Book Review: Tiny Pretty Things

Charaipotra, Sona and Clayton, Dhonielle
4 stars = Really Good

Tiny Pretty Things surrounds an exclusive ballet school in Manhattan, where three prima ballerinas struggle for the top. There's Bette, whos been the star of the studio ever since one of her competitors had a mysterious fall. There's June, a half-Korean dancer that struggles to keep her weight down and head high as her mother threatens to pull her out of the studio. And finally, there's Gigi, a newcomer and the only black dancer in her level. When Gigi lands the star role, the jealousies and insecurities of these girls will pull them deeper and deeper into corruption and rage, until one of them crosses a line they can't return from.
The writing of this book is really what propels it to the top. I have never had that much passion or interest for ballet, but this book seems to seep love for it. The description of dancing from many of the girls make it seem as though they are dancing in your room. You can almost feel the lightness of the steps, the satisfaction in perfect movements. The prose makes you feel as if you are flying alongside the dancers. However, it isn't a blind adoration, which only makes the book more interesting. The girls are told to keep their weight up but pressured by their instructor to stay as low as possible. They are sexualized by the people around them and by themselves in attempts to be the perfectly beautiful ballerina. There are racial stigmas, as the book describes how ballet adores the completely white stage, "ballet blanc", which includes the dancers themselves. The Asian girls are often shoved into roles that are "Oriental," and Gigi worries about how she stands out on the stage. In short, the story shows all the beauty of ballet, while acknowledging the harmful obsession with beauty and whiteness that has plagued ballet for centuries. The characters of the book are also fantastic. I love how so many of them are deeply unlikeable, but we get to see the reasons that they fight so hard for ballet. No one is completely perfect. Absolutely no one is blameless. Their actions impact each other in so many different directions, and the levels of miscommunication and tragedy make the drama nearly Shakespearean. In particular, I love the attention given to June, and how she was allowed to devolve despite sympathetic beginnings. Over and over the reader believes that she is going to be redeemed, but she just gets worst, and it tears you apart. I also enjoyed how the author went in-depth to the imposter syndrome that June experiences as a mixed Asian, which is very accurate.
However, this book does have a lot of problems. For one, the girls in this book are sixteen. That doesn't come through at all. I could see how the book is trying to show how ballet's sexualization and pressure causes these girls to mature before their time, but its just really weird reading about kids that are younger than me going clubbing and sleeping around and trying to destroy each other via psychological warfare. Again, this might be intentional, but it makes these girls seem like even worse people. I could see adults in careers doing this, but I don't thing juniors in high school would go this insane over one role. Furthermore, while the main three get excellent backstory and reflection, a lot of the other kids do not. One girls whole motivation for hating and horrifically bullying another girl is that the bully tried to kiss the girl once and now the bully is worried that the other girl will out her. This is stupid for a lot of reasons, mostly because I don't know why someone would antagonize someone that has potential black mail on them. A lot of the margin characters in this book are pretty underdeveloped and have bad motivations for doing pretty horrible things, which makes them look pretty stupid at best and plain cruel at worst. Finally, I wish Gigi had been a bit of a worse person. It would've rounded out the three girls as all being flawed people, and it would've given catharsis for a lot of the horrible things Gigi endures because of the other girls. Instead, she doesn't do anything wrong, and I spend the entire book being so mad at what was happening to her to the point where I lost a lot of sympathy for the other girls and their problems. I think it would've been amazing if Gigi had been allowed to become more corrupted by all the jealousy and cruelties around her, and had to fight her way back to the good person that she's always been. Instead, she barely changes besides becoming more and more beaten down by the things that are done to her, which gets frustrating.
All in all, this was a very well written book with a tight plot and great characters. It just had problems with the side characters and some overwrought drama. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in ballet, revenge, tragedy, and some excellent twists!
Reviewer Grade: 12

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