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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