14 December 2013


Reading Diary: The Gymnasts #1: The Beginners by Elizabeth Levy

When I quit gymnastics in the third grade, it was because I was secretly afraid I wasn't good enough. My parents let me quit. They thought it wasn't my thing. Besides, they thought it was taking up too much time. I didn't fight them when they suggested I had better things to do with my life than hanging from rings.

Part of me was really excited about trying it again [at eleven]. Maybe I would turn out to be better than I thought. Maybe I'd be really good.

But as we got closer to the academy I got more and more nervous . . . "I was right," I groaned. "This is the end of the world. I'm going to be abandoned here, endlessly trying to swing from a stupid bar . . ."

Oh, I can totally relate to Lauren Baca. Like her, I dropped gymnastics when the tide was high, the iron was hot, and nobody minded a mixed metaphor, only to come back to it again when I was older, bigger and more ungainly. My own learning gaps were much greater, though: I had a fun summer of rolls and cartwheels when I was six, before finally deciding I wanted to take it seriously at thirteen. And I would have done anything for a school like Evergreen Gymnastics Academy.

During the entire two years I was at my own gymnastics club, I was well aware that my coaches weren't the most experienced, creative or intuitive in the world. But it wasn't until much later that it dawned on me that quite a few of them had been . . . how do I put this diplomatically . . . half-assing their jobs. Basically, no eye for talent, no eye for form, and hardly any eye for safety.

Just this evening, on a whim, for this post, I tried to find a video on pullovers . . .

. . . and found a six-year old girl who gave better instructions than any of my coaches ever did. I swear that no one in my club ever told me to get my chin over the bar first.

That experience is the reason I have been dragging my feet about voice lessons for several years. There's no way I'm going to risk picking up poor technique and bad habits from someone else who has no idea what he's doing. But enough about me. Let's get back to The Gymnasts . . .

Yes, the series already looks to be totally formulaic: four naturally talented gymnasts, with different levels of experience, different hangups about what they can do, and different family dynamics to deal with at home. You already know some of Lauren's issues. Then there's her best friend Cindi, who comes from a family of athletes and chose gymnastics because it was the only one her older brothers had never tried. At the Academy, they meet Darlene, who is naturally flexible and graceful, but whose rapid growth is proving a hindrance; and Jodi, whose mother is one of the coaches and whose fearlessness is her own closest frenemy.

Speaking of "frenemies," I should also mention Becky, a slightly older gymnast who can't stand them. She also happens to be a wonderful 80s Bully! =D Thanks to her mean prank on our four girls, on their first day at the academy, they bond more quickly than they might have otherwise. A huge plus in my eyes, since I'm reading this for the dynamics as much as for the gymnastics! (Not only did I lack decent coaches in my day, but I also didn't make any friends.) Now that I think about it, Becky--and not one of our four main girls--is the secret spice that makes me want to read more of what Elizabeth Levy has to dish out.

So I'd really love to keep going, but I'm sure that Gymnasts books will be even harder to find (and to read in order) than BSC books!

Image Source: The Gymnasts #1: The Beginners by Elizabeth Levy


Sullivan McPig said...

I did gymnastics for a while, but my teachers were of the 'you have got to be a winner' sort. I was in it for the fun, so when they pressured me to join in competitions I quit.

Enbrethiliel said...


That's too bad. =( Your teachers sound like the polar opposite of mine. I think they took for granted that none of their students would ever be winners, so they didn't even try.

Believe it or not, I've started looking into adult gymnastics. It's a great way to stay fit and to pick up real skills--and since I'll never be eligible for a competition, there will be no pressure at all! =D

DMS said...

I think I read this book back in the 80s! I never took gymnastics, but always loved doing the uneven bars and floor work during our gymnastics unit in PE. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


I discovered the series back in the 90s, in a friend's collection, but I never got into it myself. Until now, that is! ;-)

My school didn't have uneven bars, so all the gymnastics we did was floor work. My most memorable skills-oriented Phys Ed unit was ballroom dancing. LOL!