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Book Review: Why We Fly by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Publisher’s description

From the New York Times bestselling authors of I’m Not Dying with You Tonight comes a story about friendship, privilege, sports, and protest.

With a rocky start to senior year, cheerleaders and lifelong best friends Eleanor and Chanel have a lot on their minds. Eleanor is still in physical therapy months after a serious concussion from a failed cheer stunt. Chanel starts making questionable decisions to deal with the mounting pressure of college applications. But they have each other’s backs—just as always, until Eleanor’s new relationship with star quarterback Three starts a rift between them.

Then, the cheer squad decides to take a knee at the season’s first football game, and what seemed like a positive show of solidarity suddenly shines a national spotlight on the team—and becomes the reason for a larger fallout between the girls. As Eleanor and Chanel grapple with the weight of the consequences as well as their own problems, can the girls rely on the friendship they’ve always shared?

Amanda’s thoughts

Oooh, is there a LOT to talk about with this book! I’d love to see it used in a literature circle in a high school class and eavesdrop on every single thought!

Eleanor, or Leni, who is white and Jewish, is recovering from multiple falls and concussions from cheering on the competitive squad. She’s excited to get her medical clearance so she can cheer her senior year. Chanel, or Nelly, who is Black, has spent the summer at a prestigious cheer camp. She’s driven, organized, super competitive, and determined to attend a top business school. And then there’s Three, star football player, also Black, Leni’s new love interest, and a kid with an outrageous amount of pressure on him. His hardcore dad is determined for Three to make it in the bigtime.

Senior year in Atlanta, Georgia takes on a million twists and turns starting with Leni being chosen as cheer captain over Nelly. This strains their friendship, as does Leni’s attention to Three. When the cheer team decides to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with an alum making waves in the news, things really pop off. The football coach says the sidelines is not the place for this kind of act, the students become heroes to some and villains to others, and the squad’s act spreads to other student groups, drawing more attention to their school and to those who started this movement. The choices these students make affect them all differently and garner different reactions. Leni’s parents are proud of her and her rabbi reminds her of the obligation to bear witness to injustice. Nelly’s parents are not happy with her choice and she’s the one who ends up taking the heat from the school. And Three? He thinks the decision to kneel is admirable and brave, but isn’t sure he can make that move because it might risk his entire future.

The authors force their characters to grapple with big questions. They examine the controversy and power of social action. They make their characters (and, by extension, their readers) think about who gets to make these decisions, what consequences may look like, and what it all means. Leni has to think about what it means to be an ally versus what it means to be an accomplice. She has to think about what centering herself does and if she’s been listening to and understanding the very people she’s trying to support. Good intentions are not enough, and both Leni and Nelly think about what social justice work they may want to do as they move forward and in what way.

I loved the entire kneeling/social justice movement storyline as much as I loved seeing competitive cheerleaders hard at work and the outrageous pressure on some student athletes. We see friendships and romantic relationships strained because of all these plot elements. I really liked the other book these authors did together, I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, and hope to see more from them, both together and individually. A thought-provoking read full of social commentary.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492678922
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Rethinking How We Think about Cheerleaders

trampolineMy 8-year-old keeps saying she wants to be a cheerleader, something The Mr. keeps routinely saying no to. And when he says no, you can hear it –  there is an edge of disgust to his voice. The truth is, we have a lot of animosity towards cheerleaders, thanks in no small part to the ongoing media depiction of them as vapid, social climbing mean girls who just want to shake their booties in a short skirt and attract the attention of the star quarterback. And so many of us buy into it.

The Bestie is a cheerleader and I have watched her work hard to perfect her craft. She just spent months taking extra gymnastics classes to learn how to stick stunning acrobatic flips that could harm her body if she doesn’t perfect her technique. She has put in as much blood, sweat and tears as that star quarterback everyone lauds in the bleachers. And the truth is, many girls start their pursuit of cheerleading in the local gym long before their male counterparts ever think about walking onto that field. Gymnastics, dance lessons, running, stretching, conditioning – these are all a part of the behind the scenes life of a cheerleader.

This what the trampoline is used for when they're not perfecting their flips.

This what the trampoline is used for when they’re not perfecting their flips.

Are some cheerleaders vapid social climbers? Yes. And some football players are dumb jocks and some band geeks are, well, geeks. But the truth is, that like any group of people, stereotypes are harmful and counterproductive. Cheerleaders are cheerleaders, but they are also sons and daughters and friends and siblings and cousins and students and and and. . . They are multidimensional people and it’s time we stopped perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Yes, even about cheerleaders.

So here are 2 must read books that help break down those harmful stereotypes about cheerleaders, both of which I am making sure The Bestie reads because we love and support her and think she’s awesome. I’m proud every day of who she is and all that she has accomplished, both as a cheerleader and as an amazingly complex young woman. And when they 8-year-old is old enough, she’ll be reading them too as we support her pursuit of her passion. If you have more books you would like to recommend, please add them in the comments.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston

exit-pursuedThis is one of my favorite books from last year. It presents a strong female friendship and a look at how we should respond when a girl is raped (as opposed to the awful ways people often actually respond). And it happens to feature an entire group of cheerleaders as strong, hard working, multi-dimensional people. This depiction of cheerleaders is one of my favorites because it highlights the sportsmanship and teamwork that goes into this sport.

Publisher’s Book Description

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

Moxie by Jennifer Matheiu

moxieThis book doesn’t come out until September of this year, but I have already read it and it is one of the best books 0f 2017 in my opinion. Moxie highlights a social revolution at a high school as the girls (and some boys) begin to realize how much toxic power certain groups of guys have at their school. They begin to stage a revolution calling out toxic masculinity, dress codes, and sexual harassment in their hallways. One of the characters is a cheerleader who becomes an important part of the movement and is presented as a fully fleshed out, complex and interesting character. Her peers eventually realize that the stereotypes they may hold about her are just that, harmful stereotypes.

Publisher’s Book Description:

An unlikely teenager starts a feminist revolution at a small-town Texan high school in the new novel from Jennifer Matheiu, author of The Truth About Alice.

MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!