Head Over Heels takes place in an alternate universe. No, it’s not science fiction; it’s a world in which COVID-19 never happened, and the Tokyo Olympics went on as planned. I’m sure that when the publisher was drawing up its marketing plan, June 2020 seemed like it would be the perfect time to capitalize on Olympic fever; now, it’s like a relic of a lost world.
That said, I still really enjoyed the book, though it definitely made me spare a thought for all of the young gymnasts who have spent their whole lives working toward the goal of making it to the Olympics.
Our heroine, Avery Adams, is a former elite gymnast who seemed like a shoo-in to make it onto the American team for the 2012 London games. An injury derailed her plans, and she’s spent seven years trying to figure out what to do next. After her pro football star boyfriend dumps her—he’s tired of her aimlessness and lack of ambition—she is forced to move back in with her parents.
Avery gets a job coaching 16-year-old Olympic hopeful Hallie Conway, a gifted gymnast who just needs to add some artistic flair to her floor routine. Hallie’s main coach is a former Olympian named Ryan, whom Hallie had a crush on back in the day. Romantic sparks fly, but they don’t want anything to distract them from their goal: getting Hallie a slot on the U.S. team.
Head Over Heels doesn’t sugarcoat the downsides of gymnastics at this elite level; there’s a scandal involving a doctor who sexually assaults his young charges (shades of Larry Nassar), and Avery frequently flashes back to the emotionally abusive training she went through, which involved being shamed for her weight and her appearance. Avery is determined to protect Hallie from going through what she endured.
Still, the book eloquently describes the joys of the sport as well: “I’m reminded of one of the many things I loved about gymnastics: if you work hard, you can become a superhuman version of yourself, at least for a time,” muses Avery. “If I were in prime shape, I could spiral like a ballerina, contort myself like a circus performer, catapult myself like a soldier, and defy gravity like a goddess.”
Jasmine Guillory’s Party of Two is also set in another dimension… one in which California has a male senator! (Seriously, I’ve lived here for 20 years, and that’s never happened. But sometimes you have to suspend disbelief when you read fiction.) This is the fifth novel in what I’m calling the Jasmine Guillory Literary Universe, since all of the books draw from a large pool of friends and relatives. Olivia Monroe, this novel’s main character, is the sister of The Wedding Date’s Alexa Monroe.
Olivia has just moved from New York to Los Angeles to start a law firm with her friend Ellie. Staying in a hotel while waiting for her house to be move-in ready, Olivia starts chatting with a handsome stranger at the lobby bar. She’s gobsmacked when she turns on the local news after getting back to her room and realizes that she was having a flirty conversation with California’s junior Senator, Max Powell.
Naturally, they run into each other again, and despite Olivia’s insistence that she has to be 100% focused on her career, she and Max begin dating… in secret, since he’s considered one of the most eligible bachelors on Capitol Hill, and while Olivia needs to bring new clients to her firm, she doesn’t want to trade on the fact that she’s getting increasingly cozy with a powerful legislator.
Max and Olivia have very different temperaments—Max is extroverted and spontaneous, while cautious Olivia doesn’t like to make a move without planning every last detail in advance. As a single woman in her 30s, she’s used to making her own way in the world, and the idea of being known primarily as a politician’s wife does not appeal to her. “Would she have to learn how to put a fake smile on her face all day whenever she was in public so she could look pleasant and harmless? Would she be some sort of Max appendage, where people wouldn’t see her as an individual but only as ‘the senator’s wife’? Would the world expect her to nod and smile next to him no matter what he said or did?”
It’s a given that the couple in a Jasmine Guillory book will wind up together in the end, but reaching that destination always makes for an incredibly satisfying journey. Since literary journeys are the only trips I’m taking this year, thank goodness for novels like this one, which provide a few happy and relaxing hours of reading pleasure.