While most of her peers are navigating their way through living on their own in college, 19 year old Hannah Ward has lived on her own in Manhattan for years to live her dream to make it into the ultra competitive Manhattan Ballet Company. Her peers go to classes and parties; Hannah enjoys hours of workouts, rehearsals, & performances which is all part of the strenuous life of a professional dancer just waiting to be noticed for a soloist position. It’s all part of her plan — every single blister, every diet, every sore muscle means she’s coming closer to making it and stepping out from the crowd of other dancers vying for the same parts. Her dedication to her dream never wavers until she meets Jacob — a musician and college student who introduces her to the possibilities of a life unbound from stringent schedules and very little free time outside the ballet and makes her start to question what’s important to her in her life or if she’s okay with giving up “normal life” for a life trying to make it to the spotlight.
Bunheads was a thoroughly enjoyable novel that gives a darker (not Black Swan dark!), somewhat grittier picture to the world of professional ballet — a world that, from the audience, is nothing short of graceful, beautiful & elegant. Sophie Flack succeeds in portraying the captivating beauty of the ballet while balancing it with the ugly and cutthroat reality that happen at that level of success. Eating disorders, backstabbing, excessive exercise & exhaustion is the norm. Sophie Flack writes this world all in a way that pulls you in to this unfamiliar lifestyle — at least for me — as the extent of my dance career was three years of tap class.You can tell that the author was in fact a professional ballet dancer as she lends her knowledge of the world of ballet that really seems quite realistic in her descriptions — from the technical aspect to the magical feeling and rush a dancer gets in being on stage and performing these movements so gracefully and in sync. I really felt like I was getting the inside scoop on life behind the curtain. Like an E! True Hollywood Story.
I was nervous at first, as I am with any fiction that delves into a “specialty”, that it will be too technical or that it will lose me because the author can’t make the lifestyle accessible to the average reader who hasn’t lived a life like that. Thankfully Bunheads was not overwrought with too much technical detail that it went over my head and never did I feel too distant from Hannah’s lifestyle that I didn’t connect with her. In fact, I really connected with Hannah in a way that I haven’t with another character. Her struggle to find balance in her life, figure out who she is and who she wants to be, her sacrifice for her dreams — they resonated with me and felt extremely real. I loved Jacob’s role in this but I loved that he didn’t instantly come into her life and help “save her”. It was HER figuring out what she wanted. SHE struggled to try to balance her dreams with wanting to be a normal girl with a normal life. He just helped perpetuate that. It was a very sweet romance — one that I really enjoyed to watch develop — even when I wanted to body slam Hannah for ditching him. But it was SO realistic. No girl with dreams so high would immediately leave it all for a boy.
Bunheads by Sophie Flack truly was one of my favorite reads this year! It wasn’t a fast-paced nor an overly dramatic portrayal like you might see in a tv show or movie but the world of ballet portrayed in Bunheads was even more captivating, in my opinion, because it seemed REAL as opposed to a drama-rama, hair pulling, scandalous story . It was gritty and a tinge shocking (like from how the “hide” their breasts to how they make their shoes fit to their crazy schedules) but it was also subtle, beautiful and magical and you can feel why it is someone’s dream. You’ll root for Hannah and Jacob but even more you’ll root for Hannah as she struggles to figure out what she wants — a plight we all can sympathize with. Bravo, Sophie Flack, bravo. I can’t get this book out of my mind.
PS. Also loved this book because it seemed to be a bit of an “older” YA!