REVIEW: BRIGHT BURNING STARS BY A.K. SMALL

Bright Burning Stars

☆☆3/4

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 read a lot of YA. It’s not a secret. But I think one area of YA I don’t particularly see a lot of in regards to the arts and performing is dance and ballet. Sure, I’ve read books about characters who used to dance but suffered an injury or something else and had to stop. But I can’t recall ever really reading about a true dancer that is continually dancing, and how the ultimate goal is to become a professional. So for me, it was a bit refreshing on a personal level to dive into the world of ballet and experience it the way I have with other sports. All in all, I’d say this book was fine. I know this was a debut author, so I should be a bit more “gentle”, which I’ve been in the past, but there were parts of this book that didn’t match the parts that I liked and it’s those things that I can’t be gentle about. I still think this was a good start for the author and I really liked the story she told, but parts of the execution could’ve been better in my opinion. I could probably bump this up to 3 stars, which I did on Goodreads, but I feel like 2 3/4 stars is where I’m sitting right now. Either way, shout out to my internship at Thomas Allen for giving me a free ARC (which I had gotten on my first day, no less! What a way to start). We love free books.

THE GOOD

  • Without being nitpicky, the book as a whole, the story in general, was very solid. I loved that we weren’t getting the cookie cutter version of the world of ballet and nothing was being sugar coated. Ballet is probably the most competitive and cutthroat sports out there and this book really shed a light on it and that, for me, was the strongest point. I liked how the various levels of ballet were explained and how who you were friends with or who you partnered with could really make or break your career. For our two main protagonists, both were incredibly talented and competitive and it was interesting to see both of their approaches to the dance and how their respective inspirations differed yet they both managed to come out on top. I felt like we were able to see so many sides and perspectives of this world, a world I’ve never really known, but because the author was a dancer herself she was able to truthfully show readers what really goes on in this world. I loved the various dance sequences and I loved the setting that was painted and I felt like it was a place that I could really envision in my mind. 
  • I think the point of the story, as I said, was to show how intensely competitive ballet really is and to show how far these people would go to be at the top and be seen as the best. I think everyone has the conception that ballet dancers don’t eat so they can maintain that certain physique but I don’t think everyone really understands the lengths they go to in order to stay that way. There’s sticking to strict diets, vast physical exercise and routines, weekly weigh ins, and then there are the not so healthy ways like fasting and eating disorders and you quickly see how there’s this giant mind game within ballet and it’s heartbreaking to see how everyone’s mentality is affected. Marine’s character is the biggest example of this and most of her part of the story is struggling to lose her supposed fat and be so skinny that she has a certain number of bones protruding from her body, which she thinks is a good thing. It’s heartbreaking to see how she thinks that not eating and being unhealthy in such a way is a positive thing and means she’s becoming a better dancer when she doesn’t even realize the toll it’s taking on her mental health. As heartbreaking as it is, I think it’s an important portion of the story to bring up and to write and I liked that Small shed light on this aspect of the ballet world.

THE BAD

  • While the overall story and messages the book told were great, I had a huge problem with the characters. I feel like these are characters that you’re not supposed like, as in you’re not supposed to admire them or commend them for what they’re doing or think they’re good people overall. That’s not the point of the book. I understand that 100% and that’s not why I have such a problem with the characters. My issue is the fact that they felt so unbelievably surface level that I couldn’t really see any depth or true characterization to them. Let’s take Marine for example. The things we know about her character is that she has great musicality, she has a dead twin for whom she does all of this for, apparently, and that’s pretty much it. It’s almost like the author decided that these two facts were enough for her character, which I guess they can be, but they don’t offer her any depth. And then there’s Kate, who literally could’ve had the best character depth and development with her realizing her abandonment issues due to her mother leaving her but it was barely glossed over and instead, we’re stuck with a girl who constantly thinks that any boy who’s nice to her is in love with her and does this time and time again. She never learned from her mistakes and constantly let these boys and men take advantage of her but it was ok because “they were in love” when she was being used for her body and that’s it. I thought she was realizing it when it happened again with Benjamin (a grown ass man apparently?) but she just repeated the same mistakes and went through the same motions. It just bothered me so much that this was what Small decided to do with her character rather than choosing to explore her emotions as they were hitting her, exploring why she kept acting like this, how it all stemmed from her mother’s abandonment of her and this was her horrible coping mechanism, but instead we got a suicide attempt just for the drama of it all. These characters, both main and secondary, just felt so surface to me and lacked all the depth I typically look for that it really made an echo.
  • The writing was fine, I suppose, but it’s not the best I’ve seen from a debut author. I think her prose was pretty good and it really shined when we were going through dance routines and sequences, but where I found it to be a bit bumpy was with character interactions, though I’m guessing that goes back to the lack of character depth in general. Characters can’t really hold a conversation if they ain’t got no depth. But there were times where conversations felt too quick, bouncing from one point to another, and because conversation and communication wasn’t quite utilized, feelings and messages felt a bit choppy and confusing and I just wasn’t a fan.
  • I really wish there wasn’t any romance aspect to this book at all because I feel like regardless of who was involved, none of it was written well nor did it actually work. I already mentioned with Kate’s character that she thought she was in love with a boy after he would spend time with her once or just be nice to her and that constantly drove me up the wall. It’s not a good character trait nor is it healthy but what can you do. But with The Demigod’s character, whose name I really cannot remember for the life of me, he created this offensive and gross “code” of finding the perfect girl to be with and just ran through all the different girls at the academy to find “The One” and all of a sudden he thinks that it’s Marine. I didn’t like how this kind of alludes to that kind of behaviour being acceptable or romantic, but at least Marine had more of a brain than Kate did and turned him down. Her and Luc ending up together was the only one that made sense but it doesn’t quite make up for the rest of the romantic messes we had to endure here. I think if we just focused on the relationship/friendship between Marine and Kate instead of enduring all these other chaotic messes the book would’ve worked more for me.

THE BOTTOM LINE

  • Although I have mixed feelings about the book, I really enjoyed peering into the world of ballet and almost seeing the curtain pulled back into a world that is chaotically cutthroat and dangerous. The overall plot and story were pretty wonderful, but with the lack of character depth, whether or not you’re supposed to like the characters, didn’t quite make the book live up to its potential. But whoever designed that cover did a great job because it’s gorgeous. Wow.

BONUS: how this book made me feel in a GIF

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Bright Burning Stars
Author: A.K. Small
Release Date: May 21, 2019
Pages: 304 (Hardcover)
Goodreads

Until next time,

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