Falling Hard by Megan Sparks

Falling Hard Cover

Terrific, YA, girl-power sports adventure suitable for all ages

Falling Hard (Roller Girls #1) by Megan Sparks

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: July 2013
Pages: 256 pages
Publisher: Capstone Pr Inc
Source: NetGalley
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Annie is the fourteen-year-old daughter of an American father and a British mother, who met and married when her father was a student in London. When their marriage recently ended, Annie opted to move with her father to Liberty Heights, Illinois, the small town where he grew up. Though Annie misses her mother and all her friends in London, she couldn't bear the thought of being separated from her father, who is sweet, funny, and has always been more nurturing than her mother, who is an emotionally distant, workaholic attorney.

Annie decides to use the move as an opportunity to explore American culture while helping her father fulfill his dream, opening a cafe where he serves as both owner and a talented chef, specializing in British tea and pastries. Annie's father has chosen as his cafe's location an old diner which was a favorite hangout for teens in his youth, but which has been deserted for many years.

Annie's grandparents are currently living in Florida, and she and her father have taken over his childhood home. Its old-fashioned furnishings definitely need updating, but it is the dilapidated diner that needs the most work. Annie's father is so good-natured, and the two are so close, though, they make a game of all the hard work involved in refurbishing the house and completely re-doing the diner.

Annie is really good at gymnastics and participated in it for years until over the past year a tremendous growth spurt increased her height to 5-foot-11-1/2 inches, which is too tall to be a gymnast. Her father suggests she try out for cheerleading because it could give her a chance to use her gymnastics skills. Annie has made friends with a girl from her neighborhood, Lexie, a brilliant artist, and Lexie is appalled that Annie would want anything to do with the cheerleaders, who are rude snobs who take their cue from the head cheerleader, Kelsey, who has been consistently mean to Annie from the first moment they met.

In addition to gymnastics, Annie has had a hobby of inline skating for many years and is quite good at it. When she learns there is a contact sport called roller derby which is dominated by girls and women and utilizes skating, she signs up immediately for a free training class and falls in love with the sport. Unlike cheerleading, which has a harsh, every-girl-for-herself mentality, the girls she meets in roller derby are all for one, and one for all in their attitude. When Annie learns she's been accepted for both cheerleading and roller derby, and their schedules conflict, she is forced to choose between them.

This book is extremely well written. Annie is an engaging heroine with amazing athletic abilities, and she has one of the best dads in YA fiction I've encountered. It's terrific to see their warm, loving relationship. The descriptions of Annie's cheerleader and roller derby experiences are both authentically and excitingly written.

All in all, this is an excellent example of the girl-power, athletic-competition type of YA book. It is a "clean read," with no swearing, drinking or sexuality, making it suitable for preteens as young as nine, up to and including girls of 14. However, this is such a fun book, anyone who enjoys sports stories with scrappy heroines will love it.

There is no romance plot in this book, but I understand this is going to be a series, and the author has introduced two possible future romantic interests, a cute, nerdy boy around Annie's age who announces for the roller derby games at the skating rink, and a handsome, sixteen-year-old jock who is obviously interested in Annie, and whom the queen bee cheerleader covets.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Girl-power plot: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5