The Cheerleaders is solid YA crime fiction. There are plenty of threads, making it difficult to guess exactly what the ending will be, and while some twists are predictable some take you by surprise. The final chapter neatly ties up loose ends and lets the reader decide for themselves whether justice was served.
The book follows Monica, the younger sister of Jen – one of five school cheerleaders who tragically passed away nearly five years ago. As the five year anniversary of the deaths approaches, Monica is dealing with struggles of her own – affairs, battling for her place on the dance team, keeping up her GPA – but a chance conversation leads her to make a discovery, and suddenly she isn’t sure that the right killer was apprehended.
Monica is a very accurate portrayal of a teenage girl dealing with major traumas. Frustrated and angry, she pushes everyone she knows away and struggles to care about her previous passions. She makes mistakes in attempts to feel genuine human connection and rebels against all her mum and stepdad’s attempts to keep her safe. Monica isn’t always a likeable protagonist, but it’s impossible not to feel sorry for her situation.
Most of the book is from Monica’s point of view, but there are occasional flashback chapters from Jen’s, adding intrigue and context. Unlike Monica, who is popular for being the attractive dancer rather than for her personality, Jen is a genuinely lovely person. The flashbacks turn her from someone considered a saint – after all, who would speak ill of a dead girl – into an ordinary teenager with her own issues. Dealing with squabbles with her friends, a new girl on the cheerleading squad, and the most unsuitable guy in school crushing on her, Jen’s life makes it clear that there might have been multiple people wanting the cheerleaders dead after all.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about this book. The characters are relatively well-developed, the plot well-constructed, the high school dynamics believable – but it never steps out of the safety of standard YA crime tropes. It’s also, for a book being published in 2020, lacking in diversity. That being said, there’s nothing particularly unlikeable about this book either – it’s a fast read that pulls you in, and it’s difficult to connect the dots before the book wants you to. I also appreciated that there was no unnecessary romance – Monica isn’t in the right place for a relationship and has too much to do juggling her normal life with trying to find out what really happened to her sister and the other cheerleaders.
Overall, this is good without being great – a solid read for fans of YA crime novels that doesn’t do anything new but executes the standard tropes of the genre well.
Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan Children’s for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the contents of this review
Published by Macmillan Children’s
Paperback: 3rd September 2020