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Book Review: THE CHEERLEADERS By Kara Thomas

Five years ago, five cheerleaders died. Now one teen is desperate to find out what happened in THE CHEERLEADERS.

Sunnybrook is a quiet, relatively wealthy suburb with good schools and low crime, but no one in town is quite at ease– Not after what happened to the cheerleaders.

Monica remembers what happened five years ago vividly. It started with an accident: Bethany and Colleen, two members of the award-winning Sunnybrook High cheer squad, died in a horrific car crash. A week later, her sister’s two best friends and fellow cheerleaders, Susan and Juliana, were murdered by a deranged neighbor during a sleepover. The murderer was killed in a confrontation with police, keeping his motivations a secret forever. And then it happened: Monica’s older sister Jennifer died by suicide. The Sunnybrook High cheerleading squad was labeled “cursed” and disbanded. Monica’s family has never been the same.

Now Monica is a junior at the same high school and a member of the elite dance team with two best friends of her own. But with the five-year anniversary of the cheerleaders’ deaths approaching, Monica’s life is spiraling in ways that even her best friends don’t know. She’s always felt that Jen’s death was suspicious, and when she finds reason to believe Susan and Juliana’s deaths didn’t play out the way the police (including her own stepfather) said it did, Monica goes on the hunt for answers. If she can’t fix her own life, she can use it to find justice for the cheerleaders.

Kara Thomas is a favorite mystery/thriller author of mine because she always does mysteries right. This novel will make you squirm. There are so many possibilities to consider, each one a little darker than the last. The suspect list plays into our innate fear of others, then examines and often breaks the stereotypes surrounding various “types” of people. You’ll never know who to trust and just when you think you have the answer, another detail comes along to prove you wrong.

Monica is a smart, capable female lead who’s willing to go out on a limb. She makes some questionable decisions in the course of her determination, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call her “reckless.” She’s going through some pretty deep trauma, some of which may be difficult for some readers, but it added a level of complexity to the character. Her family life seemed very realistic in the sense that– while they clearly loved each other– they weren’t overly-close besties. In fact, part of Monica’s guilt stems from the fact that she and Jen were not the best of friends.

I really enjoyed Monica’s relationship with Ginny, a shy girl from school who wasn’t a friend until she got caught up in Monica’s quest for answers. It speaks to those moments in life where you’d feel more comfortable opening up to a stranger than your best friends, knowing that your best friends would have to carry the weight of what haunts you. Ginny is haunted in her own way and the two share a connection turned friendship that’s sweet to watch in between all the sleuthing and plotting. I do wish we saw more of the relationship between Monica and her best friends prior to her investigation, because without it, you didn’t really feel the full force of their connection or care about their drama. There are several other interesting characters along the way, but they tend to be people Monica meets for a casual interrogation or two, so I don’t want to give too many details away.

Because there’s so much engrossing mystery, this is a story you can fly through. On top of that quick pacing, it’s not particularly long novel, so a reader in need of a thriller fix could probably get through it in a day or two.

{Trigger Warning + Minor Spoilers!} The Cheerleaders did a solid job dealing with difficult topics, including statutory rape and abortion. Monica struggles with it, especially when she’s face-to-face with the guy involved. Monica questions herself, even blames herself at times, which is hard to read, but her personal journey is largely about her realizing that none of it is her fault, despite rape culture telling her otherwise.

The novel did well in not glorifying or focusing too hard on Jen’s (reported) suicide. We never get details of exactly what happened and though there are some flashbacks to Jennifer’s POV, they end well before her death. Instead, the focus is on the people who loved her and how they were affected.

If you like dark, sweeping small town mysteries, The Cheerleaders is a riveting puzzle that you certainly won’t solve right away.


The Cheerleaders hits bookshelves on July 31, 2018. You can preorder it now via Amazon or support your local bookstore via Indiebound.

There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.

First there was the car accident—two girls gone after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Those two girls were killed by the man next door. The police shot him, so no one will ever know why he did it. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they lost.

That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But for Monica, it’s not that easy. She just wants to forget. Only, Monica’s world is starting to unravel. There are the letters in her stepdad’s desk, an unearthed, years-old cell phone, a strange new friend at school. . . . Whatever happened five years ago isn’t over. Some people in town know more than they’re saying. And somehow Monica is at the center of it all.

There are no more cheerleaders in Sunnybrook, but that doesn’t mean anyone else is safe.

By Kait

Kait is a New Englander, a YA book and adaptation lover, and a Slythindor, as well as a red velvet and red wine enthusiast. She likes to like things. Catch her on Twitter: @kaitmary

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