Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small: A Compelling Story, but with Heavy Content

I knew I was heading into a dark and heavy ballet book when I started, and Bright Burning Stars ended up being a very compelling read featuring some of the dark facets of dance and the slow breaking of a friendship.

There are a lot of triggers, so please check out the content warnings in the summary section of this post! (But as a general trigger: suicide, self-harm, and disordered eating) It’s a very dark book and I think the cover really captures the haunting nature of this story.

As much as I found it compelling, I also think the way some of the content was addressed could have been improved. It didn’t butcher it, but it was overall I was looking for a lot more resolution, and I’m generally not into books that deal with triggering content, and then don’t really end up addressing it.

But first, let’s get into the positives.

It really is a compelling read. (Finished it in less than 12 hours!)

I read this throughout the course of a school day and just tore through the story.

I think part of the reason was that the setting was so compelling—I used to dance recreationally and got a taste of competitive dance, and Bright Burning Stars really delved into this aspect. It takes place in a dance boarding school in France & it’s very ensconced in its own dance bubble.

All the students there are very committed, and the competition aspect plays a huge role in their lives—as well as keeping the story moving.

I think Bright Burning Stars was compelling not because of the darker content, but more because of the way the story was structured & how it was written to be compelling, which I really liked. I think even without some of the darker content, this could have been equally compelling with the way the competition and romance was structured.

It already had a great concept, and I know people will brush this off and say “ah, YA readers. Boy do they like drugs/sex/dark stuff,” but I feel like it was already inherently compelling.

I did think the examination of friendship & competition was done really well.

Even though the girls ended up being pitted against each other, and over a boy, at that, I did still think the parts of friendship that were examined were really relatable and could be for a lot of readers.

We don’t get a lot of friendship/friendship break-up stories, but I thought, outside of the competing over a boy aspect, this was done really well and showed two friends growing separate.

Teens aren’t perfect. We get so many things wrong. But Small lets her protagonists get things wrong and break apart and find ways to grow independently.

Even the competing over a boy wasn’t necessarily bad to me (still a bit meh, but I’ve seen worse) because it’s also not really about the physical boy. I mean it is, but it also is about the dance & the girls’ obsession with dance, and the boy is just a way for them to get to the top spot that they always wanted.

I have mixed feelings about the way the darker content was used, and the way it was resolved.

This is one of my main issues. There’s a lot of dark content and sometimes it just felt not fully addressed to me.

The girls go through A Lot and I 100% urge you to check out the triggers, because there’s a bunch of potentially triggering content. And although it’s approached decently, I feel like there’s still a huge element that is the book never really goes over recovery.

And like, I understand from a literary standpoint that recovery doesn’t seem as compelling, but I wish there was more to acknowledge the girls’ journey. I’m a huge fan of, at the very minimum, a resources page, and I don’t know whether or not this will have one in the finished copy, but my ARC did not.

The body dysmorphia is super strong, and I almost feel like it should have been addressed & resolved more in a book for teens. Yes, it happens and people suffer. But I also find that it’s just . . . really important to include the message that this isn’t healthy and you should be getting help.

I wasn’t uncomfortable with the content, fortunately, but I did feel like the resolution could have used a lot more, even if it was just an epilogue talking about therapy etc.

Overall, Bright Burning Stars was really promising, but I think the dark + potentially triggering content is what will decide whether you should read.

It’s a lot to handle, and I think if you’re super compelled by the story & comfortable with the content, then go ahead and read it, but I feel like there’s just not a lot of people that could emotionally benefit from this reading experience. (In the way that reading this dark story will still give a person happiness.)

It’s up to you, but please check out the content warnings. I don’t regret reading, but I also feel like I wouldn’t really have missed out on much.

3 stars

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Marine and Kate are best friends. Or rather, were best friends.

They’ve trained at the Paris Opera Ballet since childhood, yet in their final year, their childhood bond begins to break as they both realize that only one can win the Prize of being selected to join the corps de ballet.

A rift grows between Marine and Kate—especially as each gains the affections of the golden boy, the Demigod, who helps his dance partner ascend the ranks as he helps his partners shine.

As selection day nears, Marine and Kate will find out that they have a lot more to lose than just a boy or each other. They could lose themselves, too.

Content Warnings: suicidal thoughts, severe disordered eating, severe body dysmorphia, self-harm, intentional drug use, grief over an abortion

add to goodreads here

Thank you so much to Algonquin Young Readers for sending me an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!

Are you interested in reading Bright Burning Stars? What do you think of the premise?

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16 thoughts on “Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small: A Compelling Story, but with Heavy Content

  1. This is a great review, Vicky! I also recently read this one and enjoyed it, I found it really compelling as well, but really dark, too. I liked that it focused heavily on the friendship though, that was really, really good to see and we need more books focused on friendships like that 🙂 (maybe not as dark, but you know what I mean hahaha)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you! and yes! the friendship was really redeeming for me–I think without it, this would have been a totally different book and one that wouldn’t have been nearly as good. (and I totally get it! toxic friendships/friendship breakups. kind of like OYOM <3)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I’m going yo give it a shot thanks to your review. For reasons, I always stirred away from this book. I don’t know… the cover gave me wrong vibes.

    But I’m very curious about the topic of friends growing apart! It touches home, even if probably me and my friend growed apart in another way

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yeah no worries! i’m glad to help you decide + yeah, I think the cover isn’t a perfect match + am glad this is helpful! (the summary isn’t the best either imo). but yes! also, if you like more friendship breakup books, i’d also totally suggest Rachel Lynn Solomon’s OUR YEAR OF MAYBE. that one is AMAZING

      Liked by 1 person

    1. of course! and yeah, I think specifically the body dysmorphia ones can affect a lot of people, whether you have clear triggers or not, because a lot of Marine’s thought processes are things women subtly think about themselves. it was a little hard for me to read and center myself, but I made it through. lmk if you have any questions about the CWs I can answer!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. that’s a wonderful interview! and yes–I definitely was not expecting the abortion bc it wasn’t mentioned in the summary, but it’s such a huge thing in real life that i’m a bit surprised too that it was a bit glossed over. still, glad you enjoyed!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah it kinda annoyed me that it was glossed over AND that it was kinda making it seem like it’s so easy to do all you have to do is drink some herbal tea! And that’s just some scary info to give to teens who may not be informed. And thank you! I tried to ask some different q’s!

        Liked by 1 person

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