Contemporary Young Adult
Received from publisher for review
For the young dancers of the Manhattan Ballet Company every day is a chance to be seen. A chance to stand out. A chance to prove to everyone they're worthy of the coveted solo part that will make them a name rather than a graceful but faceless background ornament. Hannah Ward has never dreamed of anything other than that moment of being center stage, and has been working tirelessly since she was young to get there.
Each season with the company seems to get more difficult though, the amount of work she's putting in not necessarily reflected in the parts she's getting onstage. Meeting college student and local musician Jacob only complicates matters, causing her to question the dreams she's had since she was little as he opens her eyes to other opportunities.
Unable to give up on being a star dancer despite the lure of pursuing a different career path, Hannah pushes herself to work harder. Surely with more training, more sweat, more tears, and more blisters she'll finally prove to herself and to those in charge of her future that she's just...more. But Hannah's doubts won't fade away so easily, and soon she finds herself facing a choice she never imagined she'd ever have to make.
Despite being a contemporary young adult novel rather than a paranormal or dsytopian, Bunheads still transports us to a completely different world, one where fierce competitors replace the vampires, werewolves and faeries, and bustling theater wings surrounding a glittering stage become the center of our story. While this tale is decidedly vampire-free, demons run rampant in all their intangible and abstract glory, the dancers of the Manhattan Ballet company struggling daily with weight and confidence issues as their minds force their bodies further than they’re often capable of going. There may be no supernatural creatures hiding out in the night, but there is a threatening darkness just the same, snapping our eyes wide open as we read in a bit of shock as to the degree these young women are pushed and push themselves, their lives on the line for the barest chance of finding themselves the sole occupant of the spotlight directed at center stage.
The life of a corps ballet dancer is depicted with a sort of terrifying beauty, the dedication each young woman possesses admirable, and their movements–were we able to see them–no doubt art in it’s purest form, however, the pace of the overall story is a bit slow as we follow Hannah through several seasons. Dance terms and names of movements abound, sometimes tripping us up as we can only guess as to what the corresponding dance movement for such a name might look like. This would have been a fairly easy flaw to overlook had our connection to Hannah been strong and visceral, but unfortunately Hannah remains distinctly out of our reach, a stunning dancer we see only in vague shapes and shadows as our complete understanding of her remains elusive.
We want to know Hannah and her fellow corps dancers, but their behavior often hits us like a slap in the face, forcing us back a few steps just as we were about to take one forward. An insult is as likely to fall from any of their lips as a compliment, appearing friends one moment until one of them turns their back and then the barrage of competitive jealousies spews forth as they commiserate over the latest casting decisions. Their attitudes cause us to question whether or not it’s actually possible to be both friend and competitor, and whether genuine happiness can be felt when the promotion of a friend means one's own dreams are that much closer to slipping through one's fingers. Despite those questions, the girls’ tendency to exercise their sharp tongues as often as they point their toes makes them difficult to fully stand behind, keeping us at a distance when it’s clear every one of them could use all the support they could get.
Overall, Ms. Flack has written a simultaneously disturbing and fascinating story, the final art form stunning but the road to that seemingly unattainable beauty paved with more than just blood, sweat, and tears, as hopes, dreams, and entire lives exist right along beside them. Those who do not necessarily crave a strong character/reader bond will most likely not be bothered by the detachment from Hannah and crew, but for those who read just to feel as though their an intrinsic part of that character’s world, Bunheads will be a more average read.