Book Review: Break the Fall

Book Review: Break the Fall


Break the Fall

Written by Jennifer Iacopelli

Published by Hodder Children’s Books

400 pages

Publication date: 20th February 2020

Summary (from Goodreads):

“This book makes you understand exactly what it is like to compete as a woman at the highest level in sport, and it is exhilarating and satisfying indeed.” –Holly Sorensen, Television Creator/Showrunner, Make it or Break It, Step Up

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?

White-hot sparks of agony light down my spine, scorching over my hips and into my thighs. I grind my back teeth together and clench my fists against the pain, blunt fingernails biting into the palms of my hand.

C’mon, Audrey, it’s nothing. Push through it. Pounding my knuckles against the muscles of my calves helps distract from the ache as I sit on the floor, legs spread out in a split, waiting my turn.

The only sound in the sold-out arena is the reverberating squeak of the uneven bars lifting up into the rafters. It’s been like this for two days. One by one, we go up to the vault or the beam or the bars or the floor and perform while the crowd holds its breath.

I do too. If I don’t, it might become too much, and I can’t afford anyone noticing how much my back hurts. Especially not him. Coach Gibson —or Gibby to those of us on the United States Gymnastics national team— is patrolling the wells between the raised podiums, watching with an eagle eye for any sign of weakness. He’s everywhere all at once, cold and analytical, taking in every hesitation, every flinch, homing in on our weaknesses. He stands to my left, wearing a red, white, and blue tracksuit, arms crossed over the swishy material.

“How’s the back, Audrey?” he asks.

“Great. Ready to go.”

His eyebrows rise, and he hums in disbelief, but he never looks away from my teammate and best friend, Emma Sadowsky, swinging on the uneven bars. Gibby can stare all he wants; Emma won’t screw up. He knows it, even as he makes a show of looking critically at her handstands and the distance of her releases. She’s perfection.

Something as small as a wince from me, though? That’s basically admitting I’m in too much pain to go on.

Emma is a great gymnast, but even on her best day she’s not better than me on uneven bars. Of course, she’s head and shoulders better than me at everything else, which more than makes up for it. We’ve trained together since we were three, when our moms signed us up for Mommy and Me classes. Now, fourteen years later, we’re at Olympic trials.

She’s definitely going to make the team. As last year’s national and world all-around champion, she’s the favorite to win multiple golds in Tokyo. So far Emma’s accomplished everything we ever dreamed of as little girls, and now winning an Olympic medal is only a matter of time.

For me, just making the team will be a miracle. The pain doesn’t matter. Not really.

Aside from the blissful days following a cortisone shot, my back always feels like this. The doctors said I should probably quit, but I told them to shove it.

Then I apologized, and we settled for a compromise: retirement after the Olympics.

I only have a few more weeks of gymnastics left.

Or, if my next routine goes wrong, just a few more minutes.

First impressions: When I first heard about Break the Fall I was incredibly excited to read it, for a number of reasons:

  • More books about gymnastics please! As a gymnastics-mad kid, I really struggled to find books about gymnastics, although there were plenty of books available about horseriding, or other interests. I read and reread The Fortunate Few, Olga Korbut’s autobiography and was over the moon when Stick it came out. More about gymnastics please!
  • Gymnastics is a tough sport, both psychologically and physically. I am looking forward to seeing this explored in this book, especially with the pressure of competing at a high level.
  • The gym, for me, was always somewhere where we checked our baggage at the door because gymnastics requires concentration. This provided a welcome escape for me, when the pressures in outside life were getting on top of me. However, as I became more competitive and the training sessions became more intense, there were times when the pressure inside the gym became hard to deal with too. It will be interesting to see how this is written about.
  • Audrey sounds like a fascinating character – determined to succeed after coming back from a nasty injury, but also wishing for a normal life, at least in the sense that she could get to explore a relationship outside of her relationship with gymnastics and her teammates.
  • Just pass me a copy of this book now, please and thank you!

Luckily, I was approved to read Break the Fall on Netgalley, and I devoured it in one sitting. I will be buying my own physical copy of the book, plus pushing it into the hands of any fellow gymnastics fans or just people looking for their next good read.

I was drawn into Audrey’s world immediately, especially loving her determination to overcome her injury and finish her gymnastics career on a high. I also found the strong friendship between her and Emma really fantastic, especially as they are technically competing against each other for a spot on the Olympic team but, even when they do disagree, they support each other in reaching for their dreams.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, but enough to help readers make an informed choice – partway through the book plans for the Olympics are derailed when one of the gymnasts accuses a coach of sexually assaulting her. In the ensuing furore, secrets are revealed, doubts are raised and there is a sensitive discussion of coaching and the trust athletes place in them, power relationships, the importance of speaking out and how the media and others react. While discussion of sexual assault could be triggering for some readers, I personally felt that the author handled this issue really well as the focus is not on what happened but how the people involved survive and fight back afterwards.

The scenes of solidarity with gymnasts from around the world made me really emotional and I liked how the love of the sport and the ties that bound the athletes together were seen as more important than any rivalry or poor sportsmanship.

This book is the gymnastics book that I have been hoping for with strong, inspiring and diverse characters, an intriguing storyline, topical issues and a true love for the wonderful sport of gymnastics.

(For any non-gymnastic fans out there – please don’t be put off by the technical discussions of gymnastics skills – just get on YouTube and watch some videos!)

Don’t miss out on reading Break the Fall!

“You did great work out there, Audrey,” Gibby says, his eyes not on me, but darting around the room to the other girls. I’m convinced he does it on purpose, letting us know that while he’s talking to us, there’s always someone else who can take our place.

“Thank y—” I try to say, but he cuts me off.

“I’m sure you know that all spots on the team are conditional upon preparedness leading up to the Games.”

I swallow down the panic that flares up in my chest and nod once to show I understand.

“You and Emma have dreamed of winning team gold together since you were little. She’s holding up her end of the bargain. You were named to the team today, but I’m sure you know how close it was. I expect you to give me more than you have so far, do you understand?”

“Yes, of course.” It’s a lie. What more could he want from me?

I’m maxed out on the difficulty I can manage with the amount of pain I’m in— which he definitely knows— and there’s no time to up- grade even if I weren’t. My bars have been consistent since I came back, and I have a good shot at a gold if I hit in event finals. And even though their difficulty scores are lower, my floor and vault have been solid all the way through the selection process.

Duh, Audrey, he means beam. The connections between my skills have been shaky at times, and while I’m capable of hitting them, it’s been tough to do it in competition with the pressure of making the team constantly looming.

Plus, it’s where I take the most risks with my back. The beam is punishing on the joints, whether you’re falling off it or staying on. I’ve tried to avoid overtraining on the event, but that’s an excuse.

It looks like it’s gonna be balance beam or bust before Tokyo. I can increase my score by two- to four-tenths if I consistently nail those connections.

“I’ll do whatever it takes.”

What I liked: Audrey’s character – she is realistic and relatable, even if you don’t always agree with her decisions. I related to how helpless she feels when details about what has been going on began to come to light and she feels stupid for not having noticed anything. They way she doubts herself, but tries to do the right thing, and how she is focused on her dream even with the distraction of Leo, all made me love her. I also liked the ‘casual’ diversity of the book – I mean in that it is diversity done realistically in that any book that truly reflects the diversity of our world should feature diverse characters. I liked how Break the Fall did this without it being a case of the diversity of those characters becoming a major focus, or being an exercise in tick-boxing.
Even better if: It cannot be improved! I loved everything about this book. Now I just have a hankering for more book about gymnastics…
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a fantastic addition to any library catering for secondary-aged pupils, especially considering the trials that the characters go through and how the focus is on the recovery from and fighting back against sexual assault. I liked how the abuser is not given a platform in this book, with the focus being on friendship and speaking out. I would recommend this book to any gymnastics fan too, especially if, like me, you have been waiting for more books about gymnastics!

(Thank you to Hodder Children’s Books for my e-ARC)

What did other people think?

Annie @ Dreaming of Cats said:

“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.”

Emily @ A Short Book Lover said:

“In no way is this an easy read, but it’s one that brings up a timely and necessary conversation.”

While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of Herstory, Power to the Princess, The Burning, The Island Child, Sofa Surfer, A Throne of Swans, Invisible Women, It’s Your World Now, The Switching Hour, Bearmouth or The Deepest Breath?

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Thanks for reading!

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