Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bunheads by Sophie Flack

Publisher: Poppy (Little, Brown imprint)

Pages: 304

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone:

Summary: On-stage beauty. Backstage drama. 
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 picked up Bunheads because I am inexplicably drawn to dance-related things. I wholeheartedly enjoy Step Up 2: the Streets (and I'm sorry, it's still better than the first one, hate on me, I don't even care). I sat through Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights for the dancing (really for one of my college roommates--that is something that is DEFINITELY not better than the original). Footloose? Perfection. I even saw the remake in the movie theater. Don't tell anyone though, it'll ruin all of my '80's street cred I worked so hard to build up my freshman year of high school. Anyway, when I heard that Little, Brown published a book about the life of a ballet dancer written by a former ballerina, I decided to read it.
Bunheads tells the story of Hannah War, a dancer in the Manhattan Ballet Company. One of the first things Hannah says is "Don't call me a ballerina," claiming that she is merely a member of the corps de ballet, one of the many that accompany the soloist ballerina. Hannah narrates the life of a dancer, detailing time in the company, lack of time outside the company, and what happens when a dancer discovers there might be more to life than dance. Enter Jacob, the musician Hannah meets at a bar that makes her see that she has worth and interests outside the ballet world. Hannah must make a choice--either follow her weakening ambitions and devote everything she has to becoming a soloist--a dream that may not even be realized, regardless of how hard she works, or explore other options befitting of a person almost twenty years old, giving up almost all of her life built while dancing in the process.
I expected Bunheads to play out like Center Stage--bulimia, crazy stage mothers, (completely unbelievable) sex with stars of the company who then drop whichever character without even a word. Bunheads was far less cliche than that (thought, don't get me wong, I'm a big supporter of Center Stage and watched it quickly after completing this novel. I am the best goddamn dancer in the American Ballet Academy, who the hell are you?) in its execution. Flack provides an insider's view at the ballet world for people who would never end up near it in life (like myself). and who have absolutely zero experience in ballet and dance (also like myself). Hannah observes her friends' eating habits and dance talents from a dancer's standpoint, demonstrating the differing attitudes that exist in a ballet driven world.
The romance between Hannah and Jacob isn't earth-shattering, but it serves its purpose--to introduce Hannah to the world she's been missing outside of ballet. What I liked more than their relationship was Hannah's interactions with the balletomane, Matt. Their interactions provide for the direct foil to Hannah's very normal interactions with Jacob, showing the reader what Hannah's life would be like if she chose to stay in the company. It's glamorous, but shallow. I enjoyed seeing that comparison driven by both male roles--and subsequently seeing that Hannah would be more independent outside of the ballet world.
Sophie Flack's Bunheads provides for a realistic look at the life of a ballet dancer without the overdramatized issues that could have made the book hopelessly cliche. Hannah wasn't the most interesting character, but that may have been intentional, in order to demonstrate how much dancing controls a person's life. A good look into the world I previously knew only through the eyes of the very dramatic (and wonderful) Center Stage.

Rating: 4 - good.

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