Young Adult Literature

8 High-Stakes YA Novels Set in the Ballet World

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Claire Handscombe


Claire Handscombe moved from Europe to DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but actually – let’s be honest – because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan, and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives. She also hosts the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing. Blog: the Brit Lit Blog. Twitter: @BookishClaire

I got a little bit obsessed with ballet in the summer of 2014, after I read Maggie Shipstead’s wonderful novel, Astonish Me. Shortly after that, I picked up The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey, and was similarly pulled in. In that book, the author mentions drop-in ballet classes for adults. I was curious; I was also writing my own book, Unscripted, one of whose characters is a former ballerina, and I wanted to get into her head. So, despite having neither the body type nor the hand-eye coordination required to be even vaguely proficient, I signed up for classes. And although I found ballet far from easy, I was hooked.

I was hooked on books about ballet, too. I love the gritty determination of dancers to follow their dreams against all the odds — something I can relate to. And I really enjoy reading about the lengths that dancers can go to amid the competitiveness of the dance world — the contrast with the beauty of the art that they are striving for makes it all the more intriguing and fun to read about. 

Then there’s the big emotions of YA novels. Combining that with the high stakes and cutthroat nature of ballet ambition makes for some great reads. If you want to explore ballet in YA, here are some recommendations to get you started!

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton book cover

Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charapoitra

This is a great, diverse read about three girls at an elite ballet school, all vying to be the best. There’s backstabbing and manipulation, gossip and bullying — it’s a wild ride and I couldn’t put it down.

Bonus: there’s a sequel, Shiny Broken Pieces.

cover image of The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

I read this book years ago when it first came out, and I still think about it often. As well as ballet, there’s also prison and maybe murder and maybe ghosts. The writing is beautiful — if you love literary fiction as well as YA, this is definitely one to pick up.

Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo cover

Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo

I loved this unique novel about Harper Scott, an aspiring ballerina who has to rethink her life when her long-made plans for her future don’t pan out. And the new plan involves Antarctica. A great coming-of-age story that’s cathartic for anyone who’s ever had a dream that didn’t quite work out.

kisses and croissants by anne-sophie jouhanneau cover

Kisses and Croissants by Anne-Sophie Johanneau

Like many of the other ballerina protagonists of YA novels, Mia is determined to become a professional ballerina. Her summer in Paris is part of the plan — but it gets complicated, what with a competitive rival, a demanding dance instructor, and a distracting boy…

the cover of Pointe

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Another aspiring ballerina, Theo is recovering from an eating disorder and a tendency to date the wrong guys. Then her friend Donovan comes back from four years away with his kidnapper — something that threatens to throw Theo’s balance off all over again.

The other side of perfect by Mariko Turk cover

The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk

After Mariko breaks her leg, she has to face what is unthinkable to her: a future without ballet. At her new high school, amid rehearsals for a musical, she thinks through the systemic racism that marrs the dancing world. She also has to face her attraction to a classmate and wonder if she can fall in love when she feels so broken.

bunheads by sophie flack

Bunheads by Sophie Flack

If you love ballet novels with the unique insights of an author who has lived what she writes of, this one is a must. Sophie Flack is a former New York City Ballet dancer who has written a story about a young woman who, after meeting an attractive musician, has to choose between vying for a sport as a soloist or trying something else entirely.

I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest Book Cover

I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest

Chloe Pierce is determined to audition at a prestigious dance conservatory, and she isn’t going to let her mum stand in her way. She jumps in a car with her neighbour Eli (who’s irritating but also… kind of cute?), and romance and hijinks ensue.

Want more books about ballet? Check out Choreography Bibliography: These Ballet Books Are On Point(e).