I found out recently that one of my favorite Olympians Shawn Johnson had written her debut YA novel The Flip Side (2016, Simon and Schuster). So I reserved a copy at my local library and finished the book on the last day of the women’s event finals in Rio.
The Flip Side is sure to be a popular book for middle and high school girls who love gymnastics. I would put this book in a MG/YA crossover category.
Charlie is an Olympic hopeful who hides her gymnastics from her high school classmates. Unlike other elite gymnasts who are home schooled, Charlie wants a ‘normal’ high school experience. But as she learns, hiding one’s identity from people you love can have some dire consequences.
Following a rather predictable plot line (which is perfectly fine!), The Flip Side makes readers think about issues of identity. I like how the book showcases the inner thoughts of competitive athletes. We sometimes do not understand the immense pressure elite athletes are under, and The Flip Side presents a realistic portrayal of the tensions these athletes face as they struggle with understanding how their identities as students/friends/children/siblings coincide (or do not coincide) with their identities as elite athletes.
A central question was emphasized throughout the text: What does it mean to be an athlete? to look like an athlete? Family members, friends, and classmates criticize Charlie for not looking like an athlete or not acting like an elite athlete should. The message of The Flip Side is that what it means to be an athlete and what an athlete looks like is, ultimately, up to that individual athlete. This is such an empowering message!
Current gymnasts will also enjoy the rich descriptions of the gymnastics meets.
I think this is a great book club selection for upper middle school readers and will fit wonderfully in a text set designed around identity or athletics. Tell me what you think of The Flip Side in the comments below.
And, now, back to watching the final days of the Rio Olympics!