The Book That Sent Me Down a Wikipedia Rabbit-Hole on Soviet Gymnasts at 1am | Winterland by Rae Meadows [REVIEW]

The Book That Sent Me Down a Wikipedia Rabbit-Hole on Soviet Gymnasts at 1am | Winterland by Rae Meadows [REVIEW]

CW: ED, Child Abuse, SA

In the Soviet Union in 1973, there is perhaps no greater honor for a young girl than to be chosen to be part of the famed USSR gymnastics program. So when eight-year-old Anya is tapped, her family is thrilled. What is left of her family, that is. Years ago, her mother disappeared. Anya’s only confidant is her neighbor, an older woman who survived unspeakable horrors during her ten years in a Gulag camp—and who, unbeknownst to Anya, was also her mother’s confidant and might hold the key to her disappearance. As Anya moves up the ranks of competitive gymnastics, and as other girls move down, Anya soon comes to realize that there is very little margin of error for anyone.

Release date: Nov. 29, 2022

Never has a novel made me feel disgust, hope, overjoyed, fear, sadness–all of these emotions. What a stunningly gorgeous novel from Rae Meadows.

This one really reminded me of Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle, the writing and the story, which I also loved. So it was no surprise that this was a success for me.

This book felt so, so cold. I don’t just mean this because it takes place inside the Arctic Circle, the feeling I felt while reading, Anya’s and her family and friends’ lives–they were so cold, so painful to read.

Meadows just does such a wonderful job of capturing the pressure all these characters are under, from themselves and the world around them. I felt so deeply for Anya who suffered a great amount of abuse from those who should have been watching out for her. She’s not real, but she felt real, and she represents so many children who are exploited for political or financial gain all over the world still.

What I loved most about this novel is how Meadows shows change with the passing of time. To the reader and to the protagonist, this portion of their life seems to go on forever. When we see the time pass, though, and how much has changed, this time as a child seems so far away. It was so incredibly true to real life. How often do we miss the passing of time until everything has changed in our lives?

Meadows was inspired by the story of Olympic Soviet Gymnast Elena Mukhina who was paralyzed after being pressured to perform a dangerous trick she was not ready for. That is how I ended up spending my precious sleeping time on Wikipedia, reading about Soviet gymnasts. The story of how these children were taken advantage of is tragic. Seeing Anya’s and Elena’s story through felt like creating a little bit of justice. Rae Meadows did a beautiful job of this.

Thaank you to Netgalley and Henry Holt and Co. for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Find Winterland at an Indie Bookstore near you

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