The Happiest Girl in the World Summary and Reviews

The Happiest Girl in the World

by Alena Dillon

The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon X
The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon
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  • Published Apr 2021
    384 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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Book Summary

From the acclaimed author of Mercy House comes a gripping new novel about a young woman's dreams of Olympic gymnastic gold - and what it takes to reach the top.

For Sera Wheeler, the Olympics is the reason for everything. It's why she trains thirty hours a week, starves herself to under 100 pounds, and pops Advil like Tic Tacs.

For her mother, Charlene, hungry for glory she never had, it's why she rises before dawn to drive Sera to practice in a different state, and why the family scrimps, saves, and fractures. It's why, when Sera's best friend reports the gymnastics doctor to the authority who selects the Olympic Team, Sera denies what she knows about his treatments, thus preserving favor.

Their friendship shatters. But Sera protected her dream—didn't she?

Sera doubles down, taping broken toes, numbing torn muscles, and pouring her family's resources into the sport. Soon she isn't training for the love of gymnastics. She's training to make her disloyalty worthwhile. No matter the cost.

The Happiest Girl in the World explores the dark history behind an athlete who stands on the world stage, biting gold. It's about the silence required of the exceptional, a tarnished friendship, and the sacrifices a parent will make for a child, even as a family is torn apart. It's about the price of greatness.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Whether readers can name every Olympian gymnast from the past 40 years or can't tell a Yurchenko from a Mustafina, Dillon's latest novel will enthrall. A natural next read for fans of Hannah Orenstein's Head over Heels (2020) or the Netflix documentary Athlete A." - Booklist (starred review)

"As she did with the Catholic Church in Mercy House, Dillon lays bare the sins of the U.S. gymnastic world and all those who enable this sport that forces young girls to give up their childhoods and subject their bodies to harsh physical routines and drugs. Dillon sticks the landing with this layered book about abuse, drive, family expectations, and trauma." - Library Journal (starred review)

"[E]ngrossing...Dillon's excellent psychological drama will stay with readers." - Publishers Weekly

"Happiest Girl in the World is a searing look at elite gymnastics and the lengths an athlete will go to reach her goal. Dillon writes a harrowing story about how hope can be saddled with burdens, and sacrifice can wear down the soul. Timely and spirited, I devoured this book." - Elissa R. Sloan, author of The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes

"The Happiest Girl in the World is a tender reflection on the importance of second chances, the ways in which both courage and cowardice can break a person, and what it takes to make yourself whole again." - Meghan MacLean Weir, author of The Book of Essie

This information about The Happiest Girl in the World was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Alena Dillon

Alena Dillon is the author of Mercy House, which is in development as a CBS All Access television series. Her work has appeared in publications including LitHub, River Teeth, Slice Magazine, the Rumpus, and Bustle. She teaches creative writing and lives on the north shore of Boston with her husband, son, and dog.

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