Set in the competitive world of gymnastics, Ilaria Bernardini’s The Girls Are Good is a dark tale of the toxic effect of secret keeping and telling young girls that their bodies are the only measure of their worth and value.
Martina is not the best gymnast on her team, but she is determined to be the best she can be. This means not eating, pushing her body to the limit, and enduring horrifying abuse from the team’s physical trainer. Even when she tells someone about the abuse, it does not stop. She learns this is true for many girls on the team and that their coach, Rachele, has no concern greater than seeing her “good girls” win.
The novel is broken into chapters labeled by days of the week to cover traveling to, preparing for, and competing in Romania with other elite gymnasts. Martina’s team has a queen bee, Carla, who is worshipped by another team mate, Nadia. Their volatile relationship takes up a lot of space in the book and is the catalyst for an incredibly disturbing act of violence.
While the description is so vivid that you feel immersed in the world, there is zero joy, and the representation of broken, mean girls with no one to protect them is so accurate that it is, at times, hard to read. But there is a great lesson to be learned in The Girls Are Good, especially for any parent who thinks they know what their elite athlete goes through when the child is away from home.