Hannah’s entire life is dance. When she’s not dancing for the Manhattan Ballet Company, she is taking exercise classes to keep herself in shape or attending swank parties to ensure that patrons of the arts keep the money rolling in. Hannah does not have time for any other interests, and she especially does not have time for dating. If she is ever going to get the roles she’s dreamed of since childhood, she must maintain her focus.
Of course, all of that is easier said than done, especially when Hannah meets Jacob, a musician and college student who offers her a glimpse into the life she could have. But can Hannah give up everything she has ever worked for to become an average nineteen-year-old? Or will she sacrifice everything but dance to become extraordinary?
Sophie Flack’s debut novel manages to simultaneously show off the beauty of dance and the darkness of the life it requires. The ballet company is a place in which eating disorders, overworking, and competition are normalized. A place where you literally have to give every bit of yourself to get what you want, even if it kills you.
As a former ballet dancer turned writer, I imagine that much of Flack’s own experiences worked their way into Bunheads. The book is packed with plenty of references to specific techniques and performances that are likely more intelligible and enjoyable for those with experience in dance, and in that way the likely semi-autobiographical nature of the book enhances its storytelling. Unlike many other debut novels that feel like the author was writing a little too close to home, Bunheads never struck me as self-indulgent.
For those interested in the ultra-competitive world of ballet who prefer Center Stage over Black Swan, Bunheads offers an enjoyable read that seems realistic without being either overly grotesque or glorifying.