But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah's universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other "bunheads" in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life?
The story is simple. Hannah is a lesser dancer for a prestigious ballet company, and she’s working her hardest to get a promotion to soloist; Bunheads follows her struggles to perfect herself, but also highlights her conflicts, as over time, Hannah feels less and less fulfilled by her chosen career. The outcome of the novel shouldn’t catch any reader by surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less rewarding.
For the most part, Bunheads is focused on dance, and since the author, Sophie Flack, was a ballet dancer herself for 9 years, I’m inclined to think what was portrayed in this novel was the real deal. Not that I would know the difference, of course. I was personally very into the descriptions of Hannah’s rehearsals, crazy gym habits, eating habits, triumphs (landing a good role), and failures (having breasts so large she was required to wear a bra). All of that felt very real and authentic to me, especially the discussion of body image—I’ve known a few professional ballet dancers, and they were always staring at their butts/thighs/stomachs in the mirror. I think that maybe for some readers, Flack’s extreme attention to detail might become tedious or boring. I didn’t think so, however.
I also liked Hannah as a character quite a bit. She’s 19 years old, and has been living on her own in New York City since she was 14. Because of the all-encompassing nature of her job, her world is isolated to ballet and her fellow dancers. She has no time to be social, to read, or do much of anything besides workout, rehearse, and perform. But when NYU student Jacob and entitled rich boy Matt show up on the scene, she’s slowly drawn out into the life of a normal young woman.
Obviously, there is a love triangle in Bunheads. But romance is so far from the primary focus of the novel. A lot of Hannah’s interaction with the two love interests happened off-stage, because while she enjoyed spending time with them, the majority of her time was wrapped up in dance. I really loved how Flack handled romance in this book, honestly—this is one of the very few light YA contemporaries that puts love on the backburner for other things, like character growth.
Bunheads was an amazing book. I loved the focus on dance, without excessive girl drama, cheesiness, or other weird nonsense. I enjoyed the novel’s protagonist, and was pleased with the way her story unraveled itself. In my opinion, Sophie Flack is a debut novelist to look out for, and I’m very glad I picked this book up.