Mary Ellen Sucks at Everything (#35 – Moving Up)

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Analyzing the cover: Jessica on crutches, Tara showing her off like she’s responsible for the damage and proud.

My alternate title has nothing to do with the main plot of this edition, but rather is about how Mary Ellen fails at yet another thing in this book for a really dumb reason.

Olivia calls for the squad to do a routine they haven’t practiced in weeks, and as a result Jessica falls and hurts her foot during a game. Patrick takes Jessica to the doctor, who says she will need to stay off her foot for 10 days. Coach Engborg begins formulating a plan to decide on an alternate cheerleader who can fill in during scenarios such as this. The squad plus a suspiciously nice Diana Tucker visit Jessica at her house to make sure she’s okay. Secretly Diana is glad Jessica got hurt, as she is hoping to get on the squad herself.

Hope is still seeing Tough Tony Pell, to Peter’s dismay. He’s not still heartbroken over her but doesn’t know what she sees in Tony. Peter was in fact part of the reason Jessica fell, because he was distracted by Hope smiling at Tony.

The Tarenton High Varsity-Alumni game is coming up, and the current squad will be cheering for alumni, while alumni cheerleaders will cheer for the varsity team. Coach Engborg is going to ask Mary Ellen to coach the alumni cheerleaders for the game, even though Mary Ellen has accepted a cheerleading coach job at Tarenton’s bitter rival, Garrison High.

Mary Ellen is having a tough time at Garrison, where people look at her suspiciously when she tells them she was captain of Tarenton’s cheerleading squad just last year. “There were days when she thought she should wear a sign across her back reading I AM NOT A SPY FOR TARENTON.” Even when she goes to coach the cheerleaders, they tell her they feel weird about her close ties to their rival. One of the guys points out that he “cheered against” Mary Ellen last year.

Diana is busy sucking up to everyone on the squad as she tries to secure her place as the alternate. Meanwhile we are introduced to Melissa Brezneski, a student who gains Jessica’s admiration for a speech she gives in history class and Hope’s admiration as she watches her practice ballet. Diana also notices Melissa, dismissing her as a “total mouse.”

Coach Engborg informs the squad of her plans to find an alternate cheerleader, and she has decided a panel of three – herself, Pres Tilford, and teacher Nick Stewart – will judge the people trying out. She intends to ask Diana to try out, even though the girl has proven herself to be a psychopathic nutjob over and over again. Once the new alternate member is picked, he or she will be introduced at the Varsity-Alumni game.

Since Hope has already seen Melissa practicing ballet, she brings Sean to Bodyworks where Melissa dances and tells Sean that Melissa would be the perfect person to be their new cheerleader, and the one with the best chance to beat out Diana. Hope invites Melissa to a pizza party at her house the next day. Melissa is taken aback since Hope seemingly never talks to her, but says she will be there. Hope tells Sean this is where they will convince Melissa to try out. Sean is skeptical, as Melissa is really timid and shy and doesn’t seem to have the charisma one needs to be a cheerleader.

Diana overhears someone talking about how the squad was trying to convince her sister to try out for the alternate spot – it’s Melissa’s sister, Molly, bragging to her friends in the lunch line.

Melissa doesn’t immediately go for the idea when the squad accosts her at the pizza party. So they try the stalking approach by being everywhere she goes at school, and then Peter and Sean show up to her house with Kate, Sean’s girlfriend, and ask her to come to the Tarenton-Garrison game with them and keep Kate company in the bleachers. They guilt trip her about it in front of her mom; “If you say no Kate [won’t go]; I’ll be so depressed I’ll mess up my cheers; the fans will notice, lose their spirit; and upset the basketball team; and we’ll lose,” Sean says. Melissa agrees to go.

At the game, Melissa is approaching the bathroom when she hears Diana talking bad about Kate, “that dishrag,” and how she could get Sean if she wanted him. Then she talks about how the squad was trying to get Melissa to try out for cheerleading. “Melissa’s a total loser, a mouse. The only time she talks is when she’s proving how smart she is in class.” That lights a fire in Melissa, who up to that moment had still not intended to try out.

Melissa tells the squad she changed her mind, and lets them know that Diana is aware they had asked her to try out. They decide to spread a rumor that Melissa turned them down, and to excuse any potential sightings of Melissa with the cheerleaders, she and Peter will pretend to be dating.

The Garrison cheerleaders are mad about losing to Tarenton, and they blame Mary Ellen for making them do boring, old cheers. Mary Ellen commands them to run laps for being disrespectful to her, and that just makes everyone even more unhappy. Later, the squad apparently talks to Pres about how hard this has been for ME, and they apologize to her. But Mary Ellen still questions if this is the right job for her, especially as she has so much more fun coaching the alumni cheerleaders for the Varsity-Alumni game. Nancy Goldstein has come back into town to cheer at the game and to see Nick Stewart, who she hooked up with last time she was in town.

Mary Ellen eventually decides Garrison isn’t going to work out for her. Apparently the job offer was just temporary, and she tells the Garrison squad that after her time is up, she is not going to pursue an extension. She really just can’t bear seeing her arch rival squad be GOOD. It’s as dumb as that.

The group works for hours with Melissa, teaching her cheers and moves. Peter asks her to a dance, and while Melissa would be interested in him, she thinks he’s just trying to keep up the charade so that Diana doesn’t catch on. The girls run into Diana and try to make her believe Melissa turned them down. Secretly they are trying to think of ways to beautify Melissa for her tryouts, like fixing her hair differently and giving her makeup. They all go to the dance, and to Melissa’s surprise, Peter kisses her when he brings her home.

Diana has figured out that Melissa really is trying out for cheerleading, and she sneaks into Bodyworks where she finds Jessica watching Melissa practice. To Diana’s dismay, Melissa is much better than she would have expected. She goes to Coach Engborg to tattle on the squad for secretly coaching a candidate, but Engborg says she doesn’t have a problem with it. Somehow Engborg thinks that makes the competition more even. I’m afraid I have to side with Diana here when I say, um, no.

Melissa gets a makeover at the encouragement of the girls, even cutting her hair, and everyone thinks she looks great. She shows up to tryouts and Diana immediately tries to sabotage her, telling her that Sean bet Peter he could turn a plain girl into a cheerleader. Melissa is really upset and asks Sean if this is true, and he says they jokingly bet each other, but they had already wanted her to try out before that. They try to convince her that she just needs to go out there and beat Diana Tucker.

Three participants including Diana walk out to the gym floor, none of them Melissa. After a few highly suspense-filled paragraphs, Melissa runs out to the floor looking determined. They do their cheers and then Coach Engborg announces the judges have selected Melissa. Diana flips out and calls the whole process pathetic. The squad is thrilled about the victory, but Melissa is still mad about the whole alleged bet thing, and everyone is blaming Sean. “Melissa’s furious and Diana will probably burn all our houses down,” Jessica says.

They go on another crusade of being overly nice to Melissa and trying to make her like them again. Sean tries to explain his bet: “I bet Peter you’d make it because you’re so talented. I bet on a sure thing.” Melissa forgives him and they introduce her at the varsity game as their new alternate cheerleader.

Other notes and quotes

  • Continuity error – In this book Garrison has 6 cheerleaders – 3 boys and 3 girls, In an earlier book, presumably the same school year since it involved Sean falling for a Garrison cheerleader, Garrison had 12 female cheerleaders.

Sign of the Times

  1. Tony tells Hope she’s probably the only kid in Tarenton who doesn’t like New Wave.
  2. Melissa practices ballet in leg warmers and a black leotard.
  3. Melissa listens to her Whitney Houston tape as she ponders what to do about cheerleading.

Book Deets
Author: Leslie Davis
Year: 1987
Pages: 171

Grade: B

Next time on Cheerleaders… Sometimes the right guy is the one who has been there all along… even if he does belong to someone else! Read Cheerleaders #36, CHANGING LOVES.


One thought on “Mary Ellen Sucks at Everything (#35 – Moving Up)

  1. Pingback: Leader of the Pack (#34 – Coming Back) – We've Got Spirit

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