Sophie Flack's debut novel, Bunheads tells the story of nineteen year old Hannah Ward, a member of the corps du ballet in the prestigious Manhattan Ballet company and her internal struggle to determine the direction of her life.
Hannah, who always wanted to be a ballet dancer, left home at age fourteen to train at the company's school and is now a senior corps member, performing three to four ballets in an evening. Other members of the corps include Beatrice (Bea)Hall, Daisy, and the highly competitive, Zoe Mortimer. Otto Klein, the director of the Manhattan Ballet, is the one who chooses the ballets the company will perform and who will dance the solos. Each dancer in the corps du ballet dreams of promotion, working hard to attain this goal, often at great personal sacrifice.
One evening after being selected to understudy a solo part, Hannah decides to have dinner at her cousin, Eugene's West Village restaurant. There she meets Jacob, an NYU student who is still struggling to find his groove in life and who is also a singer at the restaurant. As her on-again, off-again relationship with Jacob develops, Hannah begins to reconsider her life and her goals. Jacob has opened her eyes to the world outside of ballet.
At the same time Hannah is also being pursued by a handsome wealthy balletomone, Matt Fitzgerald, whose jet-set lifestyle intrigues her. While Matt opens Hannah's eyes to the lifestyle of the rich and famous that ballet dancers sometimes step into, Jacob is more down to earth and relevant to Hannah's background and life.
But Hannah faces a difficult choice; to put everything into dance "Don't think, just dance." or to step outside the only world she has known to do some of the things she as an adult would now like to do.
Bunheads is definitely one of my top ten favourite teen reads for 2011.This novel succeeds because the author knows her subject. The majority of readers will not have any concept of what it is like to be a ballet dancer in a major company; the long exhausting hours of practice, the pain endured in pushing the body to its limits, the exhilaration of performing on stage and obtaining the recognition so dearly desired, the complex relationships that exist within a major dance company and the difficulty of having any semblance of a normal life outside of training and performing. But Sophie Flack is able to take the reader into that world, fill it out and make it real and comprehensible to her readers.
Hannah is a believable character who struggles to discover just what it is she wants for her life; the insular world of ballet or to discover more about the world around her. Despite her driven, high-achieving nature, when Hannah begins to see the cost of success in the world of ballet, she begins to rethink her priorities and her goals.
Bunheads is a nice change from the usual young adult fare and will appeal to those teens who are involved in the arts world, especially the world of dance. It gives them the opportunity to both the positive and negative aspects of a dance career. The novel touches on issues prevalent in the ballet world; dieting and anorexia, injuries and the social world of ballet.
Author Sophie Flack, former "bunhead" talks about her debut novel:
Bunheads by Sophie Flack
New York: Little, Brown and Company 2011