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.”

September 15, 2010

#19 Showdown (or Hoe-down)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penny nodded her head.

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

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

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.”

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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