I was one of the lucky readers to get a very early review copy of Megan Abbott‘s next novel, You Will Know Me, to be published in the UK on the 30th of June, 2016. I hit a reading slump and I had no idea how to get out of there. Simon Savidge was in a similar situation, and when author Paula Hawkins spotted us talking on Twitter – knowing me quite well – she recommended I gave Abbott’s novel a try. It just what I needed.
Megan Abbott has had the infinite wisdom of spotting a silence in contemporary crime fiction and she has masterfully filled it: teenage girls. No wonder her Twitter avatar is a picture of Sally Drapper, John Drapper’s rebellious teenage girl in Mad Men. If in The Fever she played with the recent epidemic fear at a high school, mid-town level, in You Will Know Me she has focused all her efforts in the pressure young women in elite sports face. If you followed the 2012 Olympics and/or you are American, I am sure you have heard of artistic gymnast McKayla Maroney. Doesn’t ring a bell? Maybe this will:
After doing some research on Maroney – whom I knew previous to reading Abbott’s novel – and after much thinking, I wonder how much of You Will Know Me‘s main character, Devon Knox was inspired by Manorey herself. Although she was part of a team known as the ‘Fierce Five’, it was she who became a world-wide sensation. Both young women started competing a very young age, and both were on the Olympic path before they were 15. Take that pressure, put it on middle-class, well-intentioned parents who want nothing but success and happiness for their daughter, and Abbott will give you one of the darkest and more psychologically in-depth descriptions of self-sacrifice, success, and what it takes to be someone other people want you to be.
You Will Know Me tells Devon Knox’s story, aged 16, from her mother’s point of view highlighting how these teenagers are elite professionals with all the added consequences. If adulting is already hard when you are in your thirties, imagine hitting those levels of stress and self-reliance when you are sixteen. Devon’s mother, Katie, spends up to forty hours a week at her daughter’s gym, with little Drew in tow, a wise and patient little boy who has known no other lifestyle since he was born. Katie is married to Eric, who seems to understand Devon better than she does making Katie question her own relationship with her daughter. But Katie and Eric are still in their early thirties, and when one of the young trainer’s boyfriend starts to regularly show up at the gym, trouble is ensured.
I loved every single page of You Will Know Me. Abbott has managed to combine psychological and corporeal issues in an adrenaline-filled environment and a family setting. I paid special attention to the way Abbott portrays Devon’s body: as if teenager years were not difficult enough, these elite gymnasts are fighting against biology and time, wishing for a childish body in which breasts will not appear and challenge their balance. The descriptions of Devon’s worry about growing up and developing a woman’s body, menstruation include made me cringe and understand the total need for control she had because, after all, she couldn’t control what mattered the most: her body. But not everything about Devon’s body was negativity. I took a great pleasure at the descriptions of her fit, strong body and how constant training shaped it.
You Will Know Me is Abbott’s does a great job at inscribing complex female teenager experiences in literature, quite a pending task at the feminist literary agenda, which has limited the inscription of women’s litearture to young or middle-aged women. Now, I think it is safe to admit that You Will Know Me is one of the best books I will read this year: There is a crime, there are in-depth psychological descriptions of women of all ages, and there is a dark tension lurking at a supposedly innocent and mundane American house. Abbott has mastered the art of spotting the darkness in everyday, middle-class life, and she has become an outstanding heir to the American domestic suspense tradition.