Cheerleading is a sport that doesn’t often get the respect it deserves for the sheer amount of athletic skill and strength it takes — I’m always amazed at the gravity-defying routines and stunts. There have been a handful of great YA books in recent years that depict cheerleaders and what it takes to be good at the sport, but I’ve also enjoyed reading some 2021 YA novels that also look at the social aspects of being on the cheer squad, from toxic friendship to performative allyship to the political stances that athletes take. Let’s dive in!
Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier, Val Wise, and Oscar O. Jupiter
This looks light a lighthearted and fun graphic novel, but it also packs a punch. Annie is a pleasantly anti-social senior who is told that she needs to find an extracurricular…or else. Somehow, she finds herself pushed into trying out for the cheer squad, and she’s surprised by how welcoming and nice all the girls are. She even finds herself getting closer to Beatrice, the cheer captain and the school’s only out trans girl. But the closer they get, the more Annie realizes that the team doesn’t always respect Beatrice’s wishes or desires, and sometimes uses her as a mascot rather than respecting her as a captain. As Annie and Beatrice start to fall for each other, Beatrice must learn how to use her voice and advocate for herself.
Why We Fly by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
Eleanor and Chanel have always been best friends and teammates on the cheer squad, but going into their senior year, their relationship is beginning to show its fractures. Eleanor is recovering from a failed cheer stunt that left her with a serious concussion, and Chanel is making some questionable decisions to deal with the pressure of college applications. When the squad decides to take a knee during the national anthem at the first football game, their gesture gains national attention…and strains their relationship even more. Can they rely on one another, like they always have before?
The Falling Girls by Hayley Krischer
With a ripped from the headlines storyline, this novel follows best friends Shade and Jadis. They share everything and seem as close as can be…until Shade joins the cheer squad. She thrives on the discipline and camaraderie the other girls have to offer, even if she does find some of the cheerleaders a bit scary. Jadis is devastated and angry that Shade seems to have dropped her…so when one of those cheerleaders dies under mysterious circumstances, Shade begins to suspect that Jadis is responsible. But if her best friend killed because she was jealous of Shade, then does that make Shade culpable, too?
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