As more books with trans characters are published, the scope of what a trans life looks like in print is expanding. It’s not all about coming out or transitioning but exploring relationships and why one person is attracted to another. Cheer Up! Love and Pom Poms examines these issues while drawing distinct personalities for its two main characters. It’s also a light, fun, high school sports graphic novel about teens falling for each other and supporting one another when things are tough.
We are introduced to Annie as she and her mom are in the principal’s office at school. Annie is smart, but also aggressive, dismissive, sarcastic and does not get along with anyone else at the school. The principal and her mom want her to find a club or team to participate in. Annie’s mom used to do cheer and she challenges her daughter’s preconceptions about what being a cheerleader is all about. As Annie rushes out of the office in anger, she bumps into Beatrice, who is putting up cheer tryout posters. Annie immediately blames Beatrice for her troubles. Having Annie and Beatrice at odds sets up the central conflict early in the book.
We find out that Beatrice recently transitioned and is on her second year on the cheer squad. Annie reluctantly tries out while Beatrice is voted to be squad captain. Her first act as captain is to advocate that Annie join the squad even though others dislike Annie, because everyone deserves a second chance. Annie and Beatrice start training together and grow closer over the course of the book, rekindling their old friendship and examining their new feelings. It is not a typical romance as Beatrice isn’t sure which gender she is attracted to and questions why Annie likes her. Does she like that she was once a boy or does she like her for who she is now? Beatrice must also confront the fact that she is included in cheer and other activities because she is a token trans person, not necessarily because they like her. Annie and Beatrice confront these issues together and help the other cheer girls understand why their tokenism isn’t right. Of course the story ends at prom with some drama and a happy ending.
Crystal Frasier creates a light, fun sports comic that touches on some dark issues but resolves them neatly, so we get a positive, inclusive ending. Fans of Check, Please! and Heartstopper will likely enjoy the sweet, queer romance here. The art by Val Wise is clean and lively. Each character is easy to differentiate and a variety of body types and sizes lends the story some realism while keeping things light. The vibrant coloring also helps here. These stories tend to lean heavily on cis men as their villains and this book is not an exception. A more nuanced approach to what brings dramatic tension would be welcome.
Most public libraries will want to carry this book as I’m sure it will be popular with teens looking for a light romance with good art. High school libraries will likely want to add it as well, depending on your community and their comfort with trans and lesbian/queer romances.
Cheer Up! Love and Pom Poms
By Crystal Frasier
Art by Val Wise
Oni Press, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 13-16
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Trans
Character Representation: Queer, Trans