Clair de Lune, by Cassandra Golds

No, this isn't the werewolf Claire de Lune, by Christine Johnson, that's just been released. This Clair de Lune is by Cassandra Golds (2004, 2006 in the US, Random House, middle grade, 197 pages), who is the author of one of my favorite books last year (The Museum of Mary Child).

Clair de Lune is young girl living in an old apartment house that is home to a famous ballet school. Her mother was a ballet dancer, who died tragically young while dancing, and her stern, unloving grandmother is steering Clair de Lune toward becoming a ballerina too. Clair de Lune cannot speak, but her grandmother finds this rather pleasing than otherwise--without words, it will be harder, if not impossible, she thinks, for the grand-daughter to become ensnared by love, as happened to her mother.

In the same building lives a mouse who dreams of dancing. Bonaventure has set his heart on creating the first mouse ballet, setting up his own mouse size studio in the wainscoting. Clair de Lune becomes his friend and confidant, and he shows her that this strange old house contains other mysteries--there is a door, far down, that opens up onto a beautiful monastery set by the ocean. And there Clair de Lune meets a monk who has dedicated his live to listening...and for the first time, she thinks that it is possible that someday she might be heard.

So Clair de Lune confronts the reasons why she cannot speak, Bonaventure begins his mouse ballet classes, and all seems to be going well....but then the ballet company decides to honor her mother by performing the ballet in which her mother died. And Clair de Lune must play her mother's part...

Bonaventure is one of the most charming fictional mice of my acquaintance--I loved his mouse ballet endeavours to pieces! Rather than distracting from the central arc of Clair de Lune's journey to full personhood, it complemented that story with its concrete example of how to make a dream come true. Frankly, it was the mouse element that deterred me from reading this book when it first came out--I don't generally like my ballet stories peopled with animals. But, having read it, it would be a much poorer story with out Bonaventure and friends, so don't make the same assumption I did!

Clair de Lune herself is a child to whom my heart went out. The other girls in her class don't realize she cannot speak--they just think she's a snot. Her grandmother is so warped as to be cruel. I found her journey toward speech, and toward love, profoundly moving.

Clair de Lune is a magical fairy-tale of great charm. It requires the reader to accept the fantastical elements at face value, not so much "suspending disbelief" as simply "believing," because obviously if you think about it too much, a door to a sea side monastery in the basement can't be swallowed--it must be simply enjoyed. The dream-quality of the book worked for me beautifully, but I'm not sure it's everyone's cup of tea....

Here are some reviews, at Big A little a (we miss you, Kelly!), at Kidsreads, and at Laina Has too Much Spare Time, and here's an interview with Golds at Behind Ballet.

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