Blog Tour and Review: BRIGHT BURNING STARS - by A.K. Small

Happy Wednesday! Today I'm thrilled to be participating in the blog tour for Bright Burning Stars. Read on for my review and some more info about this debut YA novel...

Goodreads | Book Depository
Published: May 2019 - Algonquin Young Readers.
Genres: Young adult / contemporary / mystery.  
Pages: 304.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Self harm / sexual content. 
Format: ARC eBook.
Source: Netgalley. I voluntarily read & reviewed this copy. All thoughts are my own.

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'm still not quite sure why I loved this book so much. Maybe after recent reads I just needed something soothing, comforting? Not to say that this book would be considered bad in another situation, but I think it's one of those reads that you'll enjoy more when you're in the right mood. And I was.

Small's writing style is dreamy. It's dreamlike in a way that wraps you in a warm embrace and tingles over your skin while its profundity prickles at your mind. It's not flowery, it's soothing and humble, and I absolutely loved it. The only thing I loved more was the excellent dialogue: breathtakingly laconic and used sparingly, every word spoken between the characters makes an impact. It's so skilful.

The plot is unusual. While on one hand it has all the typical conflicts of a ballet story (stardom, competition, eating disorders, forbidden relationships between students) it's also quite unique in the way that the story focuses on the two main characters' growing up. Essentially, it should be called a coming-of-age story. There's no heated action or shocking drama; instead, there's a powerful development of the heroines' friendship and their evolving relationships with the boys at their school, and the story unfolds in a way that doesn't exaggerate the conflicts going on. First loves, sex, pregnancy, friendships,'s almost Gilmore Girls-eque in the way the story unfolds. If you're wanting melodrama and shock-value, you won't find it here. Instead, you'll watch two young dancers grapple with their lives and loves as they slowly grow up and explore their world. Is it slow? Yes. But it's also poignant, comforting, and absorbing. It's understated in the best way. You feel as if you're on this journey with these girls, and there's something to be said for the humanness of that journey.

 I realised 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."  

What I love about this cast of characters is how realistic they all are. They're teenagers, and so they act like teenagers. They make mistakes, they fall for the wrong people, and they struggle with relatable teen conflicts. Add in the fact that they're living in a strict ballet school, always being kept on their toes (literally and figuratively), and it's a harsh environment for young, hormonal teenagers who are constantly trying to prove themselves in a competitive study and not be sent home. There's no in-between here. It's undiluted pressure that never lets up. You either make it, or you lose everything, and as the readers, we're constantly feeling Marine and Kate's reliance on this one way of life.

Marine and Kate's friendship is the overarching theme of this book. I love how they grow and learn, and how they struggle with everything thrown at them. They go through a lot, and their relationship is constantly being tested. Sometimes it did get a bit too "hot and cold", but ultimately, it reminded me of the distressing period in a teenage girl's life when she's struggling to find her identity and determine who are her true friends. Is it up and down? For sure. But it's not contrived drama, either.

Bright Burning Stars is an enchanting and absorbing tale of friendship, fame, and finding yourself. 

A.K. SMALL was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel 

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