Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince Book Review

 Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince & Elaine DePrince
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 14, 2014

Michaela's life has had its share of trials. Born in war-torn Sierra Leone, Michaela's idyllic family life is shattered when her father is murdered by "debils", young rebel men armed with guns and machetes. Forced to live with an abusive Uncle who hated Michaela for her spots (Vitiligo) and how she already knew how to read, Michaela's life was centered around starvation and avoiding abuse. Then, Michaela's mother dies and her Uncle, unwilling to care for the girl, takes her to an orphanage. There, she is able to make some friends, but is still mistreated by the Aunties, always given less food and worse treatment due to her Vitiligo and superstition. She is told that no one will ever want to adopt her because of her spots and that she is in fact, the devil's child. What Michaela does find one day at the gates of her orphanage is an old magazine with, what she believes to be a fairy on the cover. Michaela soon learns the word Ballerina and vows that one day she too will dance on her tippy toes just like the woman in the picture. But dance lessons are not a reality for little Michaela. Michaela's life is once more disrupted when the debils murder her teacher and her unborn child in front of Michaela and a few weeks later the children are forced to leave their orphanage, walking to safety in Guinea. The children, already promised to parents in America, hold on to their sliver of hope that they will soon leave. All except Michaela who is told that no one wants her. Her mat-mate, promises that she will ask her new mommy and daddy if they will take Michaela too. On the day that the children are to meet their new parents though, Michaela learns that she and her friend are going to be adopted together and they will be sisters forever. But Michaela and Mia's new mom doesn't know that Michaela wants to be a ballerina and she didn't bring any dancing shoes with her. There is a promise though, if Michaela wants to learn to dance, she will.

Thus begins Michaela's journey from war torn orphan to star ballerina. This book could hold a good deal of meaning and hope depending on where you come from and what part of this story really speaks to you. From the perspective of someone who wants to adopt an older child one day, this book was a very important reminder that these children come with a past. That their pasts can be extremely deep and dark. Some of these early memories seem so vivid for such a young child, but after watching an interview with her mom, Elaine DePrince, she explained that as Michaela told her about her past in jolts and snippets, she wrote them down and kept them for her. This book was being written from the day Michaela was picked up in an airport with her sister, and Elaine was simply keeping those stories until the day they would be needed. Michaela, as do many older adopted children (older meaning over the age of four) have so many triggers. So many fears. In that respect alone, this is a very important book for parents who are planning on adopting an older child, domestically or internationally.

More than that though, there is this added hope for Michaela. Through years of dedication and pursuing a dream that began at the gates of an orphanage, Michaela sought out a dancer's life. What she didn't know was that despite the drive, a dancer's body, and parents who supported her, breaking into the world of ballet when you are a black child (now a woman) was an even bigger challenge. Confronted with prejudice and dealing with her own feelings of otherness because of her Vitiligo, Michaela struggled with her role in the ballet world. But she never gave up or even considered another option.

Like many autobiographies of this kind, it isn't the most well-written, but Michaela is a dancer not a writer and I am perfectly okay with this. There are parts that seems to drag a bit, but then this is someone's life, not Hollywood. When it comes to autobiographies, what I want to understand is how a person thinks and feels and what motivates them. I expect authenticity, not Hemingway. More importantly, we should come away with a deeper understanding of someone else's life. A deeper appreciation for the things they have gone through and how they got to where they are today. Taking Flight was a beautiful presentation of a life that has seen both beauty and tragedy, from a girl who never quit dancing.