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?
Discovery: I don’t read many books about dancers, so when I heard about Bunheads, I knew I had to give it a whirl.
+ Voice. One of the things that make me nervous about dancer novels is how difficult it can be to get into the characters’ heads. As a non-dancer, one can become hyper-aware of how removed dancers’ lives can be from the norm. Sophie Flack makes the transition easy with a beautifully crafted main character in Hannah Ward. Hannah’s voice is stunning to witness–it is lilting and fresh, much like how I imagine her dancing. Flack herself was a former ballet dancer and I was happy to see that she allowed those experiences to colour the novel with unique touches. Hannah’s inner conflicts aren’t going to be new to non-dancers, but I never felt like she was obtuse or oblivious to what was going on around her. At the end of the day, Hannah is a kind and intelligent girl who has to make a difficult choice that will determine the rest of her life. I admire her courage and willingness to open herself up to the world.
+ Themes. Raise your hand if you wanted to be a ballerina when you were six years old. Now raise your hand if you’re a ballerina right now. I’m almost 100% sure that most of us who dreamt of living life in a gorgeous pink tutu aren’t sporting one at the moment. But if Bunheads didn’t make you yearn for those days even a little, I’ll eat my hat. (Don’t make me do that, I really like my hat.) That said, reading this novel only made me appreciate the sacrifices all dancers have to make to create their art. All aspiring artists quickly learn that creativity and inspiration can only get you so far. It takes an even stronger and indomitable will to break through and make something of oneself. Hannah’s choices have the potential to be polarizing–there will be those who think that she sacrificed too much or too little–, but I think that’s where her story is most powerful. Art is never easy, and neither is life. Sophie Flack did a marvelous job of reminding her readers of that fact.
Recommendations: The more I think about Bunheads, the more I feel like it belongs in my top 10 list for this year. Definitely check it out if you had even a passing interest in ballet as a kid, or if you simply admire artists.
Next review: Between the Sea & Sky, Jaclyn Dolamore (with bonus interview tomorrow!)