I usually like to open up my reviews with a nice quote or line from the book that I particularly enjoyed or found interesting, but I honestly can´t say I have one from this book.
I was really excited to read this book, but sadly, it was quite the disappointment.
I usually don´t like writing bad things about books out of respect for the hard work and dedication I know goes into writing a book, but I also know it´s not fair as a reviewer to rate things higher solely for that reason.
Now, the premise of this book actually really intrigued me. I like ballet, I even take a class every now and then and I think YA dramas with lots of teens bantering etc. can be really fun to read if written properly. The whole theme of darkness and rivalry pulled me in and made me hit that “deliver to Kindle” button. But I feel like I want my 6 dollars back.
There weren´t many, but to be fair, I´ll include the ones I did find.
- Diversity (kind of)
It´s very well known in the ballet industry that diversity is an issue and I was really glad to know that both authors had a lot of ambition with this issue. Our three main characters and POV´s are Caucasian, Black and Asian so they did manage to tick that off. However, I have some problems with how they chose to handle diversity from the perspective of eating disorders, addiction, and stereotypes and many times if feels like it goes from ethnic diversity to classic stereotypes.
- The last few chapters
In comparison to the rest of the book, I felt the last few chapters were the most intriguing, matching to the premise and I enjoyed them a lot more.
And unfortunately, that´s about it.
The list is long my friends, prepare for ranting.
THE REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT.
- ALL the love triangles
I think I´ve talked about this before, but I honestly don´t have anything against love triangles, HOWEVER, they have to be well written (take The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare for ex.). The love triangles in this book are not just too many (let´s see: Will-Alec-Bette, Alec-Gigi-Bette and June-Jayhe-Sei-Jin and probably more that I forgot) but they are also poorly written in my opinion. If they had kept to one maybe it would have been fine, but to me, it felt like too much in this book.
- Sexual Assault
While I admire Charaipotra and Clayton for trying to fit so many social issues into one book, I don´t feel like they managed to actually handle them very well. Sexual Assault and consent being two of those issues.
First, we´ve got the whole thing around Mr.K, one of their teachers. He is rumored to have had a relationship with a student, Bette´s older sister Adele who now dances in the corps de ballet rather than at the conservatory. Instead of actually showing Bette being opposed to this, she tries to follow Adele´s footsteps by hitting on him herself to try to get the same benefits from Mr. K as Adele did. The only student who really shows opposition is Gigi, but why isn´t it pointed out more how wrong this is? And why choose to try to fit in and handle a huge topic like grooming when you obviously don´t have enough time and focus to dedicate to it?
Secondly, there is the relationship (or what you want to call it) between Henri and Bette.
Now, I don´t know about you, but to me, it was very quickly quite obvious Henri is a predator. The way he approaches and treats Bette and the way he doesn´t care what-so-ever about sexual consent is just disgusting to me. While I´m fine with including a character like this, because how else would you properly represent the issue, it´s the handling of it that rubs me the wrong way. There are a few examples, but this one in particular just disgusts me, to be frank:
“His tongue is rough and thick as it forces its way into my mouth, exploring without consent. His hands wander, and even though I’m half repulsed, I can’t help but respond. I feel small and scared, but at the same time, safe.”
Okay, let me just repeat that for you: “at the same time, safe.”
Yes, you read it right. Now, here´s my question, why on earth are you showing a person performing sexual assault, starting the victim’s reaction off with repulsion (good) and then making it worse by ending it with her feeling safe!? How is this okay?
I could go on, but I´ll leave it there.
- Eating disorders and Addiction
Once again, something I didn´t feel they handled very well. I won´t say it was completely bad as you can between June and Gigi´s chapters, for example, see how much better Gigi is doing and how her body benefits from eating and fuelling it rather than entering the anorexic/bulimic spectrum June is in, but it still felt like the issue was left quite open ended and sometimes even had things showing some kind of benefit of starvation, like June describing how much better she would feel and how much better she could dance. Not to mention all of Bette´s comments about calories here and there making her fat as well as her drug addiction only really showing her feeling better and benefitting from the pills.
I also don´t really like that the book does contain a few fairly vivid scenes of June´s disorder and it includes precise descriptions of how she is making it possible (like cheating on weigh-in and the diet tea) which without a trigger warning can be a very bad influence on someone already struggling with these issues. It could even act as a guide for them.
I´m aware this debate is quite controversial and a very similar debate is going on around the famous novel and now Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. But, to try to keep it short, here is my take on it:
All representation and awareness are good. But, in order for it to be good, you need to also discuss, inform and warn your readers/viewers. If someone isn´t of age or in a mental state to be able to handle reading/viewing it, they shouldn´t and it´s the responsibility of the author to offer warning and information about it. If people are of age/mental state, it´s still the author’s responsibility to ensure there are resources available and proper handling of the issue so that it’s obvious the behavior shown is not something to strive for. How else are we supposed to learn and be aware?
Then there are a few other different cons, but I won´t go in depth about them as I´ve already rambled on for so long…
- Flat character ARC´s (special snowflakes, only the one good person has good parents, all other parents are rich and mean).
- No proper plotline.
- All the drama and pranks fail to cause intrigue and instead becomes monotone.
- Using Sei-Jins homosexuality as a threat.
- June´s plotline removing focus: if it had only been Bette and Gigi it would have felt more focused and I would have had a clearer sense that the book was about their rivalry but Junes chapters disrupted that for me.
So, let´s just say I didn´t get along all that great with this book and I´m pretty confident I won´t be reading the second in this duology. I was really excited about this book and getting a good “mean girls” drama book with batshit crazy chicks but only the last chapter or so really gave me any hint of that feeling, and by the end I was so tired of it I couldn´t really enjoy it all finally escalating (which it also did very quickly and randomly before coming to an end).
Perfection comes at a price, this book said. Well, so does trying to make everything happen at once. Sometimes it´s better to just stick to a couple issues handled thoroughly and well rather than a whole heap done so-so.