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Onyx reviews: You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 7/30/2016

When a child is discovered to have an extraordinary skill, the family's equilibrium can be thrown out of kilter. She becomes a massive gravitational field around which everything else in the family falls into orbit. The normal dynamics between a husband and wife are shifted so that all of their attention is focused on making sure that skill is exploited to its maximum potential, and everything else is eclipsed, including their relationship and the lives of any other siblings.

But for an accident that maimed her when she was three, Devon Knox might never have tumbled upon her particular talent. After she lost part of her foot to a lawnmower, her doctor recommended gymnastics as a way of improving her balance. Instead of a limitation, her injury serves as motivation, and soon her natural talent draws the attention of a coach who maps out a years-long plan that leads to the Olympics. The Knoxes, Eric and Katie, take out a second mortgage on their house, max out their credit cards and sacrifice all of their spare time to make sure Devon has the proper training and attends the necessary meets, local, state and national. They rarely pause to consider the non-fiscal costs their obsession might have on the family.

The life of a gymnast is fraught with potential pitfalls. Career-ending injuries can happen in the blink of an eye. The one thing over which they have no control is the onset of puberty, whose body-altering changes can also spell the end of a gymnast's potential. Fortunately, at fifteen Devon remains slender and androgynous. A lot rides on her success, beyond the boundaries of her family. A skilled athlete elevates everyone around her. Booster clubs raise enormous amounts of money to buy the necessary training equipment for the gym where Devon trains, to the benefit of the other gymnasts, too. They all watch her surreptitiously, wondering what magic allows her to defy gravity so effortlessly and hoping that they, too, might someday excel and gain the adulation afforded her.

With a crucial qualifying competition just weeks away, a fatality throws the entire schedule and community into chaos. The handsome young man who is struck by a hit-and-run driver late one evening was popular among the gymnasts and their mothers. He came to their attention as part of the work crew who constructed a pit at the gym, and the fact that he's dating the coach's surrogate daughter keeps him in their circle. Though his death seems like a tragic accident, the fact that the perpetrator is unknown puts a cloud over the community. His girlfriend falls under suspicion and begins to act erratically.

Ryan's death turns You Will Know Me into a mystery novel, replete with the necessary clues and red herrings. It's intricately crafted: all the details are laid out for an astute reader to pick up, but they are cleverly disguised and often only obvious in retrospect. Suspicions shift, and it seems that everyone knows secrets but is willing to keep them from the authorities to avoid jeopardizing the practice schedule and the athletic futures of these young girls.

Abbott's recent novels have explored the mysterious lives of young girls and teens, generally from their perspective. In You Will Know Me, Devon's mother is the main viewpoint character. She is an unreliable narrator, who often mis-remembers events or forgets them altogether. She wonders if she and her husband would have married if she hadn't gotten pregnant, and if they would have stayed married if not for their individual and mutual fixation on Devon and gymnastics. They're rarely together because of the demands of their respective jobs and training schedules. Younger son Drew spends most of his time on gym bleachers, routinely ignored and apparently self-sufficient, wiser than his years but marred all the same.

One of the book's themes is alluded to by its title: how well can adults really know and understand their children? How many secrets do they keep, and how will the parents react when these secrets are disclosed?

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