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Another stunning journey into the mind of adolescent girlhood from the author of the wonderful The End of Everything.
When a new coach arrives to lead the cheerleading team, she will prove to be the catalyst for a dangerous reassessment and realignment of friendships that have lasted for years. The story is told in the first-person by Addy and we see her loyalties to her oldest friend Beth being tested by Addy’s new friendship with the young Coach. Manipulated by both Beth and Coach, Addy struggles to keep faith with both as their mutual antipathy and jealousy starts a chain of events that will take them all to some very dark places.
Abbott’s use of language is innovative, imaginative and often poetic. Throughout the book, she uses the physicality and danger of the cheer stunts to heighten the sense of tension and fear at the heart of the story. Not knowing much about cheerleading (being a Brit), I found watching some of the stunts on youtube gave me a real sense of the risks, commitment and reliance on the team that Abbott weaves through the book. She describes wonderfully what the girls are prepared to put themselves through for a coveted place on the team – the physical pain and endurance, the extreme dieting to stay light enough to ‘fly’. And the body is an important theme throughout – the punishment the girls put themselves through, the intimacy of their physical reliance on each other, the underlying sexuality and sensuality of these girls on the brink of womanhood.
“A pyramid is a body, it needs blood and beats and heat. ONE, TWO, THREE. What keeps it up, what keeps it alive is the bounding of your bodies, the rhythm you build together. With each count you are becoming one, you are creating life. FOUR, FIVE, SIX.”
And I feel Mindy beneath me, the sinew of her, we are moving as one person, we are bringing Beth up and she is part of us too, and her blood shooting through me, her heart pounding with mine. The same heart.”
As in The End of Everything, Abbott seems able to get to the very heart of what it is to be adolescent, with all the turmoil and confusion of dealing with a new phase of life. In this book the girls are a little older, about 17, and so have a better understanding of adult relationships, but are still young enough for their female friendships to be the most important aspects of their lives; and Abbott shows them as having a mix of toughness and vulnerability that rang very true to me. As Addy sees how Coach inspires the team, she at first feels a little hero-worship, but as she is willingly dragged deeper into Coach’s life, the balance between them subtly alters so that sometimes Addy seems like the stronger of the two. Beth, the admired and feared leader, the manipulator, is at the dark heart of the story and is one of those characters who will stay in the memory long after the book is finished.
An enthralling read, dark and fascinating. Highly recommended.
NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.