The Critical Masses

The Conversation Amazon.com Won't Let You Hear

To its credit, Amazon.com also includes reviews from Kirkus and excerpts from other outlets. "There are a lot of books that get bad reviews and still sell, like The Tenth Justice [by Brad Meltzer]," Curry says. "If you read the reviews, you'll wonder why anyone has bought the book." An Amazon review is noticeably absent.

Since the publication of We've Got Spirit, Greenup residents have been fuming. One parent called for an emergency school board meeting to discuss the dismissal of the cheerleading coaches who approved McElroy's project. McElroy was threatened with a lawsuit. Greenup County High School principal Michael Thoroughman won't read the book and refuses to purchase a copy for the school library. "There is a lot about the book that is unfair," he says. "We were under the impression that it was going to be a book about how hard our girls work. We were rather disappointed."

Strangely, the book is about how hard the girls work. McElroy describes them chanting the Lord's Prayer before performances, obsessively practicing their cartwheels on cement, and bawling when they miss their standing back tucks. But many say McElroy saw too much. The book describes one cheerleader's experience with her abusive father. It also recounts the moment when another girl anxiously examines her pregnancy test with her mother. (It comes up positive.) The most incendiary section explores the rumors that Rachel Brown had been trying to steal the boyfriends of other cheerleaders. According to one current GCHS senior, many of the posts attacking Brown were made by angry students during their Computer Applications class.

But not everyone from Greenup County opposes the book, a fact reflected only in the now deleted comments from Amazon.com. One of the most thoughtful posts came from one self-identified "former teacher" in the Greenup system. "McElroy paints a very accurate picture of a small community without much to be proud of in their schools," the response reads. "Social life revolves around the high school and sports teams. . . . Residents should not flinch from his picture but use the truth as a jumping off point to correct the wrongs around them, not just in the schools in the county, but in the economic and social issues that cripple the young people here."

As it turned out, Amazon became the unlikely meeting place for Greenup County residents to talk with one another. Unfortunately, actual conversation is anathema to commerce. "You can't call up every person in Greenup and [get their comments], but I'm six hours away and I could get on and post and participate," says ex-cheerleader Lovell. "Anybody who had something to say could get on the Net and say it." Only to have it promptly erased.

abunn@villagevoice.com

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