Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small. Thanks so much to Algonquin Young Readers for asking me to take part.
Title: Bright Burning Stars
Author: A. K. Small
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: May 21, 2019
My Rating: ★★.2
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.
ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
“Would you die for The Prize?”
That’s a legitimate question for Marine and Kate, girls who have been training together for years at the Paris Opera Ballet Studio. If the competition doesn’t get them, the pressure might. Since childhood, they’ve been training to win The Prize: the two slots – one boy, one girl – to join the corps de ballet. If they lose, they’ll have wasted years and years of blood, sweat, and tears, not to mention they’ll be asked to leave the school in shame. And so, in their last year before the final competition that will decide their fate, its time for each girl to ask themselves: what would they do for The Prize?
Marine and Kate started off as roommates, became friends, and throughout the years grew to be closer than sisters. Through all their trials and struggles, they had each other’s back. Each has their own struggles: Marine struggles with her weight and has significant body dysmorphia, and Kate is constantly battling depression that threatens to pull her under with every upset. Initially they bonded over their shared history of loss: Kate’s mother, and Marine’s twin brother Oli; their similar pasts held them together when everything else threatened to tear them apart. They even forged a pact when they were little: if the company wouldn’t take them both, it couldn’t have either of them. But as the pressure mounts, the reality that there is only one spot becomes more and more glaring, and loyalties are tested and called into question more than ever. And as each girl is forced to confront her inner demons head-on, it’s unclear if their friendship and love for each other is enough to overcome their desire to win and love of The Prize.
I ended up giving this book 2.5 stars. I haven’t read a book based at a ballet academy before and really enjoyed the setting. I danced ballet a lot when I was younger (although I was never very good) and remember the feeling of flying across the floor, and how free I felt. I loved getting a little bit of that feeling back through this story. I also enjoyed the author’s writing, and look forward to reading more by her.
While I didn’t love either main character separately, I related with each of them for different reasons. I felt at first like they were each the opposite side of the other’s coin, balancing each other out. Marine is more serious and dancing for her brother’s memory; nothing will keep her from honoring him by winning The Prize. Kate is full of life and dances with a fiery passion, but just as her highs are sky-high and bright, her lows come on just as quickly and fall just as far. However, as we read on, it becomes clear that the friendship is definitely toxic and this is never really addressed. I will also mention that Kate’s depression was never labeled, addressed, or acknowledged by Kate herself, her family, friends, or faculty, which I found extremely problematic.
“I loved everything about Marine – her fierce loyalty, sunny outlook, willingness to share all she had, even her family, what was left of it. Marine was my bridge, the person that made France and Nanterre turn into something besides a war zone. Like I’d said to Cyrille, Marine was family.”
I also didn’t love Cyrille, the top male dancer at the school – the girls call him the Demigod, and are sure that sharing his spotlight will help their careers along as well. I didn’t trust him for one single minute. BUT. Luc. Marine’s best guy friend. I loved him and my heart will beat for him forever and ever. No matter what happened, he was always there for her with a kind word and music to brighten her day, and his loyalty never wavered. His friendships were never secondary to his desire for The Prize, and he was honestly the very best character in this story. Branch-off book? PLEASE?
Watching these characters grow and develop throughout the story was truly the best part of this book, and the author did it so well. Even if I didn’t like the character themselves, their arcs were fascinating and so so satisfying. They each discovered things about themselves they hadn’t recognized before. Mistakes were made and hearts were broken, but in the end each character got to realize what was truly important to them, and there was a kind of poetic beauty to that – even if their stories were wrapped up with kind of “magic fixes” and weren’t entirely realistic.
“I realize that I’d forgotten the essential: the why I danced. My heart had been so busy beating only for boys that little by little, even ballet, what I loved most in the world, had gone by the wayside.”
I did have some definite issues with this book. It slowed down a lot in the middle, and I felt like it really dragged the plot out. I also felt like the synopsis mislead me a little bit – I was expecting more of a murder mystery type plot, but the death mentioned in the synopsis was really only talked about in one or two sentences. But the biggest issue I had was this: this book has major eating disorder triggers, and there were no trigger warnings mentioned anywhere. Marine struggles with severe body dysmorphia, and essentially almost starves herself in pursuit of the prize. She is obsessed with counting her ribs that protrude and pinching the skin at her hips, and not a chapter goes by where it is not mentioned. Now, hear me out. I understand the ballet culture is very focused on body image and weight, and I understand that Marine definitely had some issues that were being portrayed as a foil to Kate’s depression. HOWEVER. It was super heavy handed and overdone, and without any trigger warnings prior, I was not in the right mind space to read this book. So friends, if ED triggers are a problem for you, I caution you to steer clear.
Other trigger warnings include: talks/mentions of suicide, drug abuse, starvation/ED/body dysmorphia, death of a sibling, abortion/teen pregnancy (the decision is never really dealt with by the person and continues to haunt them for the rest of the book), parent abandonment.
Overall, I gave this book 2.5 stars, and like I mentioned, loved the setting and really enjoyed the writing. Obviously it had some major issues with dark topics that were not addressed well, and I hope in any future books these are handled a bit better. I look forward to reading more by A.K. Small in the future, and I hope you guys enjoy her writing as well!
“That’s when I decided to stay, to live, because weren’t patterns, especially fraught ones, meant to be broken?”
Bright Burning Stars is releasing on May 21.
*All quotations are taken from an ARC and are subject to change prior to publication.