March 15, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT
Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
| Credit: Sourcebooks

When I'm Not Dying With You Tonight hit shelves in 2019, it became an instant phenomenon. And when the events of last spring launched a racial reckoning across the country, the NAACP Image Award-nominated YA novel — and its authors — became a bigger, and even more vital, sensation. Now Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal are reuniting to release their next book, Why We Fly, on Oct. 5 — and EW has a first look.

As is evident from the cover, Why We Fly is about two high school cheerleaders. Leni and Nelly are lifelong friends heading into their senior year, when Lily's new relationship with the school's star quarterback threatens to push them apart. The cheer squad's activism before an early-season football game — they decide to take a knee — ushers in even more fallout between the two friends. The story is told from the viewpoints of both protagonists and co-written by the friends-slash-co-creators (Jones, the former manager of the bookstore Little Shop of Stories, lives in Atlanta and works in the entertainment industry; Segal is the chief legal officer of an ad agency).

Why We Fly
Credit: Sourcebooks

While readers will have to wait until the fall to get their hands on the book, you can learn about what to expect, and what inspired Jones and Segal to write Why We Fly, in this excerpt of the author's note.

A Note From the Authors

Like our first coauthored novel, Why We Fly was inspired by real events. In late 2016, a number of athletes took a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality. Colin Kaepernick was among the earliest activists to take this action, though he was soon followed by others, including the players of the Women's National Basketball Association's Indiana Fever and Megan Rapinoe of the National Women's Soccer League. Even as more players in the NFL and other leagues joined the protest, controversy ensued.

One particular story caught our attention. The Kennesaw State college cheer team knelt during the anthem, motivated by and in support of Kaepernick. Shortly after we saw a local news story, Kim met some members of the team at a protest march and was struck by their determination and bravery.

Many of the athletes we mentioned suffered negative consequences for speaking up: they were fined by their leagues, lost scholarships, were removed from their place on teams, or even had their careers cut short. As we reflected on the history of athletes and activism, we realized athletes who speak up for what they believe have long paid a price—­especially those who are among the first to take a stand.

Today, the photo of John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising the Black power fist at the 1968 Olympics is an iconic symbol of protest. However, at the time, they, too, paid a price for their activism. They were stripped of their medals, sent home by the United States Olympic Committee in disgrace, and struggled to maintain a career in their sport for many years due to being ostracized. Australian athlete Peter Norman, who stood on the podium with Carlos and Smith and supported their action, became a pariah in his home country. His record-­breaking performance was overlooked, he was not selected to compete in the 1972 Olympics, and decades later, he was not welcomed to the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

With all of these significant moments in sports and cultural history swirling in our heads, we decided to tell the story of two friends on a high school cheerleading team who choose to kneel during the anthem. We wanted to explore the impact such an action might have on the characters' lives and their friendship.

We had completed an early draft of this novel and were deep in the editing process during the summer of 2020 when a powerful wave of demands for social justice swept through the country. That summer changed many things, including the official stance of the NFL on athletes who kneel during the national anthem. National sentiment seemed to be shifting toward a more supportive posture. We were faced with a dilemma: Do we incorporate that changing sentiment into Why We Fly?

Standing up for what you believe is always a brave choice—­particularly when many in the public square would prefer you to "shut up and play." In order to honor the athlete-­activists who, throughout history, have stood up even when their actions were not lauded, we decided to set the book during 2019. We wanted to examine and reflect on what it was like before that historic summer when the mood shifted, when leagues all over America paused to protest police brutality and injustice, when athletes' powerful voices rose together and impacted society. We hope our readers will continue to examine the effect activism has had on athletes' lives and careers before, during and beyond the impactful summer of 2020.

And to John, Tommie, and Peter, Colin and Megan, Eric Reid, Brandon Marshall, JT Brown, Gwen Berry, Maya Moore, Seth DeValve, Bruce Maxwell, the New York Liberty, the Phoenix Mercury and the Milwaukee Bucks, and countless other athletes at every level from professional to high school who've stood up for what they believe—­we're inspired by your courage and your tenacity. This one's for you.

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