So I’m not going to lie, I bought Bunheads (Poppy 2011) by Sophie Flack because the plot summary made it sound exactly like Bitchy Maureen’s story from the cinematic opus, Center Stage. And give or take the bulimia and scary stage mom, it totally was! For those of you not familiar with this dance masterpiece (and why the hell aren’t you? To be honest, I judge you a little. Get thee to Netflix!) the basic story goes like this: a young, ambitious ballet dancer, in this case Hannah Ward, is trying to climb the ranks of New York’s premiere ballet company when she meets a guy who makes her question her dreams. And though that last sentence makes it sound like Hannah is thinking of leaving ballet just for a guy (which is really a crappy reason to do anything), the boy is really just the catalyst for Hannah to reevaluate what she truly wants in life.
The fully realized ballet setting is the biggest strength of this novel. Flack peppers her world with just enough ballet terms and details to make you feel like you’re fully immersed in the world, without taking you out of the story because of the sheer amount of information. I mean, you’ve read stories before where the author seems to be shoving all kinds of extraneous details into the narrative just to prove that he or she has done the research, right? I find that quite irritating. But Flack, who is a former professional ballerina herself, really made me feel the pain, pressure, ambition, and joy that comes with the world of professional ballet.
Hannah is a great, three-dimensional main character. She can occasionally come off as unlikable, but the story does such a good job of setting up why that is, that you still want to root for her. The supporting characters however, are not so fleshed out. There’s the megalomaniacal director, the cutthroat bitch, the drama queen, the wise veteran, etc. The two love interests are similarly one dimensional (hey it’s the artistic college boy vs. the rich, sophisticated playboy!), but since the story is really about Hannah’s relationship with ballet, at least we don’t get into TMBS territory.
I’ll admit that as a former dancer (although not even close to this level) I’m predisposed to like this story, but I think non-dancers could enjoy it as well. Bunheads is solidly written, briskly paced, and gives a nice peek into an oddly masochistic subculture. Plus, it made me want to get up and dance. Or at least watch Center Stage again.
And now, for your pleasure, a ballet SO awesome that it can only take place outside of the space/time continuum:
Seriously, there’s no way any normal human being could make all of those hair and costume changes in that amount of time. And that’s what make it great.