'Fraternize' by Rachel Van Dyken was one of the worst books I've had to read in recent memory, full of horrible characters and mediocre writing. Read more here!



Please note: There are some “light” spoilers included in this review. Most of it isn’t really spoiling much, but the one plot-related spoiler is prefaced with “SPOILER:” so watch out for that!

I have too many thoughts on this book.

So, this was billed as sort of a contemporary crossover book about a plus-sized cheerleader who makes it onto an NFL team’s squad. And, I mean, that’s true, I suppose. She’s a 20-something (I assume — it wasn’t ever really stated) woman who’s a plus-sized cheerleader. She makes it onto the squad. She has some other stuff going on — her father has Alzheimer’s and she has to live with him and pay for a 24-hour nurse, plus make enough money to eat and keep living in the small apartment they share. She still leaves all the time to sleep at Sanchez’s apartment though, don’t worry.

Who’s Sanchez, you ask? Oh, I’ll get there.

The book begins at cheer tryouts. Emerson (Em for short) has just given up on making it when she’s called into the coach’s office and told she’s in. She cries out of happiness in her car afterward, and a huge manly hunk comes over to her car to bother her. Turns out he’s the “best receiver in the league,” AKA Sanchez.

Meanwhile, Miller (love interest #2!) was just transferred to the Bucks. He arrives, conveniently, the same day as cheer tryouts. He decides he’ll go “check out” the field he’ll be playing and practicing on, for some reason, and ends up running into the team. Turns out they’ve been hardcore spying on the cheerleaders from high up in the stands and calling out dibs. They each choose a cheerleader to sleep with, even though cheerleader-player fraternization is against the rules and could get them both fired. Whoever gets the cheerleader to “put out,” as it was so eloquently put, wins. They get a trophy, or something. Sanchez chooses a woman he refers to as “Curves.” Guess who Curves is, guys? You got it! It’s Em.

And that’s about the last time we hear Emerson’s name from Sanchez, who refuses to call her anything but “Curves,” and doesn’t stop to think about whether that’s okay with her or dehumanizing in any way. Of course, this is the same Sanchez who calls dibs on cheerleaders, insists that they love being spied on and “want the attention,” and then corners Em in the locker room while she’s in an ice bath (and immobile). He kisses her while she’s stuck there, because that’s not predatory, and proceeds to ignore her every time she ever says no to him.

I’d like to also mention that this behavior is completely normalized by the book. It’s sort of like I was transported back about 50 years to when women needed to find a “man’s man” who won’t be afraid to “take them.”

Oh, lord, speaking of the rhetoric of “taking” a woman referring to having sex with her, as if it’s “taking” something away and also implying that the woman has no say… That rhetoric is plentiful in this book. I can’t even describe how many times during the first few chapters that I physically gagged.

At the beginning of the book, for example, Em flashes back to an emotional moment with Miller. He starts by asking if she ever slept with her ex-boyfriend.

“Did you ever… sleep with him?” he repeated.

With a deep breath, I whispered out a quiet “No.”

He bit back a curse before reaching for me and tugging my shirt over my head, his fingers working the front of my jeans before I could utter my next sentence. 

“What are you doing?”

He kissed me long and hard and then whispered against my lips. “Being selfish.”


“I’m taking a part of you with me.”

I’m sorry, what the f*ck? First of all, that’s borderline assault. For real assault if Em wasn’t on board, which leads me to: Second of all, he definitely didn’t stop when she asked “What are you doing?” to make sure she was okay with it. Third of all, why did it matter if she slept with her ex? Does it only count if you take her virginity? What the hell? And fourth of all, “I’m taking a part of you with me”? Like, is this a joke? You’re implying that you’re going to “take” her virginity with you? Very confused here. Are you going to keep her hymen with you always? What is happening?

That scene was right at the beginning — page 7 of my ARC — and in retrospect I should have just given up at that point.

Unfortunately, there are 300+ pages of this, and it’s the first in a series. I stopped reading at chapter 27, page 208, because I honestly couldn’t take it anymore. The book isn’t about Em’s cheer career, it isn’t about her being a plus-sized professional cheerleader, it isn’t about her taking care of her father, it isn’t about her troubled past (SPOILERS: She got pregnant after losing her virginity to Miller, but lost the baby. He never knew. This barely gets brought up). It isn’t about anything except the weird love triangle she’s in between Sanchez and Miller.

Which isn’t even interesting, because Sanchez is an egotistical dickwad and Miller, while much better than Sanchez, is still rife with dickish tendencies. Plus, Em explicitly says on multiple occasions that she doesn’t feel anything for Sanchez and is still in love with Miller. So, there was honestly just no point to this story at all.

I don’t usually go this hard on books. I love YA books, and though this was “New Adult,” it’s definitely got crossover potential! I was totally down to read a cute contemporary book about a plus-sized cheerleader smashing down walls! But this was a complete letdown, and honestly I think it would be a little dangerous for YA folks to be reading, since it normalizes all sorts of horrible male behavior. I know plenty of men that would be just as appalled by the behavior in this book as I am, and I’m really tired of the “boys will be boys” mentality that this book endorses.

Also, “Bang the cheerleader. Save the world.” is a real thing that characters seriously say in this book. Just so you guys know.

Just a note, by the way: There’s a difference between writing characters who are assholes or do bad things, and normalizing their behavior.

For example: If Em had thought to herself that what Sanchez was doing (cornering her in a locker room, ignoring her when she says no, only calling her “Curves” as if that’s all she is) was wrong or at least strange and unwanted, my complaints wouldn’t be as serious. Because if another character notes that the bad behavior is not good and is not to be rewarded, then the behavior isn’t normalized. However, in this book, characters who do dickish things are not called out, and are even “rewarded” with dates with Em, or just Em’s friendship. Or their dickish behavior is ignored because they have a “heart of gold” or they do one nice thing. Which, by the way, doesn’t excuse their bad behavior! If someone assaults you, or corners you, or ignores what you want, that behavior shouldn’t be forgotten just because they, let’s say, give you a new car (yeah, that really happens).

Between writing that often forgets how punctuation works (note: I have an advance copy, so some of the grammar and writing errors may be corrected before publication), characters who are fairly one-dimensional and total assholes, and normalizing all sorts of bad behavior, this book gets one star from me. One star for existing.

If you’d like to read the book for yourself, I encourage it! You can order the book on Book Depository for free worldwide shipping. Let us know what you think!