Disclaimer: ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review
Trigger Warnings: Drug use, abortion, self-induced starvation.
I’m so elated to have been invited to partake in yet another blog tour hosted by Algonquin Young Readers! This time, it’s for a book that I couldn’t be more excited for the release of– Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small!
Before I begin my review, however, let’s go over what this book is actually about.
Bright Burning Stars follows best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders– The two girls have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School, where they’ve forged an inseparable bond through shared stories of family tragedies and a powerful love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves how far they would go for the ultimate prize: to be named the one girl who will join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic will make them shine, too? Would they risk death for it? Neither girl is sure.
But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.
***VAGUE SPOILERS AHEAD***
This was a truly excellent book. Everything from the plot, characters, and relationships were magnificently crafted, and I couldn’t help but be captivated by the way A.K. masterfully weaved together a story of two very different girls who both had many flaws, yet still managed to be worth rooting for. It’s an understatement to say Bright Burning Stars swept me off my feet, as I honestly was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
But the thing is, I almost put this book down.
For the first 30% or so, I was sceptical of the way the author was handling heavy topics such as mental health and disordered eating. You see, in the book, the two main characters both feel pressured to restrict their bodies of proper nourishment in order to stay “in shape”, or in other words, look like what an accomplished ballerina is “expected” to look like. And I don’t have a problem with this, as I understand that eating disorders are unfortunately common in the world of dance and that they should be discussed and brought awareness to. But I guess you could say my concern was that the author wasn’t actually addressing these characters’ struggles with eating as what they were– mental illnesses. The glorification of mental illness is something that I, and many others I’m certain, despise seeing in literature, which is why I was slightly reluctant to continue reading Bright Burning Stars. I felt like the way Kate and Marine viewed food and calories was something to take seriously, and again, I was worried that the author wasn’t showing that the way the girls’ were thinking was dangerous and that it’s not something readers should embrace or fall into.
But thankfully, the author did do that, as one of the two protagonists ends up in a heartbreaking situation where she is forced to confront her unhealthy habits and seek help to get out of them.
With that being cleared up, I can honestly say that I loved this book!
For starters, as I briefly mentioned previously in this review, both of the main characters won special places in my heart. The girls were both determined, passionate, and unwilling to give up on their goals, yet they were also different in so many ways. Kate’s burning desire to win the prize that led to some of the questionable choices she made throughout the book was a complex aspect of the plot that I really enjoyed reading. And I could say the same thing about the intense grief, sorrow, and guilt Marine feels when she thinks of the accident that took the life of her beloved brother, Oli. And while these differences certainly made Kate and Marine stand out as unique, individual characters, there was one thing that they shared in common throughout the whole novel, from the first page to the last: their unflinching love for one another that remained strong no matter what obstacle got in way– Whether it was the Demigod, the Prize, or the secret that Kate spent a great portion of the book harbouring, at the end of the day, Kate and Marine’s bond was heartwrenchingly unbreakable. Even though their relationship faced hardships, they still cared for each other in a way that only true friends do.
Aside from characters, another thing I really loved about Bright Burning Stars was the ending. Many things were left unsolved– how Kate would move on from a devastating loss she faced in the book, what Marine would do to accept what happened to her brother, and most importantly, what would become of the two girls’ friendship. But I think that’s the beauty of it all. A.K. Small leaves nothing set in stone. None of the previously listed plot-points are completely determined, so it’s up to us, the readers, to let our minds ponder the possibilities of what the fates of Marine and Kate could withhold.
Overall, I’m so grateful for the emotional experience reading this book has given me. The story of Marine and Kate is one that I won’t be forgetting any time soon, as it has touched me in a way more memorable than I can put into words.
Colossal gratitude goes to Algonquin Young Readers– Thank you so much for providing me with yet another wonderful book to review!
Bright Burning Stars is released on May 21st, only two days from now! Go preorder your copy here so you can get your hands on this gem of a book as soon as it hits shelves. You won’t regret it!!
Also, feel free to take a peek at some other recent releases from Algonquin Young Readers! Here are the links to my reviews for Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby and In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Carlton!
Thank you so much for reading this review, I hope it has helped you find a book recommendation you might really enjoy! ❤
Have a lovely rest of your Sunday!