Annie is a great student, but her college applications are conspicuously lacking in extracurriculars: no clubs, teams, or sports. Which makes sense, because Annie does not play well with others. But now her mom is pushing her to join, of all things, the cheerleading squad. Surely this will be a disaster. Even if the squad does include Annie’s childhood friend, Beatrice, who still seems really nice.

Beatrice, a.k.a. Bebe, is struggling with issues of her own. She gets a lot of attention for being trans—some openly hostile, and some misguidedly protective. The cheerleading squad is loudly supportive, but at least part of that seems to be because they like how accepting it makes them look. Why else would they secretly conspire to elect her captain of the squad when all she wants is to fly under the radar? Meanwhile, a guy she’s not interested in keeps hounding her, and she’s finding it increasingly difficult to dodge him. Antisocial Annie joining the squad is just one more stressor… unless it’s exactly what they both need.

This is a sweet romance starring two very different young women. Bebe is working on asserting herself, but afraid of coming off as aggressive. Annie IS aggressive, and is learning to communicate and work with others without attacking them. As they fall for each other, they also support each other and help each other improve.

Another big theme is really listening to the people you care about. People always seem to give Bebe what they think she wants and needs, rather than what she actually wants and needs. Her parents are overprotective, the cheerleading squad does big gestures of “support” but doesn’t think to invite Bebe to their regular movie nights, and the pushy guy who keeps hitting on her insists that Bebe wants his attention when she definitely doesn’t. By the end of the story, they all see the error of their ways and adjust their behavior accordingly.

The art is realistic, but softened, brightened, and simplified just enough to give it a friendly, comfortable appeal. The characters are distinct, with different skin tones, body and face types, and hair and clothing styles. Their facial and body language are expressive and natural, and the backgrounds also support the story and help to illustrate character by showing us things like the protagonists’ room décor and choices of phone case.

There is no sexual content here beyond a couple of kisses, and no violence besides one arguably well-deserved slap. Bebe experiences some blatant transphobia—the coach of another school’s cheerleading squad calls her “it” and a cross-dresser, and refuses to let her use the locker room to change—and some awkwardness from friends and family who mean well but don’t always know how to support Bebe. Ultimately, though, those close to her learn to do better and those who are cruel are rebuked and do not get much page time in the story. There is no homophobia around Annie or her relationship with Bebe. There is also another new member of the cheerleading squad who is still working out their gender, and is treated with sensitivity and kindness.

Cheer Up! Love and Pom Poms is a bright, upbeat, inclusive story of love and cheerleading. Hand it to fans of Fence, Check Please!, and The Avant-Guards.

Cheer Up! Love and Pom Poms
By Crystal Frasier
Art by Val Wise
Oni Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781620109557

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Intersex, Trans
Character Representation: Lesbian, Trans

  • Nic

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Wake County Public Libraries


    The child of two artists, Nic grew up loving art, reading, and those oh-so-special books that combine the two. Nic got her MLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her thesis was on the best shelving scheme for graphic novels in public libraries; the proposal won an Elfreda Chatman Research Award. She spends her free time reading, drawing, blogging, and writing fiction. She is a Youth Services Librarian at the Wake County Public Libraries in Raleigh, NC.

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