Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Bunheads

Sophie Flack
Contemporary Young Adult
304 Pages
Available Now
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.

Rating: 3/5


  1. I'm so big about characters that I wonder if this one will do it for me. Great honest review.

  2. Aww, no connection to the characters tends to make books less enjoyable for me too. :( Characters are really important to me in books, so it's too bad that these ones didn't make the best impression because I LOVE the dancing idea -- I've always loved dance (even though I can't to save the life of me)!

    Still, awesome honest review, Jenny!! :) And I love the kaleidoscope effect with the cover LOL!

  3. Ha! Good play at comparing the supers to their would be human counterparts.

    As much as I love watching dance, reading about it just doesn't work for me, especially if the character connection is not happening.

  4. I liked this one quite a bit, but I think I felt more connection to the characters. I rather liked the catty remarks, because they felt real. Lots of otherwise nice people (me included) are prone to talking about people behind their backs. Especially when there's jealousy involved. It's obviously not a positive side to a character, but it is a human one.

  5. I was at odds with this one too...I thought the idea was really good but I felt no attachment to any of the characters so it was off for me...

    Great review though..:D

  6. I can't get "Black Swan" out of my head while reading your review, but I'm glad that the book isn't as twisted as that movie. :) The lack of connection to the characters and my zero knowledge of ballet (besides watching dance movies) makes me hesitant to pick this one up. Thanks for an honest review, Jenny.

  7. Juju - Characters are the biggie for me too, and I just couldn't quite hit my stride with these girls:)

    Mimi - I absolutely cannot dance either. It's just scary when I try:) I enjoyed the dancing aspect, I just wanted to feel closer to the girls.

    Missie - Thanks! It's so rare for me to read a contemporary YA that it seemed fitting to compare it to my beloved paranormal reads.

    Alison - Very true. With the situation the girls were in that cattiness was definitely realistic, but it still bothered me even though everyone is guilty of gossiping behind someone else's back at some point or another in their lives.

    Tina - Exactly. I was fascinated with the whole behind the scenes aspect, but I love to love characters and I just didn't love Hannah as much as I wanted to.

    Rummanah - I haven't seen that yet, I think it would freak me out:) I know nothing about ballet either, and it was pretty easy to just sort of gloss over industry terms, but I kept running into a wall with Hannah.

  8. I've been really looking forward to this book and it saddens me that the character development is more detached. I will most likely still read it, but I'll go into it with that in mind. *le sigh* Still a bit sad though. Character attachment is very important to me. Lovely review, Jenny.

  9. The detachment from the characters sounds like an issue for me, but I am still a little curious....I'll see if my library has it.

    Great honest review, Jenny! :)

  10. Character detachment would be a problem for me but the world sounds fascinating. Might have to put it on my gift list for some younger readers I know.

  11. Yikes, the world of ballet sounds so intense! It's a bummer that the author didn't spend enough time bringing us close to the characters, but the story (and the inner workings of the ballet world) sounds interesting!

  12. When I was little I wanted to be a ballet dancer, oh silly me ;) It never happened, first, I am a klutz, and tall and full bodied early on. But reading about the world sounds nice

  13. I'm on love with the cover of this one. I would really like to read this one.

  14. Jen - It was easy to feel for Hannah and what she had to go through, but she just stayed pretty flat for me otherwise and I like when I feel like I can see them from all angles:)

    Lea - It's always an issue for me when it happens, I just can't get into the story if I can't connect to the characters.

    Felicia - It was really interesting, I honestly can't imagine having that much dedication for one thing:)

    Lauren - It clearly is. I had no idea! I'll never look at The Nutcracker the same way again:)

    Blodeuedd - I did too! But I took one class and realized I had zero dancing ability and *poof* that dream switched over to wanting to ride horses.

    Jennifer - I love the cover too, and I hope you give it a try, I know this book worked better for a lot of other people:)

  15. This one sounds a little like Black Swan to me too - perhaps a little less disturbing, but similar nonetheless. I think I'd like it! The cover is great!

  16. Bunheads! Loved this book! This is on book that I totally related too! Nice review :)

  17. You know... I'm totally in love with this cover but I'm not sure the story line is for me!

  18. Thanks for the honest review. Although I love ballet, I may skip this one since it seems very middle of the road. Plus, I am still getting over Black Swan- which still freaks me out! ;) Great review, Jenny!

  19. Oh I have heard both good and bad about this book and I still have to read it (it is in the review pile). Such a great balanced review, I'm really looking forward to seeing how I feel about it. I do find it interesting on how people balance competitiveness and friendship.

  20. I haven't read any reviews for this book, and I've been a bit curious about it. It sounds like an interesting read, but I don't think I would be able to get along with the characters, unfortunately. :/ Sorry to hear this was only so-so for you!

  21. Leanna - Based on the preview for Black Swan I'd say this book is far less disturbing, that movie looked twisted:) I love the cover too:)

    Savy - Glad you enjoyed it so much:)

    Ashley - It was really interesting to see behind the scenes, but I wanted a little more from Hannah:)

    Crhistina - Apparently Black Swan was fairly traumatizing, that just solidifies me not ever watching it:)

    Melissa - I can't wait to see what you think:) I love comparing notes with people!

    Christy - I just wanted to like all the girls more than I did, I'm sure their behavior is nothing less than realistic but I just wanted to yell at them sometimes!

  22. Fantastic review. I loved this book... having worked in the arts (not ballet, though!) I really related to Hannah's "frenemies" - your best friends are simultaneously your competitors. It rang really true for me.

  23. First off, I love this cover. They look like delicate flowers. But they're so far from it. I would like to read this book -- maybe they were hard to connect with because they can't really get close to anyone they dance with because of the competitiveness... Who knows. Sorry about the missed connection, though.

  24. I love the cover and the title is fantastic, but it sounds like a tamer version of BLACK SWAN.

  25. Excellent review linking the personal demons to the paranormal! Yes, they can seem that way. I've never been dedicated to anything that caused me pain. I'm not sure that I wouldn't just throw the book up in disgust if I wasn't invested in the characters.


  26. I've wanted to read this one (largely cause I'm so in love with the cover) but I wonder if it would be a bit long winded for me. I may pick it up one day but I'm thinking I won't rush out to buy it.

  27. Oh, bummer that this one was a bit of a disappointment. I had been looking forward to reading it ever since I laid eyes on that beautiful cover and knew it was about ballet. However, I'm pretty sure the extreme cattiness of the corps dancers would be a complete turn off for me, as well as the detachment from Hannah.

  28. This book sounds good, especially because the author is a dancer. I like the idea of the world, the setting and the plot, but the characters sound like they would turn me off. Conflict is a definite must in all books, but I don't know about the constant harshness and sharp tongues. Nice honest review!