Review: BRIGHT BURNING STARS by A.K. Small

Review:  BRIGHT BURNING STARS by A.K. SmallBright Burning Stars by A.K. Small
four-stars
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on May 21, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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.

four-stars

About A.K. Small

A.K. SMALL was born in Paris. 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 in Seattle 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.

Blog Tour Review: IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan Carlton

Blog Tour Review:  IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan CarltonIn the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
four-stars
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on April 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

Thanks so much to Algonquin Young Readers for inviting me to take part in their blog tour to promote Susan Kaplan Carlton’s new book, In the Neighborhood of True.  This was a wonderful read for me, so I’m thrilled to share my thoughts on it with my fellow readers.  Thanks to Netgalley for providing an ARC for me to read and review.

 

 

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE Review

 

Don’t let that lovely pastel pink cover fool you into thinking Susan Kaplan Carlton’s In the Neighborhood of True is a light and fluffy read.  It is easily one of the most powerful books I’ve read so far this year.

Set in the 1950’s in Atlanta, Georgia, In the Neighborhood of True is meant to be a work of  historical fiction that explores the racism and anti-Semitism that was rampant during that time period.  While the story itself is inspired by the Atlanta Temple bombing that took place in 1958, what makes the book such a hard hitting read, however, is that it’s not just historical fiction.  It really smacked me right in the face as I was reading this book that the hate and prejudice main character Ruth Robb was witnessing in the 50’s is still alive and well today, as people now have to contend with Islamophobia and homophobia in addition to the anti-Semitism and racism that we still haven’t managed to eradicate.

I always root for an underdog and it became apparent as soon as I started reading that Ruth Robb was my underdog.  Forced to relocate to Atlanta from Manhattan after her father passes away, Ruth, with her dark eyes and wild dark curls, sticks out like a sore thumb when she first enters the land of sweet tea, magnolia balls, and debutantes and meets the blonde, perfectly-coiffed “Pastel Posse” she will be attending school with.  She very quickly realizes that she has a hard choice to make:  either embrace her Jewish background and become a social outcast or try to pass as a Christian so that she can participate in the balls and other pre-debutante events and hang with the popular crowd at school.  Ruth is torn because she feels like she’s selling out her heritage, but there’s a part of her that wants to take the path of least resistance and do what she needs to do to just fit in.

Ruth’s inner conflict is the force that drives the plot of In the Neighborhood of True and I think the author does a fantastic job of making Ruth’s struggle feel authentic and relatable.  Don’t we all want to just fit in at times and not have everything be a struggle?  In Ruth’s case though, fitting in with the ‘It’ crowd at school means hiding who she is and what she believes, and it leads to her living a double life and hoping that neither side realizes the truth, a double life that is ultimately unsustainable long-term.

Even though the story is mostly about Ruth and the difficult journey she has to make in order to find and embrace her true self, In the Neighborhood of True is so much more than just a coming of age story.  It takes a hard look at anti-Semitism and at racism, shining a spotlight on the violent, horrific hate crimes committed by the Ku Klux Klan. These acts were gut wrenching to read about and made me all the more sad that it’s still happening today. For this reason, Ruth wasn’t the only underdog I was rooting for as I was reading.  There was an active Jewish resistance movement present in the book and I was cheering them on all the way, especially since they were working tirelessly to fight anti-Semitism and racism.  As a character in the book states, “When hatred shows its face, you need to make a little ruckus.”

In the Neighborhood of True is an important and timely read, but it’s also a beautifully written story.  The author perfectly captures the nostalgic atmosphere of the South in the 1950’s – the music, the dances, the fashion and hair, the Co-Colas, and more, while at the same time, exposing that dark underbelly.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, novels with an element of social justice, or even just a good coming of age story.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

four-stars

About Susan Kaplan Carlton

SUSAN KAPLAN CARLTON currently teaches writing at Boston University. She is the author of the YA novels Love & Haight and Lobsterland. Her writing has also appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the finer points of etiquette from a little pink book and the power of social justice from their synagogue.