*A Barnes & Noble Teen Blog's Most Anticipated LGBTQAP YA Book of 2019*
Jenna Watson is a cheerleader. And she wants you to know it’s not some Hollywood crap: they are not every guy’s fantasy. They are not the “mean girls” of Marsen High School. They’re literally just human females trying to live their lives and do a perfect toe touch. And their team is at the top of their game. They’re a family.
But all that changes when Jenna’s best friend stops talking to her. Suddenly, she’s not getting invited out with the rest of the squad. She’s always a step behind. And she has no idea why.
While grappling with post-cheer life, Jenna explores things she never allowed herself to like, including LARPing (live action role playing) and a relationship with a trans guy that feels a lot like love.
When Jenna loses the sport and the friends she’s always loved, she has to ask herself: What else is left?
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|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 2.10(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Mariah MacCarthy is an award-winning writer, performer, and birth mother. They’ve written for BuzzFeed, Yes! magazine, LOOK magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and others. Their plays have been performed all over the world, and the New York Times called their immersive party play Mrs. Mayfield’s Fifth-Grade Class of ’93 20-Year Reunion “a lot of fun.” They live in Astoria with their cat, Sophie. Squad is their first novel.
Read an Excerpt
I just woke up one morning and forgot how to do everything. I didn't have a stroke, or an accident, or get diagnosed with a disability; it's just that one moment everything was easy, and the next it wasn't.
I'm Jenna Watson, and I'm a cheerleader. I know, I know. But it's not some Hollywood crap, okay? We are not every guy's fantasy; we are not the "popular girls" or the "mean girls" of Marsen High School. We're too busy for that. We're literally just some human females trying to live our lives and do a perfect toe touch.
Because here's something very important for you to understand: Cheerleading is a sport. I know, I know. But listen: Cheerleading is a sport, damn it. We get up at the butt crack of dawn, and we practice. We run laps and we drill and we jump up in the air over and over and over. We watch TV with our legs spread-eagle to maintain our flexibility even when we're "relaxing." We go to sleep with our fingers and toes twitching in rhythm as we run through our routines in our minds. We are athletes. And our team is at the top of its game. We've advanced to the state championship every year for the past decade, and made it to Nationals three of those years. We are serious.
I'm good. I'm a good cheerleader. Okay, I'm great. You can't be on the team if you're not great. I'm not the best one; I'm maybe the third best, though I might be tied with one or two other people for that slot. And that's fine. I don't need to be the best; I mean, I'm only a junior, so I'm still working on my form.
I'm also an A student, though I occasionally get the rogue B+. I'm fine with that, too, though I'm sure my mom would like me and my brother, Jack, to get straight As. Jack, by the way, is a Goth and a senior and weird, and he gets slightly more Bs than me, but we're both good students. We have a car that we share, though I use it more than him. And Dad is in absentia in Colorado with his younger hippie-granola wife I still haven't met, so Mom's been living that #singlemomlife the past six years — all of which just adds to the pressure for me to do well as a student and cheerleader. Fortunately, I am fantastic at both; you're welcome, Mom. I'm in good shape to get financial aid or a cheerleading scholarship from a university within a six-hour drive of where I live in San Diego, and that's basically what I'm going for.
So, that's my life. School, cheer practice, and the cheer team, which is its own commitment. The cheer girls are basically family. Like, you have to be, when you spend so much time up in each other's business. So when we're not at practice or games or on the road for competitions, we're usually at each other's houses or seeing a movie together or at the mall. We get our periods at the same time, we text constantly, we're always in each other's photos online — you get the picture.
Or that's how it was before I woke up and forgot how to do everything.
Okay, I didn't forget how to do everything. I could still ace an AP English test; I remembered all the moves to our routines; I could breathe and eat and walk around and stuff. I just forgot how to act like a normal person. And I'm not even sure if I forgot, or if the rules just changed on me. The first person I noticed it with was Raejean.
Raejean was my best friend, but things have been weird since we started junior year. We didn't have a fight or anything, more of an ... incident, I guess. I don't even know if I'm the one being weird or if she is or we both are. I'm pretty sure it started at Billy's birthday party, though.
A little background: Billy Nguyen is cute as hell. He does the student announcements on campus TV in the morning, he's a little bit dorky, but he's adorable, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. He used to be a child model or something? We went to elementary and middle school together, but I just started crushing on him at the end of sophomore year after dumping my first real boyfriend, Roland Jackson.
Billy's birthday is September 10, so he always has a party right after the school year starts — I've been going to his birthday party every year since I was, like, seven. His house has a pool, so he had a pool party in the middle of the day on a Saturday. By the time it got dark, the last eight or nine of us — Raejean, me, Meghan and Becca from cheer, some other kids from our year — had abandoned the pool and piled into his living room to watch this stand-up routine that his friend Chris said we "just had to watch." I'd wanted to sit next to Billy on the couch, but this girl from my English class, Alison Boyer, sat by him instead, so I sat with Raejean on the floor.
I should clarify that Raejean wasn't in her bathing suit anymore. She'd changed back into this bright yellow sundress; not everyone can pull off yellow, but she can.
Oh, also, I was drinking a glass of water.
After watching the stand-up, we all just sat on the floor, giggling and quoting our favorite lines. "Oh my God, and the part about the ducks? Oh my God," I remember saying.
Raejean looked over at me and laughed. "Oh my God," she said, imitating me. "You are such a ditz."
It wasn't the first time she had called me a ditz, actually. She would call me a ditz when I was confused or said something in a particularly high vocal register. But for some reason, this time especially pissed me off. I'm not a ditz. I've never gotten below a B+ on anything. I'm not shallow; I'm not even blond like Raejean — not like it's cool to hate on blondes, either, but at least that would sorta make sense. I knew she was joking, but ... I mean, what kind of joke is that? It's not even funny. What's the punch line supposed to be? Also, we're both cheerleaders! Don't we deal with enough "ditz" stereotypes already?
Maybe it's because I like Billy, and she knew I liked him. Maybe it's because she did it in front of a room full of people, instead of when it was just the two of us. But I could feel my face flushing. (I hate blushing. It's like strapping a big neon sign to my face that says EMBARRASSING THINGS ARE HAPPENING.)
So I did the first thing that came to mind: I dumped my glass of water over her head.
I don't remember how the room reacted. I think someone (maybe Chris?) went "Ohhhh!" like guys do. But what I mostly remember is the look of disgust and confusion and betrayal on Raejean's face. My decision to pour the water on her hung in the air like a bad smell. Immediately I wanted to take it back.
"Are you okay?" I found myself saying.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she responded.
I felt like it shouldn't be such a big deal. Weren't we all just swimming two hours ago? It's water; it's not like it's gonna stain her clothes or anything. But I could tell it was a big deal.
"I'm sorry," I said, and then I was mad at myself for saying it. Why should I be sorry? She's the one always calling me a ditz for no reason!
I grabbed my towel and tried to help her dry off, but it was already wet from having used it after swimming, and she waved me away with her hands. The rest of the room had moved on to discussing a different part of the comedy routine, so I thought maybe all was forgotten, but no one really talked to me for the rest of the party. Then again, I didn't make an effort to talk to any of them, either. I just sat there, feeling my hot face burning a hole in the room, trying to disappear into the floor.
After all that, I had to give Raejean a ride home because we'd come to the party together. We didn't say anything in the car. I had music on, but I don't think that was why. She got out with a clipped "Seeya," and that was that.
Now it's nearly October, and things are still weird. It's not like she flat-out ignored me after that. I mean, she couldn't. But we kind of avoid eye contact, she just sends back one-word replies to my texts, and she's been getting rides home with Meghan Finnegan instead of with me. We also, for the first time, don't have any classes together this year; I'm in AP English, she's in Advanced, and they're different periods, which threw off all the rest of the classes we wanted to take with each other. So that's not helping, either.
This probably doesn't sound that bad. I don't know; maybe it's not. But this is the longest we've ever gone without going over to each other's house. Raejean has been my best friend since fourth grade. Raejean calls my mom "Mom." Raejean has slept in my bed with me hundreds or maybe thousands of times. Raejean can tell when I need to eat. If me and Raejean aren't okay, then the foundation of my world is cracked and crooked.
I wrote and deleted maybe a dozen e-mails, which basically went like this:
Hey girl. I'm just writing to say I hope things are cool with us. I love you so much and I know it was totally weird that I dumped my water on you at Billy's party. I don't know why but being called a ditz right then just rubbed me the wrong way, and I totally overreacted. I'm super sorry and I hope you're not mad. Forgive me? I'll buy you a pumpkin spice latte?
(Raejean loses her shit for pumpkin spice lattes.)
Or maybe this is all in my head and you're actually not pissed at all? I feel like maybe I'm losing it because I can't stop thinking about this and I can't tell if I'm making this weird and things are fine, or if things are actually weird. Let a girl know. I love you boo.
I never e-mailed her. It felt too needy.
That was just the beginning of not knowing how to do anything anymore. A week after the water incident, while putting our clothes on after cheer practice, Meghan Finnegan was suddenly looking at my jeans a little too closely. Meghan's white and redheaded and loud, and everyone loves her, me included; she's not of Raejean-level importance to me, but she's probably the funniest person on the team. She poked me in the side, her eyes firmly on my crotch.
"Jenna, are we rocking a little camel toe?"
I blinked. "What?"
"You totally are! You've got some camel toe going on!"
"What's a camel toe?"
"You've never heard of camel toe?" She was laughing, her eyes were sparkling; it wasn't mean, but I could feel my face getting hot.
"No," I said. "What is that?"
"Becca," she called out. "Becca, come look at this! Does Jenna have some camel toe in these jeans?"
I'd worn this exact pair of jeans all the time. I couldn't figure out what could possibly be different right now.
Becca Ruiz looked at my crotch. "Oh my God, you totally do. You gotta retire those jeans, girl."
And suddenly Raejean was in on it, too. "Jenna!" she laughed. "I told you to get rid of those jeans!" No, actually, you never did, Raejean. You've told me repeatedly how cute you think I look in them ...
"What the hell is a camel toe?" My voice wavered just a little bit, and this pissed me off even more, because it didn't seem like anything involving my jeans could be such a big deal.
"It means we can read your lips," said Meghan, laughing harder.
"Google it," said Becca. "And get some new jeans!" I waited until later to google it, because I didn't want to give them the satisfaction of watching me standing there with my phone, discovering it in front of them. And I'm glad I waited, because I'm pretty sure my whole head turned bright red when I read the definition.
I mean, what the hell? I wore those jeans all the time. I hadn't gained weight. Why were they suddenly not okay?
It started to feel like something like this happened every day: some joke I wasn't in on, some social faux pas. "Um, did you just say chillax? What is this, the nineties?" "How can you still listen to that song after everyone and their mother has played it into the ground?" "Jenna, what's up with that lip gloss? Did you go down on Bert from Sesame Street?" As far as I could tell, it was just me. No one else was getting taunted for these kinds of missteps.
I couldn't figure it out. These girls were my family. We joked all the time that we were a hive mind, that we all had a psychic connection with one another. Why was I suddenly always a step behind?CHAPTER 2
We're at practice, and Coach Mason is singling out Raejean.
"Your legs are too straight coming out of the tuck jump," Coach says. "You're going to hurt yourself."
A tuck jump is basic, baaaasic cheerleading. "You can't slack off on the basics and save it all for the stunts," Coach says. "Every single move needs to be sharp and tight."
I am remembering fifth-grade figure skating lessons with Raejean; I am remembering Mrs. Rabinowitz, who thought the sun shone out of Raejean's fifth-grade ass; and I am remembering Mrs. Rabinowitz's successor, Kate Ross, who criticized Raejean's spirals. I am remembering how quickly after that Raejean decided that figure skating was for losers; I don't think she and Kate Ross lasted a month together.
Please, Raejean, don't fall out of love with cheerleading. Please don't leave me.
"Do it again," Coach says, and she makes Raejean do it alone. And then again. And then she puts her hands on Raejean, pushing her body down so her knees bend, demanding that we all watch.
We get notes all the time. It's how we've stayed at the top of our game for so long. But no one else is getting notes today, just Raejean.
Coach Mason is built like an SUV (indestructible) and makes you feel safe for the exact same reason. Her skin looks like a potato from too many suntans, and she is unapologetically demanding. Most days we are happy to sweat it all out on the mat for her, even when we complain in the locker room afterward, but this is a lot, even for Coach.
We all do the sequence again. "Good, Jenna." No no no. What are you doing? I don't want to be the good one; I don't want to be the example. I try to catch Raejean's eye to communicate all this, but her eyes are on herself in the mirror, jumping over and over and over again and making sure to bend her knees deeply on every landing. I look back at my reflection, and my face is pink. It's not my usual exertion pink. I know the difference.
Coach lays into Raejean through the whole practice. "Point that toe, Raejean." "Spine straight." "You're not moving with the group." "Get that leg up." I beg her in my mind to back off, but she just keeps going.
I put a hand on Raejean's bicep in the locker room after. "Coach is high," I say. "I don't know what crawled up her ass and died."
And Raejean doesn't even look at me as she shrugs. "She's just doing her job," she says.
"Yeah, but that was like ... excessive."
She shrugs. Again. Still not looking at me. "Your aerials look good. You've been practicing."
It's dressed like a compliment, but she's not looking at me and she's shouldering her backpack and she's walking out without waiting for me, and when I come outside, I see her getting into Meghan's car.
I open up her name in my phone and tap out a text:
DON'T YOU DARE GHOST ON ME!!!
I stare at it, ashamed. It's clingy, it's desperate, it's terrifying. I decide not to send it.
Then somehow my thumb is pressing Send anyway. No no no nooooooo, take it back take it back, but there the notification is: Delivered. And then, almost immediately: Read.
I wait for the ellipsis on her end that will tell me she's typing back. It doesn't come.
Oh God oh God, what is happening. What did I do?
I type again.
Sorry. Meant to send that to someone else.
No, that's stupid, that's utterly transparent, she'll laugh at you. Delete, delete, delete, keep hitting Delete even though all the text is gone.
I'm standing in the parking lot; the squad has pretty much scattered. I look around and take a big breath. It's a sunny day, and I feel like I'm dying.
My phone buzzes. Text from Raejean:
I decide not to answer. I put my phone in my pocket. Then I take it back out and start typing.
Sorry. Got pissed for a minute —
Nope. Delete. I type again.
Big breath, big breath, don't cry in the parking lot.
I suddenly do the math and realize it's been just three weeks since Billy's birthday party. It feels like it's been months and months. Three weeks is such a long time for me and Raejean not to be at each other's houses or staying up texting every night. Since Billy's birthday we've seen each other almost every day and said almost nothing.
I type another text:
Sleepover sometime? Been a minute
She writes back almost immediately:
Maybe after this weekend. Mrs. H assigned a ridic 8pg paper for Mon
Me: OK. Or you can work on it at my place if you want. Miss u
I waver before hitting Send; I don't know if the last sentence is too much, but since when do I worry about being "too much" with Raejean? Send.
OK I'll let u know.
I want to set myself on fire.
I crank my music in the car. Angry white boys with electric guitars. It doesn't help.
When I get home, I make a run for the cupboard and start shoving Reese's Puffs in my mouth like I'm starving. I close the cupboard door, and there's my brother, Jack, staring at me with his bored, eyelinered eyes.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Squad"
Copyright © 2019 Mariah MacCarthy.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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