Study Guide

Sissy in Dancing on the Edge

By Han Nolan

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Miracle's mother, Sissy, is probably the most mysterious character in the entire novel, mainly because of the pact Gigi and Casey have made to basically erase her from their lives. Still, just from looking at her photograph, Miracle is pretty perceptive in figuring out that all was not well with her mom. In the picture Dane keeps on his desk of her:

She was swinging on an iron gate and smiling for the camera, but to me she looked sad, the smile on her lips not reaching her eyes. I wondered if she knew then she was going to die young. (1.46)

As we later learn from Aunt Casey, Sissy had plenty to be sad about. A passionate, devoted dancer from a young age, she and Casey lost their parents in a plane crash when they were teenagers. Determined to continue pursuing the dream her parents sacrificed so much for, Sissy went to a dance camp at the beach at sixteen, where she began her ill-fated relationship with Dane.

While it sounds romantic on paper—two young artists meeting at their respective beachside retreats—it wasn't. According to Casey, Sissy didn't have the emotional capacity for a relationship, let alone having a baby. "Sixteen years old, she was still a baby herself," Aunt Casey tells Miracle. "She lived at the dance studio. She didn't know anything about life" (26.52). Of course, all of this leads up to her tragic decision to kill herself rather than face a life of raising a child and giving up dance, just as she was about to pursue a professional career in New York.

What's really sad, though, is that in their efforts to make her death into something miraculous for her daughter, her family erases Sissy almost completely. "I was born from the body of a dead woman?" Miracle says when she confronts Gigi. "That's not Mama! You never told me about Mama. She was just a dead woman who gave birth to me. She wasn't Sissy" (28.58). In spite of everything, though, Miracle's recovery and relationship with Aunt Casey help her learn more about the mother she lost and rebuild Sissy's identity and memory. It's not perfect, but it's something.

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