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From the acclaimed author of Mercy House comes a gripping new novel about a young woman’s dreams of Olympic gymnastic gold—and what it takes to reach the top   For Sera Wheeler, the Olympics is the reason for everything. It’s why she trains thirty hours a week, starves herself to under 100 pounds, and pops Advil like Tic Tacs. For her mother, Charlene,  hungry for glory she n From the acclaimed author of Mercy House comes a gripping new novel about a young woman’s dreams of Olympic gymnastic gold—and what it takes to reach the top   For Sera Wheeler, the Olympics is the reason for everything. It’s why she trains thirty hours a week, starves herself to under 100 pounds, and pops Advil like Tic Tacs. For her mother, Charlene,  hungry for glory she never had, it’s why she rises before dawn to drive Sera to practice in a different state, and why the family scrimps, saves, and fractures. It’s why, when Sera’s best friend reports the gymnastics doctor to the authority who selects the Olympic Team, Sera denies what she knows about his treatments, thus preserving favor. Their friendship shatters. But Sera protected her dream—didn’t she? Sera doubles down, taping broken toes, numbing torn muscles, and pouring her family’s resources into the sport. Soon she isn’t training for the love of gymnastics. She’s training to make her disloyalty worthwhile. No matter the cost. The Happiest Girl in the World explores the dark history behind an athlete who stands on the world stage, biting gold. It's about the silence required of the exceptional, a tarnished friendship, and the sacrifices a parent will make for a child, even as a family is torn apart. It’s about the price of greatness.


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From the acclaimed author of Mercy House comes a gripping new novel about a young woman’s dreams of Olympic gymnastic gold—and what it takes to reach the top   For Sera Wheeler, the Olympics is the reason for everything. It’s why she trains thirty hours a week, starves herself to under 100 pounds, and pops Advil like Tic Tacs. For her mother, Charlene,  hungry for glory she n From the acclaimed author of Mercy House comes a gripping new novel about a young woman’s dreams of Olympic gymnastic gold—and what it takes to reach the top   For Sera Wheeler, the Olympics is the reason for everything. It’s why she trains thirty hours a week, starves herself to under 100 pounds, and pops Advil like Tic Tacs. For her mother, Charlene,  hungry for glory she never had, it’s why she rises before dawn to drive Sera to practice in a different state, and why the family scrimps, saves, and fractures. It’s why, when Sera’s best friend reports the gymnastics doctor to the authority who selects the Olympic Team, Sera denies what she knows about his treatments, thus preserving favor. Their friendship shatters. But Sera protected her dream—didn’t she? Sera doubles down, taping broken toes, numbing torn muscles, and pouring her family’s resources into the sport. Soon she isn’t training for the love of gymnastics. She’s training to make her disloyalty worthwhile. No matter the cost. The Happiest Girl in the World explores the dark history behind an athlete who stands on the world stage, biting gold. It's about the silence required of the exceptional, a tarnished friendship, and the sacrifices a parent will make for a child, even as a family is torn apart. It’s about the price of greatness.

30 review for The Happiest Girl in the World: A Novel

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katie B

    3.5 stars I finished reading this book about a week ago and I wanted to hold off on writing a review in order to gather my thoughts on the story. The author draws much of the story from the big scandals in the U.S. Gymnastics program and that somehow manages to be both the strength and weakness of this novel. I'll try my best to explain what I mean by that in a bit. Sera Wheeler and her friend, Lucy, have dreams of competing in the Olympics as part of the U.S. women's gymnastics team. They train f 3.5 stars I finished reading this book about a week ago and I wanted to hold off on writing a review in order to gather my thoughts on the story. The author draws much of the story from the big scandals in the U.S. Gymnastics program and that somehow manages to be both the strength and weakness of this novel. I'll try my best to explain what I mean by that in a bit. Sera Wheeler and her friend, Lucy, have dreams of competing in the Olympics as part of the U.S. women's gymnastics team. They train for 30 hours a week, adhere to a strict diet, and constantly battle thru the pain of their injuries. Their families have made great sacrifices for them as well as it's not a cheap sport when you add in money spent on coaches, the travelling expenses for competitions, fancy leotards, etc.. When Lucy tells the adults running the elite gymnastics program that one of the doctors has been molesting her, Sera is faced with a decision to make. She can either speak up and back up her friend, or keep quiet so she doesn't make waves and potentially lose her spot on the team. If you have followed the case in the news, it no doubt infuriates you that there were so many victims because adults decided to turn a blind eye. This story mostly follows Sera but there are some chapters devoted to her mother. Both the child and adult's perspectives serve a purpose as they show the intensity of that elite level of competitive sports and that win at all costs attitude. The author does a great job showing the contributing factors that led to this tragedy and why such evil people were able to get away with it for so long. The book has a bit of a ripped from the headlines feel to it, similar to the famous cases the Law & Order shows tackle in episodes. While the names of the guilty were changed, the names of some current and former gymnasts appear throughout the story. The story feels like it belongs in both regular fiction and historical fiction genres. While I do think the book was written with the best of intentions, at times I felt uncomfortable reading it. I've been struggling to figure out the exact reasons for why I felt that way. I guess it's because I kept wondering if the victims are okay with essentially an outsider writing about this tragedy. I hope they see the value in this book rather than feel like it's exploitative in nature. Thank you to William Morrow for providing me with an advance copy! All thoughts expressed are my honest opinion.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Berit☀️✨

    A Real and raw, sometimes heartbreaking, occasionally brutal look at competitive gymnastics. This book had a definite ripped from the headlines vibe to it with all the recent devastating news that has come out of the US gymnastics world. As Young girls Sarah and Lucy were queens of the gym. They could stretch further, leap higher, land steadier, and twist further than any other girl their age. This put the girls on the elite track of gymnastics training. Long distances, grueling hours, pain, swe A Real and raw, sometimes heartbreaking, occasionally brutal look at competitive gymnastics. This book had a definite ripped from the headlines vibe to it with all the recent devastating news that has come out of the US gymnastics world. As Young girls Sarah and Lucy were queens of the gym. They could stretch further, leap higher, land steadier, and twist further than any other girl their age. This put the girls on the elite track of gymnastics training. Long distances, grueling hours, pain, sweat, tears, and accolades. The girls spend their summers away at gymnastics camp where they encountered the most intense training of all. They also encountered a revered US gymnastics Doctor Who miss treated the girls terribly. When Lucy decides to speak up against the doctor Sarah has to make the decision to stand by her best friend or pursue her dream of Olympic gold. I’ve always had a love of the Olympics and in particular the gymnastics. This book does not pull any punches. It was truly about the ugly side of gymnastics the hours of training, the working through injuries, The food deprivation, the pill popping, the complete sacrifice of a normal childhood. Not to mention the impact it has on the athletes family both emotionally and financially. The story is told from the point of view of primarily Sarah with her mother’s perspective occasionally sprinkled in. Sarah was so incredibly driven. I can’t say I liked or disliked her as a character but I did admire her strength and tenacity. The lengths she was willing to go for her dream were uncomprehendible. Her mother I struggled with a little more. I just felt like she got so myopic and was willing to sacrifice her daughter for this Olympic dream that somehow became hers? This really was an extremely well told story about the exorbitant price of success. The audiobook is narrated by bothFrankie Corps and Mikhalia Who did a stellar job of bringing the voices of these characters to life. *** Big thank you to William Morrow and Harper Audio for my gifted copy of this book. All opinions are my own. *** Aseng

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jessica | JustReadingJess

    The Happiest Girl in the World is an engaging and intense novel about a gymnast’s journey to the Olympics. All Sera has ever wanted is to go medal at the Olympics. Sera’s mom shares her dream and will do anything to help Sera succeed. Sera’s best friend has been training beside her for years until she reports her doctor for sexual assault. This affects their friendship and Sera has to choose between standing up for her best friend or supporting the sport that she loves. The book follows Sera’s t The Happiest Girl in the World is an engaging and intense novel about a gymnast’s journey to the Olympics. All Sera has ever wanted is to go medal at the Olympics. Sera’s mom shares her dream and will do anything to help Sera succeed. Sera’s best friend has been training beside her for years until she reports her doctor for sexual assault. This affects their friendship and Sera has to choose between standing up for her best friend or supporting the sport that she loves. The book follows Sera’s triumphs and failures. The darker side of gymnastics is discussed throughout the book while Sera achieves her dreams. The Happiest Girl in the World is told from the perspectives of Sera and her mother, Charlene. This was the first book I’ve read that mentions the pandemic. It is mentioned briefly at the end. The Happiest Girl in the World is a must read for fans of the Olympics and gymnastics. I felt like I got to learn more about the sport. The Happiest Girl in the World is a story of fighting for your goals and friendship. This book is difficult to read at times but very enjoyable overall. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Frankie Corzo and Mikhaila Aaseng and they both did a great job. They were the perfect voices for Sera and Charlene. Thank you William Morrow and Harper Audio for The Happiest Girl in the World. Full Review: https://justreadingjess.wordpress.com...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kari

    If you are a parent, plan to be one or just as an athlete in school or college, this book will send shivers and leave you with the strongest instincts of wanting to protect yourself, your child or future children. It’s haunting that there are parents out there that will push their child to the limit, their health to its brink and have the child literally sacrificing their lives for a win? A medal? A title? I’ve seen it myself in both my family and friends and I’ve pleaded and cried to help the c If you are a parent, plan to be one or just as an athlete in school or college, this book will send shivers and leave you with the strongest instincts of wanting to protect yourself, your child or future children. It’s haunting that there are parents out there that will push their child to the limit, their health to its brink and have the child literally sacrificing their lives for a win? A medal? A title? I’ve seen it myself in both my family and friends and I’ve pleaded and cried to help the children. This is the story that tells you to what extent just about anyone will go to, to win it all! And the fact that this is in gymnastics shouldn’t make you forget that this does occur in so many junior sports.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Doyle

    Thank you Netgalley and William Morrow for the ARC of The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon. A 5 Star Must Read! If you read Alena Dillon's previous novel, Mercy House, you know she doesn't shy away from tackling tough subjects head-on, and this book is no exception. The Happiest Girl in the World follows the journey of Sera Wheeler, a young, determined, Olympic Gymnast hopeful. This story begs the question...how far are you willing to go, how much are you willing to hide, and who are yo Thank you Netgalley and William Morrow for the ARC of The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon. A 5 Star Must Read! If you read Alena Dillon's previous novel, Mercy House, you know she doesn't shy away from tackling tough subjects head-on, and this book is no exception. The Happiest Girl in the World follows the journey of Sera Wheeler, a young, determined, Olympic Gymnast hopeful. This story begs the question...how far are you willing to go, how much are you willing to hide, and who are you willing to hurt to become one of the world's top elite athletes? Combining real-life events (the Olympic Gymnast Doctor sexual abuse scandal, COVID-19, etc) with the dramatic and heart-wrenching story of Sera's rise to the top, Alena Dillion created a novel that grabs the reader from the very first page and has you holding on tight until the final page. I was at times both rooting for Sera to make it all the way to the Olympics and at the same time, wishing she would recognize the non-reversible harm she was doing to herself and call it quits. This was the first book I've read that shows the potential world after COVID-19. It's interesting to me how Alena most likely had to completely re-write part of this novel based on the true-life turn of events of 2020, the Olympic Games, and more. This book is definitely one to pick up and devour - publish date is April 2021.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Martina Primerano

    This book was amazing, incredibly well written, absorbing, interesting and emotional, it broke my heart a little and I'll surely reread it! This book was amazing, incredibly well written, absorbing, interesting and emotional, it broke my heart a little and I'll surely reread it!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stacy40pages

    The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon. Thanks to @williammorrow and @edelweiss for the e-Arc ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Sera Wheeler has loved gymnastics all her life. Her and her best friend, Lucy, are Olympics bound. All this may change when the gymnastics doctor is accused of sexual abuse. When I read rom-com Head Over Heels, I enjoyed the gymnastics aspect of the story. That was really just a taste. This book really dived in. I wasn’t familiar with all the techniques and moves, but that didn’t stop The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon. Thanks to @williammorrow and @edelweiss for the e-Arc ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Sera Wheeler has loved gymnastics all her life. Her and her best friend, Lucy, are Olympics bound. All this may change when the gymnastics doctor is accused of sexual abuse. When I read rom-com Head Over Heels, I enjoyed the gymnastics aspect of the story. That was really just a taste. This book really dived in. I wasn’t familiar with all the techniques and moves, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the story. I also took breaks to watch gymnastics routines. That was one of the awesome things about the book. While it wasn’t a true story, it took place during real times. For example, it’s in today’s world... with real gymnastics and Olympic history. Many famous gymnasts are mentioned throughout.. Simone Biles, Shawn Johnson , etc. The traumatic experience that took place with the gymnasts seemed to mirror the current events of Larry Nasser (🤢). The story follows a gymnast from childhood to adulthood, and we see the determination and strong spirit that these girls grow up with... regardless of predators such as Nasser. It’s incredible and worth a read for sure. “Your mother, who you thought loved your father, could trick him. Your father, who you thought was smart, could fall for it. And a doctor, who you thought was good, could be the most dangerous person in your life.” The Happiest Girl in the World comes out 4/20.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nursebookie

    THGITW is a propulsive story loosely based on the events surrounding Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and convicted serial rapist and sex offender. This case was eye opening to say the least - it was completely heartbreaking and infuriating to learn about the abuse these young women were subjected to. In Dillon’s sophomore novel, I knew to expect another winner as I just adored reading Mercy House. This time, Dillon takes us into the dark underbelly of competitive eli THGITW is a propulsive story loosely based on the events surrounding Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and convicted serial rapist and sex offender. This case was eye opening to say the least - it was completely heartbreaking and infuriating to learn about the abuse these young women were subjected to. In Dillon’s sophomore novel, I knew to expect another winner as I just adored reading Mercy House. This time, Dillon takes us into the dark underbelly of competitive elite gymnastics world through the eyes of main character Sera Wheeler. Dillon wrote with so much heart addressing the harsh realities that these young women go through. But to what cost? The detail of the writing was exquisite that I felt every jump, tumble and landing. This book was executed well and definitely a top finisher for me.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    Wow, this book had me feeling some type of way. The story follows gymnast and Olympic hopeful Sera Wheeler and her family over the years as they sacrifice everything to get her to Team USA. She works herself hard constantly and faces countless obstacles — injuries, a global pandemic (yes!), and a sexual predator that threatens to unravel the entire organization Sera has dedicated her life to. I loved how the fictional book was set in a very real world — with references to real people and charact Wow, this book had me feeling some type of way. The story follows gymnast and Olympic hopeful Sera Wheeler and her family over the years as they sacrifice everything to get her to Team USA. She works herself hard constantly and faces countless obstacles — injuries, a global pandemic (yes!), and a sexual predator that threatens to unravel the entire organization Sera has dedicated her life to. I loved how the fictional book was set in a very real world — with references to real people and characters are based off real people too. I also loved how the narrative occasionally switched over to Sera’s mom’s perspective to really give the full picture. I found myself emotionally invested in the drama and cheering Sera on from the other side of my kindle! Anyone who loves a good underdog story or all things gymnastics needs to read this one!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shelby

    I was lucky enough to win an ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway, and wow am I glad I did! I'm positive that this book will become really popular! One of the things that I loved about this book was that it NAILED the Midwestern attitude! I'm from Michigan and I cannot tell you how many times I've heard people talk EXACTLY like the people in this book do! The one Midwestern thing that I didn't see that I really wished was there was the 'ope'. If you know, you know. Dillon also nailed the dan I was lucky enough to win an ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway, and wow am I glad I did! I'm positive that this book will become really popular! One of the things that I loved about this book was that it NAILED the Midwestern attitude! I'm from Michigan and I cannot tell you how many times I've heard people talk EXACTLY like the people in this book do! The one Midwestern thing that I didn't see that I really wished was there was the 'ope'. If you know, you know. Dillon also nailed the dance/gymnastics/sports mom energy. As someone who did dance from the ages of 4 to 22, Dillon also perfectly showed the environment that girls is sports are put through. You are constantly in pain, and it is gory and gross and unflattering, and it does destroy your body. It's not all glitter and smiles and I was really thankful that she didn't try to make it seem like it was. Now, the one thing that kept me from giving this book five stars is that the premise made me a little bit... uncomfortable. I fully understand that this wasn't the intention, but utilizing the Nassar scandal (well, renaming him but still using the story) kind of felt like profiting off of the pain of others. I'm absolutely positive that this isn't what Dillon meant to do and I'm sure a lot of people won't understand, but an author who wasn't involved in this scandal using it in a story just felt a little bit wrong to me. Other than that, the book was great and I really enjoyed. My copy did have quite a few typos and grammatical errors - pique instead of peak, glut instead of gut, that kind of thing - but my copy is an unedited proof so I wasn't super surprised. I'm sure we'll see this book blow up in the next few months after it's released! Read for the 2020 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge, Prompt: A free book from your TBR list Read for the 2020 Around the Year in 52 Books Challenge, Prompt #36: A book with six or more words in the title

  11. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    CONTENT WARNING 3.5 Stars The Happiest Girl in the World adds a fictional character into a very real storyline. We follow a young gymnast and her family through the trials and tribulations of training for National and Olympic Teams. Sera Wheeler begins as a six-year-old girl enjoying her sport, and we watch her grow into a twenty-year-old, tortured, Olympic hopeful. We also experience the headlines from USA gymnastics, including the allegations against and charges of Larry Nassar (name changed), t CONTENT WARNING 3.5 Stars The Happiest Girl in the World adds a fictional character into a very real storyline. We follow a young gymnast and her family through the trials and tribulations of training for National and Olympic Teams. Sera Wheeler begins as a six-year-old girl enjoying her sport, and we watch her grow into a twenty-year-old, tortured, Olympic hopeful. We also experience the headlines from USA gymnastics, including the allegations against and charges of Larry Nassar (name changed), the Karolyi's, and the closure of Karolyi Ranch (name changed). While the criminal's names were changed, the famous gymnasts and victims' names were not. The author stated in her Author's Note that the fictional story was of her own making, and the story of Sera is, but there was still a "ripped from the headlines" feeling that I can't get over. I am hopeful that the real-life victims featured in this book are okay with this story being written for them. While the conviction of the abusive and disgusting team doctor was one aspect of this book, also featured were many struggles that elite athletes face: deciding how far they will go with their bodies, trusting in the adults around them, betraying friends, and teammates, and committing their whole life to a sport that can ruin them. I really am glad that this story is out there for parents of young athletes to learn about what young girls in athletics can potentially go through - including disordered eating, excessive exercise, misuse of medications, etc. These issues were addressed delicately, which I appreciated. I just wish the headline information in this story could have been told in a more fictional way as I feel that particular story is the victim's right to share. Thank you to NetGalley and William Morrow for the eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Aggie

    This is my first book read by Alena Dillon and I’ll be sure to pick up another one from her soon. I could not put this story down, so much of it resonated with me as a mom of two young athletes and the culture behind youth sports. A recent podcast I listened to with Aly Raisman also really piqued my interest of gymnastics and the USA Team, I shared that with a friend and she recommended this book to me. This story followed 2 friends and a family through their similar but different journeys with g This is my first book read by Alena Dillon and I’ll be sure to pick up another one from her soon. I could not put this story down, so much of it resonated with me as a mom of two young athletes and the culture behind youth sports. A recent podcast I listened to with Aly Raisman also really piqued my interest of gymnastics and the USA Team, I shared that with a friend and she recommended this book to me. This story followed 2 friends and a family through their similar but different journeys with gymnastics. Life is consumed by the sport by expectations and goals. After listening to the podcast I can say the storytelling felt very realistic. I was especially intrigued by how real life events were interwoven into this story - the USA Gymnastics abuse scandal along with Covid & the cancellation of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I really enjoyed this book and want to thank NetGalley and William Morrow Books for an advance review copy.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I have always been obsessed with gymnastics, ever since I was a little girl. I loved finding out about the ins and outs of the USA gymnastics (although fictional to a point) The author does a great job of touching on a very sensitive subject and the demands of being an Olympian. I think as fans we forget the hardships that this can put on all members of the family. And the fact that Sera was a twin really highlighted how her brother’s needs were neglected for hers. I also loved that this was the I have always been obsessed with gymnastics, ever since I was a little girl. I loved finding out about the ins and outs of the USA gymnastics (although fictional to a point) The author does a great job of touching on a very sensitive subject and the demands of being an Olympian. I think as fans we forget the hardships that this can put on all members of the family. And the fact that Sera was a twin really highlighted how her brother’s needs were neglected for hers. I also loved that this was the first book that talked realistically about covid and how the quarantining and social distancing effected the country. There are obvious trigger warnings: child molestation, neglect, peer pressure, underage drinking, prescription drug abuse, covid-19. Still highly recommended for those that enjoy a well written modern “historical” fiction. ARC from NetGalley and William Morrow in exchange for an honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Long

    Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. Wow, this was a well written book. It is obvious that it closely resembles the Larry Nasser events but there's a lot more to this story because of the research gone into gymnastics as a whole. It's very much a cutthroat world, fully of mental and physical stress but throw in the abuse and that adds a whole new dimension of conflict. Great book that's very relevant to today's world. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. Wow, this was a well written book. It is obvious that it closely resembles the Larry Nasser events but there's a lot more to this story because of the research gone into gymnastics as a whole. It's very much a cutthroat world, fully of mental and physical stress but throw in the abuse and that adds a whole new dimension of conflict. Great book that's very relevant to today's world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    Wow, this book had me feeling some type of way. The story follows gymnast and Olympic hopeful Sera Wheeler and her family over the years as they sacrifice everything to get her to Team USA. She works herself hard constantly and faces countless obstacles — injuries, a global pandemic (yes!), and a sexual predator that threatens to unravel the entire organization Sera has dedicated her life to. I loved how the fictional book was set in a very real world — with references to real people and charact Wow, this book had me feeling some type of way. The story follows gymnast and Olympic hopeful Sera Wheeler and her family over the years as they sacrifice everything to get her to Team USA. She works herself hard constantly and faces countless obstacles — injuries, a global pandemic (yes!), and a sexual predator that threatens to unravel the entire organization Sera has dedicated her life to. I loved how the fictional book was set in a very real world — with references to real people and characters are based off real people too. I also loved how the narrative occasionally switched over to Sera’s mom’s perspective to really give the full picture. I found myself emotionally invested in the drama and cheering Sera on from the other side of my kindle! Anyone who loves a good underdog story or all things gymnastics needs to read this one!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Konet

    Even though this was a story about an elite gymnast who was sexually abused it mirrors what has happened to female gymnasts in the past. Events were covered up by the USA Olympics organization and the same doctor kept getting away with the same offenses. The parallels to this fiction book were uncomfortable and filled with multiple trigger warnings. Again, the events in this book were eerily similar to the events that actually happened for the last several decades in the sport. This book kind of Even though this was a story about an elite gymnast who was sexually abused it mirrors what has happened to female gymnasts in the past. Events were covered up by the USA Olympics organization and the same doctor kept getting away with the same offenses. The parallels to this fiction book were uncomfortable and filled with multiple trigger warnings. Again, the events in this book were eerily similar to the events that actually happened for the last several decades in the sport. This book kind of left a sour taste in my mouth even though I raced through this read because it is so shocking and relatable. Can still recommend this as a thriller read. Thanks to Netgalley, Alena Dillon and William Marrow & Custom House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Available: 4/20/21

  17. 5 out of 5

    Basic B's Guide

    A look inside the dark side of competitive gymnastics. How far will an athlete, her coach and her parents go for a Gold medal? We all know that elite athletes sacrifice a lot but at what price is it worth? Dillon writes of young Sera and her fifteen year journey to the Olympic podium. This book is not the easiest to read at times. I did get a clear picture of the determination these young women have. Nonetheless, I’m left quite unsettled and felt a disconnect from the abuse involved. I had high A look inside the dark side of competitive gymnastics. How far will an athlete, her coach and her parents go for a Gold medal? We all know that elite athletes sacrifice a lot but at what price is it worth? Dillon writes of young Sera and her fifteen year journey to the Olympic podium. This book is not the easiest to read at times. I did get a clear picture of the determination these young women have. Nonetheless, I’m left quite unsettled and felt a disconnect from the abuse involved. I had high expectations for this one but it missed the mark for me.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elissa Sloan

    HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD is a searing look at elite gymnastics and the lengths an athlete will go to reach her goal. Dillon writes a harrowing story about how hope can be saddled with burdens, and sacrifice can wear down the soul. Timely and spirited, I devoured this book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    ElphaReads

    Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel! Like most people, I was completely floored and horrified when it came out that Larry Nassar, a doctor for the Women's Olympic Gymnastics team, had sexually abused hundreds of girls. As someone who has always enjoyed gymnastics during the Summer Olympics, now knowing that so many girls were abused was just incredibly sad. THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD by Alena Dillon was a book that caught my eye because it is the story of a teen Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel! Like most people, I was completely floored and horrified when it came out that Larry Nassar, a doctor for the Women's Olympic Gymnastics team, had sexually abused hundreds of girls. As someone who has always enjoyed gymnastics during the Summer Olympics, now knowing that so many girls were abused was just incredibly sad. THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD by Alena Dillon was a book that caught my eye because it is the story of a teenage girl gymnast who wants to become an Olympian, and it takes a look at the kinds of abuses that she, and other gymnasts endure as they chased their dreams of Olympic Gold. It sounded like it was going to be relevant, and that it would talk about the dark things that have always been hinted at, but until recently not really acknowledged. Sera Wheeler has been eating, breathing, and living gymnastics since she was a little girl. Her innate talents have been nurtured and driven by her mother, who has fully invested in Sera both emotionally and financially, and her family has made many sacrifices to help her succeed. But as Sera gets closer and closer to her Olympic dreams, she pushes herself harder and harder, and endures hardship, abuse, pain, and heartbreak after heartbreak. Then when a scandal erupts involving the Olympic team doctor, Sera has to decide if her dreams are worth everything she could lose. THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD ended up being a bit of a mixed bag for me. There was a lot to like about it to be sure. I thought that Dillon did a really good job of portraying the ups and downs (so many downs) of a girl pursuing her dream of becoming an elite gymnastic Olympian. Sera's voice was well presented and authentic, and her complexities were laid bare for all to see. She makes some really serious mistakes, but at the same time you can see why she would make those mistakes. She is a girl who has a tremendous amount of pressure on her to get an Olympic Gold medal, be it from her mother (the typical living vicariously through her daughter archetype), her coaches, of the humongous debt that her family has racked up over the years so she could devote everything to gymnastics. And the debt isn't just financial. But I really liked that it was made clear that Sera is a willing participant in the high stakes, and while she has probably been manipulated by adults in her life, even when she has opportunities to stop, EVERY opportunity, she keeps on pushing, and you will question if her willingness is because of who she is, or who she has been molded to be because of this constant, decades long pressure. That felt very effective as well as uncomfortable. I also thought that she handled the issue of sexual assault and the silencing of young girls in a really good way, and how the pressure to be quiet within the world of sports is incredibly damaging and dangerous. This book is unflinching when it comes to these issues, and I would definitely tell people that there are content warnings abound in this book, though they are handled very well. Then there were the things that didn't work. Dillon tries to get into Charlene's head (Sera's mother), every once in awhile giving us chapters from her POV, and while I think that the point is made about her lack of options and squashed ambitions being imposed upon her child, she always felt fairly two dimensional. The other thing was a stylistic choice, for lack of better word. This is VERY clearly paralleling the Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse scandal within the story. But instead of fictionalizing it, Dillon pretty much lifts everything that happened and inserts it in, using actual names of gymnasts, actual quotes from gymnasts, and actual timelines and events (sometimes even giving dialogue to these gymnasts). But that doesn't extend to Nassar or the Karolyis, as all their names have been changed even if actual quotes are taken from them and put into the story. I imagine this has to do with libel issues maybe? But it felt weird and stunted to me, and definitely took me out of the story at times. Overall, THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD is a page turner and I was thoroughly entertained by it. It also has some really good things to say about how abusive the gymnastics world can be, especially for young girls. But some of the choices made in the storytelling building blocks felt awkward. Overall, worth the read!

  20. 5 out of 5

    SS

    Sera Wheeler is a gymnast, a very good one. She has her sights set on the Olympics. Can she deal with all the deprivation, sacrifice (physical and emotional), degradation, and pressure she must face to get there? While this book is about Sera and her friend Lucy, it’s also about her family. Her mother, father, and twin brother also face sacrifice and deprivation. Her father wants only what’s best for her, preferably a normal childhood. Her brother is resentful at times because he has to give up s Sera Wheeler is a gymnast, a very good one. She has her sights set on the Olympics. Can she deal with all the deprivation, sacrifice (physical and emotional), degradation, and pressure she must face to get there? While this book is about Sera and her friend Lucy, it’s also about her family. Her mother, father, and twin brother also face sacrifice and deprivation. Her father wants only what’s best for her, preferably a normal childhood. Her brother is resentful at times because he has to give up so much in order for Sera to be the center of attention. Her mother, well, she’s a stage mother of the worst kind. She uses Sera so that she can receive the validation of her worth that Sera’s success brings her. This was a good book, at least in part based on a true story, but a tough book to read. It hard to watch Sera and Lucy deal with pain, injury, molestation, stunted growth, and favoritism. These girls are in pain all of the time. By twelve years old, they’re eating three Advil for breakfast, more to follow later on in the day. By sixteen, it’s six Advil at a time. There are other drugs that are abused, too. These children are starved, treated as if they’re dirt, and used for the good of their trainers’ egos. It’s also hard to watch all that her family gives up to afford Sera’s training and travel, costumes and medical expenses. The last chapter was a bit of fantasy. I suspect it had to be hastily rewritten. In it, Covid arrives just in time to interfere with the 2020 Olympics, which is true. But quickly, Covid restrictions are removed completely, no masks necessary. By spring of 2021, Olympic trials can be held in fully packed stadiums with no mediation at all. I didn’t buy this ending, but I liked the rest of the book. These girls are pushed beyond endurance, beyond exhaustion, to the point of lifelong physical and mental damage. When Sera thinks about quitting because she doesn’t think she can go on, she forces herself because she knows how much debt her family has acquired to allow her to reach such a high level of competition. She want to help them repay those debt through the prize money and sponsorship she will receive if she can make the Olympic team, more if she can win a medal. That weight on a young woman is backbreaking. You need to have a strong stomach to read this book. It will drag you into the darkness and pain that elite gymnastics demands. You'll come to admire Sera's determination and willingness to suffer, keeping the big goal in mind. I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley. I thank them for their generosity, but it had no effect on this review. All opinions in this review reflect my true and honest reactions to reading this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jenessa

    I was excited to get an E-book ARC of this book, because as I kid, I absolutely loved watching gymnastics. To be honest, I still enjoy watching it as an adult. So when I heard about this novel, detailing the life and training of Olympic hopeful Sera Wheeler, I jumped at the chance to read and review it. This book starts out when Sera was young, and was just one of a crowd of hopeful gymnasts, training in both Indiana, and occasionally going to “camps” at the “ranch” (where a fictional Vanda and h I was excited to get an E-book ARC of this book, because as I kid, I absolutely loved watching gymnastics. To be honest, I still enjoy watching it as an adult. So when I heard about this novel, detailing the life and training of Olympic hopeful Sera Wheeler, I jumped at the chance to read and review it. This book starts out when Sera was young, and was just one of a crowd of hopeful gymnasts, training in both Indiana, and occasionally going to “camps” at the “ranch” (where a fictional Vanda and her husband coach and pull all the strings of the US Olympic program.) Many of the characters are stand ins for real life people in the book — Marta and Bela Karolyi are featured as Vanda and her husband, running a ranch in Texas where gymnasts go to train, gymnastics team doctor “Eddie” who stands in for a real life Larry Nassar, convicted of sexually abusing hundreds of young aspiring gymnasts. I would say. technically, this is a story based on a true story, with a fictional Sera Wheeler’s story as the vehicle for the storytelling. Sera is an aspiring gymnast, and sacrifices her childhood to reach her dreams. After many, many setbacks, she finally gets her chance to live the dream (qualifying for the Olympics). Sera is an incredible athlete in her own right, but finds she has to step on some toes to get to where she wants to be. This story details her actions, and later guilt over the actions she did (and did not) take. This book is important, and really opened my eyes to the drive and determination that some people have, and how their childhoods are taken over (and in some cases, ruined) by the drive. Sera’s mother often appeared to push her own dreams onto Sera, adding extra pressure to her to excel. It was a reminder (for my own life) to encourage children, but don’t add extra pressure. Gymnastics was life for Sera, but many times throughout her career it wasn’t fun for her anymore. This book reminded me that things like this are supposed to be fun, and when they no longer are, we shouldn’t push to keep doing them. Overall, this book was excellent. I loved the real life references to gymnasts that have instant name recognition (Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, etc.) They are minor characters in Sera’s story, but definitely not the main story. This is Sera’s story, and a story for all girls (and boys) and parents with aspirations to be great. That greatness comes at a huge sacrifice, that needs to be weighed carefully. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars, and would definitely recommend this to others. Thank you to Alena Dillon, William Morrow publishers and Netgalley for providing me a free advanced copy of this book, in exchange for a fair review.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    Don't you just love it when you find a book that completely captures your attention 100%? Alena Dillon, author of Mercy House, has a new novel out and it is a showstopper - The Happiest Girl in the World. Just who is the happiest girl in the world? In the case of Dillon's pulse-pounding book, it is a young elite gymnast vying for a spot on the Olympic team. But is being a world-class gymnast as glamorous and fun as it seems? Dillon's novel dives deep into the dark side of USA Gymnastics, and is, Don't you just love it when you find a book that completely captures your attention 100%? Alena Dillon, author of Mercy House, has a new novel out and it is a showstopper - The Happiest Girl in the World. Just who is the happiest girl in the world? In the case of Dillon's pulse-pounding book, it is a young elite gymnast vying for a spot on the Olympic team. But is being a world-class gymnast as glamorous and fun as it seems? Dillon's novel dives deep into the dark side of USA Gymnastics, and is, quite frankly, the best fictional account of what happens on the inside that I have ever read. Any fan of the sport MUST read this novel - I promise you, you won't regret it! The Happiest Girl in the World follows a young Sera Wheeler through her training from a pre-teen at her local gym to the world stage. Dillon shows us the side of gymnastics that we never see, and it's not just the rigors that gymnasts put their bodies through and the mental and emotional abuses they suffer from their coaches. Dillon also explores life at the Balogh Ranch (the Baloghs are a fictional stand-in for the famed Karolyis, prominent figures in USA Gymnastics for decades), the relationship between gymnasts and their families, the corruption that took place within USA Gymnastics for years, and perhaps, most famously, the predation of Eddie Levett, Dillon's version of the convicted sex offender and former Team USA doctor, Larry Nassar. There's so much to unpack within these pages, and every single sentence is utterly gripping. The Happiest Girl in the World is a stunning page-turner that is sure not to leave the minds of readers anytime soon. If your image of USA Gymnastics wasn't already tarnished due to the recent scandals, this novel will further open your eyes to the price gymnasts pay to win gold. So much research went into this book to make it feel authentic and true to the elite gymnast experience, and Dillon's writing is utterly captivating. The Happiest Girl in the World is an absolutely harrowing tale of sacrifice and strife, but also one of perseverance and glory. I loved every minute of this novel, and I am excited that it is being published just in time for the re-scheduled 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo (yes, Dillon even touches on recent events in the form of the coronavirus & the postponement of the Olympics in this book!) A must-read for anyone who is fascinated with the sport.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ashley *Booksbrewsandbarks*

    2.5 rounding down to 2. I was really looking forward to this book but, as someone who has followed the Larry Nasser scandal and watched/read a lot of information on the events leading up to it, a majority of this book was mirroring that case, even down to minute details. The parts that weren't focused on the sexual abuse scandal were written really well and I would have loved to see how much more developed the plot and characters would've been if the focus wasn't weighed so heavily on the case t 2.5 rounding down to 2. I was really looking forward to this book but, as someone who has followed the Larry Nasser scandal and watched/read a lot of information on the events leading up to it, a majority of this book was mirroring that case, even down to minute details. The parts that weren't focused on the sexual abuse scandal were written really well and I would have loved to see how much more developed the plot and characters would've been if the focus wasn't weighed so heavily on the case that so many people area already familiar with. I had hoped for more depth into the mother/daughter relationship as well as the impact that Sera's life in gymnastics had on her family as a whole. Also, I felt like the repercussions of gymnastics in terms of Sera's obvious eating disorder and self harm were skated by, used as caveats to move onto the next section relating to the abuse scandal. One of the reasons covering the scandal in this fictionalized fashion irks me is the fact that it's not the author's story to tell. There are so many victims out there that could provide so much more emotion and insight into the abuse and the world that nurtured said abuse but I can't get over the fact that the author herself is not only not one of those victims but not a gymnast herself, relying only on the insight from someone vaguely attached to the world to tell the story of so many others. I would hate for someone to read this book but not read a memoir from one of the victims solely because they feel like they already know enough from this tale. It is an injustice really and its angering that someone else is profiting from their sufferance. This book had a lot of potential, an ability to shed insight into the painful and heartbreaking world of gymnastics that goes a lot deeper than the Nasser scandal. The writing was there but the plot seemed to take an easy way out, seemingly parroting the facts of the case back at the reader without justice. If you are looking for a true look into the gymnastics world and the lack of heart within it, I urge you to do your due diligence and read more books either from gymnasts themselves or people who have more connection with the world they were developed in.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kimball

    Sera Wheeler and her best friend Lucy dream of competing in the Olympics as part of the U.S. gymnastics team. They train 30 hours a week, drain their parents’ money, adhere to extremely strict diets and never stop battling the pain of their injuries. Their families sacrifice time, money, vacations, their own dreams and even their character when they decide to turn a blind eye. Sera’s twin brother highlights these sacrifices more than any other character. He is dragged along to competitions and i Sera Wheeler and her best friend Lucy dream of competing in the Olympics as part of the U.S. gymnastics team. They train 30 hours a week, drain their parents’ money, adhere to extremely strict diets and never stop battling the pain of their injuries. Their families sacrifice time, money, vacations, their own dreams and even their character when they decide to turn a blind eye. Sera’s twin brother highlights these sacrifices more than any other character. He is dragged along to competitions and is force to go without the attention he craves. Still, he is supportive and loving to his sister, inviting her to parties and standing up for her in front of his friends. As the girls progress, more must be sacrificed for them to practice at an elite ranch in Texas and travel to competitions. The training hours increase to the point that both girls drop out of school to train at the gym full time. Then, Lucy says that one of the doctors she was told to trust has been molesting her. Sera must decide if she should speak up for her friend or keep quiet to keep her place on the team. Why did so many adults ignore what was going on? Is her dream worth destroying her friendship? • For the most part, THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD is told from Sera’s perspective but a few chapters show her mother’s, which gives the parent’s perspective of why she so blindly supported her daughter and denied the allegations. Overall, a very interesting read that depicts what the true cost of athletic greatness is. For elite gymnastics, complete obedience was expected, including silence. The novel does a fabulous job showing the secrecy surrounding the allegations against the team coach with a slow build up of news, rumors and Lucy’s experience. This book is a coming of age story a deep dive into the world of gymnastics, explaining the techniques and moves as well as mentioning famous gymnasts throughout. I had a tendency to skip over the passages about her routines because I had no idea what any of the terms were. I did really appreciate how Covid 19 was depicted in the novel and unique perspective of a gymnast and her entire career/life being put on pause. It’s the first book to include this time period and I thought it was expertly handled.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Donna Beiderman

    The Happiest Girl in the World Alena Dillon Publication date 4/20/21 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Sera Wheeler is an Olympic hopeful. Her life revolves around her training. This riveting novel takes you inside the gyms, the summer programs, and shows you a scary side to the abuse of so many gymnasts. Sera and Lucy train together, best friends but it seems a bit easier for Lucy. Sera faces many setbacks but she is destined to finally make it. The novel parallels the real life gymnastic sexual abuse scandal with Larry N The Happiest Girl in the World Alena Dillon Publication date 4/20/21 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Sera Wheeler is an Olympic hopeful. Her life revolves around her training. This riveting novel takes you inside the gyms, the summer programs, and shows you a scary side to the abuse of so many gymnasts. Sera and Lucy train together, best friends but it seems a bit easier for Lucy. Sera faces many setbacks but she is destined to finally make it. The novel parallels the real life gymnastic sexual abuse scandal with Larry Nassar. Heartbreaking at times this book examines how these girls strive to be their best while practicing with various injuries, suppressing their appetites and how they survive repeated physical, emotions and sexual abuse. I loved how Dillon incorporated the final Five Olympian girls I rooted for in the 2016 Olympics. I was star struck reading their names as they became characters in the book. It really brought the novel to life. I fell deeply for Sera, so much is as stake and to go on this journey with one of your best friends can be bittersweet. In such a cut throat sport how far will Sera go to make it? Although the storyline deals with some difficult touchy social issues our children are facing it was written in such a beautiful way!! This is a five star must read, thought provoking and raw this is a story that will stay with you. Thank you to William Morrow, NetGalley and Alena Dillon for his electronic advanced readers copy of The Happiest Girl in the World for my honest opinion. Looking forward to reading more of Dillion’s books. Review posted on my Goodreads and Instagram. http://www.instagram.com/donnasnotsos... https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1... #thehappiestgirintheworld #netgalley #alenadillon #thefinalfive #metoomovement #gymnasticlife #booknerds #booksofinstagram #booklife #bookbub #bookclub #bookclubbook #ilovereading #bookaholic #bookaddict #bookadvisor #goodreads #betweenthechapters  #booklife #100bookchallenge #bookclub #readacrossinstagram #readingnook

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gerrie

    The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon is a compelling novel about a young woman’s quest to reach the pinnacle of gymnastics as a member of the US Olympic Team and the toll it takes on her childhood, her body, her family and her friendships. Sera and her best friend Lucy are 9 year olds from Kokomo Indiana, training at an elite gymnastics facility in Indianapolis. They share their dream of participating in the Olympics and are innocently enthusiastic about all the training and pain associ The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon is a compelling novel about a young woman’s quest to reach the pinnacle of gymnastics as a member of the US Olympic Team and the toll it takes on her childhood, her body, her family and her friendships. Sera and her best friend Lucy are 9 year olds from Kokomo Indiana, training at an elite gymnastics facility in Indianapolis. They share their dream of participating in the Olympics and are innocently enthusiastic about all the training and pain associated with it. As their talent is recognized, they are sent to a junior national training camp in Texas, run by the Baloghs, whose identities are thinly veiled Marta and Bela Karolyi. There the girls endure endless sessions of physical and mental anguish as they reach for excellence in the sport, and they also experience the attention of the team physician, Eddie Levett, who slyly grooms his victims for sexually inappropriate touching. Levett is certainly a reference to the infamous convicted USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. The girls’ experiences at the Ranch felt raw and real, and made me remember all the stories in the news about the USA Gymnastics scandal revolving around this doctor and his victims, who were not believed by their coaches and their parents. The story is told from the alternating points of view of Sera, and her mother Charlene Wheeler. That construct is very effective in conveying the hopes and drive of Sera to achieve her dreams, and her mother’s need to find meaning and importance in a world where she thinks she is just another ordinary housewife. Sera’s father is worried, but ineffectual in the face of his wife’s obsession with Sera’s success, and her twin brother Joe is reduced to a background player in the family drama. The narrative is realistic and rings true with its dialogue and observations of Midwest culture. (Born and raised in Wisconsin, I can relate). The writing is clever, with my special appreciation of Sera’s noting the pet elephant in the house, which represents the secrets and unspoken accusations, admissions of guilt and feelings of her family members. “My parents…continued into the house, the elephant lumbering after them.” Having this fictional story set in the real world of gymnastics and the Olympics, with references to recognizable celebrities like Gabby Douglas, makes it even more compelling. Reading about the terrible pain and injuries and training rituals is difficult, and certainly makes it feel absolutely real and true. Conversely, listening to Sera’s inner thoughts about the exhilaration of mastering a difficult trick and flying through the air in perfect control of her body makes the reader realize that elite athletes have a unique spirit and focus that takes them to the highest levels of achievement. In the end, this book is skillfully written and very aptly draws a realistic picture of the price of achieving excellence in athletics and the ripples it sends through the athlete’s life. Thanks to William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers and NetGalley for this ARC. This my unbiased review.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    4.5 stars. The entire novel is great, but the prologue is a work of art. Sera Wheeler (and her mother) is determined to become an Olympic gymnast. Set during the time period of #MeToo and the Nasser scandal, this novel asks what is the price of greatness? Is there a price to high? A sacrifice too great? As horrified as I sometimes was at Sera's lifestyle, I still found myself rooting for her - her desire to succeed greatness, knowing she was so close and not wanting to give up. The ending demons 4.5 stars. The entire novel is great, but the prologue is a work of art. Sera Wheeler (and her mother) is determined to become an Olympic gymnast. Set during the time period of #MeToo and the Nasser scandal, this novel asks what is the price of greatness? Is there a price to high? A sacrifice too great? As horrified as I sometimes was at Sera's lifestyle, I still found myself rooting for her - her desire to succeed greatness, knowing she was so close and not wanting to give up. The ending demonstrates the price, but also offers a glimmer of hope. For Sera Wheeler, the Olympics is the reason for everything. It’s why she trains thirty hours a week, starves herself to under 100 pounds, and pops Advil like Tic Tacs. For her mother, Charlene, hungry for glory she never had, it’s why she rises before dawn to drive Sera to practice in a different state, and why the family scrimps, saves, and fractures. It’s why, when Sera’s best friend reports the gymnastics doctor to the authority who selects the Olympic Team, Sera denies what she knows about his treatments, thus preserving favor. Their friendship shatters. But Sera protected her dream—didn’t she? Sera doubles down, taping broken toes, numbing torn muscles, and pouring her family’s resources into the sport. Soon she isn’t training for the love of gymnastics. She’s training to make her disloyalty worthwhile. No matter the cost. The Happiest Girl in the World explores the dark history behind an athlete who stands on the world stage, biting gold. It's about the silence required of the exceptional, a tarnished friendship, and the sacrifices a parent will make for a child, even as a family is torn apart. It’s about the price of greatness. Thanks to NetGalley for the free ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Let's start with the fact that The Happiest Girl in the World tells a story that really needs to be told. And I'm not restricting that purely to the abuse that occurred within USA Gymnastics. In stark, yet bubble gum optimism from the perspective of a young girl/woman aspiring to be a member of the Olympic team - Dillon paints a disturbing picture of children and young adults and elite sports, as well as the parents and coaches that help create an environment where the aspirations of a child tur Let's start with the fact that The Happiest Girl in the World tells a story that really needs to be told. And I'm not restricting that purely to the abuse that occurred within USA Gymnastics. In stark, yet bubble gum optimism from the perspective of a young girl/woman aspiring to be a member of the Olympic team - Dillon paints a disturbing picture of children and young adults and elite sports, as well as the parents and coaches that help create an environment where the aspirations of a child turn into the obsession of a teenager. There was absolutely nothing about Sera's experience as a gymnast that made me envy her. The sacrifices her family made and the lasting damage it had on her twin brother is something I would never want to inflict on my own sibling. The pain, the mother living through her daughter's achievement, the lack of friends and a normal childhood, and abusive coaches and doctors are all laid bare with the question of "is it worth it?" And it's a very slippery slope for Sera throughout the book. The occasional chapters told by Sera's mother, Charlene, to me are unnecessary. The reader can get a feel for what drives Charlene without disrupting the flow of Sera's story to get her mother's "tough tomatoes" perspective. And while the book starts with a preface that this is a work of fiction, Dillon incorporates so many real people, whether by actual name or by thinly veiled ones for people associated with USA Gymnastics that fueled years of abuse and harassment that despite Sera, her family, her friend Lucy and her personal coaches being fictional, that argument that this isn't mostly a recounting of real life events is about as thin as the one inch balance beam. This story is definitely thought-provoking but not entirely without interpretive mistakes that a judge just might deduct for.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    “𝘞𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘮𝘺 𝘴𝘶𝘤𝘤𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘯𝘰 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘴 𝘮𝘦? 𝘖𝘳 𝘸𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘐 𝘣𝘦 𝘢𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘩𝘢𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘪𝘵 𝘤𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘴𝘱𝘦𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘭 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘢𝘯 𝘪𝘯𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘯𝘵?” Alena Dillon had me hooked from page one of 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗛𝗔𝗣𝗣𝗜𝗘𝗦𝗧 𝗚𝗜𝗥𝗟 𝗜𝗡 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗪𝗢𝗥𝗟𝗗. At five years old, Sera Wheeler is identified as a gifted gymnast. Her mother, Charlene, who always thought she was meant for more than her boring Midwestern life, decides that a special daughter means she's special too. She and Sera become 100% focused on gymnastics and no sacrifice is “𝘞𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘮𝘺 𝘴𝘶𝘤𝘤𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘯𝘰 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘴 𝘮𝘦? 𝘖𝘳 𝘸𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘐 𝘣𝘦 𝘢𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘩𝘢𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘪𝘵 𝘤𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘴𝘱𝘦𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘭 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘢𝘯 𝘪𝘯𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘯𝘵?” Alena Dillon had me hooked from page one of 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗛𝗔𝗣𝗣𝗜𝗘𝗦𝗧 𝗚𝗜𝗥𝗟 𝗜𝗡 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗪𝗢𝗥𝗟𝗗. At five years old, Sera Wheeler is identified as a gifted gymnast. Her mother, Charlene, who always thought she was meant for more than her boring Midwestern life, decides that a special daughter means she's special too. She and Sera become 100% focused on gymnastics and no sacrifice is too great - family, friends, money, school, Sera's health... they all come second to the possibility of Olympic gold. ⁣The book covers fifteen years and incorporates actual people and events - Shawn Johnson, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and other famous gymnasts make appearances and the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal plays a pivotal part, although the doctor here has a different name - making Sera's story feel all the more real. The detailed account of what these girls put themselves through to succeed is harrowing and Dillon also nails so many nuances that have nothing to do with gymnastics like the dynamics of girl friendships, the manipulation between a wife and her husband and Midwestern slang and passive aggressiveness. This is the first fiction I've read that incorporates the pandemic as the 2020 Olympics are postponed and we see how Sera and her family deal with Covid. The author mentions she worked on this book for years and I'm curious if there was once a different ending because the way it plays now works perfectly. It's hard to say you love a book that includes sexual, emotional and sometimes physical abuse but this was a remarkable read. It's dark and shocking but also relatable and unputdownable, and I'll never watch sports the same way again. Thanks to Custom House Books & NetGalley for a copy to review.

  30. 4 out of 5

    JenC

    One of my early memories is watching Nadia Comaneci score the first perfect 10 at the 1976 Olympics. My own childhood attempt at gymnastics soon after was, of course, short-lived but I have been interested in the sport ever since. The Happiest Girl in the World shows what can happen when you go all in to train toward the Olympics—both the good and the very bad. Sera Wheeler and her friend Lucy love gymnastics and, as young children, think it’s fun. They practice talking to the press for their fut One of my early memories is watching Nadia Comaneci score the first perfect 10 at the 1976 Olympics. My own childhood attempt at gymnastics soon after was, of course, short-lived but I have been interested in the sport ever since. The Happiest Girl in the World shows what can happen when you go all in to train toward the Olympics—both the good and the very bad. Sera Wheeler and her friend Lucy love gymnastics and, as young children, think it’s fun. They practice talking to the press for their future interviews, saying they feel like “the happiest girl in the world.” As they get older and their training gets more serious, they train for 25 and later 40 hours or more per week, putting themselves through daily pain in pursuit of a spot on the Olympic team—something only 4-5 women achieve every 4 years. The book makes you ask at what point is the extremely restricted diet, the physical toll, and the abuse (verbal, physical, and, in some cases, sexual by the team doctor) too much? When is it time to stop? And at what point has your family invested so much in your dream that you couldn’t stop even if you wanted to? The sexual abuse topic is difficult, dark, and fresh from the headlines. It is a major thread in the book, but it’s not the only focus and it isn’t the only dark aspect. You will want to keeping reading (and perhaps stay up later than you should) to find out what happens next as you follow Sera and Lucy through their training, their friendship, and their decisions from about 2008 through the COVID-19 pandemic and into 2021. Although it’s fiction, I think this would be a good book for parents to read and think hard about whether going for the gold is worth it. Thanks to NetGalley, William Morrow, and the Book Club Girls for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review. My opinion is my own.

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