ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms’ Has Heart

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cheer Up!: Love and Pompoms

Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms is a queer love story about high school cheerleaders written by Crystal Fraiser, illustrated by Val Wise, and published by Oni PressCheer Up: Love and Pom Poms follows Annie, an antisocial loner, and BeBe, the state’s first openly trans cheerleader. When Annie joins the cheerleading squad, she quickly forms a friendship with BeBe. A friendship that blossoms into a romantic interest. And as both girls spend time together, they each learn to become better versions of themselves.

Throughout Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms, Frasier shows multiple times the pressure BeBe is under to constantly appear perfect both in physical appearance and in her behavior. She feels like she can’t have a bad day. Because when she gets upset, people automatically assume it’s because she’s trans. One of BeBe’s classmates keeps hitting on BeBe, invading her personal space, and talking over her. BeBe doesn’t tell him off because she fears being perceived as aggressive and threatening.

While BeBe is, on one hand, a normal teenager, on the other hand, she’s not. Because people know she’s trans, she is unfortunately not safe. BeBe’s safety is a constant worry for her and her parents.  And when the squad has their first away game, an adult verbally harasses BeBe. The rival coach forbids BeBe from using the girl’s locker room because she’s trans. 

While the squad all stands up for BeBe, saying they won’t use any locker room that she’s not allowed in, they ignore BeBe’s insistence that she’s fine. Upset by the scene, BeBe tries to reassure the team that she’s fine. Attempting to come to BeBe’s aid, Annie ends up doing the same thing as the rest of the squad; speaking for BeBe without asking what she wants.

Moments like this allow Fraiser to show Annie’s character growth, as well as BeBe’s. Annie realizes that she can’t react to every situation with hostility because it might put BeBe in danger. And she can’t speak for BeBe. Meanwhile, BeBe realizes that it’s okay for her to stand up for herself. 

Though Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms does deal a lot with the issues BeBe faces as an openly trans teenager, it’s not a heavy or overly sad book. Aside from hurtful comments made by other characters, Fraiser does not show any violence towards BeBe. Which is a huge relief. And Fraiser makes sure that BeBe has plenty of sweet, heartwarming experiences.

Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms is, at its core, a queer love story. Annie and BeBe are figuring things out as they go along. Muddling through the complicated emotions that come with first love, a first relationship. Shy confessions, embarrassing parents, slightly awkward first dates.

The art in Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms is fantastic. Wise draws a diverse cast of characters. There’s racial diversity, as well as diversity in the character’s body types. Annie is plus-sized. And she’s allowed to be. There’s no plotline about trying to make her lose weight.

The way Wise draws the interactions between Annie and BeBe look so natural. They want to be close to each other, but then they get nervous and pull apart, unsure if the other returns their feelings. Their body language is so expressive. And the way they look at each other when they think the other isn’t looking is so sweet. You can tell they’re falling in love.

Not too bright or intense, Wise’s colors fit the story well. They have a soft, mellow feel to them. And this matches the soft, gentle romance blossoming between Annie and BeBe.

There’s a need for more stories with queer characters experiencing cute and fluffy romance. Stories defined not by trauma, but by love and hope. Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms perfectly fits this mold.

Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms is available on August 10, 2021, wherever books are sold.

Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms
5

TL;DR

There’s a need for more stories with queer characters experiencing cute and fluffy romance. Stories defined not by trauma, but by love and hope. Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms perfectly fits this mold.