Head of The RiverWritten by Pip Harry
Published June 25th 2014
Thank you to UQP
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It's the most elite school sporting event in the country. Nine rowers, 2000 gruelling metres and one chance for glory in the ultimate team sport. Sit forward... ROW.Tall, gifted and the offspring of Olympians, superstar siblings Leni and Cristian Popescu are set to row Harley Grammar to victory in the Head of the River.With six months until the big race, the twins can't lose. Or can they?When Cristian is seduced by the easy route of performance-enhancing drugs, and Leni is suffocated with self-doubt, their bright futures start to fade. Juggling family, high expectations, study, break-ups, new relationships and wild parties, the pressure starts to build.As the final moments tick down to the big race, who’ll make it to the start line? And who'll plummet from grace?
Twins Leni and Cristian Popescu were born into rowing royalty, the daughter and son of two Olympians and gifted athletes at Harley Grammar private school. Both siblings are on scholarships and depend on not only grades, but each being able to compete on the main stage at the prestigious Head of The River, where only the elite compete.
Leni has always been not only the ultimate athlete, but she's disciplined and manages to train, maintain an impressive study schedule and fine tune her body. Not only is she a role model for the girls on the rowing squads, but she's dating the popular Adam, wealthy and an athlete in his own right on the male squad. Cristian on the other hand is struggling with his weight, his fitness and to maintain a spot at the top of his field, a place that newcomer Sam is fighting his way towards. He struggles to live within his sister's shadow, and as far as Cristian is concerned, Leni is the golden child while he'll never live up to, and the expectation of being the son of two Olympic medalists.
When Cristian loses his place in the squad, he'll do anything to regain his seat again, including cheating. Along with a fellow team mate, the two boys covertly seek out a dealer who will supply them with performance enhancing drugs, steroids that will ensure his spot on the team. But as the months lead up to the Head of The River event, Cristian's dramatic transformation won't go unnoticed. While he begins to edge his way back in, Leni's world is falling apart. Her relationship with Adam is strained and she finds herself attracted to someone else, she can't seem to bond with her team and she doesn't have the drive to win. But in a dramatic turn of events, the siblings see that there is life beyond the river, and anything is achievable if only you believe in yourself.
Head of The River should be read by not only those who are interested in rowing, but for all teens who compete and strive to break into a professional level. It follows the dual points of view of siblings and twins, Leni and Cristian, whose parents are both Olympians and respected members of the rowing community, being only natural to both take up the sport themselves. I really enjoyed seeing both points of view, with Leni at the top of her sport, while Cristian struggled to maintain the same level, often feeling as though he was competing against his sister in the eyes of his parents. He sees Leni as having it all, but not realising that she struggles out of the water, socially, and finding herself in a lackluster relationship while she fights her feelings for new boy Sam. Cristian seemed terribly unhappy, his storyline was more engaging and allowed the reader to relate to his daily struggle with weight and his own mental anguish.
The storyline more than ever, is a really popular topic for discussion in Australia at the moment with the alleged drugs scandal at the Essendon AFL club, and the investigation by ASADA, the Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority. But where the media will just report on facts and accusations, we rarely see a personal side of the effects that the scandal had had on players and their families. Although Leni and Cristian are fictional, it allows the reader to see just what sacrifices athletes make for their chosen sport and that they are prone to mistakes, just as you and I are.
I wanted to enjoy it more than I did, whether it was due to being outside the intended demographic or haven't had played competitive sports outside of school, but I found myself wanting to skim over the training sessions just to reach the more personal side of the storyline. Pip Harry was able to put me right into the action from the grassy banks of the river, and loved the Melbourne locations scattered throughout. Overall, it was a fascinating story of the lives of young athletes and the pressure of competitive sports, from an author who has experienced the life firsthand.