Bright Burning Stars

Bright Burning Stars
Age Range
Release Date
May 21, 2019
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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. In Bright Burning Stars, debut author A. K. Small pens a stunning, propulsive story about girls at their physical and emotional extremes, the gutting power of first love, and what it means to fight for your dreams.

Editor review

1 review
darkly haunting
Overall rating
Writing Style
BRIGHT BURNING STARS is surprisingly dark and twisty, following two young ballet dancers in their final year at Nanterre in alternating points-of-view. Nanterre trains “rats,” e.g. the children of the ballet who may or may not become a part of the elite ballet company at the Paris Opera. The children are entrenched in the culture and highly competitive environment bred from the result of their years of education where only one girl and one boy from each year are chosen to join the company. As the result of failure is equated to death, and their rankings among their classmates are constantly updated, the students are naturally very competitive with each other. The environment reeks of destruction and corruption.

Kate and Marine have been best friends for years, moving up and down around the other in rankings but not yet truly competing with each other. In this final year, with the stakes so high, they must decide how far they will go to win as well as why they love ballet so much that they have sacrificed their childhood and adolescence to it. Each girl loses herself to the school and their own psychological struggles in the course of the plot.

Very dark and twisty, this book exposes the bleak underbelly of ballet in an, at times, horrifying way. Kate is sacrificing herself to boys and drugs to find purpose and meaning in her life. She is convinced that if she dances with the boy they call ‘The Demigod,’ Cyrille, that she will be able to make it. In the meantime, she gives her heart and body away very easily. Marine joined ballet because her twin brother who died when they were younger had dreamed of ballet- she is determined to succeed for him. She is ever-aware of the flaws of her body, made even more apparent by the weigh-ins they require of her to ensure she does not gain weight and the nutritionist they have her visit to lose the 1kg she gained over a few months.

Their friendship itself has been- or has at least become- destructive with Kate overpowering Marine frequently and resulting in Marine’s further problems. This is not really a book about friendship, even though it follows two girls who are supposed to be friends. The lessons that the book holds are more about the systematic oppression and heavy weight of expectations that can lead to psychological destruction, as they are evident in ballet. Reading of this book should be placed in context by educators/others for younger readers. Books which show such challenges are worth reading for understanding; however, the healing is not as apparent and resources for teens who may face similar challenges are needed.

Warnings (which may contain spoilers) for this book would include drug use, smoking/alcohol teen use, suicide and depression, sexual exploitation, anorexia/weight obsession, self-harm, teen pregnancy, and abortion. This is a very dark, but well-written, novel, and it carries some major issues for which resources would have been helpful to show (or to include in an afterward, which may happen upon publication).

I would recommend this book for older YA contemporary readers who are looking for a darker read with gravitas.
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