Most of the young adult novels I read are for older teens or even venture into "new adult" (college age) territory, but every so often, I come across a middle grade book that I enjoy. Here is a series that I really like and think is perfect for 10-14 year old kids.
This is the Go-For-Gold Gymnasts series, written by Alicia Thompson and Olympic Gold Medalist Dominique Moceanu. I'm an Olympic junkie and love watching gymnastics so I read Moceanu's memoir Off Balance over the summer -- and I was really drawn into her story. She's extremely honest and open about her life and the hardships that she endured while working as a gymnast. I'd always thought that she was the cute, perky cheerleader-type ... and after reading her book, I learned that she's actually kind of shy. It doesn't surprise me to learn that a lot of gymnastics has to do with appearances, but it was fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look.
ANYWAY. Moceanu has teamed up with YA author Thompson to write this series of books about four tween competitive gymnasts who train together. Think of it as the the literary version of the ABC Family show MAKE IT OR BREAK IT. Each book is told from the POV of a different girl as she deals with school, family, friends, boys ... and the fact that she's also an elite gymnast. As the girls battle typical teen pressures, they also have to train and gear up for competitions.
I loved these books because they're fun, easy-to-read and are surprisingly deep. The characters are well-developed and flawed, but likeable, and I like the fact that we get to know the girls very well outside of the gym. It paints the full picture of a young gymnast's life and you can get a better understanding of how hard it is to balance everything. Plus, the stories are inspirational, even if they are fiction. These girls train for several hours a day and are still expected to do well in school and to stick to a healthy diet. I think that this sends out a great message to young readers and could encourage them to pursue a sport -- or some other passion.
What I also appreciate is that the series is a true collaboration between the co-authors, meaning that Moceanu's name wasn't just stamped onto the books to get sales. Readers are given many little details about gymnastics, such as how it feels to tumble on a new mat or how it feels to grip a bar, which obviously came from Moceanu's vast knowledge of the sport. Also, one of the girls is Romanian so Moceanu draws on her heritage to give us a realistic picture of a Romanian family.
My one critique of the series is that the stories are somewhat predictable and a little after-school specialesque, but this is coming from my 38-year-old perspective. These were written for young teens and have just the right amount of drama and suspense for kids in that age range. I highly recommend them.
Meantime, please read and review my book REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.