Is it too early to get excited about the Summer Olympics? I’m not really a sports person, but I do get excited about my two favorite events: the 400 meter Drool-Over-Michael-Phelps relay and women’s gymnastics.
I was eleven years old when the Magnificent 7 dominated the 1996 summer games—the perfect age to marvel over the mysterious creatures that are competitive gymnasts. So tiny. So powerful. So much glitter hairspray. My favorite Olympian was thirteen-year-old Dominique Moceanu. I read and re-read her autobiography (Dominique Moceanu: An American Champion) so many times that I ran my paperback copy quite ragged.
Lucky for young fans, Moceanu is back in the book business with a new middle-grade series, The Go-for-Gold Gymnasts (Disney-Hyperion, April), co-written with Alicia Thompson. Seemingly created specifically for eleven-year-old me, this series follows four young gymnasts who train together at a fictional elite gym in Texas, with each girl taking turns as protagonist, Babysitter’s Club style. In the first title, Winning Team, Britt is the new girl at the gym. Her new teammates give her the cold shoulder because she is a show-off with a perfect full double-twisting somersault—don’t you hate those? But with life lessons gleaned from To Kill a Mockingbird, Britt avoids becoming the Boo Radley of the Texas Twisters by taming her sassy, self-centered ways.
Along with the inner emotional struggles of tweendom, Winning Team also reveals those coveted details of gymnast-life that only Moceanu could provide: the superhuman training schedules, the bizarre and disgusting athletic rituals, the catty in-fighting. The characters also speak in thick gymnast-dialect—you might need to spend some time on YouTube learning the difference between a “full-in” and a “half-in, half-out”. And let’s not forget the requisite eating disorder plotline! Don’t worry: by the end of the book, everyone has regained health and attained a sense of team spirit, and you’ll be more than prepared to cheer on the newest pack of little 2012 USA competitors this summer.