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This New Queer YA Book Is for the Sports Gays AND the Newspaper Nerds

It feels like ages since I’ve read and reviewed a YA book! But it’s a new year, and I’m back! When I saw the title We Got the Beat, Jenna Miller’s latest, I knew I had to read it. One, because I love the newspaper wordplay on the word “beat” here, and there’s something really funny about the title sharing its name with a song that is so old that the book’s target audience might not even know the title is also a song.

We Got the Beat is about Jordan “Jojo” Elliott and Mackenzie “Mack” West, two juniors who were briefly friends the summer before high school started. But then Mack called Jordan her “summertime stalker,” and they became enemies. So when Jordan doesn’t get an editor position at her school newspaper, instead getting the volleyball team beat and being thrust back into Mack’s life, things get messy. Mack is ready to let bygones be bygones, but Jordan isn’t totally on board. Their worlds begin to intertwine, and they go from enemies to friends to something more.

I know with full certainty that if my high school had a newspaper, I would have been on it, and I probably would have been a lot like Jordan when it came to being a reporter. She sees her role at the school paper as the springboard for her getting into Columbia, and despite knowing how good she is, she’s still freaked out that not getting an editor role will hurt her chances. It reminds me a little bit of Rory Gilmore. That being said, I really liked seeing a writing nerd front and center.

Something I loved most about this story is the relationships Jordan and Mack have with their besties. Friendships are such an important part of high school, and I feel like so many YA writers posit friendships as a secondary thing to the love story, but they usually go hand in hand. Jordan has two best friends, Isaac and Audrey, and they’re inseparable. Truly, they are the three musketeers. I’ve always felt like three-person friendships couldn’t really be equal, but even though Jordan and Isaac have known each other longer, that doesn’t really affect the dynamic of their friendship with Audrey, and that’s really cool. Their group chat is featured prominently in the book, and Miller does a great job with writing them.

In the story, Mack’s best friend Olivia starts a relationship with Isaac, which creates a crossover that goes beyond volleyball, which I think is awesome. It’s cool to see how it changes the dynamics between Jordan and Mack, but also Jordan’s friends who are fiercely loyal to her and kind of hate Mack for the way she played Jordan freshman year. Once Jordan starts covering the volleyball team, they allow her into the fold in a way that feels kind of surprising, but you can tell it’s because of their friendship with Mack and their respect for her feelings about Jordan.

Another thing Miller does really well is show the importance of the girls’ families. Stories for teens, regardless of format, portray families one of two ways: They’re either super present or super absent. Miller plays into both sides of this coin.

Jordan constantly calls out her family’s middle class status, which I found interesting because I don’t know if it’s something teens actually do or if Miller felt it was necessary to call out. Either way, she has a very close relationship with her dad because he used to write for his school paper, and they just get each other. It reminded me of my relationship with my dad, who is also a journalist. Jordan’s relationship with her older brother fits a common trope: They love each other, but he was popular and she’s not, so they don’t fully understand each other. Her mom works a lot and is a take-charge type who threatens to have Jordan’s teacher fired for not giving her an editor job at the paper.

Jordan is fat, and she is comfortable with herself. I’m freaking glad because we need more fat rep in YA, especially sapphic YA. Her fatness isn’t really a major part of the character, but there is a great scene where Jordan confronts her mom about the way she feels about her weight and how that can be confusing to witness. I don’t know if teen girls are actually confronting their moms like this (we all know that Gen-Xers and Millennials have fucked up relationships with our bodies), but I certainly hope they are, and it was really satisfying to read.

I didn’t love Mack’s relationship (or lack thereof) with her parents. I feel like there’s a common trope, especially in teen stories, of the star jock having absent parents. Yes, tropes exist for a reason, but I think this is one that we can retire for a while. Mack’s parents are absent because they have very important jobs and travel and such, and yeah, we’ve seen this before. While there is a certain amount of privilege to being a high school athlete, I feel like it’s beyond time to try something different here. Mack is a good kid, and it would have been nice to see her have parents who could appreciate that.

I loved Mack being a volleyball player. I feel like most teen content focuses on sports like basketball, soccer, or maybe cheerleading, but a lot of schools offer many different sports. Especially a midwestern school like the one the girls go to. While Miller doesn’t get too into the weeds with the game of volleyball, it’s clear she took the time to really learn about it to show Jordan learning to take it seriously. I think I’m becoming a person who reads sports gay stories, and honestly, I’m not mad about it.

We Got the Beat is a really fun read, especially if you’re like me and love a book where one character has to get over being stubborn enough to realize they like the other person and those feelings are reciprocated. Jordan and Mack are really likable characters, as are their friends. Their final conflict ends with a scathing article that Jordan writes by Mack, which feels like a throwback to the blog era, even though it’s the school’s digital newspaper. I love the hot pink cover and the way they put the cover blurb in newsprint. If you’re looking for a fun frenemies-to-lovers story, this is it.

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 115 articles for us.

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