Cheertastic greetings bookworms! Picking up a novel called The Cheerleaders, one might be expecting a Bring It On-esque look at cheerleading, or a dramatic narrative of high school politics. However, Kara Thomas’ novel takes the account in a much more twisted direction than I could have imagined.
The Cheerleaders follows Monica Rayburn, a 16 year-old living in the shadow of her sister Jen. What could be a simple sibling rivalry is made all the more tragic by the fact that Jen committed suicide five years ago. There shouldn’t have been a good reason for it; Jen was smart, popular and a cheerleader along with her two best friends. However, within the span of a month when she herself was 16, Jen’s friends and fellow cheerleaders all died.
Two were killed in an awful car wreck one evening – paramedics being sick at the scene – but with no sign of alcohol, drugs or distracted driving. Then, her two best friends were brutally murdered during a sleepover, presumably by a neighbor who was killed by police onsite. Jen seemingly couldn’t handle all that had happened, and took her own life shortly thereafter.
As the anniversary of the girl’s deaths draws near, Monica begins to feel that there may be more to the open and shut quality of their deaths than she’d previously thought. Intermittently struggling with her own personal issues of a deep seeded sadness and emotional distance from her family, she’s still reeling from a summer fling that has left her with severe repercussions. When she discovers Jen’s phone in her stepfather’s (an officer who worked on the cases) office, Monica falls into a rabbit hole of secrets and inconsistencies that make her question everything she thinks she knows about the cheerleaders untimely deaths.
The Cheerleaders Inspiration
If you look hard enough, you’ll probably find something that makes you wish you hadn’t.
Thomas took inspiration for the novel from a tragic series of deaths of several students from a high school in Dryden, New York in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Two of the students involved were cheerleaders who were abducted and murdered. Much like in The Cheerleaders, the awful series of events haunted the town, who were not able to move past the deaths for quite some time.
As Monica navigates the questions remaining in the death of her sister and friends, she has help from Ginny, a shy and intelligent girl on her dance team who prefers the sidelines to the spotlight, Together they pull at threads to unravel the cases of the dead cheerleaders – but their investigation will lead them to a place neither of them could have prepared for.
Everyone goes through shit, and there’s always someone somewhere who has it worse. It doesn’t make what you’re feeling any less real or any less shitty
The Cheerleaders Strengths
Kara Thomas has crafted a gritty young adult mystery, whose conclusion is as full of twists as the premise of the novel itself. Monica, Jen and all of the other girls feel realistic, rooted in their characterizations and personality traits. Though the end of the novel feels almost abrupt, without all of the loose ends tied, it’s a certain lack of answers that creates a more life-like feel to the story.
Many times in life, there are questions left unanswered, and real experiences are not tied up into a neat bow for us to think back on. The messy, tangled way that the events of the novel are strung together make it clear that the author took her inspiration from real tragedy and horror.
Be warned, The Cheerleaders is not a fluff piece of mystery fiction. It’s dark and at times very sad, but there is a string of hope winding its way through the narrative, hope for Monica to be able to put some of the hardships that she and her family have experienced to rest permanently. This gritty coming of age story is perfect for a true crime fan, and anyone who wants their dose of Nancy Drew with a little more dread at its core.