Review: Bunheads, Sophie Flack

So there are two books I’ve been trying to get at the library for a very long time without acknowledging to the world how much I wanted them because I feel guilty checking out kids’ books from my library because I always think of all the actual kids in the world who are being deprived of their books by my greed: Bunheads (this one here) and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, for which I am still waiting and which may never, ever, ever get in at the library ever. I read a glowing review of the latter on NPR, and the former I want because early exposure to Rumer Godden made me think that all books set in ballet schools are necessarily awesome.

(Y’all, Thursday’s Children is crazy good. You should go read it twice.)

Bunheads is a book about a girl called Hannah in the Manhattan Ballet School. She has been in the corps for a while now and is hoping to be promoted, but even as her career at the school has its ups and downs, she has begun to wonder whether it’s worth it. The cute musician on whom she is significantly crushing feels that she never has time for him, and she cannot deny the justice of this position. She sees other girls in the corps starving themselves and working out constantly to keep their bodies in perfect shape for the ballet.

I would say — I hope that The Miseducation of Cameron Post is better. All through Bunheads I kept thinking that I couldn’t believe I had spent so many library visits feeling weird and guilty as I browsed the YA shelves looking for this book — for this book. Totally not worth it. The point of the book is that Hannah, the protagonist, gradually realizes that she can’t continue doing ballet because it’s too soul-crushing. But the way she reaches this realization is never interesting or unexpected — it’s like, My cute guitarist boyfriend was angry at me for not calling for two weeks. Didn’t he understand that I had to dance? But suddenly I was wondering whether I was giving up too much for my career. It was all like that, very broad strokes, laid out for you in the tell-not-showiest manner imaginable.

On the positive side, I do love books about ballet schools, and Sophie Flack — herself a ballet dancer of many years — writes her school very effectively, particularly when she’s talking about the subtle and not-so-subtle pressures that are placed on the dancers to be thinner, fitter, more dedicated, every moment in every way. I also liked it that Hannah’s main rival at the school, who can be a smidge bitchy, is also Hannah’s closest friend at the school, and the person who she trusts the most. The parts of the book that go to creating the setting of professional ballet were still not incredibly well-written, but they were detailed and interesting.

Verdict: If you like ballet books and don’t mind a semi-boring plot and cardboardy characters, go for it! I shall not reread.