‘Head of the River’ is the story of twins Cristian and Leni Popescu, the children of Olympic rowers and recipients of school sporting scholarships; as they set out to row Harley Grammar to victory in the most prestigious school sporting event of the year.
It’s an important book for parents and teenagers as it realistically deals with the pressures facing todays youth. The Popescu’s are extremely supportive parents yet Cris and Leni are far from immune to the high expectations to succeed. Pressure from Cris’s coaches and team see him turn to performance enhancing drugs to get back into shape. While the pressure Leni places on herself sees her overcome by self doubt.
Not a big fan of sports, I was surprised by how quickly I was pulled into the story. Rowing while it plays a major role in the novel is really just the backdrop for a larger and more serious story. It’s not necessary to have any rowing knowledge with the glossary, providing the necessary definitions, and the rowing scenes flow seamlessly without the terminology.
I enjoyed the alternating character perspectives as it gave insight to both the girls and the boys rowing teams and gave both genders equal attention. It was also refreshing to see the gender barriers challenged seeing negative body image from a male perspective through Cris. The characters were realistic with obvious talents and personality flaws; however I didn’t find Cris and Leni particularly likeable. Mr Popescu on the other hand was a lovable father figure, always supportive even with a tough love approach, and brought a brilliant light hearted humour to the book.
I wasn’t really fond of starting the book beginning at the first assembly after ’Head of the River’ and telling the majority of the story as a flashback. It left me wanting to know what tragedy had unfolded at the event; which I suspect was its purpose but I thought the tragedy that occurred would have had a much bigger impact if I hadn’t been expecting something to happen.
‘Head of the River’ is a refreshing and fast paced look into the pressures of competitive sport at all levels. I strongly recommend it to all young adults involved in competitive sport, and believe it should be on the reading list at all schools with renowned sports programs.