This is my first book by this author and I have to agree that she was masterful at making me want more, propelling me through the novel at a fast pace. Listening to an audiobook is not my favorite way of experiencing a book, and it is no fault of the author that I did not like this particular narrator’s interpretation and delivery, but in spite of that, I kept at it because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. This story of the Knox family’s journey to the Olympics through daughter Devon’s gymnastics was a peek into the world of competitive sports. Jealousy, back-stabbing, politicking, undermining, and gossip-mongering all appear in abundance- not unlike any other organization-only magnified in intensity because so much was at stake. The novel explores the ambiguity of desire: is it the child’s wish to become an Olympian, or do the parents subtly force their desire onto the child to the degree that she learns to believe it is her heart’s desire only, and not her parents’? No matter how the parents answer that question, it remains unclear how can they ever be truly sure. Another central issue is the lengths to which a parent will go to protect their offspring. As Katie, Devon’s mother, reflects, “So many things you think you’ll never do until you do them.” A book group could have a great discussion about who the exemplary parents were in this story- that is, assuming there were exemplary parents! On another note, having just watched the American gymnastic team achieve gold at the Rio summer Olympics, the sacrifices they made to get there are so much more apparent to me having read this book. I hope they are grounded enough to cultivate true friendships, because it those relationships that are so important to lifelong happiness and well-being.
Finally, the character I found most interesting was Drew, Devon’s younger brother. (Although I must say I HATED the lisp and tone the narrator adopted for his voice, again, not the author’s fault.) Drew, always the bystander, always pushed aside because the family focus was on Devon, spent his younger years in her shadow. And yet, he processed all of that and what it said about his family, and still was himself. A truth teller, quietly affirming what he knew, even though his parents never really listened to him. The story I’d like to read is his. How he grew up after Devon won the Olympics, (assuming that she did, of course) whether or not he went to college, what he studied, what kind of man he became. If I have ever have the opportunity, that’s what I’d ask Megan Abbott to write.
After a lifetime of practice and sacrifice, the strength and artistry of an Olympic gold performance is a beautiful thing. Rio 2016: Simone Biles’ gold medal-winning vault.
The story begins at the BelStars boosters’ Polynesian party after Devon won her first regional championship title on the vault, and qualified for Elite Qualifiers in six months’ time. Throughout the book, the characters, especially Katie, Devon and Drew continue to reflect on how things changed that night, and for one of them, a life-changing revelation happened. The key element in that party, (as perhaps one can generalize alcohol to most parties) was the mai tais. In honor of that memorable night, the original Trader Vic’s mai tai recipe from 1944:
ORIGINAL TRADER VIC’S MAI TAI FROM 1944
makes 2 drinks
4 oz Bacardi rum
1 oz orange curacao
½ oz simple syrup
1 oz orgeat syrup
1½ oz orange juice
1½ oz pineapple juice
juice of 1 lime
Mix all ingredients in a shaker and pour over glassed ice. Float dark rum on top. Parasol optional (but fun!). If you can find it, Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Mix is fabulous, but only available, to my knowledge, online. And it’s pricey, but worth it, if you like mai tais.