Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Review: Bunheads, Sophie Flack


Sophie Flack

Atom Books, 2012 (2011)

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...

That whole suggestion in the blurb - "And now she must choose between her lifelong dream or what could be the love of her life" - was the second reason I nearly didn't pick up this book. (The first reason was that ballet and I are emphatically not friends, thanks to some tragic efforts on the part of my mother to make me more graceful as a child.)

Thankfully, this turned out to be a little bit more complex than who-needs-ambition-when-there's-a-hot-boy. Hannah dances in the ballet de corps at the Manhattan Ballet, but her dream is to finally get that solo that will set her on the track to becoming a first-rate ballerina. Most of the action in the book takes place within the ballet school, bouncing between rehearsals and performances and the dramas of the dressing room, where Hannah and her friends alternative between being supportive to each other, and nursing feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. The peaks and troughs of female friendship came across as very realistic.

Flack also captures the gruelling nature of the life of a ballet dancer very well. Hannah seems to rehearse non-stop; if she isn't rehearsing, she's on stage performing. There were quite a lot of references to dieting and behaviour that seemed to me to be firmly on the spectrum of eating disorders. One of the principal dancers eats so little, and performs so hard, that she collapses and is diagnosed with a permanent thyroid problem. Hannah routinely seems to subsist on a banana and a yoghurt a day. She talks about only recently getting her period, and when her breasts start to develop she is threatened with being kicked out of the school. I didn't find any of this particularly easy to read - the no-food thing seemed to be accepted as normal, which might fit with the world the author was trying to depict (and has lived through herself), but it was still uncomfortable to read about these young women being so hard on their own bodies.

Though there was a definite sense of realism in all of this, one aspect that didn't seem particularly real to me was the relationship with Jacob. Their first meeting is ridiculously accelerated - they're in the same bar, he sits next to her, and suddenly their life stories are out and they're halfway to being in love with each other. Someone call the insta-love police. Jacob becomes the catalyst for Hannah wondering whether she has it in her to continue with a life that consists solely of ballet, and the second half of the book is mostly Hannah oscillating between wanting a normal life, and wanting to achieve the dream she's had since being a little girl. I did appreciate that although Jacob's presence kind of forced the question, Hannah's indecision and unhappiness was built up of more things than just wanting more time to make out with a boy.

Bunheads is a compelling read, more so than I expected - it kept me turning the pages the whole way through, and the unusual premise gave some interesting insights into a completely different world. In the end, however, I found it ultimately forgettable.

Overall rating: 5.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.


  1. Great review, Kit. The part about the eating disorders and gruelling work routine sound interesting, but the premise and characters don't strike me as fresh. Think I'll give it a miss, or pick it up at my leisure some day.

  2. I've had this book for ages Kit! I like how there's a real sense of realism in this book, it would definitely make me want to pick this book up sooner. But the insta-love not so much. I'm still glad that you were able to enjoy this book Kit despite some issues! Great review! :)


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