Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review >> Bunheads

Bunheads by Sophie Flack
Bunheads by Sophie Flack -- October 10, 2011 -- Hardcover, 294 pages, Poppy (9780316126533)

"My name is Hannah Ward. Don't call me a ballerina."

19 year old Hannah Ward is having the time of her life living out her dreams of becoming a dancer in the prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company. She and her friends rehearse every single day, subject themselves to grueling after-class training, adhere to strict regimens, and devote their entire existence to their art. After a night out enjoying the city, where she meets the handsome and artistic Jacob, Hannah begins to question whether or not there is more to life than dancing, and finds herself wanting more and more to leave behind her pointe shoes for a life of freedom. But is she willing to sacrifice all the hard work she has put into becoming a ballerina?

Bunheads was a light and lovely read from author Sophie Flack, and does a wonderful job of capturing the strict lifestyle of a ballet dancer, or bunhead. The story was essentially a semi-autobiographical novel based on Sophie Flack's life with the New York City Ballet, where she worked for 9 years before deciding to study English at Columbia University. This model is directly mirrored in Bunheads, in which we find Hannah Ward, a dedicated ballet student at the Manhattan Ballet Company who dreams of foregoing her dance career to study English at NYU. Similar, no? This does not deter from the fact that the book was actually an enjoyable read, complete with all the drama and outrageous dedication from the dancers themselves.

You could tell from the writing that this is Sophie Flack's first book, but there is so much truth behind her style that it actually makes up for this lack of mature writing. You can tell right from the beginning that Sophie knew how to create real characters suffering from real human errors. Hannah and her fellow dancers find themselves page after page flipping back and forth between being extraordinarily friendly with each other, and then talking behind each other's backs or secretly coveting a prime role that another bunhead has been given. The human drama is so real, and so very much like how these girls would act were they real people. There is a sense of comradery between these girls that is so organic, and yet there is also the side of them that is striving to become the best dancer at any cost, and who is willing to become bitter rivals on the stage, if need be.

One of the qualms I had with this book was the lack of development with certain issues presented in the story. For example, eating disorders are mentioned, and is even forced upon Hannah herself, but there are no consequences associated with this issue, nor is it elaborated upon. Also, the issue of desiring wealth over happiness is added to the story in the form of the playboy character, Matt, who attempts to charm Hannah with his vast resources. Hannah finds herself attracted to said person, even though she is seeing Jacob, and is conflicted when asked to attend high profile events with him, and yet this side-story just sort of fizzles out and doesn't really add any sort of long-lasting drama or character-altering changes to the story. I'm not sure if this was the publishers doing, the author's doing, or the simple fact that few YA books like to delve into touchy subject matters due to their sensitive nature, but I feel like it is important to present the whole truth, including the glamorous and the gritty, because that is, quite simply, the way life is. I felt like the book had a lovely story, but could have dealt with these types of issues in a more thorough and engaging way.

Overall, I was quite pleased with how much I enjoyed Bunheads. It presents almost everything you could want in a contemporary YA novel, including drama, complicated romance, conflicting personal agendas, the desire to be true to yourself, and let's face it, gorgeous costumes. It is also a coming-of-age tale of a young girl's interests evolving as she matures into a woman. The story itself was very realistic, and presents the reader with the rare opportunity to go backstage with the ballet company, and experience life on the other side of the curtain. All in all, I would say that Sophie Flack was en pointe with this wonderful read, so be sure to check it out!

"Now take a deep breath. Let's dance."


Meet Sophie Flack, author of Bunheads

If you enjoyed Bunheads, you might also like:

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson
Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

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