Review: Bright Burning Stars by A. K. Small

Bright Burning Stars by A. K. Small shows an almost impossibly thin girl in arabesque on a black background.

Bright Burning Stars
A. K. Small
Algonquin Young Readers
Available May 21, 2019

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


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.

Bright Burning Stars on Goodreads

My Review

I’m a total sucker for a good ballet book. This probably shouldn’t be surprising, since I took ballet lessons for more than six years and at one time, wanted to pursue dance professionally. So I’m always on the lookout for stories featuring ballerinas because I enjoy reading about dance and all the nostalgia that comes with it.

The ballet terminology runs a bit thick in some places. I’m not sure how this would impact a reader unfamiliar with dance. Sometimes I think it would make certain scenes confusing because without a mental visual of what the characters are trying to do, it would be hard to grasp the significance of the scene. Thankfully, with Google and YouTube at our fingertips, it’s pretty easy to look up the terms and see what the moves look like.

BRIGHT BURNING STARS totally immerses its readers in a high-stakes world where only the top ballerinas remain in the elite program. An injury or indiscretion could mean the end for any student. So could gaining a few pounds too many. Pretty much any bad thing that could happen to a dancer, happens in this book. Pregnancy? Yup. Drug addiction? Check. Weight gain? Eating disorder? Yes. Heartbreak? Injury? Mental health issues? It has those, too.

One thing that was challenging for me reading this book was the way one character reacts to becoming pregnant. She feels it’s a career-ender for her, doesn’t want the baby, and takes some drugs while pregnant, too. While I know unwanted pregnancy is a real issue for some, it was hard for me to read after my own struggles with infertility.

It probably didn’t help that I read those scenes while holding and nursing my baby, the one that for a long time, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to have. So really, that’s just one of those experiences where my story runs very contrary to the character’s journey. I respect that not everyone feels the same about babies or pregnancy. And I’ve learned I probably need to update my mental list of things I can read for now. I had a really hard time connecting with Kate as a character, and I suspect that at least part of it came from my reaction to this part of her story.

But I loved Marine, though– she’s totally the best friend everyone wants to have, and the girl who carries too many burdens until they bowl her over. I definitely connected with her, and found myself really rooting for her to succeed and to stay smarter than some of the games happening around her.

Though the plot isn’t very similar (beyond a bright young dancer reaching for stardom), BRIGHT BURNING STARS reminded me a little bit of the movie BLACK SWAN with Natalie Portman. It had the same kind of intensity and pressure and strong, talented character driven to the edge.

All in all, I’m glad I read BRIGHT BURNING STARS and particularly enjoyed Marine’s character and her story.

Bright Burning Stars on Amazon

Cultural Elements
All characters are French except for Kate who’s American.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used rarely.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Brief but graphic descriptions of sex. It’s clear that the boy is using her, but she thinks this is true love. She makes this mistake more than once.

A girl trades sexual favors for drugs.

At one point, a pregnant character purposefully triggers as miscarriage.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content – TRIGGER WARNING
Students talk about a girl who died by suicide after not being chosen to go on to the ballet company. Includes some graphic descriptions of how she killed herself.

One character intends to die by suicide, taking all preparations to do so.

A girl battles anorexia and ends up nearly hospitalized. Some eating disorder behaviors are normalized by the girls—there are lots of weigh-ins, and the girls are required to keep their weight below a certain point or risk being asked to leave the dance academy.

Drug Content
One dancer is known to have a stash of drugs and alcohol that he sells to the other dancers (or trades for sexual favors). Kate depends on drugs and alcohol in multiple instances to amp her up for rehearsal or drown her sorrows after a heartbreak.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which cost you nothing but, when used, help support this blog.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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