Squad’s protagonist, Jenna, is self-involved turned scrappy when she loses the trust of her best friend and abruptly quits cheer squad. Without cheerleading—the driving force of her life and relationships—Jenna struggles to define herself. Along the way, she dates James, a trans boy and senior. Their relationship is lovesick and lusty as the pair negotiate boundaries, communicate consent, and get in over their heads. But the core of Squad isn’t James or any other boy, but rather Jenna’s relationship to her transforming self. Squad is a refreshing and well-deserved departure from the typical teen novel because nothing is tidy. Jenna’s mess is her own, and as she cleans it up, you root for her with all your heart.
I spoke with Mariah about writing Squad, being a gender cyborg, and why teenage girls deserve better.