PHBC4: THE CHEERLEADER BY CAROLINE B COONEY
Posted by James Dawson on August 13, 2013
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.
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.
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) is so non-descript he’s hardly worth describing.
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 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 clangers:
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. I wonder if Cooney misjudged the readership, but 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 all 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.
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.