Author: Sophie Flack
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Little, Brown BFYR
Release date: October 10, 2011
Challenge: Completely Contemporary Challenge
Summary: As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet.
But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah’s universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other “bunheads” in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life?
I have a big weakness for books about people with artistic gifts. People who draw exceptionally well, or play music or dance: I’m pretty much instantly attracted to those stories. I love reading about that whole different world. Because to me–a person who can only dance after adult beverages, draw doodles of hearts and flowers, and play Heart and Soul on the piano–people who CAN do those things are fascinating. BUNHEADS by Sophie Flack, with it’s gorgeous cover of kaleidoscope ballerinas, focuses on a group of young, up-and-coming dancers in the Manhattan Ballet Company, specifically a young girl named Hannah. This story is basically a behind the scenes expose on the REAL lives of professional ballet dancers and, as you can imagine, it’s not as glamorous as it may seem.
Much of BUNHEADS involves talking about the finer points of ballet. I’m talking techinical stuff: Lots of sequences at the theater, rehearsals, catty conversations in dressing rooms, prickly directors, and LOTS of French words. As someone who knows really nothing about ballet aside from the positions and a plie, I both loved and was confused by some of the terminology. As a NERD FOR WORDS, a little glossary would have made the specifics of the dancing even MORE enjoyable. Because friends, Sophie Flack really shines a bright light on this world, and even when what we saw wasn’t pretty, it was still completely fascinating. The whole thing reminded me of Center Stage. (Have you all seen this movie? It’s basically BUNHEADS, except less emphasis on only the female dancers. IT’S AWESOME.)
It may seem weird for me to start off talking about the technical ballet aspects, but really the dancing is so important to BUNHEADS, and in truth, not knowing all of the dance moves was one of the only things that bothered me, so I’m glad I got it out of the way. The other important thing, obviously, is Hannah. She’s a nice but competitive girl who has wanted nothing more than to be a ballerina for her whole life, and her passion is evident throughout. Hannah makes lots of sacrifices for her dancing, and it’s not hard to see why she WANTS to make those sacrifices and, later, why she starts to doubt her desire to basically live only for the company. Ballet asks a lot while giving very little to Hannah and her friends; there seems to be little ASIDE from passion that could keep someone invested.
Of course, one of the reasons that Hannah starts to question her complete devotion to the Manhattan Ballet Company in BUNHEADS is Jacob, a totally charming, confident, adorable, mild hipster-in-training from NYU (HOLLA New Adult!!) who is incredibly patient with Hannah just because he likes her so much, even though she often has to break or avoid plans with him. You know. BECAUSE OF THE DANCING. But I liked a lot about Hannah and Jacob, together and separately. I liked that their relationship takes time, and it takes a lot of work on both their parts. Makes the payoffs even sweeter.
And it’s not JUST Jacob that makes Hannah question how much more she is willing to miss by continuing on dancing when the chances of advancement to a starring role are virtually nil. Sure, she gets to see and experience things because of Jacob, but the DRAMZ in the company are a lot to handle.
Sophie Flack, who was a ballet dancer herself, has written a quiet, honest story about what it means to have a passion, and what it means to LOSE that passion, just a little bit. Hannah makes hard decisions about her future, and isn’t AFRAID to make them. At 19, I felt like she seemed a little more confident than other YA main characters, which I appreciated. And I loved the backstage look that BUNHEADS gives us into ballet productions. It’s both special and, well, it’s someone’s JOB. How glamorous are jobs, you know? There’s always a downside, and BUNHEADS shows us those unflinchingly. It’s well-written, insightful, and moves at a great pace. ‘Twas GOOD STUFF, friends, and I’ll be looking for whatever Sophie Flack writes next for sure!