Leader of the Pack (#34 – Coming Back)

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Analyzing the cover: “Mary Ellen is back.” Back? When did she ever leave? She’s been mentioned in every godforsaken book of this series. Sweet sweatsuit she’s got on. You know ME, if she were a real person, would have had those hideous velour tracksuits in every color in the mid-2000s.

When Olivia is late for practice thanks to her annoying boyfriend David Duffy, Coach Engborg decides to fill in her spot in the routine. When attempting a cart-wheel, Coach collapses on the ground in pain. The following exchange takes place:
Tara: “Someone call an ambulance. Then we have to do CPR. I saw it on TV once. I think it was on a rerun of ‘Benson.'”
Peter: “That was the Heimlich Maneuver.”
Coach: “It’s a good thing I don’t need CPR.”
The problem is Coach’s knee, which she had an operation on in an earlier book when that loser came in as a substitute and almost burned the school down. She fears she’s messed it up again. Sean is getting a wheelchair so he can roll her to a vehicle and drive her to the hospital when Olivia finally shows up and sees what happened. Of course her first thought is all about herself – “This is all my fault!!”

Tara is giving Hope driving lessons as she prepares to try and get her license. A previous driving instructor insisted Hope was ready to take the test, but she is still scared. When they’re driving by the lake in Tara’s car, Hope spots a dirty puppy and pulls over to put him in the car. Then the car refuses to start, so Hope flags down a passing motorcyclist. It’s Tony Pell, who Tara moans is known as “Tough Tony” and got kicked out of school for supposedly stealing a car. Hope thinks he’s cute. “Cute but dangerous,” Tara says. Tony looks at the car and within a minute has it running again. They talk about the puppy, and Hope says she can’t bring it home because her mom is allergic to dogs. Tara snipes that she can’t take it home either because her mom would kill her if it got on the white couch. Tony says he could keep it for a few days until they decide what to do with it. After he leaves with the dog, Tara again tries to warn Hope about him. But like me, the sight of a guy with a puppy has Hope with hearts for eyes.

Olivia is called to the principal’s office where a handwritten letter from Coach Engborg awaits. Coach says she has to have an operation again, “the same operation they do for professional football players,” and that she had already been planning to hire an assistant, so that assistant will have to take the full job on while she recovers. Olivia looks and sees Mary Ellen Kirkwood Tilford III waiting in the office. This is Mary Ellen’s fourth new life plan since she graduated high school. Olivia is thrilled that Mary Ellen will be their new assistant coach and promises they will treat her just like she’s a real coach.

When Olivia tells the squad the news, they are not as thrilled as she is. Jessica feels slightly uncomfortable that her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend is going to be her coach. Tara is just annoyed. “Mary Ellen was Tarenton’s Cinderella. Everyone loves Cinderella, but that’s because in the story she goes off with the prince and lives happily every after. She doesn’t hang around, reminding everyone that they’ll never be quite as perfect as she is.” Sean thinks it will be hard to view Mary Ellen as an authority figure.

Tara tells everyone about her and Hope’s run-in with Tough Tony. Peter says that Tony was accused of stealing a car when they cops found the initials TP scratched into the engine block. He dropped out of school and lives in a rundown farmhouse with wrecked cars out in front of it. Jessica said all the Pell boys were troublemakers. Hope yells at them all for being so judgmental. “You all expected him to turn out badly, and now you almost seem happy that he lived up to your expectations.”

Hope is getting her hair cut at the mall when Tony comes by and taps on the window of the shop. The hairstylist says she hates when hoods come around, and Hope hotly defends him and runs out to talk to him. She rides on his motorcycle to go see the puppy, which he has apparently named Muttsy. Hope put an ad in the paper about the lost dog, but has not heard anything back. Tony takes her to the garage where he works, which is where he is keeping Muttsy. Tony has washed the puppy and taken it to the vet (I’m again melting along with Hope). Tony tells Hope that he didn’t know the car he was accused of stealing was stolen. He had modified it for drag racing and put his initials on it like an artist signing his work. He’d never have done that if he knew it was stolen. He says the charges were dismissed against him, but public opinion had already convicted him at Tarenton. As a result, he decided not go to go back and transferred to another school.

The whole squad, along with their significant others, are at the Pizza Palace when Hope and Tony walk in together. Tony doesn’t want to sit with her friends after seeing the shocked expressions on their faces, but Hope tells him to give them a chance. Then Diana Tucker’s voice rises above the crowd, saying, “Hope Chang is really slumming.” Tony tells Diana to leave Hope out of it, and then Diana’s boyfriend Bill Hadley gets all in Tony’s face. Sean and Peter break it up, and Hope and Tony leave.
Diana: “They shouldn’t let troublemakers like him come in here.”
Peter: “If they didn’t, you would be eating your pizza in the parking lot.”

Sean wants Kate to come over, but she says her parents don’t like her to spend too much time at his house since his bachelor father is always out and about. Sean is offended and Kate says she’s on his side but can’t disobey her parents. Sean gets home and their house is a mess because their housekeeper, Windy, is on vacation visiting her sister. Sean cleans up, then takes a call from his father’s secretary/girlfriend Marge, who is wondering where his dad is. Sean doesn’t know and is a little tired of his dad being so unpredictable. He tells him so when his dad gets home, and his dad grouses that Sean must be getting too serious with Kate because he’s turning into a domesticated nag.

Olivia claimed she would respect Mary Ellen as a coach, but the very first change Mary Ellen wants to make has Olivia up in arms. When Mary Ellen says they can’t do a particular pyramid because Coach Engborg doesn’t want them doing it without her there, Olivia has a conniption. “Mary Ellen you can’t do this to us!” Mary Ellen tersely tells her those are the coach’s orders and if she has a problem she can take it up with the principal. She also tells Olivia not to call her Melon at school.

Mary Ellen asks Olivia why she hasn’t gone to visit Coach Engborg in the hospital. It’s because Olivia feels responsible for her accident. Mary Ellen says Engborg has an idea to hold tryouts for cheerleader alternates who would fill in when one of the regular members is sick or has to drop out. Olivia doesn’t like that idea because it would give Diana an in to the squad.

Jessica and Patrick go over to Mary Ellen and Pres’ to watch a movie version of “Romeo and Juliet.” When Jessica declares that she would never get married as a teenager or want to kill herself over some guy, the Tilfords give her that annoying “Oh, you think that now but you’ll change your mind” spiel (about young marriage, not suicide). Jessica rightfully tells them that just because they got married young doesn’t mean she’s going to want to any time soon, and that she’s not a child compared to them. That night she has a nightmare about getting married to Patrick with Pres and Mary Ellen as best man and maid of honor.

Sean thinks if his dad gets remarried then Kate will be allowed to come to his house, so he decides to try and push his dad and Marge toward matrimony by making them a romantic dinner on his dad’s birthday. He tells Marge about it and that it’s going to be a surprise.

Various rumors are going around school, varying from Tony attacking Diana at the Pizza Palace to Diana catching Tony and Hope breaking into cars and them beating her up to make her stay silent. Olivia tells Hope it would be better for the sterling reputation of the squad if Hope stopped seeing Tony, but Hope does not appreciate that suggestion. She accuses Olivia of being the reason Coach Engborg got hurt and of being jealous of Mary Ellen. Everyone sees Tony pick Hope up from school on his motorcycle, and they ride around, going to his garage and getting something to eat. Hope says she’ll go to his next drag race if he agrees to try and get along with her squadmates.

Diana and Hope argue in the hallway about Tony, and when Hope turns to go, her backpack bumps Diana, so Diana shoves her. They have to go to the principal’s office, and they get detention. Hope feels like a common criminal.

Sean is having trouble cooking for the surprise birthday dinner he has planned. His father finds him in the kitchen, still unaware what’s going on, and blames Kate again. “She doesn’t bother to fix herself up cute. She contradicts every word you say. Now she’s got you in the kitchen.” Kate shows up with cake, and then Marge arrives. Sean serves them dry meatloaf, sticky rice, and frozen vegetables. But at least he tried. Marge confides in Sean that she’s not looking to get serious with anyone, and she and his dad have worked that out. Sean doesn’t know what that means.

The only cheerleader Mary Ellen feels comfortable with right now is Jessica. When she suggests that they double date after the game, Jessica says okay even though she knows that there’s a dance at the church social hall only for high school students and their dates, so Pres and Mary Ellen wouldn’t be able to get in. Jessica tells the squad about how Patrick and Pres are going to be helping move some expensive antiques from an estate sale on Saturday, and Mary Ellen says that was supposed to be a secret because the antiques are so valuable. Jessica says the squad won’t tell anyone.

At the basketball game, Hope leaves the court floor to go talk to Tony by the door. Olivia stalks over to go get her, so when Tarenton scores a point, Mary Ellen lets her instinct get to her and grabs a megaphone to fill in. Jessica yanks it out of her hand. “Why do you have to be so greedy? You had your year to be the sweetheart of Tarenton High. You had Patrick wrapped around your little finger and you didn’t even want him. Now you have Pres. Why can’t you stand back and give the rest of us a chance?” Later as they go to the dance, Patrick asks Jessica if she’s being too hard on Mary Ellen. Jessica admits she’s still jealous of Mary Ellen, not just because of Patrick but because she seems perfect. Patrick tells Jessica she needs to “follow her own star.”

At the venue of the illegal road race, Hope overhears two guys talking about stealing a truck full of antiques. Hope tells Tony she wants to leave, so he drops out of the race and they go to the dance. While there, Hope remembers what Jessica said about Patrick moving items from an estate sale and realizes that must be who those guys are planning to hijack. Tony says she can’t tell police because how will she explain being at the illegal race?

Olivia finally goes to visit Coach Engborg, who tells her to take it easy on Mary Ellen. She had to give up her dreams of being a model in NYC, so she is far from perfect and not where she thought she’d be. Olivia promises to try.

The squad gets together to do a cheerleading clinic at the sports center where Kate and Sean volunteer, but Hope doesn’t show up. Afterward they go looking for her and are passed by a speeding police car with its sirens wailing. They decide to follow it and find several police cars, including two unmarked vehicles, surrounding Patrick’s moving van. Hope and Tony are sitting in the backseat of one of the unmarked cars, and then two guys in handcuffs are led to another police vehicle. One of the arrested guys yells that they won’t forget that Tony did this. Yeah, maybe he shouldn’t have been there for them to see who snitched? Not very smart.

Hope and Tony explain that Tony went to the police first and claimed he had overheard the story so that Hope wouldn’t have to. Then the police worked with Pres and Patrick to set up a trap for the thieves. Patrick offers Tony a job with the moving company, and Tony decides to keep Muttsy. The only bad thing is Hope isn’t sure if she really likes Tony or if she was just being rebellious. She tells Tony she needs time to figure it all out, and he says he won’t give up on her.

Other notes and quotes

  • Duffy says he didn’t help Sean and Peter break up the argument between Tony and Bill because it’s against his religion to pick a fight – he’s a pacifist. Hardy har har.
  • Sean worries what his dad will do when he goes off to college, and if their housekeeper Windy ends up retiring or moving away. I’m thinking he’d hire a new housekeeper? Just a guess.
  • While sitting in class someone hums the tune to “Leader of the Pack” at Hope, which I think is AWESOME. I would so claim that song.

Sign of the Times

  1. Tara mentions the show “Benson,” which I’d never heard of but apparently had a respectable run on television from 1979-1986.
  2. Tony tells Hope “We’re the only Pells in the book.” That would be the telephone book.
  3. Sean asks if Mary Lou Retton is their new coach.
  4. Diana wears a long turtleneck and then belts it at the waist so it resembles a very short dress, saying that it’s the latest fashion.
  5. Sean asks Kate to come over and listen to some tapes and thinks about how his dad likes to listen to Cyndi Lauper records.
  6. Tara wants the squad to dress like Liza Minnelli in “Cabaret” and sings the theme song in the locker room.
  7. Hope compares how everyone stops and stares at her and Tony coming into the dance to the E.F. Hutton commercials where everyone freezes at the mention of the name E.F. Hutton.

Book Deets
Author: Lisa Norby
Year: 1987
Pages: 155

Grade: B

Next time on Cheerleaders… What happens when a new cheerleader joins the squad? Read Cheerleaders #35, MOVING UP.

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One thought on “Leader of the Pack (#34 – Coming Back)

  1. Pingback: Drama Queen (#33 – Saying No) – We've Got Spirit

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