dancergirl, by Carol M. Tanzman (HarlequinTeen, 2011)

Alicia “Lia” Ruffino’s passion is dancing. She started with ballet, but now her talents run more to the modern style. She’s on the fast track to getting a solo at her dance studio’s next big show, but it’s random chance that really lands her in the spotlight, when a friend captures her dancing at a local concert. Next thing she knows, she’s part of an online film series, starring as the enigmatic, untouchable dancergirl, and she’s a viral phenomenon. Her fans can’t get enough of her… and neither can her stalker. Someone’s taking things way too seriously: filming her in the privacy of her own bedroom, sending her unwanted gifts, and demonstrating an uncomfortable level of knowledge about her.

As Lia desperately tries to find out who it could be, she’s drawn into a world of paranoia. Is it her mother’s ex-boyfriend? The biker hanging around the studio? The enthusiastic would-be filmmaker who helped her create the dancergirl persona? Or worst of all, is it her best friend Jacy, who’s been acting extremely weird and vanishing for significant periods of time? Who’s betrayed her trust and invaded her privacy, and how far are they willing to take things?

Playing with themes of paranoia, loneliness and obsession, dancergirl is a captivating thriller. Tanzman does an excellent job of ratcheting up Lia’s mental distress, with each new revelation and twist. As she slowly investigates and eliminates suspects, the stakes are raised, as is the general aura of creepiness and worry. Valid points are raised about the level of information we inadvertently release on the Internet, and how vulnerable we are to those willing to put forth the effort. Luckily, even though the atmosphere turns pretty grim, Lia never completely loses the inner spark which makes her an interesting character.

Oddly for something associated with the Harlequin brand, there’s almost no real sense of romance to be found her. Lia spends time with several different boys–one her best friend, the other the resident bad boy–but it’s obvious from the start that romance isn’t high on the list of priorities as the psychological elements take center stage.

Tanzman excels at describing the dance scenes with verisimilitude and complexity. You can almost see the way people move and flow across the scenery, which is important for a story focusing on the physical and visual arts.

This was a solid effort. Fast-paced, complex, and genuinely disturbing in places, dancergirl really nails the concept, blending reality and fiction successfully. I’m reminded of some of the other online web-series that have popped up now and again, where the lines between truth and narrative were blurred. I’d actually be interested to know if Tanzman had any of them in mind, like lonelygirl15.

Ultimately, I’d say this is a pretty strong offering, and worth checking out if you have a yearning for something with a psychological edge to it.

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