Megan Abbott is referred to as the “Queen Bee”by her fans, and for good reason. She has written several novels, many which fall into noir or mystery categories, and has received numerous awards, including Best Hardcover Novel of the Year from International Thriller Writers for The Fever (2015). Abbott’s novels often focus on themes related to the social dynamics of young adulthood, of girlhood, sexuality, community hysteria, and the lines between child and adult.
In her recent novel, You Will Know Me, Abbott continues to explore these themes, but departs from her usual convention of telling the story from the teenage girl’s perspective. Instead, the novel centers on the adults whose lives revolve around their daughters in the competitive world of gymnastics.
You Will Know Me opens on a luau in honor of fifteen-year-old Devon Knox, an exceptional girl-gymnast who has just won a regional competition and is on track for Olympic qualifiers. The party is in full swing, and the parents have given in to the wildness of the night, drinking, dancing, and the mothers vying for the attention of Ryan, a young man dating the coach’s niece.
Six months later, Ryan is dead, the gym is in danger, everyone is under suspicion, and Devon’s parents, Katie and Eric, are doing everything they can to make Devon’s elite dreams come true.
As in her previous novel, Dare Me (which focuses on the world of high school cheerleading), the author uses the world of gymnastics to address issues of girls’ bodies and raises questions about the ability or necessity of controlling them. In this world, girls’ bodies are sculpted, trained, and disciplined. The girls are wizened and hardened adults in child bodies, and womanhood is feared. Womanhood is the death of the gymnast’s Olympic career and dreams.
“You’ve fallen off the Track. You’ll never make the next Olympics now. By the one after that, you’ll have pendulous breasts and dragging hips. You’ll be too old, an ancient nineteen.”
And after Katie realizes that Devon has gotten her period:
“The Mom Moment anticipated and dreaded was, in Devon’s case, magnified a hundred times. So many years past the expected age, the anticipation had stretched thin, the dread depending as Devon would talk about other girls who’d ‘turned,’ their hips and breasts slowing them down, heavy and monstrous.”
The novel further clouds the definitions of adult and child, woman and girl by emphasizing the contrasts between the gymnasts and their mothers, paying special attention to the differences in their bodies, their minds, and their reactions.
It takes a skilled writer to explore such heavy and timely topics within a page-turning mystery, and Abbott makes it look easy. As the community reacts to Ryan’s death and to Devon’s achievements, the reader is taken on a suspenseful roller-coaster ride that makes you wonder how far someone would go to protect those they love.