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Winterland - Review

*I received this audio from Macmillian Audio. All reviews are my own.*

Winterland was not on my radar whatsoever. So when Macmillian sent me a complimentary audiobook of Rae Meadows's work, I dived right in. Read by Daphne Kouma, it's a story of a young girl finding her way up the ranks in the Soviet Union's gymnastics team. It's an honor to represent the country, primarily if you compete in the Olympics. But the young girl also experiences the negative side of being one of the top choices in the sport. Is winning and making her country proud enough to continue her journey?

"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."

I had no expectations of this book. It was a short 10-hour listen with good narration from Kouma. I didn't get lost in the novel's wonders, but it made me look at how we treat gymnasts during their training and meets. I don't know what the sport was like in the 80s, but the rules and safety protocols were very different from today's. I liked that Meadows didn't shy away from the hardship younger gymnasts endured. Watching how hard a kid would push themselves to be the best is fascinating and horrifying. Somewhere in the story, it was mentioned that you love it first, then become a slave to it.

Another element Meadows added to the story was the political warfare on innocent citizens. Anyone at that time could be thrown into a prison camp just for making a joke; unfortunately, one of the story's characters experienced that. The Gulag. I think it was essential to include that element in the story. It parallels the abuse from old to young.

I only have a few cons to the story other than the mystery of the main character's mother's disappearance and how the narrative switches POVs. Because I was listening to this audio version, I only knew when we were listening to someone else's story once I heard different character names being called. I assume there are page breaks in the actual book that separate the timeline. As far as the mother's storyline is concerned, I may have missed it, but I wish we got a better outcome of the disappearance. Seeing it wrapped up better toward the end would have been nice.

Overall I gave the story 3-stars. I loved the setting and the characters. The narrator did a good job. I don't read many books highlighting the Soviet Union, so this was a learning experience. Thank you to Macmillian for testing my interests; I can't wait to see what's next!

Winterland is available now.

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