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Bunheads    by Sophie Flack order for
by Sophie Flack
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Poppy, 2011 (2011)
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* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

With the paranormal and dystopian invasion of the YA shelves, sometimes it is nice to read a realistic contemporary. Even though I do not know as much about the dance world as I do about the theatre world, I have a feeling you cannot get any more realistic than Sophie Flack's Bunheads. This delightful and uplifting story fully immerses the reader in the world of professional ballet.

Ever since the age of ten, Hannah Ward knew she wanted to be a ballet dancer. At age fourteen, she left her home outside Boston and moved to the dormitories of the Manhattan Ballet. Now nineteen, she has finished her training and is a full-fledged member of the corps de ballet. Her days are filled with rehearsals and performances and her free time with extra workouts, always with the hope of becoming stronger, getting noticed, being a soloist. However, after meeting cute musician and college student Jason at her cousin's bar and restaurant, Hannah is starting to wonder if there is life outside ballet.

Bunheads follows Hannah through three entire seasons with the Manhattan Ballet, essentially a whole year. Flack makes sure that readers really get a taste for what Hannah goes through, focusing not just on the highlights of her year, but some of the more mundane aspects, too. Instead of dragging the story down, these workaday glimpses add depth. Flack, a former ballet dancer herself, is open and honest with her portrayal of Hannah's life at the Manhattan Ballet, neither romanticizing it nor demonizing it either. The reader gets the feeling that this is a true look inside the almost cultist ballet world.

Of course, as with any good YA novel, the protagonist undergoes some sort of self-transformation. Hannah spends the whole novel waffling between working to perfect her technique to get promoted to soloist and wanting a normal life. Oftentimes, too much indecision in the protagonist can detract from a story, but here, it just makes Hannah seem more real. She never comes across as whiny, just a hard-working, determined girl who is at a crossroads in her life.

Bunheads is a wonderful debut. Sophie Flack shows very promising talent, especially with a topic she knows so well. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

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