Published by Algonquin Young Readers on May 21, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
Today is my stop on the Algonquin Young Readers blog tour for A.K. Small’s debut novel, Bright Burning Stars. I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this fantastic read with all of you. Thanks so much to Brittani from Algonquin for inviting me to take part in the tour.
BRIGHT BURNING STARS Review
A.K. Small’s Bright Burning Stars is a powerful debut that exposes the dark underbelly of competition at an elite ballet school in Paris. The story follows Marine Duval and Kate Sanders, who have been best friends ever since they first started training at the school. As the girls get older, the training gets more and more intense and the stakes get higher. What every student wants is “the prize” – a spot in a prestigious ballet company. The problem? Only one male and one female student are chosen each year to win the prize and the competition is truly fierce, with students resorting to desperate measures to give themselves an edge over their fellow competitors. Can Marine and Kate’s friendship survive in such a cutthroat environment?
This was such an addictive read for me, in part because of the nature of the competition itself and because of the toll it took on each of the student dancers. There was just so much tension and suspense! I couldn’t stop turning the pages because I wanted to know who was going to win, of course, but also what the students were willing to do in order to win. The very nature of the competition pits students against one another, forcing them into isolation from one another rather than encouraging them to bond. As if that weren’t enough, there is also the regular ranking of students based on performance, which leads the students to define their self-worth strictly in terms of what their ranking happens to be at that moment and their sense of worth goes up or down as the rankings change.
I think the author does an incredible job of vividly and realistically portraying just how unhealthy such an environment is and what a strain it can put on even the strongest of friendships. This is an environment primed for mental health struggles, drug abuse and eating disorders in the strive for a perfect dancer’s body, endless cattiness and jealousy, and even suicidal thoughts. I found the challenges that both Marine and Kate faced to be riveting, and between the physical and emotional strain they were both under, I truly worried from page to page if both of them, and their friendship, could withstand the immense pressure they were under.
I also loved the way the author starkly contrasts the exquisite beauty of the dance itself with all of that ugliness that takes place behind the scenes. I thought it made for a very powerful read.
Bright Burning Stars is a moving read about the drive for perfection, unrealistic expectation, and the need to sometimes reevaluate what’s most important in life. I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in a dark story that will leave you with plenty to think about long after you’ve finished reading.
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.