Saturday, 2 July 2011

Review: The Drina Series by Jean Estoril

The last month has been filled for me with moving house, and that meant unpacking a lot of books I haven’t touched since I was a child. The ‘Drina’ books were a favourite of mine growing up – in fact they were a favourite of my mother as well, as they were first published in 1957.

The series consists of eleven books, detailing the life and adventures of Drina Adams from age ten (roughly) to age eighteen. Drina, brought up by her grandparents – soft and gentle grandfather and strict and over bearing granny – after her parents were killed when she was only 18 months old. Drina is desperate to be a ballet dancer, but her granny is determined that she have nothing to do with the world. However Drina does eventually win, and we learn more about her past, her legacy, her legendary ballet dancer mother, and her travels around the world – as well as her learning to be a ballet dancer – throughout the series.

The series has aged remarkably well – particularly considering I’m reading them over half a century since the first books graced the shelves. Yes there are subtle differences – no mobiles, no computers, there are still corridors and compartments in trains and telegrams. But these are so well blended that it doesn’t seem jarring.

Yes there are turns of phrase that are awkward, and the editing is a bit naff in some of the books, but overall they are a lovely series – one that translates well from child to adult.

Drina is – whilst at times a little too highly strong – a mostly lovely character. I felt for her, and ached for her, and raced through the pages to see what would happen to the charming heroine next.

The secondary characters sometimes fall into stereotypes, but they’re so vividly created and delightful to get to know – apart from the nasty ones which 
I want to throw things out – that it really didn’t bother me. And Drina seems to have no problem making friends, which lead to a vast cast of well-crafted individuals with compelling backstories – Jenny and her tragic time growing up, the refugee Ilonka, born and bred Londoner Rose. Oh and not forgetting the boys – flamboyant Paris born Igor Dominick the younger, and the fabulously dreamy Grant Rossiter…

After reading them again, I think I’ve discovered where I got my early yearning to travel, because almost every country Drina visits is one on my list of places I’m desperate to visit. Wales, Switzerland, the Chilterns, Italy, Edinburgh, New York, Paris, Madeira… And every single one of them exquisitely and vividly described.

And the romance… It’s subtle, and completely different from anything we experience in modern novels. There is no epic first kiss, and for the most part it is a long distance yearning, but it’s beautiful and it’s painful and it’s exquisite when they’re together.

And whilst Drina’s life seems at times a little charmed, there are hardships in there, it isn’t all beautiful awesome, and her journey is by no means an easy road, and I think that gives the series such a good believable grounding to branch off into fiction from.

The ballet is not all consuming, but plays a very great part, and completely takes over whilst your reading. I always find myself yearning to travel and take up ballet whilst reading the books – which I always take as a good sign if it makes me long to do something I wouldn’t normally do.

My only complaint was how quickly Drina falls in love, and sometimes how harsh and over bearing her Grandmother can be.

Whilst there are always favourite books in a series, overall it creates a very beautiful telling of an extraordinary child’s early life.

The books in the series:

1.   Ballet for Drina
Ever since she was very small, Drina Adams has wanted to be a ballet dancer. Her Grandmother disapproves, and it’s hard for Drina to find a way to have the music and ballet lessons she needs. But Drina was born to dance – and this is the story of how she found out the truth about her background, and how she began her career.

2.   Drina’s Dancing Year
At last Drina can audition for the Dominick Ballet School in London – and she is accepted as a pupil. Settling in is hard, and Drina needs all the determination to succeed. Her greatest dream is to be chosen for the Dominick’s Christmas concert – but her teachers have an even better surprise in store!

3.   Drina Dances in Exile
The news that she must leave the Dominick Ballet School fills Drina Adams with dismay. How can she bear to leave London, her friends and the main school, for the sleepy second-best of the residential school in the country? But Drina finds that country life brings her some unexpected rewards.

4.   Drina Dances in Italy
Drina Adams is back at her ballet school in London after a year in the country. Her talents as a dancer are blooming, and her visit to Italy to stay with her father’s family ends in a triumphant surprise as she dances with the touring Ballet Company for the first time.

5.   Drina Dances Again
Still dreaming of Italy and the wonderful experience of dancing with the famous Dominick Ballet Company while still only fourteen, Drina returns to London and the realities of Ballet School life. An unlucky injury seems a disastrous start to the new term, until Drina is offered the chance to try out her acting talents. But will she ever dance with the Dominick again?

6.   Drina Dances in New York
Drina is off on an exciting trip to New York with her grandparents, traveling by sea on the Queen of the Atlantic. Any regrets she has about missing a few weeks at the Dominick Ballet School soon vanish as she finds new opportunities to dance – and experiences the first pangs of love!

Drina Dances in Paris
Drina finds it hard to settle into her old life in England after her exciting trip to New York. But she throws herself back into her dancing again, and tries to push her memories out of her mind. Then she has the thrilling offer of a trip to Paris – where she has a wonderful surprise.

8.   Drina Dances in Madeira
Drina is bitterly disappointed when she hears the her long awaited holiday to Germany is cancelled. But her Grandmother offers her some wonderful alternatives: a Mediterranean cruise, or a visit to Scandinavia of a trip to Madeira… When Drina remembers that the Lingeraux Ballet Company are also going to Madeira for the summer she has no trouble making up her mind!

9.   Drina Dances in Switzerland
Although it’s a new term at the Dominick Ballet School, Drina won’t be starting lessons again for two whole terms. Her grandparents are moving to Switzerland for the winter, and Drina is sent to a stuffy Swiss finishing school. Drina is bitterly disappointed: how will she be able to keep up with her ballet when she’s so far away from her teachers and the theatre and her dancing friends in London?

10.                Drina Goes on Tour
Drina is horrified when her long kept secret about her glamorous past is discovered. And she is totally unprepared when she becomes the centre of a blaze of publicity. How will this news, and all the resulting distractions, affect her life at the Dominick Ballet School?
11.                Drina Ballerina
As Drina’s eighteenth birthday approaches, the young ballet dancer faces some important decisions. The Director of the Dominick Ballet School puts an exciting proposal to her concerning the Company’s new programme. And Grant, Drina’s love for the past four years makes her an offer of a very different kind.


  1. Thank you so much for reviewing this series. I love it so much! I remember buying this at a book sale in primary school and got hooked immediately, and went back to buy the whole series. I probably just didn't have the second volume. I also remember reading this at the school library :) I too fell in love with ballet (I love dance, in general) & traveling while reading this. Now, I'm living in a different country - a country that I dreamed of coming to. And, I've just started taking ballet classes a couple of months ago, and I'm 31. I really didn't expect that I'd take up ballet one day, even though I've been dancing on & off for about ten years. It's amazing how books have such a deep influence on our dreams and passions, isn't it?

    1. Hi Cynthia, thank you so much for reading and commenting! I think this is definitely a series that stays with you if you read them when you were younger, and I know for me personally it shaped a lot of wants for the rest of my life! I'm so glad that you've achieved so many of the dreams that started with these books! It just goes to show the power of books! :)
      Thank you again for your comment!