Written by: A.K. Small(Amazon / Goodreads)
Published: May 21, 2019 by Algonquin Young Readers
Synopsis: Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.
But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.
*** I received an advance copy of this book
I was really excited to read this book. I'm not someone who reads a ton of contemporaries but I love boarding schools, a Parisian setting, and have enjoyed books about dancers in the past so this seemed totally in my wheelhouse. And while this isn't my typical read, I really enjoyed this one.
One the things that surprised me most about this book was the plot development of this book. For someone who reads mostly genre fiction, I honestly didn't think a book about ballet would be all that exciting but this book definitely showed me how wrong I was. Bright Burning Stars takes you into the savage and cutthroat world of competitive dance. It definitely made for an exciting read, although it is probably not for everyone. The characters are competing against each other and themselves to win "The Prize," a coveted spot on stage at the Opera Garnier. It's not an easy story to read sometimes. There is a lot of serious and hard to read moments including characters dealing with eating disorders, abortions, and thoughts of suicide. They put their blood, sweat, and tears on the floor which means a lot of pressure and regret when things don't go well.
This is very much a character-driven narrative. The story alternates between Marine and Kate who are both students at an elite ballet boarding school and best friends. Marine is a Parisian who is inspired by the tragedy of her twin brother who died and was also a ballerina. Throughout the book she struggles with the pressure of being the best and having the perfect ballet body. She makes some really bad decisions in the face of proving that she can be a great dancer. Kate is an American, something that makes her an outsider, who will do whatever it takes to succeed. A lot of Kate's struggle is her need for approval. She wants to be loved and makes some really bad decisions because she thinks that being the best will give her the approval she so desperately deserves. I liked each of the characters on their own, but interestingly this was one of those rare occasions where I wanted the characters to fail. I hated how much pressure it put on them and I honestly just wanted them to give up it all and be happy. But that wasn't what their character development was all about. Well not entirely.
And while I loved the characters alone, the two of them together was what I wanted the most. In the beginning when they were best friends who would do anything for one another it gave the book a lot of heart. Their Moon Sisters backstory and all their Beyonce dancing was amazing. But then as the book development and they let boys and dance come between them, I started liking the characters a lot less. I am a big fan of books about female friendship and with a narrative with so many serious issues, I think this book could have really benefited from some more of those light and fun moments.
I did however like the setting of this book. For one thing, I loved the boarding school setting. It was more on the subtle side but I loved seeing the characters in their classes and interacting around the school. The other really subtle thing about the setting was it's use of Paris. There were few mentions of known landmarks but honestly the school could have been anywhere. I love books set in Paris and I wished that the book did a better job of establishing Paris as the setting. The better setting was of course the world of dance. I am not at all familiar with ballet or dance at all but I felt like it really came to life in this book. Small's descriptions of the dances in particular made it all so beautiful and visual in the best possible way.
This is not my typical read but I really enjoyed it. There were some elements that could have been fleshed out a little bit more but on the whole this was a brutal and engaging read about the brutal world of dance and the toll it takes on the ballerinas. It's not an easy ready but it is very entertaining.
I give Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small
Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. I think this is going to be one of those books where people either love it or they don’t. It's a good contemporary read especially for those who like more serious books.
A.K. SMALL was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.
Have you read Bright Burning Stars? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!