Bright Burning Stars – A.K. Small’s stunning insight into the world of competitive ballet

Bright Burning Stars is the tale of two prima ballerina hopefuls and their journey through their year as first class Rats at the prestigious Nanterre ballet academy. Having been friends since they were in Division 6,  Marine and Kate have each other’s backs regardless of their position in life and will support each other to the very end. Each after a single coveted spot with the Paris Opera, they are determined that one of them will take the crown.

The novel starts with the girls having come back from the shock
loss of one of their peers after she is found dead in her single room’s twin
bed. The news has shaken up their entire division right on the eve of the commencement
of their final year and the friends are determined not to let it get to them.
Marine, the ever faithful friend, ranks lower in the scores than primadonna
Kate but so long as one of them wins the title, everything will be fine. Right?
Wrong!

Enter the Demi-god, a sweet-talking, hunk of a dancer and
the love interest of, well, to be honest everyone who exists within the wall of
the Nanterre Academy. When he starts to pay romantic attention to both the
girls, things start to heat up and loyalties are abandoned.

With Marine and Kate, you get what you would expect of
ballerina hopefuls. They train all day and night, obsessively watch what they
eat and generally act like teenage girls should during their spare time. As
roommates since they both arrived at their prestigious school, they have developed
a best friend relationship to rival all bestie relationships. They giggle and
compare boys and come out altogether mostly whole by the end. Its sweet and
gets even the most blackhole-instead-of-a-heart Ice Queen to feel all the
things.

In the grant scheme of all things character development though,
although the girls are the centre of the narrative, now don’t throw things, the
male characters were better. There’s the Demi-god who is slick and stunning
both in appearance and his dance style – while reading this, I could envisage
all the sweettalking pas de deux partners of my younger years. He’s charisma and
talent and machismo all bundled into one highly toned, hunk of a teenager, as
would be expected of a male dancer who is so close to being a professional.

Then there’s Luc, the absolute polar opposite of the Demi-god.
Luc is guy friend goals – he’s sweet and thoughtful and just generally
marshmallowy. Yeah, he’s missing some bits (literally) but I mean who doesn’t love
the underdog.

Which leads me to the final dancer in the Holy Trinity of eye
candy, Benjamin Desjardins. He’s the ‘older guy’ of the piece, which kind of doesn’t
really say much because its teenage girls at the centre of this story. Benjamin
has it all but wants more. He has the prestige, the fame and the constant stream
of attractive women throwing themselves at him but who doesn’t want more if
they can have it. I think he was probably my favourite character out of everyone
because well he’s just a bit of a jerk to be honest.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with the world of ballet, expect
to be pulling out a dictionary a lot. Or searching YouTube for videos of
various moves. Small utilises traditional ballet terminology throughout Bright
Burning Stars and even throws I some extra French for good measure. I will note
here though that most French used throughout is explained in English within a
few words to a sentence, so don’t fear the unfamiliar!

So, this brings me to the overall narrative. It’s a typical
friends to enemies (kind of) back to friends again moment. Kate and Marine’s
friendship is unbreakable for the most part, but they have a few hiccups along
the way. Now I feel it is imperative at this point in the review to tell people
that there are some triggering issues discussed throughout this novel. It bridges
teen pregnancies, suicides and dives down the rabbit hole of eating disorders. While
these may be confronting to some, Small spins the story in such a way that each
is treated with the courtesy it should be afforded, never portraying any of it
in a light that seems shameful to the characters involved.

When it comes to the final pages, the tale of Kate and
Marine culminates in a way that pulls at the heart strings, lifting any heavy
feeling and concluding the narrative in such a way that everything feels neatly
tied off. While there is potential for a second book should Small one day wish
to revisit this pair of friends, it stands very well on its own. Although the
character development of each of the girls felt a little clunky and vague in
parts, overall their progression felt logical and natural.

Overall it was a fairly pleasant view into my world of years gone by and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a trip down memory lane with a competitive side.

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