Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.
My Summary: Veda has a passion for dancing and is a competitive dancer of traditional Indian Bharatanatyam. When she gets into an accident that results in her right leg being amputated below the knee, she must find a way to cope with the loss and regain her dance skills.
So I already read a book by Padma Venkatraman, Climbing the Stairs, but unlike that book, A Time to Dance is written in verse rather than prose. I have a somewhat ambivalent relationship with poetry. I tend to like prose better, but some poetry is just so great that it makes me wish I were any good at writing it (my high school poetry was…terrible).
A Time to Dance is told in beautifully evocative language, rich with detail and figurative language. The author’s description of movement and affect draws you into Veda’s physical and emotional experiences.
Veda is a very relatable character for me. Her mother pushes her toward engineering and science, but her true passion lies with dance. Although U.S. society values engineering, my passion is creative writing. Veda is stubborn but a bit aloof, preferring dance to socializing. I prefer reading and writing alone in my room over parties and such.
Overall, the portrayal of disability seemed pretty good to me based on my knowledge. Veda is not reduced to her disability. She also struggles with things like parental expectations, tension in friendships, fitting in among her peers, crushes, and so on.
The downsides to disability are not ignored or minimized. Veda faces ableism from people around her, from strangers rudely asking her what happened to her leg, to taunts from peers that are laced with slurs and horrible jokes, to her dance teacher believing that she will no longer be able to dance ever again. Moreover, Veda must overcome ableist views that she has internalized: that she is useless, or lesser, or incomplete because of her disability.
At the same time, there are plenty of counterexamples to balance the ableist bits: Veda’s grandmother loves her unconditionally, the bus driver who drives the route to her school welcomes her back without drawing attention to her disability, her new teachers focus on what she can do and don’t act condescending toward her, she is shown professional dancers with prosthetic limbs who serve as role models to her, she meets other people who are disabled and living their lives, and she is reminded that the god Shiva dances in everyone and everything, so there is no one right way to exist or to dance.
The one issue I noticed was a part that said:
when he says I’m “differently abled,”
not handicapped, not disabled,
he makes me feel
a little less ugly.
While “differently abled” is a term used with good intentions by this character, who is Veda’s caregiver, the implication here is that being disabled is ugly and negative, thus furthering stigmatizing disability.
That said, since I’m able-bodied, my perspective and sensitivity are limited. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you read a more nuanced and thorough review of this book and its representation of disability by someone who is herself an amputee here.
Veda’s emotional journey is a spiritual journey as well. Her passion for dance is fueled by her connection with the god Hindu god Shiva, whose temple she first visited as a young girl. Following her accident, she loses faith in herself and with it, her spiritual inspiration. As she learns to cope with her disability, she also undergoes a spiritual awakening. Although I’m not religious myself, I walked away from this book with a sense of hope and faith that was uplifting because it is so powerful and moving.
Recommendation: Highly recommended!