Review Blog

Apr 06 2020

Break the fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

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Hodder Children's Books 2020. ISBN: 9781444953244.
(Age: 12+) Gymnast Audrey (Rey) Lee has been on a 14 year journey to become a top gymnast. At 17 she is able to ignore the pain of the herniated disc in her back to make the US national team for the Tokyo Olympics. Her coach, Pauline is like a second mother to her but the coach for the national team, Coach Gibson exerts total power over the gymnasts, always watching for signs of weakness. Also on the team is Emma Shadowsky, Rey's best friend since she was 3, Chelsea Cameron, the reigning Olympic all round champion, and Daniela Olivero. All but Emma have a non-white background and Chelsea comments that 'it can be tough for women of colour in this sport. We're held to a different standard sometimes.' p.45. To achieve her goals, Rey not only has to train constantly but adhere to a strict diet and focus on her performance to the exclusion of all else. Her back injury is chronic, going back five years and she is only able to compete by having regular cortisone injections in her spine. The injury means she will have to retire after the Tokyo Olympics and even then will have issues for the rest of her life, 'But gymnastics is worth it. The Olympics is worth it.'p.65. Training for the Olympics even takes priority over Leo Adams, champion snowboarder and son of one of the gymnastic coaches. They link up after years of following each other online but while the relationship blossoms, he has to stay a discreet distance and not be a distraction. What is a distraction is that Daniela is suspended from the team for allegedly failing a drug test and she then makes an accusation against Coach Gibson for sexual assault. The fallout for the team is that they are interviewed by the FBI, they lose their coaches, are sent to train at another facility and even have to repeat the selection trials in front of independent judges. They all suffer but manage, through the discipline of their training and real teamwork, to rescue their dreams. The detailed descriptions of the gymnastic routines are the main element in this sports novel and the sexual abuse, grooming and victim blaming are handled with care, demonstrating the girls' strengths and endurance, empowering them in the most difficult of situations. A rare teen novel celebrating athletic ability in girls with an extra twist about resilience, it will appeal to middle school students.
Themes: sports, friendship, sexual assault, Olympics.
Sue Speck

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