It’s not really a secret that I wanted to be a cheerleader. But one major factor was not attending public school. My school didn’t even have a dance team. So, I’ll pass and probably be that mother who tries to live vicariously through her daughter!
The title, Cheer! Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders, was so familiar to me because I watched all the episodes of the CW series, Hellcats, and Cheer! was always acknowledged in the opening credits as the basis of the series. One day, I was browsing around at The Frisky and it lead me to Kate Torgovnick’s list of 5 Books That Changed My Life. With full disclosure, she listed Cheer! as the fifth book. No doubt it changed her life to research and write it and we are supposed to believe that the resilience of cheerleaders should be inspiring. (It is.) Incidentally, two of her other life-changing books (Friday Night Lights and The Orchid Thief) are books that her reviewers compared Cheer! to. I didn’t need to be convinced–after all, Hellcats has been cancelled, sniff–I just needed a reminder of the book’s existence.
Torgovnick admits that she was far from interested in cheerleading and cheerleaders when she was in high school so the point-of-view of the book would be from fresh eyes on the sport. She arranged access to three teams in Texas, Memphis, and Louisiana who span the cheerleading spectrum. The SFA team is co-ed, cheering for the best cheer school in the country–they are on a four-year winning streak at Nationals but the squad is markedly different from before and the coach quits. The Southern squad is also co-ed but at a primarily black college with stronger dance choreography, and very limited funds–the school enjoyed a second place finish at Nationals and have the skills to be the first primarily black squad to win Nationals. Finally, the Memphis team is all-girl but a powerhouse that can do the same stunts that co-ed teams can do–all-girl teams are often underestimated and underfunded even though the squad won Nationals in the recent past.
I know it sounded inane but I tweeted that the book read like a documentary because I found it so compelling. The three squads’ stories are interleaved, but they are not in direct competition nor mention each other, and Torgovnick introduces the primary characters through the interactions at practice and some individual interviews. In a way, it felt like fiction but in the middle of the book, colour photos of the key players are included, a reminder that these people exist. (You can see the same photos and more at the book website. There is also a “book trailer“, a video to entice you to pick it up.) The scenarios that cheerleaders and their squad face throughout their season are complex and often times frustrating. Torgovnick was very sympathetic to all her characters and I was rooting for each team to be flawless and win! Part of me wanted to cut the suspense and look up the Nationals winners for that year but I somehow managed to refrain. It was worth it because the competition chapters were thrilling to read, exciting, frustrating, sad, and a good conclusion over all, given it was documenting real life.
While setting up this blog post, I was reminded of the Cheerleaders novel series that I used to avidly read. It was not the biggest series, as far as I could tell, and I only read about ten of the stories. Sigh, fond memories of more innocent times and long days at the small and cozy Cole Harbour Place Library!