As Shade becomes engrossed in cheerleading, a sport she finds that she loves, she also becomes ingrained in the drama and volatile friendships. The 3 Chloes who had bullied her in gymnastics are having their own fights and carry friendships with an intensity of her and Jadis's. And when the lead Chloe shines her light on Shade, Shade is helpless but to follow.
Then, at Homecoming, with Jadis and all the cheerleaders together, something terrible happens - one of the cheerleaders dies. Does Shade know who she can trust?
What I loved: This was an in-depth character study of obsession, co-dependency, and unhealthy relationships, not only from the perspective of Shade/Jadis, but also the other cheerleaders. The cheerleading team is told to also be of one mind, and they work so hard together at practice that it forms a special bond. However, with the mind games others are playing and the way affection is given and withheld in turns, the dysfunctional relationships are challenging trust - something absolutely necessary when you are tossing others into the air and catching them. The relationships start out by seeming strong, but as the book continues, all the flaws are on show with dysfunctionality and danger becoming ever more apparent.
The story has a dark atmosphere that makes it read quickly, as we are introduced early to the death (albeit not who died) but then backtrack to see what happened to lead there. The book really shines a light on problematic friendships and best friend obsessions. I appreciated the raw and heaviness of the writing that convey all these emotions to the reader. The related themes about unhealthy family relationships and parenting styles was also thought-provoking, in how these can relate to the adolescent friendships. Other themes around jealousy, in-crowd, grief, love/hate, and social media were also strong throughout.
What left me wanting more: As a small point, the book felt a bit slow in places as we spend a lot of time building to events. The timeline was also not very clear (though maybe not terribly relevant), but it made it difficult to gauge some of the push-pull with changing relationships.
Final verdict: A dark and compelling YA contemporary/suspense, THE FALLING GIRLS is a raw and atmospheric read that takes the reader inside obsessive and dangerous friendships. Recommend for fans of THEY'LL NEVER CATCH US, THEY WISH THEY WERE US, and SOME GIRLS ARE.