Three Cheers for ‘My Mother the Cheerleader’

Alison Morris -- August 29th, 2008

So, my teenage sidekick, Katrina Van Amsterdam, is an exceedingly busy young woman — hence the reason you haven’t seen a review from her in a while. She is now charging forward into her senior year of high school and recently promised me that when she isn’t filling out college applications, she’ll be writing more reviews of the books she’s reading (and she is always reading!) and sending them my way. Here now is her review of a book that (as you’ll see) she felt she just had to cheer about.

My Mother the Cheerleader
by Robert Sharenow
(Harper Teen, hardcover April 2007, coming in paperback February 2009)

Haunting. Brutal. Evocative. After reading this debut novel by Robert Sharenow, I’m still reeling from the impact of its power. My Mother The Cheerleader occurs in 1960 in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, where integration has just begun to be enforced. For 13-year-old Louise, desegregation has deeply affected her life. Her mother is a Cheerleader, one of the women who taunt and verbally abuse Ruby Bridges, the only black girl attending Louise’s elementary school. But when Morgan Miller, a northerner with ties to New Orleans, stays as a guest in Louise’s mother’s boarding house, Louise’s view of the world is turned upside down.

With Louise’s narration, Sharenow breathes life into the tumultuous world of 1960. The simplicity and sincerity of his writing is unlike that of any other author I’ve read recently. And after finishing this book, it is impossible not to believe in the lingering power of words. Not only is the writing phenomenal, but the story itself is a masterpiece. Sharenow takes stereotypes that other authors use — the white-trash mother; the grumpy, senile old man; the racist Southern bigot; the old black woman — and molds them into characters that could be real people. But the message of the story is what will stay with me long after I’ve put this book back on my shelf: being courageous means different things for different individuals.

I don’t think that I could do this novel justice simply by writing a review. So I implore you, readers of all ages, to take the time to read My Mother The Cheerleader. I promise you that it will be an unforgettable experience.

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