Bunheads by Sophie Flack
Atom, 2012. ISBN 9781907411274.
(Age: 15+) Recommended. This is an entertaining story about 19 year old ballet dancer, Hannah Ward. As a youngster she dreamed of being a ballerina, leaving home at the tender age of 14 to become a member of the Manhattan Ballet Company. Hannah knows all too well the rigours of the ballet dancer's life: the many hours of rehearsal, the nightly performances, not to mention the hours in the gym, toning and strengthening the body. Whilst many of the performers have a shared history - having joined the company as young teens - they are nevertheless all competing for similar roles, particularly the coveted solo. Competition is fierce, discipline is vital.
This is brought into sharp focus for Hannah when she meets Jacob Cohen, a musician and college student. Sophie's commitment to her ballet career prevents them from spending much time together and she becomes increasingly aware of what she is giving up in her dedication to dance. Sophie realises that most girls her age are at college, spreading their wings, having fun at parties; she rues the fact that even though she has lived in New York for the last five years she really doesn't know the city - having had little spare time to explore beyond the boundaries of the theatre where she rehearses and performs seemingly all year round.
As a former ballet dancer herself, the author (Sophie Flack) clearly has first-hand experience of the trials and tribulations as well as the joys of dance. And she presents a warm and well-rounded portrait of Hannah and her fellow ballet dancers. We see both the dedication that is needed to perform at the highest level but also the rewards; the joy of soaring as a ballerina, the thrill of performance.
Lovers of ballet are sure to enjoy this novel with its frequent use of dancing terminology but equally, those who do not have a dance background will enjoy the human story behind the dance: the struggle to find one's place in the world and the courage needed to change tack.