Perfect Size Six

May 22, 2015

#1 Double Love

“Share the continuing story of the Wakefield twins and their friends- their laughter, heartaches, and dreams.”

Where, oh where, do I even start with this book? It seems like there are 137 different things going on, and so much of it is snark-able gold!

In honor of the book that started it all, I have a few embarrassing confessions about my lifelong love of Sweet Valley. 1) My driver’s license says I’m 5’6″, when in reality I’m 5’4″. 2) In seventh grade, I forgot that I had a book report due, so I did an impromptu retelling of Sweet Valley Super Thriller, Murder in Paradise. Yeah, that’s the one where an old acquaintance of Alice Wakefield’s plans to murder her and steal her face. It went over surprisingly well, and I got an A (and a warning that I needed to tackle more serious fare in the future). 3) My high school extreme diet regime was based on Robin Wilson’s in #4 Power Play. I did not, however, become a cheerleading co-captain or Olympic-calibre diver because of it. 4) My dream job was Sweet Valley ghostwriter. I now work at one of the top 100 high schools in America and wish it even mildly resembled Sweet Valley High.

giphysIn grand Perfect-Size-Six style, the book opens with  gorgeous Jessica Wakefield looking into a mirror and lamenting to her twin sister, Elizabeth, about what a fat, hideous beast she is.

“‘I’m so gross! Just look at me. Everything is totally wrong. To begin with, I’m disgustingly fat….’ With that, she spun around to show off a stunning figure without an extra ounce visible.”

Jessica and Liz are lusting after the same boy, basketball captain, all-around dream boat, Todd Wilkins. Jess actually does something about it and relentlessly pursues him. Liz alternates whimpering and pining for him, when she’s not sobbing on the shoulder of heart-throb teacher and Robert Redford-lookalike Mr. Collins.

Todd only has eyes for Liz, but that doesn’t do much to deter Jessica. After all, she’s the Jessica Wakefield. She can’t understand why Todd’s not interested. After one particularly pointed rebuff, Jess decides to walk saucily down the street in an effort to get some much-needed male attention. It takes approximately 1.37 seconds for tattooed, high-school dropout Rick Andover to pull up along side in his beat-up Camaro. And he wins her over with the following pick-up line.

“‘Pardon me, Heaven–which way to Mars?'”

giphy4Just, ugh. Jessica agrees to go on a date with him the next night, but she’s ill-prepared to deal with Sweet Valley’s resident bad boy. He takes her to Kelly’s a wild, Roadhouse-type bar, and he gets drunk in ten minutes off Boilermakers. (Yeah, this is totally not a 17-year-old boy drink.) A fight breaks out, the police are called, and Jessica has to be escorted home by a local patrolman, who thinks she’s his niece’s friend, Elizabeth. Jessica does not correct him. *Shocker* Unfortunately, school gossip and Wakefield neighbor Caroline Pearce witnesses the Sweet Valley Police Department bringing “Elizabeth” home, and she promptly tells every one at Sweet Valley High.

For some reason everybody believes that old, reliable Elizabeth Wakefield is now a tramp and capable of being involved in a bar fight. (It seems totally far fetched, but Liz does become a “tramp” just a mere 6 books later after a motorcycle accident-induced head injury. So I guess for Sweet Valley this isn’t so far fetched?)

And Liz is just abso-fucking-lutely dense throughout the entire book. She doesn’t demand that Jessica tell everyone the truth and clear her name. Her philosophy is basically, if they would believe these lies, then they’re not her friends anyway. How noble truths of you, Liz.

Jessica actually has a rare flash of guilt and admits the truth to Todd, and he thinks she’s trying to be some sort of martyr and take the blame for Elizabeth. So he kisses her and asks her to the fraternity dance. Soon, the walls of Sweet Valley are buzzing with the news of their coupling.

3a17331a7810f3eda4aacae2aa5f2828Jessica’s really fucking pleased with herself…until the fateful night of the dance. Todd just isn’t that into her, and he politely declines her near-constant advances. Plus, he stares at Elizabeth throughout the night, which, of course, is unforgivable. Being the budding psychopath that she is, Jessica will not be ignored, so she schemes to punish Todd and keep him away from Elizabeth. She tears at her clothes, makes herself generally disheveled, and cries (attempted) rape. Now, Elizabeth thinks Todd is some date-rapey creep, and Todd still thinks Liz is some Roadhouse Rhonda.

A week or so passes, Liz is wallowing in self-pity about her broken heart. (Oh my God, Liz, you never even dated the dude. Get over it!) One day, she and Jessica are driving the Fiat, and a car starts following them. When they stop at a light, none other than a drunk Rick Andover pulls up along side the Wakefield Fiat and carjacks them! (I guess he just leaves his car at the light? Also, why doesn’t Rick get arrested for carjacking/kidnapping/dui/assault?) He takes the terrified twosome on a drunken tour of Sweet Valley, including through the Dairiburger parking lot, where Todd just happens to be standing. He somehow sees the terrified looks on Liz and Jess’ faces and follows them in his Datsun.

For some reason, Rick is taking them to Kelly’s. (I guess to do a little day drinking.) Todd pulls his POS car in front of the entrance, blocking it. Rick sucker punches him, but Todd takes him out with a flurry of gut punches. Liz and Todd reignite their relationship after they realize that Jess is a liar.

giphy-3B-Plot: Sweet Valley High’s lease on the football field has expired, so the two wealthiest families in town are waging a legal battle for property rights. The new-money Fowlers want to build a computer-chip factory. The old-money Patmans want to restore the football field to its former glory as a Victorian garden. Blame it on my bourgeois upbringing, but I still really don’t get the old money vs new money hullaballoo. Money is money is money.

The twin’s father, lawyer extraordinaire Ned Wakefield, is leading the charge for the status quo. As he spends more and more time on the case, the twins come to believe that he is having an affair with his co-counsel, Marianna West. Their only evidence? 1) Marianna and Ned having been working overtime on a case. 2) Marianna is beautiful, and (most convincingly) 3) Marianna is a divorcee! Apparently ridding yourself of a failed marriage puts you on the next train to Whore-ville.

Of course, the only merger between Wakefield/West is in the boardroom, as Marianna (with Ned’s help) has become a partner in the firm. With that crisis averted, Jess and Liz are free to meddle in the love life of their brother, Steven. Jess discovers somehow that he is dating Betsy Martin, the trashiest girl in Sweet Valley and the undisputed queen of the dregs! Steven’s really dating her sister, Tricia, who is more like the goodwill ambassador of the dregs.

Their relationship is on the rocks, though, because Steven is embarrassed of Tricia’s family and won’t tell any one he’s dating her. After a weekend of moping, Steven realizes he’s been a grade-A jerk and races to the bad part of town to get his girl.

TouchofthepoetEnglish Major Moment: “And right above the table was a theater poster of Jason Robards in A Touch of the Poet. She didn’t think she would ever be as good a writer as Eugene O’Neill, but it was a terrific-looking poster—and she was, after all, a writer.”

(Hey, some enterprising Sweet Valley fan posted a pdf link to read the entire book, which you can access here.)

September 27, 2010

#20 Crash Landing!

“Will Elizabeth lose her best friend?”

When the girls of Sweet Valley aren’t otherwise engaged in stealing each other’s boyfriends, at least one of them seems to be in some sort of mortal peril—motorcycle accidents, kidnappings, murderous boyfriends, etc. Next up on the chopping block is the most boring girl in Sweet Valley, Enid Rollins.  (They really should have picked someone awesome like Lila for us to root for. I’m sure all of two people care about Enid’s well being.)

For myriad reasons, this book is just bad, and not the so-bad-it’s-good bad that I usually associate with Sweet Valley.  It’s just a straight-up hot mess. The plot is like a poor reworking of #7 Dear Sister. Instead of Elizabeth on a motorcycle with a head injury that turns her into a slut, we have Enid on a plane with a back injury that turns her into a victim.

And this cover is a total no-no for dealing with people who’ve suffered spinal injuries.  I know that James Mathewuse, the SVH cover artist, is contractually obligated to show off Elizabeth in all her do-gooder glory, but even Saint Liz’s delicate touch can’t maneuver around the physical laws of the central nervous system. Thankfully, this scene never happened in the book, as Elizabeth was still saving Jessica from a knife-wielding construction worker at the time of the crash. Although had Liz actually been there, I’m sure she would have attempted some heroic posturing, per usual.

A little recap is needed before we can proceed. Elizabeth found out in the last book that Enid’s boyfriend, George, has been cheating on her with Robin Wilson (who he met in flight school). George says that he will tell Enid the truth after he takes her up for his maiden voyage. (Yeah, because getting your heart broken is so much easier after you’ve been in a rickety private airplane.)

As the cover and title indicate, shit goes awry with the plane, and George has to crash land in Secca Lake. Enid drags his unconscious body out of the plane. Yes, she saves his life, and at some point, she becomes paralyzed. (Don’t worry. No one stays disabled long in Sweet Valley.)

George decides that he won’t break up with Enid until she can walk again, because he doesn’t want to ruin her life further. Apparently, losing a douche bag like George would be the straw that broke the camel’s back–now metaphorically, since he already took care of that physically with the titular Crash Landing!. He tells Robin Wilson the same thing, putting their relationship into a holding pattern.  I’m fairly certain that college-attending George has to tread the high school dating waters, because girls at Sweet Valley College wouldn’t put up with this crap.

Jessica discovers that George has been having an affair with Robin, so Jess convinces everyone to avoid her like the plague for Enid’s sake. Say what? Jessica has been nothing but a heinous bitch to Enid throughout the entire series, and now Jess is acting like her great protector. Plus, Jessica is the patron saint of boyfriend stealing. Robin’s a straight-up lay person in comparison. Of course, George gets a free pass for his boorish behavior. Hypocrisy much, Jessica? And no one ever calls her out on her never-ending cycle of bullshit.

George vows to stay with Enid even though he’s miserable. Being the douchebag that he is, he can’t contain his misery, so he directs it at Enid, who has enough shit to deal with without worrying about a derelict boyfriend. Enid can sense he’s pulling away, so she just wallows in victim mode. And it’s just another unhealthy relationship at Sweet Valley High.

Robin is so miserable without George (*groan*) that she gains ten pounds in ten days! That is 35,000 calories for you calorie counters playing at home or 50 Dairyburger Sundaes. I totally eat my feelings too, so I can’t snark too hard. Of course, gaining weight doesn’t help Robin with her social leprosy problem, so she gets more depressed and consequently eats more. It’s a vicious cycle, y’all. Robin’s only a few Dairiburgers away from total pariah status.

Perfect-Size-Six moment: “I’m making a mess of everything, Robin thought unhappily. To top it all off, she was beginning to gain weight. The only thing she’d been able to find in her closet that fit her that morning was an old wraparound shirt, left over from her ‘fat’ days. No more food for awhile, Robin had promised herself when she stepped on the scale. She’d gained ten pounds, and she hated the way she looked. It took too long to get myself thin. I’m not going to let my figure go because my whole life is falling apart.”

The climax, of course, is at our weekly dance. Thank God. I don’t think I could have taken any more of this Debbie-downer book. Unfortunately, the dance is 137 kinds of ridiculous–mostly because the student body at Sweet Valley is treating Enid like a side-show attraction. I really think Enid is the first person in their little world to ever be in a wheelchair. I bet getting around would be a bitch, since you know there aren’t any ramps or anything. (Yes, I realize how sad it is that I’m musing about accessibility in a fictional town.)

Bitchiest moment of the book (courtesy of Lila): “‘How inappropriate,’ Lila said coldly. ‘Who’d ever dream of showing up at a dance in a wheelchair! What does she think she’s going to do all night!'”

Hmmm, I don’t know, Lila. Dance, maybe. Just because someone is in a wheelchair, it doesn’t negate their capacity for boogey-ing.  It’s called working what you got. Seriously, this whole dance scene is just painful. George and Robin are making googly eyes at each other all night. Everyone is staring at Enid, who has dared to show up at a dance in a wheelchair. Elizabeth is lamenting that she can’t have any fun, because she has to stay by Enid’s side to protect her.

‘”I must look like a real idiot,’ (Enid) whispered to Elizabeth. ‘Who ever heard of a cripple coming to a dance?’

‘Enid Rollins,’ Elizabeth snapped, ‘you are not a cripple! And you don’t look one bit foolish. You have as much right to be here as anyone else does.'”

Enid feels bad that George is stuck with a date who can’t dance. (Seriously, George doesn’t even go to Sweet Valley High. What else is he missing out on?) Enid tells him that he should go dance with someone, thinking that someone would be Elizabeth or another neutral pal. Since George is a jerk, he seizes the opportunity to cozy up to puffy Robin Wilson, and it’s obvious to everyone that they are totally in love with each other.

Now that the George/Robin relationship is out in the open, Enid is even more determined to hold onto her man. She knows that George will have to stay with her as long as she’s in the wheelchair, so she is in no hurry to walk again. I guess self respect and mobility aren’t good enough reasons.

Elizabeth is up in arms because Enid still can’t walk. Seriously, I know Sweet Valley is farfetched and everything, but Enid has been in a plane crash and has had subsequent back surgery. It should take more than two weeks to get back on her feet. Dr. Elizabeth Wakefield believes Enid’s paralysis is psychosomatic and that one well-meaning scheme is all it takes to get Enid back on her feet. (Do not try this at home, kids.) Liz devises this potentially dangerous plan. Mr. Collins’ eight-year-old son, Teddy, will pretend to drown, so Enid will be motivated enough to get off her ass and rescue him. Disability be damned.

You’ve gotta love the crappy parenting in Sweet Valley. What kind of father would involve their kid in these unsupervised shenanigans? There are 137 things that could have gone wrong with this little pool-rescue scenario. Luckily, Liz’s schemes always go off without a hitch. If this were Jessica’s plan, Teddy would be in the intensive care unit at Fowler Memorial Hospital fighting for his life, and Enid would be in the morgue.

Well, it’s miracle time again, because Enid Rollins is healed! Oh, and George and Robin are dating before Enid can even complete a victory lap. Here’s hoping you don’t become fat, disfigured, or disabled, Robin, because this is a sneak peak of how it will play out. Enid’s pretty damn stoic about their relationship, and she pardons and blesses the union. Uh-huh. Here is a more likely scenario in the real world, courtesy of Jazmine Sullivan, Bust Your Windows Out Your Car.

B-Plot: Jessica is taking cooking lessons (ha!) and falls for the teacher/chef. She throws herself at him, per usual, until she discovers he’s married. I really doubt that would have stopped her, but I digress. Jessica also tries to cook a meal for her family to prove that she’s not the worthless twin, but she only succeeds in giving everyone food poisoning. This sets up the next book #21 Runaway, where Jess does, in fact, runaway. (Unfortunately, not for good. I think I can speak for the rest of Sweet Valley when I say, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, J.”

Random note: Mr. Collins is officially dating Ms. Dalton. Hello, potentially uncomfortable working environment when you eventually split up. Plus, it’s really unprofessional to flout this in front of students, which probably wouldn’t concern Mr. Collins since he’s always in everyone’s business.

September 15, 2010

#19 Showdown (or Hoe-down)

“Jessica and Lila are in love with the same boy!”

Boyfriend stealing is pretty routine for Sweet Valley. I would dare say the franchise seems to be built upon it. It seems like in every book we have different girls duking it out for the affections of some high school loser, with a few little plot tweaks here and there to convince us that this is a brand new story.

The usual boyfriend-stealing culprit, of course, is our twin who’s built for sin, Jessica Wakefield. She has squared off with Enid, DeeDee, her own twin sister, and presumably every other reasonably attractive teen girl at SVH for the affections of anyone with an XY chromosome in Sweet Valley and beyond. Now, Jess has reached a new low and is going after her best friend, Lila Fowler’s, man. This is the first of what will be many  showdowns between Jess and Lila, who are totally the original Frenemies.

See, Lila has picked up a construction worker named Jack at her dad’s office, because she thinks that he’s some diamond in the rough. Unlike a traditional man in the construction trade, Jack is hot, gentlemanly, cultured, and clad in the de rigeur preppy basics. Plus, he doesn’t like to talk about his past, which only ups his cool points with Lila. These Sweet Valley girls love a mystery— almost as much as they love inappropriate men. Bonuses for both.

Lila makes the mistake of throwing a pool party to show off Jack to all her Sweet Valley High classmates. Jessica immediately zeroes in on the hot newcomer, and she does her patented Wakefield dive (in a string bikini) to get his attention. Great continuity there, SVH ghostwriter. Besides her trademark jiggle-walk, the bikini flip is Jessica’s signature seduction move. Seeing it is like an initiation ritual for all the new guys in town. Welcome to Sweet Valley, boys!

As Jess’ best friend, Lila knows all too well what that dive means. Lila spends most of the party trying to prevent Jessica from sinking her claws into Jack. Unfortunately, Jess is like the Energizer Bunny of boyfriend stealers mixed with some Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. She won’t be ignored!

Lila does some scheming of her own. She thinks that Jess will back off if she finds out about Jack’s not-so-glamorous day-job. And she’s right! Jess avoids Jack for the remainder of the party, but then she decides he must be secretly fabulous. When Lila leaves Jack’s side for 1.37 seconds, Jess slips him her phone number. Game on!

After the party’s over, Lila presses Jack for information about his background. He says that he’s from a wealthy family, but he’s trying to be independent and make a fortune of his own. Lila has visions of Vanderbilts and Dukes and East-coast royalty running through her head. She’s so excited about Jack’s newly-revealed prominence that she makes the mistake of telling Cara Walker. The next day, everyone in Sweet Valley knows about Jack’s background, and Jessica becomes even more obsessed with stealing him from Lila.

When Jack calls to ask Jessica out, she thinks that he has chosen her to be his one and only. Well, Jack is a cad, and he sees Jess during the week and Lila on the weekends. Lila is totally unaware of this sketchiness. Jess becomes fully aware, and she tolerates Jack’s double-dipping because she thinks he will be dumping Lila any day now. Yes, Jessica is a bitch. What else is new?

Lila is still blissfully ignorant of Jack’s two-timing, and they even become secretly engaged. Oh, Lila. We all know something bad is going to happen. In an ordinary world, Jack would be exposed as the lying, cheating douche bag that he really is. But this is Sweet Valley. Our standards for an exposee run heavy on the melodramatic side.

Nicholas Morrow and his friend from out of town recognize Jack as one of their former classmates. Even though Jack went to school with them, he isn’t rich. (Yes, the book hammers the point home that Jack is an East-coast dreg.) Jack lied to everyone there about his family and past. Then, he couldn’t handle his own lies, so he became a druggie. (WTF?) Jack then causes his downfall by robbing his date at knife point, which results in his expulsion from school. (???) That is the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard.

Meanwhile, while this ridiculous story is being told to Liz, Jess goes over to Jack’s house, intent on discovering all his secrets. She naturally starts in the bathroom. She rifles through every drawer and cabinet, trying to dig up something revelatory about Jack’s past. Well, her plan sort of works, but instead of finding out that Jack is a Vanderbilt heir,  she finds a cache of drugs and paraphernalia. Lots and lots of drugs, in fact. Being the dumbass that she is, Jessica grabs the box o’ pills and goes to confront the druggie. When she storms out of the bathroom, she finds Jack in the process of stealing her wallet. Haha!

Because drugs are bad (Mmmkay), Jack transforms into a menacing psycho (armed with a kitchen knife). Luckily, the cavalry arrives, and Jessica is saved. Per usual, she hasn’t learned anything, and no one calls her on her bullshit. Not even Lila! In the next book, Jessica is forgiven in the span of about a paragraph. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” What about, “Fool me 137 times, shame on …?”

Lila really gets the shaft (no pun intended) in the boyfriend area. Offhand, I can’t recall any meaningful or long-term relationships (Robbie Gordon, maybe). And she has to deal with a would-be rapist in #90  Don’t Go Home With John.

B-Plot– Penny Ayala has mono, so Liz is running the Oracle. Snooze alert. Well,  during her tenure, someone starts submitting photographs anonymously to the Oracle office, and Liz vows to discovers who the mystery photographer is. (It’s Penny’s sister, Tina) Things finally  take an interesting turn when one of the photos shows Enid’s boyfriend, George, passionately kissing former-fattie, Robin Wilson. Once again, it’s open season on monogamy at Sweet Valley High.

English Major Moment: “Jessica lounged beside the Wakefields’ pool, an open copy of Strindberg’s Miss Julie next to her. She had balked at first when they’d been assigned the play in English class, but to her surprise it was turning out to be pretty good. Miss Julie was a fascinating character as far as Jessica was concerned. Rotten, but fascinating.”

Well played, SVH ghostwriter. Miss Julie traces the relationship between a wealthy young woman and one of the servants. Think class struggle and battle of the sexes.

Perfect-Size-Six moment: “Eagerly Penny picked up Robin’s article and began to read. ‘Hey, this is really good!’ she observed. ‘I didn’t know Robin could write like this.’

She used to write all the time,’ Elizabeth explained, ‘before she lost all that weight. Remember? When she was the butt of everyone’s jokes instead of the girl all the boys want to date?’

Penny nodded her head.

‘She used to write because she needed some kind of outlet, a bit of comfort,’ Elizabeth continued. ‘Then when her life did that turnaround and she got onto the cheering squad and everything, she gave it up. I’m trying to encourage her to start again.'”

Oh, isn’t it wonderful that Robin lost a million pounds and no longer has to write about how shitty it is to be overweight in Sweet Valley? Now, she can focus on more important things…like stealing Enid’s boyfriend. You have arrived at last, Robin Wilson.

September 6, 2010

#18 Head Over Heels

“Can Bruce Patman really fall in love?”

Like so many girls before her, Regina Morrow has flipped her shit for Sweet Valley’s resident bad-boy, Bruce Patman. Poor, myopic Regina. Besides being deaf, she also appears to be short-sighted when it comes to boys and relationships. The SVH ghost writer du jour continuously hits us over the head with the fact that Regina is disabled and special and wants anything to be normal. Well, normal in Sweet Valley is getting used and abused by a Patman, so get ready, girl.

At the present moment in time, Bruce and Regina are in love and happy as clams. We know it’s real love because he buys her expensive presents, takes her home to meet the folks, and tells her he loves her. Apparently, a couple of chapters are supposed to negate Bruce’s douchey past, because Bruce is a new man….(for the time being, before Trampy Sutton moves to town and pulls Bruce back to the dark side.)

Because Jessica and Lila can’t bear to see anyone else happy, they make a bet over the status of Bruce and Regina’s relationship. If they break up before the centennial, Lila has to write Jessica’s history paper. If they’re still together, Jessica must write Lila’s. (That’s a lose/lose situation if there ever was one.)

Plus, Lila’s in rare alpha-bitch form in this one. She’s pretty much the only person in Sweet Valley who hasn’t joined Regina Morrow’s fan club.

“‘Just look at her,’ Lila seethed, pushing her food away in disgust. ‘She looks ridiculous in that purple dress. You’d think she was color blind, not deaf, the way she dresses.'”

Oh, and Jessica’s a dumbass yet again. “Elizabeth shook her head in disbelief. Only my twin, she thought, would ask to speak to a deaf girl on the phone. It just figures.”

Sweet Valley High isn’t known for its adroit handling of serious issues, and the theme of disability is no exception. This is an especially touchy issue with me since I grew up with a physical impairment that couldn’t magically be cured like Regina’s deafness. And I wasn’t able to convert the highschool douchebags I liked into decent human beings through the sheer power of my goodness and beauty. (Changing people in general is pretty impossible, even though it’s like second nature in Sweet Valley.)

My first irritation is the cause of her disability. She wasn’t just born deaf. Oh no, that wouldn’t be melodramatic enough for the world of Sweet Valley. Her disability is caused by her own mother’s vanity (which also doubles as a Perfect-Size-Six moment).

“But a few weeks after (Skye Morrow) learned she was pregnant, one of the most glamorous magazines in New York offered her a spectacular assignment. They wanted Skye to appear in their special summer issue, modeling bathing suits and resort wear. After long discussions with Kurt, Skye decided to take the job. It would be her last modeling assignment, and she wanted it to be perfect.

There was only one catch. The magazine told her she would have to lose ten pounds in less than a month. Ignoring what her doctor told her, Skye took diet pills and lost the weight. The assignment went perfectly, and in the magazine’s summer issue, Skye looked more beautiful than ever before.

But the consequences were grave. The pills Skye had taken had damaged the delicate tissue in the ears of her unborn child. After Regina was born, it became obvious that she wasn’t responding to noises the way Nicholas had. The doctors’ pronouncement was grave: Regina had suffered permanent damage to her ears. She would never be able to hear normally.”

Yes, my eyes are still rolling out of my head after reading that. What kind of shitty mother takes diet pills while pregnant? Um, Skye Morrow, that’s who. Well, she does feel adequately guilty, I guess. And redemption appears to be right around the corner!

Miracle of miracles, a Swiss medical team has invented some sort of therapy that will allow Regina to hear, after a year or so of treatments. Well, Regina is so besotted with Bruce that she doesn’t want to leave, even if it means she will never be able to hear. Granted, Bruce would be a lot more attractive to me with a mute button, but he is sooo not worth it. Well, Regina is new to dating, and she picked Mt. Everest as her first mountain to climb.

The Morrows try desperately to change Regina’s mind. They don’t know about her puppy love with Bruce, so they go about it all wrong. There’s a lot of fighting and arguing. Regina just comes off as really bratty and immature throughout most of the book. And helpless and in need of protection, of course. Mrs. Morrow even enlists Saint Liz to help, but even Elizabeth Wakefield can’t overcome the lure of Bruce Patman. (I hate Bruce, and I would still pick him over Liz.)

Cue Jessica and her scheming, bitchy ways. She finds out that Bruce is campaigning to be the Centennial king, so she tells Regina that Bruce is only dating her to up his popularity and win votes—because dating a disabled person is the surest fire way to win friends and influence people. Regina is so painfully naive that she believes Jessica and breaks up with Bruce with no explanation. (Please kill me now because I actually feel sorry for Bruce effing Patman.)

“I never would have believed it in a million years, (Elizabeth) thought. Bruce Patman is crying.”

OH MY GOD. Sweet Valley has frozen over. Patman, down! Bruce is so upset that he has gone to Elizabeth Wakefield, the girl he tried to rape 11 books earlier, for help! And she is deservedly dubious of the reformed Bruce until he unleashes the waterworks. (Sucker!) Liz has told him everything, so now Bruce is faced with a moral dilemma. Should he be selfish and get Regina back? Or should he leave things as they are and let Regina go to Switzerland, unfettered by him?

Bruce chooses a little of both. He has Liz plant a letter in Regina’s luggage explaining what really happened and how much he loves her. So Regina will go to Switzerland, but she won’t think he’s the son of a bitch that he actually is. Awww. I am totally rooting for these two crazy kids to make it work right now. Luckily, Regina does REALLY well with the inscrutable hearing therapy, and she’s back home in 8 books. (Well, 9 books really. I don’t know if I would count her kidnapping as a homecoming.)

Bruce is in a love-sick holding pattern until then, so girls of Sweet Valley can finally enjoy a cup of wine without fear of Bruce Patman taking advantage. Don’t we all love a good, bad-boy redemption story?

The B-plot is pretty negligible. Lila is lusting after a construction worker at her father’s office building. How déclassé! She’s convinced that he’s not really a construction worker, that he’s really a blue-blood in disguise who’s slumming it for some romantic reason. Sorry, Li. He’s just pauvre and psycho, which is fleshed out in the next book, #19 Showdown!.

Sorry about the delay with this review. I had to edit out a lot of my passionate opinions on the social construct of disability. I’ve also been studying non-stop for the GRE Literature subject test, so I will probably be posting less until the date of the exam, which is October 9th. Wish me luck!

August 30, 2010

#17 Love Letters

Filed under: Books #1-20 — mediumcore @ 12:58 am
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“Is Caroline’s romance for real?”

Oh, hey, it’s a book starring Sweet Valley High’s least favorite student, gossip-hound Caroline Pearce. She would be the redhead on the cover. I love that Liz is throwing an especially bitchy stink eye in Caroline’s direction, the likes of which we haven’t seen since #11 Too Good To Be  True. (Maybe it’s because they’re wearing the same shirt.)

You and I both know this isn’t going to turn out well. Let me warn you in advance. This is the most cringe-inducing story-line in all of Sweet Valley-dom. Seriously.

See, Caroline is living in the shadow of her perfect, model-slim, passive aggressive bitch of a sister, Anita, who is a freshman at Sweet Valley College. Caroline is tired of being the least popular girl at SVH, so she thinks that by concocting a fake boyfriend, she will become BFFs with the high school A-list and simultaneously earn her sister’s respect.  The sad part is that it sort of/kind of works.

Caroline has dreamt up “Adam,” a paragon of teenage male perfection (who coincidentally resembles Todd). He’s 6’2′ with wavy brown hair, and he plays basketball for Cold Springs High, which is a safe couple of hours away–close enough so it’s plausible they date, far enough away so that he can’t visit. He also writes amazing love letters (hence the title), which Caroline plagiarizes from the works of Robert Browning. I’m sure Browning is turning in his grave, because his romantic odes have been commandeered by the YA lit set.

This should have been the first clue that something was rotten in Sweet Valley. No teenage boy in the ’80s, ’90s, or today writes like this.

“‘My dearest Caroline,’ she read out loud. ‘Your letter came this morning, and the promise it contained of another made me restless all day…'”

“‘Now I will go out and walk where I can be alone, and think thoughts of you, and love you. I will look in the direction of Sweet Valley, and send my heart there…”

“‘My beloved Caroline, I was happy, so happy before. But I am happier and richer now. Caroline, no words will do, but there is life before us, and I will live and die with your beautiful vision comforting me, blessing me…'”

Even though a few people have me pegged as a man-hating bitch in my day-to-day life (because I suffer no fools), I’m a mushy romantic at heart. The closest I’ve ever gotten to a poetry reading is when this guy found out that my favorite poet (age 18) was Sylvia Plath. He later gave me a spirited reading of “Daddy,” which was 137 kinds of hilarious.  Is the following too much to ask?

Anyway, no one seems to care about Caroline’s mystery man one way or the other until Jessica becomes pissed off at Caroline. After popping up uninvited to the Wakefields, Caroline just happens to go through their trash can outside and finds a letter indicating the Wakefields are moving to San Francisco. Caroline naturally takes the letter out of the trash to keep for her own personal records. When Jessica insults her later that day, Caroline uses her tidbit of information to cut Jess down, as she had no idea about her family’s impending move.

Jessica naturally makes it her mission to destroy Caroline. It also sets up the super-annoying B-plot where Jess and Liz try to convince their parents not to move. When whining and temper tantrums don’t work, they invoke the powers of the Sweet Valley chamber of commerce and have every manner of brochure which glorifies Sweet Valley mailed to the Wakefield house. They also cut out articles which show the horrors of big-city San Francisco–crime, earthquakes, and death–oh my! As we all know, the Wakefields aren’t going anywhere, so Jessica is free to terrorize Caroline some more.

Jessica discovers that the letters are fake, and she and Lila plot to publicly expose Caroline as a fraud. They plan a party in Adam’s honor, so Caroline will have to either bring him or admit that she lied.  Caroline only confesses to her sister, Anita, and Liz.  Anita tries to make Caroline see why everyone hates her. Plus, she throws in a makeover as a bonus. Anita’s like a bitchy fairy godmother. Eventually, Caroline sees the error of her gossiping ways and vows to change for the better. (Don’t worry, gossip lovers. Her  conversion is short-lived.)

Fast forward to the night of Lila’s party. Caroline still hasn’t told the rest of Sweet Valley High about her deception. She decides to show up to Lila’s looking fabulous, so she can make a public confession. Cue Saint Liz to the rescue. She convinces one of Todd’s out-of-town friends to pretend he is Adam, giving Caroline an out. Well, reformed Caroline decides confession is good for the soul or something and tells everyone the truth. Plus, she ends up making out with Todd’s friend by the end of the night, so win-win situation for Caroline.

Perfect Size Six Propaganda: “‘Do you want a waffle?’ Caroline asked cheerfully, popping a frozen one into the toaster for herself and holding the box out to her sister.

‘No thanks.’ Anita yawned. ‘I’m watching my weight,’ she added pointedly. Caroline blushed. Anita was model-thin, and Caroline could tell from the insinuating tone in her voice that she was really giving her little sister a hint.

Whenever Caroline complained that Anita was picking on her appearance, her sister looked wide-eyed and innocent. ‘I’m only trying to help,’ she’d say. But I don’t have a weight problem, Caroline reminded herself, fighting to keep her self-control. And even if I lived on melon and ice water, like Anita does, tings wouldn’t be any better. I’d be weak and miserable, instead of just miserable. No, Adam is the only hope I’ve got. And not even Anita is going to wreck how good I’m feeling now that I’ve got him.”

Random thought: How is Caroline a member of Pi Beta Alpha, the most exclusive sorority at Sweet Valley High? She’s one of the least popular, generally disliked girls in the whole school. At this point, I’m pretty sure the only girls they would actually deny are the non-perfect-size-six ones. (oh, hey Robin Wilson and Lois Waller).

And one of the worst Sweet Valley High books is officially behind me.

August 26, 2010

#16 Rags to Riches

“Look who’s after Roger Barrett!”

First Lila in #9 Racing Hearts, now Jessica. How is POOR Roger managing to attract the snobbiest girls at Sweet Valley High? Well, as we’re told in a super clunky first chapter, he’s Roger Patman now and RICH to boot. He is totally embracing his inner Patman douchebag on the cover, with the layered polos/popped collar/sports jacket ensemble he’s sporting.

How does this transformation occur? Roger’s mom dies in between books, and  he discovers that he’s the bastard scion of Paul Patman. He totally looks broken up about his dead mom too. I’m sure he shed a few tears when he bought his Lacoste shirts and Italian loafers. Note to readers: Being a bastard is okay if one of your parents is rich and/or famous.

“‘Well according to Uncle Henry, this is the story. When my mother first moved to Sweet Valley, she took a job working for the Patmans. That was before Uncle Henry was married or had a family. He was living with his older brother, Paul, who was married to this woman everyone hated. Well, I guess my mother fell in love with Paul Patman, and they sent more and more time together, amd -‘ Roger stopped, his face turning red.

‘I understand, Roger,’ Olivia said softly.

‘Well, I guess my mother moved away when she found out she was going to have a baby. While she was gone, Paul tried to divorce his awful wife. He wanted to marry my mother. But nobody ever found out about it because he was killed in a plane crash flying down to Mexico on business.'”

I love how Roger justifies the cheating because Paul Patman’s wife is so horrible, and everyone hates her. How many dudes in real life use this line to lure chicks into becoming their mistresses? (And yes, I’ve had someone try this out on me, unsuccessfully I might add.)

Roger’s dad was probably flying down to Tijuana to experience transnational hookers and donkey shows. If I were Mrs. Barrett, I wouldn’t have held out hope for Paul Patman sweeping me off my feet in the assembly line, à la Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentleman.

And seriously, Roger can’t even discuss the events leading to his birth without blushing. On behalf of every character in Sweet Valley, S-E-X!!! I can only imagine what their sex ed would be like.

I work at a public high school in a non-instructional capacity (thank god), and I had the distinct displeasure of walking into a classroom during a sex-ed lesson. I didn’t know this at first. Everyone had their crayons out, and they were going to town. When I looked to see what they were coloring, I noticed that it was line drawings of the male and female reproductive systems. How is coloring  a penis lime green teaching them about sexual health? The most depressing part is that most of the students in there were 18-years-old, two were pregnant, and one already had two kids. Methinks that’s a little late to hear about the birds and the bees and the penises and the vaginas. End rant.

Anyway, Jessica is in gold-digger mode now that Roger claimed his share of the Patman fortune. The only one standing in her way is Olivia Davidson, Roger’s present girlfriend and Sweet Valley’s resident boho hippie. I’m not condoning Jessica’s shenanigans by any means, but I’ve just always disliked the whole Olivia/Roger pairing. They just seem asexual and boring.

Jessica’s first plan of attack occurs at the Patman bar-b-q. Jess thinks that by ingratiating herself with Mrs. Patman that she will somehow gain an advantage with Roger. It’s how she ingratiates herself that doesn’t make any sense. Jess is acting like she’s the Patman scullery maid–clearing dishes,  running errands, etc. Well, I guess Jess was onto something because Mrs. Patman jumps on the Jessica bandwagon and completely dismisses Olivia.

Jessica decides the next course of action is to blow Olivia out of the water–by becoming her new best friend. Jess preys on Olivia’s insecurities about Roger’s new situation by giving her some well-aimed, horrible advice. Why any one trusts Jessica at this point is a mystery to me. Olivia and Roger break up. Roger eventually realizes that Jessica was behind all the drama in their relationship, and he goes to Olivia (with interloper Liz, of course) and wins her back. Still don’t care about their relationship.

Awesome B-plot: Ms. Lila Fowler is jealous of the new rich girl in town, Regina Morrow. See, Regina is just as wealthy as Lila and nice to boot so that sort of dulls Lila’s lustre. When Lila sees Regina seemingly cavorting with a hot, middle-aged man, she makes sure that the Perez Hilton of Sweet Valley High, Caroline Pearce, has the exclusive. That means Regina is on the fast track to a bad reputation! Quelle horreur!

No worries. Regina doesn’t have daddy issues. She’s just moonlighting as a covergirl, and she doesn’t want any one in Sweet Valley to know. Apparently, she’s nervous because her mom was a supermodel, and her mom didn’t think that Regina could follow in her footsteps because she’s deaf. uh, okay.

When Lila discovers that Regina is going to be on the cover of Ingenue magazine, she goes down to the modeling agency that hired Regina. Lila thinks that once the agent meets her that he will immediately put her on the cover instead of Regina. Haha. How do I love thee Lila? Let me count the ways.

Anyway, the director royally dismisses Lila, which is the highlight of the book.

“‘It’s my business to meet pretty girls,’ he told her. ‘Lila, try not to be too disappointed about the modeling job. You’re a pretty girl, but you don’t really have the right facial structure, I’m afraid. You wouldn’t like how flat your face would look in photographs. Anyway,’ he told her, seeing her to the door, ‘modeling is hard work. You’ll probably thank me a few years from now.'”

English major moment: A few minutes earlier (Elizabeth had) gotten home from the library, where she’d been doing research for the playwright’s competition. After several days of thought, she’d decided to write about her favorite poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”

I bet the only reason Elizabeth Barrett Browning is her favorite poet is because they share the same first name.

August 22, 2010

#15 Promises (Be Damned)

“Somehow, Jessica will get rid of Betsy!”

On the cover we get our first look at the notorious Betsy Martin, who is the reigning slut of Sweet Valley, now that Annie Whitman’s been deposed.  She’s a lot less whorish looking than I expected.  There’s also a vague resemblance to Annie, which I think is mostly due to the short hair and the persecuted expression on her face. For an alleged boozer, user, and loser, Betsy looks 137 kinds of normal. In fact, she looks like she moonlights as a chambermaid at the Sweet Valley Hilton.

You wouldn’t know it by the cover, but Tricia Martin has breathed her last fragile breath. The deathbed scene is pretty poignant for Sweet Valley, and I did shed a few tears. Tricia’s last request is for Steven to look after her sister, Betsy (hence the title). We learn just how tall an order this is when we finally meet the queen of the dregs. Moments after Tricia’s death, Betsy races into the hospital, screaming at the top of her lungs. While Tricia’s emotional death bed scene played out, Betsy was off drinking and cavorting with the dregs of Sweet Valley. She has a breakdown when she learns that Tricia has died, and she vows to clean up her life for good.

Since Mr. Martin, the town drunk, is nowhere to be found, the Wakefields bring Betsy home, much to Jessica’s chagrin. In 1.37 seconds, Jessica goes from mourning to her usual bitch mode, and she “promises” to get Betsy out of their lives for good. Nice play on the title, SVH ghostwriter.

As we’ve been repeatedly told before, Betsy has a “reputation,” so Jessica doesn’t want to be associated with her in the slightest. Apparently, Jessica has learned nothing from the Annie Whitman incident in #10 Wrong Kind of Girl, where Jessica’s antics give rise to Annie’s suicide attempt.

I think what irritated me the most was that hardly any one in Sweet Valley gives a shit about Tricia’s death. At lunch the next day, Enid and Liz briefly discuss it…until Winston decides to have a one-man eating contest with four pizzas. This sets up an especially lame B-plot, where Winston attempts to break the world record for eating pizzas. Yes, the students of Sweet Valley High care more about some doofus’ gorging than the death of one of their own. What collective assholes. They totally deserve the earthquake that’s coming to them some 100+ books later.

To add insult to injury, hardly anyone comes to Tricia’s funeral. I can understand why Betsy began to reevaluate the reformed life. Tricia was an impossibly good human being, she dies, and no one cares. What hope is there for someone like Betsy? Oh, that’s right. She can become like Enid Rollins, the patron saint of reformed losers. Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather make time at the Shady Lady with all the other dregs. (Can we go one book without dredging up Enid’s “sordid” past?)

“(Elizabeth) was solemn as she stood near the front of the shamefully small group of people who had come to pay their last respects to Tricia Martin. Some of the Sweet Valley High teachers were there, a handful of Tricia’s classmates, and a few others. Betsy alone represented the Martin family. No other relatives had gathered for bittersweet reminiscences; no one had come to bestow one final declaration of love.”

Liz discovers that Betsy is an exceptional artist, so Steven gives her some painting supplies and tries to encourage her. He introduces Betsy to his friend, Jason, who teaches art classes at the community center. For someone who is supposedly such a man-chasing whore, Betsy has a pretty intense hatred of anyone with an X-Y chromosome, who isn’t Steven Wakefield. Jason has the misfortune of falling for Betsy. It just makes no sense within the context of their meeting. Betsy alternately ignores Jason and tells him that she’s not the slutty Betsy of yore.  It is majorly cringe-inducing how harsh she is to him, repeatedly.

“Betsy instantly recoiled from his touch, and the hard look was back in her eyes. ‘Don’t forget that this is purely a student-teacher relationship,’ she said, an icy edge to her voice. ‘It’s not going any further. So you can forget all those things you’ve heard about me. I’m not like that anymore.'”

Seriously, not every dude in Sweet Valley wants to pump you and dump you, Betsy. Maybe if she would stop continuously reminding people that she was a teenage whore, people would  stop associating her with teenage whoredom. Like with Jason, Betsy is telling someone she’s never met, who probably has no clue about the innerworkings of Sweet Valley High, about her seedy reputation. As a college student/artist, Jason should be a lot more chill about sexual mores than the denizens of Sweet Valley. I don’t know. I literally just cringe throughout these books with “slut” and “bad reputation” themes, especially since there’s no really overt references to sex. Jessica mentions that Betsy has gone to Miller Point with two guys before. Scandalous! What did Betsy do with them? Maybe they looked at the stars and discussed the meaningless of meaning.

But I digress. Jason wants Betsy to apply for art school, which I’m pretty sure would require at bare minimum a G.E.D. that high school drop out Betsy does not possess. *Suspension of disbelief* Betsy thinks that Jason only wants to nurture her art talent, so that he can nurture her in other ways. *wink, wink* Liz, Stephen, and Jason decided to enter her in the contest without her knowledge, and she wins a full-ride to some prestigious art school in L.A. That was a short admissions process.

Meanwhile, Jessica has overheard Steven telling the Wakefields about his deathbed promise to Tricia to take care of Betsy. Then, it all makes sense. Why else would Steven be a decent human being to Betsy? Jessica deftly weaves this tidbit into a conversation with Betsy, which sends her reeling back into whoreville. Betsy was under the impression that the Wakefields really cared about her, which they do, sort of, but Betsy never would have gained entrance into Wakefield manor if it weren’t for Tricia. They don’t run a half-way house, so I can’t understand why Betsy goes nuclear after Jessica’s admission.

Betsy packs up her shit and heads to the Shady Lady with “Crunch” Mcallister and Charlie Cashman. Good times–except her heart’s not really into it. Steven and Jason descend upon the bar, and Betsy tries to pretend that she’s reverted back to her whorish ways. Instead of leaving her to her own devices, Steven and Jason forcefully remove her from the Shady Lady. See, Jason is an art student/ brown belt in karate, and Betsy falls in love with him when he dropkicks Charlie and Crunch. Sweet Valley girls love their rough and tumble boys. (I’m looking at you, Elizabeth Wakefield)

Armed with her art-school admission and her new man, Betsy becomes yet another reformed bad girl of Sweet Valley High. Another one bites the dust. Stay tuned, readers because another one bites the dust literally in our next book #16 Rags to Riches. The Death-a-palooza continues as Roger Barrett’s mom has a heart attack and dies. Judging by the next cover, he doesn’t look too broken up about it. Et tu, Roger.

August 21, 2010

#14 Deceptions

Filed under: Books #1-20 — mediumcore @ 11:06 pm
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“Has Elizabeth found a new love?”

After that whole kidnapping kerfluffle in the last book, #13 Kidnapped!, Liz decides she wants to throw herself a homecoming party ASAP.  (I would probably want a stiff drink (or three) and some pharmaceuticals, but I digress.)

Fast forward to said soiree, and Liz meets Nicholas Morrow, who I think is intended to be the anti-Bruce Patman. See, Nicholas is heavy on the tall, dark, and handsome (and RICH!) and light on the date-raping and douchebaggery. I don’t remember what I thought of him as a kid, but he is my absolute favorite Sweet Valley guy now. He loves fairy tales (!), Hemingway (!!), and French food (!!!). I kind of imagine him looking like a young Mark Ronson, which equals extra swooning in my book.

His one major character flaw is his instantaneous obsession with Liz upon meeting her. Even though he’s already met Jessica, Nick experiences love at first sight with Liz. This seems kind of odd, since they’re identical twins. Anyway, Nicholas follows her around all night, which royally pisses off Todd (ha!). Before Nick leaves, he confesses his love for Liz and coerces her into a date. It comes across as pretty creepy, especially since Liz just finished dealing with a psycho orderly who was obsessed with her. (If Nicholas were less aesthetically pleasing and POOR, this would be more like Kidnapped! Part Deux.)

Liz struggles with the idea of going on a date with Nicholas. For one, she has Todd, the old ball and chain, waiting in the wings at home. Then, there’s the fact that Jessica thinks that Nicholas is totally in love with her. If Liz goes, a clusterfuck is sure to ensue. What’s a normally-good girl supposed to do? (Do it!)

Liz decides to go on the date, but she wants to tell Todd (to clear her conscience). Not surprisingly, every time she mentions Nicholas’ name, Todd gets whiny and jealous. I love how the ghostwriter contrasts Liz’s dates with Todd and Nicholas. Team Nicholas, all day, every day.

Todd takes Liz to a scary monster movie, “Teenage Terror,” and she just laughs about how much she hates those type of films. Then, Todd whisks her away to dinner at Chez Dairyburger.  Très originale, Todd. I won’t even get into his shitty idea of wooing over the previous 13 books. Let’s just say that I’m eagerly awaiting Todd’s train ride to Vermont in #23 Say Goodbye.

The next day, Nicholas takes Liz to an upscale French restaurant. (Two dates in two days. Wouldn’t that make Liz a ho by Sweet Valley standards of slutdom?) Anyway, the date goes swimmingly. They have a lively conversation about their shared interests and values. Liz even gets over her prejudice about rich people for a couple of hours. It’s a home run of a first date. My only slight irritation is that she lets Nicholas order for her. Maybe, it’s my own experience shining through, but I bristle when someone tries to do this.

Liz’s date is ruined when Todd and his family, who just happen to  be dining at the same restaurant an hour outside of Sweet Valley, walk right by their table. What a coincidence. Liz pretends she is Jessica and proceeds to mock Todd for thinking she is Liz. (Oooh, bitchy moment, Liz!)  Todd feels so bad about confusing the two that he drives down to the Wakefield house and kisses the first Wakefield he sees. Jessica is not amused, and neither is Todd when he realizes that Liz really was on a date with Nicholas. Jess is pissed too because she had been throwing herself at Nick unsuccessfully for two whole  books.

Oh, how I get tired of Liz/Todd antics. They’re continuously presented as this paradigm of a loving, successful relationship,  and even my nine-year-old self saw how fucked up they were. But have no fear, Liz and Todd lovers! A happy ending is right around the corner, of course.

Nicholas tells Todd that he practically forced Liz to go out with him. (Yeah, what an ordeal–dating a rich, handsome, literate man.) Nick then tells Todd that Liz wouldn’t shut up about how much she loves him. With that, Todd vows to get his girl (and win the Big Mesa game) in one fell swoop, and the Sweet Valley High universe has righted itself again. Seriously, this was such a hard book to get through. I thought of all five of you who will read this, and it propelled me forward. : )

Get your kleenex ready, guys. Tricia Martin dies in the next book, followed soon after by Roger Barrett’s mom. The poor are dropping like flies in Sweet Valley!

English major moment: “Outside the school, (Liz) stopped. She had a long way to go. A line from a poem she’d studied in English came back to her; ‘And miles to go before I sleep.’ It was by the poet Robert Frost, and Elizabeth had been so moved when she first read it that she had almost cried. It was then that she’d vowed to do her very best, no matter what she wrote.”

My eyes were rolling out of my head when I read this. Now whenever anyone starts piously complaining about all the shit in their life, I will respond, “Miles to go before you sleep, huh?”

August 18, 2010

#13 Kidnapped!

“Elizabeth’s nightmare is about to begin….”

You know this is serious business because Liz’s trademark “O” face has reemerged. (Stay tuned for my many “O”-faces of Liz collage in this recap. You’re welcome.) Props yet again to James Mathewuse, who did most of the SVH covers. He really captures the spirit of, “O hey, I’m about to get chloroformed by some creeper in a van.”

That mysterious hand reaching out for Liz belongs to Carl, a “husky***” janitor at Fowler Memorial Hospital where Liz has been volunteering.  She was nice to him once, so he falls madly in love with her-emphasis on the mad, as in crazy.

He kidnaps her from the parking lot of the hospital after one of her shifts and transports her via van to his home in the outerlands of Sweet Valley. (Unfortunately, there is no Stockholm syndrome for our dear Lizzie. That would have been an amazing plot–Patty Hearst meets #13 Kidnapped! meets #82 Kidnapped by the Cult! If only I could have been an SVH ghostwriter…). This book is a lot less thrilling than I remember. Maybe, it’s because I’ve been exposed to all the perils of real kidnappings. Except for the whole chloroform thing, Carl seems pretty harmless. He doesn’t want to torture her or turn her into a sex slave. His grand plan involves them living secluded in the mountains. As far as Sweet Valley psychos go, he’s pretty tame.

It takes the denizens of Sweet Valley awhile to realize that  Elizabeth is missing—due to Jessica, of course. See, the night of Liz’s kidnapping is also the night of a fabulous soiree at the Morrow manor. The Morrows, a new, uber-wealthy family, has moved to town, and they’re throwing this shindig to introduce themselves. And Jessica will do anything to “introduce” herself first to the fresh meat, Nicholas Morrow. Jess is supposed to wait for her sister but catches a ride with Cara Walker. Hours pass, and Jess still hasn’t concerned herself with Liz’s disappearance. When Todd confronts her about it, she lies and says Liz is baby-sitting for Mr. Collins.

Todd decides to call Mr. Collins to verify, and *surprise* to no one, Jessica was lying. (Sidenote: why would a student have a teacher’s home phone number?). Then, Todd pushes Jess into the pool before he confronts her. Nice waste of valuable time, Todd. After discovering Liz isn’t at home either, Todd and Jess leave the party and finally go into panic mode once they reach the Wakefields. After they exhaust all the leads on Liz’s possible whereabouts, they decide to call the most incompetent fictional police department of all time.

The Sweet Valley PD can’t comprehend a kidnapping on their idyllic turf, so they hypothesize that Liz ran away—never mind all the evidence to the contrary. 1) She leaves her keys in the ignition 2) Her purse is still in the car and 3) The car door is open. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure this one out. Instead of pursuing credible leads, they arrest Max Dellon, lead guitarist for the Droids. Due to her ill-timed kidnapping, Elizabeth missed her tutoring appointment with Max. He got worried and went to the hospital to look for her. When he got there, he noticed the aforementioned signs of kidnapping and decided to rifle through Liz’s car instead of calling the police. Max is so busy snooping that he doesn’t notice that the cops have arrived to investigate. He almost deserves to be arrested for being so stupid.

Max is quickly released, but there’s this cloud of suspicion forming since he’s already known as a quasi-bad ass (for Sweet Valley, anyway). Todd confronts him, then punches him, then decides to work with him to help find Liz (all in the span of a page). Todd, Jessica, and Max head to the scene of the crime–Joshua Fowler Memorial Hospital–to look for clues. Carl sees Jessica, thinks she is Elizabeth, and pushes her against the wall with a laundry cart. I’m pretty sure that the book has portrayed him as so stupid that he can’t understand the concept of twins. Fast forward a bit, and Carl is singing like a canary to the SVPD. The cops, with Jessica and Todd as backup apparently, rush into Carl’s home and save Elizabeth.

Disability at Sweet Valley High: One of my major fields of interest in literature/criticism is disability studies. This book introduces the infamous Regina Morrow, who is currently deaf. (She will soon be un-deaf by way of miraculous Swiss treatments and then soon after that will be dead from a single line of coke). She’s our go-to victim, waiting in the wings—-to be activated upon the imminent demise of our current go-to victim, Tricia Martin. Anyway, Jessica doesn’t quite get that people like her can be disabled.

“The stumble, the lack of response to Jessica–It was only natural to conclude that the Morrow girl was drunk.”

Drunk, deaf–same dif.

Perfect Size Six moment: This is the first overweight male we’ve seen in Sweet Valley. Of course, he’s deranged and illiterate and has a menial labor job, but compare the repeated references to his larger size (“stocky,” “husky,” and “heavyset” ) to say the description of a pre-anorexic Robin Wilson (“tubby”, “fatso”, “Queen Mary”). Methinks I see some gender disparities.

English major moment: “(Max) had no idea what he’d been reading. Although the book was written in English-it was Shakespeare’s Othello– for all he’d been able to understand, it might have been written in another language.

‘Sir, he is rash and very sudden in choler and haply with his truncheon may strike at you.’ Max read the words again and shook his head in confusion. No one he knew talked like that. He felt it was terribly unfair of Mr. Collins to expect him to know what it meant, let alone why Iago bothered to say it in the first place.”

The random literature reference should totally have been Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. The scene where Carl is stroking Elizabeth’s hair seems like an ode to Men‘s Lennie, the hulking, mentally-challenged farmhand who likes petting soft things.

August 16, 2010

#12 When Love Dies (or The Other C-Word)

“What terrible secret is Tricia keeping from Steven?”

Something shady is going on with Tricia Martin. She’s been blowing off dates with Steven Wakefield, and she might even want to stop dating him. Inconceivable! Didn’t she get the memo that Steven Wakefield is a paragon of male virility and general awesomeness? Plus, Tricia is POOR. Shouldn’t she be on her knees praising the gods of Sweet Valley that he’s even deigned to date her?

So what is going on with Tricia? Is she turning into an alchie like her father or a whore like her sister? Does it have anything to do with the poodle perm she’s sporting on the cover? Uh, no. Tricia has leukemia! And she doesn’t want anyone to know.

Her mother also died from leukemia, and her death apparently turned Tricia’s dad into the town drunk that we know and loathe today. Tricia doesn’t want the same fate to befall Steven, so she decides to just stop speaking to him. Closure is so overrated.

Jessica, meanwhile, is in her usual full-on-bitch mode. She tells a distraught Steven that Tricia probably has a new boyfriend (or is fulfilling her legacy as a Martin in other seedy ways). Jess is still trying to push the irritating Cara Walker as a potential love interest. If I were her, I would be encouraging my college-age brother to stop skimming from the high school pool. To each her own, I guess.

Steven decides to find out what’s going on for himself, so he goes to visit Tricia….in the ghetto. (I always think of the Elvis song, “In the Ghetto,” when an SVH ghostwriter mentions the more craptacular areas of Sweet Valley.)

“It was only a few miles from the Wakefields’ comfortable split-level ranch house in a beautiful green area of Sweet Valley to the poorer section of town where the Martins lived, but as far as Steve was concerned, it was a completely different world. His headlights picked up the gleam of discarded cans and broken glass that littered the weeds alongside the uneven road. He pulled to a stop in front of a shabby frame house with peeling paint. Tricia’s house. As always, he experienced a pang at the thought. Sweet, lovely Tricia deserved much better than this, though he had never once heard her complain about it.”

Steven confronts Tricia, and she has no explanations for her avoidance of him. For once, I feel bad for Steven. Tricia’s just giving him this lame run-around, and he’s frustrated because he loves her and knows something’s wrong. By the end of the conversation, they’ve broken up—sort of, I guess. (Closure isn’t so overrated now, is it?)

Meanwhile, in our more-middle class milieu, Jess and Liz have decided to become candy stripers at the local hospital. Jessica, of course, has selfish motives. She’s learned a local TV talk show host, Jeremy Frank, is residing there with a broken leg. (Jessica fame-whore alert.)

Her attempts to beguile him are disastrous. First, she trips somehow and lands on his bum leg. Then, she enters his room to bring him some ice water, while he is getting a sponge bath. He’s “stark naked” for some reason, and she spills the contents of the entire pitcher onto his stomach.

Liz devises a plan to get Jessica off Jeremy’s back, front, etc…with Jeremy’s help. See, Jess likes the chase and not so much anything else about relationships. Liz thinks that if Jeremy proposes to Jessica, she will run screaming in the opposite direction. And Liz is right….until Jessica decides that being engaged to a celebrity would be fun. She goes back to the hospital and makes a big show of accepting his proposal, and Jeremy has to explain his little ruse.

It’s probably one of my favorite B-plot lines, since it actually has something to do with the main premise of the book. Back in Steven/Tricia relationship purgatory, Liz discovers Tricia’s secret, whilst performing her candy-striping duties. Trish makes her promise not to tell anyone, especially Steven, and we can already see the meddling mind of Liz wanting to spring into action. She’s torn, though, because she did make a promise. After a heartfelt conversation with Mr. Collins, Liz decides that some promises are made to be broken, so she will blatantly disregard Tricia’s wishes and tell Steven everything.

Confession time: I actually cried when Steven races to the ghetto to get his girl, and she tries to act like she has a date. He simply says, “Trish, I know,” and she collapses into him. I hate myself just a little for loving this.

But enough with the tragic Tricia descriptors. We get it; she’s fragile.

“She reminded him of a porcelain doll.”

“Each time he pictured her-  golden-haired and fragile, with those great misty blue eyes- he wanted to take her in his arms, to protect her from–”

“At that moment Tricia reminded Elizabeth of a fragile China figurine.”

“Tricia looked so pale and fragile under the fluorescent lights that Elizabeth could see the faint violet tracing of veins at her temples.”

English major moment: “‘Something strange is going on,’ Elizabeth said as she set down her tray beside Todd at the cafeteria table.

Todd looked up from his hamburger. He swallowed and said, ‘That sounds like the opening line of a mystery novel.’ His brown eyes sparkled with mischief. ‘Any clues so far, Sherlock?'”

Arthur Conan Doyle is turning in his grave.

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