G. Bianco, 2019
In her debut novel, Bright Burning Stars, A.K. Small shows the extremes that two girls face in a Paris ballet school. The novel, which was released in paperback on March 2nd and is the inspiration for the upcoming film Birds of Paradise, is a story that asks the question of how far will you go to reach your dreams.
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.
Small does a fabulous job of showcasing the world of ballet and what it’s like being in a dance school. The friendship between Marine and Kate is bittersweet because while they are best friends, they are also both competing for the same thing: one coveted spot in a professional ballet company. Mix in some boy drama, mental illness, and the pressure to be the best and you’ve got a YA novel with high school drama kicked up a notch!
This book got a bit dark at times with mentions of eating disorders, depression, abortion, suicide, and other mental illnesses; however, these topics only solidified that the world of ballet can be unforgiving and can be as dark as it is beautiful. The topics show the raw and real side to the people who seem perfect and ethereal on the stage. But sometimes there are demons lying just under the surface...
Overall, this book was a fascinating and quick read and I highly recommend it for those looking for a darker contemporary read including flawed protagonists striving for the unattainable: to be perfect.
*I received a copy of the book from Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for my honest opinion.
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