{Review} WE ARE THE WILDCATS by Siobhan Vivian

Today's review of WE ARE THE WILDCATS was written for today's stop on the Simon and Schuster WE ARE THE WILDCATS blog tour!
Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster for hosting this tour.

If WE ARE THE WILDCATS by Siobhan Vivian sounds up your alley and you have the funds, please support an indie store or BN by purchasing the book now to help support its launch during these unprecedented times and help your favorite bookstore weather the storm as well!

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

  IT IS TRADITION that the fifth and final day of tryouts for the Wildcats' varsity girls field hockey team be the most grueling of all. Though, real talk? It's not like the others were a walk in the park. Roughly half the girls arrive to the field with a vague sense of what's coming. The rest show up clueless. But there's no telling the two groups apart because--knowing or not--this is it. Today is everyone's chance.

(pg. 3, US hardcover edition)

“That's what makes them Wildcats. Team first, always. Isn't that what Coach always asks of them? But what does it mean?

Putting the team before yourself?

Or protecting your teammates at all costs?


When I heard that Siobhan Vivian had a new novel coming out, I was immediately intrigued and eager to take part in the Simon & Schuster Blog Tour for WE ARE THE WILDCATS. While I haven't read all of her novels, I did read the last couple, and even got to meet the author when she went on tour with Morgan Matson for her novel STAY SWEET. With that book, I really appreciated the way Vivian focused on female friendships and brought summer to life. When I heard that her new novel WE ARE THE WILDCATS also revolved around female friendships, this time in sports, I knew I had to read this.

While I've never been an athlete myself, I've always loved reading about sports. I grew up eating all the chapter books I could get my hands on revolving around figure skaters, gymnasts, swimmers, horseback riders, and dancers, especially. There were many novels for girls outside of the "biggest girlie sports" and most of those only came out around the Olympics. I'm always ecstatic when I hear that there is a new sporty YA novel -- especially when it's a sport not featured as heavily as the figure skaters, gymnasts, swimmers, horseback riders, and dancers of the world, though of course, I love those as well. I have frequently worked with teens who want books featuring the sports they play at school, too: soccer, field hockey, softball, track & field, tennis, basketball, and oh, so many more. This is one reason I love Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series so much. She has featured so many girls excelling at sports, and created a space for other authors to do the same. In the last few years, we're finally seeing a broader ranger of the sports girls play, the latest being WE ARE THE WILDCATS, featuring a State Winning Varsity Field Hockey Team, the West Essex Wildcats.

What does it mean to be a Wildcat? To be a team members? This team will be put to the test over the novel's 24-hour window. The Wildcats have won the State Championship for five years running. Last year, they lost, and they have a lot on the line this season. When you're a Wildcat, field hockey is your life. You are on the field sweating and bleeding for hours, and have little time for boys and parties and even friends outside the team. You have strict curfews and dress codes, even at school. Your teammates are your best friend, and your bond with them is solid, forged from the moment you make the team and become a Wildcat. Being a Wildcat is intense, but it is also an honor, and girls dream of this opportunity and are thrilled to make the team despite all the heavy expectations that come with it.

I love the way the book sets up this team and way the girls interact with one another. It explores unhealthy aspects, but also the memories that will live on decades later, fondly looking back. The book begins on the last day of team try-outs. Girls are chosen for the team, then attend a Psych Up that same evening -- a mandatory dinner and sleepover followed by a midnight initiation ceremony where the girls receive their Varsity Jerseys, followed by their first scrimmage the following day -- and of course, the first team team they'll face this year beat them to become last year's State Champions. Over the course of this 24-hour window, WE ARE THE WILDCATS cycles between multiple perspectives, from brand new freshman recruits such as Luci to been-around-the-block-and-seen-it-all returning members such as this year's Captain, Mel.

By breaking the perspective up, we can see so many different facets of the same experience:

Luci is young and green and nervous. But she can also see things more clearly than some of the other girls who have been on the team for years. Including the fact that Coach is acting a little weird....

Mel lives and breathes for her team, but she is keeping secrets. She knows she shouldn't be texting Coach as much as she does, and that they shouldn't be friends, but they are. Maybe, once she goes to college and is no longer his student, they can explore their connection more fully?

Ali is missing an important family event to attend the Psych Up and first scrimmage. It's her nephew's first birthday, and in Korea, first birthdays are a huge deal. Family is even flying from Korea to attend, and it's rare for them all to be together. Her family is upset to miss her and that she has to put the team first, and she's devastated not to be with little John-John and her family on such an important occasion. Being a Wildcat means sacrifice, even at the high cost of family.

Grace was on JV last year, and the team was super cliquey and always excluded her. She's always coveted the camaraderie of the Wildcats, but is nervous, because what if their friendship once again doesn't extend to her? (But also, there is a scene early on between Grace and her brother that is one of my favorite scenes in the book -- we need more really good sibling relationships in YA!)

Kearson, like Grace, moved up from the JV team, but her situation is so different. She filled in last year when Phoebe had to step out with an ACL strain and froze up both games, in over here head. Phoebe showed up still recovering to play the championships so that Kearson wouldn't freeze again and fully tore her ACL. The team lost the championships. What if she can never fit in because the Wildcats blame her for their first defeat since Coach came to West Essex? After all, she blames herself...

Phoebe is looking for redemption. She has been working hard to recover from her ACL tear, determined not to lose the future she's worked so hard for. But is she actually recovered, or still pushing herself too far too fast?

I liked that each perspective brought something new to the table. We weren't completely overwhelmed with POVs from every member of the team, because it would have been too much, but this felt just right. We focused on the girls with the most going on and/or the most insight to build a full picture. Because, as it turns out, not everything is perfect, and a large part of that is due to the toxic coach who expects the world of his team -- and goes to extreme measures to make sure they are winners who make him look good. Finally, this year, with this team, they will see beyond the facade and learn hard truths they can never pretend to forget...

This is actually the second YA contemporary sports novel I've read this spring, the first being BREAK THE FALL by Jennifer Iacopelli, which I reviewed here if you want another book featuring amazing female athletes whose toxic coaches shake their world in unimaginable ways --this time revolving around elite gymnasts hoping to make the Olympic Team.

The issue is so important, and really sheds light onto bad coaching behaviors for teens to be on the lookout for. It shows how we normalize this abusive behavior and maybe, just maybe, it can help a teen identify the situation they're in and get help to do something about it. I follow @krystiyaandwine on Instagram, and last week, for her Simon & Schuster WE ARE THE WILDCATS blog tour stop, she talked about the team culture and her coach who was also very toxic in retrospect. The post is amazing and raw, and you should all read it here. Teens are so impressionable, and don't know until later if they're doing the right thing or if demands are completely unrealistic. They don't always tell their parents what's going on. And if the team is their whole world and they don't have outside friends, they may not want to lose that, if they do thing something isn't on the up-and-up. But if this book (or others like it) can get into the right hands, maybe they can make a difference in someone's life, and that is the heralding mark of a truly necessary, important book.

WE ARE THE WILDCATS needs to be easily accessible in classroom libraries and school libraries. If you know a student who is an athlete, or if you have friends who are athletes, or if you are an athlete yourself, pick up WE ARE THE WILDCATS and share it. Its message is that important.

C O V E R   D E S I G N:

Purple and blue and even periwinkle are some of my favorite colors, so the palette is pleasing right off the bat!

I like the camaraderie on the cover and this is definitely a scene you would see and the way the Wildcats would interact with one another. 

I don't know if I necessarily would have pictured the moment exactly like this during the course of the novel unless we're only seeing returning players on the cover because a lot of the girls were woken up in the middle of the night and left the house in pajamas, and everyone is in active wear and sports bras on the cover. 

So not exactly as imagined, but it has exactly the right spirit and gets the point of the novel and the united team well!


Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: G ( One of the characters has a sort of boyfriend and there are flashback scenes and some texting, but romance is not the focus of this novel )
Language: PG13 ( Cursing, including f-bombs)
Violence: --
Other:  PG13 ( Flashback scene featuring underage drinking. Flashback where a teammate was drunk at a party and almost slept with someone just because, but then didn't. A coach and underage student flirting by text, speculation of possibly being more after graduation. Larceny for a prank when stealing a rival team's bulldog. Toxic coaching. )  
O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Siobhan Vivian
Release Date: March 31, 2020
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Received: For Review


A toxic coach finds himself outplayed by the high school girls on his team in this deeply suspenseful novel, which unspools over twenty-four hours through six diverse perspectives.

Tomorrow, the Wildcat varsity field hockey squad will play the first game of their new season. But at tonight’s team sleepover, the girls are all about forging the bonds of trust, loyalty, and friendship necessary to win.

Everything hinges on the midnight initiation ceremony—a beloved tradition and the only facet of being a Wildcat that the girls control. Until now.

Coach—a handsome former college player revered and feared in equal measure—changes the plan and spins his team on a new adventure. One where they take a rival team’s mascot for a joyride, crash a party in their pajamas, break into the high school for the perfect picture.

But as the girls slip out of their comfort zone, so do some long-held secrets. And just how far they’re willing to go for their team takes them all—especially Coach—by surprise.

A testament to the strength and resilience of modern teenage girls, WE ARE THE WILDCATS will have readers cheering.