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Dying With Her Cheer Pants On
Stories of the Fighting Pumpkins
by Seanan McGuire
Subterranean Press, $5.99 Kindle, 299pp
Published: October 2020

Despite its humble origins, there is no more challenging or physically dangerous teen sport in the world than cheerleading.  Cheerleaders are seriously injured and even killed at a higher rate than other high school sports.  Their stunts are performed in skimpy uniforms without the benefit of proper safety equipment…and yet they love them, glittery eyeshadow, spirit bows, and all.

And then there are the Fighting Pumpkins, who take that injury rate as a challenge.  Students of Johnson's Crossing High School, they answer to a higher calling than the pyramid and the basket toss, pursuing the pep rally that is rising up against mysteries and monsters, kicking gods with the pointed toes of professional athletes chasing a collegiate career.

Meet Jude, half-vampire squad leader; Laurie, who can compel anyone to do as she asks; Heather, occasionally recreationally dead; Marti, strong enough to provide a foundation for any stunt; Colleen, who knows the rule book so well she may as well have written it; and Steph, who may or may not be the goddess of the harvest.  The rest of the squad is ready to support them, and braced for the chaos of the big game, which may have a big body count.  Prepare to jump high, yell loud, and look pretty with the Fighting Pumpkins, those glorious girls in the orange and green, whose high kicks could still be enough to save the world.

There are two things you can count on with any story by Seanan McGuire; the characters will be diverse, kick-ass characters and she will delve into concepts with those characters that somebody else would never consider. In "Dying With her Cheer Pants On", Seanan dives into the world of cheerleaders, providing real insight into the amazing athletics cheerleaders perform all in the setting of urban fantasy/horror. Not only are the stories engaging but every story weaves together details of a world that would fit into many of her other universes but gives a fresh spin to the paranormal genre with characters that are new and unique.

To elaborate, one of the features that make these stories so unique are the characters. Each is unique bringing a different ability to the whole, a team of individuals that unite to save the world and have each other's backs. One of the best elements is how much the girls bond and bring a strength to female friendships. Many times in stories women are pitted against each other but never in Seanan's stories and in particular, with this anthology of stories, there is a clear connection and relationship between the young women that is something many writers should aspire to create. It is one of the many reasons I loved the stories and Seanan's writing.

The other reason I love the stories is how interconnected the stories are, even though each of them was written at different times and purposes. Details from one short story resonate to the others, with the characters growing and changing as they move from crisis to crisis both within their school and without. Abilities evolve and each character gets an opportunity to shine as the focus changes to the primary cheerleaders on the team. And we get the chance to see how each young lady fits within the team and aids the whole group. The teamwork is written amazingly well and the relationships are the highlight of the stories.

If you love Seanan McGuire's other novels, this is a great gateway into her writing because it is completely reflective of her style and strengths as a writer of urban fantasy/horror but will give readers the chance to try with shorter stories that have a definitive end. I assure you if you love these stories the way I did, she has many other series but I really want to read more in this particular universe. I love strong female characters, I love the demonstration that cheerleaders are as much athletes, maybe more, than football players, and I love the diversity of both the characters and the world.

Rating: 5 out of 5 fighting pumpkins ~~ Andrea Rittschof

For more titles by Seanan McGuire click here

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