Summary: The year is 1982, the setting is New York, New York. Rose is in a black period. She loves ballet, but her lack of confidence holds her back, and her social life is in ruins because of her backstabbing ex-BFF. Then one night, the Soviet girl next door comes through her window and takes her on an unlikely journey into friendship and understanding.
Plot: The setup's an old favorite. Teen girl has a passion she's afraid to pursue with all her heart. She had a bossy, smothering best friend who turned on her and made everyone at her last school ignore her. She can't seem to stand up for herself. Enter the mysterious, confident new pal who changes everything, except in this case, the new pal comes complete with her own state bodyguards. Yrena isn't a defector or immigrant. Her parents work for the USSR, and she has been under strict watch during her two-year stay. She wants one chance to see how American teens live, and Rose is her chosen guide. They give the bodyguards the slip and hit a few parties, go dancing, see some New York sites. It's like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but with KGB instead of that creepy principal.
There's a heavy dose of anti-Cold-War, why can't we all get along? sentiment here, including a no-nuke rally, that occasionally veers toward the maudlin.
Characters: Rose starts off in a "black" period. That's not to say that she is black, although she might be. She also might be an ostrich, for all I know. She's the narrator and never gets around to fully describing herself. I got frustrated with Rose. She loves dance more than anything, but she won't put enough effort into it because she's afraid to fail. She won't make friends because she's afraid to fail. She put up with her domineering friend Daisy for literally years because she can't stick up for herself. She's a wet blanket.
But the point is for her to be a wet blanket, so that the more free-spirited and confident Yrena balances her out. Yrena is also a ballerina, with all the confidence and talent Rose needs, but none of Rose's passion for the art. Yrena's out to grab life by the scruff of the neck and wring some fun out of it, and her attitude is the wake-up call Rose needs to get on the right track.
Writing: Rose's narration is certainly not unbearable, but not memorable, either. She's not funny, not original. She is supposed to be the average teen girl, and her voice is just that: average. The writing is the same way, just extremely ordinary. The concept of the USA/USSR pair of girls carries the entire story. The time setting isn't clear enough. While the New Wave fashion movement and musical selections are correct, the dialogue is all wrong. These teens talk like it's today. I remember the slang of the 80s, and it was very different than what we have now. It's not present here. The book lacks real 80s flavor.
Ending: Predictable but wistful all the same.
What more did I want?: I wanted this book to grab me. I wanted it to have some interesting characteristic apart from the basic premise. That's not to say it was a bad book. It just wasn't that special.
If I were a poor library, would I buy this?: Actually, yes. It's an easy read, it deals with real issues that are still present in other forms today, and I think a lot of girls would relate to Rose easily.