Happy new year, everyone!
So now that the celebration’s all over and I’m at home again being bored, I can actually sit down and snark something. I should’ve probably started off with a Sweet Valley book, since the title of this blog is a Sweet Valley reference, but apparently nobody wants to part with them because I’m having a hell of a time finding any at used bookstores or library book sales. Stingy bastards. I did, however, find another series I used to read, The Gymnasts.
I took gymnastics for a few years and went through an obsesso fangirl phase, during which I read pretty much anything gymnastics that I could get my hands on. I also voluntarily wore a purple stretch velvet leotard with matching scrunchie (Jessica would’ve been proud), so clearly, my fourteen-year-old fashion sense was ~awesome~. I was a bit older than the target audience of The Gymnasts books, but I think even then I read them just to snark them. Ahh, if only the Internet had existed then, I could’ve started this blog years ago!
We’ll start with #6, Captain of the Team, because it was the only one I could find so far.
Darlene looks kind of smug and the girls on the floor look pretty bonded considering that the plot of this book is that they’re always fighting. Furthermore, why is the beam on a hardwood floor? At my gym (at at pretty much any other one, I’m sure) there were mats under all the equipment.
The series is about four girls named Darlene, Jodi, Lauren, and Cindi, who take classes at Evergreen Gymnastics Academy are on a team called the Pinecones. Their coach, Patrick, is really DILFy. There’s also the requisite bitchy girl, Becky, who’s really good at gym but likes to pick on the Pinecones. I could never understand what her problem was, since it wasn’t like the Pinecones were competition or anything. I guess she’s just a bitch because she’s a bitch. I love YA fiction.
This is Darlene’s book, the sixth in the series. Darlene’s black, like Jessi Ramsey, although she thankfully does not feel the need to remind us every chapter. Her Dad is a fictional pro football player nicknamed “Big Beef” which I’m not sure I’d want to be nicknamed. During one of the previous books, the Pinecones picked up two more members, a bratty girl named Ashley and a shy and quiet girl named Ti An. Gotta love those stereotypes! Cos Asian-American girls are always shy and quiet and have uber-Asian names. I mean, when was the last time you met an Asian-American girl named Jen (in YA lit)? Of course, Sweet Valley Senior Year attempted to boldly go against the grain by transforming Sweet Valley High‘s Jade Wu from a shy and quiet ballet dancer to a flirty, pierced-belly buttoned, cheerleader buddy of Jessica’s. Um, guys… making her the Asian Amy Sutton? Not exactly winning you points here.
But back to The Gymnasts. The Pinecones are in the midst of a severe losing streak and are bickering among themselves all the time. Darlene tries to get them to stop being lazy asses at practice, but nobody listens to her. She should sick Kristy Thomas on them. That’d whip them into shape fast. The Pinecones’ main rival is a team called the Atomic Amazons, whose coach is apparently the Bela Karolyi of the Gymnastsverse. He’s really harsh, uses shady tactics in competitions, and plays mind games. So in other words, he’s a typical gymnastics coach.
The Pinecones have a meet and of course they bomb it. Darlene can’t complete her bar routine because she’s got a big rip on her palm, and is upset because people will think she’s a wimp. Um, sorry Darlene, but you kind of are. I was never that great of a gymnast, but my classmates and I practiced through rips all the time. Just slap a band-aid on it, put on your grips, and suck it up. The only Pinecone who doesn”t blow harder than Conair 1875 at that meet is Cindi, who performed on bars with a rip, although hers was apparently much less severe than Darlene’s.
Coach Miller, the Amazons’ coach, yells at his team and practices dirty tricks, like having an Amazon do a back tuck in warm-ups with a heavy spot in an attempt to intimidate the Pinecones. At the end of the meet, he goes up to Cindi and tries to recruit her. Oh no he did not! We find out there’s a rivalry not only between the Pinecones and Amazons but between Patrick and Coach Miller, too. Apparently, Patrick used to work for the Amazons’ gym but didn’t like Coach Miller’s unscrupulous methods, so he took his toys and left. Ti An also defected from the Amazons because of Coach Miller’s bullying. The plot thickens!
Darlene visits her great-grandmother, GeeGee, in the nursing home. GeeGee is wise, snarky, and spunky–think Sophia Petrillo but with really cheesy and unfunny dialogue. She tells Darlene that she needs to do something or else the Pinecones will “slip-slide away.” Isn’t that an old song? “Slip-sliding awayyy….”
The Pinecones slink back to the gym to lick their wounds, and Patrick drops the bomb that he’s going to be in California through their next meet while he renews his license. Nice timing, Paddy. Taking his place will be a coach named Ms. Kossuth, who apparently is such an uptight old biddy she can’t even be called by her first name. He also decides the Pinecones need a team captain, and they elect a reluctant Darlene.
Darlene throws herself into her team captainly duties but nothing seems to work. She calls a Pinecone meeting and they end up getting into this great bitchfight, during which zingers are thrown such as Cindi calling Darlene “team bully.” And she kisses her Momma with that mouth? At practice, Ms. Kossuth doesn’t believe in spotting and teaches them all their skills through diagrams. Um, dangerous much? Just ask Jennifer Sey, who broke her femur after wiping out on a Tkatchev. Why do you think coaches are now allowed to spot athletes on bars at competitions? Granted, the Pinecones aren’t going to be throwing Tkatchevs anytime soon, but still. Ms. Kossuth should get fired for that, although I personally believe forcing kids to call her “Ms. Kossuth” is grounds enough.
Eventually, Darlene gets a brilliant idea to inspire the team. She brings GeeGee to their next meet and has her masquerade as “Grandiose Gladys,” their “inner-outer winner coach.” Are you guys intimidated yet? I’m intimidated. Grandiose Gladys touches each Pinecone with her magic boa, and boy, did that sound wrong. The Atomic Amazons are totally awed by the whole thing. I am, too, but probably not for the same reason. So the Pinecones kick Atomic Amazon ass, and who should show up but Patrick? He came straight from the airport. Talk about dedication. Maybe he was hanging with Mr. Collins while he was out in Cali? The Pinecones make up and win the meet, and all is well in The Gymnastsland. At least until the next book.
Recapping this reminds me of this novel I wrote when I was a teen, about a group of elite gymnasts who go to the Olympics. It was actually pretty well researched, but there’s still a lot of snarkable dialogue and outfit descriptions, which face it, are one of the best parts of 80s and 90s YA (or in this case, my own teenage writing). And there was so much drama, man oh man. These girls get in bitch fights, have affairs with hot young coaches, and steal each other’s boyfriends. Good times.