Posted April 16, 2012 by Tara in Review /// 11 Comments

Is this not a gorgeous, beautiful cover?

by Sophie Flack
Little, Brown
Purchase on my Nook
[#35 in my 75 Book Challenge]

Finally, I have purchased, read, and finished this book.

Bunheads is the story of Hannah Ward, a nineteen-year-old ballet dancer in the Manhattan Ballet Company. Though she a member of the Corps de Ballet, she dreams of being a soloist and advancing her career — and she has been told that she has the talent to do so. Dedicated ballerinas focus 100% on their craft, working long hours and watching what they eat. Hannah has never questioned this lifestyle, until she meets a boy. Two boys, in fact: handsome musician Jacob and the suave balletomane Matt. Hannah must make difficult choices about what she really wants in life.

The ballet scenes made me really want to watch Center Stage, but I couldn’t find it, so I watched a documentary about ballerinas in the Mariinsky Theater in Russia instead (it’s called Ballerina, I watched it on Netflix). I also watched some YouTube videos of the dances Hannah talk about performing in the book. I was most interested in Rubies, from George Balanchine’s ballet Jewels. I’ve included the video here to get you in the mood for the rest of this review:

This is a book about ballet. And love. And choices. But it is mostly a book about ballet. Hannah’s entire life is ballet, and most of the action takes place in the studio or on stage. Flack obviously knows and understands the ballet world very well, so the passages are steeped in ballet terms and situations. I only took about seven or eight years of very casual ballet class, but I loved the ballet focus and thought it was perfect. I was worried that the love story business would take over, but I found the balance to be exactly what I was seeking: about 75% ballet story and 25% romance. It was refreshing to see a main character who was driven, focused, and had a lot going for her in life beyond just a teenage romance. It was also nice to see a teenage protagonist make choices for herself and not purely for a boy.

I think this book works so well because the theme and the message are universal. You don’t have to be a ballerina to understand Hannah’s situation. For teens, the story of Hannah’s realization of a world outside of the ballet world is a metaphor for the moment in all of our lives when we realize the world is bigger than we know. Jacob may be a catalyst for this, but it’s a realization that Hannah would have had to come to terms with at some point either way. Teens can also identify with the decision between choosing to hone a specific skill to perfection or experience many different things in the world.

FINAL GRADE:   B+   I debated for a long time whether to give this book a B or an A. Then I realize that the very fact that I was undecided was my answer: it’s a B. If it were an A, I wouldn’t have questioned it. I really wanted to give it an A because I felt it was well-written, featuring strong characters and an excellent message, but in the end it lacked the “wow” factor necessary to earn an A. This is definitely an excellent book with no major flaws, and I highly recommend it to adults and students alike. The sexual references are minimal, so I would feel comfortable recommending it to students in my media center and I will be purchasing it for my library’s collection.

Did you ever take ballet class? Want to be a ballerina? Do you love watching ballet and dance like I do?


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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11 responses to “Bunheads

  1. It was refreshing to see a main character who was driven, focused, and had a lot going for her in life beyond just a teenage romance. It was also nice to see a teenage protagonist make choices for herself and not purely for a boy. <– THIS. I'm pretty sure I wrote something similar in my review of "Bunheads."

    I also read it right after reading "Various Positions." I don't recommend that book. It looked and sounded like a ballet book, but it was so not. And so not appropriate for teens, either, IMO. Way too sexual.

  2. Miss Anderson

    Wow, thanks for the heads up on Various Positions! And I’m going to head over to your blog now to read your review of Bunheads…I love seeing what other people think, and it sounds like we appreciated similar things in this novel.

  3. I was always too gawky to consider ballet classes,but I adore watching ballet! I always loved reading about it, as well. Bunheads really seems like a very worthy book for me to recommend to those girls graduating from high school and going off to college this year.

    • Miss Anderson

      At the very least it would remind a new college student how good they have it — Hannah is regularly jealous of the freedom college students have throughout the story, both physically and intellectually. Writing papers and attending 15 hours of class looks pretty good next to the rigorous schedule of a professional ballerina.

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