the cheerleaderWhat’s It All About? 

All Althea (yes ALTHEA) has ever wanted is to be popular so when a vampire living in the tower room of her home offers her a deal – victims for popularity – she jumps at the offer. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Althea’s on the cheerleading squad but soon finds she’s made a deal with more clauses than a Wonga pay-day loan.

The Girl

Althea is a troubled soul. Turns out I remembered Althea all wrong; my teen brain remembered her as being a She’s All That Laney Boggs style character who whips off her glasses and lets down her ponytail to reveal she was a supermodel the whole time, but she’s actually a lot more complicated than that. There’s no post-vampire makeover scene. She’s described as follows:

Althea was a gentle girl. She had sweet features and a demure posture. When she spoke, people quieted to hear her distinctive, whispery tremor.

The character rings true for the most part. Popular at first school, Althea has fallen through the cracks at high school and lacks the confidence to make friends. She is easily manipulated by the vampire but is more than aware of her actions. The bulk of the novel describes her inner turmoil – the thrill of her new popularity mixed with guilt of bringing the vampire his prey.

'Ryan'The Love Interest

Once popular, Althea catches the eye of two young men, muscle bound joker Ryan and sophisticated Michael. Ryan evolves from oath to sweetheart pretty quickly. That said, his opening gambit to the newly popular Althea features some very thinly veiled entendre describing his knob: ‘My telescope, Becky,’ said Ryan, although he was facing Althea, ‘is not a toy. Although I am sure Althea and I can think of plenty of games to play.’ He winked at Althea.

Well it’s a good thing he’s fit – this month he gets Heartthrob hunk DAVID, obviously. Michael, THE MOST POPULAR GUY IN SCHOOL, while marginally less sleazy (‘I always have my telescope,’ he yelled, brandishing it) perhaps fails to live up to the hype.

Dialogue Disasters

Now here’s the thing with The Cheerleader. It’s beautifully written. First time round, I could NOT get on board with Cooney’s offerings. They were weird; they didn’t make sense; they were often dream-like and lacked obvious resolution. This was true of PERFUME, FREEZE TAG and TWINS. The Cheerleader is no different but I now appreciate the quality of the writing – it’s poetic and beautiful.

However, I think the reason I was unable to enjoy Cooney’s work at the time is that they lack the sparky dialogue of Stine’s books. In fact, there is precious little dialogue AT ALL. The popular kids get the best of the dialogue – Ryan, Becky and Kimmie-Jo (‘who clapped her hands, a rather more frequent activity for Kimmie-Jo than for most’ ) get the best lines.

There are a couple of zingers:

Mrs Roundman continues the Point Horror tradition of teachers who say all the wrong things: ‘Celeste you are upsetting everybody. That’s very thoughtless of you. You’ve surrendered your place on the squad, which in my opinion was the action of a quitter. So quit. Go. Leave. Now.’ WAY HARSH, TAI.

And Michael’s girlfriend Constance is particularly odd: ‘The tips of the hemlocks are waving at me,’ said Constance.  Michael said, ‘Constance, you’re not usually so poetic.’ There’s a poem I can live without.

Body Count: 0 (disappointing – the vampire simply drains the popularity from his victims. The blood on the Shoreditch cover Reeboks is hugely misleading).

Is it scary?

The vampire is fantastically realised and hugely eerie. His skin had darkened in patches, like fruit going bad. If she touched it, the skin would feel like a sponge. The fingernails seemed detached. She could pluck them, harvest them, fill a basket with old vampire nails. Not so sexy anymore, eh, Twilight fans. No twinkling here, the unnamed ghostly entity has a terrifying hold over Althea. He could be a metaphor for addiction or temptation – he makes it very hard for Althea to refuse.

Did the best friend do it? This one is a rare example of a not-whodunnit. Another reason why I wasn’t so keen as a teen.

Is it good? 

It may be TOO good and therein lies the problem. Deviating from the Point Horror Author’s Manual, a poetic, metaphorical fable about the price of popularity was certainly lost on me as an eleven year old. As an adult however, it’s far and away the best written episode we’ve studied so far. It’s maybe a bit humourless too – the vampire steers pretty close to Regina George territory at times, swinging from Bram Stokerville into GURL PLEASE-like dialogue. I wonder if the vampire would have been better picking one voice or the other. That said, I really do want to read RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, so something’s working.

CemeteryOver to you:

1. Did the vampire’s victims have it coming? How did Celeste and Jennie wrong Althea?

2. Where the fuck are Althea’s parents?

3. Ryan or Michael?

4. Why is the vampire living in window shutters? What is the relevance of the shutters?

5. Who would win in a fight between Althea’s vampire and Edward Cullen?

 

Next month things get even weirder in THE CEMETERY by DE ATHKINS.

13 thoughts on “PHBC4: The Cheerleader by Caroline B Cooney

  • August 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm
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    I could not find my ‘bloody’ copy of this book anywhere but I remember really loving this one, its funny though as I seemed to remember it in the same way you did with Althea having some kind of make-over and being made beautiful. How odd. I definitely have The Cemetery in a handy place to get to though so hopefully I can participate in next months club properly.

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  • August 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm
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    Well, let it be known that I was genuinely bowled over by The Cheerleader. Like you, I remember being pretty nonplussed the first time round, but Cooney’s contributions to the Point Horror oeuvre (always humourless, always supernatural, always crack-a-lack-a batshit) are the ones that have stuck in my mind more than any others. Freeze Tag, The Perfume, The Stranger… they were all fifty percent haunting weirdness and fifty percent sheer what-the-hell-is-happening frustration. But that’s what I like about Caz-Coo: she marches to the beat of her own drum. She’s not afraid to go off-piste. Frankly, she’s cornered the market in out-and-out what-the-fuckery.

    Anyway, let’s get something clear from the get-go: Althea. Is. Nuts. A proper hands down certifiable wacko. Like, cutting-letters-out-of-newspapers-to-make-stalker-notes, writing-poetry-in-her-own-faeces, chatting-to-Jesus-through-the-telly levels of crazy. If she wasn’t running round feeding her rivals to vampires, she’d be offing them by more traditional means. The girl screams serial killer. In fact, she probably murdered her non-existent parents. (All of which at least makes her INTERESTING. Martha Trick-or-Treat, I’m looking at you).

    Spending the duration of the novel inside the mind of a sociopath aside, it’s hard to snark about The Cheerleader because I genuinely loved it. It’ll divide opinion like a vampire dividing popular girls from their ability to stay awake (simile needs work), but I’m firmly in the pro camp. It’s super-eerie, the vampire – all spongy skin and tin-foil fingernails – is HORRIBLE, and the whole thing urinates from a great height over more modern teen vampire fare. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say its main problem is that it’s (whisper it) just a bit too good for its own good.

    One question: Did the bit where Ryan danced in the driveway actually happen or was I experiencing some kind of Cooney fever dream? Either way, I can’t really blame Althea for fixating on him. Even before he started waving his telescope around, I was a bit besotted. So yeah, deffo him over Michael the mannequin.

    As I recall, sequel The Return of the Vampire was basically the same book, with third installment The Vampire’s Promise going in a different direction entirely (I recall something about a second vampire who lives under the floorboards, but I could be making it up). One thing’s for sure: I won’t be stopping at book one.

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    • August 14, 2013 at 7:19 am
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      “Caz-Coo”. EXCELLENT. I’ve been told we need to dig out her short story WHERE THE DEERS ARE too.

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  • August 13, 2013 at 8:56 pm
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    I felt like this one had no beginning, like the opening chapters had been torn out. I think I was almost halfway through when I gave up my assumption that there would be a, ‘so this is where I am now, and this is how it all began…’ shift to a proper beginning. We’re dumped into a story that had already begun. I get how it was a poetic, philosophical-ish view of popularity and sacrifice, but it’s Point Horror… I don’t think a little more background or explanation is too much to ask.

    There’s too much premise and not enough story. It seems more what the vampire looked like than I did about any of the characters’, well, characters. I was reading these books when I was ten; if I had come across this one back then, it would quite possibly have been my last.

    1. Nobody had it coming. I took the ruthlessness as a reflection on the shallow nature of such popularity. People are picked up and people are dropped, just as Althea was. I don’t understand why it was necessary for Celeste and Jennie to be quite so physically affected by the vamp, but perhaps this is a caricature of how Althea had previously seen her quiet, lonely self.

    2. Lord knows. If the parents were there, they obviously didn’t give a shit that Althea hosted a party that appeared to happen in every single room of their house (except the tower, obviously).

    3. Ryan. Tossers, the both of them, but Michael already had Constance. Either one of them would have just been a trophy anyway.

    4. The scene where she tries to close the shutters had an irritating, pseudo-symbolic vibe, but I never grasped what the idea of the shutters was trying to say. Maybe it is as simple as Althea opening the shutters representing her opening the shutters of her (eurgh, am I really about to say ‘soul’?) soul and letting the vampire in, and then struggling to shut him out again, but I want to think there’s more to it than that.

    5. I’ve never seen or read Twilight so I couldn’t possibly comment. I would imagine Edward though because he looks like Rob Pattinson and, as far as I could gather, Althea’s vampire looks like a mouldy old bowl of fruit with a cape.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 8:39 am
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    Yes, I think it appears in one of the Point Horror ’13 tales’ collections (along with Christopher Pike mind-fuck, Collect Call)

    Do you know what I think was most effed-up about The Cheerleader? The fact that Althea’s climactic surge of conscience didn’t restore (as far as we know) Jennie or Celeste to their former selves. Presumably, they’re still languishing in some perpetual semiconscious state, flunking school and being ignored. Nice one, Althea, you raging psycho.

    (Mouldy-fruit vampire has made my day, btw)

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  • August 14, 2013 at 12:17 pm
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    If I had a grotty pear and a bit of fabric, I would totally be mocking that up right now.

    Is it wrong, that much like Heathers, I really wanted Althea to keep going to see what happened?

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  • August 15, 2013 at 4:18 pm
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    Did anyone else find it strangely ironic , that if Althea had just kept being nice and friendly to Celeste she might have made a friend …
    I read this book as a teen and i remember liking it, this time around i could read it and see more depth to it.

    the collecting nails in a basket thing was nauseating! i suppose toe nails would have been worse.

    1) i think jenny has some blame in this i don’t think she deserved what she got, but equally if you fall out over one date with a perspective boyfriend you don’t have a solid friendship.
    2) dead in the basement/yard eatern by vampires that promised them a daughter?

    3)good lord do i have to choose, Ryan is so far up his own butt his lucky he can get his telescope out, he doesn’t really have much going for him other then sport.. and Michael .. i cant think of anything to say about him. i did find the build to the game interesting and the nervousness of the boys.

    4) maybe they made his coffin out of shutters, i really thought the book reminded me of a deal with the devil rather then vampire. i suppose its a metaphor for letting him have power over her.

    5) i think really edward would win on a physical smack down but cheerleeders vamp deals in desires and edward is defently in want of things in his life. probably most of all not to be a vampire at all. or to forget his serial killing killing. either way i think if Edward opened the shutters he would end up giving victims for what he wants.

    last point who names the kid kimmie jo …

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  • October 14, 2013 at 7:33 pm
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    Has the PH Club been put on hold? I’ve only just found this site in a sudden resurgence of teen nostalgia and noticed there hasn’t been a new post since August 🙁 I would very much like to join in the discussion. I adored these books, I loved the covers, the characters, that magical American world of glamourous adolescence mixed with thrills and (gory) spills. Although I did recently read The Accident and found it annoying and trite and back to the charity shop it went … please post soon, I see The Cemetery was next up? (From what I remember it was rather racy…)

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    • October 14, 2013 at 9:36 pm
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      Hey, it’s still going – we’re discussing THE FORBIDDEN GAME on Nov 13th!

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  • December 13, 2013 at 4:20 am
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    I always saw Cooney’s books as a bit more artful and literary than the rest of the Point books. Hers were more haunting and eerie, I guess, like the Fog, the Snow, etc.

    I remember loving this book, but I don’t think I read it in the “early Point days”. I probably read it a few years later when I could appreciate it more.

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  • June 2, 2014 at 12:32 am
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    Caz-Coo. That is brilliant.

    Gosh I’ve read The Babysitter, Funhouse and Cheerleader all in one day in my attempt to catch up! I must say I enjoyed this one the most so far as I agree that Caz-Coo’s writing style is a real pleasure.

    Usually problemo número uno in any Point Horror is the parents. Away on business, sudden trips to Europe, divorced so there’s only one to write about (who the protagonist doesn’t want to bother)… or, as with The Cheerleader, just don’t even mention them! I’d be slightly annoyed if my sorry excuse of a teenage daughter started throwing chairs at walls and not offering to replace them, and hosting parties at gay abandon and with no notice or consideration for my plans.

    I was quite taken by Kimmie-Jo. Purely for her ridiculous name. It reminded me of Cappie Cabot from Diane Hoh’s The Accident. I think she had one line in the entire novel but ended up being my favourite character because of her name alone.

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  • July 16, 2016 at 6:08 pm
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    althea sounds like a cat’s name! I think she might well be –- / at least depressed. Like Dove in ‘the perfume’ only her imaginary friend (prefer to call them . when i see book cover, all i can think of is this
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_NVUZNsh2E
    love his way of singing “she grants my wishes like a genie in a bottle”
    great idea having vampire drain popularity. if you’re unpopular at school you may as well be dead anyway, reminds me of ‘buffy the vampire slayer’. same sort of ideas. sadly as an adult have held onto this idea & love of series.

    ‘twilight’ – neither 1 thing nor other. BtVS urinates all over it. how can a book on this type of thing be so boring? why stop eating, drinking, looking after yourself when boyfriend leaves. There’s loads of other things you could do, since r’ship likely to break up anyway. from what i remember of ‘twilight’, he told her he’d leave her every 5secs – why not do just that?? why keep refusing to make his on/off gf into a vampire anyway since it’s clearly what she wants (or thinks she wants anyway, i doubt she does)

    i’m just bitter cos i’m mortal!
    & most importantly. her dad does not like him. i couldn’t be w/ somebody/do something my parents didn’t approve of!!

    Reply

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