Book: Swimming with the Sharks
Author: Debbie Reid Fischer
Peyton Grady’s finally done it. She’s on varsity cheerleading. Even though she’s a scholarship student at swanky Beachwood Prep, even though she buys her clothes from Goodwill and has never been to Aspen in her life, she’s finally an Alpha, thanks to the pompoms, the cute little uniform, and most of all, cheer captain Lexie Court.
Then Ellika Garret moves to Beachwood and buys her way onto the cheerleading squad. Peyton is as disgusted as the rest of them, and intially gets into Lexie’s plan to haze Ellika right off the team. But as things escalate from pranks to actual harm, Peyton starts to have doubts. But anything is worth it to stay an Alpha, right?
There are a lot of books out there about the bullied, but not a lot about the bullies. In most ways, Lexie is your typical golden girl, glittering and beautiful, but two or three scenes in her home show that she has a soft underbelly just like everyone else. The only difference is that she will lash out first, just to make sure that her weak spot is protected because her opponents are so busy licking their own wounds.
As for Ellika, you want to be sympathetic towards her, but the more she tries to buy friends and popularity, the more pathetic she becomes. Just about every scene she’s in prompts a full-body cringe. While the cheer squad’s bullying is horrible (and in the end, monstrous), you almost understand how they can do it.
Fischer walks a delicate line in Peyton, managing to keep her sympathetic while making it clear that she is in it as much as the rest of the cheer squad. At the same time, she is victim of a far more subtle bullying pattern than Ellika. Her redemption toward the end feels like our own. Pick this book up for a thoughtful and all-too-probable story about how anybody can bully, or be bullied.