If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’m a sucker for a mystery, thriller, or suspense novel. I live for the dramatic twists and turns, not trusting any character that I meet, and automatically assuming the worst scenario. Basically, the creepier, the better. Well, even I sometimes need a detox, a chance to step away from the genre I love in favor of something a little more superficial and an all-around easier read. When I heard about Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton’s Tiny Pretty Things, described as a mix between Pretty Little Liars and Black Swan, I was instantly intrigued. It still had a taste of the genre that I like, but it seemed like it would be a more diluted version. AKA perfect for a quick and easy read.
“She’ll realize it soon enough. That ballet is too much for her. That it makes you do things. Makes you do whatever is necessary.”
The story follows Gigi, June, and Bette, dancers at a a cutthroat elite ballet academy in New York.
Gigi is the new girl, fresh from California. She’s kind, super close with her family, and appreciates the little things in life. She’s also the only black girl at a predominately white dance academy. Basically, she’s the girl that everyone should want to be friends with, but insane jealousy places a target on her back. She’s also hiding a secret that could make dancing extremely dangerous, or perhaps lethal, for our young starlet.
June is half-Korean, with a very strict and traditional mother and no idea who her father is. She strives for perfection and control in everything that she does, bringing us to her eating disorder, a sort of combination of anorexia and bulimia. The students have regular weigh-ins to ensure that they are strong and healthy enough to perform, but June refuses to reach the weight demanded by the nurse-she even sews coins into her leotard to add additional weight so she won’t be kicked out of the school for being underweight (side note: if you have to go to that much trouble to hide your dirty laundry, clearly you know it’s the wrong thing to do). Even through her obsession with obtaining perfection, she still is always cast as the understudy, never the lead. When her mom tells her that unless she can score a leading role she will enroll in public school instead, her obsession amplifies.
Bette is blonde, rich, a “music box ballerina”, a legacy (her sister Adele danced at the academy prior to making her professional debut), and she strives to follow in her sister’s footsteps, regardless of what it takes. She played a role in sabotaging a student prior to Gigi’s arrival, and when Gigi is cast into the coveted Sugar Plum Fairy role in the school’s performance of The Nutcracker, Bette set her blood-thirsty eyes on the new girl. Her character does bring in a bit of sympathy once you meet her mother, but this girl is still psychotic.
What started out as purely a guilty pleasure book morphed into a strong story that tackled many sensitive subjects, including eating disorders, racism, inappropriate student/teacher relations, bullying, prescription drug abuse, and even assault. What impressed me was that all of these tied together in such a matter-of-fact way, showing how these are such common occurrences in that world and shouldn’t be viewed with sensationalism. Similarly, though the characters obviously share a love of ballet, they come from such different backgrounds, which I personally felt made the story more authentic and relevant.
My main complaint (which I sort of brought on myself, TBH) is that this book is pretty superficial, surface level. At times it was a bit cliche, but that was basically what I was hoping to get out of this book: a fairly predictable, yet still intriguing story. While the premise is strong, you have to be willing to accept several “coincidences” and just appreciate the book as it is. I also would have appreciated more character development aside from the main three dancers. Finally, to avoid spoilers I’ll just say this: I felt like all romantic relationships should have been removed because they did nothing for the story line, just made added in an extra component to keep track of. Focus on the girls, the cutthroat environment of the academy, and the insane pressure to be the best of the best.
The story ends with several dramatic revelations (and the characters haven’t really had a chance to make any sense of them yet), so fortunately there is a second book to continue with the drama, Shiny Broken Pieces. I’m currently pacing around my office, waiting for the highly anticipated email from my library: Good news! The items you requested are ready for check-out.
If you’re looking for a quick, dark read (one that you can easily move past as soon as your finish the final page), I definitely recommend this one! Oh, and PS: I heard this one is great in the audiobook format!