I recently met a local Tampa author over on Twitter when we both commented on a Tweet by YA author Maureen Johnson (If you haven’t read her 13 Little Blue Envelopes, you should). Alica Thompson is a a graduate of USF’s MFA program and teaches writing at Full Sail University, and has a YA book out called Psych Major Syndrome as well as a sereis for younger teens written with Olympic Gold Medalist Dominque Moceanu. If you were alive in the ’90s and watching gymnastics, you had to have watched the then fourteen-year-old Moceanu flip and tumble her way to Olympic Team Gold at the 1996 games. She was one of my favorites that year as the youngest member of the team, and the last to compete at 14 before the age requirement was raised. Thompson is also fan from back then, which is why I just had to track down this series through Inter Library Loan.
My love of gymnastics goes back to the ’92 games and seeing Shannon Miller compete. I was six, and later got a poster of her on beam that I hung on my wall for many years. I even took some classes after I had surgery to fix a birth defect. But, a move (or two or three), some financial problems, lack of a nearby gym, and ongoing medical issues kept me from continuing. I was one of the best in my class, and I do wish I could have continued, but with a late start it never would have ammounted to much anyway.
But enought of that, onto the books! These little gems are geared towards preteen girls and those in their early teens as the characters are between 12-14. Spunky and fiesty Britt, reserved Noelle, quite Jessie, and outspoken Christina are teamates at Texas Twisters, a gym in Austin Texas all training to be elite gymnasts with dreams of winning Gold at the olympics when they are old enough. Each of the books focuses on a different girl and is told from her point of view, allowing the reader to get to know them all a little better. The series takes place over about a year and chronicles their personal and professional struggles.
First up is Brit, new to the team. At twelve she is already and elite gymnast and her family moves across the country for her to have the oppurtunity to train with the other girls. She isn’t well recieved when she executes a move the older and taller Christina has been trying to do for some time, and hopes to master before the upcoming elite qualifier. She struggles with fitting in with the girls making mistakes at every attempt. However, it is Brit, the outsider, who is able to see that one of her teamates is struggling with an eating disorder, and turning her in only alienates Brit further.
Next up is Noelle, whose mother was gymnast in Romania. She is the only daughter with two older and two younger brothers. Her family struggles financially, and she almost misses her chance to compete at Nationals because she doesn’t tell them out of fear that they will spend their last dime sending her. She sruggles with what to do and weather she just let her career go or not.
Third up is Jessie, who has her own struggles. As the oldest, she is starting high school and has yet to qualify as an elite gymnast like her teammates. She struggles with fitting in at a new school without her friends and wondering if she really is cut out to be an elite gymnast or not.
Finally, it’s Christina’s turn. An enexpected injury forces Christina to take a break from gymnastics and causes her to question whether she is cut out to be an Olympic level competitor. Her mother’s aditude over the injury doesn’t help matters and her constant pushing for Chirstina to do better, nail that routine, or stick that landing (shown from the moment Britt nailed the move Christina was trying to learn in the first book) finally comes to a head.
I love how each of these girls as their own personality and it really comes across in each of the books. I also like that Thompson and Moceanu don’t shy away from the realities of the sport by having one girl have an eating disorder in an effort to stay thin, another struggle with the high cost of training at the elite level, and another suffer an injury. Moceanu’s knowledge and understanding of the sport clearly come across, and the writing is refined, yet on the age level appropraite for the books. The girls were also relatable, even for an adult. I moved several times growing up, so it was easy for me to relate to Britt’s struggles fitting in. I could also relate to having a family that struggles financially to make ends meet, even with out having a daugther who is a gymnast. These four girls all have a few things in common though, their inner strenght and determination and ability to overcome their struggles. And that’s something all young girls struggling with something can relate to and need as role models, girls that don’t give up, no matter what. The glossary of terms in the back of each book is also a bonus for those not as familiar with gymnastics. I would love it if we could revist these girls when they are older and getting ready for the Olypmics. It would be neat to see the culmination of all their hard work, who succeeds, and if they can remain friends once the stakes are raised even more.
I’d highly recommnend these books to young teenage girls going through their own trials, whether they are gymnasts or not. Go Texas Twisters!