Following Dare Me, a brilliant novel set in the world of teenage cheerleaders, Megan Abbot turns her eye in the direction of another exclusive arena of young girls, gymnastics. This is a very dark, thought-provoking book; brilliantly written as always. And after reading it, you will never watch the Olympic Games, or many other such sporting events, in the same way again. While there is a crime at the heart of this book, this is not a crime novel in the traditional sense. Truth to tell, the crimes perpetrated here are of a much larger variety than those one usually expects to encounter in a "crime" novel.
In Dare Me, Abbott's focus was largely on the young cheerleaders themselves. Here, though, the focus is on the parents and other boosters who sacrifice virtually everything in the pursuit of making a champion out of a gifted child. At the center of the book is the Knox family: Eric, the father; Katie, the mother; Drew, the younger brother; and Devon, the child prodigy who becomes practically the family's sole reason for existence.
The Knox family is stuck somewhere in the lower reaches of the middle classes, essentially because they have pinned all their hopes on making their daughter a champion. They buy into a years-long dream, starting when Devon is a tiny child, aimed at ultimately making her an Olympic star, even though they barely dare to mention this ultimate dream out loud.
And they sacrifice everything for that dream. They live in a house that is falling apart. Their aging automobiles are always in the shop. Practically every dime they can scrape together, including a second mortgage that they can't afford, is spent on coaches, gym fees, outfits and travel. They spend hours every week, watching their daughter train; they're forever on the road to meets and conferences. Their social circle consists only of the other parents with similar dreams and with the all-important boosters who raise money to support those dreams. This is a family that has no life outside of their focus on Devon, and your heart breaks for little Drew whose entire existence seems to be an after thought. And in the end, this is one of the scariest books I've ever read.
As Devon prepares for the event that will finally make or break her future as a gymnast, a tragedy occurs within the tight knit group that constitutes the Knox Family's inner circle and it threatens to destroy everything that they have aimed at, not just for Devon, but for all the other children and families as well. The aftershocks cascade through the Knox family and those around them, with no telling what they will ultimately produce. Abbott is a master at this sort of psychological drama, and watching the events unfold, you realize that you're in the hands of an Olympic-sized talent. This is a book that will stay with the reader for a very long time.