Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton



Rating: 4 stars
Pub Date: May 2016, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: young adult contemporary thriller
Format/Source: hardcover, my own copy
Status: book 1 of the Tiny Pretty Things duology

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Summary:

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.


Review:
Okay, this book is all about the capital-D Drama, and I am HERE. FOR. IT. Tiny Pretty Things is like Black Swan meets Gossip Girl meets Mean Girls. It goes deep into the ballet world and combines it with teenage regular drama with high-stakes dreams and also complete mind-fuckery.

Tiny Pretty Things is a study in comparison and contrast among the three narrators. Bette is the supposed golden girl: she's rich, she's beautiful, she's got the hottest boyfriend, her sister is one of the best ballerinas ever to grace their school, and she is sure to follow. Except Bette can never manage to be #1 on the stage. First she gets passed over in favor of her boyfriend Alec's cousin Cassie, and then, after Cassie leaves school because of an "accident," new girl Gigi swoops in and steals the spotlight. Bette is a hot mess in the best way. She's Blair Waldorf and Regina George combined, and anyone who dares cross her feels her wrath, be it nasty notes scrawled in lipstick, psycho-level cutout letters, or the classic could shoulder. No one is safe, not even Bette herself because everything she does to hurt other people usually only hurts her in return. Bette is a glorious train wreck because she's the one doing it all. At any point, she could stop, but she keeps on keeping on, and you can't look away.

June is a complete perfectionist. She does everything just right in class and out of it, but like Bette, she's always shunted aside for stars that shine a little bit brighter. Like Bette, June also battles some serious inner demons, except with June, her drive to be the best often has her hurting herself instead of others. June literally fights with her body in every chapter (and sometimes fights her mother as well), and although she can be equally nasty as Bette (she does some awful "pranks" aka straight up bullying as well), it's less entertaining and more heartbreaking to witness. Honestly, I felt for June because she is a truly wonderful dancer, but she's not only fighting an eating disorder, she's also fighting an incredibly racist system. But more on that in a second.

Gigi is the last of our main characters. She's the consummate good girl, the new girl, and the school's rising star. While Bette and June want to be on top to meet/overcome familial pressures or just for the sake of being on top, Gigi dances for the love of the dance. I definitely sympathized with Gigi because the other dancers bully and manipulate her, but she IS the good girl so story-wise, she gets more complex (and therefore more interesting to read about) as she falls.

One thing that Tiny Pretty Things does so well is address racial issues. June is Korean-American, and Gigi is black. June is the best of the Korean dancers and is afforded certain soloist opportunities, but she's never allowed to be the principal because of the history and tradition of ballet to have white principals (if not entire casts). It is strange that June and the other non-white girls are pushed aside when Gigi is allowed to be a star, but Gigi's attitude and passion for ballet as well as her perfect, natural form push her ahead of the pack. However, Gigi is not immune from racial tension and she faces gossip at best and abuse at worst from her classmates in regard to her skin as well as being the new girl.

I also thought Tiny Pretty Things explored health, both physical and mental, in interesting and appropriate ways, especially regarding how difficult ballet is on the body. The girls often mention how gross ballerina feet are, such a contrast to the rest of a ballerina's body, which must be flawless. Gigi has a heart defect and must take extra care to keep herself safe, but she also prioritizes dancing over precautionary measures like wearing a heart monitor. June's eating disorder is at the forefront of her story, as well as that of a side character Liz, but all the girls mention food, weight, body type, and regular visits to the school nurse, who encourages the girls to stay healthy, even as the teachers praise thin, lithe bodies. I love how Tiny Pretty Things shows how a girl's body can seem so different from her own perspective to that of someone else. For instance, June and Bette's mother mention Bette's weight gain and loss while Gigi thinks at one point that she'll never be as lean as Bette. June and Liz both express pleasure with their bodies for hitting certain goals, while other characters mention how frightening their bodies appear.

Most of all, what I really like about Tiny Pretty Things is how it explores relationships between women. I'm all about women supporting one another, but our society often presents situations in which women must compete against each other. Women are the stars of ballet while men are more like eye candy so the girls are competing for solo spots. Straight male dancers and opportunities to meet boys outside dance both are few and far between so Gigi and Bette end up in one love triangle while June finds herself in another with a former friend. Bette competes with her sister for their mother's attention and the praise of Mr. K, the school's director. And these three aren't the only girls around so not only are they challenging one another, they also have an entire school full of other dancers to contend with. These girls are so horrible to each other, but they're not given any opportunities to truly make positive relationships with one another. THAT is interesting to me. The teachers and parents turn a blind eye to what happens outside of the dance studio because they are so focused on what happens inside of it.

Tiny Pretty Things is a refined, female version of The Lord of the Flies, and it's utterly captivating. There are so many twists, so much betrayal, so many lies, and the narrators are quite unreliable so readers are kept guessing as to who is doing what (you will be surprised who is actually behind all the "pranks") and why. And that ENDING. Wow. I can't wait to finish my reread of Tiny Pretty Things (currently listening to the audio) so I can finally dive into Shiny Broken Pieces. It promises even more danger and drama, and I think it's going to be fantastic!

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About Sona:
Sona Charaipotra is an entertainment and lifestyle journalist published by major media from the New York Times to TeenVogue. Sona received her MFA in Writing for Children from the New School. Thanks to a Masters in screenwriting from New York University (where her thesis project was developed for the screen by MTV Films), Sona is a strong believer that three-act structure can work in fiction, too. She is the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book development company with a decidedly diverse bent, and the author of the dance drama TINY PRETTY THINGS and its sequel, SHINY BROKEN PIECES (co-written with Dhonielle Clayton), both available via HarperTeen. Find her on the web at SonaCharaipotra.com or CAKELiterary.com, or on Twitter: @sona_c

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About Dhonielle:
Dhonielle Clayton was born in the suburbs of Washington, DC and spent her childhood Saturdays at the comic book store with her father and most evenings hiding beneath her grandmother’s dining room table with a stack of books. She earned a BA in English at Wake Forest University. She was an English teacher for three years and worked with educational curriculum. Being surrounded by children, Dhonielle re-discovered her love of children’s literature and earned a masters in children’s and young adult literature from Hollins University. Currently, she is working on both middle grade and young adult novel projects. She moved to NYC where she earned her MFA at the New School's MFA Program. She is co-founder of CAKE Literary, a literary development studio committed to bringing diversity to high concept content.

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2 comments:

  1. I love the synopsis and the diverse characters in this book. I'm new to this one and I'm glad I read your review because I love when books can surprise me. I'm going to have to find this book.

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    Replies
    1. Definitely recommend you give it a shot. I still need to read the sequel!

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