Review: The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon

Title: The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


From the acclaimed author of Mercy House comes a gripping new novel about a young woman’s dreams of Olympic gymnastic gold—and what it takes to reach the top

For Sera Wheeler, the Olympics is the reason for everything. It’s why she trains thirty hours a week, starves herself to under 100 pounds, and pops Advil like Tic Tacs.

For her mother, Charlene,  hungry for glory she never had, it’s why she rises before dawn to drive Sera to practice in a different state, and why the family scrimps, saves, and fractures. It’s why, when Sera’s best friend reports the gymnastics doctor to the authority who selects the Olympic Team, Sera denies what she knows about his treatments, thus preserving favor.

Their friendship shatters. But Sera protected her dream—didn’t she?

Sera doubles down, taping broken toes, numbing torn muscles, and pouring her family’s resources into the sport. Soon she isn’t training for the love of gymnastics. She’s training to make her disloyalty worthwhile. No matter the cost.

The Happiest Girl in the World explores the dark history behind an athlete who stands on the world stage, biting gold. It’s about the silence required of the exceptional, a tarnished friendship, and the sacrifices a parent will make for a child, even as a family is torn apart. It’s about the price of greatness.


The Happiest Girl in the World by Alena Dillon is an engrossing novel about the perils of children and sports.

Sera Wheeler is gifted gymnast who works hard to achieve her dream of competing in the Olympics. She  and her best friend Lucy are inseparable from a young age as they train and attend training camps together. As the years pass, Lucy attracts the attention of USA Gymnastics doctor Eddie Levett.  Will Sera put her own goals ahead of supporting Lucy when her friend works up the courage to speak up about Dr. Eddie’s inappropriate touching?

Sera’s mom Charlene is determined to do whatever it takes to pay for Sera’s training. Sera genuinely loves the sport but as the years pass, she becomes obsessed with making the Olympic team. She powers through injuries and puts herself at risk as she follows one of her coach’s dubious instructions. Sera’s father Bob is not always in favor of Charlene’s decisions, but she has her ways to overcome his objections.

After Lucy’s revelation about Dr. Eddie, Sera is torn between loyalty to her friend and her own dreams. She wrestles with whether or not Lucy’s accusations are true and eventually asks her parents’ advice. When Lucy finally tells someone in charge of their training, Sera knows what will happen if she backs up her friend.  But what is more important: her friendship or her Olympic dreams?

The Happiest Girl in the World is a captivating novel that does not downplay the darker side of gymnastics.  Sera’s drive to succeed is often at odds with what is best for her health. The Dr. Eddie story arc is a cautionary tale of predatory men in respected positions preying on children in the sports world. Alena Dillon provides an in-depth and detailed behind the scenes look at the physical toll that competitive sports takes on young athletes. A highly informative and enjoyable novel that I recommend to readers of the genre.

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