Cover Lust: Simple, glam, and gorgeous. How can you not love this cover? Everything on it represents the book perfectly: the shiny satin ribbons, the dark background, and the pieces of shattered glass. Shiny things that are broken or about to crack are all over the story. It’s a beautiful cover to add front and center to your strategically organized bookshelf.
Back Blurb: How far is too far? At one of Manhattan’s most elite ballet schools, wafer-thin ballerinas pull their hair into sleek buns and lace their pointe shoes high, waiting for their chance to shine. But beneath the pretty, polished surface, these girls are hiding some terrible secrets and telling some twisted lies.
Privileged Bette is tiny and beautiful–-like a ballerina in a music box. But living forever in the shadow of her ballet-star sister and under the weight of family expectations brings out a dangerous edge in her.
Perfectionist June can turn a flawless plié and diligently keep her weight below 100 pounds. But she’s never landed a lead role. Tired of always being the understudy, this year she’ll settle for nothing but the best–-even if she must resort to some less-than-perfect means to get there.
And new girl Gigi isn’t your traditional ballerina. A free-spirited California girl, she’s not used to the fierce competition. Still, that doesn’t stop her from outperforming every dancer in the school. But even she is hiding a ticking time bomb, and the very act of dancing just might expose her secrets to everyone.
Being a prima isn’t all satin and lace; sometimes you have to play dirty. With the competition growing fiercer with every performance, and harmless pranks growing ever darker, it’s only a matter of time before one small spark ignites…and even the best get burned.
First, let’s talk about Cake Literary.
If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will very soon. It’s going to revolutionize the future of Young Adult fiction. CAKE literary, founded by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clatyon, is a literary development company whose mission is to bring diversity to Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Women’s Fiction. They simply want readers to experience different cultural perspectives while reading great stories. It’s a concept we haven’t really seen before, but have needed for some time. Based on their debut novel, Tiny Pretty Things, they’ve perfectly balanced a thrilling story with the right amount of cultural enlightenment. Cake Literary is a phenomenon that is about to take the YA world by storm.
“The Sugar Plum Fairy has farthest to fall….”
Tiny Pretty Things is a force to be reckoned with. It keeps you perched so high up on your toes you could probably dance en pointe by the time you finish it. Even if you know nothing about ballet, you will be fascinated by how its power effects the lives of our three stars: Bette, Gigi, and June. They all dream of being cast in roles that will skyrocket their careers as professional ballet dancers. But all three also have dark secrets that threaten to ruin everything they’ve worked so hard for. What was once a favorite pastime for three little girls turns into an obsession as they grow up and enter the cutthroat world of the ballet academy. When the casting list goes up, the boxing gloves come out, and it’s NOT pretty. Silly little pranks quickly turn into a dangerous game where there is no guaranteed winner.
Bette, Gigi, and June tell their story in a triple narrative. The introductions to each character are slow but steady. Sona and Dhonielle keep feeding you little tidbits of the girls’ pasts, feelings, and secrets that are unraveled as the story progresses. The book opens with a “cliffhanger” prologue that introduces a character never seen but whose fate serves as a dark cloud of destiny hovering over the other girls. The pressure to be perfect comes from everywhere: teachers, parents, peers. Those who do not achieve perfection have only a few options: work harder to stay on top, or, take down the enemy. Quitting is not an option; they’ve worked their entire lives for this one moment. As the pressure builds, the girls become both victims and perpetrators of vicious pranks designed to unhinge their rivals. In the end, only one girl can have the spotlight, and each girl is determined to make sure it is her.
At times you will hate the girls, and other times you’ll love them. Sona and Dhonielle created characters that are real and raw. All can be unlikable but still loved once you catch of glimpse of what’s inside. Each girl has a unique set of baggage that leads to dangerous and self-damaging behavior. While the pranks are meant to only scare the other girls, they backfire when each girl becomes an obsessive prisoner locked in her own brain. Constantly looking over one’s shoulder to see who saw, who’s on their side, and who they can use to get what they want. When one girl’s dreams come true, another’s fall to the floor. They rise and fall as quickly as shooting stars. But when they are at the top, they soon realize they cannot get any higher. The only other way to go is down.
The Characters: (MILD SPOILERS)
- Bette: Star and It-Girl of the American Ballet Conservatory. Her sister Adele danced as the famous Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker years ago. Bette’s mother (also a beneficiary to the school) expects nothing less from Bette to dance the same coveted role. With her ash blonde hair, creamy sink, and sparkling blue eyes, Bette is the epitome of what the Russian instructors want in ballet. Her gorgeous boyfriend Alec is the board director’s son. She is everything the other girls want to be. But looks and grace don’t get Bette as far as they did Adele. Bette loses the Sugar Plum Fairy role to Gigi. Devastated, Bette is determined to regain her status of prima ballerina. But an alcoholic mother, a drug addiction, and some dark secrets catch up to her. Unable to achieve perfection, she sets out to eliminate her competition.
- Gigi: The only black girl in the ABC amidst a sea of beautiful white faces. Gigi danced at a much smaller studio in California and is not used to the competitiveness and racism of professional ballet. She is chosen for the Sugar Plum Fairy over Bette, an ABC legacy. At first, Gigi is excited and happy. She thinks the other girls are truly happy for her. But she is still new and can’t yet see beyond the facade. An invisible bully starts doing terrible things to her. Her deepest secret is discovered: she has a hole in her heart and any day she could have a heart attack and drop dead. If anybody found out, she’d easily be kicked out of the conservatory. Desperate to keep her secret under wraps, she also breaks under the pressure and seeks to destroy.
- June: Out of the few Korean dancers in the school, June is the only one who is half-white. She never knew her father and is under the tight watch of her traditional Korean mother. Her mother expects her to be like her cohorts from Korea: smart, successful, and obedient. But June is American and cannot be what both her mother and her peers want. She hides has a dark secret: she is anorexic and bulimic. June is always cast as the understudy. Her mother threatens to force her to give up ballet unless she lands a lead role. She decides to take both routes: work harder and take down the enemy. But there are a few other rivals that need to be knocked down first.
I liked Bette the most because I can understand some of her personal issues. Her outside personality is heinous but when you find out why, you just want to cry for her. She was unlikable, but relatable to anyone who has ever had family issues such as hers. I really loved Gigi because of her never-ending optimism and innocence. You can’t help but love her, but you do get angry with her when she starts to break. June is a very dark character, and at times scary. She holds horrible secrets and ultimately cares only about herself.
Comparisons to Black Swan: Black Swan is a psychological thriller, and Tiny Pretty Things is, as well. The constant criticism and pressure drive the girls to extremes: hallucinations, paranoia, and relentless fear. A few despicable instructors take advantage of innocent young girls. It also goes the other way around. Nina Sayers is bulimic and under the control of her crazy, watchful mother. She hits her high as the White Swan, but being the Black Swan sinks her into psychosis.
Comparisons to Pretty Little Liars: PLL has an unknown cyber villain, and Tiny Pretty Things has multiple invisible villains. Gigi, Bette, and June are in a class of girls who’ve perfected the Mona Vanderwaal Fake Friending. They live by the motto “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Bette is the Fake Friending Queen. She is similar to the elusive A because she’s out in the open, but hidden when she needs to be. But she is not the only bully; there are many others you wouldn’t expect. They both also have common themes of family issues, drug addiction, and sexuality. Both stories also have real-life issues that readers can empathize with. They make you love the girl you absolutely despised a few chapters before (think Charlotte DiLaurentis).
The ending is bittersweet, both perfectly tragic and blissful at the same time. But there are a few questions left unanswered.
- Is Dominic really who June thinks he is? If so, why would her mother allow her to go that school in the first place? Doesn’t she want to keep his identity a secret? Does Alec know? He has the same photo in his closet that June found with the secret papers.
- Who really put the glass in the shoe? Fingers were pointed at Bette, but she never admitted it. I think it was June. She’s obsessed with makeup contacts and Sei-Jin stole one from her. She returned it with the mirror broken into a few pieces. Or maybe Sei-Jin did it with June’s compact to frame June?
- Did Bette really push June? Bette had pulled out a different pill earlier. Was it Adderal or another benzo? If that was in the champagne Bette bought for Gigi, it could have possibly killed her. But if Bette took it, it would have mixed with the alcohol and she would have been completely out of it. She doesn’t remember asking Gigi for a truce. When she did, it sounded fake. Was that real? Bette questions herself, asking if she really did it. Will and Henri said they saw her push Gigi, but they both wanted revenge against her. Are they in cahoots trying to frame Bette? Or did Will do it to get Gigi out of his way of Alec? We have to find out!
After an agonizing year-long wait, the sequel, Shiny Broken Pieces (#2), has finally arrived! Hopefully it will address some of the questions left unanswered. Thank you, Cake Literary, for giving us more! Because of Tiny Pretty Things‘ impressive debut, I’m sure we can expect the next book to be as thrilling and explosive as the first. Stay tuned to find out some answers!
How juicy and scandalous was Tiny Pretty Things? Sound off in the comments below!