I was offered a galley of Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein through Atria Books and I gladly accepted! This rom-com focuses on the 2020 Olympics, which were unfortunately cancelled, but was no less satisfying despite that detail. It did make me feel even more horrible for the Olympic athletes that have put themselves under immense pressure and rigorous training for this chance of a lifetime.
As far as rom-coms go, this was a 5 star within the genre. Our main character is Avery, a former gymnast that missed her shot at the Olympics after an injury. Years down the road, she still deals with depression that stems not only from this twist of fate but from the emotional abuse that her renowned coach spewed at her during her years of training. She finds herself lost and reeling after a breakup and back in her hometown when she’s offered the chance to coach a promising contender for the 2020 Olympics. This offer is extended by a former Olympian acquaintance named Ryan (hence where the romance comes in).
When Avery is thrust back into this world, she really has to face the repercussions that stem from years of training with an emotionally abusive coach. This novel stands above most that I’ve read within this genre because it addresses some serious issues. It focuses on the sexual abuse a lot of a female athletes face, which is often a product of trusted professionals or adults grooming and taking advantage of young girls. It discusses the self-image issues that come from some of the more severe coaching strategies and whether the brutal techniques are worth the results if they come at a detriment to a young woman’s mental or physical health. I loved that this novel managed to keep me interested enough to read this all in one go, with lighthearted prose, while tackling these issues. The romance was there, for those that are interested in the relationship aspect, but it didn’t play a more important part in Avery’s life than her addressing the issues she faced in the world of female athletes. This sends such a good message, because Avery didn’t sacrifice herself or what she believed in for a man, when it came down to having to put her experience out there. She cared more about helping other female athletes than getting the guy. Another aspect I really enjoyed was Ryan’s coaching style in contrast to the experience that Avery had when she was in training. He coaches with authority but gentleness in comparison to the ridicule, insults, and taunting that she experienced as motivators. They also recognize that his experience as a male athlete was likely very different than her experience as a female athlete in the same sport.
All in all, this was a delightful and brisk read. It never felt like a chore to read, and it wasn’t filled with fluff like a lot of rom-coms are (which, there’s nothing wrong with, if that’s what you’re looking for). I felt like I got an insight into the lives of a female Olympic athlete (since I’m the farthest thing from it) and this is an important novel to have available for young women, especially in a time when women are finally starting to be heard when it comes to holding men accountable for their mistreatment of them. Thank you to Atria and the author for the opportunity to read this wonderful distraction from the reality that 2020 is, which is utterly lacking from the excitement that the Olympics would have brought. Pick this up on June 23rd, 2020!