Hope in a Ballet Shoe: for fans of Mao’s Last Dancer

hope in a ballet shoe

Author: Michaela and Elaine De Prince

Genre: memoir/auto-biography

Published by: Allen and Unwin

Source: received for review (thanks, A&U!)


Orphaned by war, saved by ballet.

Growing up in war-torn Sierra Leone, Michaela DePrince witnesses atrocities that no child ever should. But there is hope: the Harmattan wind blows a magazine through the orphanage gates. Michaela picks it up and sees a beautiful image of a young woman dancing.

And then Michaela and her best friend are adopted by an American couple and Michaela can take the dance lessons she’s dreamed of since finding her picture.

Life in the States isn’t without difficulties. Unfortunately, tragedy can find its way to Michaela in America, too, and her past can feel like it’s haunting her.

And yet, today, Michaela is an international ballet star.

A heart-breaking, inspiring autobiography by a teenager who shows us that, beyond everything, there is always hope for a better future.

Yay dancing!

I don’t know what it is about ballet, but I’m kind of obsessed with reading about it. Not that that happens often – Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin is pretty much the only book I’ve read. There needs to be more fiction!!mao's last dancer 2

So I ended up comparing this to Mao’s Last Dancer pretty often.

I guess that was inevitable. They’re both about dancing and they’re both memoirs and they’re both about kids who grow up in difficult circumstances before coming to the US. But it’s not like I’m going to say one’s better than the other. Both are amazing.

Anyway so this is the story of Mabinty Bangura, also known as

Michaela De Prince.

Reading of her story before she went to America was…really sad, actually. And these things are still happening all over the world – it’s easy to forget that. But what I loved was Michaela’s steadfast determination to become a ballerina.

What I also loved was the family aspect (which we need more of in fiction, by the way – yes, I’m going to keep saying it).

Michaela’s parents, and her sister Mia? Oh my gosh. I was crying in some of this book. What they’re willing to do for each other is incredible. Honestly it kind of made me want to adopt a kid when I’m older.

Then again watching The Hundred Foot Journey made me want to open a restaurant so you never know what a story will make me do.

Michaela is an incredible role model for girls everywhere.

That’s what I’d tell Michaela if I ever met her. That I admire her dedication to becoming a ballerina, despite so many tragedies and mishaps along the way.

And racism is a big one.

Michaela begins to notice that all the ballerinas are white, and everything in the ballet world is fitted around that. I can’t even imagine how discouraging it would have been to never see someone like you in the world you wanted to be a part of.

And I know I’m going off-topic, but this is why representation is important. People reading Hope in a Ballet Shoe can see that someone else is like them – they’re not alone.



Sorry guys. I keep forgetting this is supposed to be a review. I’ll get off my soapbox now.


There’s quite a bit of ballet terminology in this one.

I did ballet for like two years – so I know pretty much nothing. I did a dance to Care Bears, people. Care Bears. I had a red tutu with a love heart sewn onto the front. It was brilliant.

But it didn’t hinder my understanding at all. So that was nice.


Actually I wish there could have been more of the dancing part.

The trouble I’ve always found with memoirs is that you never really become PART of the story – there’s a lot of telling. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I guess it’s why I’m a fiction person rather than non-fiction.

Overall, though?

A beautiful story about loss, and hope, and following your dreams. Highly recommended.

Rating: 5/5 Wonderkitties



12 thoughts on “Hope in a Ballet Shoe: for fans of Mao’s Last Dancer

  1. Aw this book sounds so neat! Yay for diversity! And ballet! And all things good in the world!
    I have the same problem with memoirs…there’s too much narrative and not enough actual stuff in my opinion. šŸ˜€ Great review. šŸ˜€

  2. I LOVE memoirs so much, and I really want to read Mao’s Last Dancer and Hope in a Ballet Shoe. Memoirs always tend to be so eye opening for me, and I love when a book does that to me. This sounds like both a heart breaking and inspiring memoir. Also, I can not stop watching that last gif. It is so mesmerizing.

  3. I’m definitely looking forward to reading this! If you want to read another memoir from a ballerina, you could try Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland. And Tiny Pretty Things (a fictional ballet book) is coming out soon.

  4. I dance, and while I am not pursuing ballet, I know plenty about it. Michaela De Prince is an inspiration to young, aspiring ballerinas. I believe she’s with a classical ballet company in Europe now. Ditto to what Precious said above–Misty Copeland’s memoir is also something you might enjoy. She’s a soloist with one of the biggest ballet companies in the world, American Ballet Theatre. Misty’s so beautiful–have you seen her dance? Go YouTube her and forget you have a life, haha. In any case, I haven’t read Mao’s Last Dancer, but I have seen the movie, which I really liked. But I will always love Center Stage for its absolute goofiness (check it out, it’s really fun. And the same girl is in Center Stage AND Mao’s Last Dancer). And while I’m on a roll, I highly recommend finding The Turning Point if you can. And last… MISTER DARCY!!! šŸ˜€

  5. YOU LOVED AND GAVE IT FIVE??? WHOOOT WHOOT. That’s a lot! I read Mao yearssss ago and I think I didn’t finish it. I had 2 chapters to go? And then I think I forgot. BUT I’m going to have to find some time for this one because I want to see how racism is tackled!

  6. Great review! I’ve always found it hard to review memoirs because it feels like you’re passing judgement on someone’s life. However, then I remember that you’re actually reviewing the quality of the retelling of their life.

  7. I want to reeeead this! I loved Mao’s Last Dancer, even though, gosh, I cannot imagine the strength and just like brain power too that people go through to achieve their dreams. When things go wrong, these people like becoming THE BEST of ever. When things go wrong in my life, I cry and sit on the floor. So endless respect! I’m adding it on goodreads.
    N’awww, little Care Bears dance. Well I did like ZERO years of ballet, so I wouldn’t have a single clue except it looks an extraordinary painful sport/art.

  8. I did ballet when I was little and I’ve done dancing quite a bit throughout my life, and I’m actually planning on joining a ballet studio sometime soon as it’s such a beautiful art form and once that I would quite like to partake in. This seems like such a wonderful, inspiring story and although I don’t read much nonfiction, this is a book that I’ll definitely be on the lookout for! Great review! šŸ™‚

  9. This sounds really amazing! I haven’t read Mao’s Last Dancer but I watched the movie adaptation and remembered loving it. I definitely agree with your views on representation. I remember when I was younger and passionate about being an actor, I thought that it would be so hard not just because it’s a difficult industry to break into but also because there didn’t seem to be many Asian actors on screen.
    I’ll definitely have to check this book out.

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