Friday 18 October 2013

Reviewed by Emily: Bunheads by Sophie Flack.

Product details:
Publisher: Atom
Paperback, 294 pages 
Release date: October 10th 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5
Age: 12+
Source: Received from publisher for review
Reviewed by: Emily

As a dancer with the Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward is living her childhood dream. She gets to be up on stage in front of adoring crowds every night. And while she might not be a prima ballerina yet, she's moving up the ranks and surely if she works hard enough she can make it happen.

But devoting her whole life to ballet leaves very little time for anything else: friends, family, school have all fallen by the wayside. Hannah doesn't mind, until a chance encounter in a restaurant brings Jacob into her life. He's cute, he plays guitar and he's offering a whole future that Hannah never considered. And now she must choose between her lifelong dream or what could be the love of her life...

After reading a few chapters of Bunheads, I began to suspect this was a book I wouldn’t like. The pace was quite slow, the technical ballet terms made my brain fuzzy, and there were so many characters introduced that they were all beginning to blur together. But I had read many glowing reviews by reviewers I trust, so I persevered. And somewhere around the halfway mark, I started to understand why Sophie Flack wrote Bunheads this way. The slower pace, the huge cast of characters, and the in-depth ballet details were the best way to realistically – and poignantly – portray Hannah Ward’s life.

When Hannah’s story begins, she is dedicated to ballet and striving to land a coveted role of soloist within the Manhattan Ballet Company. But then a cute guitarist by the name of Jacob comes along and makes her see how much of the real world she is missing out on because of her chosen career. Some of my favourite moments in this book are when Hannah steps outside her comfort zone (with or without Jacob) and realises how restricted her daily routine has become. I think in the process she learns how to take herself less seriously. The resolution to Hannah’s story bordered on cheesy and predictable, but I can’t deny I was smiling like crazy and SO happy for her. Predictable isn’t always the worst thing in the world, you know?

Along with Hannah, we meet A LOT of other characters. At first I didn’t understand why there were so many. But I learned to appreciate each and every one of them over the course of the story. Not only did it create a full picture of just how many people work together to put on a brilliant performance, it showed the different ways people experience the ballet world. One moment that stands out in my memory is when Mai, one of the company’s most revered soloists, collapses in class because she has pushed herself too far. Flack also touches on body image, the competitive undercurrent to the ballerinas’ friendships, and just how much the dancers must sacrifice in order to succeed. It was interesting to see the ways the industry took a toll on characters both emotionally and physically.

I think the synopsis makes it seem like this book is about choosing between ballet or a boy. While the love interest, Jacob, is the catalyst for Hannah’s change in attitude, I don’t think he is the sole reason. I think Hannah’s burnout was almost inevitable, considering her hectic schedule and the constant competition in the company. That said, the love story is very sweet and it was a big part of what kept me reading despite the slow pace. The banter shared between these two was great. There is also a competing love interest, Matt. His presence in the story sort of bothered me. But it was definitely a good way to show what Hannah would lose and gain by choosing ballet over a ‘normal’ life.

Reading this book gave me so much more respect for ballerinas. Their level of dedication is insane and amazing. I am way too lazy to ever become a ballerina (even though I don’t consider myself super lazy) so it was nice to be able to experience that world from afar through Bunheads. If you have a ballet background, you should definitely give this book a try. I think you’ll love it. Sophie Flack had a successful dancing career herself, and her knowledge of the industry shows. Plus, if you understand the jargon, the technical stuff probably won’t slow down your reading as it did mine. (The only way I could visualise the performances was by picturing the dancers in Center Stage and Black Swan.)

I had a lot of stuff to say about this book and it was difficult to condense it all into a review. I think I’ve covered most of it. But the thing I want to impress on you most is this: if you’re unsure at first if Bunheads is the book for you, I urge you to keep reading. If you do, you just might find a beautiful story of self-discovery and deciding what matters most.


  1. When I first started reading your review, I almost stopped because of the negatives you listed. I've read so many fantastic reviews for this book, which always makes me hesitate since I often have an unpopular opinion on well-loved books. That being said, you make this book sound amazing. I know the ballet terminology won't bother me at all, so that's a plus. I'll definitely be adding this to my tbr!

  2. I love all ballet books and they are my auto-buy purchase. This one is one my all time favourites, it doesn't glamorise the ballet world but shows how much work it all is and the sacrifices you have to make. The ballet terminology didn't bog me down so I knew from the start I would love this one. If I remember right the author was a ballerina herself and I think this is why the book just feels so real and captures the world so well.

  3. I had really high expectations for this book. Ballet and YA? Very exciting. However, I didn't really love this book as much as I'd hoped :(

  4. Hope you enjoy Bunheads, Rachel! It's a quiet read, but a beautiful one.

  5. I totally agree, Trish. I really liked how it didn't glamorise the world and showed how tough it is for the dancers. I'd love to read more from this author!

  6. That's a shame, Clover, but I can understand why it doesn't work for everyone. Hope your next book is a good one! :-)


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