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.
I'll disclaim this (that's an acceptable verb here, yes?) by saying that this book got me out of a huge reading slump. Bright Burning Stars is a gorgeous, atmospheric, gut-wrenching novel and A.K. Small has blown it out of the park with her debut novel.
I haven't read a ton of ballet books, but I've read a lot of psychological mind-trips, and this one ranks up there. Kate and Marine have a tough friendship, one of those that's based on love and admiration in the face of inherent rivalry as they compete for the best spots, the best partners, and the best story in their elite ballet school.
I often judge books about girls and female friendship based on how good the girls actually are to one another. And these girls are not very good to one another.
They're both so well-crafted, you feel everything they feel. You feel that love, as well as their deep insecurities and fears. Kate, in particular, is often a nasty character. But her backstory and her motivations are so well illustrated that your heart just aches for her. I knew that girl. I watched her set herself up, again and again, for heartache and disappointment, but I can't do anything about it but hope she got to something better in the end.
The story is told in dual POV, which is popular but hard to pull off. But I think Kate and Marine's voices are different and I never felt tired or bored with one or the other, or confused them. The writing is solid, lush, and lovely.
There are definitely some content warnings here. Being a Ballet Book, there is a lot of emphasis put on their sizes, down to the half-pound, and that is difficult to read. In addition to disordered eating, there's also a lot of self-harm and other issues that just aren't ever addressed in any real way, and certainly not by the adults in the situations.
Should you read it? I don't know if Bright Burning Stars will be for everyone, especially considering some of the content. I think it's definitely for a slightly older audience despite the age of the characters. Despite that, if you like moody, twisting tales of competition, fierce and complicated love, and all the drama behind incredibly talented young artists, then check this out for sure. It left me breathless.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Published May 21, 2019 by Algonquin Young Readers
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