With Unflinching Honesty, a Haunting Novel Confronts the USA Gymnastics Sexual Abuse Case



The yr is 2008 and 16-year-old Shawn Johnson has simply received the USA Gymnastics Olympic Trials, stamping her ticket to the Beijing Olympics. “How does it really feel to be Shawn Johnson proper now?” a reporter asks her.
“It is wonderful,” Johnson says, beaming. “I really feel just like the happiest lady on the earth.”
A whole lot of miles away, in a fictional universe, two 8-year-old gymnasts begin to dream.
The Happiest Woman within the World (out April 20) is fiction, however you understand what it is based mostly on, even if you happen to solely watch gymnastics each 4 years: the sexual abuse case of Larry Nassar, a physician who abused a whole bunch of ladies (the overwhelming majority of them gymnasts) below the guise of remedy. The case additionally implicated leaders at his longtime employer, USA Gymnastics (USAG), together with nationwide workforce coaches Marta and Bela Karolyi and USAG president Steve Penny. The case prompted a surprising lawsuit wherein over 150 survivors gave wrenching sufferer affect statements, resulting in a 175-year jail sentence for Nassar and a whole crash-and-burn for USAG as a corporation. Gymnasts together with Simone Biles and Aly Raisman nonetheless don’t consider the group has absolutely atoned for its mishandling of the scandal and the win-at-any-cost atmosphere that permit Nassar run rampant for years.
The scandal and its fallout kind the spine of Alena Dillon’s novel, seen via the eyes of a proficient younger gymnast named Sera Wheeler. Sera and her finest good friend, Lucy, develop up head over heels for gymnastics, sharing starry-eyed goals of successful gold, memorizing each phrase of Shawn Johnson’s post-Trials interview. They chase one another up the ladder of elite gymnastics and ultimately ascend to the nationwide workforce, decimal factors away from a shot at gold.
“Have a look at you, Sera. You are mendacity there damaged however begging for extra.”
Hyperrealistic, the novel consists of cameos from the most important names in girls’s gymnastics over the previous 20 years: Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, Gabrielle Douglas. A younger Simone Biles seems, mid-floor routine, “certain[ing] so joyfully and with a lot top, she might have been fabricated from rubber . . . the form of efficiency that made you are feeling you have been witnessing one thing uncommon and sacred, that you simply have been within the presence of once-in-a-lifetime greatness.” (Dillon was not a gymnast however clearly did her analysis, as a result of the descriptions of high-flying vaults, tumbling passes, and bar releases are breathtaking.)
Different characters are recognizable, too, however not by title.
Within the novel, Rudi and Vanda Balogh are the nationwide workforce coaches who prepare gymnasts at their sprawling, secluded Texas ranch. Eddie Levett is the physician who treats the athletes, who offers them “changes” and the inexperienced mild to compete regardless of damage, the person who comes into Lucy and Sera’s room on the ranch one evening when Lucy’s abdomen does not really feel effectively. All through The Happiest Woman within the World, Dillon grapples with the sexual abuse side of the USAG scandal in addition to the systemic abuse of energy on the core of the group.
Sera and her associates are inspired to interrupt their our bodies out and in of the fitness center, for instance, as a result of they’re taught that that is what it takes to be nice. Sera suffers ugly accidents and chooses to coach with a coach recognized for emotionally abusing his athletes. “Sera is fierce,” says her mother, Charlene, who channels her personal unfulfilled goals of stardom via Sera’s profession. “She will be able to take powerful love.” That is after Levett’s crimes involves mild, so she provides casually, “It isn’t like he is sexually abusive.”
“The very issues that damage her are the badges of honor she craves.”
In the meantime, the athletes pursue the tiniest, most aerodynamic variations of their our bodies and acknowledge their restrictive diets, which regularly cross the border into consuming issues. It is a operating joke at Sera’s home that she by no means eats the identical dinner as her household, choosing at hen and spinach whereas they serve casseroles and dessert. She and her associates view puberty as a private failure. “Menstruating would imply I might let myself go,” she explains, matter of truth. “I hadn’t operated with sufficient self-control. I might let my physique beat me.”
All of that is normalized throughout the remoted, hierarchical, hypercompetitive world of elite gymnastics, and Dillon deftly weaves these issues into an internet that snares younger women with massive goals and successfully provides them as much as predators like Levett, who earns Sera and Lucy’s belief with luggage of Hershey’s kisses and turns himself right into a “good man” by being the type, understanding foil to their tyrannical coaches. Within the twisted logic of this world, Sera even begs to be handled by him and to turn out to be one among his “favorites.” Like her dangerously low weight and her damaged down, taped-together physique, the very issues that damage her are the badges of honor she craves.
It is dangerous to fictionalize a deeply traumatic, very public scandal, one which – because the e book’s finale signifies – is much from resolved. And it was on the finish when The Happiest Woman within the World faltered, cramming the COVID-19 pandemic into an already packed plot and projecting characters into the 2021 Olympic Trials (that are scheduled for this June). Dillon went for one remaining plot twist and did not fairly stick the touchdown. However the first three-quarters have been propulsive, transfixing, and disturbing. I couldn’t set the e book down. Harrowing and fearlessly trustworthy, The Happiest Woman within the World is a haunting learn as a result of it could not have executed justice to its topics – fictional and actual – some other means.
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Standout Quote
“Her stare dropped to me, and her voice was hushed, like she was breaking dangerous information. ‘Have a look at you, Sera. You are mendacity there damaged however begging for extra. It is not totally different. Elite gymnastics hasn’t modified one bit.'”
Mindset
You will learn this e book along with your coronary heart lodged in your throat. Be prepared for descriptions of sexual and emotional abuse, disordered consuming, melancholy, and trauma.
The place You Ought to Learn It
Make your self as comfy as attainable: massive pillows, delicate mattress, bean-bag chair, sofa that swallows you up, numerous mild. If this books leaves you as shaken as I used to be, you may need to be someplace you are feeling secure.
Learn This If You Like . . .
My Darkish Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. With coldly exact descriptions of abuse, trauma, and melancholy, each books are as troublesome to learn as they’re to place down. Whereas The Happiest Woman within the World is much less graphic, each construct a world the place sexual abuse is a chillingly regular, even informal, a part of each day life.
infonewsclub Studying Problem Immediate(s)
Use this e book for the “e book that is printed in 2021” studying problem immediate.
How Lengthy It Takes to Learn
This e book is simply over 350 pages lengthy, however I completed in about 24 hours – that is how shortly the plot strikes and the way invested I used to be within the characters. Anticipate a three- to five-day learn; when you begin, you will not need to cease.
Give This E-book To . . .
Your good friend who follows the Ultimate 5 on all their socials and is glued to the TV each Olympic cycle.
The Candy Spot Abstract
In The Happiest Woman within the World ($14), Alena Dillon stares into the center of the USAG sexual abuse scandal, putting her susceptible, dream-blinded characters in a really actual, very harmful world that calls for success over all the things, even their very own lives.



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