Also by this author: Shiny Broken Pieces (Tiny Pretty Things, #2), The Belles (The Belles #1), The Everlasting Rose (The Belles, #2)
Series: Tiny Pretty Things #1
Published by HarperTeen on May 26th 2015
Pages: 448 •Goodreads
Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.
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.
“The Sugar Plum Fairy has the farthest to fall.”
Tiny Pretty Things had all of the makings of a book that I thought would greatly polarize me into the camp of loving it for its darkness and beauty or abhorring it for its drama and pettiness. While the novel definitely did both, I found Tiny Pretty Things to eventually win me over as a compulsively readable story that featured a form of art so often associated with beauty, delicacy, and primness and contrasted it with its harsh realities of its demands, pressures, and feats of athleticism. Charaipotra and Clayton built a novel that showcases so many elements, from cruelty and bullying to diversity and awareness, all wrapped up in an addicting package that is still running as an undercurrent to my thoughts a week after finishing it.
I think the undeniable aspect of this book, from the cover to the synopsis to the way it’s been pitched and received, is its tone. Perhaps piggybacking on the popularity of Black Swan, it uses the backdrop of ballet as a vehicle for stress, sabotage, and cruelty. While I was afraid some of these aspects, such as the “pranks” the characters “played” on each other, would seem childish, they veered much more into the land of unsettling and sometimes downright dangerous and disturbing (which is a horrible thing! But made for very entertaining and compulsive reading…) I will say that sometimes the constant horrible things that the dancers were doing to each other and often to Gigi wore on me, and sometimes I would have to take a break from the negativity, cruelty, and suspicion that permeated each page.
Tiny Pretty Things is told in three alternating first person point of views, and I found the format to really work. You have the literal “ice queen,” cruel Bette, the sweet, new girl Gigi, and the sort of morally ambiguous June, who straddles the line between friend and foe the entirety of the novel. I think this juxtaposition of three characters who all hovered on different ends of the “mean girl” scale was a fascinating way to construct the novel, and while I found it hard to sympathize with a lot of them at times, I appreciate that the authors tried to give each one depth and reasoning behind their behaviors, rather than make them terrible for the sake of plot. The arc of the three POV characters, especially the deterioration of Gigi under the stress and cruelty of her peers, is simultaneously heartbreaking and fascinating, and is done with a gradual hand.
Tiny Pretty Things is also a book that writes wonderfully complex secondary characters, who are able to enthrall and disgust you at the same time (I’m looking at you, Henri). Characters like Cassie, who are off the page 95% of the book yet manage to have such a presence over the plot, and characters who are only brought into sharper focus once certain plot points are revealed, but were placed expertly in the background. I trust no one, can overlook no one, and even the “bullies” aren’t safe from being targets of harassment or scandal. I appreciate while some characters certainly suffer more than others (or arguably, in different ways) that each one clearly has their demons, whether major or minor, and are written with complexity and intent.
One thing that I repeatedly heard expressed about this book before I had a chance to read it is that it portrayed quite a bit of diversity, representing multiple minority communities. Tiny Pretty Things did not disappoint in this aspect, and managed to not feel heavy handed at the same time. Race plays a predominant role in the novel, not only in the sense of having characters that reside in the minority represented in a mainly White community (Gigi is Black and June is Asian) but it focuses on the deeper racial tensions that exist within the ballet community. The conservatory they attend practices the method of Russian ballet, and it’s even mentioned at points of how the traditional Russian ballet companies prefer the look of a homogeneous white cast. This knowledge makes characters such as Gigi and June hyper-aware of the roles they do and do not get, and causes them to question what decisions are made based upon talent, and which upon racial politics, which can be a very real question in many industries, performance based or otherwise. Other forms of diversity are featured as well, especially that of mental illness in regards to eating disorders. Several of the major and minor characters struggle with anorexic and bulimic tendencies despite the conservatory’s commitment to keeping dancers at a healthy weight, and I personally saw the abusive relationship some of the dancers develop with food (or lack thereof) one of the more gut-wrenching aspects of the novel. It’s a very stark look at the pressures of body image that exist in any entertainment based industry, and a nod to the fact that not enough is being done to address the eating disorder and body image disparity epidemic, even with well-intentioned programs in place.
Overall: Ultimately, this book compulsively kept me reading because of the elements that at times made it hard to read. It tackled issues that were at times uncomfortable, often cruel and scandalous, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it usually did (and then some). The writing was layered and nuanced and the characters manipulative and well balanced, and it did a good job of implementing diversity not only in a YA novel, but also in a setting where it’s not always seen. If you like your sabotage and mystery set against beautiful descriptions of ballet, depictions of diversity, and potentially crazy mean girls, Tiny Pretty Things is for you. Be warned though: there is a frustrating lack of closure at the ending, and I will be counting the days for the sequel, Shiny Broken Pieces, to be released.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge 2016
- Must Read in 2016 Challenge
- Rock My TBR 2016