BRIGHT BURNING STARS, by A.K. Small, Algonquin Young Readers, May 21, 2019, Hardcover, $17.95 (young adult)
As someone who danced for years and was awarded scholarships to a number of schools, I often look forward to books about ballet. So I was very excited to hear about A.K. Small’s Bright Burning Stars.
A.K. Small trained at the Académie Chaptal in Paris and later danced with companies across the United States. Bright Burning Stars was inspired by the dancers from her childhood.
Kate and Marine have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School where they formed an intense bond after respective family tragedies. Their friendship seems unshakeable until their final year when only one girl can be selected for a place in the Opera’s company. The physically demanding competition takes an emotional toll, and their support for each other starts to crumble. Marine’s eating disorder begins to control her life as she consumes less and dances more, and Kate discovers the depths of depression and the highs of first love as she falls for the school heartthrob—who also happens to be Marine’s dance partner.
As rankings tighten and each day is one step closer to the final selection, neither girl is sure just how far she’ll go to win. With nuance and empathy, the intense emotions of teenage years are amplified in Small’s debut as the girls struggle with grief, mental health issues, and relationships, all set against the glamorous backdrop of Paris. — Synopsis provided by Algonquin Young Readers
The strength of Bright Burning Stars lies in the dancing. The dance scenes are cinematic in scope, ranging from grand to intimate. The vibrant sections are bold and brilliant.
The magic, however, diminishes with everything else. Small’s characters come across as one note, playing to stereotypes rather than something original. The immaturity of both girls made me wonder how a parent would allow them to live on their own in the first place.
Truthfully, as someone who used to work at a dance school, Bright Burning Stars is not a book I would recommend to tween/early teen girls. Kate’s flippant toward sex and the consequences of it made my stomach turn.
Bright Burning Stars has promise, it’s just never really fully realized. This one is a library read for mature teens.
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