Dance Like No One’s Watching: A Review of Freestyle

Gale Galligan
Scholastic Inc. / Graphix
October 18th, 2022
Ages 8 – 12

Cory Tan wants to do things his way. As a member of his freestyle dance crew, 8-bit, he improvises when he should follow the choreography. In science class, his experiment creates a baking soda and vinegar bomb, ruining a backpack, and angering his smart but isolated new hijabi lab partner, Sunna. But this brashness is coming back to bite him. His arguments with the 8-bit’s leader are causing stress among all its members, and Cory’s grades are slipping, causing Cory’s mom to hire a tutor. That tutor, Sunna, is still upset with his unthinking action in class. When Cory finds that Sunna does something as unexpected and cool as competitive yo-yo, his perception of her changes from annoying, aloof, and overbearing to someone more complete. This change is presented to the reader through a splash panel of Sunna doing yo-yo tricks in an unrestrainedly detailed flower garden. The splash panels are packed with detail, and the scenes of dancing and yo-yo are chaotic but still readable; the characters feel like they are dancing. The creative composition of panels draws the eyes, making it easy to follow, even if the pattern changes from time to time. The exaggerated punch-in on successive panels as Cory’s mom pinch zooms on his grade report elevates the moment from a necessary story beat to one of the best jokes in the graphic novel. Sunna bribes Cory to study by teaching him yo-yo tricks. Even when Cory’s grades improve, his shortsighted selfishness and poor communication with his friends cause the plates he’s been trying to keep spinning all school year to crash around him during the Halloween dance, focusing on the moment’s drama and highlighting the range of Galligan. The expressiveness of the characters is a standout element of the book, with each character’s emotion always on their sleeve. The exaggerated cartoon style allows for fun bugging eyes of surprise or silly excited faces and the distraught expressions of friendships breaking up. The pages in the more dramatic section are dark for the night setting and the sad events to come. This is contrasted with the sunset introductory dance scene with 8-bit. The colorist, K Czap, uses the environmental elements to enhance the feelings already clear from character design and dialog, building tension in some spaces and bringing out the happy fun in others.

Freestyle is a bright, beautifully illustrated story about a young man learning to be a good friend.