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Chalked Up    by Jennifer Sey order for
Chalked Up
by Jennifer Sey
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Melissa Parcel

From the tender age of six, Jennifer Sey loved gymnastics. She felt she fit in perfectly with the sport, and excelled quickly, beyond anyone's initial imagining. With her parents indulging every whim of their extremely talented daughter, Jennifer advanced to the highest elite level in gymnastics competition. Her inner drive to win and become as perfect as possible did not allow her to be satisfied with less than being the absolute best. And the best cost her a great deal.

Her family became fractured as Jennifer's mother accompanied her to all practices, often spending hours in the car to get to the best gym for the most intense training. As Jennifer moved up the ranks, the expectations from coaches, her parents, and even herself became overwhelming - with pressure to be childlike thin, even as a teen, to win at any cost, to continue to compete even with severe injuries, to give more and more of herself until there wasn't anything left to give mentally or physically. In 1986, Jennifer won the United States Gymnastics National Championship, and had set her sights on the 1988 Olympics, until things finally came to a breaking point.

Chalked Up is a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of competitive gymnastics. My own seven-year-old daughter has worked her way up in the sport, so I am quite familiar with the language and terminology that Sey uses throughout her narrative. I found this story to be a cautionary tale for parents of gymnasts, but also for parents of any high achieving child. Much of what happened during the course of Sey's childhood could happen to any gifted athlete, given the right set of circumstances and a talent in a particular area.

I was a little disappointed with the book's ending. After Jennifer quits one club and returns to another, the story basically ends except for a few snippets of her life after gymnastics. I think that readers would be curious to know the steps she took to make herself healthy again, as well as how she continued into her present life. She does offer a little, but after the detail of most of the story it doesn't seem like enough. One could argue that she deserves privacy after living such a public life, but when you put it out for the world to read, you should finish the task.

The photos included really help to set the stage for Chalked Up. They are wonderful to refer to as you read through the tale. Sey's transparency and lingering anguish about what happened in her past make for an engrossing story for anyone intrigued by the world of competitive gymnastics.

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