Book Review: Bunheads

Bunheads. By Sophie Flack.  October 2011. (Advance copy)

One of the first posts on this blog, back in February, was Tracey’s round-up of ballet picture books.  Those six titles for preschoolers and primary graders showed that anyone can be a dancer, but Bunheads by Sophie Flack takes on the world of dance from an even closer viewpoint.

It begins,

“My name is Hannah Ward. Don’t call me a ballerina.

Ballerinas are the stars of the company. They dance center 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 de ballet, just one of the dozens of girls who dance in graceful unison each night.”

Through Hannah’s first-person narration, Flack takes readers into a world most of us have never seen.  A world where nineteen-year-old Hannah trains and diets with dedication.  Dance is all she knows, and it is all she wants.  That’s what she has always thought, anyway.  Things start to change when she meets a guy.  He’s a musician and a college student, and Hannah can’t help but compare her highly competitive, structured life to his, which seems so free and simple.  She has to ask herself what she really wants and if it is worth what she is giving up.

Flack writes from experience. According to her Wikipedia page, she began training as a dancer at age 7, and she eventually danced with the New York City Ballet.  This authenticity really shows.  The book is at its strongest when describing Hannah’s world from costumes to performances to complicated backstage relationships.  Teen girls who want a peek into a dancer’s life would do well with this book.

Librarians may want to be aware that there is some underage drinking and a (not graphic) sexual encounter that makes this book more appropriate for a high school collection than for a middle school.  Middle schoolers interested in an insider’s look at a professional creative career may want to try Four Seasons by Jane Breskin Zalben, which follows a talented young pianist who is under as much pressure in the music world as Hannah is in dance.

Recommended for teen collections.  Be sure to put include this book in a face-out display.  The dramatic cover is sure to catch the eyes of teen girls, whether or not they have a personal interest in pursuing dance.

Blogger: Mindy R.