Analyzing the cover: Pres handing Tara a flower while Sean stands by looking mad. The hand on the hip is a dead giveaway.
“Ardith looked at her new squad and wanted to resign.” This is how we start our 22nd book. The squad seems lackluster despite the way they “pulled together” at the end of the last book (aptly called “Pulling Together”). Coach Engborg tells the squad that she wants them to make themselves stand out from last year’s squad, and therefore they are throwing out all the cheers they learned at camp and she wants each one of them to come up with a new routine. Engborg also says that from now on, rather than Olivia shouldering the burden of all the gymnastic stunts, she and Jessica will split them. Olivia feels rejected, even though Ardith was just trying to take some of the pressure off.
Pres pulls up to Tarenton High in search of Tara the next day. He notes that coming back to the high school so soon after graduation kind of makes him a loser. “Place a bouncy, desirable girl in front of him, and he had no willpower at all.” He heads into the gym, where the cheerleaders are showing each other their new routines they came up with. After they’re done, Engborg tells them she’s not going to use any one cheer they did, but is going to combine elements of all into one cheer. That sounds like a cluster. And don’t they need more cheers since she said they were trashing all the old ones?
After practice Pres uses his best cheesy lines on Tara and they flirt, as Sean discreetly watches while pretending to be focused on balancing a megaphone on his middle finger. Flipping off the competition? Sean had been planning on making a play for Tara because she’s the only girl on the squad who seems to have any interest in him. He thinks Pres is a loser for going after a high school girl, and he plans to make sure Pres doesn’t get Tara.
Olivia has been zoning out in classes and is already doing bad in school. Some girls behind her in Science make snide comments about how being a “rah-rah cheerleader” must not be easy, after Olivia gets berated by their teacher for not doing her homework.
Pres and Patrick go to watch the next cheerleading practice, and Jessica admires how hot Patrick is, wondering if he’s still in love with Mary Ellen now that ME left for NYC. Patrick is drawn to Jessica while they practice. “Long legs. Beautiful legs. Graceful legs. Patrick was a sucker for great legs.” Melon had only sent Patrick two postcards since leaving for New York. But Jessica was here… “The way she moved, it was like she thumbed her nose at gravity.” He is happy to see he’s capable of feeling attraction to someone other than Mary Ellen, and wonders what would happen if he asked Jessica for a date. Even if she said no, “Mary Ellen had gotten him really used to rejection.”
After the practice, Pres offers Tara a ride home, and Patrick asks Jessica for a date on Friday. He is a little nervous. “How many times had Mary Ellen given out positive vibes, only to turn around and symbolically slap him in the face by changing her mind?” Too many times, Patrick. Too many times. Jessica says yes and asks for a ride home. He worries what she’ll say about riding in the garbage truck, since Mary Ellen hated it so intensely, but Jessica doesn’t care at all.
We finally get confirmation that Hope is Asian. Last book described her as “exotic,” but this book out and out states it. WTH kind of statement is this, though: “Peter hadn’t had much exposure to Asians, and Hope and her family were as fully American as he was, but still, you couldn’t look at her face and forget her origins. He really liked that.” Peter offers Hope a ride home, but it doesn’t appear they are dating yet. Peter moves as slow as a glacier.
Sean calls Tara that night, determined to undermine Pres’ advances, and asks her out for Friday. She says yes, and as soon as they hang up, Pres calls. “I forgot to tell you where I was taking you Friday night,” he says, even though he hadn’t asked her out before. Tara is a bit surprised, and just says, “Oh? Where?” When Friday comes around, Tara pretends that she thought Sean meant next Friday, not this Friday, and tells him she already has plans for that night.
Peter finally asks Hope to go to a movie, and she couldn’t be more excited. She tells Jessica that it was taking him so long to make a move, she thought for a little while that he might be prejudiced because she’s Asian. Jessica tells Tara and Hope that she has a date with Patrick, and Tara remarks that she thought he was still hung up on Mary Ellen. “I’m not interested in a big romance,” Jessica says. “I like playing the field.” Olivia overhears and is worried for Patrick; if he’s more serious about Jessica, he might get his heart broken.
The first football game of the season is the next night, and it’s also the first game the squad is cheering at together. Tarenton wins, and all of the cheerleaders are super excited except Olivia, who is SUCH a buzzkill. Jessica comes over to her with Patrick and asks if she’s going to go out and celebrate with them. “It caught at Olivia’s heart. How many times had she seen Patrick’s arm draped over Mary Ellen?” Get over it, Olivia! You’re too young to be hung up on the past. Surprisingly Olivia says she’ll go with them, but when Pres comes over too, it only reminds Olivia of all the people missing. She says never mind, she has something to do. And she’s the captain of this group. “She missed Angie, Nancy, and Walt. Even Mary Ellen.” I don’t miss Mary Ellen. Or Walt. Olivia feels like Pres and Patrick are being traitorous to the old group by hanging out with all the new members.
On her way to the locker room, Coach Engborg says she wants to have a meeting with Olivia after she’s changed clothes. Coach tells Olivia she understands missing the old squad, but Olivia needs to move on and be a real leader to the new squad.
The rest of the group squeezes into a booth at the Pizza Palace, and it comes up that Tara is going out with Sean the following Friday. Sean and Pres start sniping at each other, and Tara enjoys being fought over. Pres tells Tara he’ll pick her up at seven on Saturday.
Sean sees Tara with Pres all week and is determined to outdo Pres on his date with Tara at Chez Marcel. When he picks her up he kisses her right away, trying to put the thought of Pres out of her mind. Meanwhile Patrick had asked Jessica out again for Friday night, but she had said no, and he didn’t know why. Jessica is in fact at home alone, and turned Patrick down because it was starting to worry her how seriously he was taking their relationship. She didn’t do romance – “Permanent relationships just weren’t – eventually the guy took off. Or died.”
At the football game the next night, Patrick smiles at Jessica from the stands, and she thinks he must not have cared that much about her rejection. She’s not relieved about that like she thought she would be, though. Tarenton’s team gets destroyed by the opposition, and Tara and Pres are so depressed out it, they decide to cancel their date. Sean sees the opportunity to move in and console Tara on the team bus ride home. Sean tells her they should go somewhere and put their heads together to come up with some great cheers that will revitalize the football team when they play their biggest rival, Garrison. Tara, Miss School Spirit, readily agrees.
Tara tells Sean at the Pancake House that they should hold an emergency pep rally. She secretly hopes that her initiative could end up winning her the title of captain, since Olivia sucks so much at the job. Pres is driving by the Pancake House when he sees Sean’s car in the lot. Then he sees Tara and Sean walking out the door, so he pulls in the lot right in front of them. Sean tries to put his arm around Tara’s waist, but she steps away from him and explains to Pres that they were just having an idea session. Pres doesn’t really care as long as he still feels secure that Tara wants him and he’s in the “driver’s seat” of the relationship. Sean is mad.
At the pep rally engineered by Tara, Angie Poletti drops in to watch and sits with Pres and Patrick. She’s home for the weekend from college. Angie notices right away that something’s off about Olivia. She goes down to the locker room after the pep rally, and Olivia’s emotional response to seeing her old friend surprises Tara, Hope, and Jessica, who were only seeing her negative robot side. When the others leave, Angie interrogates Olivia about what’s bothering her. Olivia grows kind of cold and tells Angie she needs some time to think alone.
Olivia, not listening to anything anyone has told her, decides that she’s going to call for the squad to do all their most strenuous routines at the game, so that she can have an unspoken competition with Jessica to see who has the most stamina, since they are the two gymnasts. So dumb.
At the game, Pres blows Tara a kiss, which Sean sees and is annoyed by. The novelty of being fought over was wearing off for Tara, and she was actually getting bored. Sean starts trying to show off for Tara, and when one of Olivia’s prescribed difficult routines is called, he ends up not catching Jessica like he’s supposed to. She isn’t hurt and is able to recover so the crowd didn’t notice. Olivia notices that Jessica and Sean are out of place and if they go onto the next part of the routine, Jessica could run into a bench and be hurt. Olivia feels guilty and flips over to Jessica to warn her about the bench. Then the squad goes into their next move. At halftime Jessica thanks Olivia, and Olivia says the squad always comes first, and from now on, it always will with her.
Olivia still feels the need to warn Patrick that she heard Jessica saying she wasn’t serious about getting into a relationship. “I’d hate for you to end up in another dead-end relationship,” Olivia says, referencing Mary Ellen. Patrick says thanks for caring, but he’ll be okay.
Tara tells Sean to stop showing off before he hurts someone, then tells him she doesn’t want to be tied down with anyone and has a date with Rex, a football player. “So you’re both free as little birds to find someone else.” Tara deep down feels if she lets anyone get close, the guy will see that she’s not really all that special. But she feels proud of herself for probably saving Jessica from certain injury. “I’m not half bad, Tara thought, smiling.” Sean isn’t too broken up about it. He runs over to tell Pres that they’ve been dumped, but he won’t have any problem filling her place. “Let me know if you need any help. I’ve got an awesome little black book.”
Other notes and quotes
- As Ardith surveys her squad, she refers to Sean as Sean the King of Hunkdom and thinks he makes Pres look like an angel.
Sign of the Times
- The squad practices to Bruce Springsteen music
- Peter listens to the new Starship tune on his Sony Walkman
- Jessica worries her stepfather will criticize her outfit (which includes a white blazer) by saying, “You look like you’re going on a stakeout with Sonny Crockett. What is this, Miami Vice?”
- For her date with Sean, Tara wears a “stylish, oversized flowered jacket with dropped padded shoulders.”
- The squad does a “Beat It” cheer based on the Michael Jackson song.
Author: Ann E. Steinke
Next time on Cheerleaders… What do the cheerleaders have against Olivia’s new boyfriend? Read Cheerleaders #23, PROVING IT.