Perfect Size Six

July 30, 2010

#3 Playing With Fire

“Can Jessica play Bruce Patman’s game and win?”

Surprisingly, no. Jessica Wakefield, the bitchiest girl in Sweet Valley, loses her edge and embraces the doormat side of life when matched with her male counterpart.

All-around asshole, Bruce “1BRUCE1” Patman, gets his first starring turn here playing the ultimate preppy boyfriend from hell. (By the way, nice chokehold on the cover, Bruce. Maybe some 1BRUCE1 devotee can enlighten me, but I don’t understand the now-adult fanbase of Bruce Patman. Is this like a wink and a nod in support of emotional masochists everywhere?)

Well, Jessica has been besotted with Bruce since freshman year, but he has ignored her in favor of almost every other girl at Sweet Valley High and beyond. That means he’s also dated all of her friends (classy!), and none of them has anything positive to say about the experience.

So how do these two crazy kids get together? Well, Jessica is forced to attend the 5th Annual Rockin’ Dance Party Contest with class clown/nerd, Winston Egbert (as part of her Fall Queen duties). During one especially horrible dance, Jess is elated to have Bruce Patman rescue her from Winston’s oafish arms and clumsy feet. Jess and Bruce win the dance contest and become inseparable ever after.

After the dance is over, everyone heads over to Ken Matthews’ house for the after-party. Bruce and Jess get better acquainted in the pool, and we get a closer look at Bruce’s seduction techniques. He doesn’t really have to do much, and the girls of Sweet Valley are throwing panties at him. Bruce and Jess are making out in the pool, and he unties her bikini strings, exposing her breasts to the elements. When she puts up the slightest form of protest, Bruce calls her a tease. His attitude is pretty much: If you don’t like it, there are plenty of other girls who will. Touché, Bruce.

Meanwhile, Saint Elizabeth, our favorite over-protective twin, knows that Bruce is bad news from empirical evidence alone. (She’ll get to experience it firsthand in #7 Dear Sister, when Bruce tries to date rape her.) Liz finds Jessica and Bruce rolling around in the leaves, in the midst of some bushes (classy again!), and she begs Jess to come with her. Well, twin-be-damned, because Jess is standing (or laying, really) by her man! To make matters worse, Jessica doesn’t come home until dawn.

Oh yeah, Jess is now hooked like a bass trout on old Brucie. She is lust’s bitch. She sits by the phone waiting for Bruce to call. She starts dressing conservatively. She drops off his dry-cleaning. Feminists of the world, shed a tear. Jessica even loses a game of tennis on purpose so as not to bruise Bruce’s ego. And what does she have to show for it?Even though she’s in a long-term, monogamous relationship (on her side, at least), Jessica has now been branded with a “bad reputation.”

“‘I didn’t want to tell you,’ (Todd) began, ‘but (Jessica) is getting quite a reputation around school. Bruce has been making it very clear that he’s getting everything he wants out of her. And whenever he wants it, too.'”

Hello, Sweet Valley double standards. Bruce is the biggest slut in Sweet Valley, and he’s treated like some rock-star/royalty hybrid. His female counterparts, however, are held to Virgin-Mary levels of virtue. It seems like almost every girl at Sweet Valley has had to suffer the stigma of a bad reputation at some point (even the “good” girls like Liz, Enid, and Regina. How many times has goody-two-shoes Liz had to clutch her pearls and defend her honor over some potentially life-ruining rumors?)

Plus, while Jessica is dedicating her life to Bruce, her grades begin to suffer. Her first strategy is to cheat off Emily Mayer, but that doesn’t work because Emily bombs the test too. Then, Jess decides to get Robin Wilson to steal the chemistry test for her. Instead of using the test for herself, Jess has Robin put it in Emily’s locker. Now, since Emily has the right answers, Jessica can cheat off her and pass. That is some convoluted cheating, for real. Why doesn’t Jess just use the test for herself? Cheating is cheating, whether it’s direct or third-party. Of course, the chemistry teacher changes the test, and Jessica fails anyway.

This book marks the first appearance of Robin Wilson, an overweight new girl in town. Don’t worry, she undergoes the Perfect-Size-Six makeover in the next book. Until then, her function hovers somewhere between Jessica’s lackey and comic relief. And it seems like everyone is trying to couple up Robin with aforementioned class clown/nerd Winston Egbert. Because she’s overweight, I guess, he’s her only viable dating option, and he’s having none of it!

“Winston studied Elizabeth affectionately. ‘That was nice of you. But Robin…well, she’s OK. We really don’t have much in common, though. I get nervous around people who eat all the time.'”

Et tu, Winston. I would have thought that someone on the lower rungs of Sweet Valley’s social ladder would have had a little bit more empathy. Robin really does have it rough. Interspersed throughout the book are cutting comments about Robin and her weight. Jessica, of course, is the main offender.

“‘Oooh, Jessica, you look gorgeous!’ Robin gushed.

Jessica couldn’t  force herself to return the compliment. Wearing a pink-and-white striped dress–horizontal stripes, no less–Robin looked like the poster girl for a cotton candy company.”

Does anyone else think that the ghostwriters relished writing these insults? Maybe, it was the extent of the creative freedom given to them. Anyway, I guess Bruce hasn’t totally worn down Jessica’s bitchy side, so there’s hope yet for a recovery from codependency overload. As time wears on, Bruce gets more obsessive and possessive, and he flies his asshole flag high. His strategy is the “It’s either them or me” approach, and Jessica starts dumping activities left and right. Even Jess’ beloved cheerleading is on the chopping block.

“‘Football bores me. And if you know what’s right for us, you’ll find a way to miss this game.’ (Bruce) put his hands firmly on her shoulders. ‘Tell me, baby, who’d you rather be with? Me, or a bunch of chicks with fat thighs in short skirts?‘”

Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, so help me god. The sadist in me loves watching the queen bitch brought down a peg or two, but this is becoming a slow torture to read. Thankfully, we’re in the home stretch.

Bruce turns what was supposed to be a private birthday celebration with Jessica into an open invitation, party extravaganza. To add insult to injury, he totally ignores Jess when they get there. She’s sitting alone at a table while he dances with every other girl at Sweet Valley High. Bruce even jilts Jess to dance with Caroline Pearce! Seriously, are Enid Rollins and Lois Waller next on his dance card?

Then, Bruce moves the party to Guido’s pizzeria. After a slice or two, Bruce tells Jessica that his grandmother is on her deathbed, as an excuse to ditch Jess. Liz and Todd are wise to Bruce, so they offer to take Jess home.  They drive around looking at stars and other nonsense to stall for time. Liz makes up an excuse to go back to Guido’s for her ‘forgotten” keys. Of course, Bruce is still there, making time with a beautiful redhead. FINALLY, Jess realizes what we’ve known all along. Bruce is an asshole! She smashes some pizza in his face and washes it down with a pitcher of soda over his head. The bitch is back!

B-Plot: A slimy agent from Los Angeles is telling Sweet Valley’s High’s hottest rock group, The Droids, that he’s going to make them stars. Instead, he gets them gigs at dive bars and hits on lead singer, Dana Larson. (Where are their parents, by the way? Any adult with half a brain would have sniffed this sleazeball out.) Anyway, it’s soon revealed that the manager is a fraud, and all returns to normal.

Not-So-Subtle, Sexual Subtext: “Taking his right hand off the stick shift, (Bruce) ran it down Jessica’s half-covered thigh.”

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