I’ve always loved gymnastics. Well, watching gymnastics…you know, at home, in my pajamas, with a milkshake or a slice of pizza.
I binge watched Make it or Break it more times than I can count. In fact, I think I’m due to re-watch it again. And I’ve always enjoyed watching gymnastics during the Olympics.
So when I read about this book, way before it came out, I was so excited to read it. I knew I was going to love it, and when I received a copy of it from Penguin (thank you!), I can’t even begin telling you how thrilled I was (it was a lot!).
I never really find myself reading a lot of sports books, but I fell in love with this one before I even read it, and it just got better and better with every page.
The first thing I love about this book (aside from the synopsis that really makes it sound like a thrilling few days in the world of gymnastics) is the cover. It’s simple, but it’s really pretty, and it did a great job connecting with that was going to happen with the story.
The entire book spans over the course of two days – the Olympic Trials that will lead to the decision of which five girls (and three alternates) will be selected to compete in the Olympics. It begins at the start of the Olympic Trials, on day one, with all the girls who are competing. We only get to really know five of them – Grace, Leigh, Camille, Wilhelmina, and Monica. During each of their sections, we learn their secrets, their motivation, their personal lives and problems, and relationships as they compete on beam, floor, bars, and vault to see which of them will be achieving their dreams of going to the Olympics. All the while they find themselves wondering whether or not their dreams are worth not only giving everything else up for, but working so hard and possibly not getting there anyway.
Grace is an overachiever who focuses on nothing except gymnastics. She is homeschooled, and her father is her coach, which allows her all the time she needs to focus on her dream. Her father constantly ridicules her and points out everything that’s wrong with her gymnastics (even tiny things), and he never offers her words of encouragement. Dealing with a horrible secret that she’s been keeping to herself, she isn’t afraid to push everything (and everyone) aside to win.
Leigh is Grace’s best friend, and while she goes to public school and has other friends, she knows that she’s a great gymnast, but she’s dealing with her own things while working as hard as she can to get to the Olympics. She’s much friendlier than Grace, for the most part, but she is terrified of everyone finding out about her secret, so she tends to keep people at arm’s length. Leigh is also the National Champion.
Camille had her chance at the Olympics four years ago, but a car accident ruined things for her, so she is back and trying to get there again. Being the oldest girl out of the five that the book focuses on, we hear about her struggles as being “Comeback Cammie” – and that maybe she is still competing to make her mother happy, when she isn’t sure that’s what makes her happy anymore. Deep down she wants to focus on college gymnastics instead, but she isn’t sure what she’s going to do.
Wilhelmina is almost as old as Camille, and since her birthday fell at a time that wouldn’t allow her to go to the Olympics four years ago (only by a few months), this is her first time trying and she’s dedicated to living out her dream, even if she’s afraid she might not make it.
Monica is the girl that everyone just dismisses. While she is a rising talent, no one feels threatened by her until this meet, when she blows them away with her amazing moves. However, Monica has absolutely no confidence in herself, and is constantly putting herself down.
Tumbling is a bit difficult to keep up with at first, because there are five different viewpoints, with each character having a section during the “chapter,” or rotation. It has a roster in the beginning of the book of all the girls who are competing, along with their ages, heights, etc. Trust me when I say, this will be really helpful, especially in the beginning of the book when you’re just getting to know the characters. I found myself referring to it multiple times. But once you get used to them and their individual personalities, it’s easy to keep track.
The book is broken up into the two days of the Olympic Trials, and the chapters being the 4 rotations (vault, beam, bars, floor), with each girl’s turn, is a really nice touch. There are also sections after the first day’s events (evening limbo) and prior to the second day’s events (morning limbo) where we get to know the characters on a bit of a personal level, which I thought was a great addition.
If you’re worried about the pacing being slow (over 400 pages and a story that only stretches over two days), don’t. It’s not slow in the slightest – it not only has a lot of awesome gymnastics going on, it is also peppered with little stories from the girls’ past that help you get a better understanding of their personalities.
Also, if you aren’t familiar with gymnastics, you won’t really be left out – there’s a glossary of gymnastics terms in the back of the book, and it’s really descriptive. I read through that a few times, as well, but I already knew what a lot of the words meant. Either way, you won’t be lost. It was really fantastic for the author to include that.
I do hope there’s going to be a follow up or something to see how the characters do in the Olympics, because it ended quite shortly after the Olympic Trials. I would love to see more about these girls and how they do after.
I rarely rate a book 5 stars, but this one deserved it. It was beautifully written, and you can tell that a lot of work and love went into writing this book. It’s easily become one of my favorites, and I’m already planning on re-reading it very soon.
Even if you aren’t that big on sports, give this one a go! Check it out of your library if you’re worried about not liking it – it’s worth the read. It’s more than a book about gymnastics – it’s a book about friendship.