Publishing Info: March 12, 2019 by Macmillan
Source: Received from the publisher for review purposes
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Date Completed: July 7, 2019
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
This darkly comic debut novel by an award-winning playwright is like Mean Girls meets Heathers with a splash of Bring it On.
Jenna Watson is a cheerleader. But it’s not some Hollywood crap. Cheerleaders are not every guy’s fantasy; they are not the “popular girls” or the “mean girls” of Marsen High School. They’re too busy for that. They're literally just some human females trying to live their lives and do a perfect toe touch. But that all changed after Raejean stopped talking to Jenna and started hanging out with Meghan Finnegan. Jenna stopped getting invited out with the rest of the squad and she couldn’t tell if it was on purpose or if it was all in her head.
At times heartbreaking, at others hilarious, Squad follows Jenna through her attempts to get revenge on Raejean and invent a new post-cheer life for herself through LARPING (live action role-playing) and a relationship with a trans guy that feels like love—but isn't. In the, end Jenna discovers that who she is is not defined by which squad she's in.
** This review contains very mild spoilers for the book. **
SQUAD was a very quick and interesting read! There was a lot to appreciate here from diverse characters, sibling friendships, transitioning friend groups, and even a bit of geek appreciation. What I didn’t love was that it kind of lacked direction in terms of tone and seemed to wander around a bit, and the plot followed suit in some places.
Overall, SQUAD is about Jenna and how her life completely changes when her friends start alienating her, consequently affecting her best friendship and even further so, affecting her position on the cheerleading squad. I appreciated the difficulties that Jenna went through with her best friend and how quickly friendships can change in high school (and college and adulthood). I’ve been in a situation where a “former friend” has dropped nearly all forms of communication for what seems to be no reason so I could see how it could drive you to be a little obsessed with the confusion of it all. I also liked how Jenna finally started to really think about what she wanted (after going through the stages of grief, essentially) and how she treated other people as well. She wasn’t a total victim and she wasn’t totally innocent either. I also liked how even though she quit the cheer squad, she still held onto the fact that she liked dancing and cheering and how much that made her happy. The cliquey group dynamic was something that turned her off so it wasn’t enough to keep the love of cheering to stay on the squad.
What really threw me off was that I had no idea what this book was even supposed to be when I started it. The back cover contained some of the text from the beginning and it was a little misleading to start with a sentence like “I just woke up one morning and forgot how to do everything.” With all the possibilities of YA books out there, it was entirely possible that Jenna literally woke up and forgot how to do everything and this was maybe a sci-fi/paranormal kind of book. I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be something like that or if it was supposed to be just a contemporary novel. Then there was the Goodreads synopsis which called it a “darkly comic debut novel”, comparing to Mean Girls and Heathers with a splash of Bring it On. I didn’t really feel like it was comic at all. It was nearly entirely serious and I’m not sure how this was supposed to be a funny book. It certainly had its darker moments as Jenna loses her friends, falls into a depression, and explores who she is but I didn’t feel like it was a fun, campy experience like the movies mentioned above. These two things really set me up for something totally different and the actual contents of the novel just weren’t what I was expecting.
The writing style was also a bit hard for me as well. It worked out all right, being a shorter audiobook read (it was only 5+ hours long and I listen at 2x speed so with my pauses to do things here and there, I finished in about three hours) but if it was something longer, I don’t know if I would have stuck with it. Especially in the audiobook version (which is narrated by the author, Mariah MacCarthy (awesome!)), it felt like one long stream of consciousness. There wasn’t a lot of dialogue in the beginning but more did develop throughout. Maybe if I had been reading a print version, that would have felt a little different BUT since the author narrated the audiobook, I also take the tone as they read it since they’re the person who wrote the book! That’s something I love about “authorators”. I always feel like we’re skipping one interpretation from author to narrator to listener and I get a more “straight forward” experience! That being said, I would have loved to see just a bit more development in the writing so it felt a little less like a stream of consciousness.
While I enjoyed the overall plot of the book, it seemed to just sort of dart off into different places. There were natural transitions but for some reason it didn’t really seem to flow. I did like the change from cheer squad to geek squad as Jenna starts to hang out with her brother and his friends and actually goes LARPing with them. It reminded me a lot of a favorite, THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD by Leah Rae Miller.
There was a lot of good things within the pages of SQUAD but I still had some issues that kept me from falling into the story. It was a quick read for me but I think stylistically, I just didn’t click with it as much as I had hoped and confusing marketing was a little bit of an issue for me.
Kept Me Hooked On: Evolving friendships. I really liked seeing Jenna find new friend groups and letting go of those who were treating her poorly. It took her a while to get to that point but I kind of like that she eventually took care of herself instead of trying to stick with the old group just because they were here original friends.
Left Me Wanting More: Plot flow. It didn’t flow poorly but things felt a little… clumpy. I just didn’t quite feel the natural transitions.
I think it would have helped a little bit more understanding the tone of the book better. I was expecting something a little different, but even knowing that, I still would have enjoyed it just a little bit more with a little better flow to the book. It was still a really good story though and a good read!