I was a child of ballet stories. I don’t have the feet or the discipline to achieve the picture perfect poses struck by prima ballerinas, but I found myself entranced by stories like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.
I remember getting a little older when dance movies were in their heyday. I remember watching Julia Stiles in Save the Last Dance, marrying the prim and proper technique of ballet with edgy and raw hip-hop.
Then I remember seeing Center Stage, where once again ballet gets transformed into something visceral and unique. I had forgotten about the experiences I had watching those movies until I picked up this audiobook.
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton is a ballet book that makes a disciplined task seem just your average high school. If your high school let you perform elegant dance classes for six hours a day.
The book follows three ballerinas at the American Ballet Conservatory in New York City as they compete for roles that will hopefully get them noticed by rival schools and companies. All the while these girls sacrifice, manipulate, and back stab each other at every turn.
I expected a very teenager-y high school novel, and what I got was a really diverse and insightful look into how the world of ballet works and what someone really has to do to succeed in it.
The page-turning tension of the threats definitely kept the story interesting but I was far more interested in the stories of the girls themselves and I found that the characterization was what really drove the story forwards.
While it would be easy to have these characters being a cookie cutter girls with one of a different ethnicity, Charaipotra and Clayton created three distinct girls that added a unique texture to the book.
Bette, is a legacy. Her sister Adele danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy while she was at the conservatory, and Bette feels that similar roles belong to her.
Gigi, is a black ballerina the new girl from California. Since this is her first year, she thinks she’s a long shot for any role, let alone a solo.
June, is a half-Korean student who loves to dance. When we are introduced to her at the casting announcement, she says that she never gets the roles she wanted because she doesn’t fit a type.
Putting these three points of view up front made me think back to Center Stage. I remember race an underlying theme in that film as well and to see it discussed here in another way added to the substance of the book.
Each girl has their own struggles within this world and it goes beyond race as they try to reach perfection in the world of ballet. The characters here are three dimensional and diverse and they are what makes the story come alive.
Let’s be honest, there’s no real mystery as to who is doing what, but as the events unfold you see the relationships these girls have with each other evolve. To me, that’s what makes this story interesting.
If you’re a fan of a thriller, this is a good book, but it isn’t a classic whodunit. It’s definitely more a psychological thriller, set in this high-stress world where perfection is the most important goal.
After walking away from this book and spending some time processing the story. I found that the overall tone reminded me a lot of the film Black Swan. It’s a character study of these three girls who know what they want and are trying to achieve it at any price.
FINAL RATING: 4 Stars
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton is now available for purchase! You can find the audiobook on Audible and iTunes. You can purchase a physical copy through your local independent bookseller, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.