YA novelist Hayley Krischer’s The Falling Girls leaves the reader in suspense in her latest tale about complicated female friendships. Shade and Jadis are BFFs who seem attached at the hip, forged together by mutual distrust of the popular kids in their high school…or are they? When Shade lives out her fantasy of joining the cheerleading squad, Jadis feels dumped. It’s nothing personal. Shade wanted to join the squad ever since she did gymnastics as a kid. But troubled Jadis doesn’t see it that way. When a cheerleader ends up dead after a run-in with Jadis, Shade starts to suspect her friend might be willing to do anything to keep her close. Or, are the equally troubled friendships among the other cheerleaders to blame? Hayley kindly sat down with Book Club Babble to share insights about her new book.
Mary Sullivan (BCB): The work it took Shade to become a cheerleader—from diet, to workout, to balance/stretching, etc, was detailed in your book. Why was it important to you to show the effort that it takes to be part of this community?
Hayley Krischer: Cheerleading gets a bad rap, despite how far it’s come as a sport. During the pandemic, while I wrote my book, I watched Cheer, the docuseries on Netflix like so many others. I couldn’t believe the amount of athleticism I was seeing. I knew it was dangerous —I mean, you’re throwing girls sometimes up to 30 feet in the air with no safety equipment, so of course it’s dangerous. But seeing how these girls kept going and going with all of the concussions and broken ribs just really blew me away. Cheerleaders are only second in getting concussions at practice to football players, according to studies. They deserve a lot more respect.
MS: Cheerleaders must be one of the most famous subgroups in high school, and Shade’s feelings about them are something of a cliché: even those who profess to be unimpressed secretly want to be them. I read that you were also a cheerleader in high school, but beyond being a sport you were familiar with, what does cheering represent in this book?
HK: I was a cheerleader, but not a very good cheerleader! I wasn’t committed like Shade was, and I wanted to make a character who was fully committed to this thing, whatever the thing may be. In high school we will often get wrapped up in something that is completely our own and not everyone around us understands that. I wanted to show that Shade had this passion outside of her best friend, who really couldn’t handle that she was her own person. So in this situation, cheer represented Shade and her identity, that she wanted to be in control of her body and have power with her body. That was her way of showing who she was and having agency.
MS: This story is about two best friend groups: Shade and her friend Jadis and the three Chloes (all cheerleaders). These friendships are extremely close but have become fraught over time. Why did you want to explore female friendships?
HK: I think it’s a universal theme, especially for women. We all put so much into our friendships and inevitably we’re going to have heartbreak come about as well. In high school, our female friendships become our identity, and I’m always fascinated by what happens if the dynamic changes. What happens if one best friend goes in another direction? Does the other friend see it as a betrayal? It’s hard not to take it personally, but we often do because we’re so invested.
MS: Friendships are complicated because they’re one of the least defined relationships. A friend could be someone you sit by in class, or it could be a person you share a toothbrush and every secret with. Sometimes they even become codependent or unhealthy. This book is specifically about those types of relationships—ones that potentially need to end. Why do you think girls have a hard time ending friendships? Why did you want to look at the toxic side of these relationships?
HK: So many women I know ended their friendships by just not ever speaking again. I know I have certainly done it. When a friendship ends, it’s so painful, you don’t necessarily want to hash it out. Or worse, you feel like you’ve been betrayed so you don’t trust them with your feelings. This doesn’t end when you’re an adult. It can just get harder. Girls have a hard time ending friendships because despite how troubling the friendship might be, that’s still your person that you go to with your problems. It feels lonely without an anchor, even if that anchor makes you feel bad about yourself.
MS: This book is populated by women—most dads are absentee and boyfriends are, for the most part, a nonissue. Why did you choose to focus almost exclusively on a world of women?
HK: I love men. I have a husband and a son. But I didn’t need boys or men to tell this story. I tried adding a boyfriend for Shade at one point, but it just felt so unnecessary. I wanted to pass the Alison Bechdel test! To pass the test you have to do three things:
1. You must have two female characters.
2. They must both have names.
3. They must talk to each other about something other than a man. I think I passed!
MS: Moms are a big part of this book too. The mothers of the girls have very different parenting skills, and most of them are nontraditional. Some of the moms can’t get over their own cheerleader glory days while others consider the sport passe. Talk about why you made these types of mother-daughter relationships front and center.
HK: As I was writing the book, I realized that all of these mothers were coming up. Shade’s mother. Jadis’s mother. Chloe Orbach’s mother. The football moms. The cheerleader moms. If you’re going to write a book about women, let’s really get into the women. For me, I’m who I am because of my mom. For better or for worse. Parents aren’t perfect, we’re just human. I wanted to show that all of these kids in some way are trying to find their own identity because their parents have a tremendous amount of influence over them. The moms and their personalities give all of the kids something to bounce off of.