Perfect Size Six

June 3, 2015

#21 Runaway

“Jessica’s had enough!”

Let me get this straight. Jessica’s had enough? Jessica, who has done nothing but wreak havoc and destruction upon Sweet Valley and its inhabitants for the last 20 books, has had enough? Lo, the irony!

Well, the wicked bitch of the west is sick and tired of living in Saint Elizabeth’s shadow. Jess hates being thought of as the perpetual screw up, while Liz is treated like some sort of Gandhi/Mother Teresa/Christ figure all rolled into one perfect-size-six package.

Warning: first word, white-girl problems, straight ahead.

Can I just say that I love the cover? Jessica’s serving up some ’80s Flashdance/ Jennifer Beals realness with the grey off-shoulder sweatshirt. But are we really supposed to believe that Jessica is going to run away with only 1.37% of her entire wardrobe in a half-empty gym bag? I don’t think so.

As the book opens, Jessica is feeling down after the Wakefields joke about her giving them food poisoning (which is a valid point because she totally did make them sick in the last book. Even after cooking lessons, Jessica still doesn’t understand the basics of food preparation and storage.)

While Jessica is depressed about dumb shit, Steven Wakefield is still grieving the death of his girlfriend, Tricia Martin, 9 books earlier, a time frame which is unheard of in the world of Sweet Valley. Most of the residents appear to have the emotional range of goldfish, so the extended grieving process is actually pretty refreshing/realistic. Steven’s currently taking some time off from college, and he’s just bumming around Sweet Valley which is pretty status quo for him.

giphy12In an attempt to distract him from his misery, Liz asks Jessica to ask Steven to go to Cara’s party. (It’s as convoluted as it sounds.) When Jessica tries to ask him to the party, Steven, Ned, and Alice Wakefield almost simultaneously jump her shit for being insensitive. Saint Elizabeth clarifies that it was her idea, and peace is restored to the split level ranch home on Calico Drive.

But the proverbial shit has hit the fan, and Jess is sinking further into her depression. She seeks solace in the arms of Nicky Shepard, Sweet Valley’s latest rebel without a cause. His life is sooo hard because his dad works all the time, and his mom neglects him to take care of his little brother (who’s been depicted as an invalid who needs around-the-clock care because he has asthma.) WTF? I don’t understand how administering an inhaler is all that time-consuming, but whatevs.  Yeah, it’s totally a hard-knock life for the Sweet Valley bourgeoisie.

At Cara’s party, the Sweet Valley chorus keeps singing Liz’s praises, so Jess retreats to Cara’s bathhouse where she finds Nicky smoking a cigarette and being all angsty. Sparks fly as they complain about their shitty respective lots in life, and they take their flirtation public on the dance floor.

I’m just tired of being the bad twin, Jessica thought. Sometimes, I wish I’d never been born.”

largeDo you remember that Sweet Valley Twins’ book, A Christmas Without Elizabeth, which was a rip off of It’s a Wonderful Life? It’s the one where Elizabeth saw what a bleak, sad world Sweet Valley would be if she’d never been born. I mean, the Wakefields were divorced, people were ugly and poor, and multiple children were dead. But if Jessica were never born… It’s safe to say that the world would be a better place. (i.e. Sam would still be alive, and Annie wouldn’t have tried to kill herself. Robin Wilson would probably still be overweight, though, since Jessica wasn’t around to fat shame her. But she also wouldn’t have developed an eating disorder, so… )

Anyway, Jessica goes to a house party with Nicky and the rest of the dregs of Sweet Valley. They try to tempt her with booze (gasp!) and pot (double gasp!!), but Jess successfully sidesteps their attempts to intoxicate her. Nicky has not been so virtuous, however, and he has a nice buzz going on as he drives them home.

Nicky tells Jessica that he is running away to San Francisco and invites Jessica to run away with him. She has all these romanticized notions of their new life: they’ll have a beautiful apartment, Nicky will be a successful businessman, and Jessica will return triumphantly to Sweet Valley in a few years to show off her wonderful life. (I’m sure two teenagers with no education and no money would take San Francisco by storm.) Before Jessica can give him an answer, Nicky crashes into a telephone pole to avoid a head-on collision.

The Shephards pick them up, and they are more concerned about the car than any potential injuries Nicky and Jessica might have suffered. (I won’t lie, if my shitbag son and his tramp of the week wrecked my car, I would be pissed too.) Nicky decides to move up his running-away-from-Sweet Valley schedule, and Jessica decides to come with him. She leaves a note for her sister, and I had to transcribe it in toto because it’s so ridiculous and so Jessica.

teen-angstDear Liz,

By the time you get this, I will be far away. I’m sorry if I’m leaving causes you all a lot of pain, but it will be better for all of us in the long run. There are many reasons why I’m going. It isn’t just your fault. You can’t help being the way you are any more than I can. You’re so good. It would just be better for all of you if you’d forget that I ever even existed. I’ve never been anything but trouble anyway. This doesn’t mean I’m forgetting about you. I’ll be thinking a lot about all of you as I take the bus to my new home. I love you, Liz. And make sure you  tell Mom and Dad that I love them too, and Steve, even though I know he hates me. Someday I’ll return, I promise, but not for a long time. Please don’t try to find me. My mind is made up. I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused.

Still your loving sister,

Jessica

P.S. I’m leaving you my new jeans. I think they make me look fat anyway.

She’s sure that once her family sees it they’ll come rushing to find her and then subsequently take her more seriously. Unfortunately, the note falls behind Jessica’s dresser, which delays her inevitable retrieval. Elizabeth finally realizes she’s missing because her grody bedroom is actually clean for once. After visiting the super dysfunctional Shepard house, the Wakefields discover from one of Steven’s basketball buddies that Nicky is on his way via Greyhound to San Fran. They whole family drives from bus stop to bus stop until they finally locate Jessica. Tears and hugs and promises to take Jessica seriously ensue. And instead of being punished for being a total bitch, Jessica is rewarded with a new sweater.

If you skip the last few chapters, you can just pretend that Jess’ bus left the station, and she disappeared into the San Fran landscape, never to be heard from again.

3rnvk6B-Plot: Ricky Capaldo shows up again. Man, this dude can not catch a break. When we last saw him, he was saving “Easy Annie” Whitman from herself. Now, he’s forced to get a job as a waiter at Casey’s, since his parents divorced, and his dad left his mom high and dry. Since Ricky’s dad is not paying child support, his mom has decided that he can’t see his old-world Italian immigrant grandparents. Their depiction is just so fucking cringe worthy.

Well, his grandparents have decided to sue for visitation. Elizabeth is doing an article on the trial for the Sweet Valley News, which seems highly unethical (plus improbable that a family court would allow this). Ricky is on his mom’s side because he wants to punish his grandparents for his dad being such a shitbag. Elizabeth has one of her trademark talks with Ricky, and he realizes that he’s been wrong the whole time. He tells his mom that he and his sister should be allowed to see his grandparents. Ricky’s mom then drops the case (thus wasting every one’s time and money.)

Ugh, Ned Wakefield Moment #1: During opening arguments for the trial, Ned actually utters the following:

“Please, Your Honor.” He paused. “Think of the children. The children,” he repeated quietly.

Ugh, Ned Wakefield Moment #2

“You know,” their father said, laughing, ” I have never been able to teach your mother how to do justice to a salad. That woman has a master’s degree, and she still can’t mix a decent dressing.”

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 8, 2010

#10 Wrong Kind of Girl (or Slut-Shaming at Sweet Valley High)

Lesson: If at first you don’t succeed, try to kill yourself, and try again.

Gather ye limber, gather ye quick. It’s time for cheerleading tryouts (again) at ye olde  Sweet Valley High, and tragedy is sure to ensue. “Watch it, Annie Whitman! Jessica’s out to get you!” Dum, dum, dummmm!

Our protagonist/cheerleading supplicant is “Easy Annie” Whitman, so named because she has a “reputation.” Seriously, is that the best nickname they could come up with? Off the top of my head: Scarlet A, Annie love you long time, Fanny (which the Britons will appreciate), or Traînée (for the Frenchies). Anyway, Easy Annie has made this name for herself by shamelessly dating multiple boys! I never understood how she  was fundamentally any different from Jessica (or any other girl in Sweet Valley, really). The dating pool at Sweet Valley High is shallow and incestuous, and even the number of guys that Liz and Jess have shared is pretty gross (Todd, Jeffrey, Sam, Ken, etc).

Well, besides the general male population of Sweet Valley High, all Wanton Whitman wants is to be an SVH cheerleader, as if making the squad will solve all the problems in her life. We soon get an insight into said problems through (of course) Elizabeth, our resident meddler. When Liz starts tutoring Annie, it comes to light that Annie’s mom is a ho too, and we all know the ho apple doesn’t fall far from the ho tree. Ms. Mona Whitman (Moan-a–12-year-old lols–how appropriate, SVH ghostwriter!) gave birth to Annie at the tender age of 16 and is currently shacked up with a sleazy photographer named Johnny. As a grown-up ho, she is naturally drunk and chain smoking every time we see her.

(Isn’t Ms. Whitman totally channeling this VD propaganda poster from the forties???? Maybe this is who she’s modeling for…)

“Hi, kitten, we’re home…”

“Elizabeth! So glad to meet you,” Mrs. Whitman gushed, her words slightly slurred from drinking.

Well naturally, Jessica has taken it upon herself to be the morality chief of police at Sweet Valley High. She succeeds in keeping Annie off the squad by using the “It’s either her or me” approach. I always wanted the SVH cheerleaders to rise up and snatch the biatch’s pompoms, but alas, they concede to her co-captain terrorism and pick my least favorite character in all of Sweet Valley-dom, Sandra Bacon, to be on the squad in lieu of Annie.

Of course, Easy Annie is crushed, but she gets the last word and is socially redeemed when she a) tries to kill herself and b) starts dating the only unattractive guy at Sweet Valley High, Ricky Capaldo. Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather be viewed as the double-dipping whore (or who’re as my grandmother would say) than accept that fate. But this is Sweet Valley, so high-functioning hos are a definite no. And depression and a horrible home life are made better with an SVH red-and-white cheerleading sweater.

Now, Easy Annie is in a coma, and the doctor says that she has no will to live. (Sidenote: DUH! She tried to kill herself. I’m fairly certain her will to live is about as diminished as her pill supply) After Jessica relates a characteristically hyperbolic version of events to the “doctor,”  the “doctor” then decides that making Annie a post facto cheerleader will resuscitate her will to live. Cue a guilty Jessica, who tells Annie that she made the squad after all. SHAZAM, the coma is over. Happy ending time.

Annie is relegated to a somewhat negligible background role until 67 books later when she has to deal with her steroid-pumped boyfriend, Tony Esteban. (Steroids equals shrunken testicles, acne, spontaneous breast growth, sexual dysfunction, premature baldness, etc). I guess Easy Annie’s still in Sweet Valley purgatory after all.

If you can’t tell, this is one of my favorite Sweet Valley High books ever! And it’s followed by another winner, #11 Too Good to be True, where we meet New York city harlot, Suzanne Devlin. Spoiler alert: She is too good to be true.

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