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  • Writer's pictureNoah Castellanos

Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrotta

Over the last couple of months, I've spent my time thinking about what life is going to be like once I finally graduate with a Bachelor’s in May. Where my career may go, what my time in college is going to look like a couple of years down the road; all that fun stuff. And while it’s not a complete one-to-one, this sense of breaking free from education reminds me of when I was fresh out of high school what seems like forever ago. While I've done quite a lot of thinking on my time in high school since then, I feel like the one thing that got my thinking going was reading Tom Perrotta’s novel Election when I was in junior college. Sure, it came out long before my time (because I guess 1998 is considered old now), but its story of various flawed characters trying to tamper with the student body election in high school, only to learn the valuable lesson of “high school popularity contests don’t matter” by the end, still struck enough of a chord with me that when I saw a sequel had come out while I was vacationing in Santa Cruz several years later, I walked into the nearest bookstore, picked it up, and promptly let it sit on my bookshelf for the next two years. Given that I’m so close to entering the next chapter of my life, though, I figured that would finally be a good enough excuse to pull the book out and finally give Tracy Flick Can’t Win a shot.

Several decades have passed since the events of the first book, and former perfectionist Tracy Flick has been dealt a rather rough hand in life. Now living as a single mother working as the assistant principal of Green Meadow High School in the shadow of its elderly, soon-to-retire principal Jack Green, things seem to be going alright for once until local millionaire Kyle Dorfman approaches her and suggests the school open a Hall of Fame dedicated to its famous alumni (implying that he himself deserves to be in there further down the road). While Tracy is busy trying to reign in Kyle’s circus and pursue her own efforts at the same time, Jack is dealing with an affair, head candidate for the Hall of Fame Vito Falcone is dealing with getting his newly-sobered life back together, and an unknown interloper threatens to tear everything down once things start falling into place. OoOoOh, exciting!

As I said before, the original Election was this masterful blend of comedic caricatures simultaneously finding out about the struggles of the real world, so I was more than willing to see an antagonist like Tracy Flick be given time to soak up the spotlight in the book’s sequel. As it turns out, however, Tracy Flick Can’t Win is remarkably similar to the first book in the sense that, despite being in the title of the book, Tracy is only the narrator for maybe a third of the book’s thirty-two chapters. The rest of the novel, of course, is taken up by way too many narrators who, while their own little story arcs are certainly fine enough on their own, feel like they don’t have enough exciting moments to justify taking up the majority of the book. Considering Tracy is still the most compelling character of this story (just like she was in Election), it feels strange that so much effort gets put into side-plot after side-plot that, spoiler alert, gets resolved with no real conclusion in a shocking twist ending that, while it isn’t terrible, does feel completely out of left field and wholly underwhelming, considering the three hundred pages of alright comedy-drama that came before.

Overall, I would say that, while I did enjoy my time with Tracy Flick Can’t Win, there simply isn’t enough content here to really warrant the book existing in the shadow of its superior predecessor. Too many characters and a disappointing conclusion bog down what could’ve been a very engaging read on what life is like for middle-aged educators without any ties to Election whatsoever. Maybe they’ll fix it in the movie version that was announced for Paramount Plus not too long ago, but considering they’ve only got a few years to fix a novel that took twenty-four years to write, I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Just stick to reading Election or watching its 1999 Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick-led movie adaptation for now.

I give Tracy Flick Can’t Win a 6/10.

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