Why We Fly is a cheerleading novel with some big issues at its centre. It follows the fallout after some high school cheerleaders take the knee at a football game through the eyes of a Black and a white protagonist, both cheerleaders on the same squad. I enjoyed all aspects of this book, from it’s realistic outcomes to its gritty, determined characters. If you are looking for a fast-paced YA novel that explores issues around racism and feminism then this will be a good book to pick up when it releases in October.
Star rating: 4 stars
Chanel ‘Nelly’ and Eleanor ‘Leni’ are two high school seniors with big ambitions. Both need cheerleading for their college applications – Nelly has big academic goals and Leni wants to make a good college cheerleading team. Both want their team to make it to a national cheerleading competition. Both Nelly and Leni have their battles – Leni is returning from a serious injury and concussion and Nelly is juggling all her academics and extra-curricular activities. When the cheerleading squad is inspired to take the knee at a football game, they have no idea how much it is going to change their lives and the way they are viewed.
I like how the authors chose to have protagonists of different race, just like they did in I’m Not Dying With You Tonight. I think this is such an excellent way of showing how people of different race are treated differently and how Black people are disadvantaged. Nelly is treated way more harshly for the team’s decision to protest than any of the white girls on her team. She’s also looked over for captaincy despite being technically the most capable and having the right leadership skills for the role. Leni has to go through her own process – she isn’t particularly aware of her privilege and I wish there’d been a few more pages taking her on more of a journey towards understanding how the team’s actions affected Nelly way more than the rest of them.
One of the things I loved about this book is the realistic way things worked out. From high school romance to the girls discovering the difference between a moment and a movement when it comes to activism, I think the book really hit a high note on what it’s like to be a teenager. The side characters were also intriguing, with the book showing a variety of parenting styles, and a range of friendships and relationships. I liked that romance wasn’t at the centre though there are elements of it throughout. I also thought it was good that it showed the difference between the respect the girls receive and the boys on the football team who are revered.
Overall Why We Fly is a great novel that has a number of important messages. It managed to integrate these messages with a fun story about cheerleaders with big ambitions, breaking high school stereotypes. I can highly recommend this book!