Sunday, April 18, 2021

Squad Goals

Kendrick, Erika J. Squad Goals
April 6th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Magic Olive Poindexter attends Valentine Middle School, where not only was her grandmother the first Black cheerleader, but where he older sister was a well regarded member of the squad. Now that she's old enough, Magic wants to pursue her long held dream of becoming a HoneyBee cheerleader. Even though mean girl Gia Carlyle controls the team, Magic talks her best friend and former bad girl child star Capricorn Reese into attending the three week cheer camp that leads up to the tryouts. Coach Cassidy is surprised-- she thinks that Magic is probably interested in "skating or coding". She certainly doesn't dress the part of a cheerleader, even though her father was a Los Angeles Laker and her mother was a Laker Girl. Magic would rather wear old, comfortable clothes than worry about fashion, and despite always wanting to be a cheerleader, she is out of shape, and has never taken any gymnastics, dance, or cheer classes. This puts her at a disadvantage, but Capricorn promises to help with the training, and she gets unexpected support and physical training from Dallas Chase, a ball player referred to as "Boy Wonder" on whom she has a bit of a crush. While struggling with the athletic requirements of cheer, Magic does make several new friends: Brooklyn, a Girl Scout who is into break dancing and whose mother has recently died., and Winnie, who is more interested in acting and piano. Capricorn isn't happy that Magic is asking other people for help, and the two have a bit of a falling out. As the tryouts approach, Magic feels that her training is paying off, and is glad to have vintage pom poms that belonged to her grandmother, who has recently passed away. The mean girls rev up their attacks, name calling, and pranks, and Capricorn even gets sucked into one. Will Magic be able to realize her dream of being a cheerleader and make peace with both her old and her new friends?
Strengths: There are not very many books that center cheerleading as a sport, and that's too bad. Girls sports like basketball, volleyball, and cheer have been horribly underrepresented. There are lots of good details about dances, stunts, and chants, and it's clear that the author, who was an NBA cheerleader, knows her stuff. Friend drama, and fraught interactions with other tweens is always a popular topic for middle grade stories. I appreciated that Magic had a strong and supportive family, and that it was the death of her grandmother (who seems to have been roughly... my age!) she was working through. Her interactions with Brooklyn concerning grief are well done. The budding romance with Dallas is very sweet, and it's good to see that he appreciates Magic as she is, throwing up after a work out and all. 
Weaknesses: I am the complete antithesis of a cheerleader, but when my younger daughter was in kindergarten, she was enthralled by cheerleaders in the local Fourth of July Parade. This led to several years of cheerleading classes for tiny tots and at least one cheerleader Halloween costume. Once she realized how much work it was, she lost interest. It seemed unfathomable to me that Magic lived with two cheerleaders, wanted desperately to be one, never had a tumbling or dance class, and cared more about eating candy than getting in shape. The mean girls were also a little over the top. 
What I really think: While I understand that the author was probably trying to embrace themes of body positivity and self esteem, I would have enjoyed this more if Magic had a better background in cheer and won a place on the team through her abilities and hard work. There need to be a lot more diverse,  updated middle grade books about cheerleading to go along with older titles like Scott's I Was a Non-Blonde Cheerleader (2005), McCoy's The Accidental Cheerleader (2006), Rallison's Revenge of the Cheerleaders (2007) and Rock's Fly Away (2010)
 Ms. Yingling

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