The Nightmare Before and After Christmas (#24 – Going Strong)

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Analyzing the cover: The girls are easy enough to figure out – Jessica top left, Tara top right, Olivia center and Hope bottom right. But I’m not convinced those two guys are two different people.

Two months have passed since the previous book, and it is now a couple of weeks before Christmas. Olivia is still dating David Douglas Duffy and wondering what kind of hat she should get him for Christmas, since apparently he’s some kind of hat connoisseur. She has also finally gotten over her jealousy of Jessica, so she decides to ask Jessica for hat advice. This turns into a big squad discussion.

Sean and Tara are apparently crushing on each other, but Sean is hosting a Christmas party with Lisa Hutton to keep Tara on her toes. Jessica feels like Patrick is growing impatient with her resistance to having a committed relationship. Poor Patrick. Hope is going to be working at Langston’s, a department store, once Christmas break starts, and is still dating Peter.

The squad is practicing when they hear their coach arguing with a man named Judson Abbott in the hall outside the gym doors. As Sean describes him, “he’s got his finger in every political pie in Tarenton.” Sounds unsanitary. After the last basketball game before break, Coach Engborg breaks the news that the squad will be getting a seventh member named Robinson Ladd, a senior at Tarenton.

The squad freaks out about the new addition, but Coach doesn’t explain why he’s joining. Hope remembers that he tried out for the squad back in the spring and didn’t make the first cut. His father is a state senator, and according to Tara, he’s gorgeous.

Before their next practice, Coach Engborg gets everyone together and tells them that Judson Abbott, a young politician, has close ties to Rob’s father, Senator Ladd. He is a father figure of some kind to Rob, and told Coach that Rob was extremely disappointed when he didn’t make the squad. He asked Coach over and over to put Rob on the squad, and when she continued to resist, he changed tactics and said if she wanted the school to continue to have a varsity squad, it better include Robinson Ladd. Abbott is apparently also on the school board, and he hinted that if she didn’t go along with it, he’d use his pull at the school board to begin cutting funding for “fluff” activities like cheerleading. “Judson Abbott has me over a barrel,” Coach Engborg said. This all sounds ridiculous and highly unrealistic.

Rob shows up to practice and is terrible. “The only thing Rob had done successfully during that morning’s practice was clap his hands with the right timing.” On top of that, he doesn’t seem to care about how bad he is. David calls Olivia to ask if she found out the reason why Rob is joining the squad, but she deflects the question – Engborg said if she told anyone about his threat, Abbott promised he’d definitely get cheerleading funding cut. The last thing Olivia should probably do is tell her newspaper reporter boyfriend.

At the next practice, the squad has quite an audience in Pres, Patrick, David, and Judson Abbott. Rob is still a mess, crashing into Jessica, which starts a domino effect. “‘Not a bad pile-up, considering I wasn’t even trying for one,'” Rob joked. Nobody laughed.” The squad has to super-simplify their routines so that Rob can get through them. Even though he sucks and is basically holding the squad hostage, Tara still admires how cute he is. She discovered that Sean is hosting his party with Lisa, and is mad about that. Sean hates Rob, and he and Peter actually bond over their shared dislike of the guy.

Patrick asks Jessica to go ice skating, but since she’s already supposed to go with him to Sean’s party, she says no. Patrick asks if she even wants to be with him at all, and she says she does, but he doesn’t feel like that’s true. She says she doesn’t want to commit to anyone, and Patrick says maybe they shouldn’t go to the party together. He drops her off, fuming. “This relationship was turning out to be as bad as the one he’d had with Mary Ellen Kirkwood.”

At Sean’s party, Patrick sulks on the coach while Jessica flirts with two basketball players. Hope and Peter are fighting because she overheard him agreeing with her parents that her new job at Langston’s is taking up too much of her time. Then Tara shows up with Robinson Ladd. Tara says they just happened to arrive at the same time, but Sean is still pissed because several girls, including his co-host Lisa, are flocking to Rob and taking the attention off Sean. At his own party! Poor Seanie.

David keeps peppering Olivia with questions about Rob, and she gets tired of the interrogation. Walt shows up at her door, back in town to finish clearing out his parents’ house since they moved to NYC, and they go out for pizza with Angie, who’s home for Christmas, and plan to do other stuff together. When Olivia tells David that she can’t go out with him because she has plans with Walt, he looks hurt.

Rob tells the squad he’s having a party, and they’re all invited. Only Hope, who has to work, has an excuse to get out of it. Tara and Rob run into each other while out and about, so they go over to Freddy’s Diner for a burger. While there, Rob brings up how he thinks their routines would be better with 2 guys instead of 3. Tara’s like, yeah, that’s why we only had 2 guys before you forced yourself on us. But she doesn’t say that out loud. Sean comes in the diner and spots them together, then leaves with a dejected look on his face. Rob is triumphant. I have a feeling I know who he wants to eliminate.

Olivia, Walt, Pres, Patrick, and Angie are all hanging out like old times. Olivia finds that Walt is being extra friendly and she’s just going with it, because unlike David, Walt couldn’t care less about Rob or why he’s on the squad. She doesn’t feel the pressure of the “secret” with Walt.

After Christmas, the squad has to return to their horrible practices with Rob Ladd. Rob and Sean butt heads immediately, with Sean whining that their cheers are too simple and then asking why Judson Abbott is always lurking around. Abbott is there again, signaling for Coach Engborg to come and talk to him. While she’s gone, Sean and Robinson’s pompons hilariously get tangled, and they both tug so hard they fall on the ground. Engborg comes back and specifically scolds Sean, then says practice is over and she needs to talk to Olivia.

Coach Engborg shows Olivia a story written by David Duffy, with the headline “Mystery surrounds expansion of Tarenton HIgh varsity squad.” David wrote that there was no explanation for why the squad suddenly added a member, and the connection to politician Judson Abbott and his senator father made Duffy wonder if that was behind it. David also described Rob as “a lame horse trying to run with thoroughbreds.” Abbott told Coach Engborg that David was pestering him with pointed questions. “He told me, in so many words, to put a lid on David Duffy.” Engborg says practices are going to be closed to the public, including Duffy and Abbott, from now on.

The next time Olivia sees David, they argue again about him being too into the mystery of Rob Ladd. David claims the story has nothing to do with his relationship with Olivia, but considering it directly affects something she’s captain of, I’d beg to differ. It’s also probably a huge conflict of interest for him journalism-wise.

Jessica is walking home when Pres drives up beside her in his red Porsche and offers her a ride. He wants to know what’s the deal with her and Patrick. Since their fight, “Patrick’s the most miserable mover-garbage collector in the entire town of Tarenton,” Pres says. Jessica admits that if she wanted to get involved with anyone, it would be Patrick. After their next practice, Patrick decides to confront Jessica and offers her a ride home. He says he thinks she’s just scared, and she admits he’s right. He says he thinks she should get involved with him anyway. “Sometimes if you want something bad enough, you just have to take the chance.” Jessica kisses him and tells him she wants him.

Everyone shows up to Rob’s party, and they all want to leave after a half-hour. Hope shows up too, and tells Peter she got fired from work after refusing to take an extra shift for the fourth day in a row. She admits he was right that she shouldn’t have taken the job, and tells him that at least one good thing came of this – her parents love him for siding with them in the whole argument.

Rob goes over to Tara and points out how Sean doesn’t fit in at the party, then says he also doesn’t think Sean fits in with the squad. Tara isn’t sure if he’s serious or joking, probably because she can’t imagine someone being so delusional and self unaware. From then on she notices that every time Rob picks on Sean, it has an underhanded motive, and she doesn’t like it. Tara finds Sean and tells him Rob’s out to get him; she thinks Rob hopes if he pushes Sean’s buttons enough, he’ll quit the squad. They kiss and sneak out of the party.

David Duffy has the gall to show up to the party uninvited, looking for the senator to interview for his story, but he’s out of town.

The group meets to practice again, and Judson Abbott shows up in the doorway. Engborg says practices are closed, but he says he thought she might make an exception…. for the senator, Rob’s father. Sean insists to Coach Engborg that she let the senator stay and watch his son. “Let’s let Rob’s daddy see how bad his son is, Sean was silently saying.” When they’re done, the senator wants to speak to Rob in private. They come back a little while later and Rob says he’s quitting the squad, just like that.

Everyone celebrates afterward with pizza, and Olivia runs into David. They make up and make out. “It was as if nothing had changed, as if Rob Ladd had never slithered his way across their path.”

Other notes and quotes

  • “Jessica wasn’t ready to fall in love, she’d made that very clear. Love didn’t last. Patrick had been in love with Mary Ellen Kirkwood for three years, and that hadn’t lasted. Jessica’s father had died when she was ten, so that hadn’t lasted. Love was risky business as far as Jessica was concerned.”
  • “Sean figured he could a date too, but he just wasn’t in the mood. He’d have his hands full in the next two weeks, juggling parties and dates and girls’ feelings.”
  • “Rob didn’t look like a klutz doing situps. Too bad we can’t use them in one of our routines.”
  • Peter buys his mom a foot bath for Christmas, and Sean weirdly tells him it’s not “romantic.” So Peter goes and buys her earrings instead.

Sign of the Times

  1. Olivia uses her cassette recorder
  2. Tara brings a transistor radio for the squad to work out to

Book Deets
Author: Carol Ellis
Year: 1986
Pages: 284

Grade: C

Next time on Cheerleaders… When Sean gets involved with a girl from rival Garrison High, he discovers she’s out to steal more than just his heart. Read Cheerleaders #25, STEALING SECRETS.

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One thought on “The Nightmare Before and After Christmas (#24 – Going Strong)

  1. Pingback: Reunited and It Feels So Bad (#23 – Proving It) – We've Got Spirit

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