You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The 2016 Summer Olympics are getting ready to start this week, and after reading this I’ll be leery of any heartwarming features about athletes and their families because it seems like they won’t scratch the surface of the toll it probably took on all of them to get there.
Devon Knox is an extraordinary young gymnast with a real chance to become an Olympian, and her parents, Katie and Eric, have made this goal the focus of their entire lives. However, the shocking death of someone connected to their gym causes a disruption that unveils secrets, lies, jealousies, and manipulations that threaten to undo everything.
As with her other recent novels Megan Abbott once again uses a backdrop dominated by adolescent girls as the basis for the story, but this one has a more decidedly adult point of view with most of the story is told to us via Katie’s third party perceptions. As a mother who has sacrificed enormous amounts of time, effort, and money to support Devon no one could question her dedication, but Katie sometimes worries about what their relentless pursuit of this single dream has cost their family including the often overlooked younger brother Drew.
The book digs deeply into the whole sub-culture of gymnastics and creates the environment and characters so vividly that the reader is completely immersed in it. Whether it’s explaining how a minor misstep can hurt a score or describing the various injuries common to the girls it all feels incredibly authentic. Explaining that world to us is probably the easiest challenge Mighty Megan had in this one because once again it’s her incredible knack for putting us in the head of a conflicted character who has to face up to some ugly truths where the book really shines because that’s where it asks how much you can know someone else even if they’re the ones closest to you.
I especially like the theme about greatness requiring sacrifice and the questions that get explored that idea. Devon might be able to do something that very few can, but does that mean she should have had to give up a normal childhood and teenage experiences? Is she doing this because it’s her dream or because so many adults around her have their own reasons for wanting her to succeed? Should the Knoxes have dedicated so much of themselves towards a single goal of one child, or does a parent of a kid with an extraordinary talent have a responsibility to do anything to see it fulfilled?
This might be the best book that Megan Abbott has done, and it’s because of the way that she weaves all that together in a story that is crime story, family drama, and reflections on the real cost of the pursuit of excellence in almost any endeavor.
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