Holt. Nov. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9781250834522. $27.99. F
Quoting aptly from the poems of Marina Tsvetaeva and liberally slinging Russian vulgarities along with gymnastics lingo, Meadows (I Will Send Rain) captures the risks so recently headlined by Simone Biles and other champions in her fifth novel, which traces the tormented lives of three women against a backdrop of gymnastics in Norilsk, a closed Soviet industrial city in the Arctic. Anya, a child of faithful communist parents, endures the sport’s cruel training regimen for the greater glory of the USSR. Her mother, a ballerina, unaccountably disappears from the child’s life early on, yet haunts her coming of age. Their neighbor Vera, a gulag survivor struggling with her own grief and guilt, helps raise Anya. Deprivation, betrayal, and fear are inscribed on the characters’ worried faces, yet when Anya performs her spectacular routines, smiles cover the hurt. Gymnastics is the fourth actor in the plot, as malign forces darken Anya’s love of the sport. A haunting allusion to Stalin’s real-life daughter, Svetlana, indicates the deep research supporting the novel.
VERDICT Spanning the final decades of the 1900s, Meadows’s latest is a genre-bender that fluently integrates sports with accents from political and psychological thrillers. Most novels about gymnastics are written for YA audiences, but this one is for seasoned readers.
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