I'm not sure I know anyone around my age who doesn't have a special place in their heart for the 1992 film “The Cutting Edge,” where a spoiled figure skater is forced to team up with a smarmy injured hockey player and sparks fly. When I saw Sara Fujimura's skating book pop up on my radar, all I could think was, "Toe Pick!" I anticipated a similar enemies-to-lovers story, and I was totally on board.
“Every Reason We Shouldn't” is not that. So go ahead and quash those expectations immediately, and then prepare yourself to enjoy a rich, emotionally layered story about two exceptionally talented, award-winning, Olympics-driven teen athletes.
15-going-on-16 year old Olivia Kennedy is the prodigal daughter of Olympic figure skating darlings Midori Nakashima and Michael Kennedy. When we meet them, the bloom is off the rose: Midori suffers from chronic pain, and Michael performs in a traveling show of former Olympians to keep the money coming in. Olivia, a gold medal pairs skater at the junior level, is no longer competing due to lack of funds and a crash-and-burn performance when she was 13. She works at her parents' skating rink, Ice Dreams, with her best friend and sometimes-mother-figure Mack; both Mack and the skating rink have also seen better days.
But things start looking up when short track speed skater Jonah Choi comes to town, giving the rink a much-needed cash infusion and Olivia some much-needed motivation. The two of them bond immediately over mild teenage rebellions, workouts, and the concept of being "normal." They challenge each other because they know no other way — second-best is not an option in the life of a champion.
But is Olivia still a champion, or is her once-bright career already over? She no longer has the body of a 13-year-old thanks to puberty, but she still has an extremely competitive — and sometimes extremely self-defeating — mindset. Are her best moments already behind her? A tough question for someone so young, but an understandable consideration for teen athletes on such a high-profile stage. Champions have different priorities about colleges and high school dances and drama. And, though some readers may find them too young to be so reflective, Olivia and Jonah have a uniquely mature perspective on looking back and missing out. Careers genuinely are at stake. But at what cost?
The one thing Olivia and Jonah do not have, however, is antagonism. These two have fabulous chemistry right from the get-go. Which ends up being a great thing — as so many other facets Olivia's life begin to fall apart, Jonah remains a constant. But how constant can someone be if they're routinely being pulled out of class to compete in this event or that, or if they need to move to a different state to train for the Olympics?
I enjoyed that Olivia and Jonah were friends-to-lovers instead of enemies, and that their experiences and concerns were not thoseof less high-powered high school kids. Almost every major character in this book has a setback and a hill to climb, and they manage to do it all together, resulting in a satisfactory conclusion. (Also, fair warning, you may find yourself craving hard boiled eggs, Japanese and Korean food, and exercise — not necessarily in that order.)
My only quibble with what was ultimately a wonderful book is that I still have no idea why it was called “Every Reason We Shouldn't,” unless someone somewhere really was working the whole “Cutting Edge” angle. There only ever seem to be reasons for the characters to tackle every challenge that rises up. Same thing when it comes to Olivia and Jonah — there are no good reasons they shouldn't be together, and every reason they should.
Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.
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