Goodreads: Theater Shoes
Series: Shoes #4
Sorrel, Mark, and Holly Forbes never knew they came from a theatrical family until the Navy reported their father missing in the war and they were sent to live with their grandmother in London. Her acting days are largely over so money is tight and she insists that they attend the same theater school that made Pauline and Posy Fossil famous. At first the Forbes children resent having to chase other people’s dreams, but when they discover their own hidden talents they realize the stage may be where they belong after all.
In many ways, Theater Shoes is a book held back by the success of its predecessor–Noel Streatfeild’s famous classic Ballet Shoes. From the beginning the parallels meant to remind readers of that success are obvious. Three orphaned children with a servant guardian go to live in London with an essentially absent familial guardian only to discover that they possess no money and have to work on the stage to support themselves. They train at the same school as the Fossils and latent talent exists in one or two of them, fortunately, so that Sorrel can receive the Pauline Fossil scholarship for acting, Holly can receive the Posy Fossil scholarship for dancing (despite not really being a dancer), and Mark can eventually receive the Petrova scholarship just because he is the third sibling and someone felt the third Fossil ought to support him so they wrote to the girl who hated the theater school and asked her to support it. Probably because Mark’s a boy and Petrova likes mechanics so clearly there’s a link there and none of the other students will ever bother to question why two undeserving Forbes siblings got a scholarship just because they happened to have a similar life story as the Fossils, am I right?
The intrusion of the Fossil sisters continues throughout the book. For example, just in case readers had forgotten the Fossils of Ballet Shoes, Madame gives a rather detailed explanation of their story to her new pupils, going so far as to mention that they had a guardian called Nana and another Sylvia and that they had a great-uncle Matthew whom they called “Gum”. Though Madame no doubt has continued interest in all her successful students, especially one such as Posy, it passes credulity to believe she would really take time out of her busy schedule to give a recap of a previous book and even mention people like Gum whom she had (as far as we know) never really met. Furthermore, throughout the book letters from the Fossils to their scholarship students appear. They read rather like the Fossils we last met, even though Pauline is now 22, Petrova 20, and Posy 18. The letters seem to be there, not because they move the plot or are even that interesting in terms of giving readers a glimpse of the Fossils’ new lives, but because Streatfeild wanted some shout-outs. I could not help but wish that Streatfeild would drop the Fossils and allow the Forbes children to shine in their own book.
Because when the Fossils are gone, the Forbeses really do shine. Sorrel in many ways appears as another Pauline as she attempts to learn acting, but her struggles are at least unique and she handles her introduction to the stage with grace. Mark is enchanting as a little boy who can sing divinely but who really just wants to pretend that he is a bear. Holly, like Posy, gets left out a little. She is the youngest, still developing her talents, and not ready to audition for a professional role, so we do not get much of a sense of her until the end reveal–she has talent! One almost wishes another book would place the Forbes sisters as the new Fossils, giving out scholarships to new students just so we can finally learn what happened to them.
I think there was some untapped potential in the book. The Forbes orphans have a large family who could appear more, adding humor to the story as well as that special charm that comes from books that celebrate kinship. And, as I mentioned, Holly’s budding talent could have had more than a nod. The Fossils somehow relegated the other characters to the background, however, making this new book somewhat of a disappointment to those hoping for a truly new story and not merely an extended, yet vague, update on Ballet Shoes.