The Inkwell is a series of book reviews, or just rambling thoughts on specific books. For more, amble here.
Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton
Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.
Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette’s desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.
“The moment you think you’re on top is the moment you’ve lost your passion.”
I only picked up Tiny Pretty Things because I’ve been following the two authors professionally through #WeNeedDiverseBooks and their book boutique development company, Cake Literary. The reviews I’d read were positive, but focused on things I don’t have much interest in. I’m not into ballet or dance in the slightest bit, and I usually can’t stand soapy drama. The synopsis compares it to Black Swan and Pretty Little Liars, both of which I don’t like. However. HOWEVER.
This book was wonderful. And I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel in Summer 2016!
So, quick detour… Remember that storm of controversy around the patronizing dismissal of Young Adult books by a certain blustering author? It ignited the ironic conversation around #MorallyComplicatedYA. Unambiguously, I love YA. Not just because my career is in youth development and I think youth are the crux of every society, but also because people love shaming youth for youth-things (see: language trends, selfies, social media) and I will ALWAYS fight for the vitality of these things. A millionfold more if we’re talking about young girl things.
And Tiny Pretty Things is all about the moral complexities of teenage girlhood. It’s about secrets, and why we keep them. It’s about how our deep wounds cause us to relate to one another. It’s about a beautiful arena broken with racism, sexism, and other systematic forms of oppression (which, alas, could describe ballet or literature or any number of things). It’s about ambition and passion.
It galls me, but I know that the moral complexities of June and Bette will cause many “ugh-I-don’t-like-her” reviews, because that’s how people react to morally complex teenage girls. (Men get to be interesting; girls have to be “unlikable.”) For me, their likability was not an important factor. Maybe it says something about me, but I read about their thoughts and actions—the envy, the cruelty, the yearning—and thought it to be uncomfortably human. I squirmed in my seat. On the other hand, Gigi is an extraordinarily likable character who is still imbued with complexities. (Confession: I wanted so badly to shout at June “DEAR GOD JUST BE FRIENDS WITH GIGI OKAY” several times.)
What else? The dance descriptions are exquisite. The romance is pretty cute, though I admit I wasn’t fully invested. And significantly, the book’s treatment of serious issues like eating disorders and bullying is commendable.
I don’t think that the storyline of June’s mystery (though not that big of a mystery) father had enough resolution, but I didn’t mind because there’s a second book coming out! I really hope that the forthcoming book, Shiny Broken Things, will tie up many of the open threads.