The first thing that drew me to Sophie Flack’s novel Bunheads was of course the cover. The illustration of dancers in formation captured my attention because it calls to mind the image of ballerinas as perfectly poised and flawless. I’ve always been curious about the world of ballet; the grandeur and formality seem so beautiful but also very intimidating. I know that ballet dancers have to be incredibly disciplined and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be so dedicated to something that you would be willing to devote every waking moment to it. This book answered that question for me.
I read the back flap before I started reading and found out that Sophie Flack was a member of the New York City Ballet from ages seventeen to twenty-six, so I figured that the book would be semi-autobiographical. The main character in the book is Hannah, a 19-year-old from Massachusetts who has been with the Manhattan Ballet since she was fourteen. Hannah is now a dancer in the corps de ballet, which means that she performs with a group. She and her friends dream of becoming soloists; they compete against each other for the chance to understudy and hopefully be at the right place at the right time to fill in for someone and prove their worth. They push their bodies to the limit, from their extremely strict diets to the state of exhaustion they find themselves in. They are constantly scrutinized and criticized by their instructors, who will dictate whether they are able to move up in the company. I really liked Hannah and her friends, especially her friend Bea, who is excited for all of Hannah’s accomplishments, unlike her frenemy Zoe.
I thought that Hannah was a really well-rounded character; she’s really likeable and I could understand her conflicted feelings about her career. When Hannah meets a cute musician she sees what things might be like if she went to college and had a “normal” life. My favorite thing about the book is all of the insider information I learned about what goes on backstage. I found the pointe shoes to be the most fascinating. I learned that the shoes are custom-made for each dancer and that a dancer can wear out about eight or more pairs in a week. In fact, I was so intrigued by the rituals performed by the dancers to prepare their shoes that I went right online today to watch a video of the members of the New York City Ballet mold and sew theirs. I think it’s fitting that I read this book right after the Olympics, since these dancers share the same dedication and focus to their sports as the athletes at the London Games. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in looking behind the scenes at the ballet.