You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

When pushy is an understatement…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Devon Knox has spent all her young life becoming a gymnast, her eyes firmly fixed on the ultimate prize of reaching the elite levels in her sport, perhaps even the Olympics. Her parents, Katie and Eric, have supported her every step of the way, making huge sacrifices of time and money to get her the best training, and organising the family’s lives around her needs. She’s worked with Coach T for years and has total confidence in him. Now she’s a couple of months away from competing to reach Senior Elite level. But a hit-and-run accident that kills a young man connected to the gym disrupts her training schedule, and when there begins to be suspicion that Ryan’s death might not have been accidental after all, the repercussions ripple out to threaten the stability of her family and of the whole community of budding gymnasts and parents attached to the gym.

Oh, how I love the way Megan Abbott writes about teenage girls! She takes us to the dark heart of them, where hormones play their twisted games, where innocence and sexuality crash head on, where everything is so intense it can feel like euphoria and despair are the only two possible states of being.

The utterly delightful Olga Korbut who, aged 17, set the world alight in 1972
and started the drive towards the tiny frame required for female gymnasts.

In her last few books, Abbott has told her stories through the eyes of her girls, but in this one it is Katie, the mother, whose perspective we share, though the story is told in the third person. Katie and Eric have convinced themselves they are not like the other parents, driving their children to achieve their own dreams for them. They believe it is Devon, has always been Devon, who is utterly dedicated to her sport, and that they have simply supported her. But the reader is not so sure – pressure comes in different forms, and Devon surely knows how proud her parents are to have a child they repeatedly refer to as ‘exceptional’. Young Drew, Devon’s little brother, certainly knows that his needs always take a back-seat, but that’s how it’s always been and mostly he accepts it philosophically.

In Dare Me, Abbott showed the extreme lengths to which girls would go to get on the cheerleading team. Here she does the same with gymnastics, revealing the physical and psychological costs of reaching the elite levels. Not just building strength and muscle mass, to succeed these girls must remain small and undeveloped – boyish – which in many cases requires delayed puberty. Although it doesn’t play a major role in the book, Abbott hints at the methods to which some unscrupulous parents and coaches will go to achieve this. But she also tacitly suggests that the physical training itself might have this effect for the ‘lucky’ ones. And she takes us into the cruelty of the adolescent world, where other girls are blossoming with femininity, and where Devon’s tiny, muscly body and obsessive commitment is derided as freakish. (I suspect Abbott may be overegging the pudding a little, but it’s all chillingly credible, and I must admit I’ve had concerns myself over the years about these young children who compete at the highest levels, ending up often with their careers over before they’re barely adults but with a lifetime of pain and surgeries still to come.)

Abbott also shows the parents who form the community around the gym, dedicated to the point of obsession with having their child succeed. We see the support they give each other, but also the jealousies and spite over whose child is going to do best. And when things begin to go wrong, we see how quickly loyalty breaks down in the mad scramble to ensure that their own child’s prospects don’t suffer, whatever may be happening to the others in the group.

The amazing Nadia Comaneci, aged just 14, who
in the 1976 Montreal Olympics scored the first perfect ten.

The plot itself is dark indeed, and so well done that, although there are only a few possibilities, I still hadn’t decided exactly where it was heading before we got there. Although so much of the book is about extremes, it still feels entirely credible because Abbott develops the psychology of the characters so brilliantly. As things get ever murkier, Katie is forced to reassess how she has behaved as a parent, to both her children, and to find her way through a maze of morally ambiguous choices.

Megan Abbott
(© Philippe Matsas/Opale)

Anyone who has loved Abbot’s Dare Me or The End of Everything will almost certainly enjoy this one too. But this is written in an ‘adult’ voice, so if you have been put off in the past by her teen voices, then this one may work better for you. For me, I think this may be her best yet, and since I loved both those earlier ones, that’s high praise indeed. It kept me on the edge of my seat, reading well past midnight and on towards dawn, and the ending left me fully satisfied. One that will certainly appear in my crime book of the year shortlist…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Pan MacMillan.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

54 thoughts on “You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

  1. Ah, thank you for the picture of Nadia Comaneci – usually the only positive thing anyone ever remembers Romania for (the other one being Dracula, which is perhaps not all that positive, but a moneyspinner).

    • I loved Nadia Comaneci back in the day – I really wanted to include a video of her Olympic performances but the Olympics people have it set up so that you can only view on youtube. I spent a happy twenty minutes or so last night watching both her and Olga Korbut though – took me right back…

  2. Nothing quite so dark as teenage girls, especially competitive ones! My cousin was judo junior world champion several times, so I know a little of the high-end sporting world. The parents are hideous. The perfect setting for a grim mystery!

    • Really?? Gosh! Yes, indeed – in sports where they don’t really start to succeed until they’re adults it seems to be OK-ish, but these sports where the top athletes are so young always worry me as to how much the kids actually want to do it and how much it’s down to the parents driving them. Even in women’s tennis there’s quite often a stern-looking father in the coach’s box…

      • Luckily, my cousin is a very well adjusted young woman now, but there were some dreadful parents causing all sorts of arguments and unpleasantness. I’ve been watching Child Genius and some of the parents on that were horrific! Felt really sorry for a few of the kids, I just wanted to give them a KitKat and an XBox for the afternoon…

        • I haven’t watched it but I can imagine – I always think these parents who force their children to be geniuses or stars are as bad as the ones who neglect their kids. Let children be children!! (So long as they don’t do it around me, obviously… 😉 )

          • The earlier series were quite twee but this latest one was difficult to watch. The kid that won was a vile little thing, not his fault, of course – the father was absolutely horrendous! Yes, kids should be allowed to be kids… far away from us! 😉

  3. Mmm, I wasn’t too sure about this one until your last paragraph and then you got me! I’ll try and read it without doing an all-nighter 🙂

    • Aha! My fiendish entrapment plan worked then! 😉 I do hope you enjoy it – she does tend to divide readers, mainly because of those teen voices, but I think she’s great at getting into teenage girl psyche – at the extreme end, of course…

  4. I haven’t read anything by the author yet. I do like the sound of this one.It sort of reminds me about a documentary that I watched on cheer-leading moms. The dedication of the kids and the near obession of the parents/communities. This is definitely a book that I would love to read. Great review!

    • Thank you! Her previous book, Dare Me, looked at cheerleading – as a Brit I’d always assumed that was just marching and twirling a baton, and was amazed to find out all about the dangerous stunts they do and the training they have to put in. This one is just as good about gymnastics and I think using the adult perspective rather than the teenager’s works really well. If you do get to read it, I hope you enjoy it. 😀

      • Cheerleading is actually the sport that accrues the most injuries out of all sports in the US, which makes me wonder: what’s the point? Why not just do gymnastics? I wonder if not shape separates people–breasts vs almost no breasts, for example. Also, why must gymnasts be so boyish?

        • I get the impression that cheerleading is the glamourous end of gymnastics. I can imagine it would be dangerous – some of the stunts look positively lethal! I guess with gymnastics curves would get in the way – so often women in sports (and men too, in some sports) have to really distort their natural bodies to reach the top. It all seems wrong to me – sport should be about being in tip-top natural condition. Top sports people seem to spend half their lives injured or having surgeries…

    • Hurrah! Her first few books are more traditional noir crime and I haven’t read them yet. But her last four have all been about teenage girls, though they’re not at all YA, I think. More for adults about teenagers than for teenagers, I’d say, especially this one. Enjoy!

  5. Abbott really is good about the psychology of teenage girls, isn’t she, FictionFan? And it is scary how parents will go to such lengths to push their children even when they aren’t really aware that that’s what they’re doing. I also like the way Abbott takes readers to some dark corners, but they’re so close to ‘regular’ life that you see that it all really could happen. And ‘regular’ people aren’t that far from it.

    • She really is! And in this one she’s just as good with the psychology of the pushy parents, trying to live out their own dreams sometimes regardless of what the child wants. Her books are very dark and always about extremes of some kind – those I’ve read anyway – but she always manages to keep them feeling credible… and you know how picky I am about that old credibility line! Great stuff!

    • This is my fourth and I’ve loved them all. Although they’re all about teenage girls and often about extreme sports or something like that, somehow she manages to make each one feel entirely original…

      Thanks for popping in and commenting! 😀

  6. I’ve always been leery of this kind of sports, ballet, gymnastics, they ask so much from those who practice, taking over everything and bringing everything and everyone to the extreme. I love the sound of this book, and your brilliant review!

    • I know – it always worries me with any sport that involves such young people at the top levels. They can’t have any kind of normal life, and the teen years are hard enough to get through. Thank you, and I do highly recommend this one! 😀

  7. Great review as usual. Wow! Sounds really compelling and horrifying. I remember Olga and Nadia from back in the day. My sister-in-law would probably like this book. She discusses books like these with the other therapists at the clinic where she works.

    • Thank you! Ha – I can see why this book would give therapists plenty to mull over! I loved both Olga and Nadia and ended up watching their performances again on youtube last night – still wonderful!

  8. Oh, all right, another one for my TBR! This one sounds most interesting. I think all of us can relate to kids whose parents drive them to succeed (or is it the kids themselves?) Anyway, outstanding review — just enough to pique my interest.

    • Thank you, and if you do get to read it, I hope you enjoy it! 😀 Her books always tend to be about teenage girls and often doing some kind of extreme sport or similar, but she manages to make every one feel fresh and original, and the adult voice in this one really works, I think…

  9. I have to say, this is not a book I would otherwise read. Crime and teenagers–as we say in baseball terms, that’s two strikes against it. But a novelist who renders the interior lives of characters so well as to leave the conclusion not just plausible, but fairly inevitable in hindsight, is worth reading whatever the subject matter.

    Thanks for the tip, and the nudge, FF.

    • I love crime as you know, but I’d normally run a mile from books about teenagers. Her books are often listed as YA, but I never think they are – they read to me like books for adults about teenagers rather than books for teenagers. In fact, I’m not sure I’d have liked them at all when I was a teenage girl myself – too perceptive to be comfortable perhaps. And then she sticks them in extreme situations just at that point when life is so difficult already – haha! She’s a bit mean to them, now I think about it – but a wonderful writer!

    • Thank you! I still haven’t read any of her earlier novels, which are apparently traditional-style noir crime, but I’ve loved her last few even though they’ve all been about teenagers – a subject I’d normally run a mile from. This is the one that’s written in the most standard “voice” so I think would be a great one to start with… 😀

  10. This author caught my eye when she wrote a piece about one of my favourite noir novels, In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes. (I can’t recall where I saw it right now, but it’s probably still available online somewhere.) I’m not sure if this novel is for me (especially given the focus on teenage girls), but I’m certainly going to keep an eye on Abbott’s work in the future.

    • Apparently before she began writing about her extreme teenage girl subjects, she wrote a few traditional-style noir crime novels which also seem to have been quite highly regarded. I haven’t got around to them yet, but I have Die a Little on my TBR, which if the cover is anything to go by, is a take on a ’50s style noir. She’s such a great writer I imagine she’ll have done it very well…

  11. ‘overegging the pudding’ hahah I’ll read your blog for sayings like that alone!
    This seems like a really interesting premise, I’d never heard of this author before but pushy and obsessive parents always make for a great crime. Luckily, I’m not sporty, and neither is my husband (we are active, but can’t play sports at all) so my daughter will be safe!

    • Hahaha – I have a whole stream of these old-fashioned sayings – I think I listened to my mother too much! 😉 I’ve never really understood the drive to dedicate one’s whole life to a sport, even though I enjoy watching some sports. It always seems to me that especially in the teen years it’s kinda unnatural – we should be rebelling and making mistakes and flirting with boys and stuff at that age. That’s what makes her so good – she shows just how abnormal life is for these girls who want to compete at the highest levels…

    • Yes indeed! Normally I’d run a mile from books about teenagers, but she manges to make them so dark but still credible. Agreed – I think this may be my favourite, though I loved The End of Everything too…

  12. Right I’m putting this one on the wishlist (not the TBR as I have some willpower!) because of the comment about the adult voice. I’ve been tempted by the previous books by this author but have been reticent about teenage narrators although it is one of those prejudices that doesn’t really stand up to any scrutiny at all.
    A timely review as well judging by the coverage of the child genius which although I didn’t watch this year as I find those parents just too horrific to bear which has reignited several discussions about parents living their lives through their children – when you factor in the injuries and shortness of any resultant career sport obviously comes with its own set of unique problems.

    • Aha! The old wishlist con – I know it well! 😉 Yes, I know some people have really disliked her teen voices and though I loved them I can understand why – they take a bit of getting used to. But this one has all the advantages of still showing the teen psyche but seen through adult eyes – I think it’ll make it more appealing to lots of people – hope you enjoy it!
      I do find the idea of these children being pushed so hard at such a young age a bit disturbing – they seem to start out when they’re not much more than toddlers and have no kind of normal childhood or adolescence, whether its sports or being trained up to be ‘geniuses’. It’s funny how you never seem to hear of these child geniuses actually going on to be adult geniuses…

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