Monday, February 18, 2013

Review of 'Maggie Vaults Over the Moon' By Grant Overstake

Before I even began  Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, I gave author/fellow Brooks ID teammate Grant Overstake my word that I would review his uplifting fictional story of loss, family, meaning-making and of course-track and field.

Per usual I tend to read through a psychological lens. This time I read through an inquisitive one as well as this distance runner knows very little about the discipline of pole-vaulting. All I knew before reading is that it looks both scary and really cool at the same time! I have always secretly admired the grace and grit of a pole vault athlete as well.

In the spirit of not giving too much away, Overstake's tale takes us to the plains of rural Kansas, a town called Grain Valley to be exact, and tells the story of Maggie Steele, an adolescent who loses her brother to a car accident early in the story. Maggie is then faced with the difficulty of  helping her father run his farm while simultaneously coping with the loss of her brother and forming her identity and struggling to find her true ambitions and identity.

Overstake's novel takes the reader on an oftentimes emotional 211-page journey of Maggie's senior year of high school as she comes to terms with the loss of her admired (who also happens to be a star football player) brother while trying to find her own identity and passion. The reader gets a glimpse of the isolating effects of loss, family conflict and  resolution, and finding your voice through athletics. Throughout the book, we see Maggie retreat to the barn where she is taught pole-vaulting by her brother's voice working through her.

I liked  'Maggie Vaults' central theme of the transformative power of sport; although I have been fortunate to this point to not have experienced such tremendous hardship, I too have found meaning in life by my participation in sports as the protagonist heals through training to be a pole vaulter and forming a new identity as an athlete. While some parts of the story draw more on fantasy-as Maggie's brother Alex "speaks to her" frequently, the central messages from the story ring true in the form of faith, family, risk-taking and the gradual process of  what therapists call "restorying" (or changing their personal narrative from negative to positive) their lives. We see a young lady adrift and grieving at the beginning of the book transform to a well-adjusted, bound-for-success young woman. I almost cheered for this fictional character more than once while reading.

Psychologically speaking, the notion of restorying is featured as this young woman struggles to determine her identity and find meaning in adversity. We often see her becoming more open with taking risks (as she became the only female pole vaulter on Grain Valley High's track team),  and display good-old-fashioned resilience. I also picked up underpinnings of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' stages of grief model as Maggie processes from denial to acceptance of her brother's death. One of the most uplifting themes of Overstake's work is that of believing in one's self and going "against the grain" (no pun intended) as the reader watches an "average farm girl" turn into a top athlete through her work ethic and trust in things she didn't understand (and I'm sure wearing Brooks running shoes helped too!).

Despite a considerable fantasy element in Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, the principles and message are solid and clear: life is messy and unpredictable, however we choose whether to be the victim or the victor over circumstance. It appears that Maggie's idea of keeping her brother's memory alive was expressed in her athletic training.

I would recommend this book to any young person interested in an uplifting and slightly sobering story. I did finish this book with a positive feeling. From a professional standpoint this would be a good resource for those coping with loss or difficult circumstances, especially adolescents and young adults. It is clear that Overstake understands the experience of a young person, especially an athlete.  Professionals in sport or helping areas-including coaches and teachers- may also be interested in this often-entertaining and easy-read-text. I would also recommend this book to many of my high school athletes in my practice to help provide a clear example of the notion that circumstances are temporary and don't have to define you.

I guess Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is another good example of what can happen if you stay the course.

Overstake, Grant. Maggie Vaults Over the Moon. (2012) GO Team! Enterprises, North Charleston, SC

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