From the outside, Manhattan’s most elite ballet academy is the epitome of perfection. Hundreds of girls masquerade in pink skirts and tight buns, their makeup heavy and smiles bright as they maneuver the many classrooms—arms graceful, legs light. People flock from far and wide to watch their esteemed seasonal productions. But, underneath the facade of beauty lies the dark side of ballet: the tear-soaked pillows, the bleeding feet, the spoons over eyes that have received barely an hour of sleep. For a few minutes under the spotlight, these young adults will do just about anything. But how far is too far? In Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, three students from the ballet academy alternatively narrate a haunting tale of the things ballerinas do after dark.
Bette is the first narrator. It’s fitting, really, since she’s been first her entire life—lead roles in all the ballets, a handsome boyfriend, a face that can charm, and a mouth that can manipulate. But then comes Gigi, the new girl at the academy. Optimistic and bubbly, Gigi brings Bette’s life crashing down when she lands the role of Odette in the fall production of Swan Lake. Suddenly, Bette’s pushed into the background along with June, the third narrator. Unlike Bette, June has always been the understudy, never good enough to land the best roles. But like Bette, she suddenly has reason to sabotage Gigi. If Gigi is taken down, Bette can gain back her pride, and June will gain the lead role she has always vied for. It’s time to sabotage their way to the top…
As Bette, June, and a handful of other students scheme against Gigi, Gigi's paranoia whirls out of control. She tries to maintain her composure, but when is it her turn to strike back? Swan Lake is drawing ever closer, and one ballerina must dance the part of Odette. Ballet isn’t just pointe shoes and pink lipstick—it’s about fighting your way to the top, no matter how many people you push aside on the way.
Tiny Pretty Things was a truly addictive novel. From the lyrical writing style to the fantastic world-building, I couldn’t detach myself from the chaotic beauty of it all. What I loved most was that none of the characters were perfect—far from it—but the authors still managed to make me like them, despite their flaws. Especially Bette. She was vindictive, backstabbing, clingy, et cetera, et cetera, but heaven knows she was the most interesting character in the book.
I also appreciated the heavier themes discussed in this novel. Situations involving racism and eating disorders, among others, were handled with care and awareness. Even just the competitiveness was admirable to me. It’s rare for a book to be so unfiltered and raw about negative human inclinations, yet this one depicted them perfectly. It’s certainly not pretty, but it’s real, which makes the book all the more fascinating to read.
The one thing I would say is that, due to all the drama, the book moved at breakneck speed. There wasn’t much time for me to comprehend and react to the many sabotages, surprises, and romances. While it did amp up the intensity, it mostly had me scrambling to keep up with the events.
Overall, however, this was an absolutely gorgeous novel brimming with action and emotion. If the premise of smiling, lipsticked ballerinas stabbing each other in the back (figuratively, of course!) isn’t enough to entice you, I hope the mention of multifaceted characters and moving writing will convince you to give this a try. Just make sure to brace yourself—especially for the cliffhanger at the end. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton. Halperteen, 2016. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!