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 14, 2010

#11 Too Good To Be True (or Bitches, Tramps, and Thieves)

“Is Suzanne as perfect as she seems?”

You know this is going to be awesome from the cover alone because Elizabeth is pulling the most intense bitch face ever. I wish Suzanne was doing something other than checking herself out (like maybe directing a good sneer or grimace at Saint Liz).

So it’s finally spring break at Sweet Valley High (the first of many), and for the next two weeks, Jessica is going to swap lives with the glamorous, angelic, beatific, altogether superlative  Suzanne Devlin from New York City. (Devlin/devil –subtle, SVH ghostwriter)

While Jessica is presumably terrorizing the upper west side, Suzanne is casting a spell over Sweet Valley. (Jessica, who?) Besides being Brooke Shields beautiful, she seems to be bordering on sainthood. She’s varnishing canoes with Stephen, scrubbing down Wakefield manor, making breakfast for the whole family, and humoring her many suitors.  Yes, Suzy has attracted the attention of four of Sweet Valley’s most eligible bachelors: Aaron “anger issues” Dallas, Tom “maybe gay” Mckay, Winston “borderline stalker” Egbert, and Bruce “date-rape” Patman. Decisions, decisions, Suzy Q.

At some point, totally out of the blue, Suzanne reveals in a dramatic inner monologue that she is a mean-spirited klepto! Unlike Lila who was ripping off jewelry/acessories from some anonymous mall outfit,  Suzanne steals from Elizabeth friggin’ Wakefield (her iconic lavaliere, no less). (I always thought that lavaliere was fug anyway. On the cover, it looks like  a golden dangling phallus, which is not cute.) What is it with these rich bitches and their sudden attacks of thievery? I guess this was cutting edge, before Winona Ryder and her Saks shenanigans. I’m sure you can see the moral of the story coming from a mile away. Money can’t buy you happiness or love or parents who give a damn. Sage, Sweet  Valley.

The only person who seems immune to Suzanne’s charm is Mr. Collins. That, of course, is a huge turn on for her. At the class picnic, Suzanne pretends to drown, so Mr. Collins, who is chaperoning/ lifeguarding will come rescue her. This is the first step in her multi-level, get-her-man plan. Mr. Collins somehow senses right away that something is rotten in Sweet Valley. I’m sure he’s used to the female students of SVH throwing metaphorical panties at him everyday, so he starts connecting the dots.

Later, Liz, Todd, and Suzy go over to Mr. Collins’ house to drop some papers off. Suzy convinces them to stay in the car, so she can have some quality seduction time with our favorite English teacher. Freudian hijinks ensue…..

“Mr. Collins was standing out on the lawn watering the shrubbery. Quietly she crept up behind him, a low, mischievous laugh escaping her. Mr. Collins whipped about in surprise, nearly dropping the hose.

Seriously, hoses are being “whipped about” in Suzanne’s presence. Then, she takes a sloppy drink from his hose, and it’s like a PG-rated wet t-shirt contest.

I remember reading that chapter over and over, just fascinated by this overt sexuality. I was really, really sheltered growing up. I went to parochial school, and I never had Sex Ed or even a basic biology class in school. I found out what a period was from Sweet Valley Twins. My fourth-grade girl scout troop took us on a field trip to Tampa General Hospital, where we watched a video about becoming a woman. That was officially it for me for sex ed. Thank God for HBO and Skinemax, or I would have experienced some real embarassment.

When I was 16-ish, my (gay male) best friend and I befriended a girl who didn’t even have the luxury of sex ed vis a vis HBO/Skinemax. One day, she asked my BFF where her vagina was/is. You know you live in a repressed society when a gay dude is having to inform you where your vagina is.

But I digress. Mr. Collins dismisses Suzanne, but there’s some blushing and flushing on his part that gives Suzy hope that she can eventually play out her seduction scene. Her next opportunity comes when she goes to his house to baby-sit (in place of Elizabeth). He rebuffs her again, so she decides to tell everyone he attacked her. Seriously, how many books can we go without mention of some sort of male predation/ date rape?

It seems like everyone at Sweet Valley High has jumped on the “Collins is a creeper” band wagon. Even Elizabeth is torn. Et tu, Liz.

True Story: When I was in high school, my 10th grade English teacher was dating a student. (they later moved in together, while she was still a sophomore. Her mom was also a teacher at our school. Awkward) Anyway, the first thing I said when I heard this was, “Dude, that’s so lecherous….” I think I was channeling this book.

“‘Well, I believe it,’ said Cara, who was passing out sodas. ‘I’ve always thought he was the lecherous type. I’ve caught him looking at me more than once. Besides, he gave me a D on my last English essay.'”

“‘Mr. Collins! What did that lecherous creep tell you?'”

Luckily, Liz discovers that Suzy had stolen her lavaliere , so that must mean that Suzy is lying about Mr. Collins too. After a visit with Mr. Collins to sort everything out, Liz prepares for a showdown with Suzy at Lila’s party.

Liz confronts her about the stolen necklace first (obviously because the lavaliere is more important than Mr. Collins). Suzy denies it, of course, but mysteriously confesses all when Liz calls her a liar. (This is what I like to call the Murder-She-Wrote ending, because at the end of every episode of that show, Angela Landsbury would confront the killer with non-existent evidence, and said murderer would describe how they committed the crime, to the very last detail—thus, ensuring their downfall.) Liz vows to expose Suzanne for the liar she is, but Suzy is a force to be reckoned with. Before Liz can say anything, Suzy starts spreading a rumor that Liz hit her head in the pool and is acting all cray-zay, like when she was in the motorcycle accident.  That was especially devilish of you, Suzanne. You would have been my new hero if you could have taken out Mr. Collins and Liz within the span of one book.

Luckily, Winston heard Suzy’s confession, so he figures that he can expose her treachery by spilling a drink on her. (????) And it works, crazily enough. When Winston soils her, Suzy loses her cool and berates him. (If some idiot who had been stalking/harassing me for two weeks had ruined my white, Halston dress, I probably would have gone batshit crazy too.) Because of  Suzy’s momentary flash of bitchiness, everyone decides that she must be lying. This is the sort of black/white dichotomized world of false conditionals that Sweet Valley is built upon. And yet I still read. What does that say about me?

On the bright side, Suzy doesn’t have an epiphany and drink the Sweet-Valley-High, bad-girl-reformed Kool-Aid. (She will eventually, but that’s another story, a special edition called Special Christmas.) I don’t understand why Suzanne didn’t just embrace her bitchiness from the beginning, anyway. She wastes so much time and energy trying to get into the good graces of people she doesn’t give a shit about. In the end, she sort of just disappears, and we get Jessica back. Joy.

Jessica’s been co-headlining throughout with her NYC adventures. I feel like the entire book was pushing this small-town, middle-class morality while critiquing the big city and its resident bitches and tramps (post-structuralist, Marxist essay is forming in my head).

Anyway, Jessica has fallen for Suzanne’s older boyfriend, Pete. Jess obviously doesn’t remember what happened the last time she tried to hook up with an age-inappropriate man (i.e. Scott “Pornstache” Daniels in #5 All Night Long). Can wine coolers and bennies ever be far behind?

At first, Pete shows no interest at all, which only fans her flirtatious flame. Finally, he kisses her, which she is into until she realizes that he wants to do more than kiss. Cue the attempted date-rape. It’s actually a fairly threatening scene. There’s this sense that Pete is trying to teach her a lesson, that she can’t swim with the sharks or that she needs to go back to the kiddie pool of Sweet Valley. While Pete and Jess are in mid-grapple, the Devlins arrive at home for the night. Phew! Every few books, there seems to be a losing-virginity-by-force scare. Hmmm.

Perfect Size Six moment: “(Suzanne) was flawlessly proportioned, with legs that seemed to go on forever, and not an ounce of fat anywhere. Suddenly, Elizabeth felt self-conscious about her own lovely size-six figure.” If perfect-size-six Elizabeth Wakefield is feeling like a heifer, we should all just kill ourselves now.

My real-life advice to fictional authority figures: Students are not your friends. It bugs me every time Liz says that she and Mr. Collins are “close friends” (hence my often used tag, “Mr. Collins is inappropriate”). It’s not okay for students to pop over to your house. They shouldn’t even know where you live.

Nerdy English major moment: “‘Remember that book we all had to read in tenth-grade English – East of Eden? There was that beautiful girl, Cathy, who everyone thought was so sweet and wonderful.’

Elizabeth shivered as if caught in a sudden draft. She remembered the book well. It was one of her favorites.

‘And underneath Cathy was really rotten to the core,’ she finished for Todd. She wraped her arms around herself in an attempt to stop shivering. ‘But that was just a book. If someone was really like that, you’d know wouldn’t you?'”

lols at Todd for comparing Suzanne to a multiple murderer/ prostitute/ blackmailer/ brothel madame. He might want to reserve this judgement for when he actually meets a 16-year-old psycho path (oh hai, Margo)

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.”

August 2, 2010

#5 All Night Long (or Free Mustache Rides)

“Is Jessica as grown-up as she thinks she is?”

In a word (or two), Hell no!

Among the Sweet Valley cognoscenti, All Night Long is generally acknowledged as having one of the awesomest covers of the entire series! Exhibit A–the pornstache, as worn by one Scott Daniels. He’s the college boy (of indeterminate age) who Jessica briefly lusts over. She concocts this story about hanging out with Cara, so she can go with him to some heathen den of iniquity, masquerading as a college beach party.

Once there, Jessica quickly realizes that she’s gotten in way over her head with this mustached lothario and his gang of miscreants. There’s drinking (gasp!), marijuana smoking (double gasp!), and possible orgiastic behavior going on behind closed doors (clutching pearls, dead faint!). The ghostwriters really let their hair down in the beginning of Sweet Valley, what I refer to as “the golden age.”

At first, Jessica tries to put on her big-girl pants (or in this case, big-girl, red-string bikini) and play the part of Sweet Valley sophisticate. But ‘stache means business, which we realize in full when he puts his hand down her bikini bottom. I remember my nine-year-old self feeling so scandalized reading this. I mean, first, Jessica lets Bruce Patman loosen her bikini strings in #3 Playing With Fire, and now, we’ve progressed to ass access? Quelle horreur!

I was probably 12 when I realized Jessica was what we would call in France, le cocktease. Also, is it me, or is all the (potential) sex in Sweet Valley of the male-initiated, date-rape variety?

Luckily for Jessica’s maidenhead, Scott only succeeds in some futile pawing. Since she won’t “put out,” he refuses to take her home. The last 2/3 of the book is basically Elizabeth trying to cover up for Jessica (which is like so many other SVH books before and after it). See, Jess and Liz want to get their tour guide license, so they can show off Sweet Valley and its environs during the summer and make some cash. Because Jessica is stuck in her beach house den of iniquity, she is sure to miss the test….or is she??

“Old faithful” Liz disguises herself as Jess and is about to take the test, when she gets into a fight with Todd. Like the majority of their fights, it centers around Jessica. Liz fails the test, which really pisses Jessica off…until the test examiner calls to let her retake it. Oh, how convenient that things have worked out in the end.

Incredibly Lame B-plot: Bill Chase and Sonny Calihan are embroiled in a surf-off. Eh. Who cares? This book really lost steam after the Scott Daniel imbroglio. It’s hard to stretch that amount of awesomeness over a full-length YA paperback.

Since the rest of the book kind of sucked, I made a pornstache collage! Let it hypnotize and distract you.

Truer words were never spoken:

“I’m wise to you Jess. You know why? ‘Cause we’re alike, that’s why. We want what we want, and we don’t care how we get it.”

Sweet Valley is culturally relevant in 2010 moment (courtesy of Olivia):

“…I had a fight with my boyfriend last week, and we’re still not speaking.” She sighed. “I guess I knew it was doomed from the beginning. How can I have a meaningful relationship with someone who believes in offshore drilling?”

Elizabeth retrieved the last article from the floor, handed it to Olivia, and fled. She liked Olivia, but she was in no mood to discuss nuclear holocausts and offshore drilling.”

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