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.
Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra – Book Review
If you are looking for a YA novel full of drama, look no further. I have to admit that the first time I decided to pick up Tiny Pretty Things was due to its cover. Yes, I am one of those people who sometimes read books because of its cover. In my defense, look at the cover. It’s gorgeous!
Anyway, I read the synopsis and was overjoyed when it’s a story about ballerinas. I have a thing for stories about the ballet world despite not being a dancer. So I picked the book and read it as soon as I could.
Like the synopsis suggested, the book focuses on three characters, Bette, June, and Gigi. The three are dancers for the American Ballet Conservatory – which is related to the American Ballet Company. Pretty much like any other ballet books I’ve read before, the concept of these ballet schools are make it or break it. You will get a spot in the company if the director thinks you are good enough and if you are very lucky.
All the girls in the conservatory breathe and live ballet – including the three main characters.
Bette is a legacy. She is the queen-bee of the girls in her age group due to her last name, her relationship with Alec, whose father is the director of the conservatory, and her bitchy-alpha tendency. Despite all that, she starts to get her head out of the game and her mother, who is more interested in drinking than parenting keeps pressuring her to live up to their family names. It doesn’t help that her older sister, Adele, is an accomplished ballet dancer, which only makes it worse since her mother always compares her to Adele.
Gigi is an extremely gifted dancer. She is new to the conservatory and was immediately seen as a threat by the other girls. She is also an outsider in term of geography, culture, and race. She is an African-American from outside Manhattan. She doesn’t get the culture in the conservatory, in which the other girls have been there forever and pretty much frenemies with everyone. She came into the conservatory, being kind and tried her best to become friends with everyone. Gigi also has a heart condition – dancing could easily kill her.
June is a Korean American who was raised by a single mother. She doesn’t know who her father is. For some reason, her mother wants her to quit dancing. She gives her an ultimatum that if June doesn’t get any lead roles in the upcoming student performances, she needs to leave the conservatory. She also doesn’t speak much Korean and the other Korean students ostracize her.
The first thing you noticed from these main characters is that it’s quite diverse. I have to admit that this is probably the most diverse ballet book I’ve ever read. With these diverse characters, the authors also managed to give us a glimpse of the challenges that POC dancers have to face in a predominantly white art form like ballet.
The story is told from the POV of these three characters. They are very different from each other and it was clear when you read the book. Each of them does have their own problems; Bette with her overbearing mother, Gigi with her sickness and being an outsider, and June with her curiosity of who her father is and why is her mum pushing her to quit the conservatory. The only similarity they have is their love and ambition for ballet.
While the three main characters are delightful to read about, I’m more drawn to the secondary characters. If there is any character I wish to see more, it’s got to be Alec. He softens Bette a bit and seemed to be the only person who can get pass through her. When he was first involved with Gigi, it doesn’t surprise me and I can understand why he would – Gigi is very different from Bette. Outside of his relationships with the girls, Alec is a genuinely kind person. Despite his father being an important person in the conservatory, he never shows any superior tendency toward the other dancers. He sees the good in others, enjoys his life as it is and minds his own business. He is definitely a breath of fresh air among the turn and twist in the story.
Cassandra (or Cassie) is another character I was drawn to in this book. The story actually starts in her POV before she was injured and had to leave the conservatory. She is a cousin of Alec and before she moved to New York, she was a dancer in Royal Ballet School in London. It was mentioned several times in the book that Cassie was badly injured. We were also told that Cassie was severely bullied before her fall. Her boyfriend, Henri, is a French dancer who stayed in the conservatory to find out more about who bullied and hurt Cassie because he was sure that wasn’t an accident – someone was deliberately trying to hurt and sabotage Cassie.
Henri is a character I have mixed feelings about. He is very clever – not always in a good way. He knows he’s charming and pretty much use it to his advantage. Although his loyalty to Cassie was something I like about him, his cunningness is not. I think there is something about him that irks me.
Another character that I have mixed feelings about is Will. He is Alec’s best friend who has his own secret. Bette holds his secret and uses it for her own gain. Will is blackmailed by Bette to help her do something horrible to one of the girls. I think I have mixed feelings because clearly, he wasn’t hesitant to hurt someone else, but he was also one of the dancers there who were friendly to Gigi. I think that’s where it’s hard – he hurt others to keep his secret but deep down, he is also a genuinely good person.
Dramatic Twist and Turn
I don’t think it’s a secret anymore that Tiny Pretty Things is full of drama. It’s probably one of the most – if not the most – dramatic YA novel I’ve ever come across. The girls’ ambition and survivor instinct push them to do the things that are beyond silly pranks – some are just downright cruel. I’m surprised that none of these girls were told to see therapists after they went through some of the things that happened in the book.
Despite the cruelness, I think the author did a good job in allowing us to understand why they did what they did. None of them should have done all the mean things they do, but like I keep saying, these girls see ballet as their lifeline – they want to survive and succeed – even if it means hurting the others.
I don’t think I can talk much about it except when I mentioned above because there are many secrets and revelation in this story. That is what I found make me continue reading the book. The drama, the secrets, and the revelations are a big part of what make this book thrilling. I mentioned in my why I read more than one book at once post that I took a break reading Tiny Pretty Things because sometimes those dramas can be too much.
Reading Tiny Pretty Things was one hell of a journey
The drama is insane but the authors did a good job in developing the characters. I watched an interview with Renée Elise Goldsberry from Hamilton where she talks about the rooting factor. It’s basically this thing where whether the characters are protagonist or antagonist, there will be audiences who root for the characters because they understand the characters’ motives. This, to me, applies to the characters in the book. It’s not about whether they are evil or not, these girls have their own reasons that drive them to do what they do. Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra did amazing in regard to this. The way they write the story really shows each girls’ good and bad sides as well as the circumstances that shaped their personalities.
This book was beyond everything I expected. Gorgeous cover and solid story – who doesn’t want to read a novel like that? I highly recommend Tiny Pretty Things to anyone who is interested in diverse read, drama, and ballet. It has solid writing that makes this book a page-turner because you just want to know who did what!
Have you read Tiny Pretty Things? What do you think about the book? Did you enjoy it or was it too much for you? I would love to hear your thoughts on the book!