Cheerleaders have had to overcome some serious stereotypes. Whether it’s proving that cheer is a sport (and a challenging one at that!), debunking the myth that it’s anti-feminist, or establishing that cheerleaders aren’t ditzy or stuck-up, it seems that the people most dedicated to positive energy can’t catch a break.
Now, I am a lover of literature, but it’s hard not to feel disappointment at the landscape of cheer representation in books. Many tween and teen novels that feature cheerleaders either reinforce negative stereotypes, such as the villainous popular crowd or girls with eating disorders, or else revolve around a non-cheer girl (also a stereotype—cheer is for everyone!) who gets swept up in a squad and expresses outsider-looking-in bewilderment or dismissal.
Finding books that accurately portray cheer culture and community can be tricky. Sure, we love our glitter, wear matching homemade t-shirts to cheer camp, and believe wholeheartedly in the power of the Spirit Stick. However, cheerleaders are also a support system: a close-knit squad that’s all about teamwork, optimism, and dedication. We work hard to put together cheers and routines to amp up team spirit, and we prove our athleticism. Squads around the world are dedicated to volunteer work and charity, diversity and equality, and opportunities for all to shine.
Cheerleaders don’t all adhere to one type of personality, and every cheerleader has unique interests and aptitudes. In fact, cheerleading is a great topic for novels to tackle: there’s the goofiness of team bonding, the intensity of competing, and the life lessons squad members learn along the way. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a few series that show what realistic squads are made of.
Cheer books that accurately portray cheerleading do exist, such as Melanie Spring’s cheerleading novels that follow four junior high school cheerleaders navigating the challenges of their competition squad and personal lives. The series promotes the openness of squads to new members of all experience levels, unpacks the many elements that go into competition cheering, and alternates perspectives among four girls with very different personalities and goals who all demonstrate what it means to be a cheerleader. These books are excellent for middle school and high school readers looking for cheer heroes and their stories.
For teen readers, Kieran Scott’s Cheerleader trilogy also give a true-to-life look into the world of competitive high school cheer. Scott herself was a cheerleader, and her expertise lends itself to authentic depictions of competition culture and advanced tumbling and stunting skills. While each installment in the series occasionally dips into those negative cheer stereotypes I mentioned before (example: the tongue-in-cheek titles all note that the main character isn’t blonde, a point that’s brought up frequently in the books themselves), it also does a great job of turning those stereotypes on their heads. Bad first impressions of characters aren’t permanent, and the main character’s integration into her squad and relationships with her teammates transcend the cheer experience and are relatable to any student.
Do you have favorite cheer books? Have you ever read a novel about cheerleading that was so relatable? Be sure to recommend your faves—because I’m on the hunt for cheer reading!