Do you ever want to read a mystery set in a fantasy world where at least one of the main characters is a person of color? What about a story about an African-American woman trekking through the Amazon on her own, à la Eat Pray Love or Wild? How about an international spy thriller set in Paris with a bisexual Asian female protagonist? I do. I like lots of different genres and am interested in reading about the experiences of people from different backgrounds. Ideally what I want to read more of are ordinary and fantastical (i.e., genre) stories that include diverse main characters, who may be diverse in multiple ways. Bonus if the story mixes genres. I have gone down many rabbit holes looking for books that combined different things that interest me. Maybe some of my combinations are esoteric, but it shouldn't be so hard to find books with POC and female leads, especially when the story is set in the contemporary or futuristic world. Imagine my delight upon stumbling across Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton.
The story is told from the point of view of three young women: Gigi, June, and Bette. Giselle "Gigi" is an African-American dancer newly arrived from California. She is laid back, sweet, naïve, and her dancing is superb. It is not long before she secures leading roles. Unfortunately making friends is much more difficult when you're on top. People hate and envy her as much or more than they admire her. Having heart condition doesn't help either. So far it hasn't stopped her and she she's determined to make sure it never does.
June is a half-Korean native New Yorker with ballet in her blood. Her mother danced but refuses to talk about time at the American Ballet Conservatory, the school the girls attend (a thinly veiled version of the real American Ballet School in New York). June's father also danced. That and the fact that he abandoned June and her mother before June was born is all she knows about him. There are two things June wants more than anything else: to find out who her father is and to be the star instead of the understudy. If she can get back at the former best friend who betrayed her or pick up a boyfriend along the way, even better.
Bette is the seemingly perfect blond who seems to have everything. Her older sister Adele was a star when she attended the conservatory and is now climbing up the ranks as a professional dancer with the American Ballet Company. Bette expected to follow in her sister's footsteps like it was her birthright. She also expected Alec, her male counterpart and friend since childhood to be by her side on and off stage. But things haven't worked out as Bette planned. First came Cassie, another music box ballerina whom teachers and audiences loved. Luckily for Bette Cassie didn't last long at the conservatory. Just when Bette thought she was on top again, Gigi came along and started getting the roles Bette always assumed would be hers.
Tiny Pretty Things combines some of my favorite things: ballet,
boarding school, and girls who are as ambitious and talented as they are
mean. There was so much I loved about this book. For one, I appreciated that while racism is not ignored the principal conflict among the characters has to do with ambition. Each of the three main characters, along with a few of the side characters, wants the starring role. But there is only room for one Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.
Tiny Pretty Things tackles a lot in its 400 plus pages: eating disorders, sexuality and homophobia (lesbian and gay), teachers taking advantage of students (and sometimes vice versa), parental expectations, first love, bullying, and injuries. The downside and my one criticism is that nothing is completely resolved at the end of the book. It is clear a sequel was intended. I am eagerly waiting for that sequel, Shiny Broken Pieces, to be released in paperback. From what I've read the authors only planned two books but I hope the authors makes this a series. Tiny Pretty Things is just what I need to fill the hole left by Gossip Girl (the TV show more than than the book series).