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“In the end, gymnastics was about this moment. Even more than the results. Even more than the scores. Gymnastics was about right now…Ninety seconds of publicity flying, of joy pulsating through every muscle, of power marrying grace right in her soul.” Wilhelmina. —Tumbling
by Caela Carter
AR Test, Diverse Characters, LGBTQ
Tumbling takes place over the course of a two-day gymnastics meet, but it’s not just any meet—this meet determines who will represent the United States at the Olympics. The story is told from the perspectives of five different girls, each of whom deals with her own struggles.
Leigh is a closeted lesbian and worries about the implications if her secret gets out. Grace has a distorted view of what a perfect gymnast is and ends up paying the price. Monica is a nobody and feels she isn’t good enough to be there. Wilhelmina’s shot at the Olympics was taken from her four years ago because of a rule change, and now she is determined to prove she deserves to go more than anyone else. Camille was injured four years ago in a car crash and is making a comeback to gymnastics, but she can’t decide if this is what she truly wants. Is the Olympics worth sacrificing her boyfriend and her happiness?
Although each girl’s problem is unique, they all struggle with the complexity of competing against friends. Everyone is paranoid; no one’s words can be trusted. Tumbling explores the enormous pressures that come with gymnastics—on bodies, mental states, friendships, and relationships.
Tumbling is an intense book with routines so detailed that readers will hold their breaths as they read them. Readers will cheer when the girls land their routines perfectly and ache when they make mistakes. Readers who know nothing about gymnastics will be able to understand Tumbling, but there is a glossary in the back of the book to help with the gymnastics terminology if needed. Rather than focusing on the intricacy of the sport, the story focuses more on the girls’ struggles. Readers will relate to the girls’ problems, which include sexuality, eating disorders, confidence, family relationships, and boyfriends.
The characters invoke sympathy, but none of them are truly likable. They are petty and constantly play mind games with each other. Because the story takes place over two days, there isn’t enough time for the girls to develop. The book ends abruptly and leaves the reader with many unanswered questions. Overall, Tumbling is best suited for those looking to read an entertaining book. Readers who want a mix of spots, teenage drama, and intense competition will enjoy Tumbling.
- Leigh has a crush on Camille and fantasizes about her a couple of times. Leigh is distracted at the meet and thinks about “Camille’s cushy lips.” Camille comes to Leigh’s room with the other gymnasts to watch an interview. “It wasn’t going to be like it had been in Leigh’s fantasies last night. When Camille had sat down with Leigh on her bed and told her she was dumping her boyfriend because she’d realized she thought Leigh was so much hotter. And then had laid down next to her and. . . ”
- After Leigh performs a perfect floor routine, she hugs teammate after teammate until eventually, Camille hugs her. “Camille was hugging her, actually pressed against her body, like Leigh had imagined so many times in the privacy of her own head.”
- Dylan Patrick, a member of a famous boy band, messages Grace and says she’s “hot.” He, Grace, and Leigh send flirty messages throughout the book, such as, “It means a lot to know someone is watching me. Especially someone as cute as you.”
- Monica flashes back to when she got waxed “down there.” She describes how “…the wax job from a few days ago had replaced her pubic hair with angry red welts.” She remembers she lay “half-naked” and “her crotch burned like any other fifteen-year-olds.”
- During the meet, Monica is uncomfortable being “basically naked” and having “every line on her body on display.”
- A doctor asks Camille, who is sixteen, if she menstruates.
- Camille lists the things that were different about her before she met her boyfriend. “Different height. Different weight. Different voice. Virgin.”
- Camille talks about how she has grown since she took a break from gymnastics by saying, “…a woman of five feet and one inch with breasts and hips.”
- Wilhelmina almost wishes she could be a mean gymnast, someone who would “message Dylan Patrick something suggestive tonight to get under Grace’s skin.”
- There are several instances of Wilhelmina fantasizing about kissing her boyfriend, such as, “She’d wrap her arms around his and press her lips to his.”
- Wilhelmina and her boyfriend almost kiss. Wilhelmina’s “lips were just centimeters away from his. She could feel her breath on his mouth.” They don’t kiss because he says he can wait until Wilhelmina is done with the Olympics.
- Leigh thinks Grace wraps herself in multiple towels because she didn’t want Leigh to see “a bit of skin besides her face and her feet.”
- Grace has an eating disorder. She “pared herself down to three hundred or five hundred calories a day just to be a bee to keep up with the skinnies.” She worries Leigh will “see how far my collarbone is sticking out today, afraid you’d notice that my legs are like twigs growing out of the hotel carpet.” She eventually confesses she doesn’t eat to Leigh and Camille, with the intention of confessing to her dad, and promises she will get help.
- Wilhelmina sees evidence of Grace’s eating disorder a few times throughout the book and is saddened by it, but chooses not to do anything about it. She sees Grace throw away an entire plate of food twice. She notices how skinny her body is a few times. “Wilhelmina swore she could see through Grace’s quadriceps to her femur. Even when Grace was bent over, her hip bones were visible.”
- In a flashback that takes place four years ago, Camille is ecstatic after making it onto the Olympic team. She is having an out-of-body experience when she gets into a car crash. “…almost like she wasn’t in the car but was instead floating about it, watching and saving the joy for later. And it was good she wasn’t in her body at that moment. Because that’s probably why she didn’t feel her head go through the windshield.” Her doctor says gymnastics caused “‘…the stress fractures in your back that caused it to break in three places during the crash.’”
- Gymnastics is discussed as being dangerous to your health. Camille’s doctor tells her, “‘It’s gymnastics that almost killed you.’” Camille thinks, “Everyone had some sort of scare when she fell head-first off the bars or whacked her back into the balance beam from three feet in the air.”
- Grace suggests to the reporters Leigh is a lesbian, and Leigh gets angry. “Leigh was going to slap her. If it weren’t for the cameras still in the vicinity, her hand would be imprinted on Grace’s face.”
- Grace almost falls off the bar due to her eating disorder. During her routine, “her body almost crumpled off the bar and whacked it before falling 8.2 feet to the floor.”
- Leigh falls off the beam and gets injured. “A hammer bashed into her forehead just above her right eye. Her body stiffened and her blood was sharp and painful, like razors running through her veins, and her eye was going to fall out and roll on the floor, that floor, which was coming up beneath her limbs much too quickly, and then, thankfully, she blacked out.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Leigh and Grace watch as Monica picks her wedgie. They say she needs to “‘buy better butt glue’” and call her the “Wedgie Queen.” They continue to joke about this a few more times throughout the book.
- God, Oh God, Oh my God, and For God’s sakes are used frequently as exclamations.
- Christ is used once as an exclamation.
- Leigh’s coach calls a reporter an asshole.
- Leigh worries she is a bitch on the mat.
- Profanity is used sparingly throughout the book. Profanity includes: shit, bullshit, damn it, damn, badass, freaking, and kick ass.
- “For the hell of it” is used once.
- A girl says, “That was some effed-up stuff.”
- Wilhelmina tells Camille to “cut the crap.”
- “Get her butt back on the beam” and “Kicking butt” are each used once.
- Grace meditates before her beam routine. “It would look like she was praying, but Grace didn’t pray…It was her own body she counted on, not some Great Unknown Creature in the Sky.”
- Camille made the Olympic team four years ago, but she had to withdraw due to a car accident. She describes her moment of happiness in the car as “this hoped for, prayed for moment was almost otherworldly, almost like she wasn’t in the car but was instead floating above it, watching and saving the joy for later.”
- Leigh is tired of being mean during the gymnastics meet, so she promises to be nice and still win the meet. “So when Leigh had closed her eyes last night, she had made a promise to the Gods of Gymnastics or the Universe or whoever was in charge out there. Tomorrow, I will be me, and I will still win. I will win while being nice.”
- After Leigh falls, Grace says, “I think I accidentally prayed for it.”
- After Leigh falls, Monica tells Grace and Ted, “You aren’t gods.”
by Jill Johnson