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Who really cares who gets elected president of Winwood High School? Nobody -- except Tracy Flick. Tracy's one of those students of boundless energy and ambition who somehow find the time to do everything -- edit the school paper and yearbook, star in the musical, sleep with her favorite teacher. Tracy's heart is set on becoming president of Winwood, and what Tracy wants, Tracy gets. What's more, her classmates seem to agree. With weeks to go before election day, her victory is nearly a foregone conclusion. And ...
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Who really cares who gets elected president of Winwood High School? Nobody -- except Tracy Flick. Tracy's one of those students of boundless energy and ambition who somehow find the time to do everything -- edit the school paper and yearbook, star in the musical, sleep with her favorite teacher. Tracy's heart is set on becoming president of Winwood, and what Tracy wants, Tracy gets. What's more, her classmates seem to agree. With weeks to go before election day, her victory is nearly a foregone conclusion. And that's just the problem, according to Mr. M. a.k.a. Jim McAllistar, faculty advisor to the Student Government Association and a popular Winwood history teacher. In the name of democracy -- not to mention a simmering grudge against Tracy Flick -- Mr. M recruits the perfect opposition candidate. Paul Warren is a golden boy, a football hero, with a brain and a heart, eager to bulk up his meager resume. But the clear-cut two-way race is muddled when Paul's younger sister unexpectedly enters the competition. Running on a platform of apathy, Tammy Warren is an anonymous sophomore, struggling with her sexuality and mourning the defection of her best friend, Lisa, who has abandoned their friendship to become Paul's campaign manager and girlfriend. Part satire, part soap opera, Election is an uncommon look at an ordinary American high school, and the extraordinary people who inhabit it.
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Editorial Reviews

Time Out
In one of the funniestmost insightfulmost surprisingly touching novels of recent timesPerrotta 'captures the texture of high-school life in a refreshingly unromantic manner.'
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A far cry from Sweet Valley High, this wry, engaging story of a 1992 high-school election in a New Jersey town 'a couple of exits' away from Glen Ridge is observant and sly, if less amusing than the battles over pop-musical taste in Perrotta's quirkily humorous first novel, The Wishbones. The candidates for school presidency of Winwood High are an uninspiring bunch campaigning for what almost everybody knows is an empty office. Ambitious Tracy Flick is a hot bundle of raw political ambition and a bad reputation, who campaigns with cupcakes against Paul Warren, a jock with a pretty face and high PSAT scores who is urged to run by his history teacher (and sometime narrator) Jim McAllister. Paul's nihilistic sister Tammy (who enters the race in a despairing rage because she's in love with Paul's girlfriend) is the single fresh and original character here and she gets herself suspended before Election Day. The results are blessedly far from feel-good, and Perrotta casts a wonderfully cool eye on his ostensible protagonist, 'Mr. M.,' even if the hints of true political satire remain just that, tantalizing hints. Despite six alternating narrators, this is a simple, spare storydesigned, perhaps, with moviegoers in mind as well as readers.
Library Journal
The novel is built around the election of the student body president at Winwood High School in suburban New Jersey. Ambitious, sexy, and successful Tracy Flick wants the job. Faculty advisor Jim McAllister doesn't approve. He encourages Paul Warren, football star and All-American Boy, to run against Tracy. When Paul agrees, his younger sister Tammy throws her hat into the ring as well. After competition among the candidates escalates and gets ugly, McAllister attempts to hand the election to Paul by pocketing two crucial ballots. When his election-rigging attempt is exposed, McAllister loses his job. The story is picked up by the national media, who make McAllister a pariah in his home town. Peopled with characters we have all met in real life, this soap opera/comedy is funny, sad, realistic, irreverent, and very readable. -- Joanna M. Burkhardt, University of Rhode Island College. of Continuing Education Library, Watch Hill
San Francisco Chronicle
Darkly comic and winning, Tom Perrotta demonstrates that the experience of growing up is universally awful.
Time Out
In one of the funniest, most insightful, most surprisingly touching novels of recent times, Perrotta 'captures the texture of high-school life in a refreshingly unromantic manner.'
Peter LaSalle
Election provides those gratifyingly exact and telling portraits of the kids themselves....In this bittersweet novel, the characters are all simultaneously children and adults. -- New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
The year is 1992, the town is Winwood, and the plot revolves around the upcoming election for its high school's president (apparently a single one for all four classes). In a curiously unabsorbing narrative (though it's readable enough), half a dozen characters narrate in mini-chapters their versions of the intrigue that dominates the election campaign, the kids' own screwed-up self-images and sexual confusions, and their elders' parallel truancies. Popular Tracy Flick, for instance, buoyed by her superabundant energy and 'amazing body,' knows she's the odds-on favorite to be her classmates' choice. But when history teacher and faculty advisor Jim McAllister ('Mr. M.') persuades football hero and all-round good kid Paul Warren to run against Tracy (and that isn't all Mr. M. does), the plot thickens—and grows thicker still when Paul's kid sister Tammy, an unusually introspective misfit with a double-barreled identity crisis, also enters the contest. It's hard to pinpoint where the generally entertaining story goes wrong. But it feels simultaneously footloose and overplotted; the characters' voices aren't skillfully differentiated; and Perrotta doesn't sense the inconsistency of resolving some of his characters' fates (the final sequence is a beauty), while leaving others awkwardly hanging. No matter.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780613166683
  • Publisher: Turtleback Books: A Division of Sanval
  • Publication date: 10/28/1998
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta is the author of The Leftovers, The Abstinence Teacher, Little Children, Election, and Nine Inches, among other works of fiction  He also serves as an executive producer for the HBO series The Leftovers, based on his novel.


That Tom Perrotta struggled into his early 30s to find success should come as no surprise to fans of his work. A Yale grad, Perrotta studied writing under Thomas Berger and Tobias Wolff before moving on to teach creative writing at Yale and Harvard. It was during this period that he began work on the stories that would comprise his first release, Bad Haircut. He had finished two more novels (including Election, which would prove to be his breakthrough book) before Bad Haircut was finally picked up by a publisher in 1994.

It wasn't until a chance introduction with a screenwriter that Perrotta finally moved into the public eye. The result of that encounter was the publication of Election (1998), which was made into the much-beloved film starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. At last, Perrotta was able to call himself a working novelist.

The theme of ordinary people trapped in lives they never imagined runs throughout Perrotta's novels. Success for his characters is always just out of reach, and the world is always just outside of their control. Characters that seem destined for success serve as foils to the true protagonists, constant reminders of the unfairness of life.

Which is not to say that Perrotta's novels are depressing. On the contrary, his razor-sharp observations of the human condition are often side-splittingly funny, and the compassion he exhibits in his writing makes even the most ostensibly unlikable characters sympathetic. Perotta does not create caricatures; his novels work because he has a basic understanding that life is complex, and everyone has a story if you take the time to listen.

Good To Know

Some fun factoids from our interview with Perrotta:

"My mother is Albanian."

"I don't eat eggs."

"My dog lived to the ripe old age of 18."

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    1. Hometown:
      Belmont, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 13, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      Summit, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Yale University, 1983; M.A. in English/Creative Writing, Syracuse University, 1988
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

MR. M.

All I ever wanted to do was teach. I never had to struggle like other people with the question of what to do with my life. My only dream was to sit on the edge of my desk in front of a room full of curious kids and talk about the world.

took place in the spring of 1992, when Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill were still fresh in everyone's mind, and Gennifer Flowers was the momentary star of tabloids and talk shows. All year long my junior Current Events class returned again and again to a single theme, what the media liked to call "the Character Issue": How are private virtue and public responsibility intertwined? Can you be an adulterer and a good President? A sexual pervert and an effective, impartial member of the judiciary?

than my students. Like most American adolescents, the kids at Winwood High didn't pay too much attention to the Supreme Court or the race for the White House. Their concerns were narrower--school, sports, sex, the unforgiving politics of the hallway and locker room.

students were fascinated by this sad and sordid story, and it became the nexus where their concerns linked up with those of the larger democracy. The case had not yet gone to trial at that point, but the kids at Winwood knew the details inside and out. A group of high school athletes--the golden boys of Glen Ridge--had been charged with luring a retarded girl into a basement, forcing her to commit a variety of sexual acts, and then penetrating her vagina with a broomstick and a baseball bat. None of the defendants denied the event had occurred. Their defense was that the girl had consented.

we had football heroes, too; the gap between them was immense, almost medieval. It wasn't too hard to imagine how a lonely, mildly retarded girl might consider it a privilege of sorts to be molested and applauded by the jock royalty of her little world. They were the ones with the power of conferring recognition and acceptance. If they saw you, you existed.

were only separated by a couple of exits on the Parkway--it didn't really surprise me that the overwhelming majority of my class, girls included, sided with the defendants and their right to a good time. If a girl, even a retarded girl, was dumb enough to join a troop of red-blooded boys in a basement, then who could blame the boys for taking advantage of this windfall?

them convicted and sent to prison, where they could find out for themselves what it meant to be scared and weak and lonely--but I kept it to myself in the classroom, opting instead for the more neutral roles of moderator and devil's advocate.

"So don't the strong have a responsibility not to hurt or humiliate the weak?"

exactly the kind of kid I was trying to reach, a smart, unhappy girl who wanted nothing more than to be accepted by the jock/cheerleader aristocracy at Winwood and had no idea--how could she?--of how relieved she was going to be to find a different world in college, more charitable standards of value.

nature of the world, "that's not how it works. The strong take what they want."

tell me?" I pointed at Dino Mikulski, the steroid monster in our midst, a 285-pound brick of zits and muscle who already had major college football coaches drooling over their playbooks. "If you're correct in your analysis, then I move that Dino be declared President of the United States. I have no doubt that he could take George Bush in a fair fight and therefore deserves to be our leader."

Dino and his lackeys exchanged high fives, celebrating his sudden ascension to the leadership of the Free World. I was pleased to see Paul Warren's hand shoot up.

silencing the room with the force of his judgment. "That girl didn't deserve what they did to her."

There, that's where it all started, I guess I'd choose that moment.


It was like I'd just opened my eyes after a sixteen-year nap and was wide awake for the first time in my life, seeing things for what they were. I'd check out the news, and where it just used to be a blur of names and faces, now it was like, "Holy shit, people are killing each other. Little kids are starving to death."

teacher, slouching in front of the blackboard, droning on about nothing for the whole period, the boredom thickening until it came to seem like a climate, the weather we lived in until the bell rang. He had a way of explaining complicated things so they made sense to you, connecting current events with familiar details from our own lives, asking questions that really made you think.

know I have. It's no big deal. People figure you're sick, or maybe you drank too much. But when George Bush loses his lunch in Japan, it's a national crisis. Now why do you think that is? What makes his vomit so different from yours or mine?"

between my parents that snapped me out of my daze. There's nothing like your mom kicking your dad out of the house to make you play back the tape of your existence and see it all in a whole new light.

Mom wasn't crying over those stupid TV movies. Our life was a soap opera, not a sitcom. And that whole time, with the clock ticking and our house waiting to explode, I was living in a dream world, grunting in the basement with Van Halen blasting, trying to bench two-fifteen, or hiding in my room with the Victoria's Secret catalogue, studying those pictures the way I should have been studying math. (Can somebody tell me why those women don't have nipples? It kind of drives me crazy.) My sister thinks I'm a moron for not catching on sooner. She and Mom are pretty tight; they knew about Dad and Sarah Stiller months before the news trickled down to me.

After football season, I took the PSATs along with everybody else in my class who wanted to go to college, and thought I did okay. But then the envelope arrives and it turns out that I got the third-highest score in all of Winwood High. At first I thought it must be some kind of computer error. I was just a B student, coasting through school with a minimum of pain and effort. For as long as I could remember, people had been saying that Tammy was the smart one in the family.

they changed everything for me. I started thinking that maybe I could get into a decent college; maybe I could even make it through law school. Maybe I don't have to be a card-carrying corporate drone like Dad after all, another ant in the ant farm.

did, especially not on my behalf. But I'm also eternally grateful to him for recognizing the change in me and encouraging me to act on it. The day he asked me to run for President was one of the proudest in my life.

MR. M.

Paul was the perfect candidate--varsity fullback, National Merit semifinalist, a good-looking, genuinely nice kid without an ounce of arrogance or calculation. He was smart, but unlike his sister Tammy, he didn't wear his IQ on his sleeve. In fact, if you didn't know him well, you could have easily drawn the conclusion that he wasn't the swiftest guy in the world, with that pumped-up body of his and those utterly vacant blue eyes.

that. As faculty advisor to the Student Government Association, no one knew better than me that the post of President was entirely ceremonial. All you presided over were a handful of meetings and a couple of bake sales.

admissions people at the selective schools are going to notice the gap between your grades and your board scores. The only thing that's going to convince them to take a chance on you is the right mix of extracurriculars. Varsity sports look great on your application, but nothing beats President of your school. They really eat that up."

him--and lapsed into his mild stammer.

popular than she is."


All right, so I slept with my English teacher and ruined his marriage. Crucify me. Send me to bad girl prison with Amy Fisher and make TV movies about my pathetic life.

have explained to him that my punishment for sleeping with Jack was having to sleep with Jack. It pretty much cured me of the older-man fantasy, let me tell you that.)

unopposed. People understood that I deserved to win. They didn't necessarily like me, but they respected my qualifications: President of the Junior Class, Treasurer of the SGA, Assistant Editor of The Watchdog, statistician for the basketball team, and star of last year's musical (Oklahoma!, in case you're wondering). And I did all of it while conducting a fairly torrid affair with a married man, even if he did turn out to be as big a baby as any sixteen-year-old.

what I hope will be a brilliant career at Georgetown University, I'm going to get dressed up in high heels and a short skirt and head down to that Chevy dealership on the Boulevard. I'm going to ask for Mr. M. by name and make him show me all the shiny cars, the Camaros, Berettas, and Corvettes.

again about the antilock brakes."


You only need a hundred signatures to put yourself on the ballot. I'd accumulated eighty-something my first half hour in the cafeteria when Tracy came charging up to my table in those amazing black jeans.

something about her gets me all flustered. It's pretty simple, really: she's got this ass. Just ask any guy at Winwood. Conversations stop every time she walks down the hall. She wore these cut-offs last spring that people still talk about.

expect me to believe that you just woke up this morning and decided to run for President?"

I felt like I'd turned into a pane of glass.

my hand and signing the petition.

said, dotting the i in her last name with her trademark star, "and if you think you can just jump in at the last minute and take it away from me, you're sorely mistaken."

scared, but the message I got was exactly the opposite. For the first time, I actually believed I might be able to win.

fingers, "I guess we'll just have to let the voters decide."

MR. M.

The election follows an orderly, three-phase schedule. March is petition month. Any student can become a candidate simply by submitting a petition with the required number of signatures. The Candidate Assembly on the first Tuesday in April marks the official beginning of the race. The next two weeks are devoted to the campaign. The hallways and bulletin boards are plastered with signs and posters. Candidates greet their fellow students at the main door, passing out leaflets, shaking hands. The Watchdog publishes a special election issue. It's democracy in miniature, a great educational tool.

involved in Paul's candidacy. I don't think I admitted to myself how badly I wanted to see Tracy lose.

nakedest ambition I'd ever come in contact with. She smoldered with it, and I'd be a liar if I said I didn't find her fascinating and a little bit dangerous, especially after what I'd heard about her from Jack Dexter. She was a steamroller, and I guess I wanted to slow her down before she flattened the whole school.

simple: Paul Warren would make a terrific President. The office would be good for him, and he would be good for the school. And besides, he had as much right to run as Tracy did. Winwood High School was a democracy. The winner would be determined by popular vote, not my personal preference.

we would have a clear-cut, two-way race between Paul and Tracy, a race I had no doubt my candidate could win. So you can imagine my annoyance on March 29th when I walked into the cafeteria and saw Paul's little sister, a scrawny, morose-looking girl, standing behind a petition table, holding up a homemade sign.


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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2002

    For Adults and Teenagers

    Election, by Tom Perotta was a thoughoughly enjoyable book written in a way that credits and discredits the teacher student relationship. All the characters are familiar and immensely acurate to the many 'classes' of high school students. The book is readble to both adults and teens, and it displays many issues and problems students must face. The book demonstrates the emphasis placed on high school elections, and the shocking resemblence to the nation's.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2001

    Story of teen angst with a twist

    Tom Perotta has written an insightive story into the trials and tribulations facing the seemingly normal students in an american middle class surburban high school. However there is a definite dark underbelly to this story which makes it much more than a teen novel, it highlights the ever increasing ambition and rebelliousness of todays youth to achieve their goals and personal satisfaction at any cost, it is a total role reversal where todays student has the ability to dominate the teacher. A top read presented through many different viewpoints, I would also recommend seeing the film and doing a comparison (the book is always better)!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2000

    Laughing out loud!

    Saw the perspective of all the characters in the book. I was laughing out loud! Definetly rent the movie.

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