You Will Know Me
Megan Abbott
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Buy *You Will Know Me* by Megan Abbottonline

You Will Know Me
Megan Abbott
Little, Brown
352 pages
July 2016
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Landing just ahead of 2016's Rio Olympics, Abbott’s You Will Know Me exposes one family’s obsession with gymnastics gamesmanship. Devon Knox is a prodigy and star in a landscape where other girls “just aren’t that good.” The transformation comes when Devon’s parents, Katie and Eric Knox, meet decorated coach Teddy Belfour. Teddy tells them Devon should ditch her strip-mall gym and join the BelStars, an elite club that trains their competitors for the Senior competitions, including the Olympics.

Katie and Eric are fully prepared to sacrifice everything for Devon’s career. Plunging headlong into a life of long rows of beams and bars and the fearsome BelStars girls with faces “as grim as Soviets,” Katie holds Devon together tightly, becoming our confidante and cipher during the early morning hours when she huddles with the other mums in the stands. Beyond the Knox’s growing credit card debt and Katie’s rising resentment at Eric, who cares for nothing other than Devon’s career (and also Devon, whose twisted adolescent heart craves attention) Abbott re-imagines the notion of parental sacrifice in a world with a gym club at its center.

From the start of her training, Devon holds court while the other girls watch her with a mix of envy and suspicion. Coach T soon convenes a strategy, telling Katie and Eric that the construction of the Club’s new pit will a game-changer and finally allow their deeply exceptional daughter to move from Level 10, through the doomed Junior Elite to the Seniors. The countless nights spent talking about Devon, raising money for the gym, and watching footage of Devon’s routines (feet fastened on the practice beam) will finally be rewarded.

Through dreams and secret disappointments to the confessions from Devon’s diary, Abbott captures the essence of her characters. Katie is inspired to awe by Devon’s obvious talent as she swings hypnotically, hands gloved with chalk, the arrow of her body, her feet melded into one sharp point. Yet among “the smell of damp leotards and pit foam,” and Devon, with all of her “rhythms, and pulses and tremors,” Katie begins to understand her child less and less.

The stunning twist in the story is the sudden death of Ryan Beck, the boyfriend of Coach T’s unstable niece, Hailey. Ryan’s death leads Katie to become ever-more paranoid. She is convinced that the tragedy is linked to Devon. With the suspicion that Eric may be hiding something, perhaps even covering up a crime, the entire foundation of Katie’s daily existence becomes a house of cards built upon distrust. Eric is distant, turning to club manager Gwen Weaver, who against Kate’s better judgment shepherds Devon off to private meets for days at a time. Katie finds herself fractured, so utterly changed that she can no longer recognize herself nor see a future for Devon or for her marriage. Katie adopts the mantle of sleuth, trying to unravel how her daughter has become snared in such a big drama: a seamy love triangle with the unhinged Hailey.

The pieces gradually hurtle into place, Katie returning to her house (this “decaying manse”) which is quarantined by fever and to a daughter who has been deceiving her with lies and half truths. While younger brother Drew seems to hold close his older sister’s secrets, Hailey inadvertently becomes the prime suspect in Ryan’s death. From Ryan’s missed calls on Devon’s phone, to Eric’s jittery urgency, to the reputation of gym (which must be protected at all cost), Katie embarks on a mission to hide any notion of Devon’s involvement in Ryan’s untimely demise.

Twisted and dark, chilling and mysterious, the mystery behind Ryan’s murder is really less important than the idea of parental sacrifice, of finding a way to happiness, and how sporting parents like the Knoxes try to create and build a life from nothing. The book is also an astute character study on how easily teenage girls such as Devon are driven to succeed, and how easily they can be manipulated and exploited by those around them.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2016

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