Monday's Muse, 59th edition.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Brothers Under the Sun by Bryan Adams [Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron soundtrack].

The idea of Monday's Muse is to introduce you to unknown, forgotten, or overlooked fiction that has been lost from regular radar. I am WriterGirl. I am in the business of saving lives, one book at a time.

What I do is go to one of several places, narrow it down to a YA field and type in a random word, any word that comes to mind. I then take a sampling of some I have never heard of before, or only vaguely heard of (and hopefully you as well). No infringement is intended for any description I take for the books. It's purely for promotional reasons. I will try and cover as many genres as possible that are fitting for the random word. Simple but it really uncovers some incredible gems. I will be doing this every other Monday. If there are any words you want to prompt me with, go ahead and fire away.

Today's random word:

Someday Dancer by Sarah Rubin.

A young teen in 1959 South Carolina has one dream, dancing on stage in New York City. Unfortunately, Casey's family is dirt-poor, with no money for dance lessons or much else. Her father died fighting in Korea, so her mother and grandmother, both of whom she loves dearly, must work. She can only watch from a tree limb as her rich, snooty, bullying classmate (dubbed Miss Priss) takes ballet classes. When New York City Ballet's School of American Ballet announces auditions, the Priss is certain of acceptance, while Casey must work after school for the bus fare. Once in New York, she is overwhelmed by its size and teeming population. Her lack of formal training and the ballet master's astute eye lead to a referral to the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. Casey loves the movements, takes classes, rehearses and soon dances with the company. Rubin, a debut author, describes the Graham style well but falters in her depiction of New York. Casey may not be the best tour guide for readers, obsessing over dance and family instead of geography, but she does learn to embrace both new friends and Miss Priss. Both Carolinians see their single-minded obsessions quickly--almost unbelievably--rewarded. Dance fans will enjoy the up-close look at a legendary dance troupe.--Kirkus (June 1, 2012).

Shiva's Fire by Suzanne Fisher Staples.

Staples, who wrote about the life of a Pakistani girl in Shabanu (1989) and Haveli (1993), offers a story set in India and brushed with mysticism. The heroine is Parvati, born during a devastating monsoon, who is destined to transcend her poor village beginnings to follow the extraordinary life of a classical dancer. The girl, who remembers everything from her birth on, is born the day her father, the maharaja's elephant keeper, dies. From almost her first moments, she is aware of the dance of life, and as she grows older, her dancing sets her apart from others in her village. Parvati's life is saved when a guru, a great master of Indian classical dance, recognizes her talent and takes her to his school in Madras. Then life begins anew for Parvati, who must dedicate herself to the religious and societal responsibilities that come with carrying on the lineage of dancers. The story's mystical underpinnings are infused with romance when Parvati meets the maharaja's son, and they learn how closely their destinies are intertwined. The injection of a romance in the final quarter of the book might not have worked in less-capable hands, but Staples makes this element seem like a natural evolution. One of the book's strengths is its vivid depiction of Indian life. Using language the way artists use paint, Staples writes with brilliant detail and mixes magic realism with hardscrabble poverty as she tells Parvati's story. A unique offering.--Ilene Cooper, Booklist (March 15, 2000).

The Kayla Chronicles by Sherri Winston.

A refreshing departure from YA books' tendency to emphasize underprivileged teens of color, this novel, set among well-heeled African Americans, rolls together gender politics and a friendship rift into a buoyant, thoughtful comedy. When Kayla is steamrolled by stridently feminist Rosalie into auditioning for their elite high school's hip-hop team, intending to expose discriminatory standards of beauty, something unforeseen occurs: Kayla actually makes the cut. To her surprise, the almost-15-year-old finds a sense of empowerment in dance, but Rosalie remains contemptuous of both the "hoochie-mama" dancers and of Kayla's decision to join them. The widening gap between the girls touchingly illustrates the shifts that can rock adolescent friendships, while memorable scenes, such as one in which a dancer matches Rosalie line for line in a Nikki Giovanni—recitation smack down, will win exuberant supporters for Winston's inclusive message: "Why settle for being just one type of girl?" Kayla's family tensions are underdeveloped, and some readers will feel shortchanged by the lack of dance specifics. Still, few recent novels for younger YAs mesh levity and substance this successfully, and while some of Kayla's concerns are specifically African American (such as whether using hair-relaxing treatments constitute buying into oppression), her smart, gently self-mocking voice will transcend racial lines to hit home with a large number of young women. --Mattson, Jennifer, Booklist (February 1, 2008 vol 104, number 11, p52).

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher.

Ruby Jacinski, 15, quits school and works at a meatpacking plant to support her ailing mother and her sister. Her life changes dramatically when Paulie, a handsome young man with a terrible reputation, takes an interest in her and encourages her to pursue a job at the Starlight Dance Academy. There, she can earn a lot of money, get her family out of debt, and live a more exciting life by dancing with lonely men. For someone who loves to dance, the job is a dream come true, but Ruby soon learns that it comes with a price. She lies to her mother and tries to avoid the constant hustle and manipulation from both the customers and her coworkers. As she continues to turn to Paulie for protection and advice, she gets caught up in the seedier side of Chicago's poor Back of the Yards district. This is a unique look at U.S. social history. Ruby is tough, strong, and determined, but maintains the innocent and idealistic dreams of adolescence, thus endearing her to readers. The grittier side of Chicago nightlife and the harsh pressures on wartime youth to mature quickly are well delineated. This intriguing story is well paced and well researched.—Kimberly Monaghan, formerly at Vernon Area Public Library, IL --Kimberly Monaghan, School Library Journal (April 1, 2008 vol 54, issue 4, p140).

The Stone Goddess by Minfong Ho.

In this historical first-person narrative, Nakri Sokha, a 12-year-old girl living in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh in 1975, has her world shattered overnight. A day that starts with Nakri's classical dance class ends with heavy bombing. By the next morning, the Sokha family wakes to find their city taken over by communist Khmer Rouge. Nakri and her older sister, Teeda, are sent to one refugee camp, her older brother to another. Her father, a teacher, is taken away by the Khmer Rouge and killed for being too educated while Nakri's mother is forced to stay behind with her younger brother. Readers follow Nakri and her sister to the work camp and watch painfully as they struggle to overcome the starvation and physical abuse. Nakri manages to keep herself alive, but Teeda dies from malaria. When the Khmer Rouge is dismantled four years later, Nakri reunites with her family and they flee to America. When the family settles in Philadelphia, Nakri, through her love of classical dance, is finally able to process her tremendous grief as she adjusts to the strange excesses of American life. Ho's (Maples in the Mist, 1996, etc.) narrative, arranged in four compact parts, manages to cover a lot of ground, but never strays from the intimacy of Nakri's strong, but vulnerable, voice. Teeda also shines as Nakri's idealistic and talented older sister, though the other family members lack emotional depth. The author takes on this shocking slice of world history with the appropriate amount of detail and sensitivity for a young audience, but the difficult subject matter makes it better suited for more mature readers.--Kirkus (February 1, 2003.

When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer.

Soledad is about to graduate from a Miami performing-arts high school and is weighing her options for a future dance career. Jonathan, a classmate and musician, has had his eye on her for the last four years and finally makes his move by inviting her to join his all-male drum and bugle corps to perform as Carmen on their summer bus tour. Romantic feelings influence Soledad's decision to join the corps but issues with Jonathan's family and a Spanish soccer player traveling the same fair circuit threaten the budding relationship. Soledad is a self-assured, feisty Cuban-American teen with a strong drive. She lives for dance, so it doesn't ring true for her to pass up an opportunity to join a dance company to be with a boy in a drum corps. The relationship between Soledad and Jonathan is thin at the beginning of the book, but the plot picks up when the soccer player enters the scene. This twist will hook fans of romance, and the book satisfies with a climactic ending.--Shawna Sherman, Hayward Public Library, CA, School Library Journal (June 1, 2011, vol 57, issue 6, p116).

Aria of the Sea by Dia Calhoun.

On the island of Normost, in the kingdom of Windward, 13-year-old Cerinthe Gale is a folk healer who dreams of being a dancer. When her mother falls ill, Cerinthe fights to save her — but fails. She blames herself for her mother’s death, gives up healing, and decides to pursue dance. Cerinthe travels across Windward to audition at the School of the Royal Dancers, which accepts her even though she is a commoner. It should be the beginning of a brilliant future, but Cerinthe feels an emptiness she can’t identify. A disagreement with a young man, a conflict with a cruel teacher, a rivalry with an aristocratic classmate, Elliana, and a meeting with a mederi — a healer with magical powers — add to her anguish. When the rivalry between the two girls causes a terrible accident, Elliana’s life hangs in the balance. Cerinthe faces the same awful choice she had faced with her mother: Should she try to heal Elliana herself or hope that the mederi arrives in time? Only the song of the Sea Maid holds the answer.

Ever by Gail Carson Levine.

 When Kezi's mother's life is threatened, Kezi's father bargains with Admat, god of oaths, to spare her, but he is unprepared for the consequences: he must sacrifice Kezi, instead. Kezi finds hope in Olus, the Akkan god of the wind, who loves her and determines to save her. Together, Olus and Kezi face seemingly insurmountable trials, but if both succeed, they will be deemed Champions in the Akkan world and become immortal. Levine has crafted a mythical realm where a god's pottery, thrown in frustration, causes earthquakes; Olus' winds herd goats, dictate prophecies, and carry loved ones to safety; and magical potions have the power to change the characters' fates. The story is filled with suspense, action, and challenging philosophical questions: Would one truly wish to be immortal? What is the price of following a deity's commands? An action-packed love story set in an elaborate, challenging world, this richly imagined story will engage fantasy and romance readers alike. --Bradburn, Frances, Booklist (April 1, 2008, vol 104, number 15, p39).