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 2, 2010

#6 Dangerous Love (or Making Mountains out of Motorcycles)

“Are Elizabeth and Todd heading for disaster?”

When I was a kid, reading Sweet Valley High books out-of-order, ten years after their initial publication date, always took the edge off these cliff-hangers. Liz and Todd fans, have no fear, things don’t start getting real until #23 Say Goodbye. Everything else is just ebb and flow.

Todd and Liz’s crisis du jour revolves around  a motorcycle. Yes, Liz is having serious anxiety over an inanimate object. See, Liz’s cousin, Rexy, died in a moto accident, so there is a blanket cycle ban in effect for all of the Wakefields.

Unfortunately, Todd has realized that he is really a bad-ass biker at heart (ha!), and he wants Liz to be his “motorcycle mama.” Yes, he really uses “Liz” and “motorcycle mama” in the same breath.

Liz hasn’t told Todd about the death of her cousin, because she’s afraid that Todd will choose the bike over her (and who among us would blame him really?). Maybe it’s my dirty adult mind, but I feel like there’s some quasi-hidden sexual agenda here. Liz won’t ride Todd’s bike, but Mandy and Enid will! And they love it too…so exciting, so exhilarating!

Phallic imagery lols: “Elizabeth looked back at the bike. She wished she could share Todd’s joy, but she couldn’t imagine how he could be relaxed and comfortable and enjoy the view when his life depended on being able to balance five hundred pounds between his legs at fifty-five miles per hour.”

This is what four years of college gets you. My mother would be so proud that I’m filtering Sweet Valley High through a Freudian lens.

Seriously, though, Liz works herself up over the dumbest things. She really starts thinking that the way to Todd’s heart is through his Yamaha (actual model, pictured at right). She and Todd both realize how stupid they’re being, in part because of my favorite Sweet Valley male character, Guy Chesney. Liz accepts a ride from Guy, who subtly (for Sweet Valley, anyway) hits on her. Todd becomes enraged/jealous, and now he knows how Liz feels. Relationship crisis averted.

Now, it’s time for Enid’s Sweet Sixteen party. Cue more drama. Jess ditches Liz to hang out with Enid’s cousin, Brian, so Liz decides to take a spin with Todd. Knowing that the bike was causing a strain on their relationship, Todd decides to sell it to Jerry “Crunch” Mcallister, high-school drop out/ frequenter of the Shady Lady bar. (Any time one of the dregs of Sweet Valley is mentioned, that means something really, really shitty is going to happen.) Liz is so touched by Todd’s gesture that she insists on going for a farewell ride.

Unfortunately for them, “Crunch” Mcallister is taking a drunken farewell ride of his own. (Sweet Valley must have the highest rates of DUI with death/bodily injury of any fictitious series.) Of course, there is a dramatic crash, and Liz’s life hangs in the balance. The book ends with Todd and Jessica squeezing a comatose Liz’s hands as hard as possible (???). This doesn’t  seem medically advisable. Maybe, that’s what causes Liz’s brief personality disorder in the next book, #7 Dear Sister.

But wait there’s more….Inaugural edition of “Mr. Collins is extremely inappropriate”

I know he looks like a young Robert Redford, but Mr. Collins is still a creeper. I had a couple of teachers like him in high school— one was fired and the other arrested for similar personal relationships that got out of hand. (Another dude did marry said student, so one happy ending, I guess. My high school had 90 something graduates, so do the math on the inappropriateness.)

Here are some examples of Mr. Collins’ creepiness:

1) “(Liz) was well aware of the divorce Mr. Collins had gone through and how his encounters with his ex-wife regarding their son left him emotionally drained.”

Why is he talking about his personal life at all—let alone his baby mama drama—with a student? I doubt that Sweet Valley has endorsed the field of psychoanalysis/psychotherapy, but LA is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

2) What is Mr. Collins doing at Enid’s sweet-sixteen party? The ghostwriter tries to explain it away by saying he’s chaperoning the after-party at a rock club, but I still say shenanigans. Maybe, if this were Liz’s party, I could sort of/kind of excuse it, but this is Enid, who has had no discernible relationship with him.

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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