosphere of the ballet world only serves to heighten the tension.
I pulled out my copy of Dancing on My Grave. Normally, I would never have considered lending it to anyone, but it felt right helping Chantal, wonderful even, as though a secret about my own dancing could be wrapped up and cherished in her success.

“I’ve marked the parts where she stops eating. Read them whenever you have a craving.”

Georgia finds herself in an unsettling state: she wants to assert her burgeoning sexuality and maturity while also resisting change because it seems terrifying. And it becomes easy for Georgia to transition from being seduced by nefarious influences to becoming the seductress herself. Her family situation, with a mother that can only be described as toxic, triggers Georgia to do something, anything to regain control of her life.
“She was so nice,” I said. “She sounded really smart and I thought she was as beautiful as Isabel.”

My mom looked stung. Good, I thought, maybe she’d learn how to mind her own business. But then she went on. “Did she and Dad talk?”

I was so sick of all her questions, her excuses, her suggestive tone of voice. “What is your problem, Mom? Why can’t you just be normal about things!”

Various Positions is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies for its atmospheric tone and sinister undercurrent. The writing is rich with illustrative detail that never becomes melodramatic:
My mom’s voice was louder now, shrill even, but I was going to focus on the lipstick. They looked funny together, like a flock of reddish creatures poking out of their shells. I chose a bright pink one with a sharp summit and a clean slope down one side. In the hallway mirror I pressed it firmly into my mouth. It was satisfying, the pull of the waxy edge on the skin of my lips, the sudden invasion of fuchsia.

But yet, there is always a glimmer of hope/redemption - why else would we read on? At its core, Various Positions is a character study. Georgia isn't a particularly good person. It's truly a testament to Martha Schabas that I fell in love with the novel anyway. Troubling, realistic, and provocative in equal measure, Various Positions is a masterful coming-of-age novel.

I've also never seen a book cover so cleverly reflect its content.

Addendum 11/15/15:

Couldn't resist adding this excerpt from an interview with the author:
Various Positions is about women, power, devotion, growing up and about different ways that bodies are aestheticized. I’d say the novel hinges on the politics of the female body as they’re experienced by a 14-year-old girl called Georgia. Georgia’s starting to realize the extent to which conceptualizations of femininity and feminism have been annexed by the public domain, that having a body poses a very particular social and political problem for women. I think that Georgia does her best to resolve this problem, but her so-called solution is pretty troubling — not to mention illegal and a bit creepy.
Profile Image for Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews).
1,694 reviews873 followers
July 7, 2015
Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!

That was... odd. Weird. Uncomfortable. Utterly not what I thought I was getting: a book about ballet dancers at an exclusive academy. This made me think quite often of last year's movie Black Swan except the whole thing where ballet is not the focus at all: the sexualized teacher-student relationship, the unhealthy obsession with food and thinness, the messed-up family dynamic at home. This is not a dance book at all: this is a book masquerading as dance book, and probably even masquerading as YA as far as I'm concerned. Now, at a second glance, having read this, even the title seems like a double entendre - and not one I like.

Georgia's fixation on her ballet instructor is as unsettling as it is perplexing. Georgia is supposedly a 14-year old girl, or a Grade 9 at the academy at which she studies. Interestingly, Various Positions reads nothing like a 14-year-old girl: far too mature-sounding (especially as Georgia is very, very naive), far too educated, this reads like the thoughts of a twentysomething. Basically: Georgia expresses herself beyond the capabilties of her years: it feels false, and it was quite jarring to read about I don't have an issue with the sexual aspect, or even the fact that there is a lot of focus sex within the book: sex is natural, part of every teen's life. What I do mind is how Georgia relates to all of the above. It's not believable, nor I think, accurate. I also have large issues with the message sent about girls that do have sex.

There are absolutely no healthy relationships between the characters of Various Positions. None - strained? Check. Full-out dysfunctional? Check. Secretive/mysterious? Check. Shady? Checkcheckcheck. Siblings, parents, friends: all Georgia's interactions are limited by her immaturity and her selfishness. Georgia cares about Georgia, and dance and how Georgia looks while dancing. She has zero friends: the closest she comes is a charter "named" Laura. Named is in quotes because all through the novel, she is never called anything by the narrator other than her audition number from the first chapter - Sixty. Georgia's interpersonal skills are so underdeveloped she frequently and alarmingly misinterprets many actions of many, many characters throughout the book. From a man on the subway, to her dad, to her teacher, Georgia is too naive to understand basic human interaction. Georgia's parents might lend an interesting perspective on her fixation on her teacher: as Georgia slowly realizes the similar patterns between her parents history and her current situation, her delusions/justifications become intensified and more urgent. It's also easy to point out Georgia has a strained relationship with father/father-figures, as her own dad is controlling, demeaning, distant father - an attitude mirrored in Roderick's approach to Georgia at the school. I just wish either Georgia had been aged up a bit, or all the sexual undertones and themes could've been toned down. It just really didn't work for such a young protagonist .

The other ballerinas, though largely ignored so much as to be set pieces, are a piece of work. From an unhealthy and uncomfortable focus on weight - one girl, one of the few to receive their own name, is outcast and shunned because she has thicker thighs! - made it hard for me to like anyone from this 300+ page book. The repeated and recurring label of "sex girls" versus virgins/prudes to distinguish within the group also set me off a bit; here to Georgia, to Roderick, ballet is art, utterly asexual and anyone that dares own her femininity is a "sex girl" and deserving of any and all bad things sure to come her way.

This is just an odd read. Two stars for now, but it could possibly go lower the longer I think about this and just why I was so disquieted while reading. Those looking for a light YA read about ballet, look elsewere. I've added Bunheads as an alternative option in my search for a good ballet book; Various Positions missed the mark. I've had a hate-on for this for several paragraphs so I will say this: not all is bad or uncomfortable in Various Positions. The writing itself is deceptively easy to sink in; though not much happens at all throughout, this is never a boring read. I'm sad that this ended up to be such a disappointment, but this wasn't the book I thought I was getting, and I disliked the book it was.
Profile Image for Merary.
231 reviews197 followers
September 19, 2012
Calm down, Merary, calm down.

A fourteen year old did that! A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD!!


That's one of the most misleading plots ever.

Plot: Georgia has a dysfunctional family. She lives for dancing. Her friends are obsessed with sex. She has a crush on her ballet teacher. She gets into trouble.

What really happened: The delusional, sex-crazed mind of Georgia thinks that her teacher is hitting on her, so she tries to seduce him and risks him his job.

Big difference, huh?

And now, for the complaints . . .

1)A fourteen year old who searches on the Internet "turns older men on" and "how to seduce one", asks a man's phone number, makes sexy faces at men in general, downloads porn, admires a pornstar, makes one of her friends have anorexia (And not worrying about her friend's health), seduces her teacher, puts naked pictures of herself on his office, making him resigned his job, lie to her parents and staff, losing her virginity to a guy he doesn't like while drunk (And yelling at him in the middle of sex "Get off me, jerk!"), and not learn her lesson even after telling the truth?
Ladies and gentlemen, our intelligent protagonist.

2)A character is constantly called Sixty even though her name is Laura. Why?

4)Eating disorders were treated very lightly. When had anorexia, Georgia said that she looked more like a ballerina now. Even Roderick Allen (ballet teacher) considered her disorder as something childish and immature. And she's blamed for Roderick's resigning. Not cool.

5)The girls were described . . . sexually. I felt that I was reading an erotica or a romance novel. And at one point, Georgia actually said that her nipples harden when she sees Roderick. UGH.

6)Who's the target audience? It can't be YA because the situations are way too dark and extreme. Even though the main character is fourteen years old. Adult? Probably. Wait, no. Not even Adult.

7)I'm quite aware that teenagers are thinking about sex even more these days, but the author interpreted teenagers as nymphomaniacs! And Georgia doesn't even sound like her age. She sounds more like a 20 year old woman. And she drinks beer. A fourteen year old drinking beer. Great.

8)It was obvious that How predicable.

9)This is NOT a ballet book even though the cover says otherwise. Sure, she enters a ballet academy and does some rehearsals, but that's it. The book is more focused on the disturbing, sexual topics that felt very out of place, very forced, and just plain irritating.

10) Georgia got away with anything. She ruined someone's career and what does she get? A chance to perform onstage in a new school! And what does Roderick get? Even though it turned out to be a big lie, he still didn't get his job back. But, of course! He is a teacher, and he's supposed to get that coming. Georgia is a fourteen year old girl who got corrupted; it's not her fault! Bullshit, bullshit, BULLSHIT!
Do you now see why I hated this book with a passion?

Hey! I just made a Top Ten! Whoo! :)

But, I did like something . . .

The writing was beautiful. No wonder I finished quickly. And the setting! Canada! WHOO!!

Even though this was a stinky mess, I'm looking forward for more of Schabas's work.

And could the next book be less misleading, please? :)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Melanie McCullough.
Author 2 books92 followers
February 22, 2012
Various Positions is a gorgeous debut from an exceptional new talent and is written with an authenticity that only a dancer could achieve. It is a deep and powerful story, deftly choreographed. Each word is meaningful, each step purposeful. I could feel the cold Toronto air, see the gray and fading landscape, taste every kiss, experience every embarrassment and stab of guilt. You'll have no choice but to tear through the pages.

Martha Schabas is a wonderful writer and she weaves a tale filled with so much tension, it was at times almost unbearable. Her characterization is flawless. With Various Positions, she has created individuals as real as any living, breathing person I've ever met. I couldn't help but care deeply for each one of them. Especially Georgia. Poor Georgia whose life has revolved so fully around ballet and navigating her dysfunctional family that she's nowhere near as mature as the other kids her age.

And with no one to turn to except a sister who is away at college, a depressed and self-involved mother, and an emotionally unavailable father, it's no wonder the instant she receives positive attention she's confused. Add to this mixed messages she receives from her sex-obsessed classmates and her own mother and she begins to fantasize that the attention means more than it does. She begins to obsess about Roderick. To over-analyze every action. To see in them more than there is.

I will warn you that there is a fair amount of language and sexual innuendo, but it is a fundamental element of the plot, woven throughout the fabric of the story, holding it together. There is nothing gratuitous or disturbing about it. It merely exists, as essential to Georgia's story as her love of ballet. I mention it only as a caution to those who shy away from this type of subject matter.

In the end my love affair with Macmillan and its imprints continues. I definitely NEED a finished copy of this for my bookshelf and you should grab one for yours as well. This is a novel not to be missed. One of those stories that will get under your skin (in a good way), evoking so much passion from its readers that I honestly believe you're either going to love it or hate it.
Profile Image for Samantha Mitchell .
195 reviews30 followers
August 19, 2013
I couldn't put this book down, although I felt disgusted and disturbed throughout most of it. Never did I find myself angry at Georgia, the main character, but more sad. I have read quite a bit about the world of dance, but have never been able to understand it. I appreciate the beauty, but can't imagine putting someone I love (a child) through those sorts of social pressures.

I spent a fair amount of time picking through this novel when I was done. Why did it have to play out the way it did?

I honestly believe a child is only as stable as their upbringing. This was the true starting point of the storyline for me. A child that has this much free time, with so little guidance, can only veer off the way Georgia did in Various Positions. This was a story about a girl desperately seeking for attention from someone (anyone), as she was constantly being overlooked at home. The rest of the horrifying story only made sense after the frustrating family dynamic she was exposed to.

I don't believe this was a novel "about eating disorders" or "about sexual harassment". That wasn't the point.

Every young adult, that I know anyways, has had something mortifying, heartbreaking or impossibly hard to deal with in their childhood. It wasn't so long ago that I was fourteen and curious (borderline obsessed) with some seriously strange thoughts and situations. Having to overcome and move forward from these types of confusing situations is the lesson to be learned from this novel. You have no other option then to come out of the situation: will it make you a stronger person, or will you allow the moment to define you?

Was it my favorite book? No. In fact I still feel a bit sick from it. But the reason I read is being exposed to these types of stories, that can make you relate to your past and evoke feeling and emotion. This author is one I would have liked to meet!
Profile Image for Bailey (IB Book Blogging).
254 reviews55 followers
January 19, 2012
I'm a bit speechless after finishing this one. I thought it was going to be about ballet and the obstacles Georgia has to face in that world. Instead, what I got was one of the worst books that I have ever read. Seriously, this book is so messed up that I don't even know where to begin. I am a bit disgusted at everything that happened in VARIOUS POSITIONS and although I try to find the good in every book, I can't think of anything for this one.

Georgia infuriated me. She is supposedly a fourteen year-old who is so committed to ballet but all that she talked about in the book was sex. Everything went back to it and I was flabbergasted. This is a fourteen year-old girl. I get that her family life is pretty unstable, but all of her thoughts shocked me. I haven't disliked a character this much in a long while.

If you thought this book was about ballet, you thought wrong. Sure, Georgia gets into a ballet academy and practices ballet a lot, but that's about it. Honestly, this book is about nothing more than sex. I couldn't believe the thoughts that came to Georgia's mind. She's barely even a teenager! And don't get me started with her family. Everyone in VARIOUS POSITIONS had zero personality and were as flat as any character can be.

I really hate to be harsh about VARIOUS POSITIONS, but I just DID NOT like it at all. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone at all, especially not young teens.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
138 reviews25 followers
December 30, 2011
Many of these reviews are not really treating this book fairly. This isn't a book about what really happens at a dance academy. This isn't a book about ballet. Yes, these things play a big role in the book, but apparently some are just missing the point.

Georgia is a young, inexperienced in the ways of the world, girl who has just been admitted into a ballet academy. It is obvious during the first few chapters before she enters the academy that because she is so involved in ballet and her dance classes, that she is no where near as mature as her other 9th grade classmates.

Because her family ignores her, except for an older sister, Georgia only knows things by witnessing actions of her friends or by doing a GOOGLE search on sex. Thus, her inexperience paired with a lack of familial support and attention leads her to mistake an male teacher's attention with romantic prospects.

I am fairly certain that all teenage girls witness a longing for an older man around this age. The giggly feeling of coming into womanhood and the looks from older boys would lead any girl to this conclusion that those who look MUST be interested.

This book is a wonderful representation of a troubled teenager's misguided decisions and the only reason that I did not rate it a full five stars is that I felt the ending to be too tidy and rushed.

I thought it was wonderful.
87 reviews13 followers
March 24, 2020
Authored by Martha Schabas, but narrated by the Juliet precocious and aged Georgia Slade, “Various Positions” tells the story of Georgia’s prodigal decent and redemptive return to the sanctuary, her chrysalis of ballet. And her telling style, which is as lean as she is, is as legible and as engaging as an Ivanov pas; and too, she so clearly marks the episodes and chapters of her story with the connectives of time that any member of her corps of readers can smoothly count her moves. And although, Gothic themes such as “innocence falling into evil,” “the pursued heroine,” and the “double” along with such Gothic motifs as the “past corroded present,” the “grotesque,” the “Inquisition,” and “madness,” join to vine their way about the sculptural shapes of this well proportioned work, they fail to obscure it. In fact and in spite of the narrative setting of Toronto’s wintery gloom and its horizon-less urban maze, “Various Positions” nevertheless reflects the geometries as well as the rusted gold light and promise of Parish’s “Daybreak.” And this is so because the daybreak like end of “Various Positions” hints the metamorphosis of Georgia “Aurora” Slade from caterpillar to butterfly.


“Grendel,” the Norn said. “I can hear you now.” The Norn was Grendel’s Aunt. “Now, why are you here,” she asked as she looked up from her book.

The natural majesty of their meeting place fit the sublimity of a Casper David Fredrick. Picture, for example, an enormous cradle of lifted stone holding a certain measure of the careless sea in complete stillness lit by an immense moon. Grendel handed his Auntie a book. Now, imagine the alarm affected by seeing the divine equanimity of a Norn bumped. “Why are you reading, Toril Moi’s "What is a Woman?”

“I seek to sound the sensibilities of local writers.” They were, after all, in Norway- Moi’s native home. In fact, they were near the inland limit of Norway’s largest fiord.

Grendel then handed his Aunt a second book. And because the Norn named Wyrd, was fond of him (it was, she felt, a shame that her young nephew had died in an accident brought by his foolish adolescent pranks) she secretly snorted rather than howled hysterically, “Why did you read, "Various Positions"? By…ah yes, Martha Schabas.

“I know that it sounds incestuous, Auntie, but, you know, I have a fondness for swans. So, I read this book because some humans claimed that it was “just another "Black Swan.” You know, like the movie. Well, it isn’t. And now, I have a question for you, Auntie. Why is a Norn, a legislator that weaves that is speaks fate’s certainty reading Cavell’s "Must We Mean What We Say?" That’s pretty weird, isn’t it? Don’t you always mean what you say, Auntie?”

“Where are we Grendel?”

“At the pre-ruin of Wittgenstein’s hut, I think.”

“Yes. Now, to answer, “why you are here;” first, before you connect the dots or pick the knots in the tapestries of your life’s readings, you must find them. And second…oh, what was it? Odd, that I should doubt that there was a second. Hm. Perhaps…perhaps, there wasn’t one; I mean a second…oh dear. Well, in the mean time, do let "Various Positions" show you where to stand while you critique it and then see its philosophy from there. Bye!”

“Auntie, wait. I’ve brought you six …(She vanished)… wonderful…roses. Well, that’s Wyrd for you. I mean that even though she is always around she is never here. Creepy. Well, nevertheless, let the critique begin….”

Double, double
Martha’s parable

I am in fact very fond of swans and roses. First, because the power of their symbolism swiftly summons the ballets "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty" to mind. Second, because the balletic key of Various Positions shares with these ballets a Gothic mode, it seems appropriate, then, to listen for how the higher notes, the hinted references, of the book resonate (or not) with the bass notes sounded by the ballets. And third, because swans and roses remind me of my mother, and for those that have not heard both Lilac and Carabosse like my mother are/were Valkyries.

It is clear, I think, that the resonant correspondences of character and situation between book and ballets are allusive rather than stated. In this sense, then, one hears "Various Positions" as a contemporized "Sleeping Beauty" retold in a confessional manner from the Aurora’s point of view. Additionally and keeping the metaphor of music, that from the fundamentals of Aurora, Lilac, Carabosse, and the King the overtones of Georgia, Laura, Pilar, and Dr. Larry Slade ring. And while the hubris of the King’s intent to banish chance from his domain by forbidding spinning can be seen as the act of an overprotective parent, the Doctor’s overtly cavalier attitude gives a face and a manner to the hubris iherent to the reductive materialism that flavors his specialty of neuropsychology. Dismissive, imperious, and unsupportive the Doctor is a poor partner. He pulls his youngest and rueful daughter off point and stands her surprised and helpless before the (Spanish) Inquisition of 'Abjectomizers.' This neologism mimics the 'Rodomizer' double entendre invented by the young women at the Royal Toronto Ballet Academy to picture a form of sexual assault that in turn pictures the Rothbart-like school director, Roderick Allen’s teaching style. (So, Auntie, would this example illustrate Cavell’s point about how someone means what someone says? And does it say when the Rodomizer position illustrats the cover of "Various Positions"?) The difference of action implied here, however, is that Isabel and Pilar do in fact mean to torment, that is to double Georgia over; and then to burn Georgia, Roderick Allen, and ballet at the stake of ‘feminist’ righteousness. Now the consequences of Dad’s hubris and Pilar’s and Isabella’s “helpful and caring” witch hunt is that it stops (or would stop) the becoming, the ever self-creation of Georgia Slade dead. Georgia’s mother Laura, the un-likely Valkyrie and divine Lilac, however, shields her daughter from this assault and covers her youthful will (and right) to self-determination with a thicket of spear-like thorns, which in "Various Positions" are divorce, geographic distance, and a new school of ballet rather than a century of sleep and a rescuing male. In fact, ‘Rescuing Princes’ need not apply.

A cipher a best, the loutish Kareem resonates more with the 1877 conception of the ‘would be rescuer’ Siegfried than with the soapy suites that presently populate many productions of "Swan Lake." The character of Roderick Allen, on the other hand, offers an obvious double of Swan Lake’s Rothbart. For example, Roderick insists to his female students that: if they are to properly serve the art of ballet, then they must surrender their sensitivities to personal criticisms and to reject distracting propensities such as sex. Put into Swan Lakean terms, Roderick wants the young ladies in his charge to abandon or ignore important aspects of their humanity and become (unmated) swans and then to stay that way. Yet, in spite of his resonance with or family resemblance to Rothbart, Roderick is neither a misogynist nor a pederast nor a devil, in fact he lives what he advocates; and that is a devotion, a blind devotion to the art of ballet. The double nature or aspects of his character exemplifies, then, a unifying feature of the book; and that is that its use of doubling resembles that of a ‘theme and variations’ (or seeing something from various positions) rather than a tidy chain of binary oppositions. And like a dance work, the combinations that make Georgia’s doublings are always in motion. Doublings such as Georgia and Isabel, Georgia and ‘Sixty,’ Georgia and Chantal, Georgia doing doubles, Georgia’s solipsistic remaking of Roderick into his sexually demonic double, Georgia’s attraction/repulsion to Kareem, and the double way she sees Pillar, Isabel, Roderick, her father and mother and herself as she tells her story generate continuous pictures of an always becoming Georgia. But, perhaps, the doubling that is more important than her Sorcerer’s Apprentice-like “playing with forces she didn’t understand” is that she returned from her “errand into the maze” of sexual experiments forgiven of the harm that that errand had caused. Recall that in Act IV of "Swan Lake" Siegfried pursues Odette into the underworld to seek her forgiveness, which she grants. In "Various Positions", Georgia pursues Roderick into his nether world to seek his forgiveness, which he grants. Unlike Siegfried, however, Georgia survives this perilous journey. And, the point is that…

“Various Positions" for all of its sexual aspects is not a parable of the prodigal daughter, but rather a parable about the power of acknowledgement and given the topical nature and the audience of this book particularly for young women. Although Georgia’s mother as Lilac/Valkyrie accepted and shielded her, it seems fitting and ironic that of all of the adults important to the urgent contingencies of Georgia’s life that it was Roderick’s forgiveness of her that truly acknowledged her as a human being. “Your good,” he said to her.
Profile Image for kylajaclyn.
697 reviews41 followers
August 3, 2012
I had hopes for this books. Not high ones, but I at least expected to give it a solid three stars. Nope. As the book carried on, I was going to give the book two stars for my extreme dislike of the main character, Georgia Slade. Now I am going to give it one, because of three things (which will be mentioned later in this review) the main character does that are just so villainous and despicable that I think Captain Hook has more heart. Don't get me wrong, I've read some unlikeable characters in my day. David Levithan's and Rachel Cohn's book Naomi and Ely's No-Kiss List had rather distasteful characters, but they still came back to being human in the end. The Wonder Years is my all-time favorite show, but I frequently dislike Kevin Arnold. But, again, the writers (as opposed to Various Positions' author Martha Schabas) make sure that even Kevin understands when he's being an asshole. It's pretty sad when I feel more compassion for the main character of A Clockwork Orange more than the supposed protagonist of this book.

There are so many ways this book could have gone, but it ultimately went nowhere meaningful (and, in fact, went dangerous places and sent dangerous messages). The first place it tries for, as mentioned on the front flap, is the eternal "is there sex in ballet" question. This is a recent theme in the media, as presented by Darren Aronofsky in Black Swan. What I expected was a student-teacher relationship (initiated first by the teacher but CERTAINLY not the student) that went awry and would ultimately lead Georgia to become a wiser person. Black Swan runs parallel to this book in a few ways. You have two girls, Nina and Georgia, obsessed with perfection in ballet and relatively sheltered with "moody" parents.

I have to pause and say that that's another thing that seriously bothers me about some books. Why does every parent (usually the mother) have to be mentioned as overly emotional? Depression is a widespread and well-known disease, so why can no one say it by name? I am thoroughly disappointed in any writer that cannot give a proper voice to this common illness. Shame on you, Schabas.

Okay, un-pause. Anyway, although Nina is much older than a 14-year-old girl, she also has yet to experience a sexual awakening. Various Positions mentions that (and Georgia believes) a ballerina must take all sex out of her being. This explains a few things about Black Swan and Nina's awakening with Lily. Beyond these few similarities, this is where Black Swan soars lightyears ahead. While the first part is about waking up to yourself and your body and exploring the sex in ballet, the second part becomes where Nina's quest for perfection drives her to sheer madness (or is it?). Georgia is already a star pupil. It is slowly revealed that she IS as fucked up as Nina, but not in any remotely sympathetic way.

In the beginning, Georgia leaves her regular school for a ballet academy. From the start, she gets extra praise from her ballet teacher, Roderick. She clearly admires him, but her admiration turns cryptic when her mom mentions that all men are perverts. Since Georgia's mom is one of those she's-depressed-but-I-won't-write-that-word moms, and Georgia knows this, one would think that she would brush off this comment. Instead, Georgia starts looking for the "perviness in men" on her daily metro ride. She becomes utterly taken with the notion that all older men want her and are staring at her and longing to touch her, A FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD GIRL. She even gets one man's number on the subway by flashing glances at him the whole time and giving him sexual stares. She looks at porn and finds herself liking a porn star named Mandi. She starts to put Mandi's positions into her ballet moves so that Roderick will have extra reason to touch her.

I didn't see Roderick as a pervert, so I have no idea what Schabas's intention was other than to piss me off. Sure, Roderick was a harsh ballet teacher. But most male coaches of ballet, ice skating, and gymnastics can be particularly harsh. He touched Georgia when he had to, but it was only ever "sexually" in her own imagination. She becomes so infatuated with him that she takes naked pictures of herself (!!) and wraps them in her thong to put in his drawer. She kisses him in his office, and he storms out. She leaves the picture. Roderick was already in the middle of dealing with another infuriating part of this book (mentioned next).

This book could have also been a commentary (positive or neutral, but instead it is negative) on eating disorders. One of the central characters, Chantal, is constantly told by Roderick and others how much she breaks the mold of a typical ballerina. But nobody ever says this to be a GOOD thing. Georgia offers to help Chantal by giving her a food chart of what she should eat. Chantal should know better than to take the advice of a 14-year-old, true. But she's also one of the few likable characters in this book (besides Sixty). She is desperately searching to belong, and she sees nothing wrong with Georgia's advice. But Georgia doesn't tell her to watch what she eats and to eat balanced meals. She tells her to ignore her hunger. Ignoring hunger is one of the key steps in anorexia. When Chantal takes things too far and is ghostly thin by Christmas break, Georgia is only concerned for herself that she will somehow get caught for her part in it all. She never has any kind thought for Chantal, only the sickening one you can read below that convinced me to give this book one star.

As a dancer (size 14, no less) and, more importantly, as a human, I am deeply and indelibly offended by this book. It says that anorexia just happens, and that it might just make you look more like a ballerina. Georgia wishes her problems were only with food. Since I've struggled with emotional eating and since I know just how UNFUNNY and completely serious eating disorders are, I found this to be such a toxic and flippant statement. Yes, if only you had anorexia, Georgia. Wouldn't that just be a GRAND problem to have? This book says that it is normal to prey on older men when you are 14. This book claims that ballet is the most important thing to the main character, and yet everything she gets herself into has nothing to do with ballet at all. Instead, it has everything to do with what can be expected of a clueless and cruel teenager. I almost can't forgive myself for finishing the book.

If you want to know the three specific incidents that made me HATE Georgia Slade and give this book one star, read below:

1. Says that Chantal looks more like a ballerina being anorexic
2. While riding her bike, thinks about men watching her, and she delights in this watching as if she is doing the watching herself
3. Thinks that her former best friend, Sixty, will now be a "boring" person for giving up ballet
Profile Image for Joel Fishbane.
Author 5 books21 followers
May 16, 2014
Being a former theatre school brat, I couldn't help but be drawn to this affecting first novel by Martha Schabas, a work that deals with adolescence, broken homes and the fact that when you're dealing with the artistic world, the "rules do not apply". This, at least, is the conclusion reached by Georgia Slade, Ms. Schabas' engrossing main character, who is accepted to the Royal Toronto Ballet Academy and promptly begins both an artistic and sexual awakening. A bit of Black Swan meets Fame, Various Positions took me back to my own days in dance school and successfully captured the tense student rivalry and unfortunate eating disorders that are the undercurrent of any artistic training.

In many ways this is a classic first novel: the coming-of-age-narrative has all the usual ingredients (first-person narrative, a broken home, sexual awakening, more then a few awkward metaphors). Ms. Schabas, though, brings to it a fresh perspective, mostly because of her decision to question the usual cliches. The central issue of the book - the main character's obsessive crush on her charismatic teacher - reminded me a lot of David Mamet's Oleanna. In both cases, we're presented with a relationship and then asked to pass judgement on who was actually wronged. I suspect the answer will be as divided for readers of Various Positions as it is for those who watch Oleanna, especially because in both cases we're dealing with accusations of sexual impropriety between teacher and student. Ms. Schabas, I think, eventually reveals her own sympathies much more then Mr. Mamet ever did (Oleanna thrives on ambiguity) but she succeeds in revealing the way a young girl's confusion can lead us all to question the identity of predator and prey.

But ambiguity still thrives in other parts of Ms. Schabas' book. Georgia Slade's future is not entirely clear, nor are the other characters given neat and tidy ends. She also performs an interesting trick while tackling anorexia, a disorder which, given the novel is set in a dance school, sadly had to make an appearance (show me a dance school without a few spots of anorexia and I'll show you a dance school without any dancers). Like the old ABC After-School Specials, Ms. Schabas does make the unfortunate decision to reduce the problem into a single, representative character, thereby creating the impression that the problem is an aberration, rather than a rampant concern. But she counters this by not ascribing blame to any one party (the Evil Media, the Weight-Obsessed Stage Mother). There are no pretty solutions for the anorexic in Ms Schabas' world which, sadly, echos our own.

Ms. Schabas is a lovely writer and there are more than a few haunting paragraphs, especially when discussing the difficult areas of sex, lust and obsession. There are a few over-poetic images (I agree that "autumnal mermaid" sounds nice; I'm not sure as a reader I know what it means), but ultimately Ms. Schabas successfully captures her character's voice, which somehow manages to sound both mature and adolescent, as if the character is recording her story years later while refusing to let hindsight inform her writing. All of which is to say you probably don't need to be a theatre school brat to like Various Positions - and the book may prove a good warning for anyone who wants to know what to expect from a career in the performing arts.

A side note: I picked up this book because Ms. Schabas' name sounded familiar. After rifling through my memory, I'm almost certain that she's the same actress I cast in a play I wrote in 1999. If memory serves, she attended one rehearsal and then had to drop out due to other commitments. If this is the case, and she's reading this, then she should know that I suffered many weeks of frustration at having to recast the part with someone less suited for the role then she was. I'm hopeful that none of this influenced any of the above thoughts.
Profile Image for Megan.
516 reviews344 followers
February 26, 2012
Martha Schabas’ debut VARIOUS POSITIONS has had a less-than-stellar reputation amongst my friends and other online reviewers, with a lot of hatred going towards it. I went into it not knowing what to expect other than ballet and sex. But something about the premise intrigued me, even though I am normally not a fan of contemporary books, nor do I know ANYTHING about ballet. What I found, though, was a book pitched as young adult that really should be on adult shelves only, a book about a girl going through a sexual awakening in the competitive world of ballet.

VARIOUS POSITIONS is about a 14 year old ballet student named Georgia, who has recently been accepted to the most prestigious ballet school in Canada. With girls pushing each other to do horrible things (become anorexic, lose their virginity to strangers, etc), Georgia has set her sights on the school’s notorious head teacher, a famed choreographer named Roderick. Famous for his harsh words and brash teaching mechanisms, he incites fear in most of the girls. Showing any emotion to his criticism, girls claim, is grounds for expulsion and the end to their ballet dreams. But for Georgia, he is the object of her affection. She imagines a relationship between them despite their massive age difference, and even thinks about having sex with him. Things only escalate from there.

This is definitely not a book for everyone. As I mentioned, I don’t think this book should be targeted at the YA audience. The book is heavily based on sex between teacher and student – Georgia with her teacher and then again between Georgia’s parents in the past. She spends a great deal of time fantasizing about sex, watching porn, and getting into compromising situations with Roderick. Although the protagonist is 14, she comes off more as a 19 or 20 year old, with her thoughts, mannerisms, and words. The publisher says this book is for teens aged 14-18, but I disagree with this. This is a book for girls 16 and up, if not adults outright, and I think marketing it to adults instead would have done this book a much greater service.

While I did not sympathize with Georgia, I did enjoy her narration, looking at it from a purely outsider perspective. Her thoughts were strange and repulsive, yet at the same time they draw the reader into her world. The life she has adopted for herself and decided to love is utterly fascinating, from the lengths these girls go to in order to succeed or their relationships with one another. Schabas portrays the trials and tribulations of young ballet dancers well, from their struggles with weight to the expectations put on their heads by their teachers, their families, and themselves. In addition, after reading this book, I really wanted to rewatch Black Swan. Totally random thought, I know.

The writing was for the most part strong, although there were a few too many awkward metaphors used too often, comparing smiles to leaving the lights on when you leave a room. Schabas definitely shows promise, but I think with better marketing, this book would have been a much stronger debut. It is not YA and marketing it as YA really did take the book down a notch for me.

VERDICT: A strong debut in a category where it doesn’t belong, VARIOUS POSITIONS is a well-written story of a girl’s sexual awakening in the world of ballet. But really, this book is not for young adults, and I would not recommend this to girls under the age of 16 at all.
Profile Image for Lacey Louwagie.
Author 7 books58 followers
August 4, 2012
Based on the reviews I read of this book, I thought it might be too "controversial" to order for my library, but it intrigued me nonetheless. Specifically, reviewers referred to its main character and narrator, Georgia, as being "obsessed" with sex. We see a lot of teen books where boys being obsessed with sex is hardly mentioned in the review, or if so, it's given a wink-and-nod approval for its "realism." After having read this book, I didn't feel that Georgia was any more "obsessed" with sex than most teens who are trying to make sense of something they're on the verge of experiencing, but that is still so alien to them. That this normal, healthy preoccupation comes with a warning about a sex-obsessed teen reveals the discomfort our culture still has with female sexuality.

And yes, sometimes reading this novel is incredibly uncomfortable in how it brings us so explicitly into the mind of a fourteen-year-old girl as she tries to make sense of the sex games played at parties with classmates; her older sister's young adult sexuality; her parents' sexual lives and sexual pasts. As a ballerina, her body is even more an expression of her identity than for other girls, so it makes sense that she dwells on the body's ultimate expression in sexuality.

What pushes Georgia past her squeamish discomfort and into the realm of obsession is an offhand remark her mother makes in reference to the sexual side of her teacher at ballet school. After that, Georgia becomes convinced that all men are secretly after sex and creates a fantasy in her mind about her teacher being sexually attracted to her (a fantasy that I think a LOT of teens harbor, without realizing the implications of it.) Although her teacher only crosses minor boundaries -- driving her home from school, confiding a bit of personal information -- in Georgia's mind it becomes so much more that eventually she pulls the rest of the world into her delusion.

Although that's the main thread of the story, it's not the only one. Georgia is also coping with her mother's depression, her parents' marital discord, her father's disinterest in her dreams of ballet, and the competitive, at times "mean-girl" atmosphere of the ballet school. Her older sister, Isabel, offers a welcome glimpse at a healthy adult, and I sort of breathed an internal sigh of relief every time she came on the scene.

The characters in this book are complicated, at times infuriating, incredibly flawed -- and you're left wondering whether your initial assumptions about them were wrong or right on, as well as how reliable a narrator Georgia has been.

This book isn't for everyone. There are those who will feel that the ending doesn't offer enough resolution, that the answers aren't clear enough. There are also those who will have trouble pinpointing the "turning point" when Georgia crosses over from being totally grossed out by sex to pursuing it -- what changes? Still, for me, Martha Schabas captured the psyche of a teenage girl so well that it was all the reason I needed. (There are also readers who will be totally furious with Georgia, as I was at times; I found her believable and compelling, but not necessarily likeable.)

Still, I gave this book a generous five stars because Schabas has ventured into rarely-traversed territory, and she does it bravely, artfully, gracefully. The book did, at the end of it all, blow me away.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 6 books1,205 followers
January 18, 2012
This one didn't work for me much. All of the problems I had in reading it sort of play into one another, making them harder to pull apart. First, maybe, is the age issue. Georgia's in grade 8 at the beginning of the story, when she tries out for the ballet academy. At the end of the book, she's trying out for grade 10. Maybe the middle is a year of time, but it's not clear what the passage of time is. For me, it felt like this all took place over the course of a month or two, given there aren't any actual ballet performances and the bulk of what happens in ballet classes is limited. I needed more indication of time and passage of time to make sense of the scope of the story.

That said, Georgia was uneven and hard to buy either as an 8th or 9th grader. Her voice feels very mature, but her actions are entirely immature. There was a real disconnect for me as a reader, and I likewise felt disconnected from her story because I didn't get to know who she was.

There were a lot of wonky messages about sexuality and male/female power in the story, too, and while it can be attributed to Georgia being immature, I'm not going to buy that argument easily. I think she's spot on age wise in her curiosity about sex and her own body, especially given the demand to have that physical awareness which comes with ballet, but the way she used it seemed evil and honestly didn't serve a real purpose.

I feel like the flap copy is a little misleading, since there's really not that much focus on ballet nor the intense practicing in a one-on-one environment between Roderick and Georgia. Likewise, I don't think Georgia's friends are all that sex obsessed. SHE certainly is, though. To be perfectly honest

The mixed messages, the underdeveloped main character, and the inconsistency of pacing and passage of time made this a slow and ultimately disappointing read.
Profile Image for Sara.
311 reviews12 followers
December 30, 2011
Various Positions by Martha Schabas follows fourteen year old Georgia as she starts the Royal Ballet Academy. Georgia's classes are run by Rodrick a cruel man whom Georgia develops a sexual obsession with which overwhelms her life. Georgia has a confusing home life and does not know how to ask for help.

This book was horrifying. I finished it, however only because I was so horrified that I couldn't stop reading. The entire thing reads like an explanation as to why statutory rape isn't wrong because it's normal and natural for girls to be enamored and try to seduce much older men. That it can't be the man's fault because the girl really wants it. The main plot of the book is Georgia's sexual obsession with her teacher. She doesn't just obsess over him but obsesses over men that she sees on the subway and the relationship between her father and her mother (as she finds out that her mother started dating her father when she was a student). She looks up information on the internet on teen-adult relationships and becomes fascinated with an internet pornstar.

As for this being a dance book. It's isn't. She's in class and talks about putting her shoes on and doing singular dance moves occasionally but there are no scenes to put the reader into the dance or the lifestyle of a real dancer. Her dance teacher is mean and cruel to his students putting them all up for ridicule on a regular basis. Her classmates are just as screwed up as she is (which is not like ballet students at all) and are into partying, boys and extreme bullying (to the point where they told a girl that she had to go perform a sexual act on a group of strange boys). In response to her teachers critique of her friends weight Georgia encourages her friend to diet and develop an eating disorder (and never acknowledges that it was a problem even commenting several times how much better her friend looked).

Appropriateness: This is not a young adult book even though it seems to be marketed as such and it's not a book that I would give to a teen. It did not read like a young adult book and the content is certainly not what teens would be comfortable with. I could see readers of literary fiction enjoying the weird character study but it's not what readers of YA fiction will enjoy. As for adult content we've got a teen-adult relationship, alcohol, teen bullying, eating disorders (and not presented in a way to teach) and unprotected casual sex. All of the relationships in the book are unhealthy and destructive.
Profile Image for Arminzerella.
3,734 reviews86 followers
May 20, 2012
Georgia comes from a troubled home. Her mother is insecure and depressed, and her father is arrogant and disdainful (and also probably sleeping with another woman). They met and had an affair (which resulted in Georgia) when he was still married and she was a graduate student. That aside, Georgia’s passion for ballet, however, has earned her a place in a prestigious academy under the tutelage of Roderick Allen. She becomes obsessed with Roderick and with her own emerging sexuality. At first Georgia fears his advances, and then later she actively seeks them out. When another student develops anorexia and Roderick and the school are taken to task for pressuring her, Georgia attempts to make her move – cornering Roderick in his office late one night, kissing him, and leaving naked, provocative photos of herself in his desk. She quickly realizes her mistake when he thrusts her away and leaves, but things only get worse when she tries to tell her half-sister what happened. Things spiral out of Georgia’s control as her frustrated attempts to tell the truth make Roderick look more and more guilty. Will she be able to clear his name before it’s too late?

Being a person who sometimes picks up books on the basis of their cover art, I was a bit shocked to find that this book had less to do with ballet than it did the scandal that takes place when a young ballet student attempts to seduce her teacher. This was not what I was expecting. At one point I found myself wondering, “What the heck is wrong with this girl?” Georgia is a lot more screwed up than we’re initially led to believe, and her experimentation is both dangerous and disturbing. Readers who are looking for a book that’s more about dance may be surprised by what they find here.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jesylyn Batman.
16 reviews
May 20, 2012
I absolutely loved this book! I couldn't stop turning pages, absorbing the book like a drug. I love how a lot of it was about being perfect and wanted in ballet, and the story takes many unsuspected turns. I thought that Roderick and Georgia's relationship was going to be different, however, focusing more on the taboo and less on the "a man is always a man" theory. I actually thought it was going to be a taboo love story ending in tragedy, and while that had disappointed me, the book itself was amazing. I only wish it hadn't ended so abruptly. But all in all, I loved this book. Especially the secret friendship with Chantal.
Profile Image for Johanna.
442 reviews15 followers
October 21, 2012
I was very surprised to find that this book was classed as a young adult read – I found it in the adult fiction section in my library – because the rampant sexual curiosity that engulfs the protagonist Georgia is quite graphic. The book explores the teacher-student dynamic at an exclusive ballet academy where Georgia becomes enamoured with her male ballet professor Roderick. At first Georgia’s desire to please Roderick is from a purely technical approach: she desires to be the perfect ballerina, above reproach from her professors or peers. But her behaviour soon spirals out of control as she becomes convinced that Roderick has taken a sexual interest in her and she must catch him out to protect other young women. The line between Georgia’s desire for Roderick to cross the line between professor and student is blurred between her equal fears that Roderick will take things too far.

The writing in this novel is compelling and makes the book hard to put down. The content was quite disturbing and Georgia’s behaviour was clearly irremediable. The novel also skirts around the issues of anorexia and broken families. If you are looking for a light novel about dancing – this is not it. This book is dark, disturbing, and probably a little too inappropriate for younger teenagers. However, I don’t see readers forgetting Georgia’s cautionary tale anytime soon.
458 reviews3 followers
June 8, 2013
This novel was so laughably bad...I honestly couldn't believe what I was reading! At one point, I thought this was a YA novel but after looking all over for that YA symbol, I figured I was wrong. If this novel is meant for anyone over 18, then I must have missed something in this story! This was a mess of a story for 2 major reasons. There is an episode of anorexia experienced by one of the characters and there is a sexual harassment charge brought against another character. Both of these HUGE issues were glossed over so quickly and resolved so painlessly for all involved that I actually guffawed when I should have been so angry...but hey that's only my opinion! The author is such a lovely young woman and after attending one of her readings I quickly bought this novel and had her sign it! I believed that she was going to be a new star on the literary scene...sorry Ms Schabas..It really didn't do much for me! I'm a sucker for anything balletic and I was deeply disappointed in this novel (to say the least) but isn't that cover just gorgeous!
Profile Image for Sarah Beth.
13 reviews43 followers
June 22, 2019
First things first: this is an incredibly brave debut novel. Martha Schabas has my full backing for the shear courage to make such a controversial novel the first one on the market with her name attached. For that alone she earns my five stars.

This work is raw. This work is dirty. This work is real.

Perhaps what made this book stand out so much to me was the shear fact that Georgia is so flawed, yet we want to cheer her on. I'm reminded of a quote from Roxane Gay: "If people cannot be flawed in fiction there's no place left for us to be human." The characters Schabas crafted were stunningly realistic, while also stunningly human. Not a single character in the entire book is painted as all-knowing or perfect in any way.

The moment the novel started I was thrust back into freshman year of high school, back to the awkward coming-of-age process that everyone talks about but no one TALKS about. Georgia took my heart. Each decision she made, every fantasy, was a raw, honest look at how young teens may view the world. It's not all roses with Schabas's characters, and I can't thank her enough for that. For the first time in about a decade I feel like her teenage characters actually reflecting the though processes, the fear, the loneliness, the confusion, the overall experiences that I encountered when I was Georgia's age. Frankly the fact it was accomplished was breathtaking.

Schabas doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the social issues Georgia and her classmates encounter. She didn't offer any solutions, any real applications for what to do with topics ranging from eating disorders to body image to tense family dynamics to the sexualization of the body -- it was like a breath of fresh air. So often when I read YA fiction the author attempts to make it all better by the conclusion. Not so with this one. Schabas leaves the door wide open for you to decide how you feel about everything that transpired throughout the novel.

Obviously the most controversial thing about this book was Georgia's relationship with Roderick. As a dance instructor myself, this plot point was highly realistic. Myself and my fellow instructors have all encountered a student -- thankfully we tend to teach with adults more than adolescents -- who hear our compliments and encouragements as something more than dancing aid. It's few and far between, but it happens. It didn't surprise me one bit that a young character that is trying to understand sexuality and how relationships work in an environment focused on approval and power dynamics found her instructor's comments to be sexual in nature. It's sad but it's true. It's an issue that is present in younger dancers and older dancers alike, and it's one that goes vastly unaddressed. I applaud Schabas for taking such an untouched problem and bringing it to light.

Now, if Roderick's character had sincerely done anything that made me second guess his motives, I would have no problem bashing the plot to the ground. But while he said some downright inappropriate things about how young girls are supposed to look, at no point did I read his actions as being suggestive -- unless Georgia painted them as such. Having an unreliable narrator made Roderick into a creep, rather than his own actions. Is this approach controversial? You bet it is. Was it masterfully done? I'm compelled to say it was.

All in all, this book stood out to me more than any other I've read in the past year. It gets my full recommendation for anyone looking to read a novel exploring the confusing and downright raw narrative of what it's like finding yourself in a dance environment that tells you to suppress your sexuality at a moment in life when that seems impossible.
Profile Image for Ailurophile.
23 reviews8 followers
October 7, 2012
I picked this young adult title up hoping for some light weekend reading about a dance academy. Instead, I found a heavy book about dance, yes, but also about sexual awakening, the breakdown and dysfunction of family units, lying (or at least truth that is evasive and unclear), and the ugliness of mental illness. I'm not sure, based on other reviews, that Schabas intended the last—it's quite obvious that if she did, most readers did not get it—but for me mental illness and its consequences dominated the book.

This book is about Georgia, a 14-year old with what could best be described as a miserable and checkered home life. She auditions for, and receives, admission to one of Canada's most prestigious ballet academies, conveniently located within easy driving distance to her home. As the book continues, Georgia, who is prudish and disgusted by sex at the beginning of the novel, develops an attraction to, and ultimately an unhealthy obsession with, her ballet teacher, Roderick.

I have to disagree with the somewhat disingenuous reviewers who claim that this book is not at all about dance and is all about sex, claiming to have been scandalized and shocked, shocked at the volume and explicit nature of the sex in the book. In reality Georgia only has sex once in the book, toward the very end, and the scene is neither explicit nor vulgar. It is true that a large portion of the book focuses on her sexual awakening and the development of a sexual awareness on her part. While I don't know that I'd let my nonexistent 12 or 14 year old daughter read this book, I didn't find these kinds of feelings or emotions coming from a 14 year old character surprising, and was not put off by them (though I will admit, I could have done without Schabas's descriptions of internet porn involving people running purple popcicles down their 'boobs' (her word) and the like.)

I will admit that the book was less about dancing than I expected, though I'd say that dancing gets a fair number of pages, and that Schabas doesn't flinch away from dealing with some of the real problems in the dance community, from the pressure and the cliquish nature of the dancers to eating disorders. To me, though, the focus was not sex either. It was, as stated above, the perils of undiagnosed mental illness and how they will destroy peoples families and lives. We quickly realize that Georgia's mother has major mental problems, including, at a minimum, major depression so bad that she can't get out of bed to take Georgia to the most important ballet audition of her life and Georgia has to call her sister to do it. She also possibly suffers from delusions including the delusion that Georgia's father is unfaithful. Her dad, in the meantime, literally does not talk to anyone and is almost psychopathic in his desire to cut everyone down.

It comes as no surprise, then, when Georgia begins to suffer from delusions of her own halfway through the book- these centered around Rodrick, her much older dance teacher, and the fact that he wants to have a sexual relationship with her. They can only be called delusions because, other than touching her thigh a few times while giving her legitimate dance corrections and driving her home once after a very late rehearsal he literally gives her no encouragement. None. In the meantime she becomes increasingly obsessed with him. None of this was to a degree that was normal. I was left with the firm conviction that she was mentally ill. She'd have thoughts such as this to justify the fact that he acted like he had no feelings for her:

"Roderick knew it was dangerous to put moves on me. He wasn't in my head like I was, had no proof how I would react."

In the end, it blows up in her face . This could have gone in an interesting direction. Instead, Schabas seemed not to know what to do now that something really interesting and consequential had happened and gave the whole thing up.

And that brings me to what, for me, was the real problem with the book (other than the fact that I'm not positive Schabas even intended the mental illness angle): the ending. First, Schabas seems to want us to believe that Georgia's mother is not mentally ill, but that her reactions were normal given what she was going through. I am sorry, but her actions were not normal no matter what she was going through. Mentally healthy people can get out of bed and can be decent mothers to their children. Gerogia's thoughts were not normal either. I was 14 once. So were all my friends. We had crushes on teachers. None of us came to believe that they wanted to have sex with us or got to the point of true obsession and ruining their life. Georgia needed help . Only therapy and possibly medication could possibly do that. Finally, after all the focus on Georgia's sexual maturation, her loss of virginity takes less than a page and is promptly totally forgotten and never mentioned again. That was unacceptable to me. All of this prevented me from giving the book the 4 stars I was inclined to and made me think seriously of bumping it to two stars. All books need some closure and logic, and Schabas did not do that.

A final word about the author and her writing, especially as this is her first work. I picked this book up on a whim mostly based on it's cover. I'd never heard of the book or Schabas, but the picture was pretty (yes, I know, so shallow) and reminded me of the fact that I used to dance myself and still love a good ballet. Despite rating the book only 3 of 5 stars, Schabas is a talented writer and I hope she will write more. Her writing style is clear, smooth, and concise, and I think she could do great things with a more polished ending and a clearer focus on what she is trying to convey. I will definitely give whatever she reads next a try.

See my blog Bookish Ailurophile for more reviews :)
10 reviews
May 18, 2022
This book was so… weird…. I finished it in 3 days.

I have no idea if I’m happy with the ending or not. I think I am? I think that if there had even been a smidge of a difference in the way the book was written I would’ve hated it. But it wasn’t and I found it so real and uncomfortable and accurate and terrifying and intriguing I love that.

This writer is amazing and the pace of this book felt so perfect.
The mind of a 14 year old girl is a strange and unknowable place and she gives us just enough to understand that we know just as much as Georgia does. Which is to say, absolutely nothing.

This felt less like a critical book where the characters are meant to change the world and the readers are meant to have life altering thoughts. This was more “don’t think, just read. Everything you need for this book is right here, written on the pages.”

There is definitely some reading in between the lines… and also an understanding of what it’s like to dance and be a 14 year old girl. I’ve experienced both, but if I hadn’t.. would I have felt the same way?
Profile Image for Estelle.
856 reviews80 followers
April 13, 2012
Review originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:

Various Positions is a tough book to classify. The main character is 14 but has some very adult thoughts when it comes to sex. She’s fantasizing about her dance teacher, watching porn on the internet, and buying lingerie in hopes of someone seeing it. It’s an interesting juxtaposition from the character we meet initially. Georgia is skittish when it comes to her friends talking about sex and kissing and then she secretly begins to obsess with this world.

You don’t need me to tell you sex is a private thing. In my circle of friends, it wasn’t something we were very open about. At least with the girls. But I do remember those 14-year old boys, bringing it up anytime they could, teasing us, and being very open about the porn they were watching. While reading Various Positions, I stopped several times wondering if the uneasiness surrounding this particular book would exist if we were reading about a guy. And then I think Schabas has done something remarkable – given us an intimate look into the way Georgia’s mind works, stripping her of all boundaries. There are no limits when it comes to uncovering her actions and thoughts. Thoughts that are dark and honest and real.

This book is incredibly well-written and does a brilliant job of presenting a series of different women, full of their own beliefs and their own insecurities. Georgia is brought up in a household where her mother stresses about good looks and has a shaky relationship with Georgia’s dad, who for the most part is MIA. Then there is her independent, feminist half-sister who provides her with support and the constant reminder to not let her dad’s indifference get the best of her. You can see how this dynamic in her family life (and the secrets she soon discovers) cause her to be so unbalanced and confused.

While I was never hoping to be a professional dancer, I did dance for many years and the scrutiny I felt from the company owner and then on my own is something that still affects me to this day. The perfection of movement and appearance – you never know how that will affect someone and we see many levels of it here. Schabas seems to remember with great clarity both the challenges (both mental and physical) and pride and passion that come along with this profession.

Various Positions is not for every reader. Maybe when I was 14, it wouldn’t have been deemed super appropriate but in 2012 with Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, and the ability to find whatever term or video on the internet with just a click or two, I imagine many would relate or at least not shy away from the context. To take it one step further, I would love to see a book like this on a college syllabus – my college in particular would have loved to dissect this one to death. It’s an intimate and multi-layered look into the feelings of actions of different women. And how they just might surprise you.
Profile Image for Jocelyn.
449 reviews29 followers
June 30, 2013
First, I want to say that Georgia is probably one of the stupidest protagonist I've ever read. She is thicker than bricks and denser than the water pressure in the Mariana Trench. Besides being completely air-headed, I'm so displeased with how she acts and reacts. While I don't doubt that her emotions do seem kind of realistic given someone just coming into puberty and realizing that they and others are sexual beings, but come on! She purposefully reads more into Roderick's actions than there ever is, and she forces an unhealthy lifestyle onto a nice girl. And does she ever learn her lesson or get an appropriate punishment? No, she gets off scot-free. Georgia doesn't have to take responsibility for anything. Not only that, but she doesn't even learn that ballet and its pressures are damaging her mental health. I also don't like her slut-shaming/sex-shaming or her refusal to call her friend Laura by her real name--she only calls her Sixty and it wasn't like it was the name Laura said she could use. Laura is more than a number from the audition.

Second, I don't like the parallels that were made between the romantic/sexual relationship of a professor and PhD student and that of a high school teacher and his 14-year-old student. Those are not the same and Georgia is stupid for even remotely thinking they are.

Third, I don't like that Georgia is portrayed as a life-ruiner (which, she kind of was because her actions were a result of her stupidity), but it gives women more flack than they need and paints them as slutty seductresses. Women were also shown as overly emotional creatures--prone to emotional fits and psychosis. I don't like that men are seen as hypersexual perverts through Georgia's eyes, because 1) that's so one-dimensional and incorrect, and 2) at 14, Georgia shouldn't be this stupid about men, realistically.

Fourth, I don't like the way this book deals with eating disorders and body image. I get that it's about ballet and one must be thin and fit to be a ballerina, but the message overall was: Don't be fat; being even a little bit heavier than others (even if that heaviness is still considered thin by normal standards) means you are disgusting and should be bullied. Being thin means you are not bullied.

I do admit that I liked the confusion Georgia had and struggled with in regards to the antithesis of striving for sexlessness and growing into her own sexuality. The writing, while not very good at the beginning, did develop nicely and became okay at the end.

Finally, I want to say that if you want to really look at the pressures placed upon ballerinas, just watch Black Swan.
Profile Image for Katie.
248 reviews69 followers
December 21, 2011
From the synopsis, I gathered that Various Positions would be a story about a meek, innocent fourteen-year-old Georgia who becomes somewhat corrupted and sex influenced at her new ballet academy. And, yes, that's pretty much it, but ... holy crap. You can think you have this book pegged all you want, but no words can justify or summarize the blatant rawness that came with Georgia's unraveling.

If you're expecting a mild, sentimental drama about young girls at ballet school, and if that's what you're looking to read, I don't suggest even considering picking this book up. The subject matter is so intense that it's almost disturbing, but I was so incredibly enraptured. Georgia, I felt, was so authentic as a confused but curious teenager. Her scenes with Roderick were powerful, and her disillusions when it came to him were so intense that they were almost difficult to read without feeling sympathetic toward her.

And speaking about feeling for characters, one of the things I loved most about Martha Schabas is that she made me care for almost every character, even when I didn't want to. At some point in the book, I'd feel a tug of pity for Georgia's erratic mother, or her cold, workaholic father. I'd feel concerned for the sex-obsessed girls at the school, even though I pretty much wanted to smack them all in the face. I'd feel embarrassment for Roderick Allen, who I wanted so badly to deem as the villain but couldn't because I often saw him as a victim.

Overall, Various Positions is not your average coming of age ballerina novel. The overwhelming emotions, the touchy, raunchy scenes and the progressive downfall of Georgia's innocence all make for an compelling, powerful read. I definitely recommend to people who are looking for something heavy and somewhat controversial to read.
Profile Image for F.
294 reviews251 followers
September 8, 2016
I enjoyed this book but it did remind me of the film The Black Swan.
I felt the start was a bit slow but towards the end I could not put it down.

The main character seemed like a shy wallflower type girl. Under pressure from a new ballet school and also some family troubles plus understanding her sexual frustrations.
I felt bad for her in the sense her mum was totally depressed and her dad emotionally absent. I wish the story of her mum and dad getting together was rounded off as I never learned what the situation was with those too being student/teachers aswell although you are left with a good idea.
I felt pain for her when her friend Sixty was over for dinner too. The awkwardness.
I mostly sympathasied with the girl throughout the book...bitchy friends/boys/school but I was annoyed at the end when she didn't tell the truth right away. She just shut it all out. Shes 14 and not stupid she knows the seriousness of student/teacher relationships and underage sex. She could have seriously messed up Roderick's life.

As for Roderick himself I thought he was brutally honest as a dance teacher but what did he expect to happen to poor Chantal when he said those things infront of the class? If it had happened before then it was more than likely to happen again and he did say things like this have happened before.

The ending....Altogether i found it a bit cheesy the way it worked out but that was merely the last chapter. The one or two chapters before the last were pretty fast paced compared to the rest of the book. But if it had been me, I would have went crazy at my friend and my sister that both betrayed me albeit they had best interests at heart.

Overall 4 stars :)
6 reviews
January 28, 2016
1) The author's direction for the main character was rather confusing and unclear as the story began to develop further. Martha Schabas introduces Georgia to be a girl devoted solely to the ballet world but external actions from Georgia's peers influence her thoughts about people and sex. She was on a dance road to greatness when her decisions and obsession with sexual thoughts ruin everything she worked so hard to accomplish. It is hard to believe that a girl whose life revolves around dance could be so foolish to fall into the sex scene of normal teenagers making the author's argument of what peer pressure can do unclear. The author's word choice follows the internal changes of Georgia which enhances the interest of the book.
2) The main character, Georgia, is the typical dancer with dreams of becoming a professional ballerina her determination and hard work was a few of her strengths. She stood out among the rest of dancers because of her passion and commitment to dance. With each movement she aimed for perfection to impress her teacher and continuously put extra hours into her dance at home. Unfortunately, her strengths were weakened as she became easily influenced by the friends around her. She gets the wrong idea of sex and love causing her to make horrible choices that cost her her career at the academy. The ending flowed naturally with Georgia's character when she decides to audition at other academy to salvage what she cares about the most, dance.
Profile Image for Angela.
368 reviews12 followers
April 30, 2011
When I first started this book I thought it was going to be a disaster. There's a line right near the beginning (which I'm not going to quote because I read an uncorrected proof, so it might change in the final version), that just sounded really awkward and not at all what the 14-year old narrator would say.

Well, I was happy to find that that line is an anomaly - overall this book is very well written. And the story is compelling - I quickly got pulled into Georgia's life as a ballet student, where she's trying to navigate that awkward stage of becoming a woman, without much adult guidance or good role models to help her.

I also appreciated the complexity of the characters and relationships in this novel. We're seeing everything through Georgia's eyes, but I got the impression that these other characters weren't just cardboard cut-outs - they each had their own stories, even if we were only seeing bits and parts of them.

In summary: a very impressive first novel. I'll be keeping an eye out for further work from this author.

[Note: In order to comply with FTC guidelines, I should note that I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.]
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