Bunheads by Sophie Flack, published by Atom on 1st March 2012
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...
When I was a little girl I took ballet lessons and like many others dreamt of becoming a ballerina. I've always loved the spectacle of watching ballets being performed on the stage - the beautiful costumes, the gorgeous music and the wonderful stories the dancers tell with their bodies. Although my dream didn't come true, I never stopped being obsessed with a world which from the outside is all about grace, poise, elegance and beauty but underneath the veneer is actually more about hard work, grit, determination and sacrifice.
The author Sophie Flack was a dancer herself with the New York City Ballet for nine years and so has firsthand experience of the ballet world. She's therefore able to present a realistic and true depiction of what it's like to devote your whole life to a single purpose, literally to the exclusion of anything else.
The central character Hannah Ward has done exactly that. As part of the Manhattan Ballet Company, she's a dancer in the corps de ballet but her ultimate goal is to be promoted to soloist. When she meets Jacob, a cute guy who also plays the guitar, she begins to open her eyes to all the other possibilities that are out there and ultimately has to decide whether or not she should give up her dream of becoming a prima ballerina to experience the real world instead.
Hannah's life is incredibly insular. She has no friends outside of her fellow dancers. She left home at fourteen and so has never developed a real relationship with her parents. She's never had a boyfriend before and has no time for anything outside of ballet. All of these facets of her life, helped to show how dedicated you have to be to become a ballerina and how many sacrifices you have to make.
What made this book really stand out for me were all the behind the scenes details about the daily grind that the dancers have to put their bodies through for each performance. I enjoyed reading about each of the ballets they stage, how they break in their new pointe shoes and the regime of dancing, pilates and yoga that they have to undergo to remain at their best.
It's hard to put into words how much I adored this book. I absolutely and whole heartedly loved it and enjoyed it so much that I never wanted it to end. The addition of a lovely epilogue was the perfect ending. I thought that Hannah was a wonderfully real character with an incredibly difficult decision to make.
Sophie Flack has written about a subject that I am and always will be in love with but I also thought that she had a great writing style and created very true to life characters who I came to consider as friends. I can't wait to see what she writes next. She's turned me into a true fan!