EMWF Kids’ Reads

When It All Syncs Up

Written by Maya Ameyaw
Published by Annick Press

Interest age: 14+

A book review by Meghan (23) and Isla (14)

When It All Syncs Up

This book deals with lots of heavy themes, so I recommend reading with care, but I absolutely loved it. It was fascinating to see this book dive into the darkness that lurks beneath the dance world, and the world of the arts in general.

Hi Meghan and Isla! Can you tell us what this book is about?

Meghan: When It All Syncs Up is Maya Ameyaw’s debut YA novel and follows Aisha, a talented ballerina constantly overlooked at her elite dance academy because she doesn’t “look the part.” When her mental health starts to suffer in a way that has Aisha worried she’s slipping back into old behaviours, she switches to her best friend Neil’s art school, but Neil is struggling too, and Aisha feels poorly equipped to help either of them. Unfortunately Aisha can’t escape the racism and discrimination that’s rampant in ballet, even at her new school, and with the help of Ollie, a shy musician, Aisha must find a way to help Neil and herself. 

Isla: The book When It All Syncs Up by Maya Ameyaw is about the main character Aisha as she struggles with mental illness and finding her place in an area where she feels like she may not belong. 

What do you like about this book?

Meghan: This book deals with lots of heavy themes, so I recommend reading with care, but I absolutely loved it. It was fascinating to see this book dive into the darkness that lurks beneath the dance world, and the world of the arts in general. When It All Syncs Up deals frankly with lots of themes that will resonate with teens, exploring these challenges with compassion, frankness, and a matter of factness that makes the book’s messages really pack a punch. But even while exploring heavier topics and the struggles each of the main characters face, the book is still full of hope and love, with characters who leap off the page and a story that really stuck with me. Ameyaw treated each of her characters with gentleness and care, and the story overall has a message of hope and strength that is really powerful. 

Isla: I enjoyed this book because I feel like it touches on important topics while also being a book that you can breeze through. What I mean by this is that the author includes talk about mental health and physical well-being, but there is also lots of romance and fun in the plot line.

What do you like about the main character?

Meghan: Aisha is a fantastic lead, relatable and flawed in a way that makes her jump off the page and makes it impossible not to connect to her immediately. The judgement and bullying she faces as a dancer will really hit home for any readers who have ever been discriminated against, while also speaking to any teen who has ever been made to feel left out or excluded by their peers. Likewise, her mental health journey is both painful to read and so easy to relate to. Her struggles to find a way to help her best friend, and coming to terms with her own needs, were really impactful and beautiful to read. The side characters in this book, particularly Neil and Ollie, also feel incredibly real. The friendship between Neil and Aisha is rocky at times, and I don’t think there’s a single reader out there who can’t relate to having that one friend who you love and who drives you crazy at the same time. Ollie, on the other hand, is so sweet, so gentle and kind, and the relationship that he and Aisha build is absolutely beautiful. He’s a character who grows in confidence in this book while still keeping the shy spirit of who he is, and I love the message this book is sending about growing without having to change who you are. The other side characters in this book all feel unique and distinct in a way that makes the book really immersive.

Isla: The main reason that the main character of this story is so likeable is the way that there are many things that make readers able to connect to her. One being that fact that in no way shape or form is she perfect and this makes readers feel like they don’t have to be perfect.

What important messages/themes are present in the story and why would this appeal to a young adult reader?

Meghan: This book has powerful explorations of racism and discrimination, mental health struggles and eating disorders, PTSD, first love, and more. While many of these themes are very heavy, Ameyaw handles them all beautifully, discussing these struggles in frank terms that I think are really crucial for teens who themselves may be struggling with any of these issues, while at the same time giving her characters the tools and resources they need to start to address these challenges in a healthy way. This book is going to resonate with lots of readers, and I’m particularly interested to see how dancers and former dancers will see themselves in Aisha, as this book really dives into the many problematic facets of the dance world, while Aisha still at her core holds this deep love for dance that carries her through. 

Isla: The struggles that Aisha goes through are ones that many young people experience on a daily basis, so being able to connect to that makes the character much more likeable.

Who would you recommend this book to?  

Meghan: I would highly recommend this book for any fans of sweet and gentle first love, dance, or contemporary stories that deal with heavier themes and journeys towards recovery. I think young teens could definitely read it and get a lot out of it, but I think it will particularly resonate with slightly older teens, who will be able to see themselves in the experiences of these characters and may be wrestling with some of the same questions as Aisha. 

Isla: Personally, this book seems like a good fit for a teenager who likes their books to be relatable while also being a way for them to go into another world.

If you could ask the author a question, what would it be?  

Meghan: I would love to ask Maya Ameyaw a lot of questions, but I think my most pressing one is whether she has any experience as a dancer, as I feel she perfectly captured so much of the toxicity of the sport, as well as the beauty and power of it. And if she does have experience as a dancer, I would love to know what styles of dance she did or continues to do. 

Isla: If I could ask the author a question it would probably be, what inspired you to write about these important topics?

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