The Cheerleader

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Here is what it was like to grow up in the 1950s in the years of ponytails, pajama parties, proms, and parking, when to be popular was important and when, if you were a girl, being important meant being a cheerleader. THE CHEERLEADER is a best-selling novel about the loss of innocence, the growth of passion, and the awakening of ambition.A classic.--PUBLISHERS WEEKLYOne of the truest portraits of an American girl ever written.--DETROIT FREE PRESSIt's heartbreaking at times, hilarious at others, and she's got it all down ...

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JWitmer

Mar 17, 2008

The Cheerleader
Ruth Doan MacDougall

In the process of beginning to write my next book, set in the 1950s, I went to my book shelf to select and reread The Cheerleader, published now 35 years ago. I read it in its entirety, totally captivated, and then went in search of other books by Ruth Doan MacDougall. To my delight, I found that not only has she written many other books, but also had written two sequels to The Cheerleader. I ordered both, and for the first time in probably the same 35 years, I paced my reading, rationing a certain number of pages each day because I did not want this serial story to end. Yes; that is how good these books are, particularly, but not limited, to readers ?of a certain age.? Yesterday I came across a review of The Cheerleader that I had written in 1974 and compared it to the notes I took as I reread this book in early February 2008. Not to my surprise, I found the 2008 notes reflected my sentiments of 1974 that this is perhaps the best book ever written on high schools in the 1950s (and I have been researching topic for well over a year, as well as, of course, being a contemporary of Ms. MacDougall). This morning I went on the MacDougall website and found an unexpected gift: another sequel. I ordered it on the spot.

1973 Book Review
The Cheerleader will appeal mostly to those who attended high school in the 1950s, but there is enough universality in the novel to interest anyone who fondly remembers his high school years. While the details such as dress style and slang is typically 1950s, the situations and human relationships could suit a much wider time period.
The novel centers around the life of Henrietta Snow, known as ?Snowy,? and her friends. Snowy?s first big dream (?milestone,? as she would say) as an upcoming sophomore is to be a high school cheerleader. She believes that cheerleaders symbolize popularity; as a cheerleader, a girl is ?in.? And that is what she wants, to be popular, to be ?in,? and to date Tom.
We follow Snowy through pajama parties, white bucks (how well I remember my first pair; no one else yet wore them and I endured more than a few stares, particularly wearing them with red wool socks), turned-up collars, chinos with buckles on the back that got mangled in wringer washers, shirts with bateau necklines, and strapless gowns made of stiff netting (mine was pink, trimmed in black, and ugly in retrospect, although at the time I thought it beautiful) with dyed-to-match shoes.
Pony-tailed Snowy had the same problems as teenagers everywhere. She had a curfew she wished were later. She had quarrels to patch up between her two best friends. She had decisions to make concerning her relationship with Tom. And she had to maintain a good high school record in order to be accepted at college. There were no major catastrophes in Snowy?s world; perhaps that?s why the book seems so real. The author chose simply to relate believable events.
I must take exception to one thing in the book, however, and that is its language and promiscuity in some parts. Either MacDougall exaggerates or my circle of high school friends was nave. We just didn?t use the language used by Snowy?s group, and I knew few teenagers whose activities were as loose as those portrayed in the novel.

2008 Comments
I wrote in my electronic notebook, ?This is the book closest to the way it really was in the 1950s, except for the smoking, bad language on occasion, drinking, and sex.? I laughed aloud after I wrote this sentence and even more so when I found my review written for an area newspaper in 1974, seeing that I had expressed the same reaction. Maybe the problem is that either I was totally nave or else those living in my home town of Curwensville were. We simply did not drink or smoke or use bad language. Nor was there much ?going all the way??at least not any that I ever knew of. No one ever talked about it. Regardless, I truly love this book, and who could not relate to what Tom, Snowy?s steady, wrote following their break-up, ?Ever since last summer, I keep finding myself staring at telephones. But I never dared call, I was afraid you?d hang up on me. And you?d have every right to?. I was stupid; it?s been worse hell without you than it would?ve been with. I was stupid. I was so stupid. We should?ve been together all along.? For reasons understood only by those who have experienced something like this in high school. I cried.

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