Ahead at all costs

Head of the RiverHead of the River by Pip Harry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Leni and Cristian Popescu having rowing in their blood. Both parents have been Olympic champions and it seems like nothing can stop a meteoric rise to the top of their sport. Leni is on top of her game, training hard and loved up with her boyfriend, Adam. Cris, however, is flagging. Overweight and inherently lazy, as many 17 year olds are, he wants to keep his seat in the first eight without having to put in the hard yards. As Leni’s star rises and she is made Captain of Boats, Cris loses his seat in the first eight, along with Leni’s boyfriend, Adam, who is also his best mate.
Adam comes up with a solution – he and Cris begin taking steroids to help them regain their places in the eight. After he and Leni break up, Adam becomes even more determined and he and Cris are set on a path that will end in devastation for everyone involved.
Leni becomes attracted to a new boy, Sam, who has also been made Captain of Boats, and she, too, is set on an emotional roller coaster that threatens to derail her rowing ambitions.
I found this novel was set in a world I knew little about growing up (rowing, private schools, drug use), but I still recognised the kids at this school as people I might have known. Leni and Cris’s parents are really well-drawn, particularly her Romanian father, and I found all the characters relatable.
Leni is a great character with believable flaws and believable strengths. She is loyal and committed to rowing, sometimes to the detriment of her other relationships. Cris reminded me of my son – sometimes struggling to find his place in the world and looking for a moment to shine.
This is a great story about friendship, rowing and what is really important in life. Definitely an engaging novel for the young adult reader.
Recommended for ages 15 and up.

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