Cate Shearwater, Making the Grade (Somersaults and Dreams #1), Hardy Grant Egmont, 1 July 2016, 240pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781405268783
Ellie, a 13 year old gymnast from Cornwall, wins a scholarship to a prestigious gymnastics academy in London. There she faces many challenges, meets new friends and finally learns the truth about her aunt, who fell from the beam at the Olympics costing the British team the gold medal and ending her promising career.
Writing books about sport can be hard. There are only so many ways you can describe a somersault or a back flip after all, so what I really liked about this book was that it wasn’t all about gymnastics. It does a great job of showing how life balance is just as important to success as dedication and training. In the book it’s called finding your ‘secret ingredient’ and Ellie’s experiences show that sport isn’t always a do or die, win against all costs, proposition. Things can go wrong, you may not succeed the first time round and you might even lose your confidence and joy of competing along the way, but you have choices, and there are always rewards when you stick to it.
If anything, I wanted MORE gymnastics! As someone who doesn’t know much about the technicalities or the way the scoring works, it would have been good to learn more – what exactly is a half-pike, tuck backward somersault? But I suspect the author did this on purpose, assuming many girls reading the book would already know or if they didn’t, wouldn’t be interested.
As far as the characters go, it’s easy to warm to Ellie, a determined girl with big dreams, she is well supported by many warm and interesting companions. Her friendship with twins, Nancy and Tam, is a real highlight, as is her affection for her sister, Lucy. In fact, I found the only problem with Ellie is that she is almost too perfect. As are all the other characters except for Scarlet, who is mean all of the time, so mean that she comes across hollow and unrealistic. It’s as though she’s the resident antagonist, floated in every now and again to force some conflict. It doesn’t work. Besides, there is enough conflict already with Ellie’s struggle to make her grade two level, discovering the details of her aunt’s past and trying to settle in to her new life in London.
Perhaps choosing a pink cover was a mistake. This is a book that boys as well as girls could enjoy and it is already hard to get boys of this age to read stories with a female protagonist without making them do it while holding a pink book. So opportunity lost as far as I’m concerned.
The style and tone of writing is, however, perfect for the intended age group of 8-12 year olds. It’s easy to read without being too simple.
Making the Grade is an entertaining book which highlights the trials and tribulations of being a gymnast without focusing solely on the sport, and so should appeal to less sporty readers as well as fans of gymnastics.
Reviewed by Renee Mihulka