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.
The tone of Squad is one of the most authentic I’ve ever read. Everything, from the characters themselves to the way they talked, the situations they were in and the way they reacted to them, was all so genuine and real. Mariah MacCarthy did such an incredible job bringing us into Jenna’s head and helping us understand not just what she was feeling, but why, which is such an important factor that oftentimes gets missed.
One of my absolute favorite things about this novel was how Jenna wasn’t always a good person, and it’s not because she’s inherently bad, but instead, because she’s a flawed human being that doesn’t react to situations in the best way every single time. It doesn’t matter how nice somebody is at the core, teenagers are angsty and those feelings are going to come out. Jenna doesn’t always treat her family well and she lets her emotions control how she responds to things instead of logic and reason. Each time something like this happens though Jenna learns from it and we’re really able to see her develop. Not only are relationships mended by her realizing the mistakes that were made, but she also discovers a lot of self-worth.
A big theme in Squad is friendship and not just the positive aspects, but what the fallout is like when something goes wrong. As much as we may want every friendship to last forever, the reality is that very few do, and sometimes when it ends it’s incredibly painful. Understanding what went wrong and learning that a lot of times it’s for the best are hard lessons to learn but so important, but learning how to give people second chances is equally important. The way this novel showed both aspects was so relatable and done perfectly.
It would honestly be a disservice to not talk about the representation that is shown in Squad. Jenna seems to be questioning her sexuality throughout the book and that was so refreshing to see. Most of the characters I read about seem to have it all figured out, but there are a lot of teens out there that just don’t know yet whom they are attracted to, and that’s okay! We also see queer rep in one of the supporting characters, James, who is a transgender boy. This was a new situation for Jenna, and she didn’t get everything right all the time, but the way she made conscious efforts to be respectful and accepting was wonderful. There is also so much consent, especially between Jenna and James, and I’ve never seen anything like it. We really need to start seeing more authors follow MacCarthy when it comes to this subject.
Squad is definitely one that I recommend picking up. It focuses on some important themes and contains lessons we could all use refreshers on. I really hope Mariah MacCarthy keeps writing because I’m wildly excited to see what they might have in store for us next.