Not Your (Stereo)typical Cheerleader

2016 has been a pretty awesome year for fictional cheerleaders, thus catching them up with their real-life counterparts who would like to remind you that they are not fodder for your tropes, thanks.  I wonder what the cultural history of cheerleader=dumb, snotty girl is.  I'm sure that would take me down a rabbit hole of cultural and media criticism, which sounds totally fascinating but for which I have precisely zero time right now.  Perhaps after the summer reading program is over?

Anyway, mad props to cheer squads everywhere, even my high school cheer squad, which dropped a flyer at a public event and the principal subsequently told the coach that there would be no more cheering until they could get their act together and, yanno, catch people that they were flinging into the air.  We had a pretty crappy cheer coach.  I went to the theater/brainy school; our cross-town rivals were the athletic ones.  But, I mean, they were also the Trojans, which, as you can imagine, lead to many delightfully crass t-shirts at games.

WOW!  Tangent alert!  Anyway, cheerleaders are severely underrated in our society, which is why you need to read two books: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston, and Flying by Carrie Jones.  They are the yin and yang of cheerleading books, the tragedy and comedy (which is appropriate because Exit has A Winter's Tale influence).  While Exit's protagonist, Hermione, battles sexism, rape culture, and the general crappiness of life as a teenage girl, Mana, the main character in Flying, finds out that there are aliens among us, and a faction of the evil ones just kidnapped her mom.  Who is an alien hunter.  Whaaaaat?  Seriously, both are amazing for totally different reasons.

One night, Mana wakes up to hear her mom yelling, which is totally weird, since her mom doesn't yell.  She's quiet and bakes cookies and is the picture of the quintessential do-it-all mom.

Mana, who is half Hawaiian Islander, is keenly aware of how people look at her and her mom, who is white.  She has no patience for racial slurs or "jokes," and she's very smart about handling the jerks who try to make a big deal out of it.  Her best friends Seppie, who is Black, and Lyle, who is a geeky athlete with a track scholarship to a fancy college, bust the cheerleader stereotype.  They are also freaking hilarious, and the banter between the friends is easily my favorite part of this book.  It's natural because it's a bit silly and juvenile--definitely not the pseudo-intellectual musings of terminally ill teenagers with quirky names (not hating, just saying).

After a really weird basketball game during which the ultra-hot, he-of-the-sexy-forearms Dakota Dunham spits acid at her and is then kidnapped (maybe?) by an enigmatic man in sunglasses going by the very odd name of China, Mana returns home to find her house ransacked and her mother missing.  All those movies that Lyle made her watch about aliens ... could they be actually true?

Short answer: yes.  As it turns out, Mana's meek mother was actually a kick-butt alien hunter, and China was her partner.  Now that she and a vital computer chip (everyone in the book realizes how groan-tastic this is, which makes it even more fun) are missing, Mana has to keep herself and her friends safe from the not-nice aliens and help the sort-of-nice-aliens get the chip back.  Except is that really the right thing to do?  Is Lyle ever going to ask her out?  What is up with his Puritanical mom, anyway?

I usually don't like friends-to-something-more stories, but Lyle and Mana felt so right together.  No one pined unnecessarily or tried to make another person jealous with a new boyfriend.  They just fit together.  Awww.  It was like puppies and kittens with rainbows.

Clearly I'm ill, because I really don't go for that stuff.  Usually.  But Flying is the exception.  It will charm its way into your heart as it did mine.  And I cannot wait for the next one.  Like, I need it now.


  1. We don't have school cheerleaders here. In fact, I never thought we had cheerleaders at all until I read a YA novel by Thalia Kapsakis called Step Up And Dance. The heroine is the youngest member of a professional squad. I vaguely recall there was even a male member. They're dancers and pretty athletic - well, you'd have to be! The heroine has a number of issues, including not being allowed to come home late after practice by her strict Greek parents - her Dad picks her up and that means she can't socialise afterwards.

    But with all that American culture that makes its way here I do know a bit about them. A bit. And yes, they are usually shown in a stereotypical way. Did you ever read Zombie Blondes, in which the cheerleaders are all zombies? Very silly, but fun. The girls at my school and even one or two boys have enjoyed the book.

    if you'll remember, Buffy the vampire slayer had an interest in becoming a cheerleader early in the series. :-)

    1. I've not read Zombie Blondes, but it sounds really familiar! It's probably somewhere on my TBR.

      It's really common to have guys on the cheer squad, especially as the routines get more and more athletic--you need their strength for pyramids and for catching the flyers in the air. I think the prevalence of competitions has pushed cheer squads to move away from the waving of pom-poms and into gymnastic maneuvers. One of the issues in Flying has to do with Mana being good enough to be a gymnast, but staying on the cheer squad instead. If she were a gymnast, she'd get a lot less of that "dumb cheerleader" stereotype, but she just really likes cheer.


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