Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review: COURAGE TO SOAR by Simone Biles

I reviewed Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance (Zondervan) by Simone Biles (with a foreword by Mary Lou Retton) for Lone Star Literary Life. I enjoyed this one. We get a tangible sense of who Biles is. She's young, but her biography is inspiring and her resume is exceptional.

Simone Biles (with Michelle Burford); foreword by Mary Lou Retton
Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance
Hardcover, 978-0-3107-5966-9 (also available as an e-book, an audio book, and on Audible), 256 pgs., $24.99
November 15, 2016

This is the story of a little girl who fell in love with flying.

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance is the autobiography of gymnast Simone Biles (with an assist from Michelle Burford, journalist and founding editor of O, The Oprah Magazine), with a foreword by 1984 Olympic gold-medal winner Mary Lou Retton. Despite her tender age, Biles has an exceptional biography and an impressive resume to share, overcoming challenging family circumstances, injuries, and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder to become the most decorated American female gymnast in history, culminating in triumph at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The usual sports-biography fare of innate talent, dedication, physical and mental discipline, and inspiring epigraphs, is well balanced with the more personal, even intimate. We are treated to a tangible sense of who Biles is. She’s an animated storyteller whose personality jumps off the pages in simply evocative prose. When she must, Biles reluctantly, but gracefully and succinctly, addresses the issue of race. In paragraphs liberally spiked with “OMG” and “BFF,” we read of belly rings and her crush on Zac Efron, reminding us of how very young she still is.

Courage to Soar is fast-paced and engaging, highly recommended for middle grade and young adult readers, but older adults will enjoy it as well. Biles writes of her early years in foster care, her first trip to a tumbling gym during a field trip, adolescent body consciousness, truly frightening mishaps on the uneven bars (her “nemesis”), her first trip to the Karolyi training ranch outside Huntsville, Texas, and how her Catholic upbringing and faith in God helped guide her through.

The writing is by turns funny, suspenseful, moving, and inspirational, and always feels honest. Addressing her “bratty period,” Biles writes “I was so full of fourteen-year-old drama, you’d have thought I was auditioning for my own reality show.” Faced with competing against her childhood idols whose approval and friendship are important to her, Biles finally concludes, “Competing my hardest in all my events was the highest form of respect I could show to them and to myself.” About the mixed blessing of fame, Biles found the perfect simile: “I needed to learn how to carry those expectations lightly—like a turtle carries its shell.”

Lovely candid and posed photographs, in action during competitions and with family, enhance the story. As an inspired bonus, the interior side of the dust jacket folds out into an autographed poster of Biles hurtling through air over the vault.
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
—Muhammad Ali
Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

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