Now nineteen, she's a senior corps member with the Manhattan Ballet, and she's reached a crossroads: Just as she gets romantically involved with an adorable NYU student, pressures—and with them, opportunities—begin to ramp up at the Ballet. Up until now, dance has been her passion and her life, and up until now, it's been enough.
But she's starting to realize that having both things—a life in dance and a life outside—might not be possible. So she needs to make a decision: Which life does she want more?
Bunheads works as a romance, as a sports drama, and as a behind-the-scenes look into the ballet world, but it's the second two that work best. The nitty-gritty details—about practice, competition, lifestyle, what goes on in the wings, and on stage—are fascinating:
Everyone loves Snow. Or I should say, everyone who's never danced Snow loves Snow. The Snowflakes get showered with fifty pounds of white paper precipitation. This "snow" is swept up for reuse after each performance, so all the dust and dirt and lost earrings that are gathered up with the snow pour down on us in the next performance. The snow slips down into our costumes and gets into our hair and our mouths. It's flame-retardant, and it tastes like permanent marker.
And, one would assume, accurate: the author danced with the New York City ballet for nine years. Even without that knowledge—with new-to-me authors, I skip biographical info before reading to avoid making assumptions about the book—at its strongest, Bunheads is so real that it's easy to forget that it's fiction. In those moments, it feels more like memoir.
Two more notes: Although the romance is the catalyst for Hannah's soul-searching, it's very much secondary to the story. That isn't a strike against the book, of course, but it's something to keep in mind when you're recommending it.
Second, any book about the ballet world is going to deal to some degree with eating disorders. Bunheads is no exception, but I really appreciated Flack's frank and realistic way of dealing with it: yes, some of the dancers had serious—and by serious, I mean life-threatening—health problems, but there were never any hideous didactic 90210 Moments where the characters Changed The World by Sitting Down And Talking About It.
Very, very much recommended to dancers, obviously, but also to anyone interested in performance of any kind.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.