Review: Bunheads, Sophie Flack

So there are two books I’ve been trying to get at the library for a very long time without acknowledging to the world how much I wanted them because I feel guilty checking out kids’ books from my library because I always think of all the actual kids in the world who are being deprived of their books by my greed: Bunheads (this one here) and The Miseducation of Cameron Post,¬†for which I am still waiting and which may never, ever, ever get in at the library ever. I read a glowing review of the latter on NPR, and the former I want because early exposure to Rumer Godden made me think that all books set in ballet schools are necessarily awesome.

(Y’all, Thursday’s Children is crazy good. You should go read it twice.)

Bunheads is a book about a girl called Hannah in the Manhattan Ballet School. She has been in the corps for a while now and is hoping to be promoted, but even as her career at the school has its ups and downs, she has begun to wonder whether it’s worth it. The cute musician on whom she is significantly crushing feels that she never has time for him, and she cannot deny the justice of this position. She sees other girls in the corps starving themselves and working out constantly to keep their bodies in perfect shape for the ballet.

I would say — I hope that The Miseducation of Cameron Post is better. All through Bunheads I kept thinking that I couldn’t believe I had spent so many library visits feeling weird and guilty as I browsed the YA shelves looking for this book — for this book. Totally not worth it. The point of the book is that Hannah, the protagonist, gradually realizes that she can’t continue doing ballet because it’s too soul-crushing. But the way she reaches this realization is never interesting or unexpected — it’s like, My cute guitarist boyfriend was angry at me for not calling for two weeks. Didn’t he understand that I had to dance? But suddenly I was wondering whether I was giving up too much for my career. It was all like that, very broad strokes, laid out for you in the tell-not-showiest manner imaginable.

On the positive side, I do love books about ballet schools, and Sophie Flack — herself a ballet dancer of many years — writes her school very effectively, particularly when she’s talking about the subtle and not-so-subtle pressures that are placed on the dancers to be thinner, fitter, more dedicated, every moment in every way. I also liked it that Hannah’s main rival at the school, who can be a smidge bitchy, is also Hannah’s closest friend at the school, and the person who she trusts the most. The parts of the book that go to creating the setting of professional ballet were still not incredibly well-written, but they were detailed and interesting.

Verdict: If you like ballet books and don’t mind a semi-boring plot and cardboardy characters, go for it! I shall not reread.

23 thoughts on “Review: Bunheads, Sophie Flack

  1. I pretty much felt the same way about this one. I’m a bit of a sucker for books about dancing (I dance tango), so I was willing to let some of the cardboard cut-out stuff slide, but overall it’s a fairly ordinary read. I was interested to hear about Sophie Flack’s background, however, and quite enjoyed reading some of her interviews–she’s very open about her experiences as a dancer.

  2. I for one am all for stories that point out that if a male doesn’t respond in a positive way to what a female is doing, she should TOTALLY GIVE IT UP and live to please the male! I don’t know why YOU have not gotten this message because frankly, it is one promulgated by much of the media, especially media directed to young formative girls. In my opinion, you should go out, purchase some makeup and stilettos, and get with the program!

    • Hahahahahahaha, well, that wasn’t exactly the message, but yeah, that was kind of the message! I didn’t even think about it that way because I was busily wishing that the parts set in the ballet school were less cardboard and more dance-school-culture-y.

  3. What I’m taking away from this review is that I really, really need to read Rumer Godden’s ballet school books. I’ve read a few of her books about nuns–I have a thing for nun books, and In This House of Brede is one of my favorite books in the world–but now I realize there’s a whole new world of Rumer Godden out there waiting for me!

    • That’s exactly what you should take away from this review. Rumer Godden is amazing, and to be honest you won’t find many books by her that are better than In This House of Brede. But her kids’ books are almost uniformly amazing, and her ballet books are really good too (again, mostly). A Candle for St. Jude is the way best of them, but Listen to the Nightingale and Thursday’s Children are both really, really good.

    • Hahaha, is it? I had a book called “Battle of the Bunheads” when I was a very small girl, and it was about ballerinas, so I’m programmed to disagree with you.

  4. As someone who taught Children’s Literature at both undergraduate and postgraduate level for almost twenty years I definitely don’t think you should feel guilty about reading books primarily intended for children. Some of them are so good everyone should read them and the world cannot have too many adults who know what is good and can therefore recommend what is good to the children around them. Having said that, I don’t think I shall be rushing out to get hold of a copy of this. If you love ballet school stories, did you ever read the Lorna Hill books about Sadlers Wells? I don’t know if they’re still in print, but you might ba able to pick up second hand copies.

    • I don’t feel guilty for reading them, I feel guilty for checking them out! It’s a fine distinction — I like reading them, but I feel bad for stealing the copies from the library when actual kids/young adults might want them.

      I’ve never even heard of the Lorna Hill books about Sadlers Wells. I know nothing about them except what you have just said but I COVET THEM NOW. (I truly do love ballet school stories.)

  5. Okay, this is a terrible comment to leave after being such an inveterate non-commenter, but you just made me remember that my little sisters (much littler, next oldest is six years younger than me) had a unintentionally deranged-looking realistic stuffed rabbit puppet we called Walleye Bunhead. I gave it this particular voice. It was not too bright. Wow! And to think, if you had not written this post, Walleye Bunhead might have been forgotten forever!

    I read a really good modern ballet student YA book set in Manhattan–maybe four years ago? Long enough ago that it would take a major dig through my reading logs to unearth the title. For a minute I thought it might be this one, but it isn’t. Everyone in the book I read is smart and interesting, there is plenty of showing and talking as opposed to telling, the boy gets with the program, the protagonist is focussed on her goals and mentally balanced, yet there is a compelling conflict.

  6. Thanks for the heads up that this is not that great! I’ve been wanting to read it and now I’ll cross it off the list.

  7. I had a slightly better impression of this, mainly because I didn’t find her relationship with the boy so annoying. He was about the only non-ballet friend she had, and I think she liked him more because of *that* than because of his maleness. I thought the rich guy who kept trying to seduce her actually helped her decide to leave even more — he kinda symbolized the emptiness of the life she was headed for. Guitarist guy was an example of the fun she was missing that she thought she’d like to have. I had no impression that she thought guitar guy was the love of her life, just a guy she’d like to have fun with but couldn’t because ballet is a full-life occupation.

    So, I disagree that the message was “give up your dreams for your man” but I agree that the writing wasn’t awesome or subtle.

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