Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1982121475/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2&linkCode=ll1&tag=doyoudogear-20&linkId=9ca0aa7fa50c15642c5a945195c3cf18&language=en_USSynopsis (via Goodreads): The past seven years have been hard on Avery Abrams: After training her entire life to make the Olympic gymnastics team, a disastrous performance ended her athletic career for good. Her best friend and teammate, Jasmine, went on to become an Olympic champion, then committed the ultimate betrayal by marrying their emotionally abusive coach, Dimitri.

Now, reeling from a breakup with her football star boyfriend, Avery returns to her Massachusetts hometown, where new coach Ryan asks her to help him train a promising young gymnast with Olympic aspirations. Despite her misgivings and worries about the memories it will evoke, Avery agrees. Back in the gym, she’s surprised to find sparks flying with Ryan. But when a shocking scandal in the gymnastics world breaks, it has shattering effects not only for the sport but also for Avery and her old friend Jasmine.


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I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes I use are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

I enjoyed Head Over Heels, but I didn't love it. I thought Avery was shallow and insincere, and I never felt like Ryan was THE GUY for her. (I really struggle with books when I dislike the characters.) Additionally, this book was marketed as a romance, but it definitely should've been labeled Women's Fiction. There's a relationship hovering in the background, but it wasn't the focus of the story.

Avery lost everything when she sustained an injury at the Olympic Trials. She lost her coach and best friend, she lost her motivation and the future she had planned for, and subsequently lost herself. She didn't know who she was without her training and lofty aspirations. She poured so much of her life–her very self–into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When she lost that, there wasn't anything for her to fall back on. She didn't have any other hobbies or interests, since gymnastics had required all of her time and energy. It was actually really sad to see her struggle with her identity and self-worth. In addition to her wallowing in self-pity, Avery often made comments (mostly to herself) that left a sour taste in my mouth.

"I reject the first seven men right off the bat because once you’ve dated a pro football player on People’s 50 Most Beautiful list (number forty-one, but still), it’s tough to recalibrate your standards."
Really Avery? Your standards are now pro football player or higher? Why was she being so critical of herself, and also super judgmental of others? It was clear someone's appearances mattered more to her than their personality, but who could compete with someone who almost made it to the Olympics? *oozes sarcasm* She really let who she used to be interfere with who she was now–abusive coaching and resulting issues aside. I'm not saying her childhood wasn't traumatic, because it definitely was, but her personality left a lot to be desired. She also went on and on about her past, and rarely focused on living in the moment. Yes, she was slowly building something for herself, but it took her twenty-something years to do it. She kept saying it was because of Dimitri, which was partially true, but she never wanted to accept responsibility for herself or her life. Even towards the end, she was still looking to others to make decisions for her.

"I care about her opinion, and I’d feel less guilty over my storm of conflicting emotions toward Ryan if I had her approval of him."
I hated that she seemed incapable of doing something on her own. She relied on Dimitri as a child, then her college roommate, then her boyfriend, then her parents, then Ryan, Hallie, Sarah, and Jasmine. It was like she couldn't decide something unless she'd discussed it with several other people first. Other people's perspectives can be valuable, but they shouldn't always be necessary. She rarely did anything on her own, and when she did, she complained about feeling lonely. Even her brief relationship with Ryan left her craving companionship. The girl doesn't know how to exist without being attached to someone else. She liked to cook, which I thought would be something, but it ended up being an activity she wanted to share with others (which is understandable, but defeats the purpose). I feel like Avery jumped from one thing to the next without ever stopping to figure herself out. She needed to know and love herself before she could truly commit to loving someone else.

Ryan was also very blah. I never felt the sparks or understood the attraction. They have similar backgrounds, sure, but that's all they really had in common. They were both gymnasts, and now they coach the same girl. Shouldn't there have been something more? I like this or that about you? I honestly can't tell you anything about Avery or Ryan that doesn't also involve gymnastics. Additionally, it didn't take Ryan very long to do something selfish and shady, and Avery forgave him long before I would have. She was open and honest with him, and he brushed aside her concerns and misgivings (on a very important and sensitive topic). The whole sort-of-a-secret relationship was weird, too.

I really liked Hallie (the young gymnast) and Sarah (Avery's roommate). They were both confident, level-headed characters, and they encouraged Avery to be better. Hallie was living the dream Avery had once had for herself, and coaching Hallie also seemed to help Avery. Sara had to tell Avery not to be so hard on herself (she was constantly criticizing the way she looked), and never failed to try and include Avery in her yoga sessions (that Avery rudely dismissed because she initially believed it wouldn't be much of a workout). She was a solid presence in Avery's life, which is why I was a little bummed her role was downplayed, and when Avery and Jasmine suddenly became BFFs again after two interactions. I get that those two have a shared past, but their new relationship didn't feel authentic. It was like the author needed to force them together again to further the story. (I didn't particularly like Jasmine's character either–she was snobby and inconsistent.)

“Jasmine, this isn’t the fanciest place,” I say quietly, nudging her. She grimaces. “Another vodka soda, sure.” Under her breath, she mutters, “Great bar.”
The aforementioned bar was donating all of the money they made that night from people buying drinks TO THE CHARITY AVERY AND JASMINE STARTED. How rude and ungrateful can you be? They're making $0 in order to help raise money for something you're trying to get off the ground.

I didn't hate Head Over Heels, but there were some problematic areas. Maybe some of my issues were ironed out before the published copies were released, but I have a feeling the heart of the characters stayed the same. I also wish publishers would stop marketing Women's Fiction as Romance, because I go into books thinking one thing and get something completely different. There was very little smooching in this one (their one sexual encounter was glossed over), and it was more about Avery learning to love herself and find her place in the world. I'm not saying sex is necessary in a romance, but this one was decidedly unromantic even with the main characters getting a little nooky. (★★★⋆☆)

4 comments:

  1. Oh geez, the characters don't sound like ones I would enjoy either. I was curious about it because of the Olympic champion premise, but I think I'd have a rough time with Avery. I'm sorry this was kind of a dud! :(

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    1. Same. I was really interested in reading a book about gymnasts and the Olympics, but it just didn't work for me. I wish Avery had been more assertive and less whiny.

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  2. Yeah it can be hard to like a book when you don't like the characters, esp when it's a character-focused book. Also tough when you're led to believe a book will be one thing (romance) and then it's not.

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    1. Yep! The misleading marketing always throws me, because I'm a mood reader. I started reading this one wanting a romance, and that's not what I got. :(

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“Stuff and nonsense. Nonsense and stuff and much of a muchness and nonsense all over again. We are all mad here, don't you know?”
― Marissa Meyer, Heartless