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'Falling Girls' navigates the dynamics of high-school female friendships


Shade and Jadis share everything - and I do mean everything. They sleep next to each other. They wake up together. They share the same clothes, the same toothbrush, tattoos and - warning here - even the toilet. They're high school juniors who are the same person with different hair, they say. So how could they be pried apart by something as silly as cheerleading and three classmates on that team all named Chloe? Just three Chloes? "The Falling Girls" is the new novel from Hayley Krischer, author of the previous novel for young readers, "Something Happened To Ali Greenleaf." And she joins us now from New Jersey. Thanks so much for being with us.

HAYLEY KRISCHER: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: You were a cheerleader, weren't you?

KRISCHER: I was a cheerleader. I was not a very good cheerleader, but I definitely - I made the team. And that was the best part of probably my cheerleading tenure.

SIMON: One thing you made clear in this book is that cheerleading is a genuine athletic and demanding competitive athletic activity, as much as basketball or, for that matter, ballet.

KRISCHER: Yeah. In fact, cheerleading has such an athletic component to it that kids, in practice, what they've found, are just only second in getting concussions to football players.

SIMON: That's because they fall from some of the positions they take?

KRISCHER: That's right. Cheerleading in the past probably 20 years has become just incredibly competitive, especially all-star cheerleading. And so in the book, I wanted to make sure that I showed and gave tremendous amount of respect to the stunts and to the athletes on those teams.

SIMON: Help us understand the antagonism - I think fairly, at least, verbal antagonism - that Shade seems to feel towards what she infers to be the mothers of most cheerleaders.

KRISCHER: So I think that, you know, cheerleading unfortunately gets an incredibly bad rap because of probably the way that it started as something that - you're cheering for boys. It started as something that's just on the sidelines. And Shade's mother is a real feminist. And she is an artist, and she's friends with a lot of artists. And for Shade - she was not raised as somebody who would, say, go along with the herd. And so, you know, she looks at some of these women the way that her mother would look at some of these women, which are not individual or not having their own personalities, when, of course, that's really not the truth at all. In fact, there's many cheer moms that I've met and girls and - you know, who are cheerleaders, who just have incredible personalities. And they're just as interested in being on a sport and being on a team as any other athlete.

SIMON: Yeah. What did she find in cheerleading? What fascinates her?

KRISCHER: Well, Shade was originally a gymnast. And so, you know, having control over her body really just gives her just an incredible sense of power. And she finds that she's able to sort of be herself. She doesn't have to just be connected to her best friend, Jadis. She doesn't have to be just in the shadow of her mom and her mom's feminism. So, yeah.

SIMON: And help us understand the friendship with Jadis.

KRISCHER: Shade and Jadis have this very intense girlfriend relationship. And what happens to them is sort of what happens to a lot of girls and women, actually, is that - you know, girls turn to their friends as really a main source of support. And when the friendship is on the rocks, then you don't have your friend to turn to. So you're kind of left very isolated and alone and feeling very devastated. And I don't think that changes when you get older. I know a lot of women who - you know, who've had a lot of issues with friends and have been very hurt by their friends.

SIMON: Well, help us understand that, if you could.

KRISCHER: Yeah. I think we become so entangled by our friendships. And I think that that's a lot of what happened to Shade and to Jadis both. They kind of became the same person. And so when Shade decided to join the cheerleading team, Jadis really took it as a betrayal, which it wasn't. I think the same thing happens, you know, with women, when we, say, move to a new town or a new school or become a mother. You're sort of left in this new position in your life, and you look to your - to other women to sort of help ground you. And you put a lot into the friendship. And sometimes it's not as reciprocal, and you could be feeling left really disappointed. And in this case, especially in high school, it can feel like the end of the world.

SIMON: There's a high school dance. And without giving too much away, there is a death.


SIMON: The implication of a murder is a difficult thing to deal with in young adult fiction, isn't it?

KRISCHER: It is. There's a lot of thrillers in young adult fiction. And I was surprised how much it affected me. I actually thought, oh, writing a murder is going to be super easy. But then I really thought about it and thought of the implications of that. You know, I think that these girls really did not sort of understand what was happening to them. I think that a lot of teenagers sort of go inward. I think that's a very common theme.

And so it actually came from a story that I read many years ago about the murder of Skylar Neese. And she was killed by two of her best friends. It was such a horrifying story to me because when one of the girls confessed to the murder, she said, well, we just didn't like her. You know, you would just think to yourself, well, why couldn't you stop being friends with them? Why did you have to kill her? And so I wanted to sort of delve into where that friendship went with Skylar Neese and her friends before they decided to kill her. What were the toxic threads? What were the layers of insecurity? What was it that was happening between them that created this situation that they would get to a point where they killed this girl?

Now, obviously, they were - you know, had severe mental issues. But there is an element to looking at female friendships and how much girls really just put everything on the line for their friends, and when they feel devastated by something, how how sad they can feel and how alone they can feel.

SIMON: Hayley Krischer's novel "The Falling Girls" - thank you so much for being with us.

KRISCHER: Oh, thank you so much. It's my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.