Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Cheerleader - Caroline B. Cooney

In this entry, I’ll be taking a respite from the 13 Tales of Terror, and looking at one of my favourite EVER point horrors. Imagine a world in which vampires are un-sparkly monsters, and plain, ugly heroines really are plain ugly heroines. Imagine a world in which every single book is written by Caroline B Cooney. Imagine a world in which I get to eat pancakes and ice cream every night of the week and I get sexually harassed by Henry Ian Cusick whenever I damn well feel like it. Sorry, I’m de-railing. I introduce to you….

Ta da!

The Cheerleader is truly divine. It’s one of those rare point horror books that I can actually remember years and years after reading, and still feel a little bit sick when I think of it. I guess that’s what we like to call the Caroline B. Cooney magic.

We dive straight into the hot vampire action. Althea, who is a total drag, is in her attic room being offered a place on the cheerleading squad and a chance to be popular by a recently freed vampire with “skin like mushrooms” and “fingernails like foil.” The only catch is, she has to choose someone whose place she will take as a cheerleading queen bee. That’s a no brainer – Althea despises this broad called Celeste for being all floaty and beautiful and lovely. The vampire promises that Celeste wouldn’t actually die or anything – she’d just be a bit tired.

Althea is totally, utterly, existentially alone. Like, she has zilcho friends. I’m not that surprised given that the first time we see her she’s plotting away with a mushroomy vampire. And all she EVER does is think about how it’s so unfair that nobody likes her. Fucking hell, lighten up. I kind of feel like I want to bully her and she’s not even a real person.

Althea decides that operation Give-Celeste-Up-To-The-Vampire is a gogo. Only problem is, how to lure Celeste back to her creepy old loser house? Well, dumb old Celeste presents the perfect opportunity when she asks Althea if her house is haunted and Althea offers to show her the “shuttered room” in the attic (AKA mushroom vampire’s lair). Celeste complains for a bit that she can’t get to all the parties she’s invited to as she’s too young to drive and then declines Althea’s invitation because she has “cheerleading practice, of course.” This drives Althea into a blind rage. She's so mad she has steam coming out of her ears.

Althea is kind of a psycho actually. She just drives around town stewing over all the stuff Celeste has that she doesn’t. (It’s a real “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha” moment.)Althea then has an evil genius moment and decides to kindly offer to drive Celeste home from cheerleading practice. Althea’s plan works and the vampire does his ting. Not that Althea watches, but supposedly all the vampire needs to do is to migrate into his victims boundaries and put them into his dark path. Whatever the hell that means.

The next day at school, and suddenly all the popular crowd, Celeste’s friends, are all up in Althea’s grill about hot how she looks today etc. They like her hair because it’s “fluffy and sparkly”. Sounds sexy.

Becky, cheerleader extraordinaire, is an especially big fan of Celeste’s fluffy hair look. Ryan, one of the popular guys, wanders over, hears Althea talking about the night sky, and offers to bring his telescope round to Althea’s place.

Ryan flirts with Althea and he and Becky invite her to McDonalds with the gang after school. Althea’s totes happy, because of course this is just what she deserves. She’s brought down slightly when she sees Celeste looking all dull and wheezy and greasy haired and spacka-licious.

At McDonald’s, the gang asks Althea to tell them about her but because she’s some kind of weirdo psychopath she can’t even think of one thing to say. Luckily for Althea, the mushroom vampire mojo is still working and nobody really minds. They start bitching about Celeste and the way she was wandering around like a zombie. Umm, maybe she’s sick guys? Jeez, all these kids are real prizes.

Next day or whenever, a vacancy on the cheerleading squad is announced. Althea tries to make herself look all sad for Celeste but inside she’s like WOOOOO HOOOOOO. This girl is. Mentally. Ill.

Naturally, Althea gets the gig.

The cheerleading teacher, btw, is also a bitcho-mundo. Celeste is kind of hanging around like a bummer to watch the try outs and her face “looks caved in” and she's so weak she can barely stand and Mrs Roundman is all, “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. Leave.” Althea and Mrs Roundman should really get together and swap psycho-tips sometime.

Over the next few days, Althea becomes more and more chummy with the cheerleading squad. She’s also approached by her best friend from junior high, Jennie. Jennie drifted away from Althea at high school when she presumably realised what a sack of shit Althea was, but now she wants to congratulate Althea on the whole cheerleader business. Jennie is also the only one that Althea seems to really like, she’s kind of secretly snooty about her new cheerleader friends.

Mainly to try and make Jennie feel inferior to her, Althea decides to throw a party and invites Jennie along to it. Althea enjoys “smiling generously “ at Jennie’s glee at being invited. The rest of the squad and the football team are also excited to hear about the party. Which is happening on a Sunday, by the way. Somebody really needs to explain to Althea about parties.

Unfortunately, the vampire decides that the party will be the perfect time for him to pick his next victim. Althea is all, “oh no you di’nt.” But then he threatens to take her popularity away and she decides to buy herself a bit of time and pretend to go along with it. The vampire tells Althea that she can even choose the victim for him – she just has to put her arm around the party guest that she chooses. Well, I certainly can’t see any way that THAT plan could go horribly wrong.

Party day – it’s wild. There’s soda, a video, even a radio talk show that someone has taped. Wow, these popular kids sure know how to party. Althea and Jenny get on high saturated fats and chemical sweeteners and have a little chat about how much they’ve missed each other. It all gets real emotional, and it culminates in Althea putting her arm around Jennie. Crap. Looks like the vampire’s having Jennie for dinner.

After the party, Althea freaks out at the vampire for being mean and migrating into her friend's boundary and she's all throwing china and paintings everywhere, she’s so damn maddddddd. (I hate you more than anything in this damn wooorrllld!). Jennie getting mongified is enough for Althea to actually realise that she has done a terrible thing and she almost tries to send the vampire back to the shutters but then he reminds her how much of a loser she is without him and she stops.

"I'm outie!"

Monday morning, and Althea is more popular than ever, but she’s still all angsty about the people that she has effectively killed (it's a "my teenage bullshit has a bodycount" moment). She's mainly upset about Jennie, who’s absent from school, so presumably the vampire brain-rot has set in.

Then Ryan comes up and flirts with Althea and everything’s cool again. This girl really needs to get laid. She goes out for pizza with Ryan, and fellow football player Michael. Michael is the ultimate catch I guess, but he also has the perfect girlfriend, Constance. Althea starts daydreaming about Ryan and Michael both being her boyfriend.

They arrive at Pizza Hut (McDonalds AND Pizza Hut…why Caro B., with this product placement you are really spoiling us). Some of the other girls start arriving and it’s soooo amazing and Althea’s having soooooo much fun blah blah blah.

Michael’s beeyatch Constance arrives and drives back with the three of them. Althea gets kind of a lesbo crush on Constance and decides that the vampire would definitely want a girl like Constance, and she must definitely not hand Constance over to the vampire. Ryan finally kisses Althea and she’s overjoyed, but the stupid stinky vampire has to spoil her good mood by waiting up for her so he can hiss about how she belongs to him. Jeez, change the record and eat some garlic already, Nosfertau.

Althea and Becky have a little chat on the phone and the vampire decides that he wants Becky next. Althea goes to Becky’s house for a sleepover, and as a little surprise Ryan shows up with his telescope.

Break me off a piece of that!

Anyway, Becky goes outside to leave the lovebirds alone and Althea is all scared because she’s sure she saw the vampire rustling around in the bushes or something and she doesn’t want anything to happen to Becky. But Becky’s fine after coming back inside, Althea’s the one who’s all tired and sluggish.

Until the next morning, when Althea is bright eyes and bushy tailed and Becky is suddenly too tired to even pick up the juice. Ah, Cooney, I see what you did there, the old switcheroo eh.

Now that Becky has also had her brain juices sucked out by the vampire, Althea is FINALLY filled with a sense of purpose. She marches home and tells the vampire that he can fuck off and die. She shuts all the shutters in the shutter room to trap the vampire back in the shutters (?) but the last one gets stuck, and then the door to the room slams closed and Althea is the one who’s trapped.

She can feel the vampire closing in on her with his foily fingers and she’s resigned to joining the mushroom brain brigade, when a car horn sounds from outside. The horn kind of breaks the spell and Althea opens the windows again and sees Ryan standing outside. She tells him to turn up his car radio and dance to “hard rock.” He obliges. This succeeds in driving the vampire away for now. So I guess that’s a useful tip to take away from this book.

Althea goes downstairs to Ryan and they drive to Pizza Hut. On her way down, the vampire lets Althea know how PO’d he is, and she lets him know that she could care less. Weirdly, Becky is at Pizza Hut with the gang and she really does feel fine. Althea stupidly thinks she’s won and managed to beat the vampire. I know otherwise because I am a) much smarter than Althea b) there are still about twenty pages of the book left and c) I have read this book many, many times before.

Althea’s so happy that she dances with Ryan in the aisles at Pizza Hut. This is meant to be a joyous moment, but personally I’m struggling to think of anything that would be more depressing.

A few days later, Althea is on the bus to a football game with all the others and just basking in her happiness. She’s even generously decided that she doesn’t want Michael as well as Ryan because she thinks that Michael and Constance go together so well. How magnanimous of her.

A week later, the vampire comes back. Althea’s feeling so puffed up and pleased with herself that she’s decided she doesn’t need the vampire anymore, she has friends on her own merit now, and she tells him to go away. Uh Oh. Althea just made an even bigger mistake than those salesladies who refused to serve Julia Roberts.

The next morning things start badly when he car won’t work, and it gets worse when nobody stops to offer her a lift. At school, people either ignore her or act mean and she finds out her place on the cheerleading squad is being auditioned again. Also, her nails have gone all long and red and ghastly looking – she’s worried that this might mean she’s becoming a vampire herself.

All the other cheerleaders are indifferent to Althea, even good old Becky has lost interest in her and finds her annoying. Ryan arrives and makes it clear that he’s not bothered about her either.

Althea goes home and cries. The vampire pops up and comforts her and offers to give it all back if she only promises to feed him again. And this time he wants Constance. And he promises that he’d never ask for anyone ever again. Yeah, yeah, I've heard that one before.

The vampire restores Althea’s popularity whilst she considers his offer and everyone comes up to Althea to apologise for being weird the day before. Ryan even invites Althea to the Winter dance.

Constance is all sweet to Althea and wants to get to know her better in a foursome with Michael and Ryan. Althea caves and invites them round to her house, promising to let Constance see the shuttered room in the tower.

As they approach the house, Constance starts to get spooked. Althea starts to really think about what she’s done and to hate herself for it. She tells Michael to turn around and uninvites them. She actually acts pretty crazy to stop them going to her house, but it works. They dump her out the car and go to Pizza Hut without her.

Althea gets home and the vampire is waiting for her. The vampire is ready to eat her now. She begs him to let her be popular for one teensy more time, so she can savour the memory of it. Kindly Uncle Vampire lets her feel what it was like to be popular for a few moments. She decides to take the vampire down with her, so he can’t prey on any more vulnerable young girls.

To defeat him, she rejects his final gift of popularity: She takes her popularity and “wipes” and “mops” it on him. Ewww. You can buy creams for that you know.

Anyway, it works. She defeats the vampire and decides that she will be popular again one day, but next time she’ll be popular on her own merit. It’s nice that she’s so optimistic but I kind of doubt that will happen.

And the vampire is back in the tower again, waiting….and I know he definitely gets out because I’ve read two sequels to this book.

Conclusion: you know what would be awesome? If they made some hidden camera TV show and tricked some kid into thinking they’d met a vampire and they were feeding schoolmates to the vampire in return for stuff, and everyone could pretend to like them one day and then be all cold the next day. It would be super elaborate, like the Truman Show with vampires I guess. I’d definitely watch that. Someone would probably end up killing themselves but on balance I think it would still be worth it.

Over to Amazon: One reviewer comments that “This book was brilliant, if you don't like vampires you will after reading this.” Whilst I agree with part one of that statement, part two intrigues and worries me. I wouldn’t exactly mistake this book for propaganda written by the Department for Fair Treatment to Vampires – We’re Nice Guys Too You Know (DFTVWNGTYK for short).

Next time – I’ll either do more of 13 Tales, or something else entirely. Any suggestions? I know someone mentioned The Invitation, and I like the look of that one, it seems nice and old school.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Coming SOON (ish)

Aww, just look at the little guy's face. How could I say no? This blog is still the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing on my mind before I fall asleep. But as a wise man once said - "Jesus H., writing about point horror books can get really fucking tiresome." Although since all that money went missing I'm not sure how much I should trust that particular wise man anymore.

Point is - my guilt baby has nearly reached full term, so I'll be updating soon.

(Gross. What do you reckon a guilt baby would look like? I'm thinking it would be similar to this: