The 'Drina' books are a series about a young ballet dancer written by Mabel Esther Allan under the pseudonym of Jean Estoril. They were originally published in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but were popular enough to go through several reprints in different countries in the following decades. While the books are now out of print, they can be found in used book stores and the occasional library. The first five books are relatively easy to find, subsequent books are more difficult to find and hence tend to be costlier. This is in part due to the fact that some of the later reprints of the series only included the first five books.
One of the reasons for the books' enduring popularity is that the author attempted to give an accurate portrayal of the life of a young ballet dancer in training, as opposed to many of the other 'girls books' that were published at the same time, which tended to glamorize the life while depicting a quick and easy ride to stardom.
In Ballet for Drina, Drina meets her lifelong friend Jenny Pilgrim, who introduces her to the world of ballet lessons. For an unknown reason, Drina's grandmother1 forbids her to learn ballet, but Drina perseveres until her grandmother gives in.
In Drina's Dancing Year, 11-year-old Drina and her grandparents move to London. Again Drina's grandmother refuses to allow ballet lessons, but Drina continues to secretly practice until events collide and her grandmother is forced to see that some things cannot be stopped. It is in this book that Drina learns the secret of her mother - who she was, and why her mother's death is the reason her grandmother had always forbidden her to dance. At the audition for a new ballet school, she meets a new lifelong friend in Rose Conway.
Drina Dances in Exile was published under the title 'Drina Dances Alone' in the United States. In this book, 13-year-old Drina is sent off to the country boarding campus of her dancing school while her grandparents are in Australia. She has a hard time fitting in at first, but eventually adapts and meets new friends as well.
Drina Dances in Italy was published under the title 'Drina Dances on Stage' in the United States. In this book, Drina goes to Italy to visit her other grandmother, whom she hadn't seen since she was an infant. She learns to speak Italian, meets her cousins, and has some fun experiences with the dance company from her school in London.
In Drina Dances Again, Drina injures her leg and has to hold off on dancing for awhile. Just then, however, she receives an offer to act in a West End play.
Much of Drina Dances in New York takes place on a cruise ship sailing from England to New York, as Drina, now 14, travels with her grandparents. On the trip, she meets a young man named Grant who is to feature into future books. She also meets a fellow dancer and helps her overcome her stage fright.
In Drina Dances in Paris, Drina has the opportunity to travel without her grandparents, going to dance in two productions with the dance company at her school. The second production is in Paris, and while there, she meets up again with Grant.
In Drina Dances in Madeira, Drina is again travelling with her grandparents. As with many of her other travels, she just happens to meet another dance company on board the ship. Not only does Drina make some new friends, but she also has the opportunity to dance with the touring company.
Drina Dances in Switzerland is somewhat bleaker in tone than the other books in the series, as 16-year-old Drina is depressed for much of the book. Her grandparents are spending some time in Switzerland, and they have pulled Drina out of her dancing school and plopped her in the finishing school her Italian cousin attends so that she will be nearby.
In Drina Goes on Tour, Drina passes her school exams and becomes a senior student at her dance school, which means that her whole day is spent in dance classes and rehearsals. A nasty flu epidemic leaves the dance company short-staffed, and Drina and some friends are sent out to join the tour as replacements. Drina has a difficult time adjusting to life with a touring company, as the accommodation is quite a bit different from what she's used to with her well-off grandparents. The secret Drina has hidden from her peers since the second book in the series is discovered, and she has a difficult time adapting to this as well.
Drina Ballerina is the final book in the series. This book is really about wrapping up the loose ends, and setting Drina on her path into the future. Still, though, Drina's path in the book is not a straight and easy one, as there are some difficult choices to be made. Many things that were hinted at in the earlier books come to pass in this one, which also helps make for a satisfying conclusion. As compared to many other girls' series of the time, this one is astonishing in that the main character is actually allowed to grow into adulthood in this final book.
Recurring Themes Throughout the Series
While the books diverged in many ways from the typical 'girls series' of the era, they were still quite formulaic to some extent. While Drina is allowed to grow and change over the course of the books, and the reader is exposed to changes in scenery, the subplots and themes are reused from book to book in the series. For example, in every book, there is a subplot where Drina struggles to deal with a nasty girl who is jealous of her. In almost every book, Drina is especially kind to a girl who is less fortunate. In each book, Drina struggles between wanting to be more independent and not wanting to disappoint her grandmother. And in all of the books, Drina struggles with whether she can ever be as good as her mother was, and how to deal with the legacy of that hanging over her.
Despite this recycling of secondary material, the books remain enjoyable, largely because of the depth given to the characters. Surprisingly for a juvenile series, not only is the main character seen to change significantly over the course of the books, but so are several other characters. Drina's grandmother softens as she ages, and Jenny Pilgrim develops into an odd mix of cynical and maternal with the birth of her first child.