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Amiri & Odette: A Love Story

Review

Amiri & Odette: A Love Story

written by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe

Just in case you don't remember your Tchaikovsky, let me offer a brief synopsis of the ballet Swan Lake. Prince Siegfried, heir to a kingdom, must choose a wife at his upcoming birthday ball, although he would prefer to marry for love. When, while wandering through the nearby forest, Siegfried spies a beautiful swan maiden, he falls instantly in love. He learns, however, that the swan maiden, named Odette, is in thrall to an evil sorcerer, von Rothbart. If Siegfried can only declare his undying love for Odette, the spell will be broken. But Odette is snatched away before Siegfried can profess his devotion. When a beautiful woman who looks just like Odette shows up at the ball, Siegfried asks for her hand in marriage. It turns out that this is von Rothbart's own daughter, Odile, enchanted by sorcery to look like Odette, to bewitch Siegfried's heart and to ensure that Odette will remain von Rothbart's captive forever.

Such a haunting story of love, betrayal and passion stays with you for a long time. That's especially true for a writer like Walter Dean Myers, who writes in his preface to AMIRI & ODETTE that "As a writer, I absorb stories, allow them to churn within my own head and heart --- often for years --- until I find a way of telling them that fits both my time and temperament." In AMIRI & ODETTE, he has found that way, all right, bringing this timeless tale --- in verse this time --- to the contemporary city streets and to a new pair of lovers.

Amiri isn't ready to settle down, but his mom, who is always looking out for him, thinks her boy will be safer if he chooses a good woman to be his wife: "You need to get settled, in a life that's straight, With a wife and a family, before it's too late!" Amiri would rather express his passions through basketball than listen to his mother. But when he spies a beautiful girl on the edge of the basketball court, he feels drawn to her instantly: "I am Amiri, the prince who shakes in your presence. You, whose voice breaks like crystal and whose lovely body sings of sunrise."

Odette falls for Amiri's fierceness and intensity as well, but she confesses that she was promised to Big Red, a local drug dealer, and she rushes away before Amiri can rescue her from her fate. When an Odette look-alike shows up at Amiri's party, Amiri is confused and declares his love for her. Just like the original ballet, Odette's captivity to Big Red is secured by Amiri's mistake. Or is it?

Myers's lyrical, powerful verse conveys both pain and hope for these young lovers and countless others like them: "Amiri finds his love alone, shivering in the dark, A broken arrow, quivering in that stark place where she first gave meaning to his life, Where he first thought that he had found a wife." Javaka Steptoe's colorful, powerful paintings, conveyed in acrylic paints on asphalt slabs, underscore the vibrancy, intensity and dangers of the urban environment. Myers may have been inspired by Swan Lake as he wrote AMIRI & ODETTE, but the work he has produced is nothing less than a transformation of the ballet, a fable for modern times and modern people that still resonates with the timeless quality of the original tale.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 1, 2009

Amiri & Odette: A Love Story
written by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0590680412
  • ISBN-13: 9780590680417