Monday, February 11, 2013

[Review] Bunheads by Sophie Flack

Author: Sophie Flack
Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 01/03/2012
Publisher: Atom (Hachette)
Pages: 294
Source: For review

Violence | Sexual Content | Profanity

My Rating:

Honest and insightful.

My thoughts

I was only able to REALLY appreciate this book once I'd looked the author up a little bit online. Sophie Flack is a former ballerina, picking up the art from a young age--so right from the get-go you know that she really knows ballet--and was at the NYCB as a member of the corps de ballet for 9 years. After she lost her job (as a result of company layoffs), she decided to step away from dancing and pursue something new. She actually got her book deal because of an interview she'd done at the New York Times, which I think is just really cool. During her time at the company she kept a journal, which she used as a kind of mould for Bunheads. It is not an autobiography so much as it is a fictional telling that reveals many truths about the ballet world.

Another thing I want to clear up is this book is not linked in any way to Bunheads, the TV show. Amy Sherman-Palladino created the show in inspiration of her own ballet teacher experiences. Their titles and any other similarities are coincidental. I'm pretty enamoured with the TV show. If you like the show, I implore you to give this book a go, and vice versa.

Bunheads is a story about a 19-year-old girl (Hannah) who has lived ballet her entire life. When she was 14 she moved to New York to be in the Manhattan Ballet, away from her friends and family back home, in a strange new city with new people and cultures. Hannah has been at the same spot in the corps de ballet for years, and she and all her friends dream of making soloist. The only one who can make that happen is Otto Klein, the director of the company. But to get promoted means sacrificing everything. And after Hannah meets Jacob, a normal college student and musician who shows her what she’s missing, she’s not sure she can give it all up for ballet anymore.

Flack at age 17; source

I love when authors write what they know, and it only makes sense when it was a major part of their life. Bunheads is full of dancing terminology, rituals, culture and ideologies that normally get pushed to the side in favour of the more ideal image: pink, froufrou, tutus. Flack delves into the strength and determination that dancers need to have in order to make it big; she enunciates the sacrifices in maintaining diligence and obedience in keeping a ‘perfect’ figure, and how it can determine whether you get the roles you want. My perception on ballet—and dancers in general—has changed for ever. I understood all of that before, but it’s so much different actually seeing it from the viewpoint of a dancer. Hannah is such a sincere narrator and character and I couldn’t help but empathise and root for her when she discovers something more in life than ballet.

Hannah has to deal with the uncertainty that comes with being in the ballet, and more, being stuck in the same spot she was when she started. She’s 19 years old and never really lived as a normal teenager. Over time she starts to rebel against Otto’s strict rules, like the ones for dieting and no “field trips” (going anywhere, period). We begin to see her struggle over what she really wants, because she just can’t have the both of them. Her new relationship quickly undergoes strain—Hannah’s always too busy practising, or else she’s at the gym. The gradual progression of Hannah’s journey is realistic and authentically drawn.

Jacob. The love interest. They meet at the bar (of course). He really isn’t anything extraordinary: no mystery enshrouds him; no darkness can be seen in his eyes. He’s just a guy. A smart guy. An intellectual and a free-thinker. They come from completely different worlds. Hannah doesn’t turn stupid and mushy over him, which I liked. The romantic aspects also don’t overrun the plot. In fact, since Hannah barely has time for him, for most of the story there is tension in their relationship. And I’m glad. I am so glad that Hannah kept ballet as her highest priority.

And then in comes the other guy: Matt. He’s rich and privileged and actually knows the ballet world. He’s manipulative. He’s so sure that Hannah will agree to anything he proposes, and what’s even more annoying is that he’s right. I didn’t like Matt. I still don’t really understand his purpose. Maybe to pose as a firm comparison to Jacob’s character, further driving home the notion that Hannah has to choose between the ballet (Matt) and the outside world (Jacob)? Another thing I disliked was WHAT IT MADE HANNAH: indecisive and unable to resist this guy when she already has someone who cares so much for her. Eh. Hannah redeems herself in the end.

Lastly, this book is big on friendship. Hannah lives with her fellow dancers in the corps de ballet. There’s Bea, her best friend in the whole world—her rock; dependable, patient and honest. And Daisy, who is kind of the butt of the jokes, the “friend” who no one really listens to, the one that everyone tolerates. Which I can understand. She’s annoying as a thumbtack in the sole of your shoe. Then there’s ambitious Zoe. I was surprised by how much I actually liked her character. She and Hannah partake in friendly fire. Their friendship is saturated in sweetly malicious threats and competition. Their relationship goes to show how competitive ballet is in general. Zoe wants the promotion so badly that she does whatever it takes…

Bunheads captivated me with its realistic portrayal of a teenage girl’s descent from the ballet world. Flack’s debut novel is unflinchingly honest. As Hannah discovers a new life outside of ballet, she begins to question whether she’s willing to sacrifice it all for the one thing she’s ever wanted: to become a soloist. Flack lends authenticity to the ballet aspects due to previous experiences as a ballet dancer. It makes all the difference. There are great messages in this book, thoughtful in its execution, questioning everything you once knew about a life in ballet. Bunheads is highly recommended for readers interested in dance books without the gimmick.

If you like: Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Bunheads (tv show), contemporary YA in general, other dance books


First lines: 
"My name is Hannah Ward. Don't call me a ballerina.
Ballerinas are the stars of the company. They dance centre stage under the spotlight, and they get their own curtain calls. Their head shots are printed in the program, with their names in large print. Me, I'm a dancer in the corps fr nallet, just one of the dozens of girls who dance in graceful unison each night. My mother thinks I'm a star, but she's biased.


'Throw yourself into your dancing now,” one of my teachers once said, “because the life span of a dancer can be as short as a fruit fly’s.'
(p. 2)

I’m a ballet dancer, but I’m not a ballerina. And it’s the most amazing, wonderful, and crazy life I ever could have imagined.
(p. 7)

'She’s a dancer, Hannah. She dances.'
(p. 138)

My nose is beginning to run. Jacob offers me his sleeve to wipe it on, which is kind of gross, but it also might be the sweetest thing a guy has ever done for me. (I don’t take him up on it; I wipe my nose on my own sleeve.)
(p. 186)


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