The basics: "A figure skating prodigy, sixteen-year old Alivopro Doyle is one of a few "hopefuls" racing against nature's clock to try and jump and spin their way into the Olympics. But when a disastrous fall fractures two vertebrae, [it leaves] Ali addicted to painkillers and ultimately institutionalized." (publisher)
My thoughts: The Hopeful is one of those novels I love a little bit more because I discovered it through the First Novel prize longlist. Somehow, I'd never heard of it, even though it's fantastic, so I hope this review will introduce many more readers to it. Of course, while I was reading it, Fiona Maazel picked it as a National Book Award 5 Under 35 pick. That will probably help too.
But back to The Hopeful and why you should read it. On the surface, there's a lot going on: ice skating, adoption, Native American identity, addiction, family, eating disorder, painkillers, mental hospitals. And even though O'Neill introduces all of these themes relatively early, the novel never feels cluttered. Each thread of the story is essential to the whole. O'Neill opts for a somewhat complicated construction. Each chapter begins with part of Ali's conversation with her therapist in a mental institution. From there, it jumps back in time to how she got to the present. Even though the reader knows big moments are coming, they still have shock value. O'Neill is simultaneously bold and restrained, which displays a remarkable maturity in her storytelling.
While this novel is unequivocally Ali's story, O'Neill skillfully aligns it with a rich history of ice skating's evolution. I wouldn't call myself a fan of the sport, although I have enjoyed it in the past. This book made me want to watch it again, albeit with a much more critical eye. This book shines a critical light on figure skating in a smart and balanced way.
Favorite passage: "I thought of the moves no one had though possible until some genius came along and upgraded everyone's sense of possibility."
The verdict: The Hopeful is bold, accomplished, beautifully dark and utterly unexpected. It's an incredibly smart novel. It's hauntingly written, and its construction demonstrates beautiful command.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 257 pages
Publication date: June 9, 2015
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Hopeful from Amazon (Kindle edition.)
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