fiction · YA

Book Review: Why We Fly by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

A book on high school cheerleading wouldn’t normally appeal to me. I’m not in high school, my one brief foray into cheerleading (seventh grade) did not go well, and while cheerleaders are incredible athletes, it’s generally not a subject that interests me. But the premise of Why We Fly by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal (Sourcebooks Fire, 2021), along with its first person, dual-narrative structure, lured me in right away. It only took a few tries to finally find it on a somewhat-local-to-me library! (Always glad to see interest in the books that interest me. I’m never too bummed when I have to wait a little bit!)

Why We Fly begins with Eleanor in physical therapy, where she’s been for months following her second concussion after a cheer accident. It’s affected everything about her life – not just her ability to cheer, but her ability to drive, her memory, even her personality. Concussions are serious business, but Eleanor just wants to get back to cheering. At PT, she runs into Three, the star quarterback from her school who’s on his way to college football and a career in the NFL, and things fire up a little between them.

Chanel, Eleanor’s teammate and best friend, is super-focused on success. Leadership runs through her veins, and she’s determined to succeed in everything she does. When Eleanor is named team captain, Chanel can’t believe it; with as hard as she’s worked, how is this possible???

This will affect everything, because the team needs strong leadership right now. Teams across the country are coming to understand the systemic racism inherent in the US, and Chanel and Eleanor’s school is no different. The fallout from their teammates taking a knee during the anthem will have dramatic effects on their school, their friendship, and their futures, and both girls have a lot to learn.

This ended up being a really interesting book. I was kind of expecting it to be more about concussions, but it left that behind early on and segued into the Black Lives Matter movement and how that movement plays out in high school sports teams, how high school administrations respond to it, and how it can divide friendships. Eleanor got caught up in a lot of things in this story; I wondered often if the multiple concussions had made it less likely that she would see she was often making the wrong decisions in regards to the leadership of her team (she should’ve known she wasn’t the right leader from the start) and her friendship with Chanel.

Chanel is a dynamic character. She’s complex, driven (maybe sometimes a little too much?), and hard-working. She gets the short end of the stick far too often, but that usually just makes her work harder. She doesn’t let disappointment get in her way; when it tries, she’s able to refocus and continue on. I liked her character a lot; contrasted against Eleanor, who is a little flakier and nowhere near as driven, she felt like a strong role model.

I do wish we had seen more of what made the two girls friends in the first place. I never got a great sense of what drew them together and kept their friendship going. I did really like the information on concussions in the beginning, though. My son had two (mild) concussions during his teenage years; some kids are just more prone to them than others, but they can be really devastating, and I’m glad more attention is being paid to the seriousness of these brain injuries.

Fascinating look at racial injustice and how today’s social movements play out in high schools and among high school students. I enjoyed this one.

Visit Kimberly Jones’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Visit Gilly Segal’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s