Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein - REVIEW

Updated: Aug 22, 2021


Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein

Publication Date: June 23rd, 2020

Publisher: Atria Books

Genre: Contemporary

 

Synopsis:

The past seven years have been hard on Avery Abrams: After training her entire life to make the Olympic gymnastics team, a disastrous performance ended her athletic career for good. Her best friend and teammate, Jasmine, went on to become an Olympic champion, then committed the ultimate betrayal by marrying their emotionally abusive coach, Dimitri.


Now, reeling from a breakup with her football star boyfriend, Avery returns to her Massachusetts hometown, where new coach Ryan asks her to help him train a promising young gymnast with Olympic aspirations. Despite her misgivings and worries about the memories it will evoke, Avery agrees. Back in the gym, she’s surprised to find sparks flying with Ryan. But when a shocking scandal in the gymnastics world breaks, it has shattering effects not only for the sport but also for Avery and her old friend Jasmine.

 

Thoughts:

This book was such a pleasant surprise. I was expecting more of a rom-com kind of story but what I got instead was a much more blunt, poignant glimpse into the world of gymnastics.


Probably my favourite part of this book is the fact that it did not shy away from the fact that, in sports in particular, there are people who will take advantage of you in any number of ways and it really brought this topic to the center of discussion. I feel that Orenstein was able to do this with thought and compassion while still keeping the story from feeling too heavy. It was a wonderful balance. You are never witnessing the abuse that these characters went through, but you are always aware of it based on how it affected our MC Avery along with reports of the scandal that happens in the community. Orenstein was also able to give a perfect example of the double standard that can be given when discussing experiences with abuse. There were times when I got so frustrated at a certain character but then realized that this is a very real and honest reaction that is given all the time in the real world.


That is another thing that I loved about this book. The humanity. These characters were honest, mature and just so… human. Nothing that was done seemed like it was too dramatic. The characters discussed their feelings like healthy adults. The way that Orenstein handled the topic and reactions and events gave me a little more faith in the world. I wish more characters (and real people tbh) would act this way. There was enough understandable drama with the subject matter, it wasn’t needed with the characters and Orenstein showed her immense understanding of that. I’m honestly not sure if I can fully get across how much I appreciated this.


While the overall story and subject matter was great and tastefully done, there were some things that took me out of the story but I’m still trying to figure out if this is a 3.5 or a 4-star read for me. The first jarring thing is more of a ‘me’ issue in that it is written in first person. I’m not usually a fan of this narrative and in this story in particular, I could never get out of my head the fact that I couldn’t understand who Avery was telling this story to. Was it meant to be like a journal? Was she meant to be speaking directly to the reader? Was she just giving herself a play-by-play in her head? I always found myself trying to place why the narrative was done this way aside to, I guess, maybe make the reader feel more connected to our MC via her past experiences. But I still think it could have been done differently.


Another gripe I had was the many MANY times we were given the ‘we should, we shouldn’t, we should, we shouldn’t’ back and forth. Maybe a couple times I could handle it but it seemed to happen a LOT. I understand the situation and I appreciate the conflict but maybe stop at two times and move on.


Lastly, I would say that the gymnastics element was great and I loved a lot of how she wrote it but sometimes it felt like she was writing a beginners guide to the sport. I understand that few people really know the ins and outs of it (me included) but I could have done with less definitions and more just being along for the events. In the same vein, there were a bunch of names of other athletes dropped and I’m not sure if they were real or not but I don’t think it’s necessary to write down a list of 6 different characters in a row, when referencing the line-up, of people we are never introduced to.


In the end, I would still highly recommend this book. It is a great commentary on mental health, physical health, abuse, making mistakes and owning up to them… truly my favourite thing about this book. Of course the romance was on point and I absolutely loved Ryan (most of the time haha) but I really don’t think that is what this book is about. This is a contemporary commentary book with a hint of romance to lighten the subject matter and I am really glad I read it.

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