Bunheads by Sophie Flack

Lynn: Peer into the heart of any of us who have watched a ballet performance and you will find a secret wish to join the corps!  Those gorgeous costumes, the beautiful music, those amazing leaps that must feel like flying!  After seeing my first ballet at 8 I too fell in love with the idea of being a ballerina despite the sad fact that I have absolutely no kinesthetic sense or talent.  I’ve had to satisfy that secret longing with books over the years and I am delighted to add a new one to my list – the wonderful debut book, Bunheads (Little, Brown/Poppy 2011).

Sophie Flack, herself a member of the New York City Ballet for nine years, gives readers an inside peek at the world of a dancer – a world that is intensely competitive, physically punishing, isolating and, yet, exhilarating.

Told in immediate first person, the book begins with the opening lines of a college-entrance essay and then leaps, en pointe, into the world of Hannah Ward who at 19 has been a member of the Manhattan Ballet company for the past 5 years.  Hannah moved to New York at 14 to attend the ballet school on a full scholarship, leaving her family behind.  A dedicated and promising dancer, Hannah is moving up the ranks, getting more chances to understudy and dance small cameo roles.  Promotion to soloist beckons in the future but achieving that is going to require even harder work:  more classes, more practice, longer hours and an even stricter regimen.  Hannah is fiercely ambitious and yearns to advance, yet on the edges of her consciousness is the growing awareness of all that she has sacrificed.  When she falls hard for a young musician, this realization becomes even stronger.  There is literally NO time for a personal life and Hannah struggles to decide if this narrow focus and sacrifice is truly what she wants.

Flack’s accomplished writing took me back-stage into the aching muscles, ruined feet and intensely dedicated life of a dancer.  It was all there from the brutal and unrealistic demands on bodies to the sheer soaring pleasure of performance.  (Although I will never think of the Nutcracker in the same way again!)  The characters are extremely well-drawn from Sophie’s dressing room mates to the wealthy balletomane who courts the most promising of the dancers.  Hannah’s struggle to define what she wants from life is one that young readers will find fascinating and deeply relevant to their own lives, whether they are dancers or not.  And – don’t you all think this is one of the most gorgeous covers of the year?

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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