Perfect Size Six

August 21, 2015

#25 Nowhere To Run

“Will Emily lose everything she loves?”

Ever since Todd Wilkins left Sweet Valley for the greener pastures of Vermont, Elizabeth has had to occupy herself with helping the less fortunate students of Sweet Valley High solve their problems. Liz’s charity case du jour is Emily Mayer, fellow junior and drummer for the school’s new-wave rock band, The Droids.

See, Emily’s father has remarried an absolutely horrible woman named Karen, who isn’t much older than Emily. She’s your archetypal bitchy step-mom. She thinks that everything Emily is doing is horrible and wrong. She hates her drumming and her bandmates. She thinks working on the school newspaper is a more respectable hobby. And now that Karen has given birth to little baby Karrie, she’s come completely unhinged. She keeps changing the house rules and threatens to send Emily to some far off boarding school.

Meanwhile, Emily is just trying to do everything she can to get in her stepmother’s good graces. She babysits every weekend, misses band practices, and agrees to a new restrictive curfew. One day, Emily invites her bandmate/crush Dan Scott over to her house to hear her new cymbals. It’s completely innocent, of course, but Karen storms in and throws out a few “tramp” accusations, which completely humiliates Emily. (Even moms aren’t immune to slut-shaming in Sweet Valley.)

pulpnovelTears filled Emily’s eyes as Karen’s words rang again in her memory. “I am not going to permit you to turn out like your mother!” Karen had said. “I will simply not have my baby grow up in a house with a tramp!”

A tramp, Emily thought dully. That’s what my mother turned out to be. Who’s to say I haven’t already taken after her? Maybe I don’t have a choice.

(Ugh. I love how Emily’s all worried about slut-dom being some sort of biological imperative, like the very nature of a tramp is being passed down from one generation of sluts to another.)

Thanks to Karen’s big mouth, Emily’s secret is out of the bag. She’d previously told every one that her mother died when she was a child, when in reality her mother just left one morning with no warning or forwarding address. There’s a vague implication that the former Mrs. Mayer had serious problems, but they don’t go into any real detail besides the whole tramp thing.

Emily runs away to the Wakefield residence and pours her heart out to Elizabeth. The Wakefields make her call her dad to let him know her location and relay that she’s safe. Mr. Meyer, being the daddy dearest that he is, says that he will put Emily’s beloved drums out on the street unless she comes home immediately.

Emily rushes home but later decides to sell her drums to keep the peace. Unbeknownst to Emily, her crush, Dan Scott, secretly buys them to keep them safe for her. (Awww. How sweet.). Sadly, it seems like Emily is destined to become some Cinderella/Stepford daughter, whose sole purpose is cleaning and childcare

Soon after the drum debacle, Karen buys baby Karrie a teddy bear with glass eyes that are poorly attached. Emily tries to warn her about the potential choking hazard, but Karen ignores/insults her. Of course, all hell breaks loose a minute later. Karrie’s half swallowed the bear’s eye and is now choking. Karen is wailing and clinging onto Karrie for dear life, preventing Emily from performing some life-saving first-aid. In what is perhaps the most satisfying moment of the book, Emily slaps her stepmother, grabs the baby, and saves her life via the Heimlich maneuver.

tumblr_n3xz2xmhUd1qg4blro2_500Of course, Mr. Mayer walks in during this shit storm and comes to the conclusion that Emily tried to hurt little Karrie. Karen is still freaking out in the corner and doesn’t tell him otherwise. So Mr. Mayer kicks Emily out of the house! (We officially have a new candidate for worst parent in Sweet Valley, y’all.)

Emily goes to the Wakefield house again and tells them that she is going to go live with her mother in Chicago (her mother’s last known whereabouts). When Emily tries to reach her m.i.a. mom, she finds out that her mother re-married a couple of years ago and moved to Mexico. (Ouch! Double fail in the parenting department.)

Luckily, the Wakefield’s grandparents are in town, and Grandma Wakefield tells Emily about her own struggles with being a step-parent 40 years or so ago. She says that she was pretty awful at being a step mom, but in time they became once big, happy, cliché family. Because this is Sweet Valley, this little pep talk works, and Emily is excited to start anew with her family. (Seriously, Emily, fuck those people.) As if on cue, the Mayer clan appears on the Wakefield’s doorstep. Karen is all sweetness and regret and apologizes for all of her step-parenting sins. After tears and an impromptu party, the Mayers sail off into the sunset, never to be heard from again.

B-plot – In what is perhaps the lamest sub-plot in Sweet Valley history, Jess and Liz’s grandparents are in town from Michigan, and the twin’s mother, Alice, is feeling jealous and insecure about their close relationship. Alice feels like a shitty mother because she’s part of the workforce and not helicopter parenting her children at all times. Liz somehow realizes that Alice is feeling down, and she schemes to make her feel useful by getting her to help organize a going away party for her grandparents. Of course, Liz’s plan works, and Alice once again feels like a useful member of the Wakefield household. (Seriously though, how can a grown-ass woman with her own design firm actually be this insecure?)

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.

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.

August 4, 2010

#7 Dear Sister (or Wakefield Gone Wild!)

“Can Jessica face life without Elizabeth?”

Here we are announcing the imminent death of Liz, and she’s out of the coma before the second chapter begins——Sweet Valley melodrama at its finest.

Anyway, when Liz wakes up, she seems to have a completely different personality, Jessica’s personality to be exact. I thought this was such bullshit growing up, but it’s a medically-verifiable phenomenon. After head injuries, people have even woken up speaking different languages.  It’s really fascinating if you’re into the subconscious  and the construction of identity.

Now, Liz is like a hyper-Jessica, and her sights are set on anyone with an XY chromosome, unless it’s Todd. (haha!) She’s hitting on doctors while still in her hospital bed. She flirts with Winston, so she can plagiarize his paper on the Punic Wars. She plants fake items in her gossip column to break up Ken Matthews and Susan Stewart. She even throws some inappropriate remarks Mr. Collins’ way. Generally, she makes “Easy Annie” Whitman look like she just left a nunnery.

Jessica meanwhile is having an existential crisis. I think the Sweet Valley High universe would explode with two Jessicas, so everyone’s treating Jess like the new Elizabeth. Jessica just wants the Sweet Valley status quo back. Even though this Freaky Friday plot is entertaining, I miss boring, old Elizabeth.

Next up is Lila’s pick-up party. Everyone gets dressed up in costumes and comes without a date. Then, they ostensibly “pick up” whoever catches their eye. Leave it to Lila to come up with the awesomest party idea ever! Well, Bruce Patman, armed with only a flask and his charm to guide him, manages to pick up Liz, the reigning ho of Sweet Valley, and he thinks it’s some sort of grand coup on his part.

“For the twentieth time that night, Bruce Patman wondered how he had gotten so lucky. Elizabeth Wakefield was about to melt in his arms. It would take just a little more to drink and just a little more time.”

Classy as ever, Bruce. Luckily, Todd is there to physically remove Liz from the situation. (Sidenote: I hate that the Jersey Shore has ruined the word “situation” for me.) He throws her over his shoulder, and she passes out from drinking too much of Bruce’s social lubrication. But Liz is more determined than ever to get her man!

Seriously, chapter 14 is gold; it’s oh so quotable. Liz sneaks out to Bruce’s house, and they get right down to business. Bruce actually gets to second base with Elizabeth! Who would have thought that Elizabeth, of all people, would have reached this milestone first?

“‘You like this, don’t you, Liz?’ He let one hand slide lightly onto her breast, waiting to see if she would protest.”

Everything is blue skies and butterflies in Bruce’s bedroom, until he makes the mistake of leaving for a minute to grab some more wine. Liz hops out of the bed in the dark, so she can fix her face for her man and then proceeds to fall head first into a table. The resulting head injury thus negates her first injury, and she’s boring, old Elizabeth again! She also has some sort of convenient, retrograde amnesia because she can’t remember cutting a swath through the male population of Sweet Valley High. ha! It’s probably better that way; she would have been traumatized for life.

Unfortunately, Bruce is back, and he doesn’t care much for her sudden enlightenment, since it invariably means he won’t get laid. I really don’t understand all the love that Bruce’s character gets from Sweet Valley fans. His behavior is just so consistently shitty.

Bruce uses every trick in the book to get Liz to sleep with him–my favorite being the “you-might-as-well-sleep-with-me,-because-I’ll-tell-everyone-you-did-anyway” approach. Stay classy, Patman.

“‘I’ve got real strong hands, Liz,” he said. “From tennis, see? Now, you listen to  me. You give me what I want, or I’ll tell this whole thing all over school. You want that? What would all your friends think of you then?'”

Oh, Bruce, you are such a douche. I’m dedicating this song to you.

Liz bites him (yeah!) as he roughly kisses her, and then, she runs out of Bruce’s sex dungeon right into the loving arms of Todd. Awww. For the moment, I’m actually rooting for these two crazy kids to make it work.

I forgot how many Sweet Valley books had date rape overtones. Seriously, outside of SVH, I didn’t really hear about date rape in real life until I got to college. During my first year, there was this fraternity affectionately known as the date-rape house. I never could understand why it was this longstanding joke that **haha**, don’t drink anything inside there, those rascally Pikes and their dateraping. These girls in my hall invited me to go with them to some theme party at said “date rapist” house. It was something really stupid like pimps ‘n hoes or schoolgirl fetish. They were actually laughing about the house’s reputation and the fact that you had to watch your drinks so scrupulously. What the fuck?

Perfect-size-six propaganda moment: “‘Good thing you lost those two pounds, Jess,’ she told herself. ‘Dan wouldn’t want to put his arms around a blimpo.'”

Favorite line in the whole book, which I don’t wholly understand: (Mr. Collins to the new Liz) “Uh-huh. I thought you and I were never going to dish each other applesauce.” ??? I understand it from the context. Applesauce = bullshit in a PG rated world, but it’s just weird coming from a grown man.

Nerdy English major moment: “Did you hear that, Dr. Frankenstein?” Jessica muttered. “You’re not the only one who created a monster.”

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.”

July 28, 2010

#2 Secrets

“What Jessica wants, Jessica gets–even if someone gets hurt!”

Oooh, how mafioso sounding.  Jessica wants to be queen of the fall dance, and she will cut any bitch (metaphorically speaking) who gets in her way. Jess has decided that Enid “the drip” Rollins is her biggest competition. (Is this a joke? Are her next greatest foes Caroline Pearce and Lois Waller?) Jess believes Enid is a threat because she’s dating committee chair-boy and all-around asshole, Ronnie Edwards (more on this d-bag later).

Jessica decides that she just has to be the fall queen because Bruce Patman is a shoo-in for king. Per Sweet Valley tradition, the king and queen attend all subsequent school events and activities together. Jess has been creepily in love with Bruce since freshman year, and she is salivating over all this potential alone time for the two of them. As of yet, Bruce has remained immune to her feminine hover charms.

To become queen, Jessica must destroy Enid Rollins. Jess hates her anyway because she’s Liz’s new best friend. Plus, Enid was Jess’ friend first, but she preferred Liz’s company. Oooh, burn. That was an interesting turn. It explains all the hostility on Jess’ part.

Enid, meanwhile, is having an existential crisis. See, the Enid Rollins that we all know is a sham. Before she was miss goody-two-shoes second in command, Enid was a felonious druggie! After her parents divorced, she turned to crime and drugs for comfort. (more divorce propaganda, SV ghostwriter?) Anyway, she and her partner in crime, George Warren, continued with the debauchery until they were involved in a DUI, where they almost killed a little boy.

After that, Enid went straight (perhaps too straight) and became the wet blanket we all know and loathe today. George Warren was shipped out of town, but he has managed to turn his life around. He and Enid have been exchanging harmless letters, and Enid is terrified that Ronnie will find out about George and her previous shadiness.

“‘Dear Enid’ she read with a sudden, voracious interest. ‘Been so down lately. I can’t seem to get my head on straight the way you have. I can’t stop thinking about the past and trying to figure out how it snowballed so quickly. It’s like the time we took all those bennies, and before we knew it we were cooking along in the GTO doing eighty or ninety…'”

How does no one in Sweet Valley know about Enid’s sordid past?  I would think that two teenagers all hopped up on “bennies,” nearly killing a little boy would be front page news and primo gossip for these busybodies.

So Enid brings George’s letters and tells all to Liz, who is surprisingly non-judgmental. She urges her to explain the situation to Ronnie, thinking that he would understand, but Ronnie is a grade-A douchebag. His mom cheated on his dad at some point (divorce propaganda, part deux), so he has been soured on the whole of womankind. He yells at Enid when she even looks at another dude. No one seems to bat an eye at how unhealthy this relationship is.

Meanwhile, Jess discovers one of Enid’s letters detailing her drug-fueled past and sees it as the perfect opportunity to destroy Enid. Jess photocopies the letter and puts it in Ronnie’s locker. Ronnie reads it and seethes. He waits to confront Enid at notorious make-out spot, Miller’s Point. Enid is now whore #1 to him, so he roughly makes out with her and then calls her out on her past and her relationship with George Warren.

“‘What’s the matter?’ Ronnie growled. ‘I don’t rate up there with old Georgie-boy? You’re not going to give me any of the same stuff you’re giving him?'”

I’ll let that comment speak for itself. By the next day, every one in school knows, and Enid blames Liz for leaking the letter. (Misery’s about to have some company, though.)

French teacher extraordinaire, Ms. Dalton, is dating Mr. Fowler, which doesn’t sit well with his daughter, Lila, Sweet Valley High’s resident Head-Bitch-In-Charge. I actually agree with Lila on this one. It is extremely unprofessional to date the parent of one of your students. Ms. Dalton doesn’t appear to give a fuck that Lila is bothered by the Fowler/Dalton coupling. Plus, Lila’s pseudo-boyfriend for this book, Ken Matthews, is publicly crushing on La Dalton (embarrassing!), so while not excusable, it’s understandable that Lila is a bit pissy.

She suggests to gossip-mongrel, Cara Walker, that Ken’s lusting for Ms. Dalton is mutual, and before you know it, all of Sweet Valley is a-twitter with news of their affair. Scandalous! Between this and Bennie-gate ’83, Sweet Valley High is piddling itself with excitement. The hilarity culminates in the following gem written on Ms. Dalton’s blackboard:

IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT A FRENCH KISS IS, ASK KEN MATTHEWS.

Sweet Valley teenagers, like their real-world counterparts, are assholes en masse. Two points for ballsiness. Minus two for lameness. Let me help you out, Sweet Valley simpletons. Try, “Ken sees Paris, Ken sees France, Ken sees Ms. Dalton’s underpants.” It has a more visceral quality to it, for a PG taunt. My favorite moment of the book is the invocation of liberalism, feminism, and “women’s rights” by our resident boho hippie, Olivia. Feminism through the Sweet Valley lens.

“‘It’s the law of human nature,’ put in Olivia Davidson, who worked with Elizabeth on the paper and was known for her liberal views on every subject from nuclear war to organic foods. She was especially big these days on women’s rights. ‘A woman doesn’t reach her peak until she’s in her thirties. Men are practically burned out by then. So it makes sense, really, when you think about it.'”

Women have the right to fuck younger guys, y’all, especially underage ones. Isn’t that what the women’s rights movement is all about?  I love all of this specious reasoning on Olivia’s part and the vague idea of sexual peaking.

Enid, you are getting outshone in your own story. She’s been moping around for the last few chapters, and she desperately wants to ask Ms. Dalton for advice. (Honey, she’s got enough problems of her own.) Since Ms. Dalton has gone into hiding,  Enid naturally shows up at her apartment unannounced. (Ms. Dalton’s got a case of the Mr. Collins–boundary issues.) Students shouldn’t know where teachers live and show up willy nilly. Anyway, Enid and Ms. Dalton  bond over their similar misfortunes, and they both decided to face their problems head on. Since this is Sweet Valley, that means they’re going to the big dance!

While Enid is getting ready, none other than George Warren shows up to escort her. Rehab has done a body good, because he’s now a certified hunk. Enid goes to the dance and makes up with Liz. Ms. Dalton shows up and makes time with Mr. Collins. (What a perfectly inappropriate couple.)

Liz gets revenge on Jess for the whole letter kerfluffle. She tells the biggest gossip in school  that Jessica has fallen for the class nerd, Winston Egbert, and wants him to be her fall king. Now, Jess is poised to be spending countless hours at Winston’s side. She threatens to quit, but Liz threatens to expose what Jess did to Enid if she does. Ah, the student is now the master–nice Liz moment.

English major moment:“Elizabeth looked up from the paper on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar she was working on, then went back to it,

O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of Enid,’ she unconsciously copied. She scratched out Enid’s name and corrected it to ‘earth.'”

Elizabeth even mopes pretentiously. Et tu, Liz…

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