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As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet.

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?

294 pages, Hardcover

First published October 10, 2011

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About the author

Sophie Flack

2 books127 followers
Sophie Flack danced with the New York City Ballet from 2000 to 2009. She is currently studying English at Columbia University. Bunheads is her first novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,016 reviews
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,386 reviews11.8k followers
October 12, 2011
Bunheads is a very subdued, gentle novel about ballet dancing. Think Black Swan

minus craziness, blood and sex.

The quietness of this novel works both against it and to its advantage.

Ballet dancing is an unforgiving, competitive, extremely demanding form of art. (Imagine being fired for having breasts big enough to require a bra!) It would be very easy to find some high drama in it to write a shocking novel around - backstabbery, injuries, life-threatening dieting, exhausting, endless rehearsals - and it would probably be a more dynamic, more exciting novel than Bunheads.

But Sophie Flack chose to write a realistic story instead. 19-year Hannah is a dancer with a major ballet company. The novel follows her through a transformative year in her life, during which she is trying to decide if her love for dance is strong enough to abandon all dreams of normality - going to college, getting to know her parents, falling in love, or even having enough free time to read a book - and to dedicate herself entirely to her career. Hannah's choice is not an easy one. Even though her work is physically and emotionally draining (and Flack doesn't shy away from giving readers all the gory details), the rewards of it are huge too - fame, the tremendous rush of excitement during the performances, the satisfaction when a momentary perfection of movement is achieved, access to high society.

The novel is not perfect however. It is not a very plot-driven story, it is contemplative, and the characterization could have been deeper. But if you have ever wondered what it takes to become a ballerina, Bunheads holds all the answers. You can't not develop respect for ballet dancers after reading this work.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,945 reviews292k followers
March 30, 2012

I didn't really think I'd like this book, I have to admit. I was curious about it after reading Tatiana's review, but this novel has been described as all the things that usually bore me to death: gentle, subtle, subdued, quiet... I've read these kinds of stories before that are meant to be all about the realism with little excitement, sadness or anything particularly noteworthy - I have always found them dull. Until now.

The realism in Bunheads really works to its advantage and makes the story more meaningful. This isn't an over-dramatised tale of death and romance, there's no blood and no gore, it's just a novel about ballet dancing in its barest form and I was surprised to find that this was more than enough. The characters were more real because of it and I found myself totally immersed in the obsessive and ridiculously competitive world of ballet.

I think it must be to some extent semi-autobiographical - or parts of it at least - because the author herself spent many years training and working as a ballet dancer. I'm glad I read this beforehand as it helped me believe in what I was reading about. I think the author's ultimate goal with her choice to write a rather quiet, understated story about real life in the ballet world, was not to draw the reader's mind away from some of the horrors that are part of every ballet dancer's life.

If this novel had been written about murder, sex and backstabbing it would no doubt appeal to a wider audience and sell far more copies, but it would also have made the small details about the rigourous dieting and exercising take a back seat. Things like the way the dancers are constantly being weighed, the way it is practically forbidden to grow breasts, the long, exhausting hours they have to put in when there's no guarantee they'll ever make the big parts... these would all have gone unnoticed. I, for one, am glad the author wrote this story the way she did and I will be on the look out for her future works.
Profile Image for Darkfallen.
259 reviews46 followers
November 8, 2011
While this book was so good, for me, that I finished it in one day; I fear that it may not be as good for others. Here's what I mean...

I trained in ballet for 15 years. I basically learned to walk, was potty trained, and then off the dance school I went at the age of 2. So when I was reading this book, it was more than that. I was seeing this book. I loved the way Sophie Flack walks you through the ballets Hannah is doing step by step. However she uses all of the proper French terms for each step, and nothing more. So I fear that for those out there that have never taken ballet this book may be a bit hard to connect with, or understand even. So while I am whisked away to the land of grand botones, jette's, arabesque's, pas de deux, & lifts in B plus, vividly picturing the ballets unfold in my mind as a read and absorb every word so much so that I find myself marking the steps while cooking dinner, and thinking it's the cutest thing ever that my three year old son is trying to mimic me. (all the while my husband suddenly feels the need to dicuss football with our son. lol) I think that that any person without extensive ballet knowledge might find this story a bit flat and boring.

Again I really, REALLY enjoyed this book, I just think maybe it could have been done slightly different to make it more approachable to a wider audience. I mean after all...a dancer that has time to read a book is a retired one;) I would have liked to see a little more done with the relationship between Hannah & Jacob. Maybe a little less on the actions of ballet, and a little more on the feeling of it and I would say this book would not only have a wider audience, but 5 stars across the board. I guess I was expecting something more like Gail Formans Where She Went where the music careers where the back drop, and the emotions took center stage. Still thanks to years of ballet, and bloody toes to prove this book was a great read for me.

Overall I say if your a dancer this is a must read. I wish I would have been able to read it back when I was consumed by the almost drug like quality that is life inside a ballet company. (Granted I was only at the St. Louis Ballet Company, which is nothing compared to the MBA.) But the message is a good one. There really is a life outside of dance, and sometimes you have to chose between life on stage...and everything else.
Profile Image for Mary.
39 reviews12 followers
October 16, 2011
I'm stoked for this book. My appreciation for Sophie Flack goes back more than 10 years, when I desperately envied her and the life I imagined she had. Beautiful, thin, and definitely going somewhere, she was featured all over the Discount Dance Supply catalogs and their Dance Magazine advertisements when I was a teenager. Pouring over catalogs, magazines, and the few dance books I could get access to in semi-rural Virginia, I strived for ballet success. I craved both knowledge of and entry to the distant, metropolitan ballet community (so starved was I for contact with that community that I vividly remember names, company/school affiliations, and images of models in catalogs over a decade later). How I wanted to look so stunning, so long, and to be singled out as she was. At the time, I imagined that she must certainly be a rising star-- the cream of the School of American Ballet/New York City Ballet young crop-- weren't all the models that DDS bothered to credit ballet elites?

Now that I work in the dancewear business, I recognize that knowing the right person's daughter is often all it takes to get photographed. When Flack next came to my attention, she'd come to realize a lot of disappointing realities as well. Her (extraordinary! scandalous! infamous!) interview with Gia Kourlas was one of my favorite dance reading experiences of 2009. By then, I'd been living in New York for 7 years and come to love New York City Ballet while resenting its director. Her raw, frustrated anger in the interview continues to move me. It resonates with some of my experiences, and with many, many dancers' experiences across the field who work hard, do great work, and are ultimately undervalued by their artistic superiors. Because both tradition and artistic necessity generally favor a director/choreographer's preference over dancers' feelings, the dance community and press tend to stifle outbursts of dancer dissatisfaction.

...which leads to this book. The cliche is that anguish under pressure generates great art, no? Biting critique can be refreshing to read even if the writer is only moderately gifted (and thank god for good editors). And Winter Season: A Dancer's Journal, born of similar frustration, is one of the best dance books ever published. From the jacket description, Bunheads would seem to be a thinly-veiled purge of Flack's experience at NYCB.

And cheers to you, Sophie Flack. For speaking up and finding ways to grow when you felt boxed in. Word through the grapevine is that you're much happier now, and I sincerely hope that you are.
Profile Image for Cora Tea Party Princess.
1,323 reviews802 followers
February 29, 2016
5 Words: Ballet, dance, life, obsession, risk.

I'd seen this book floating around and although it piqued my interest, it took me years to pick it up. It wasn't until I was rereading Ballet Shoes for the umpteenth time that I wondered what it was really like.

I found this book to be honest and wry and quite matter of fact. It didn't pretty everything up and glamourise an intense, difficult discipline. That said, it did have a few laughs and it did have me smiling more often then not.

This was a pretty pleasant read that kept me entertained and plenty to think about.
Profile Image for Rachel Brown.
Author 20 books161 followers
September 4, 2013
A YA novel about Hannah, a 19-year-old dancer in a huge New York ballet company. She went off to study at the Manhattan Ballet Academy when she was very young, and so ballet has been her entire life.

It begins when she’s getting frustrated with not having a life, partly due to meeting a quirky musician whose name I have already forgotten. Will she quit ballet, get a life, and stay with Quirky McWhatsisface? Or will she continue her obsessive routine and maybe become a star at the cost of misery and probable anorexia, with her shallow rich boyfriend who loves ballet and never makes any demands on her that would interfere with her career?

I could spoiler-cut and tell you, but duh. Is it not totally obvious?

Flack was also a professional ballet dancer, and I wanted to read this book because I was interested in what I assumed would be realistic, vivid detail. It may be realistic, but it’s not very vivid. The characters are one-dimensional. You never get a sense of why Hannah loved ballet in the first place.

It was also frustrating to read a book in which, even though it’s textually justified as due to individual circumstances, the right decision for the heroine is to dump the man who actually supports her career, go with the man who doesn’t, and quit her career. It would have had fewer unintended implications if Hannah had any idea what she wanted to do with her life, so it read more as a career change than a career drop. But she doesn’t. This is part of having no personality. Which, again, is explicit in the text – she has no life but ballet, so she thinks of nothing but ballet – but the way she thinks of ballet is unrevealing of both herself and ballet.

Rumer Godden’s Thursday's Children is a way better take on a ballet-obsessed character. So is Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes.

Girl in Motion
looks like it might be good, or at least better – has anyone read it?
Profile Image for N.
792 reviews196 followers
December 26, 2012
Awful. Gave up after ~40%.

Books like Bunheads remind me that I can be a little harsh in my reviews. It's easy to laser in on the flaws of a novel -- a cliched storyline here; an underdeveloped character there -- and forget how much of a colossal achievement it is to write 80,000 words of a story that progresses and maintains a reader's interest and contains characters that could pass for real people. Most books aren't, by real standards, "badly written". They're simply flawed.

Bunheads, however, is truly badly written.

An easy sell for a ballet fan like me, it purports to mix the author's real-life ballet experience with the usual teen drama of the YA genre. Yet, from its opening, it drags. I still don't know what the central story arc is supposed to be, because the novel is so unfocused. Heroine Hannah is a total cypher. I couldn't tell you a single thing about her character apart from the fact that she likes ballet.

I found even the simplest scenes genuinely hard to follow, because the writing is so clunky. There are no distinct voices in the dialogue -- and nothing anyone says sounds like real conversation.

In one scene, the main characters talk about Project Runway. What a fucking waste of a scene. How about having them talk about something that might inform my knowledge of the characters and their situations?

In another scene, where the characters flit about their dressing room, Sophie Flack waits until the end of the scene before describing the particulars of the dressing room. Because god forbid the reader might want to picture the characters' surroundings during the scene.

Bunheads is a reminder that the bad novels aren't the ones with silly, melodramatic action sequences (at least those hold our attention) or lazy, archetypal characters (who we roll our eyes at, but keep reading, because at least the plot's exciting). The bad novels are the ones where nothing works; nothing comes together. The ones where there's no there there.

I don't need perfect characterisation. I don't need stunningly imaginative plots. I don't need lovingly constructed objective correlatives. But I need some sense of writing as a craft; writing as something complicated and difficult that takes years of diligence to master.

I'm sure Sophie Flack was an excellent ballet dancer. I'm sure she practiced her craft every day for years to reach that level of excellence. But she sure as shit didn't practice writing every day for years.
Profile Image for Alexa.
2,116 reviews11.1k followers
February 23, 2016
FIRST THOUGHTS: As a former ballet dancer, there is something incredibly magical about novels that manage to capture it perfectly - Bunheads is one of those stories. I'm so in love with how performances and ballet life is described, so while it's a quieter contemporary read than I'm used to, my affection for it is pretty strong.
136 reviews
December 28, 2011
The writing was pretty terrible, after reading the biography of the author, it was pretty obvious the story was at minimum semi-autobiographical (not that theres necessarily anything wrong with that), and I felt that she peppered the action sequences with ballet lingo to try to make her work credible in the ballet world. The main character, Hannah, develops and has the same epiphany throughout the entire book but it takes her 300 pages to make the choice she's obviously been making all along. Her "romance" with Matt seemed almost unnecessary and if I was Jacob, I would've run a long time ago.

This book gave me no more insight into the ballet world than Center Stage did, and at least Center Stage made it exciting if not incredibly cheesy.
Profile Image for Krystle.
880 reviews337 followers
April 22, 2012
3.5 stars.

I guess I’ll have to thank Natalie Portman’s movie, Black Swan, for getting me to pick up this book.

I was totally fascinated and riveted by the ballet parts in this book. Ah, it shows how far ballet dancers would go to get the parts they want; from extreme dieting, an addiction to constant rigorous practice, denial of personal interactions and social lives, and an over importance placed on physical beauty and form. It’s not psychologically scary like Black Swan is but it is raw, gritty, dark, and very real.

The book is not really plot driven but more of an inner personal growth. Hannah can be at times extremely frustrating but she learns the hard truth of personal freedom, happiness, real love, and how people can be manipulative and not always supportive, and figures out the importance of trust and friendship. So this type of character driven book might be a bit slow in the pacing for some people but I didn’t think so. I found it quite an engrossing read actually.

Some parts of this book might feel a bit autobiographical when you read up on the author but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it gives the story a lot more validity and authenticity. You always like that she can use the experiences in her life to give the ballet scenes a note of accuracy. In that way, it made them more riveting.

A very nice debut novel that I enjoyed quite a bit considering this is way out of my preferred reading genres. You should definitely give this a try if ballet piques your interests.
Profile Image for Stephanie (Stepping Out Of The Page).
465 reviews222 followers
March 25, 2012
I was eagerly anticipating this book being published in the UK after hearing rave reviews of it from many international reviewers. I've never been particularly interested in the ballet, but this book gave a very fascinating insight into the dancing world. This book will certainly appeal to anyone who has an interest in dance as well as fans of coming of age, contemporary novels. Apparently, this book also has a lot of likeness to Black Swan (though toned down), though I've never watched it - so if you liked that, check this out!

It is clear that Sophie Flack, the author, has an incredible knowledge of ballet and the inner workings of ballet groups. There is quite a lot of dance-related terminology used without any explanation but I don't think that it is at all necessary to know what all of the terms mean - it's easy to just get drawn into Hannah's world. Hannah is our protagonist who is completely devoted to her art . However, alongside her, we struggle to decide whether she is making the best choice for herself - can she be a ballerina and lead a 'normal' life? It's hard to say and even at the end, it's difficult to know if Hannah has made the right choice for herself or not. Hannah is a very down to earth and realistic character and it's understandable to see how and why she had issues with her options for the future.

I wouldn't say that there were many 'OMG' moments or huge plot twists, but there is a lot of underlying drama in Bunheads. The book is rather subdued and relaxed but it's certainly not boring - it's just subtle. There is the right amount of gritty and raw information about the strictness and mentality of some dancers. The details are quite constant and very realistic. The novel wasn't so much focused on the struggles of being a dancer but rather with how Hannah and her friends dealt with them and how they grew and developed in such a disciplined situation.

I thought that the relationships in this book were very well written. Hannah's friendships are typical of an environment that's quite female dominated and very competitive. I found it difficult to trust some of Hannah's friends, just like she did. I did find them quite endearing in their own way though and everyone in the group had distinct personalities and attitudes.
I really loved Hannah and Jacob's relationship. It took a while for chemistry to build up between them and I did feel sorry for both of them a lot of the time. I sympathised with Jacob for putting so much effort into trying to spend time with Hannah and I sympathised with Hannah for finding it difficult to find that time. I found their relationship to be very realistic, I just loved the development of it and that they worked together through the problems. I don't know what Hannah was doing with the other love interest, the balletomane Matt, but it was interesting to see the different kinds of people that dancers come across in their lives.

Overall, this was a very interesting book which taught me a lot about the backstage goings-on of ballet dancers and the hard work that they go through, both physically and mentally. This was a relaxed but entertaining book that had me questioning to the end. I think that this one will appeal to a lot of young adult and adult readers alike.
Profile Image for thepessimisticreader.
272 reviews40 followers
September 20, 2017
"Don't call me a ballerina."

Ballet is not pretty. It's gritty. It takes strength, and it is not easy to be strong and stand on a toe tip when you have not eaten all day.

I did not think I would like this book, I thought it would address only the gist of ballet. I did not know this was written by someone who was an experienced dancer, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

The story follows nineteen-year old Hannah Ward through her struggle to rise through the ranks of the Manhattan Ballet Company. She must decide if ballet is what her life's work will be, or if she should leave the company and be more than "an unsung hero in the back line."

"The word ballerina sounds too pink, too froufrou. We rehearse in old leotards, threadbare tights, and torn leg warmers."

She lives in a world where her best friends are her toughest competitors, and her instructors are her greatest critics. A few extra pounds make you fat, and a minor injury can cost you everything.

"The life span of a dancer can be as short as a fruit fly's."

This books addresses what has to happen in order for a show to go on, from rehearsal to makeup application, to what happens if an injury takes place on stage. It gives the "pedestrian" insight into who a ballerina is, and why the stereotype that all ballerinas are anorexic is perpetuated in pop culture.

Aside from the book being more tell, less show, it was a decent read, and fast-paced once you get into it. I would easily recommend this to fans of ballet or dance, and definitely parents of dancers.

This gives an impossibly realistic into the not-so-glitz side of ballet. Everyone should know that beauty and grace comes at the cost of ugly feet.
Profile Image for Savannah (Books With Bite).
1,399 reviews185 followers
October 17, 2011
I loved this book! As a dancer in high school, I totally related to this book. Everything about the dancing world is right to the T, and I loved the characters.

What I liked most about this book, is the great plot line. Filled with aspiring dancers yearning for the spot light, to get to that place it takes really hard work. I loved all the dancers in the book, the competitions and the drama. The feeling of the rush of adrenaline while on stage filled my veins as I read this book. I haven't danced for years, but to fill the dance, the music, and the to see the audience watching gave me the feeling I haven't felt in years.

The characters in this book were great.I loved the development of them and the way they saw things. A whole new perspective is brought to the readers eyes and it held them there. The characters make some sacrifices, some good and others bad. The love interest captivated me. I loved how he made it easy for Hannah to be herself. What caught me about him, was her never ending of giving up.

Bunheads is a perfect book for those who want a whole other experience. A dance life is something different and a great experience. I loved my dance life in high school. It was something that steadied me and LOVED to do. You should most definitely read Bunheads. With an amazing view of a dance, you too will be dancing!

Profile Image for Fiona.
247 reviews66 followers
June 27, 2015
Bunheads captivated me with its realistic portrayal of a teenage girl’s descent from the ballet world. Flack’s debut novel is unflinchingly honest. As Hannah discovers a new life outside of ballet, she begins to question whether she’s willing to sacrifice it all for the one thing she’s ever wanted: to become a soloist.

This book is perfect for anyone who loves dance or a sweet, understated story. It was Bunheads that pulled me up out of my reading slump and introduced me to a world very different than most other young adult books I read. Definitely pick this one up and allow yourself to be whisked away into the world of dance and competition. :)
Profile Image for ALPHAreader.
1,102 reviews
May 11, 2012
When she was eight-years-old, Hannah’s dance instructor told her young students to “Dance each step as if it were your last.” Hannah didn’t know what she meant then, but now that she is nineteen-years-old and apart of the corps de ballet of the Manhattan Ballet Company, she is starting to understand the truth behind those words.

The corps de ballet dancers are not ‘real’ ballerinas – they are the dancers behind the true stars, the real prima ballerinas who dance solos and are the rock-stars of the company. Hannah, along with her friends, all dance in the background in the hopes of being promoted to soloists. And the person to impress at the Manhattan Ballet Company, to rise in the ranks and stand out from the corps, is Otto Klein – retired dancer, now choreographer extraordinaire.

A dancer’s life is a short one. Injury looms, as does cut-throat backstage backstabbing – not to mention old age and human frailties. Hannah knew she wanted to be a ballet dancer when she was ten. She has been studying and dancing in Manhattan since she was fourteen. Now she is nineteen and desperate for all her hard-working dreams to pay off. But her time is running out, her dreams have an expiry date and she doesn’t know if it will ever be her time to shine. . .

So, when Hannah meets Jacob, a struggling musician and perpetual college student, she doesn’t know if he’s a beautiful distraction or potential disaster. He’s beautiful and kind, funny and sincere, and the first boy Hannah has ever fallen for . . .

But pretty soon, all signs point to disaster.

Otto takes an interest in Hannah, and there are whispers in the company that she might just get her first solo. That means dedicating hours to yoga for muscle strengthening, and bikram yoga for weight loss. She has to practice as much as she can, and that means less and less time for beautiful boy Jacob.

Now Hannah has a decision to make – between the life she always thought she wanted and the one she has tasted, with Jacob.

‘Bunheads’ is the debut young adult novel from Sophie Flack.

Ms Flack began dancing at the age of seven, and when she was fourteen was awarded a full scholarship to attend the School of American Ballet. She danced with the New York City Ballet from 2000 until 2009. None of this surprises me – because ‘Bunheads’ is an exquisitely detailed journey into the life of a dancer – the ups and downs, highs and lows, sacrifices and devastations that make up a life dedicated to one of the most gruelling art forms.

Hannah shares a dressing room with her close friends – Bea, Daisy, Leni and Zoe. Leni is the oldest of them, and knows she will never be more than corps. But for the rest of her friends, the epitome of success is becoming a soloist. Hannah’s biggest competition for promotion is Zoe; a New York socialite of willowy form and many admirers. Zoe and Hannah are well-matched in their techniques, and are forever being played off one another and made to compete for parts. But when Otto Klein casts them both as understudies in his new dance, they know that the tides are turning for one of them . . . Never mind that Hannah and Zoe are also best friends – when it comes to the Company, they both know that only one of them can come out on top.

Flack has written a fantastically complex rivalry between Hannah and Zoe – ‘frenemy’ is an understatement. Zoe uses psychological warfare without remorse; she throws temper tantrums and spits verbal barbs, yet all of her ‘friends’ take it on the chin. They know that ballet can bring out the worst in dancers – and that when it comes to getting ahead in the Company, there is no such thing as playing nice. As a reader, we can understand that Hannah’s friendship with Zoe is very close to a toxic one – but she simply accepts Zoe’s dubious role in her life as friend, bordering on rival. It’s just one of the many ways that Hannah’s dancing life is distorted from the real world – where lines blur between friend and enemy, and she can’t really trust anyone to be completely sincere or without malice.

One of Hannah’s far and few ‘true’ friends at the Company is gruff stagehand, Harry, and his daughter Mattie who dreams of being a ballerina like Hannah. In Mattie, Hannah remembers what it was to think of dancing and ballet in a dreamy way; before the backstabbing, long hours and poor castings;

I look down at this smiling little girl in her pigtails and dirty tutu. Her face shines with delight. The theatre must seem like a magical world to her – I know it did to me. When I first became an apprentice, I wanted to sleep on the stage, under the rows of lights that glittered like far-off planets. Sometimes when no one was around, I'd sit on the edge with my legs dangling into the orchestra pit and look out in awe at the vast, empty house with its carved, gilded ceiling and crystal chandeliers.

But the sheen is wearing off for Hannah. She is nineteen now, has been dancing in the corps de ballet for a few years, but is desperate to be more. I thought Flack’s insight into the nuts and bolts of ballet life was phenomenal. Flack does a fantastic job of bringing this ethereal profession down into reality – she writes about the injuries and long hours, and the unglamorous behind-the-scenes of beloved productions. For instance, Hannah and most in the corps hate dancing The Nutcracker (even though it’s the annual production that sells out every night). One of the many reasons for their hatred is dancing the back-up roles of ‘snow’, especially when the fake snow that falls from the ceiling is recycled every night, and along with the fake white flakes falls dust and debris collected from the stage. But that’s nothing compared to the gruelling schedule;
And it’s always like this. For the corps de ballet, dancing The Nutcracker becomes like a tag team as dancers get injured: The uninjured girls have to double up their parts until they, too, become injured, and then those girls are replaced by others who have to double up, until everyone is doing two or three times the number of parts they were meant to do. If you’re not injured, you’re exhausted, sick, or plain burned out. Jonathan and Luke call it The Nutfucker, which I think is totally appropriate.

It’s little wonder then, that when Jacob catches Hannah’s eye she is more than a little tempted. In trying to properly woo Hannah, Jacob keeps hitting roadblocks with her busy schedule and training regime – and for the first time in her life, Hannah realizes that ballet is her life. She has nothing else. She devotes everything to a profession that seems determined to overlook her hard work;

“I love being onstage. But it’s so painful feeling invisible,” I tell her.
“I see you, Ballettӓnzerin,” she says softly. “You are not invisible.”
But I must be – how else can I explain the way I was overlooked?

I will say that the romance between Hanna and Jacob wasn’t as interesting as Flack’s behind-the-scenes of ballet life. To be fair, Hannah struggling to find time for Jacob is crucial to her story – but I did wish for more romance between them, at least to justify Jacob’s incredible persistence in wooing a girl who hardly gives him the time of day.

Comparisons to movies like ‘Centre Stage’ and ‘Black Swan’ are inevitable. But I feel like those films are about the exception, and Flack is writing the rule. In ‘Centre Stage’ and ‘Black Swan’, audiences come in at the high-point in the dancer’s life – when they’re plucked from the class to dance in the rogue choreographer’s new, contemporary production, or the shy girl is given a chance to be the star of a classic production (if she can tap into her own sexuality). ‘Bunheads’ feels like the far truer story – about the struggling dancer, forever in the shadows. Hannah has dedicated her life to dance – she moved out of home at fourteen to board at dance school in New York. She hasn’t had the high school experience of other kids her age – Jacob is the first boy she has ever liked, for crying out loud! She is not your typical nineteen-year-old, thanks to ballet. ‘Centre Stage’ and ‘Black Swan’ are about that trigger moment when a dancer goes from corps to ballerina – but ‘Bunheads’ is far more interesting for following a dancer who is toiling in the background, trying to claw her way into the spotlight, but also wondering if it’s all worth it?

‘Bunheads’ is a fantastic read. To ‘pedestrian’ outsiders, ballet is such an otherworldly profession – the dancers are the finest of physical specimens, forever graceful and beautiful. Flack ‘lifts the tutu’, if you will, on the world of ballet. Through Hannah she explores how dancing sometimes isn’t enough – some sacrifices are too great, and a life-time dedication shouldn’t feel like a life-sentence. Flack’s prose is also beautiful – Hannah’s voice is so strong and her articulation of what dancing means to her, of the dreams she had, just gorgeous (“the rows of lights that glittered like far-off planets”). Part of the strength of ‘Bunheads’ is that Flack knows this world – she is revealing something about it to the reader, the unknown nitty-gritty and behind-the-scenes truth . . . that being said, Flack’s writing is so good and captivating, beyond just the subject matter. I’m eager to read whatever she writes next, ballet or no, because I think her voice is one to listen out for in the young adult genre.

Profile Image for Laura.
3,694 reviews95 followers
August 30, 2011
(full disclosure: I was the author's librarian waaay back when!)

This is a great look at how a girl's dream (ok, passion and obsession) with becoming a ballerina can change as she becomes a woman. With the Metropolitian Ballet and its Academy standing in for New York City Ballet and its School of American Ballet, we also get a great behind-the-scenes look at the lives of those girls, the ones that really pursued the dream to become the ballerina many of us wanted to be when we were younger but dropped in favor of astronaut, model, cook, etc..

Hannah left home in Massachusetts at 14 to live in the MBA's dorm, attending 'regular' school (the School of the Arts stands in for Professional Children's School) for academics but living and breathing the MBA's classes in all things ballet. Now, as a 19-year-old member of the corps, Hannah is a dancer but not yet a ballerina (there is a difference!) whose life is circumscribed by company class, rehearsals, performances, yoga, Pilates and laundry. One day, after her performance is over, she goes downtown to her cousin's bar/restaurant and meets Jacob, a cute NYU student who is also the evening's "live music". They chat, exchange phone numbers, and Hannah's life starts to change: she now actually know somone who is a so-called pedestrian, a non-dancer.

Over the course of the next year, we get a real look at what these dancers lives are like: the competition for parts, the jockying for notice by the choreographers and teachers, the grueling days of dancing, and of course the obsession with weight and look and line. Warning - if you love the Nutcracker, this might not be the best book to read! Hannah also meets a balletomane, Matt, who is able to wine and dine her, and who - unlike Jacob - understands her schedule.

The choices Hannah makes about her dreams, her goals and her future reminded me of many of the students I knew, and this insider view made me feel that much more for them.

ARC provided by publisher.
Profile Image for taesreadingmuse.
210 reviews50 followers
January 22, 2016
★ 4.5 ★

♡ Just when you think you can't go on, somewhere a little light comes on. ♡

Such a good surprise!! After almost 2 months of a major reading slump, this book was such a nice read and totally got me out of it. Sophie's Flack writing and description is simple and beautiful. I felt connected to the characters and to the plot. I could totally picture myself following Hannah, the main character, walking through MBA and get attached to her. I think Sophie does a gob job filling the reader on what's like being in a ballet academy and all the effort to become a soloist.
I think the ending was expected but nonetheless it was perfect!
Profile Image for Emily.
187 reviews303 followers
July 20, 2016
After reading a few chapters of Bunheads, I began to suspect this was a book I wouldn’t like. The pace was quite slow, the technical ballet terms made my brain fuzzy, and there were so many characters introduced that they were all beginning to blur together. But I had read many glowing reviews by reviewers I trust, so I persevered. And somewhere around the halfway mark, I started to understand why Sophie Flack wrote Bunheads this way. The slower pace, the huge cast of characters, and the in-depth ballet details were the best way to realistically – and poignantly – portray Hannah Ward’s life.

When Hannah’s story begins, she is dedicated to ballet and striving to land a coveted role of soloist within the Manhattan Ballet Company. But then a cute guitarist by the name of Jacob comes along and makes her see how much of the real world she is missing out on because of her chosen career. Some of my favourite moments in this book are when Hannah steps outside her comfort zone (with or without Jacob) and realises how restricted her daily routine has become. I think in the process she learns how to take herself less seriously. The resolution to Hannah’s story bordered on cheesy and predictable, but I can’t deny I was smiling like crazy and SO happy for her. Predictable isn’t always the worst thing in the world, you know?

Along with Hannah, we meet A LOT of other characters. At first I didn’t understand why there were so many. But I learned to appreciate each and every one of them over the course of the story. Not only did it create a full picture of just how many people work together to put on a brilliant performance, it showed the different ways people experience the ballet world. One moment that stands out in my memory is when Mai, one of the company’s most revered soloists, collapses in class because she has pushed herself too far. Flack also touches on body image, the competitive undercurrent to the ballerinas’ friendships, and just how much the dancers must sacrifice in order to succeed. It was interesting to see the ways the industry took a toll on characters both emotionally and physically.

I think the synopsis makes it seem like this book is about choosing between ballet or a boy. While the love interest, Jacob, is the catalyst for Hannah’s change in attitude, I don’t think he is the sole reason. I think Hannah’s burnout was almost inevitable, considering her hectic schedule and the constant competition in the company. That said, the love story is very sweet and it was a big part of what kept me reading despite the slow pace. The banter shared between these two was great. There is also a competing love interest, Matt. His presence in the story sort of bothered me. But it was definitely a good way to show what Hannah would lose and gain by choosing ballet over a ‘normal’ life.

Reading this book gave me so much more respect for ballerinas. Their level of dedication is insane and amazing. I am way too lazy to ever become a ballerina (even though I don’t consider myself super lazy) so it was nice to be able to experience that world from afar through Bunheads. If you have a ballet background, you should definitely give this book a try. I think you’ll love it. Sophie Flack had a successful dancing career herself, and her knowledge of the industry shows. Plus, if you understand the jargon, the technical stuff probably won’t slow down your reading as it did mine. (The only way I could visualise the performances was by picturing the dancers in Center Stage and Black Swan.)

I had a lot of stuff to say about this book and it was difficult to condense it all into a review. I think I’ve covered most of it. But the thing I want to impress on you most is this: if you’re unsure at first if Bunheads is the book for you, I urge you to keep reading. If you do, you just might find a beautiful story of self-discovery and deciding what matters most.
March 17, 2014
16/3 - A lot of other reviewers are seeing Black Swan similarities or are reading the book because they loved the movie. Maybe I'm old, but I'm not thinking of Black Swan, I'm thinking of Centre Stage from 2000. I loved that movie when it came out and it's still one of my all-time favourite dance movies. There are quite a few plot/character similarities between the two (certainly more than with Black Swan). Hannah's got two guys after her (although neither are dancers, as they are in Centre Stage); Hannah's got a rival who is a bitch and long-time member of the company (same, same); there's the older mentor-type dancer who everyone looks up to but really, secretly wishes would break a leg; there's the aloof company director who the dancers do everything they can to gain favour with; there's even the obligatory company parties where dancers are expected to mingle and promote the company but spend most of the time drinking champagne. All we need now is for Mat to turn out to be some kind of 'rebel without a cause' choreographer and the story will be complete. I like that it doesn't have the angst and drama of Black Swan (or most YA books), I get kind of sick of all the fighting. Also, the way Black Swan turned out would be pretty unlikely in the real world - dancers only murder each other in episodes of Law and Order - if there was a murder ring going on in the New York ballet scene I'm sure it would be an international scandal that no one could keep quiet. To be continued...

17/3 - Continuing the examples of similarities between Center Stage and Bunheads: Hannah even danced her season ending, big dance in a red dress just as Jody did in Center Stage. Despite the many similarities I see (or perhaps because of them) I really enjoyed Bunheads and stayed up till three in the morning to finish it (slightly regretting that impulsive decision now, as I slept in and nearly missed my dog's vet appointment, creating a havoc-filled morning).

I wasn't a big fan of Jacob. He seemed especially inconsiderate of the amount of work it would take for Hannah to pursue her dream of being promoted from the Corps de Ballet to soloist. All he ever seemed to be thinking about was how she didn't have enough time for him striving for a dream that isolates you from anyone who isn't striving for the same dream. I thought he might let up on her after she had him watch her from the wings, but that relief only lasted a few chapters before he started in with the accusations of not wanting to spend time with him, again.

From the ending I'm guessing Bunheads is going to buck the trend of YA books having never-ending sequels (kind of like the Halloween movies) and be sequelless (probably a good thing as I can't see where another book would go, plotwise). This was a really easy, light read which helped to make the pages fly by. When I finally closed the book I knew it would be late, but I was pretty engrossed in the story and I had no idea it was near 3 am. I've spent the day yawning my head off, but that won't stop me from reading my new book till at least 12 tonight, or any other night. I just saw a gif on Facebook that said "I have a sleep disorder. It's called READING." and that describes my reading habits for as long as I can remember perfectly. I read till I fall asleep and drop the book and then I admit defeat and turn the light off.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,102 reviews410 followers
October 18, 2011
My take: Hannah is a thinly veiled Sophie Flack, a former member of the Manhattan Ballet Company and a solid voice in Young Adult (semi) fiction. Her life experience has clearly and definitively shaped her writer's voice. Flack's story is about Hannah, a dancer. She spares no reader from the brutality of ballet. On stage, the dancers are graceful and defy gravity. They dance in unison and in perfect time. But performing is only one aspect of the job. The work is grueling and punishing, both physically and emotionally. A ballet dancer is dedicated, focused, and purposeful. When not performing, he or she is rehearsing or taking classes, working out or sleeping. Injuries are expected and constant. Puberty is a death toll. A "bra" is a four letter word.

The book follows Hannah through three seasons. Her only friends are forced into competitions against one another to have a solo or to be promoted as a soloist. When one dancer falls, another must rise to take her place and it is with mixed emotion but mostly elation. But Hannah feels conflicted. She has a small taste of life outside the theater and realizes how inexperienced she truly is. How little she knows of the city she's lived in for five years. How hungry she is to finish reading one novel. How she yearns for something more but unwilling to sacrifice what she has worked so hard to accomplish.

Her last words in the book are, "My name is Hannah Ward and I am a dancer." I feel compelled to shadow that sentiment but in absolutely no way near Hannah or Sophie's dancing experience.

My name is Nancy and I am a dancer. Every Tuesday night, I gather with about 15 other women (real women who have curves including a woman who is 9 months pregnant with her 9th child. No joke), and we dance. When our fouetté lack altitude, settle for Coupé turns. We elevé and relevé. We rond de jambe, Jeté, Pirouette, and my Pas de bourrée can only be achieved by my mouthing the term. It's three counts, just like the term. My favorite is to Piqué turn. I rarely tip over.

I am not the thinnest dancer. I am not the heaviest dancer. I am not the least talented nor am I nearly the most talented. I am not the youngest in the class although there's a pretty good chance I am the oldest in the class. My Sautés are not the highest. My leaps are abysmal. But we dance. We have no dreams or aspirations of dancing professionally. Most of us have multiple children and many of us work in other fields that we love. But for those two hours every week, we leave the world behind and enter an existence where we can. After those two hours, we go home to our sleeping families and dream of flying.

What Flack has so beautifully articulated is the not only the backstage brutality of dance, but also the magic of dance. Those who commit themselves completely give themselves to the craft and the craft owns them. Those who hang on in the fringes become 45 year old delusional dancers and addicts to "So You Think You Can Dance."

My name is Nancy and I am a dancer. Don't ruin my delusion. It's all I have.
Profile Image for Brena Green.
82 reviews19 followers
July 26, 2021
Did I finish this book in a span of 48 hours ? Yes. And I regret nothing.

As a former dancer myself, this book was utterly beautiful. It gave me nostalgia. Also, I’m so glad the “love triangle” wasn’t a real love triangle. 5/5 stars🌟
Profile Image for Jessica (Jess Hearts Books).
676 reviews386 followers
February 23, 2012
Bunheads was such an indulgent read for me, I’m fascinated by anything to do with dance- despite not being a dancer myself- I love watching movies like Black Swan and Step Up, old childhood books like Ballet Shoes, and TV show dancing competitions. I love everything from the beautiful costumes and dramatic make up to the fairy-tale like sets to the art of dance itself. I’ve been to the theatre to watch ballet a few times and every time I get so caught up in the story that the ballerina’s tell with their feet and reading Bunheads was almost like watching one of those dances, it gave me the exact same feeling of enchantment, magic and excitement.

What I loved most about Bunheads was the behind the scenes feel to it. Author Sophie Flack danced with the New York City ballet for nine years before writing this book so she shares with us first-hand information on exactly what goes on behind closed doors and what goes into this kind of profession. Not only did I love reading about our main character Hannah and her friend’s performances but I also loved reading about a dancer’s life off the stage from the extreme and challenging rehearsals to the gruelling training and physio. I found the simplest things like how they get their shoes to fit them perfectly and all the different moves fascinating. The life of a professional dancer is fiercely competitive and I came away from this book with a newfound respect for dancers and the dedication and passion they have for what they do. Despite the gorgeous dresses and fairy-tale’s that they dance to the job is at times anything but glamorous and I loved this insider’s look on the life of a young dancer trying to stand out from the crowd.

Whilst this books main focus is on the world of ballet dancing it also has themes of romance, friendship, rivalry and self-discovery. Hannah is a really interesting leading lady to read about with her conflicting emotions about ballet and her journey as she tries to decide what she wants from life. I also loved the love interest in this book Jacob and wanted Hannah to be with him pretty much from the moment they met! I also really liked Hannah’s best friend Bea who was such a good friend to Hannah and didn’t let the pressures of trying to get noticed come between their friendship.

Overall I thought that Bunheads was a really unique contemporary read. This book made me feel like a little girl again devouring a magical ballerina story wishing all the while that I too could get all dressed up and dance with princes and feel like a princess every night. Sophie Flack captures the magic and beauty of ballet and transforms it to the page flawlessly. This was a gorgeous debut that has made me see the world of competitive dance in a whole new light!
Profile Image for Liza Wiemer.
Author 5 books655 followers
January 1, 2012
I received a copy of the BUNHEADS ARC from Heidi of YABibliophile. http://www.yabibliophile.com/ Thanks Heidi for passing this on to me.
Ever wondered what it's like to be a ballet dancer? If so, BUNHEADS is the novel for you. Even though Sophie Flack's novel is fiction, it's clear she draws upon her firsthand knowledge from when she danced for the New York City Ballet from 2000-2009. She does an exquisite job explaining this world and making it real for the reader - the intensity, competition, exhaustion, physical, psychological toll. I really liked Hannah Ward, the main character who is a dancer for the Manhattan Ballet, and appreciated how she was willing to take courageous steps to make changes in her life and redefine her personal goals. This took strength of character, and is an example for young women when they have to make tough decisions for themselves. I loved the New York details woven into this story. Readers definitely get a taste of Times Square, NYU, the Met, and plenty of other landmarks. There is a sweet romance that adds to the story but doesn't get very far because of Hannah's intense dedication to the ballet. Jacob is a cool character who is the complete opposite of Hannah, and despite being put off by Hannah, Jacob stays a loyal friend. Though I don't personally know anyone who has been involved with ballet, BUNHEADS opened up this world for me. I am in awe of what it takes to train a body to do the moves and to create such beauty through moment. After reading BUNHEADS, I now have a deep appreciatIon for the immense sacrifice and dedication that dancers give for their sport. For this reason, along with the fine writing, this novel deserves high marks.
Profile Image for Bethany Huang.
Author 1 book76 followers
November 2, 2013
This is a book I've known about before it was released. I've seen it multiple times in my library back in New York but never picked it up because I figured I'd never forget about it and someday I'd eventually get on to reading it. And now I'm regretting it, because this book is like looking out my window and seeing a completely different world. I read this book in one whole sitting- I didn't get up even once- because I didn't want this beautiful and realistic story to end.

Reading about Hannah's life in the Manhattan Ballet Company is so exhilarating, especially since like other young girls I dreamed of being a ballerina once. I'd come home from Nutcracker rehearsals and practice Marie's dance sequence when all I was was a toy soldier. I was so drawn into everything about this book- not just because of the glamour that you imagine, but because this really showed how difficult it is to be a dancer. You see the aching pains, the hard work, how you have to devote every single waking moment of your life to it. And then you read about Hannah, who isn't sure if she wants this anymore, and it just resonates so deeply with the hopes and dreams and worries you have inside that you feel inclined to root for her.

After I read this, my eyes were sparkling, I had a smile on my face, and I was just so inspired. If Bunheads was a dessert, I would eat it so fast you wouldn't even see me move. The dialogue was natural and perfectly fitting, the setting was so descriptive but not too lengthy, and the theme of the story was so well planted. If you see this book in your library or in a bookstore, pick it up. Don't wait. You won't be anywhere near disappointed.

June 13, 2019
At first I felt like I was in a love/hate relationship with this story. I love all the elements that went into being in the ballet and being a ballet dancer but the references to not eating and anorexia bothered me a ton. But I pushed through and I’m happy to say I loved the ending. I thought it was very fitting. I’m glad she chose the right guy. (He’s who I would’ve picked too) And I love the epilogue! So cute! I ended up ordering this book for my personal library after reading it. Def a fav. Final verdict: 5 stars
Profile Image for Dana Al-Basha |  دانة الباشا.
2,148 reviews772 followers
Want to read
August 11, 2017
Hannah Ward, nineteen, revels in the competition, intense rehearsals, and dazzling performances that come with being a member of Manhattan Ballet's Company's corps de ballet, but after meeting handsome musician Jacob she begins to realize there could be more to her life.

Profile Image for Tiff.
569 reviews539 followers
March 13, 2012
Beautifully written. The ballet insider part felt so real and unique, and the boy parts were pretty luscious. I did feel that the ending almost came on a little too fast - I would have appreciated more struggle towards the climax. But overall, I really enjoyed this one. And the costumes and frocks and makeup! Fab! =)
Profile Image for Nadja.
1,531 reviews59 followers
July 4, 2017
Interessanter Einblick in das (Backstage-) Leben einer Ballettänzerin. Symphatische Charakterin und spannend gemacht, jedoch mit viel Ballettvokanbular. Hätte ein Glossar noch nett gefunden, plié, arabesque, usw kurz oder mit Bildchen erklärt.
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