Allison's Book Bag

From Iowa to Broadway by Alex Ko

Posted on: May 3, 2014

Each path to fame is unique. From Iowa to Broadway by Alex Ko is about an ordinary kid from Iowa who made it to stardom. Written by Ko himself, it bursts youthful exuberance while also telling an endearing story that will warm your heart.

In many ways, Alex Ko has lived a privileged life. He has studied gymnastics and dance with the masters since he was five years old. At twelve, he became the youngest student admitted to the University of Iowa’s Department of Dance. He was awarded scholarships to many summer dance programs. In 2009, he landed the title role in the Broadway hit Billy Elliot the Musical. After that, he appeared on the sitcom-comedy “Bunheads” about a ballet school and had the honor of being a guest dancer at the White House. Today he is continuing his dance education at The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

All these accolades might leave you wondering why you would want to read Ko’s story. It’s not exactly an underdog or “rags to riches” story. Well, just because you’re blessed with many advantages doesn’t mean your life is without struggles. Top-notch training doesn’t come cheap, and Ko’s family made frequent sacrifices to help Ko pursue his dream of becoming a professional dancer. And Ko faced his own tough choices. After suffering a leg injury in gymnastics, Ko found himself faced with the choice of listening to his coach or his doctor. When Ko chose to listen to his coach, not only did he aggravate his injury, but his mom told him that there would be no more gymnastics. While she did allow him to pursue dance, Ko still faced the dilemma that his dad would prefer for him to become a doctor. Sticking with his dreams would prove even harder when the family had to deal with the hassle of making multiple trips to New York for Billy Elliott auditions without knowing if Ko would receive a role. Last, while not yet in his teens, Ko faced the heartache of his dad being diagnosed with and eventually dying from liver cancer.

With From Iowa to Broadway, Ko took on the daunting task of writing his own memoir while still not even twenty.  This gives his autobiography a refreshingly youthful style. It also reveals that Ko has yet one more talent. Each chapter has been crafted as all good stories should: an engaging lead followed by twists and turns, ending on a note of suspense. Ko also openly shares his hopes and woes, while also regularly remembering to show appreciation to his parents, teachers, and other adult role models. There’s an infectious warmth and joy to his story. My only complaint is that sometimes in his attempts to create a dramatic narrative, Ko dips too often into foreshadowing or flashbacks and ends up losing me in the transitions.

Nothing in my above description would make Ko’s ethnicity apparent, yet Ko’s autobiography is one of the reading selections I made this year as part of our school district’s multicultural committee. When Ko auditioned for the role of Billy Elliott, he wondered if being Asian-American would hurt his chances. It was made clear to him that his fate would be determined by his talent and discipline alone. That is something we can hope will be one day be true in all situations. In the meantime, Ko’s story is an inspirational real-life fairy tale.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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