On this week’s episode, Christina Soontornvat joins us to discuss The Tryout (Scholastic, Sept. 6), “a funny, painfully honest look at a middle schooler finding her way,” illustrated by Joanna Cacao (starred review). In her first graphic memoir, Kirkus Prize winner Soontornvat (All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team) shares the story of going out for the middle school cheerleading squad with her best friend in a small Texas town in the 1990s. It’s full of heart, laughs, struggles, cringeworthy moments, and insights.

Here’s a bit from Kirkus’ starred review of The Tryout: “Christina and her best friend, Megan, love the Lord of the Rings and playing pretend, but now that they’re starting middle school, there are more important things to worry about, like homework, sports, and popularity. Fitting in in their small Texas town isn’t easy, especially when Christina has a Thai dad and White American mom, and Megan is Iranian American; both girls experience constant racist comments. Admiring the confidence and popularity of the cheerleaders, they try out for the squad. The cheers, moves, stunts, and training are challenging, but Christina finds it all fun until the final tryout: This one will take place in front of the whole seventh grade, and their classmates’ votes will determine who makes the squad, a system designed to bring about humiliation and embarrassment. Determined Christina gives it everything she’s got, but Megan’s decision not to be her partner for tryouts causes a rift as they confront difficult truths about being outsiders.…This superlative graphic memoir is a funny, relatable, and genuine story of friendship and belonging.”

Soontornvat and host Megan Labrise discuss her experience of going out for the cheerleading squad; how she landed on graphic memoir as the right form for this particular story; the joys and challenges of the form; what it was like to work with illustrator Joanna Cacao; how colorist Amanda Lafrenais and letterer Jesse Post helped Cacao’s illustrations look their best; graphic memoirs Soontornvat admires; and much more.

You can listen to new episodes of Fully Booked every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts and Spotify or at kirkusreviews.com/podcast.