The Girls Are Good by Ilaria Bernardini #BookReview


Martina wants to be the best gymnast in the world. But so does everyone around her.

During one week of intense competition, Martina and her teammates are tested to the limit, and any sign of weakness can quickly spell the end.

By the end of the week, one of the gymnasts will be dead. Every girl will do anything to win…but at what cost?

My thoughts on The Girls Are Good…

I don’t know a lot about gymnastics. However, as the mother of a young girl, it felt like a rite of passage to sign her up to lessons when she was younger and sit and watch her for an hour a couple of times a week as she attempted to master a cartwheel. By the time she was in Year 4, she’d decided it wasn’t for her.

Relieved is probably the best word for describing how I felt when she told me. I had become increasingly concerned about the pressure that was being put on the kids by the club and their parents. There was an intensity, a focus on winning, that I found uncomfortable, and a hierarchy that pitted child against child and elevated those that were good to a status where other children were supposed to ‘make way’ so they could use the equipment when they wanted for as long as they wanted.

I appreciate that this won’t be everyone’s experience and it may just have been the club my daughter attended. But reading The Girls are Good (at the same time that more and more stories of abuse of gymnasts are appearing in the papers) brought back memories I had been happy to leave behind. And made me think that maybe there is something unhealthy about the sport, and the desire to win at all odds.

The world Ilaria Bernardini has created is dark and deadly. It feels like a real – if exaggerated – reflection of what gymnasts who have spoken out are describing. There is no love, no loyalty, just the desire to win at all costs (although there are lots of flowery words that mask the truth). If there is physical harm, you get through it. If there is mental harm, you ignore it. You keep going no matter what. And yet the girls keep going because this is all they know, all they’ve known since they were little.

This desire, this pressure to succeed, comes across in every page. As I read it, I felt weighed down by the expectations the coaches were putting on the gymnasts and the gymnasts were putting on each other. At times, it actually felt unbearable. And it made reading the book hard – I put it down several times because it all felt too much – too dark, too harsh, too ugly. I went back though because I needed to know if it was going to end the way I thought it had to (it did).

Now I’m left in a strange place. I didn’t like the characters (not one redeeming feature amongst them). I didn’t like the story (so dark, so unforgiving). But I did like the way it was written (because I felt the intense pressure the gymnasts were feeling; it was so unrelenting). As a result, I think I’ll be selective in who I recommend it to among my family and friends. But I will look out for other books by Bernardini because there’s a real writing talent there. 4 out of 5 stars.



Please note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings, and opinions are my own.

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