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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-09-05
- Reviewer: Staff
Exhilaration and drudgery, passion and exhaustion, exist side by side for dancers in the exalted Manhattan Ballet, a world unto itself, which Flack (a former New York City Ballet dancer) brings vividly to life in this strong debut. Supported by her parents, Hannah moves to Manhattan alone at age 14 to pursue her dream; by 19 she is a senior corps dancer. Hannah finds gratification in the self-discipline and relentless cycle of rehearsals and performances, all in pursuit of perfect beauty, presentation, and a possible solo. However, she’s also frustrated with her insular life. The ballet’s dependence on wealthy patrons offers a window into the lives of the super-rich, which depresses Hannah, and the physical demands of her work take a toll on her (“To anyone on the outside... I look thin and willowy.... But in the world of the Manhattan Ballet, my figure is apparently unacceptable”). After meeting Jacob, an NYU student and musician, Hannah feels increasingly torn between her love for ballet and the temptations of normal life. Readers, both dancers and “pedestrians” (the corps’ term for nondancers), will find Hannah’s struggle a gripping read. Ages 15–up. (Oct.)
Pirouettes and puberty
Don’t call 19-year-old Hannah Ward a ballerina, a term reserved for the stars of the prestigious Manhattan Ballet. As a dancer in the company’s corps de ballet since leaving home at 14, she’s a true bunhead, dedicating nearly every waking moment to her profession. Hannah’s world is an unusual mix of constant jealousy, as every girl tries to outperform the others for coveted soloist positions, and fierce loyalty forged out of years of devotion together. To remain competitive and to maintain their gaunt appearances, the dancers practice to near exhaustion before their three to four performances per evening and succumb to unhealthy diets that only lead to fatigue and injuries later.
Despite the anxiety in her shared dressing room, Hannah feels confident that she can advance as she enters the fall season. But when puberty strikes, causing her breasts to grow, she faces the impossible task of losing her curves. An even bigger obstacle—named Jacob—also enters the scene. Hannah, who’s never even been kissed, can only manage to spend a few precious hours with Jacob, and she begins to see how little of the city, and the world, she’s experienced outside of ballet.
In Bunheads, her eye-opening debut novel, former New York City Ballet dancer Sophie Flack gives readers a compelling look at the rigorous life of ballet dancers. Will Hannah forfeit everything, including Jacob, to take her dance to the next level, or can she give up the only life she’s known, and even her friends, to start over in the real world? Either path requires sacrifices in this unforgettable journey of self-discovery.