Sunday, 12 August 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Bunheads by Sophie Flack

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

Nineteen-year old Hannah Ward, a dancer with the Manhattan Ballet Company, has devoted her entire life to dance. She works hard, watches her weight like a hawk, and navigates the complicated maze of relationships with the rest of the company who, in many cases, are both friends and rivals. But then she meets musician Jacob, and she realises just what she's missed out on while growing up like this. Will she do the unthinkable and give up her career, or pass up the chance of love in the hope of gaining success in the ballet world.

I've always been a massive fan of ballet books - when growing up, Jean Estoril's Drina series and Lorna Hill's Sadler's Wells books were two of my favourites, and they're some of the few classics of my childhood that I still revisit. Given the amount I've read, I would say I know a fair amount more about ballet than the average reader probably does. For example, I know what terms such as maneges, tombes and soutenus mean, but think the majority of readers would perhaps have found it more accessible with a glossary in the back.

That's a rather minor grumble, though – this is a thoughtful look at ballet dancing which really brings home the hard work involved for all those who aspire to make it their career. First-time author Sophie Flack, formerly a dancer herself, does a great job of portraying the world she was a part of, and her characters are particularly realistic. I especially liked Hannah herself, love interest Jacob, and her rival Zoe – who I think many authors would have made into a rather two-dimensional villain but was given a far more well-rounded treatment by Flack.

I've seen a couple of reviewers criticise Bunheads for being rather quiet, with nothing really happening, and am trying to work out whether they've read the same book as me. While it's true that it's not the most dramatic of reads, it does involve a young girl choosing between the career she's spent her life pursuing and her first chance at love, and does a remarkably good job of keeping you guessing as to which decision she'll make until the very end. It's definitely not Black Swan (and I think some people were expecting it to be as they're both about ballet!) but if you honestly don't feel there is anything much at stake here, I'm stunned.

Overall, this is clearly going to appeal most to ballet fans, but is well-written enough to be enjoyed by anyone looking for an introspective book rather than an action thriller. I'm not sure if Flack – who's also a visual artist – is planning on writing more books in the future, but I'd be very interested in reading them if she did.

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