Friday, February 22, 2008

Give a Cheer

Today I am reviewing the book "Cheer!" by Kate Torgovnick. It will be realeased in March 2008, so this was a preview copy.

I have always liked the genre of book that follows a sports team through a season, from the initial training camp to the final game. Probably my favorite is " Civil War" by John Feinstein, which follows the Army and Navy football teams.

I was hoping for such a book from Cheer!, and fearing a fluffy piece that focused on the social lives and eating problems of cheerleaders.

I got the former. This book follows the members of three top college cheerleading squads from tryouts to nationals. There is the Stephen A Austin University squad, a traditional mixed gender squad that at the start of the story was the defending champ in their college division. There is the Southern University squad, from the traditionally black school probably best known for its band and participation in the annual Bayou Classic football game against Grambling. And there is the all female squad from Memphis, a distant second in its own school for funding to the co-ed squad but eager to prove that they can do the same stunts and acrobatics as the co-ed group.

The book does touch on some of the darker sides of cheerleading, from the pressure to lose weight to the steroid use by the men who have to throw people into the air and catch them. But primarily this book looks at a subculture, a group of college students who want to be recognized as athletes, who work very hard at their sport with little recognition from the general public that they are more that just attractive airheads and who face serious injury everytime they do some of their most acrobatic stunts. I found myself following their progress towards their final competitions, hoping that the pyramids would not fall on stage and that the students with whom I had started to sympathise would achieve their goals.

The book gives you a good look at the sheer amount of work that goies into cheerleading and some idea of what drives young men and women into the sport. Even if you are not a cheerleader or parent of a cheerleader, I think that this book is worth a look.



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