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Review: Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein

Title: Head Over Heels
Author: Hannah Orenstein
Year Published: 2020

Genre: Adult fiction (romance, sports)
Pages: 336
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)USA (Massachusetts, Florida, Missouri) and Japan

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): The past seven years have been hard on Avery Abrams: After training her entire life to make the Olympic gymnastics team, a disastrous performance ended her athletic career for good. Her best friend and teammate, Jasmine, went on to become an Olympic champion, then committed the ultimate betrayal by marrying their emotionally abusive coach, Dimitri.

Now, reeling from a breakup with her football star boyfriend, Avery returns to her Massachusetts hometown, where new coach Ryan asks her to help him train a promising young gymnast with Olympic aspirations. Despite her misgivings and worries about the memories it will evoke, Avery agrees. Back in the gym, she’s surprised to find sparks flying with Ryan. But when a shocking scandal in the gymnastics world breaks, it has shattering effects not only for the sport but also for Avery and her old friend Jasmine.

Review: This was the perfect book after my last read (The Only Plane in the Sky), which was emotionally intense nonfiction. This book was feel good, fun, and quick. Just what I needed.

Let me get this off my chest first: I wish the cover had Avery higher up than Ryan. She is the narrator and it's all about her, but the book industry made him have the power and put him higher up. Sigh.

I like Avery. She is a driven athlete and person whose career ended badly and too soon and I like that the author showed how that can screw up someone's life. That said, the story also shows how grit and determination and getting one's act together means things can get better and that's a good message. We can overcome physical and emotional obstacles, but need the support of friends and family as well as finding something meaningful in our lives. 

This book was published in June 2020, right before the Tokyo summer Olympics were to take place. The author includes a note to the reader at the beginning explaining that the story was done before the COVID pandemic began and the Olympics were postponed for a year. Crazy, right?! She also included a part of the storyline that mirrors the real-life sexual abuse scandal in which Dr. Nassar abused hundreds of elite gymnasts. Both of these elements bring a reality to this fiction that I thought was powerful.

I love gymnastics. I competed for 4 years and, yes, I remember the day our coach told us all we "couldn't" wear underwear under our pale blue leotards anymore and how certain girls spent way too much time alone with him in his office. I have loved watching it at the Olympics (in person in London in 2012!), Worlds, and National (also in person with my daughter). I really appreciated the sports aspect of this book as well as the romance, the emotional toil of the athletes, and the support the characters gave to one another. All around a really well done book.
Note: I am watching the documentary Athlete A on Netflix, which goes well with this book as it's about the abuse in elite gymnastics.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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