Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle

How far is too far?

At one of Manhattan's most elite ballet schools, wafer-thin ballerinas pull their hair into sleek buns and lace their pointe shoes high, waiting for their chance to shine. But beneath the pretty, polished surface, these girls are hiding some terrible secrets and telling some twisted lies.

Prvileged Bette is tiny and beautiful -- like a ballerina in a music box. But living forever in the shadow of her ballet-star sister and under the weight of family expectations brings out a dangerous edge in her. 

Perfectionist June can turn a flawless plie and diligently keeps her weight below 100 pounds. But she's never landed a lead role. Tired of always being the understudy, this year she'll settle for nothing but the best -- even if she must resort to some less-than-perfect means to get there. 

And new girl Gigi isn't your traditional ballerina. A free-spirited California girl, she's not used to the fierce competition. Still, that doesn't stop her from outperforming every dancer in the school. But even she's hiding a ticking time bomb, and the very act of dancing just might expose her secrets to everyone. 

Being a prima isn't all satin and lace; sometimes you have to play dirty. With the competition growing fiercer with every performance, and harmless pranks growing ever darker, it's only a matter of time before one spark ignites... and even the best get burned.

~Print copy, 438 pages
Published by HarperTeen

So, my first review in awhile. Here goes.

Plot: 3/5

The plot was alright. The pacing was pretty well off; the pranks grew steadily more menacing, while Gigi (the butt of most of the pranks) grew more and more tense and on edge. There were places it dragged a little, and there were places that didn't seem to fit with the rest of the plot, things that were brought up and never went anywhere or were mentioned again. One of these things was the (creepy) way Mr. K, the ballet instructor, took sexual favors from girls. But that wasn't even a minor part of the plot, just the basis for a nasty rumor about Gigi that wasn't even one of the worse pranks. And it was just casually tossed in there, and nothing happened with it.

Overall, plot was fine. Not the most engaging plot I've ever encountered, but definitely not the worst. A bit clumsy in places, but tension/pacing were good.

Worldbuilding: 4/5

I didn't have any problem with the worldbuilding, really. It was done well. The book is set in Manhattan, in New York City. But most of the novel doesn't take place outside the walls of the Conservatory. There are several key points when the characters go outside -- most notably at the end -- but the intensity of the girls' ballet practice makes their choice to stay inside completely believable and necessary. I know little about ballet, I confess -- I did take a beginner's class this past spring, but that's about it -- but in my limited experience, the ballet part seemed believable. The technical part of the dancing, I mean, not just the world it's taking place in. But I like the sparse detail and the intense characterization; every detail helps convey that particular viewpoint character's mind. And they all view the details differently.

Characters: 4/5

The thing about the characters isn't really an issue I see other people having with this novel. My main problem is the boy-centered obsessions between the girls, and that sort of thing isn't really my style. (You can find my opinions on romance here.) Gigi and Bette are almost exclusively fighting over priviliged ballet man, Alec. And even my favorite viewpoint character, June, is fighting to steal the boyfriend of her ex-friend, Sei-Jin. The jealousy plays a major role in the bitterness towards Gigi, of course, but more of the drama in this novel seems to come from Alec's attentions and the creepy French boy Henri's attentions towards Bette.

But June is also very centered on her family and her own eating disorder, which makes her my favorite. Suddenly, she isn't trying to be the girlfriend; she's fighting with herself, and her family, as she struggles to find out who she is. Gigi gets everything in this novel, even as she's harassed mercilessly for it; I don't mind her, in a way, because while she gets the man almost right off the bat, you can see the effect the harassment has on her. And Bette -- what I love about Bette is how much mystery there is surrounding her, even as her point of view is being told in first person. The clues are there; the interpretations are several, none confirmed. Bette was handled masterfully by the authors. She is the ultimate mean girl, but she is also crushed by her family, which makes her only slightly sympathetic; and the authors aren't afraid to rip everything away from her. But did she pull the pranks? Did she pull all of them? She is as mysterious as she is mean, desperate, and lonely.

Writing/Theme: 4/5

The writing is pretty well-off in this novel. The tension and pacing, as I mentioned above, were good. I didn't notice any typos at all. And the handling of character and plot arcs are wonderfully done. I don't know what quality is missing, that makes the writing go from "good" to "superior", but I don't sense it. I don't know. Perhaps it is all of the romance, and all of the troubling boy-centered drama that I don't like. I don't like what that says about the characters, and what theme is coming across with it: that girls are only obsessed with boys? That boys are the center of a woman's world, even in a world where there are few boys at all to be worrying about?

And the relationship between Henri and Bette (I'm not confirming an actual relationship, I mean in general terms) is too... weird. Creepy. Henri was the boyfriend of a girl Bette played cruel pranks on, and he becomes really creepy in his attentions -- several times, he's described as pushy, aggressive, too eager, and manipulative. He's constantly threatening to expose her secrets, and yet she continually is described to be somewhat attracted to him. And at one point, Gigi encounters his sexual creepiness, too, which is waved off. Perhaps this rant should be under character, but I don't like the implications of this particular character. It's like nobody sees him for the creep he is, except for (sometimes) Bette.

Ending: 5/5

What I love most about this novel, actually, is the ending. Not in an "I'm glad it's over" sense, but in the sense that it was masterfully executed. I won't spoil it... but it isn't happy, and it isn't tied up all neatly with a bow. There are loose ends and mysteries never solved, and it isn't happy at all. Because this novel isn't a fairy tale, and neither is the dance world it's set in. The ending perfectly conveys the atmosphere of competition that's promised in the summary.

Overall: 4/5 

I do like this novel, despite my dislike of romance. I knew when I picked it up that there would be drama of the boy kind. It seems like all novels inevitably have such drama in it, and I was just sick of trying to find otherwise. But I am glad I picked this novel up, even if I never read it again. I would recommend it to you, if you like contemporary fiction and jealousy and melodrama between girls.


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