Hello! Today I’m very excited for my stop on the blog tour for the paperback release of Bright Burning Stars, by A. K. Small. I really enjoyed reading the book, and I have a lot to say in my review, so I’m going to get right into it!
Bright Burning Stars
Author: A. K. Small
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date (paperback): March 2, 2021
Genre: Young adult
Content warnings: eating disorder, suicide, miscarriage
As a young ballerina in Paris, young adult novelist A. K. Small studied at the famous Académie Chaptal and later danced with companies across the US. Inspired by the dancers from her childhood, Small weaves a vivid story of a fiercely competitive female friendship in her dazzling debut, Bright Burning Stars. Following two teens fighting for center stage and a spot in the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet, this page-turning novel explores the lengths it takes to turn talent into a career. A gifted new writer, Small brings the reader into the passionate world of ballet all while telling an engrossing story of female friendship.
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.
With the incredible success of the film Black Swan and dance reality TV shows today, dance seems to be more popular than ever. Kirkus Reviews praises the debut as “addictive, angst-y, and heartfelt” while Entertainment Weekly.com calls out that Bright Burning Stars is “notable for the way it tackles sensitive topics such as mental illness and eating disorders”. 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.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion and my review.
Bright Burning Stars follows two young dancers, Marine and Kate, as they work towards their dream of becoming professional dancers, and winning first prize in a competition to be selected for a ballet company.
The book switches between perspectives, which for the most part was interesting. Getting the two different storylines, and also the different angles of the same events was also interesting. At times, however, it was difficult to notice a change in the perspectives. There were times when I would be reading and I wouldn’t be able to tell who was narrating, until something more defining to one of the characters happened, like talking to the other protagonist. There was a lot of individuality in the characters themselves, but there was not as much in the writing.
Marine was a fascinating character, and one who I was definitely rooting for the whole story. The way that her past, and the story with Oli, a character, unfolded throughout the book was fascinating, and was very well done. Marine also really struggled with her weight and with body image, and throughout the book suffered from an eating disorder. The way that was written I thought was done well, with how it was addressed, and with how it was discussed by the different characters.
On the other hand, I did not like Kate. She seemed to on one hand be fully invested in her dance career, and clearly was, however some of her decisions were really careless, and she really had trouble learning from her past mistakes. She so depended on the approval and attention of others, yet she was not always the best friend to Marine. Her storyline and character arc were very interesting to read about though, and I think that the way that her character was written was great.
Cyrille was one character who was very interesting, very well written, and was a character that I absolutely despised. In the beginning, he is portrayed as perfect, because that is how Marine and Kate see his dancing (and he is an incredible dancer). However, at the book goes on, more and more about him as a person is revealed.
Luc was wonderful, and I think really deserved more. He is another dancer at the school, and although he plays an important role in the book, I think that he should have had more backstory, and that we should have gotten to know more about him.
The plot itself didn’t have one key turning moment or revolve around one specific thing, but more followed the dancers over months of their life, leading up to the final selection of dancers. The plot was very compelling, and I was constantly entertained while reading.
The book handles more serious topics such as depression and eating disorders very well, all set on a backdrop that was fleshed out in a way that only added to the depth of the book. I really enjoyed reading it, and would definitely recommend it to someone wanting to read a darker and more serious YA book about young ballet dancers.
A. K. Small was born in Paris, France. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States, where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.
I really enjoyed reading Bright Burning Stars, and I think that it is a wonderful book. It does contain more serious and dark topics, which I think are handled and written very well, and has a compelling plot that pulls the reader in.