This review does not contain spoilers.
As a dancer with the Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward is living her childhood dream. And while she might not be a prima ballerina yet, she’s moving up the ranks and surely if she works hard enough she can make it happen.
But devoting her whole life to ballet leaves very little time for anything else: friends, family, school have all fallen by the wayside. Hannah doesn’t mind, until a chance encounter brings Jacob into her life. He’s cute, he plays guitar and he’s offering a whole future that Hannah never considered. And now she must choose between her lifelong dream or what could be the love of her life …
I picked up Bunheads at Lifeline Bookfest on a whim. I didn’t even read the blurb until after I’d finished the book. And I’m actually pretty glad. The blurb makes it seem like this book is going to be about a girl who goes chasing after love, either abandoning her hard work or learning to balance the two in some special snowflake way.
Upon reaching the end of the book, I realised that author Sophie Flack had meant for it to be (at least) a semi-autobiographical look at her life as a professional dancer. Looking back, it’s not hard to see how everything translates into real life.
The narrative is segmented by each season of the ballet. Though names of various shows are constantly being thrown around, I never found it boring or confusing. And while the plot was repetitive, it never felt stagnant.
Woven throughout all of the promotions and performances are the milestones in Hannah’s own life. If the book was meant to be a love story with ballet, I didn’t read it that way. I read it as one person’s attempts to find happiness in herself. The prospect of love is a nice thing to have in the background and it does initiate Hannah’s questioning of her career but it’s not the main focus of the novel.
Bunheads is actually a disarmingly honest look at life as a professional dancer. Talk of eating disorders, diets, and crazy exercise is thrown around so casually you almost become desensitised to it. The streak of bitchy competiveness is inherent in every character but it’s almost always light and never truly meant to upset anyone—something I remember well from my days in various choirs. Even with all this so apparent, I have to wonder if the author toned down some aspects of the industry to make it more appropriate for a young adult audience.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and finished it in a day. It reminds me of the movie Centre Stage but Bunheads has all of the brutal details of the ballet industry that I’d never stopped to consider before. The tone is light and pleasing and makes for a great debut novel from author Sophie Flack.