Title: The Cheerleaders
Author: Kara Thomas
Genre: YA mystery, thriller
Pub. Date: July 31st, 2018
Synopsis: There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.
First there was the car accident—two girls gone after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Those two girls were killed by the man next door. The police shot him, so no one will ever know why he did it. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they lost.
That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But for Monica, it’s not that easy. She just wants to forget. Only, Monica’s world is starting to unravel. There are the letters in her stepdad’s desk, an unearthed, years-old cell phone, a strange new friend at school. . . . Whatever happened five years ago isn’t over. Some people in town know more than they’re saying. And somehow Monica is at the center of it all.
There are no more cheerleaders in Sunnybrook, but that doesn’t mean anyone else is safe.
Despite the fact that I really liked Kara Thomas’s previous release, Little Monsters, I definitely did not connect to this book the way I had hoped to. While Little Monsters fit into the thriller/horror genre, I’d place The Cheerleaders squarely under mystery/sleuthing. The plot focuses around Monica (whose last name I really couldn’t tell you) and her search to uncover the source of her sister’s death during the five year anniversary of the murder of two girls on the now-dispersed cheerleading team.
Before I start throwing out criticism, I’ll get into what I did like about this book. Just like in Little Monsters, Thomas knows how to weave a good deceiving mystery. There are quite a few layers of rumors and interesting clues at play, I never fully guessed who the culprit was or just how all the different pieces fit together. There is also one particularly dark and gnarly twist at the end that reminded me why I like Kara Thomas’s writing.
And in addition to an unpredictable plot, Thomas’s trademark storytelling involves describing the events of the murder (or incident) in a “half backwards/half forwards” style. In other words, I really liked that there are flashbacks from Monica’s sister’s point of view that help create an added layer of mysteriousness to the story.
But that was pretty much all that I enjoyed about this book. Overall, it’s very slow in pace and unexciting. A good 90% of the book is just Monica riding a bike around town and collecting information from different people. Since all of the intense, scary moments happened in the past (five years prior to the start of the novel) with Monica’s sisters, I never felt tense or scared or like I was on the edge of my seat.
There’s a lot of comparisons between this book and Riverdale, which makes sense. Rule-breaking teenagers with a taste for the mischievous, a teacher/student affair (more on this later), and small town vibes—check, check, and check. Riverdale is far down on my list of TV shows personally, but I wouldn’t even recommend this book for fans of that show. It has all the cheesy, unrealistic (and just plain bad) high school tropes that Riverdale does, with none of the edgy suspense or horror.
On top of that, there are too many generic characters with generic names. There are two girls both with “J” names with vaguely similar personalities that I routinely could not keep straight in my head. Truthfully, I had a hard time remembering who was who with a majority of the characters. They weren’t fleshed out or distinguished; there’s sort of an “old generation” of kids and the current generation, who are all exactly alike.
Finally, the most frustrating aspect of this book is the fact that it had several opportunities to be an important, timely story and completely bypassed all of them. Cheerleaders features issues such as police brutality, gun violence, teen pregnancy, suicide/depression, domestic abuse, alcoholism/drug use, bullying, and statutory rape, but never fully discusses any of them. Let that list also serve as trigger warnings, because while they’re described in fairly graphic detail, the inherent injustices or harm that they create are never addressed. Not every book has to be a champion of social justice or related issues, but this book fell extremely flat because of how little it chooses to talk about those topics. The instance of police brutality could even be considered problematic, since the main character only chooses to discuss it from a cop’s point of view and the punishment he might face, versus the obvious crime committed against an innocent individual. But I suppose that’s up for debate.
Would I Recommend This Book?
Unfortunately, no. I don’t think it was outright terrible, but I’d suggest that most people avoid wasting their time reading this book. Unless you’re a fan of slower mysteries, it’s probably not for you.