Like many little girls, I took dance lessons. I loved putting on my leotard and tights, spinning around pretending to be a prima ballerina. But my dancing career was short lived. For one, I’ve never been the most graceful person in the world. And I’ve never really been flexible – I can’t even touch my toes. And despite my best efforts, I was never able to get my body to get it to move the way it was supposed to. So when my teacher retired, I took it as a sign and turned to something else – soccer (but that’s another story for another day).
However, that little taste left me with an appreciation of the ballet and that it takes a lot of hard work to move that much grace and make it look effortless. But other than The Nutcracker or Swan Lake, how much do pedestrians really think or know about this world? Sophie Flack takes readers behind the scenes and right onto the stage in her debut novel, Bunheads.
Meet Hannah Ward, a 19 year old dancer with the elite Manhattan Ballet Company. To say that dancing is her life is an understatement – she moved to New York on her own when she was 14 to join the MBC and has given up everything else for competitive rehearsals, intense performances, and a complicated relationship with her fellow dancers and her body (which has recently started to betray her and her pursuits for perfection). And then on top of all of that, she meets Jacob, a student at NYU who makes her start thinking that maybe she wants a normal life outside the theater walls.
The best way I can think of to describe this book is that it’s like the novel companion to the 2000 film Center Stage – if you liked that, chances are you’ll enjoy this, too. Flack, a nine year veteran of the New York City Ballet, doesn’t shy away from using proper ballet terms – like the people running the company, she makes her readers rise to the challenge of the dance vocabulary. Hannah is a character I had little in common with, yet was still able to empathize with – I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be in her shoes (literally and metaphorically), but she’s a great vessel to see this story through. Her life is complicated and her moods go up and down, and all of that made her just feel more real to me. Secondary characters are also thought out and have distinctive voices, and Jacob is a swoon-worthy crush.
For a debut novel, Flack gives a solid performance. She captures the voice of a 19 year old incredibly well, builds a world that I could easily see in my head, and makes me appreciate this incredible form of dance even more. I can't wait to see what she writes in the future. Bravo!