Flash Fiction: Catching Sunshine by Erica Ruhe

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It had been seven days since the cave in. Two thin and bloodied hands, fingers peeled raw from days of scratching at the immovable rock, protruded through a small crack above the boulder. Autumn sunshine warmed Camille’s battered palms. Her eyes closed to enjoy the sensation and she rested her head on her arm. Inside the abandoned mine, it was black and cold but just beyond two tons of fallen mountainside there was light. There was life.

“Camille…”

She turned to the weak call.

“I’m here, Ana,” she replied and climbed down the incline of loose gravel. She stepped over the rail tracks and knelt beside her friend, breathing hard from the small exertion. Anastasia did not move, as if the flat of her back had become rooted to the floor. Camille tucked Ana’s exposed arm back under her burgundy coat blanket.

“I caught you some sunshine,” she said and placed her palms on Ana’s cold, dirt-streaked cheeks. Her friend’s chapped lips closed, her throat squeezing down nothing more than dry, dusty air. Licking morning dew from the exposed rocks day after day had not been enough to sustain them.

“Warm…” Ana croaked.

Their breath rasped loud in their suffocating confines. They spoke barely above whispers, their vocal cords strained and silenced days ago from the endless hours of screaming for help.

Ana cracked open her eyes.

“Do you think they’ll…ever find us?”

A tear trembled on the ledge of her sharpened cheekbone. Her skin had shrunk around her already slender body. Camille moved a palm to Ana’s forehead and the other to her chest, absorbing fresh chill from her skin.

“Yes,” she gave a weak nod. “One day.”

Crevices of dirt around Ana’s eyes deepened in question and the tear plummeted to the waves of her matted braid. Camille lightened the weight of concern in her expression.

“One day, we’ll be someone’s archeological find. We’ll be a treasure unearthed in a thousand years. They’ll discover our bodies, arms embraced around each other, and they will mourn for our unknown lives. They’ll make up histories for us and give us pretty new names.”

Camille stroked her thumb along the blood caked on Ana’s brow.

“They’ll lovingly preserve our bones in a life-size diorama and we will become an exhibit in their museum of ancient history. We’ll be enshrined in glass and admired by millions. We’ll live forever, Ana.”

“You’re so…dramatic.”

A smile tinted Ana’s words but it was too weak to reach her lips. Camille coughed and lowered her head to Ana’s shoulder, snuggling under the torn coat. Ana sighed.

“At least you have…a sweetheart to mourn you, Camille. I’ve never even had my first kiss yet. I never…dreamed that I would die without my first kiss.”

“A first kiss can be a horrid thing, Ana,” Camille teased. “Peter nearly drowned me.”

The girls shared a frail giggle. Ana closed her eyes again.

“Oh, the people I would have loved. The places…I would have traveled to. Perhaps our spirits will escape from this tomb. One day…”

Camille nestled closer.

“Perhaps a small sparrow will find us first,” Camille continued, adrift on Ana’s thoughts. “Perhaps she’ll leave behind dandelions on our chests and as we decompose, the seeds will catch just enough sun and dew to sprout and flower out of us.”

She twisted a loose buckhorn button.

“Perhaps the wind will carry our fragmented bodies back out to the wild. It will be spring, warm and bright. We’ll float over the mountain meadows and along the rushing rivers of melted snow. We’ll float over our town and look down upon our aging families. And we will sweep past their ears and whisper “we love you so very much but we cannot stay” and somehow they’ll know it is us and it will bring them happiness.”

She sniffled.

“We’ll live on as memories. Then the wind will take us again and we’ll be free.”

Camille lifted her head.

“Ana?”

Only stillness.

“Ana?”

She shook her friend’s shoulder but Ana’s expression did not move. There was no breath in her mouth. Her chest did not rise. Camille tried to hold down the rising emotion in her throat but her grief, unlike everything else in the darkened mine, could not be contained. Soft sobs choked her. Tears carved deep ravines through the dirt on her face revealing clean, frigid skin beneath.

Exhausted, Camille watched the last ray of the afternoon seep across the toes of Ana’s boots. She lifted her hand to the sunlight and let the dust motes waltz and twirl between her flayed fingers.

“We’ll live forever, Ana.”

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Book Review & Author Interview: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

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Would you die for the Prize?

Release Date: May 21, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $12.29 (hardcover)

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Plot Summary:

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School, where they’ve forged an inseparable bond through shared stories of family tragedies and a powerful love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves how far they would go for the ultimate prize: to be named the one girl who will join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic will make them shine, too? Would they risk death for it? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the Prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

Bright Burning Stars is a stunning, propulsive story about girls at their physical and emotional extremes, the gutting power of first love, and what it means to fight for your dreams.

Grade: A

Review:

For some reason I find books or films about ballet to be utterly fascinating and alluring. Maybe because I took ballet classes for a year as a kid (before realizing that I should give up cause there was no way I’d ever be a ballerina with my lack of grace). I’m so obsessed with ballet that I even made my protagonist in CUT HERE, Lena one. This is to confirm that I was absolutely excited when I was finally given the ARC for Bright Burning Stars (I had requested it months ago and had only been given it a few weeks prior to publication date).

Things I loved about this novel:

Friendships: The two protagonists, Marine and Kate have a very strong friendship. It actually is the core of the novel and despite the fact that they’re both aiming for “The Prize” aka becoming the exclusive etoile at the Opera National de Paris. “Rats” as the studying ballerinas are referred to in the novel, are so focused on the prize that they’d do anything to obtain it, and Kate is even willing to die for it. Slowly, bestfriends Marine and Kate begin to grow apart as things get more competitive and each wanting to snag the prize title for their own.

Relationships: I love how the author explores various types of relationships, such as showing one romantic relationship as gradually growing into something much more passionate than it initially was, and another romantic relationship that becomes tragically toxic fast.

Setting: Ever since I was little (maybe because I was obsessed with Marie Antoinette & Versailles) I’ve been in love with Paris. So, I’ll automatically favor any novel that takes place in the City of Lights. I was just a bit sad that we, the readers never get a chance to experience the city because we’re always stuck in the dance studios with the two protagonists.

Minor gripe: I wasn’t a fan of how abortion was handled in this book. Not because one of the protagonists decides to go over and beyond to terminate an unexpected pregnancy, but because of how simplistic it was written out to be. Sure, maybe drinking odd toxic herbal teas *can* induce an abortion, but I don’t like how easy it all was for the character. Since this is a YA and intended for teens, I don’t want teens thinking that if you’re pregnant that you can just forego a normal abortion AT A CLINIC and just drink herbal tea and wish everything will get taken care of, because in most cases that won’t work. Just putting that out there for the kids.

The Ending: There were only two ways the book could’ve ended and I assumed both possible endings. Ultimately, the author aimed for the safest one. Which is not to say that is was bad, but probably tragic loving me would’ve opted for the other much more unsettling ending. But seeing that it’s YA I can see why the novel would end on a much more hopeful note than not.

Overall, the novel had very lush and alluring elements to it and I was completely consumed by the story. If you love Paris, ballet, and strong friendships, then this book is for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Short Q & A With The Author:

I read that you were a ballet dancer. Did you study ballet in Paris, as the characters in Bright Burning Stars did or did you study it elsewhere?

When I was five-years-old, I began dancing in Paris with a famous teacher named Max Bozzoni who taught and danced at the Paris Opera. Then I danced with L’Académie Chaptal where the teachers also danced and taught at the Paris Opera. And in my teens, I danced with the Richmond Ballet Student Company and did a summer at Pacific Northwest Ballet on full scholarship.

Why did you decide to set the story in Paris? Is it because it’s where ballet first began or because Paris is the perfect setting for a book about passion (both for ballet and love)?

I chose Paris because I began my dance adventure there and because I grew up obsessed and in love with the Parisian rats who became principal dancers. I knew I wanted to render homage to them specifically.

Do you think that female friendships are very important to girls in their teenage years and that’s why it’s particularly devastating when they end?

I think female friendships are always important, but when you are a teen you experience love with a particular type of intensity. I feel like those friendships are almost always tattooed in your heart somehow, which do make them hard to reckon with when they unravel.

The ballet world can be very cutthroat and dealing with physical pain is an every day occurrence for a ballerina. Do you think that’s why it’s hard for dancers to relate to others who don’t dance or don’t have a similar passion as their own?

To me, the dance world is like a monastery. You give yourself over to that vocation physically and mentally. Dancers are artists, but also athletes. Imagine a painter who wrestles, or a cellist who plays basketball, or a sculptor who sprints. The complexity of fusing art and sport. Very few people, I believe, know the rigor of ballet and, yes, that keeps the dancers separate from others for sure.

What actresses can you see in the role of Kate & Marine if anyone ever decides to bring Bright Burning Stars on the big or TV screen?

If I had it my way I’d want to see real dancers portray my girls, like Ava Arbuckle and Audrey Freeman whom I follow on IG!

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