Laurie Hernandez was a bit of a dark horse. Just turned 16 and only recently eligible for the US Olympic team, she not only was part of the winning 2016 gymnastics team, she also won the silver medal in balance beam. Fresh off her Olympic win, she went on to win Dancing with the Stars, a nationally televised ballroom dancing competition.
This book is definitely a teen read. Apparently Hernandez’s nickname in the press is the Human Emoji, and she embraces that as each of the 20 chapters has a different emoji associated with it (a few do repeat). However, she also manages to pack in information about gymnastics and some startlingly good life advice, coming from a 16-year old.
Some readers may be surprised to learn that this world-famous teen never attended prom, but this book clearly shows how she has devoted her life to gymnastics. Part of what made her such a dark horse for the 2016 Olympics was that she spent most of 2014 dealing with injury. As she points out in this book, her many injuries taught her a lot about self-care and how to bounce back from the toughest moments.
I loved that Laurie’s mother and older sister are both social workers, and her brother posted on Facebook that she would be in the Olympics years before it was even a possibility. Family is super important to Laurie, and a large part of how she got to where she came to be. She writes about this early on:
“Because my mom grew up in a not-so-good neighborhood in New York City, where she saw a lot of verbal and physical abuse, she and my dad decided that when they raised a family, they wanted to be as far from that kind of influence as possible. […] My mom swore to my dad and to herself that we’d never have the type of bad behavior in our home that she was exposed to as a child.” pages 8 & 9.
It’s clear that Hernandez’s family, and being lucky enough to get a great gymnastics coach early on, were major influences in both her character and ability to advance to the highest level of the sport. Her dad even played a role with her part in Dancing with the Stars, telling her early on that one day she would be on the show.
The middle has a section with photographs from her early life, Rio, and Dancing with the Stars. My favorite, however, were the pictures of her working through physical therapy and doing her stretches even when she was on crutches!
The book ends with a section she calls her “Possibility Pages”, a blank section of lined pages for young readers to write their own goals on. Then there are the official records of Laurie’s gymnastic rankings, and finally a glossary of gymnastics terms.
This is a great book for young teens, especially those interested in gymnastics, or sporty Latinas looking for role models. Although this light and fast inspirational read is aimed at teens, there is nothing to prevent a much younger reader from enjoying it, or an adult reader either.