Audrey Lee is going to the Olympics.
A year ago, she could barely do a push up as she recovered from a spine surgery, one that could have paralyzed her. And now? She’s made the United States’ gymnastics team with her best friend, Emma, just like they both dreamed about since they were kids. She’s on top of the world.
The pressure for perfection is higher than ever when horrifying news rips the team apart. Audrey is desperate to advocate for her teammate who has been hurt by the one person they trusted most–but not all the gymnasts are as supportive.
With the team on the verge of collapse, the one bright spot in training is Leo, her new coach’s ridiculously cute son. And while Audrey probably (okay, definitely) shouldn’t date him until after the games, would it really be the end of the world?
Balancing the tenuous relationship between her teammates with unparalleled expectations, Audrey doesn’t need any more distractions. No matter what it takes, she’s not going to let anyone bring them down. But with painful revelations, incredible odds, and the very real possibility of falling at every turn, will Audrey’s determination be enough?
I loved the concept of this book as I used to be addicted to the gymnastics series Make It or Break It, but I wasn’t sure if such a visual medium could be conveyed well in words. Rest assured, the writing effortlessly portrays the gymnastics routines taking place and more importantly, places you in the protagonist’s mindset so vividly that you feel the weight and importance of what’s unfolding in the different events. This is such an incredible rollercoaster ride of a book – I chuckled, I got teary and my heart pounded frantically through the highs and lows.
But Break The Fall is about more than simply competing for gold at the Olympics, although that is the main arc of the story. The author has chosen to tackle the difficult topic of sexual abuse in sport with a prominent coach being arrested early on in the story, throwing the US gymnasts he was meant to shepherd to Olympics triumph into a state of shock and confusion. I really appreciated that there wasn’t any gratuitous scenes depicting the abuse nor was there any page-time devoted to the coach himself after his crimes came to light, instead the focus of the book is entirely on the girls, how they come to terms with what happened and trying to achieve their dreams after years of blood, sweat and tears while all this drama unfolds in the background.
Our protagonist, Audrey Lee, is realistically horrified and awkwardly uncertain of how to act, her best friend acts unfazed and disregards it entirely, another girl is a staunch supporter of the gymnast who was victimized and unfortunately a couple other girls are too eager to believe that these were malicious lies. The friction within the team was expertly handled with the usual passive-aggression that girls are known for, which boils over into occasional hot-headed confrontations as the damage to their tight-knit squad festers before it can heal. I loved how this was ultimately resolved with a message of unity and female solidarity and sisterhood, and there was the right amount of bittersweet and heartache mixed in with the triumph for it to feel earned.
The book has thoroughly modern sensibilities with the championing of diversity in the the racial make-up of the team who come from a variety of different backgrounds. Although their heritage doesn’t have a big impact on the storyline, I liked small nods to it such as when Rey, who is Korean-American, laments at having to constantly explain when they arrive at the Tokyo Olympics that she doesn’t speak Japanese because, y’know, Asians aren’t all interchangeable. And the way that the girls incorporated teal into their make-up for sexual assault awareness was a great touch, showing how their femininity could be used to make a statement on the international stage. The way make-up in general was included in this book appealed to me because a lot of times in fiction, it’s used as a shorthand to dismiss girls for being vain and superficial, but it’s shown here to be a professional tool for their sport, the means to show support for survivors and also allows for fun bonding scenes between the girls.
There was an adorable romance that developed just the right amount without overshadowing the importance of the Olympics to Rey (stories where girls blithely sacrifice their dreams for a boy enrage me, so this was a relief) or detracting from the dynamics between the girls. Leo was a great love interest, it’s refreshing to see a boy who’s so openly inspired by the heroine and who supports her ambitions even if it means he has to fade into the background.
This book has it all – complicated and heartwarming female friendships, delicate handling of a difficult but relevant issue, inspiring mentorship, a touch of romance and tons of drama, suspense, heartbreak and victory. I’m still reeling after finishing it, this was AMAZING.
Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Disclaimer: physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.