Read This

Read This: Bunheads

It’s a telling sign that the reader has really become completely immersed in a story with the line between reality and fiction blurs. This dawned on my last night, as I was on the phone with a girlfriend talking about the weather in New York. She mentioned how the day was unseasonably warm, and I replied how I’d read it was the first day a girl had gone without a coat. Then I realized I wasn’t thinking about a Facebook post, or a blog entry I’d stumbled across, but rather one of Hannah’s references to the weather in the story. Seriously. I’d finished reading the book early yesterday morning, and then finished The Lucky One, after it and my head was still buried in the dim hallways of the Manhattan Ballet Company.

At the tender age of fourteen Hannah Ward left her home in Maryland, and moved to New York City to live in the dormitories of a dance academy. She dreamed of becoming a ballerina (not just any dancer is a ballerina she explains,) and spent years of work with this one goal in mind. Eventually she joins the Manhattan Ballet Company where she is a corps dancer. She spends countless grueling rigorous hours pouring everything she has into the art – performances, rehearsals, training. This requires an intense determination, which offers little time for a social life outside of the company. The dancers are even advised (and expected) to stay within a small radius of the company in their time off work. The book chronicles Hannah’s experience as she struggles with the decision ‘is this world of ballet enough for her? Is she fulfilled by the parts she receives, would she be content as a corps dancer for the rest of her career? Is the lure of the outside world – dating, college, travel strong enough to pull her attention away?’

Readers are swept up with Hannah into the glamor of the patron parties, and some of the magic of the city but much of her story entails her time within the company. The girls who share her dressing room – Bea, Zoe, Daisy, and Lini are like her family but a competitive one at that. It’s a world where your supporters are also your rivals. Congratulations are paid through gritted teeth and half-hearted hugs, but the consolation has compassion mixed in too because all the dancers constant waves of anticipation and disappoint along with the addictive thrill of performing on state that urges them to continue on. If Hannah chooses to walk away from the company she’d gain the outside world, but lose the only one she’s known – the only way of life she knows.

There was a lot of buzz about this novel when it first came out. I first learned of it from an I Heart Daily article. The novel seems somewhat autobiographical of the author, Sophie Flack’s own experiences as a dancer. I’m typically drawn to fictional stories related to the behind the scenes world of dancers (think Center Stage or Black Swan,)  but I really enjoyed Hannah’s voice in this one. She has her own insecurities, and she pushes herself to extremes (with extra gym time and yoga classes,) and she is entirely aware of every morsel of food she eats and the effect it has on her body but this isn’t a story strictly outline the “atrocious life of a ballerina” riddled with accounts of eating disorders and rage filled bouts of insanity. While I’m aware that these exist in this world too, and they’re not ignored, these issues aren’t the main focus of Hannah’s story. I devoured this one in a few days, and I definitely give it a thumbs up.

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