Analyzing the cover: This must be Mary Ellen wondering how she couldn’t tell there was vodka in her fruit punch, while Nancy comforts her (even though the two don’t even like each other in this book) and Olivia gazes at her reflection in the locker whilst thinking about her track star.
The cheerleaders are getting ready for the first pep rally of the school year after a summer of embarrassing themselves at cheerleading camp and competitions. The girls are talking about how Nancy got to go near the boys locker room to get her ankle taped up, but Mary Ellen is too self-righteous to find amusement in the topic. “Essentially they were all sex maniacs, Mary Ellen decided.”
Mary Ellen would probably be a sex maniac too if Patrick Henley wasn’t the son of the town’s “number one garbage collector.” Patrick finally wore her down and got her to go on a date with him – they saw the latest Stephen King movie and got pizza, but she had to ride in his garbage truck. They made out and “didn’t pass that the point of no return, but having Patrick’s arms around her made it easy to fantasize what it would be like beyond that mystical point.” All sounds perfect, except every time Patrick has asked her out since then, she’s said no. She can’t date a trash man. At least not publicly. Though she won’t go out with him again, Patrick still pines for her and kisses her on command. She literally tells him to give her a kiss for good luck before the pep rally. When he says he’ll be cheering for her, she says, “Don’t.” She’s so pleasant.
Nancy and Mary Ellen don’t really get along because they are jealous of each other. We find out that Nancy’s romance with a guy named Rick, which began in book 1, has already ended because she found out he had a girlfriend in boarding school. So that drama was pointless. Before the pep rally she runs into a cute British guy named Alex. Olivia points out that he was wearing an earring, and Nancy automatically defends him because “all the guys in the videos wear jewelry.” After the pep rally Nancy finds Alex again and it turns out they have the same Biology class. He says he just moved to town from London.
Vanessa Barlow is still mad that she didn’t make the cheerleading squad back during spring tryouts. She wants to be named homecoming queen in a few weeks but knows right now Mary Ellen is a shoe-in. She wants to come up with a plan to ruin Mary Ellen’s reputation, starting with getting her off the squad somehow. Can’t wait to see what this little minx comes up with.
Pres drives Walt home and they start talking about Mary Ellen. Turns out Walt is “obsessed” with her, though Pres asked ME how she felt about Walt and she just laughed. Pres doesn’t like to talk about her with Walt because he’s starting to like her again too. “I love the way she wears those red and white ribbons in her hair – they highlight her blue eyes,” Walt says. Pres tries to discourage Walt from asking her out, but Walt says he’s going to see if she’ll go to Vanessa’s upcoming party with him. After he drops Walt off, Pres drives by Mary Ellen walking home. What a coincidence. They are both excited about the prospect of spending some time together.
Olivia runs into a guy named Michael in the gym who’s on the cross-country team. She tries asking him questions about his latest race but he’s rude to her, I guess because people don’t care as much about cross country as they do football and that’s somehow her fault, being a cheerleader. Nancy and Alex are flirting in their Biology lab and he tells her he’s in a band, inviting her to come see him play. She doesn’t think her parents will approve of him or let her go out so late, but she says yes.
Vanessa is going around to each class to give a speech about a new club that collects money to send to starving people in third world countries. She’s decided to make herself look more caring in order to win votes for homecoming queen. “She’s going to steal the money for starving children and spend it on clothes,” Mary Ellen thinks. She’s probably correct. Mary Ellen has a class where they write to their teacher in a notebook for a grade, like a journal. She explains her problem of juggling Patrick and Pres, one guy she wants but isn’t high enough in the social standings, and the other who she just wants because he’s rich. She and Pres kissed after he picked her up the other day and she thought about Patrick the whole time. After writing everything out, she tears up the pages. Probably because she realizes what a horrible human being she is.
Walt starts to ask her to Vanessa’s party, but ME is saved by Olivia’s interruption. Olivia thinks they should all go to the next cross-country meet since as cheerleaders they are supposed to support all athletics. BS, she just likes that Michael guy. Mary Ellen thinks it could help her get more homecoming queen votes from members of the team.
Vanessa is plotting a way to make sure Mary Ellen comes to her party, because she plans to make a fool of her there. Olivia and Nancy go to the cross-country meet with Angie and ask the coach about Michael. “His parents were killed in a car accident when he was a freshman,” the coach tells them for some reason. “That can be rough,” Angie says. Ya think?! Olivia tells Michael she came to cheer for him, and he sort of asks her out, but in a chicken way, by telling her he’ll see her at Vanessa’s party. Meanwhile Nancy asks Olivia to help cover for her so she can go see Alex’s band without her parents finding out.
Some chick named Cathleen approaches Mary Ellen while she’s taking a break from cheering at the next football game. Cathleen tells her that she has a present for Mary Ellen’s little sister Gemma from her little sister Clara. She doesn’t have it with her but will have it at Vanessa’s party. Can ME stop by the party for a minute to come and get the present? This is of course a ploy manufactured by Vanessa. ME asks Walt if he can give her a ride to the party and a ride home after. Walt can barely contain his excitement.
As soon as they get to the party ME ditches Walt for Pres, with Patrick, who has the flu, still in the back of her mind. Vanessa laces some fruit punch with vodka and instructs Cathleen to bring it to ME. Mary Ellen starts to get tipsy, coming on to Pres and telling him he has a great body. He thinks she’s acting weird, but smells her drink and can’t detect any liquor. Later Cathleen gets Pres away from drunk Mary Ellen and leads her up to Vanessa’s parents’ bathroom. Vanessa then goes and finds her there next to a broken vase that Vanessa says cost $500. Guessing it was planted there or Cathleen broke it so that Vanessa could blame Mary Ellen. ME signs an IOU written by Vanessa that states she will pay for the vase in installments. After Mary Ellen is gone, Vanessa pulls out a new $15 vase identical to the broken one.
The next weekend the cheerleaders are at the preliminaries of the state cheerleading competition. They come in third place which means they can move on to the next round next week. On the way home Mary Ellen cries to Pres that she has to quit the squad because she needs a job to pay for Vanessa’s vase. ME still doesn’t realize she was drunk at the party, but thinks it was an attack of the flu like Patrick had. Pres says he’ll pay for Mary Ellen’s installments with money he can get working for his father, because he wants to keep the squad together and he likes her. She says she likes him too. He’s like her “blonde Lancelot.” They make out, and she thinks of Patrick again, but Pres was going to pay Vanessa and Patrick wasn’t.
Meanwhile Vanessa is planning to circulate the IOU note and rumors accompanying its existence around school when the homecoming queen vote gets closer. She also decides to hire teens to collect money for her new club that’s supposed to make everyone think she’s a new little philanthropist. So far she has collected no money, and she needs to make a big splash to get in the newspaper so that everyone will see it and vote for her. This is a convoluted plan.
I guess I should have mentioned that Olivia and Michael hit it off at the party. Nancy goes to Alex’s performance and he contemplates changing how he looks so that she can bring him home to meet mom and dad without them freaking out.
Alex apparently has some suggestions for the cheerleader’s routine that they will perform at the state championship, so Nancy tries to convince everyone to let him come to their practice. ME is against it, and she and Nancy begin fighting about everything under the sun. Nancy says ME has a big ego and is a princess in her own mind. ME asks what Nancy sees in a weirdo like Alex, and Nancy says she sees a lot more in him than in Mary Ellen’s garbage man. The rest of the squad makes them calm down and apologize. “I’m sorry Alex dresses so peculiarly,” Mary Ellen says. “I’m sorry Patrick drives a garbage truck and Mary Ellen is a snob,” Nancy says. Sounds like Nancy’s a snob too. They all end up laughing the whole thing off. What a riot.
Vanessa’s boyfriend Steve was at the same club as Nancy for Alex’s band and tells Vanessa he saw her there. Vanessa knows Nancy could be kicked off the squad for being somewhere liquor was served, and since Mary Ellen hasn’t had to quit the squad to get a job, the next best thing would be the squad losing state championships because they lost a member just a few days before the contest. And if they don’t win then their picture won’t be on the front page of the paper right before homecoming queen ballots are cast. She instructs Steve to tattle on Nancy to the cheerleading coach. “Do this for me and I’ll… thank you kindly.” Steve is still hesitant because he’s a football player who also isn’t supposed to be going to bars. Vanessa abandons him and gets her minion Cathleen to call Nancy’s mom to spill the beans. I’m not sure why Cathleen keeps going along with everything she says, except Cathleen was also passed over during cheerleading tryouts last spring, so she is also bitter.
As soon as Nancy gets home she is accosted by her angry father, who has found out she didn’t really sleep at Olivia’s house the night she went to the club with Alex. She’s grounded and has to quit cheerleading. Vanessa then turns her sights on Mary Ellen and outright threatens her that unless she also calls in sick to miss the competition, copies of the IOU will be passed around school.
The cheerleaders all get together for an emergency meeting in Nancy’s bedroom. Somehow they get talking about Vanessa’s charity club and figure out she must have hired people to help her collect money. Walt starts calling around until he finds the agency she used to hire people for money collection. They ask for a list of names she hired, and then Pres says they can exchange the list of names for the IOU note and call it even. Later Nancy goes downstairs to find Alex playing Mozart on the piano for her parents, who are enchanted. Her dad decides Nancy doesn’t need to be punished after all. How easy that was! Then Mary Ellen asks Alex if he can help the cheerleaders after all. “How would you like to stop by our practice tomorrow and show us your fancy jungle moves?” she asks. I’d love to see some jungle moves myself.
Later Vanessa is taking a picture with a check of $700 for UNICEF at the local paper when the photographer tells her he’s going to the state cheerleading competition next. Confirming that the whole squad is participating, Vanessa is furious and asks to come along.
At the competition Mary Ellen is making out with Patrick again. He doesn’t care that she dates Pres sometimes too. Vanessa chases after the news photographer and tries to keep him from photographing the squad but it doesn’t work. They get there just as Tarenton performs, and of course they win the competition. Must have been the addition of Alex’s jungle moves. Michael brings Olivia flowers. Vanessa confronts Mary Ellen, who pulls out the list of names and says she knows Vanessa didn’t collect all the money by herself like she claimed. ME wants her money back because she saw the cheap vase in JC Penney, the IOU note, and a signed confession that Vanessa drugged her at the party. Vanessa has been beaten at her own game.
At the end of the book, Michael wins another cross-country meet and celebrates with Olivia, then Angie beats both Mary Ellen and Vanessa for homecoming queen. The end.
Other notes and quotes
- Rumor has it that Coach Engborg was once a drill sergeant in Vietnam – Mary Ellen wonders which side she was on.
- Mary Ellen imagines if she becomes a big star she could just shorten her name and be known as M.E. I already call her that, mostly because she’s incredibly selfish.
- One of Alex’s outfits is a blue top hat, black leather pants, and blue polka-dot shirt. That’s hot.
Sign of the Times
- “[Mary Ellen] WILL be a model – Brooke Shields, look out.”
- Nancy think Alex looks “like David Bowie’s cousin.”
- Pres’ father thinks male cheerleaders “eventually turned out like Boy George.”
- Mary Ellen says she’d rather stay home and read the Encyclopedia Britannica than go to Vanessa’s party.
- Alex is in a new wave band.
- Michael Jackson music is blaring from Vanessa’s party. Not that his music isn’t played in modern days. Then a Pat Benatar song starts to play next, then the Pretenders.
- The cheerleaders perform to Tony Basil’s “Mickey” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
- Other big 80s names get dropped – Elton John, Billy Idol. This is a music-heavy book.
- “This is better than Dallas and Dynasty put together,” Angie says about Vanessa’s scheming.
Author: Christopher Pike
Next time on Cheerleaders… Will Patrick make Mary Ellen choose between him and Pres? Read Cheerleaders #3, RUMORS.
(Yeah, “Rumors” has absolutely nothing to do with that storyline.)