The Cheerleaders, by Kara Thomas, is a fantastic thriller about five cheerleaders killed the same tragic school year. It was inspired by a true story from about 30 years ago in Dryden, NY, not far from my hometown.
From the publisher:
There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.
First there was the car accident–two girls dead 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 his reasons. 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’d 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.
The Cheerleaders uses dual POVs across two timelines: Monica’s, in the present, and her deceased sister Jennifer’s, five years in the past (around the time of the tragedies). I love this structure because it allows me as a reader to start to piece together clues that the protagonist doesn’t know about. It’s also an effective way to mislead the reader and introduce twists, which Thomas does here to great effect.
Although The Cheerleaders is a Young Adult title, it doesn’t shy away from dark content. Indeed, there could easily be a half-dozen or more trigger warnings for murder, violence, rape, abortion, drug and alcohol use, and more. This is consistent with Thomas’s other novels including Little Monsters, which I read and loved last year.
I’m a big Kara Thomas fan, and if you like thrillers and mysteries, you will be too after you read The Cheerleaders. It was recently released in paperback. Thomas also just announced her next book will be coming out in 2021 with announcement of title and cover to come soon.