A Figure Skater On Figure Skating Stories: Reviewing “From Lukov With Love”

Written by: Rylee Thomas

Find From Lukov with Love on Goodreads

Ever seen the incredible 1992 movie that was The Cutting Edge?

Well, Mariana Zapata’s novel From Lukov with Love has a little more introspection, a stronger relationship to reality, and healthier (learned) coping mechanisms, but the concept is the same. Enemies-to-friends-to-lovers. Slow burn. Patience and understanding. Attitude and perfectionism. Tension (lots of tension) thawing into romance.

Twenty-six-year-old Jasmine Santos begins the story as a competitive pairs skater without a partner. Strong, determined, and sarcastic, she spends hours every day training at the rink. Wealthy world-champion Ivan Lukov represents all the success Jasmine has ever wanted in her own career. Jasmine has loathed him since they were kids, and Ivan has always loathed her back.

Or, she thought he did.

When Ivan needs a new partner, it’s the chance that could make Jasmine’s career. Plus, it’s becoming more and more clear that Jasmine is running out of options. Every day, her world is getting smaller, and retirement looms closer. For so long, she’s struggled to balance her life as a skater and her love for her family. She’s given so much of herself away for goals that sometimes feel empty.

Watching these two learn to skate together was super entertaining. Ivan has the biggest heart, and his banter with Jasmine couldn’t be more charming. Something I love is that their chemistry reaches a “best friend” level before it blossoms into a relationship.

As beautiful, awe-inspiring, and utterly worth it as figure skating can be, this sport is to trust as acid is to metal. Jasmine learns to trust again through her relationship with Ivan. From Lukov with Love not only sweeps us away on a tide of romance, but accurately depicts mental illness.

Since I was six years old, I’ve been a non-competitive competitive figure skater. Does that make sense? I adore figure skating with my whole heart. I love the way it makes me feel: talented and elastic. Figure skating creates some of the most powerful feelings in the world, and it pains me that some people will never know how it feels to arrive at the final twenty seconds of a three-minute program, streaking down the ice to jazz music.

It feels like flying through the stars. Once you’ve landed your hard jumps, that is.

Oh, yes, I’ve had traumatizing skates. Haven’t we all? I’d fall on my very first double-salchow, and it would all be over. Every skater knows that stomach-dropping feeling as vividly as anything.

Jasmine Santos knows that feeling. Mariana Zapata captures that anxiety, and that’s why From Lukov with Love feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s not a love letter to figure skating, nor a tirade against it (the beautiful sport that it is). Jasmine is unbelievably real, and in this romance novel, she gets the chance to grow as a person.

Her story ends with an epilogue. I won’t spoil it, but Jasmine finds her place in the world, and it includes a career in figure skating with which she’s made her peace. More than peace. Jasmine is happy, and she’s happy because she is simply herself, and she has found her version of success. She understands that she deserves unconditional love, with no stipulations and no strings attached— from her family, from her boyfriend (a total babe), and from herself.

From Lukov with Love teaches the lesson I’ve been wanting to articulate all my life: you can’t just love skating; skating must love you back. Skating has nurtured me and shaped me all my life, broken down my hopes and confidences and built them up again, stronger and more real than before. I owe so much of who I am to figure skating.

On that note: not to plug my own team, but for those of you who want to witness real, live teen and twenty-something figure skaters who are finding peace, growth, and closure together in a sport that has brought them so much joy, pay a visit to the UConn Figure Skating Team. We are, in fact, a bunch of real-life Jasmines. This weekend, we’re competing at Boston University, and the following weekend, NYU. Wish us the best of luck! Our team is bigger and full of more talent than ever, and we’re hoping to qualify for Nationals this year. We are the brightest stars that light the sky in our own little corner of the figure skating universe. Together, we’re coming into our own as skaters, college students, and, yes, functioning adults.

Anyway. Go read From Lukov with Love. None of you romance novel aficionados out there will be disappointed. Prepare yourselves to witness spice, sarcasm, and healing— and startlingly accurate descriptions of what it’s like to be out there on the ice, falling on your butt and loving it.

Prepare yourselves to fall in love with Ivan Lukov. For reference:

“Because I’m okay with having ten other people be your favorite. But you’re always going to be my favorite person,” he finished. “Always. No matter what.”

“I believe in you. In us. Regardless of what happens, you will always be the best partner I’ve ever had. You’ll always be the hardest working person I’ve ever known. There will only ever be you.”

Prepare yourselves to fall even harder for Jasmine Santos. To any fellow figure skaters out there, Jasmine is for you. To overachievers, to those who seek validation, to those who have struggled with body image issues and performance insecurities, to those who have grown up not feeling sympathy for themselves, Jasmine is for you. For reference: 

“I just kept on crying. For my dad. For my mom. For my siblings. For myself. For not feeling good enough. For not feeling enough. For doing what I wanted to do despite all the noes and the eye rolls and all the things I’d lost that I might someday regret more than I already did.”

On a lighter note: I have supplemental materials. If reading From Lukov with Love inspires you with an all-consuming desire to consume all figure skating-based media, enjoy the following:

1. The Cutting Edge

Find The Cutting Edge on Amazon

This one goes without saying. It’s From Lukov with Love, except the characters aren’t quite as lovable. Close second, though!

2. Ice Princess

Watch Ice Princess on DisneyPlus

This movie will always hold a special place in my heart. Oh, Casey Carlyle. Oh, amateur, “exact aerodynamic formula,” physicist figure skater Casey Carlyle. Lighthearted and inspirational. A MUST watch that you can find on DisneyPlus.

3. Spinning Out

Find Spinning Out on Netflix

A deep dive into the trauma. Might be tough if you haven’t made your peace with it, but this one-season Netflix series is another great depiction of the pressure of perfectionism in figure skating.

4. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s Moulin Rouge Program at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics

Check it out on YouTube

This iconic program lives rent-free in my head. I watch it at least once a month, and let me tell you, if Jasmine and Ivan had real-life incarnations, they would be these two.

5. The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge

Find The Silver Skates on Goodreads

I have yet to read this one, but I hear it’s a classic. A cute story set in 19th-century Holland, it tells of a beautiful pair of silver skates to be awarded to the winner of a skating race young Hans Brinker hopes to enter. It’s been made into several films, too, including a Disney movie!

6. The UConn Figure Skating Team Instagram page

We’re super cool. Check us out @uconnfigureskating!

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