Friday, August 19, 2016

Book Review: "You Will Know Me" by Megan Abbott

While the so-called "mystery" part of this book held about as much suspense as whether Ryan Lochte and his swimming compatriots were actually robbed at gunpoint in Rio, You Will Know Me further cemented Megan Abbott's talent as one of the best creators of mean girls (and adults, for that matter) that is currently writing.

"And so gymnastics became the center, the mighty spine of everything for them."

Katie and Eric Knox have given nearly everything in pursuit of their daughter Devon's dreams of becoming a gymnastics superstar. But while many parents would let their children's dreams override any semblance of a normal life for their family, Devon isn't just any aspiring gymnast—her coach believes she can make it all the way to the Olympics. So do the other parents whose children practice in the same gym Devon does—they know their children simply orbit around the planetary force Devon represents and hope that simply being in her presence and watching her might pay off.

Katie and Eric barely have a minute for their "real" lives outside of practices, coaching sessions, and meets. Fortunately their precocious young son Drew is content to watch his sister and occupy himself, so he doesn't appear to mind that he play second fiddle to his sister. And while Katie is the one who spends most of her time shuttling Devon back and forth, Eric has taken an increased role as head of the gym's booster club, and isn't afraid to use his handsome charm when necessary to get things he wants for the gym, especially when they could impact Devon's chances of success.

And then the sudden death of a member of their close-knit gym family throws them all for a loop, and threatens to disrupt Devon's progress toward the tournament for which she has been practicing, which in turn, causes ripples for the other girls and their families. Eric tries to take charge and do what's best for Devon and, by extension, the gym, but Katie starts to wonder if all of that effort, all of the hungry ambition is worth it. Is it worth turning these young girls into women while their bodies don't catch up? Is it worth all of the sacrifice, the hurt, the fears, the destruction of people's lives?

"That was what gymnastics did, though. It aged girls and kept them young forever at the same time."

The more rumors swirl around the gym community, the more Katie tries to figure out just what happened and what, if any role her husband played in the tragedy, while hoping not to discover the actual answers. But as she gets to see the full scope of Devon's ambitions, and all that people will do to ensure their star reaches the heights they believe she is destined for, Katie doesn't know whether to be repulsed or to root for her daughter with all of her might.

Especially in the midst of the 2016 Olympic Games, this book was definitely intriguing, and it's probably a lot more realistic than it might seem at first glance. Abbott created a particularly odious group of characters, most of whom had slightly noble intentions but lost them somewhere along the way. (Those who aren't utterly unlikable are pretty freaking clueless.) This is the third of Abbott's books I've read (after Dare Me and The Fever) which boasts such a motley, well-drawn crew of miscreants.

While this book is certainly entertaining, as I mentioned earlier, you can see the resolution of the "mystery" coming from a mile away. I guess if this book hadn't been peddled so hard as a mystery I might not have cared, but that was the one piece of the book that didn't work for me. This was a fairly fascinating and timely look at the single-minded pursuit of dreams and just how far people would go, but it didn't grab me as much as I hoped it would.

Still, this is a slightly creepy look at the group think of helicopter parents and people who live vicariously through their children's accomplishments. Perhaps you'll recognize someone you know in one of the characters—I certainly did!

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