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Review: Queerleaders by M. B. Guel

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: YA
Series?: Standalone

Rating: Liked it

For fans of: But I’m a Cheerleader, Mean Girls, Glee, high school AU fanfiction, Dr. Pepper lip balm

This post contains minor spoilers for Queerleaders.

One quick aside before I never read another negative Goodreads review for a book I like ever again (ha): I wish readers showed as much grace to #OwnVoices writers as we do to (presumed) more privileged writers of similar stories.

Or maybe I just wish the readers with seemingly inexhaustible patience for privileged writers would pick up little indie queer books more often.

The Road To El Dorado gif where the characters say, "Both?" "Both?" "Both." "Both is good." (I don't know who these characters are, sorry!)

The only way I can describe this delightfully campy little novella is But I’m a Cheerleader meets Mean Girls meets Glee. If you like all of those properties, you will like this book. If the satirical homophobia of But I’m a Cheerleader and Mean Girls is too much for you, you will not like this book.

If you’re like, “That sounds great, but I’d literally rather die than listen to another Lea Michele cover,” good news! There is no audio component to this book. I don’t think any of the characters even mention a song in passing, though I could be mistaken about that.

The protagonist of Queerleaders, Mack, is a closeted lesbian in her senior year at a Catholic high school. She has a best friend who goes everywhere with her, the kind of supportive parents you really only see in teen comedies, and a crush on the head cheerleader, Veronica, who she believes is secretly much smarter and kinder than everyone gives her credit for. To prove to her friend that Veronica is a worthy love interest, Mack makes a list of Ronnie’s admirable traits.

Naturally, Veronica’s football player boyfriend finds the list and uses it to out Mack in front of everyone. Mack, who has never been kissed, vows to get revenge by stealing all of the football players’ cheerleader girlfriends.

Clea Duvall as Graham in But I'm a Cheerleader smokes a cigarette in an obnoxiously pink bed.

This is the most fanficy premise I’ve encountered in a professionally published book since Fifty Shades of Grey. I messaged it to my friends. Then I sent them a copy. Then I, in the depths of my Asian Readathon selections and desperate for something simple and sweet, checked it out of the library and stared at it every day until June 1.

Keeping in mind Corey Alexander’s very good essay on what we call fluff, I need to clarify that this book was simple and sweet for me because I have been out of high school for almost 12 years. Some of the bullying Mack experiences—particularly a scene in which someone sets her up for public humiliation, and the fallout from that—comes close enough to what I went through that I might have found it difficult if it were fresher. Then again, these scenes are brief, and Mack gets a satisfying teen romantic comedy ending shortly thereafter. Maybe I would have found it cathartic.

Aside from the premise and the sweet ending, my favorite part of Queerleaders was the romance. So many sapphic romances in YA feel like friendships with extra tragedy. Where’s the tension? Where’s the yearning? Queerleaders delivers on both passion and desire, along with a love interest unlike any I’ve seen in sapphic or straight romance before.

More Info

Publisher: Bella Books
Paperback Page Count: 148

M. B. Guel posts pictures of their adorable pets on Instagram.

You can support your local independent bookstore by buying Queerleaders on Bookshop.org, or grab it on Amazon. Also make sure to preorder their forthcoming novel Internet Famous (December 2021).

Published inBook Reviews

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