Perfect Size Six

September 15, 2016

#28 Alone in the Crowd (or Emo Times at Sweet Valley High)

“Can Elizabeth help Lynne overcome her shyness?”

Yes, it’s that time again. Elizabeth Wakefield (patron saint of Sweet Valley’s dregs and other non-desirables) is here to save the day and rescue some drab, non-blonde, non-perfect-size-six from herself. Our cover girl in need of rescue (i.e. a makeover and a social push) is Lynne Henry.

(I love how they’re trying to make her look so unattractive by Sweet Valley standards on the cover. Her guitar, turtleneck, glasses, and hair are all the same hue of shit brown. Plus, this is Southern California. Why is she wearing a turtleneck and ski goggles?)

Backstory on Lynne: Her father died at some point (I may be really reaching, but I kind of feel like the book implies it was suicide.) Her mother is the glamorous manager of a beauty spa, who fails to find common ground with her. Lynne’s secretly a talented singer and songwriter. She comes off as really emo at best and severely depressed at worst. Lynne’s so low on the social totem pole that they don’t even know her name. This is probably a blessing in disguise. The denizens of Sweet Valley aren’t especially kind to their misfits. Just ask Lois Waller or Robin Wilson.

giphy15While walking home from school one day, Lynne meets her neighbor, Guy Chesney, teenage dreamboat and guitarist for the Droids. Guy is the first person to actually talk to her and show her even the remotest kindness or friendly interest, so of course, she becomes obsessed with him. Lynne pretty much just lets Guy talk the whole time about music.

Guy is a huge fan of Linda Ronstadt, and Lynne assumes it’s because she’s extremely beautiful, which makes her even more insecure if that’s possible. (I do have to agree that it’s an odd choice for an ’80s rocker-type. I would have gone with Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, Joan Jett, Lydia Lunch, etc. A Linda Ronstadt reference was dated when I first read this in the eighties. Damn, I’m feeling extra old today. )

Anyway, they continue walking to and from school together, and Guy even invites her to the school softball game at Secca Lake. It’s entirely platonic. The friend zone struggle is real. But Lynne’s having a great time and appears genuinely happy so good for her, I guess.

tumblr_n1igcfnwa71rosb88o1_500Inevitable sanctimonious Liz moment: (after Liz sees Lynne talking to Guy) “With a smile on her face and a sparkle in her eye, Lynne Henry was actually almost pretty!”  What a bitch. As an adult, I fucking hate Elizabeth. I mean, Jessica’s a shit person too, but she at least owns her shit-ness. Elizabeth is heralded as some Mother Theresa figure. There’s even an entire book that imagined what life would have been like if Liz had never been born (a la It’s a Wonderful Life), and *non-spoiler*, every one’s life was shit. People were dead, miserable, and/or divorced because a 12-year-old had not intervened in their affairs. Ugh.

Anyway, during the game, The Droids announce a contest to find their next great song/songwriter. Lynne pens “Outside Looking In,” as an ode to her outsider status (see below for full song). She submits it anonymously because she’s afraid that she really sucks.

When the Droids listen to the tapes to find the winner, Guy falls in love with Lynne’s song (like, literally). He, and every one else, is oblivious to its origins. Guy becomes obsessed with finding out who wrote it, because he’s fallen in love with the singer now too. It’s kind of weird/creepy and oddly romantic by Sweet Valley standards.

makeoverWhile the entire school is trying to discover the identity of the mystery singer, Lynne decides it’s time for a makeover! (I am a huge sucker for a makeover in any form, time, or place.) With the help of her glamorous mom and the Silver Door salon, Lynne is able to morph from baggy sweatshirts and sweatpants to teenage fashion-plate eleganza. Oddly enough though, no one really makes a big deal out of it or really notices all that much (a lot like real life, I guess).

At some point, Liz goes to the music store and hears the same voice  from the anonymous tape and discovers that Lynne is the mystery singer. Lynne makes her promise not to tell any one, and we all know how well that will work out.

Because Liz just can’t keep her nose out of anything, she tells Guy that the singer doesn’t want to be found. Guy latches on and starts drilling her about what she knows. Liz tells him that the singer is scared that because she doesn’t look like Linda Ronstandt that she doesn’t want to come forward. Of course, Guy immediately figures out that it’s Lynne from this. Way to go, Liz.

Instead of just approaching Lynne, Guy hatches this bizarre plot to publicly unmask her. When Guy and Lynne are walking to school, he tells her that he met with a police sketch artist, and the guy is going to able to draw a picture of the mystery singer based on Guy’s description of her voice. WTF? Then, he’s going to distribute flyers at lunch with the approximated imagining of the mystery singer in order to find her. (Double WTF? That makes no fucking sense.)

princess-diaries-makeoverDuring lunch, there’s the big reveal, and Lynne is greeted by hundreds of flyers with her pre-makeover face on them, and she is revealed to every one as the elusive mystery singer. She and Guy make out, and they live happily ever after (or so I imagine since she doesn’t really appear in any future Sweet Valley books).

B plot– The cheerleading team is in desperate need of new uniforms, so Jessica decides to hold this bizarre rocking chair marathon event/ dance party wherein the cheerleaders will take turns rocking in said rocking chairs the whole night. It’s been dubbed the Rock Around the Clock relay. For every hour they successfully rock, they  will collect money from whomever was dumb enough to donate for this shit.  Plus, the Droids play and debut their new Lynne Henry written song during the dance portion of the night.

“Outside Looking In” by Lynne Henry

Day after day I’m feeling kind of lonely,
Day after day it’s him and him only.
Something in his eyes
Made my hopes start to rise.

But he’s part of a world that doesn’t include me.
I’ll never win.
This is how it’s always been.
I’m on the outside…looking in.

Night after night I’m saying a prayer
Night after night…that somebody will care!
Somebody to hear me,
Somebody to stay near me…

But nothing’s going to change. Dreams can’t deceive me.
I’m all alone. You’ve got to believe me.
I just can’t win.
This is how it’s always been…
I’m on the outside—on the outside…
Lookin’ in.

hqdefaultEnglish Major Moment: “But she still got a bad taste  when she remembered the sound of Mr. Collins’s voice, reading the Emily Dickinson poem out loud:

‘I’m nobody! Who are you?/ Are you nobody, too?’

She had sat up with a start, shaken out of her daydream, her heart pounding. ‘I’m nobody! Who are you?’ It was if Mr. Collins had found her diary and read it out loud. She could have written those lines. It was as if her own inner voice were speaking!

June 20, 2016

#27 Lovestruck

 “Will Suzanne succeed in changing Ken?”

Oh, I love how pretentious this book is! (I mean, just to give you some idea of how hipster-rific it is, a college beatnik and an Ingmar Bergman movie serve as major plot devices.)

Sweet Valley’s star quarterback, Ken Matthews, is dating uber-wealthy Suzanne “Hands-Off” Hanlon, and every one seems to have a problem with it. Jessica hates Suzanne, presumably because she’s beautiful, smart, and rich. Liz dislikes her because she’s “aloof & snobby,” but she admits that she finds every one in their high school sorority to be like that.  (Um, every girl in Sweet Valley High except like 5 nerds/dregs/ poor people are in Pi Beta Alpha, so she must dislike most of the female population of SVH.)

What amazes me the most is that: 1) Some one who knows Jessica Wakefield in all her lazy, sociopathic glory still decides to put her in charge of the charity picnic. 2) Jessica easily convinces a non-concussed Elizabeth Wakefield to man the kissing booth! (first base all day!) and write poster copy (and probably do all the work). Jess gets Ken to man the other kissing booth. Seriously, the idea of kissing booths is so gross, both for the kiss-er and the kiss-ee.

tumblr_n1q7bdNMUh1ss6wowo1_400
Well, the whole shindig might be ruined because Ken Matthews is failing English, and he might not be able to play in the big football game against Palisades High. Even Jessica is mystified at how stupid Ken must be to be getting an F in Mr. Collins’ creative writing class. Ken is embarrassed because Suzanne is extremely smart, so he doesn’t mention it to her. But the more time he spends with her, the more time he spends neglecting his schoolwork. It’s a vicious cycle of stupidity.

That night, Suzanne invites Ken to dinner with her family at their palatial,  southern-plantation style home (imagine Gone with the Wind). The décor is all white (think Miami Vice drug dealers.) They’re greeted by the surly butler, who Ken mistakenly thinks is Suzanne’s father, and the evening pretty much goes downhill from there.

Suzanne tells Ken not to mention football at dinner because her father hates sports, and he thinks schools focus too much on them. A-fucking-men, Mr. Hanlon! What will Ken talk about, though? The entirety of his thought process is the o-line or d-line or whatever.

tumblr_nfwx97TOJ81ql5yr7o1_500Meanwhile at the table, Suzanne’s family is busy quoting Shakespeare for fun. Dinner is ultra formal, with fine silver, china, etc.  Ken apparently eats like a savage, has an unrefined palette, and can barely hold even the most basic of conversations. Thank goodness he’s hot and can play football.

The next night, Suzanne and Ken go with her hipster friends to see The Seventh Seal at the Plaza Theatre. (It’s a black-and-white, existential Swedish film set during medieval plague times that serves as a meditation on life, death, and God.) Ken thinks it’s a total joke, while Suzanne and her friends are moved to contemplative silence. One of Suzanne’s friends is Sweet Valley’s own hipster beatnik, Mark Andrews, a pony-tail sporting film student at Sweet Valley College, who’s obviously trying to woo Suzanne. He’s a total asshole. (I hate when people use intelligence and culture as some sort of weapon.) Mark makes Ken feel like shit because he doesn’t understand the movie and confuses director Ingmar Bergman with actress Ingrid Bergman. (Yeah, what an asshole.)

The next night Suzanne and Ken are attending the literary evening that Suzanne has helped organize. It’s more like a glorified open mic night for bad teen poetry. Liz proceeds to shit talk 99% of the roster, while she is, of course, the star of the night.

Elizabeth is shady as shit: “Elizabeth was happy for Suzanne that there had been such a good turnout, but she wondered whether it was because of the readings or because there wasn’t much else to do on a Wednesday night.”
tumblr_magk2fKZyc1qiw26mAnd lest we forget, Ken is still failing his English class and hasn’t even written so much as his name on a sheet of paper. Liz, of course, decided to stick her nose in Ken’s business earlier in the book and offered to tutor him. Liz’s idea of helping Ken is to give him one of her stories (and its notes, rough drafts, etc.) for inspiration. Titled “The New Kid,” it’s five pages about a boy moving from New York City to Sweet Valley, who realizes what a wondrous utopia he’s stumbled onto. (*Gag*)  Liz makes Ken promise not to show it to anyone, because she’s shy about showing this side of her writing. Ken decides to totally disregard her feelings,  and he turns in the story as his own. To be fair, I guess, he feels really bad about it.

Well, the story is a hit with Mr. Collins, and he decides to publish it in the special edition Centennial edition of the Oracle. Elizabeth is furious but doesn’t rat him out. Ken decides that he’s going to make things right by replacing Liz’s story with one of his own. It plays out like creative non-fiction, and it’s essentially a confession to stealing Liz’s story.

Suzanne dumps him because she’s embarrassed that she told every one what a great writer he was, when in fact he’s a fraud. Every one else is supportive, and Mr. Collins even gives him a good enough grade to pass and play football. Sweet Valley wins the big game, and Suzanne comes crawling back. Ken dumps her for good when he realizes that she’s still an uber-snob, who wants to change him.

B-Plot: Jessica’s in change of the charity picnic, and everything naturally goes wrong. The hundreds of posters she ordered to advertise the event have the wrong date on them (her fault, of course.) She forgets to confirm the food order with catering, so now they have no food for all of the paying customers. She proceeds to make hundreds of PB&J sandwiches, which unintentionally cuts the food budget to almost nothing, meaning more money for the charitable cause. They actually publicly recognize her for her cost-cutting! And she proceeds to make a speech saying that this was her plan all along. Ugh.

hemingway_stamp_700English Major Moment: “‘I know you can pull that grade up, Ken,’ Jessica said brightly, ‘With old Hemingway Wakefield helping you, you can’t miss.'”

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.”

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.)

April 28, 2015

#24 Memories

svh024
“Can Cara make Steven forget Tricia Martin?”

So this was definitely a clunker book to get through. There are three story lines going on (involving all of the Wakefield children), and none is particularly interesting. First, we have the cover story of Steven Wakefield, who is still trying to come to terms with the death of his first love, Tricia Martin, and his new feelings for Cara Walker. Every one in his life says that he needs to get over Tricia’s death, because it was, like, months ago already. The only person who is against him moving on is Tricia’s sister, reformed bad girl, Betsy.

Personal aside: I HATE Tricia Martin story lines now. One of the reasons I took such a long break from this blog was my stage 4 cancer diagnosis, treatment, and general life upheaval. I had to move in with my grandparents, who took care of me, while my former live-in man friend told me not to come home on weekends any more because he had a new girlfriend now. (This bitch (his now ex-girlfriend) even sent me a get well card with an AMC gift certificate inside. Yeah. Kind of a bitchy since I didn’t have a date anymore for the movies, and I couldn’t physically go out by myself.) So as you can see, it’s hard for me to be impartial about this, even in the fictional world.

giphy2Well, it appears that Betsy and I are the only cancer cock blocks around in Sweet Valley. Jess thinks that Steve and Cara are sooo right for each other since they’ve both just recently gone through major life upheavals. While Steve lost the love of his life, Cara’s parents got divorced!! Our Ghostwriter du jour hammers home the fact that Cara isn’t the flighty Jessica-lite of before because her dad dumped her mom and took her brother to the East Coast. Ugh, more divorce propaganda. At least, Cara got some character out of it, I guess.

Throughout the book, Steven leads Cara on and treats her like shit. At Lila’s party, he abandons her on the dance floor after a cutting remark from Betsy. At the charity dance, he stops talking to her midsentence after Betsy shows up. But then Steven gets all jealous and huffy when his friend, Artie Western, shows the slightest interest in Cara, so he asks her out on a combination zoo/ picnic “date.” But he makes her bring the food! After treating her like shit for the last few weeks, you would think that he could spring for the Dairyburger at the very least.

Well, the bring-your-own-picnic/zoo date is a success, if only because Steven doesn’t dump Cara at the monkey habitat. They continue this secret, non-relationship relationship for the rest of the week by talking on the phone and watching TV together. *Yawn* They make Liz and Todd look like regulars at Studio 54.

Since Cara’s birthday is coming up, Steve tells her that he will take her anywhere she would like to go to celebrate. Cara tells him when he shows up that she would like to go to the Valley Inn. She doesn’t know that this was Steve and Tricia’s special place. Steve is already kind of freaked out being on a more formalized date with Cara, but he goes completely over the edge when the restaurant plays his and Tricia’s song. Steven just leaves Cara alone (again!) on the dance floor without an explanation and drives home! So she gets dumped…again… on her birthday and has to take a cab back to her place.

“Steven slammed his fist on the counter, ‘I’ve told you, Jess, stay out of it. I’ll live my life the way I want.’
‘OK,’ Jessica said. She shrugged. ‘But remember Cara’s got one advantage over Tricia. She’s alive.'”
clueless-way-harsh-tai

Thankfully I guess, Elizabeth steps into to save the day. She has a come-to-Jesus talk with Betsy Martin about Steven.  Betsy finally admits that she puts such a stranglehold on Steven, because she wants to keep Tricia’s memory alive. Since Betsy was such a shitty sister while Tricia was alive (what with being a boozer, user, and a loser), she wants to make amends for it on the flip side. Betsy realizes that Tricia would have wanted Steven to move on with Cara, so she and Liz hatch a quirky plan to get these two kooky kids together again (because straight talk is so overrated).

Anyway, Liz/Betsy arrange for Steven/Cara to unknowingly meet up at the high school. When they realize it’s a set up, eight-year-old Teddy Collins comes out with two envelopes from Betsy with hand-drawn pictures and a letter enclosed giving her blessing to their relationship.

Dear Steve,

I have finally come to realize what Tricia knew long ago: a wonderful person should be looking toward his future, not his past. You made my sister so happy while she was alive. Now it’s time for you to bring your kindness and affection to someone else. Do what Trish wanted, Steve: embrace life and all the beautiful things it has to offer.
Fondly,
Betsy

Since this is Sweet Valley, all is forgiven, and they live happily ever after. (Spoiler alert: Just kidding, of course. Steven falls for two different Tricia doppelgangers in the not-too-distant future. And more importantly, he actually comes out as a gay man in Sweet Valley Confidential.)

tumblr_ngca2xhsUY1r2a5ywo1_500B Plot– There’s a big charity volleyball match/dance between Sweet Valley High and their archrivals, Big Mesa (with a dance to follow, naturally). One of the players, Michael Sellars, is a doppleganger for Todd, so Elizabeth (like so many other Sweet Valley characters before and after her) thinks that if they look alike they must have the same personality too. There are seriously at least 5 books with this exact theme.

There are extended scenes of Liz being so dazzled by Michael that she can’t even play volleyball, and he takes full advantage of her ineptitude. It’s cringe worthy. Even though this guy is a doucebag extraordinaire, Liz agrees to go to the dance with him.

She soon finds out Michael is nothing like Todd. He plays football (not basketball) and is a total narcissist asshole with anger management issues. He shit talks the food at the dance and won’t even let Liz dance with harmless class clown, Winston Egbert. Liz has had enough at this point and dumps him for good.

C Plot- Jessica overhears her mom talking to Mrs. Egbert about her famous film director brother, who’s secretly coming to town for a visit. Jessica plots to meet him (by any means necessary) and become a famous actress. (Yes, it’s another Jessica will do ANYTHING to be famous plotline.) Her idea of ANYTHING is to cozy up to head nerd, Winston, by working together on a book report. Her logic follows that she will go over to his house, dazzle his uncle, and then depart for Hollywood. But as it turns out, movie producer brother can’t make it, but sanitation engineer brother does. Jessica is so mortified by her mistake that she listens to his boring garbage removal plans for hours. Better luck next time, Jess.

MarielHemingwayEnglish Major Moment:

“When the bell sounded, Lila came up to Jessica as she was collecting her books. ‘Jessica, what’s going on?’ she asked. ‘What made you team up with the king of comedy?’
‘I don’t know,’ Jessica answered breezily. ‘I’m just interested in Fitzgerald, I guess.’
“But I thought we would do Hemingway together.’ Lila pouted. ‘He’s Mariel Hemingway’s grandfather, you know.’
‘I don’t think that’s the kind of information Mr. Collins is looking for,’ Jessica said as the two of them headed toward the door.”

April 15, 2015

#23 Say Goodbye (Ta-ta, Todd!)

svh023“Can Elizabeth survive the heartache of losing Todd?”

When we last left off, Todd had announced his imminent departure from Sweet Valley via a melodramatic poetry reading at the high school talent show. Instead of just straightforwardly telling every one that he’s moving, Todd recites a 19th-century Victorian, death-centric poem ,”Remember” by Christina Rossetti**, and tearfully announces the news. Now, the great white mope is really and truly departing Sweet Valley forever (or at least for the next 35 books), so Elizabeth feels like her world is ending.

Liz and Todd have decided to do the bi-coastal romance thing. They agree to write letters and call as often as possible. (And you thought long distance relationships were tough in modern times. Lest we forget, there’s no texting, sexting, skype-ing, emailing, or unlimited calling. Their relationship is basically being conducted pony express and Ma Bell style. Todd even says that he’s going to have to get a job just so he can afford his phone bill. (although both of them are so boring that I don’t even know how they would be able to talk for hours on end.)

unnamedElizabeth goes to 3 people for support 1) Steven, whose girlfriend DIED not too long ago 2) Enid, whose long-time boyfriend just dumped her for another girl and 3) Jessica, who just doesn’t give a shit. Every one basically says the same things: that things are going to be different now and that Liz and Todd should take a wait-and-see approach to their relationship. Surprisingly mature, denizens of Sweet Valley.

Jessica decides that Elizabeth needs to date handsome, wealthy Nicholas Morrow to quickly get over Todd. She convinces Nicholas that Liz and Todd are finito and urges him to move in quickly. Nicholas has harbored a not-so-secret crush on Liz ever since she was kidnapped by Carl the orderly, so he’s eager to swoop in.

Jessica then tells Todd that the long distance relationship is ruining Liz’s life, and that if he really wants her to be happy, he’ll set her free. That’s great and all and pretty good advice, but Todd doesn’t inform Liz about any of this. He just cuts off all contact without a word of explanation. Liz is devastated by Todd’s silence and decides to move on to Nicholas. Hello, rebound.

unnamed1Liz realizes after a couple of weeks of dating Nicholas that she really loves Todd, but she doesn’t want Nick to be sad and dateless to Lila’s party. So she postpones dumping him. Todd shows up to surprise her at the party, sees her looking comfy in Nicholas’ arms and runs away pouting. Liz eventually finds him at his old house, and they confess their undying love for each other. But this time they acknowledge the harsh realities of being separated by 2000 miles.

I’m a little confused at their ultimate decision. They love each other and are still sort of dating, but they won’t get in the way of meeting new people. And hopefully, one day they’ll find their way back to each other. ??? Ugh, what does this even mean? Even one-dimensional fictional relationships are confusing. (Future spoiler alert: they both move on quickly. Liz’s future beau, Jeffrey French, is only slightly more palatable than Todd.)

Oh, and I feel so bad for Nick Morrow at the end. He tells Liz that this is her last chance to be with him because he can’t have his heart trampled on again, and she says that she’s ok with that. Sorry, Nicholas! For some reason, he never really has much luck with the ladies, while a douchebag/date rapist/ serial cheater like Bruce Patman and even ultra nerd Winston Egbert find continuous love.

B-Plot: Jessica racked up almost $100 in charges at Lisette’s (without her parent’s knowledge), so they’re making her get a job to pay them back. Even though Jess’ work history is poor/negligible, she somehow manages to become the second in command at a local dating agency. It’s a disaster on par with Tofu Glu, so it’s one of my favorite B plots ever.

While “working” one day, Jessica decides her brother, Steven, needs to start dating again to get over the death of his last girlfriend. She picks three random dates for Steven out of the dating agency’s files. (Hello, conflict of interest. And although there are apparently photos in the files, Jessica does not preview any of Steven’s dates.)

composite_14289608274939Our first single gal is Beatrice Barber, a 43-year-old divorcee, who relentlessly pursues Steven throughout the week, phoning him, and propositioning him for dinner and movies. He is really confused at this point and just assumes he met her at a party. No love connection here.

Jessica is convinced that Steven didn’t give Beatrice a chance because he didn’t get to meet her, so she decides to give the next prospect the Wakefields’ home address!! So one random night, Elizabeth opens the door to find Jordan “Jody” Maguire, a leather-clad punk rocker with assorted piercings, who *gasp* smokes, and talks about Plato’s theory of love. Strike two, and Steven finally discovers what Jessica’s been up to.

But Jess won’t be deterred so she invites the third girl, Melissa Porter, to be Steven’s surprise date to Lila’s party. I just love the ghostwriter’s description of this girl. Her hobbies are “cooking, restaurants, eating—as well as all sorts of traditional things around the house.” I totally had this feeling of dread that a morbidly obsese person was going to show up at his dorm room or something and just be utterly embarrassed. But we never get to meet her, because she calls to cancel and leaves us with my favorite line from the book:

“‘I’ve decided I prefer food to men,’ she’d told Jessica on the phone.”

Jessica’ not really remorseful, but she gets her comeuppance when she invites one of her clients, Spence Millgate, to be her date to Lila’s party. He claims in his profile to love sports, movies, and having a good time. Of course, when he shows up, he looks nothing like his picture and has the air of a young serial killer about him. He wants to be an undertaker, because he thinks embalming is fascinating. This totally sounds like the setup for a future Thriller edition about a crazy coroner who’s obsessed with the Wakefield Twins and wants them all to himself….forever.

Must Watch: I found this amazing video that features various men’s dating-video profiles of the ’80s, and it makes modern dating seem downright delightful in comparison. 

SONY DSCEnglish Major Moment: “‘How could he be mad at you?’ Jessica demanded. ‘You’ve been exactly like—what’s the name of that Greek woman who sat around for ten years weaving things while her husband was away?’

‘Penelope.’ Elizabeth laughed. ‘Well, I don’t know if that’s exactly true. But I still think something weird is going on.’

Hmm. Am I really supposed to believe that Jessica’s familar enough with Homer’s The Odyssey and/or Greek mythology to make this comparison? Lols. no. For those unaware, The Odyssey details Odysseus’ 10-year journey home after the Trojan war. His wife, Penelope, is facing rowdy suitors who want to take her husband’s kingdom. So she tells them that she won’t marry until she finishes her tapestry. So she weaves it by day and un-weaves it by night until her husband’s return. (Check out Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad for a retelling from Penelope’s point of view.)

 

**In Memoriam: Sweet Valley’s first/worst couple, Todd and Elizabeth…

Remember by Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

 

 

April 4, 2015

#22 Too Much In Love (or Stalker, Ahoy!)

“Will DeeDee’s dependence chase Bill away?”

Yeesh. Pictured in prime stage 5 clinger mode on the cover is one DeeDee Gordon. The object of her obsession is her surfer boy beau, Bill Chase. See, they’ve been dating for awhile, (14 books!), and that new relationship bloom has fallen off the rose. DeeDee wants Bill’s constant love and attention, but Bill just wants to swim, pass history class, and surf. Well, the more he distances himself from her, the more obsessed she gets. She waits for him before, during, and after school. She shows up at his house unannounced. She cries when he blows off their double date for an important swim meet.

Why is DeeDee acting so crazy all of a sudden? Of course, it’s because her parents have just gotten divorced. Her mom worked and went back to school, so of course, her Hollywood agent father’s eyes and penis wandered. Plus, DeeDee’s art teacher/mentor was dumped by her hubby, who left her for an uggo with no career. Well, DeeDee has decided that being a strong, independent woman is the kiss of death for a good relationship, so that’s why she’s hellbent on being the most submissive girl at Sweet Vglennclosealley High.

Different time and demographic and all, but I don’t get it. Everybody  in Sweet Valley is getting divorced– Why is there even a stigma? Just off the top of my head, the children of divorce at SVHigh include Enid Rollins, Ricky Capaldo, Bill Chase,  cousin Kelly, Cara Walker, Aaron Dallas, and the *fabulous* Lila Fowler. Oh and add every one’s favorite inappropriate teacher, Mr. Collins, to the single dad’s club. Even Alice and Ned get sick of each other’s shit periodically, so why, pray tell, would any one feel a  perverse sense of shame that their own parents couldn’t make it work? Plus, the high school break up rate should be something like 137 times worse.

Bill is so over DeeDee’s neediness. Ugh, that scene where she leaps from the bleachers, screaming, at the regional swim meet and runs into Bill’s embarrassed arms after he wins his race. Ugh. Instead of having an actual conversation with her about it, he avoids her and agrees to go see a movie with Droids front woman, Dana Larson. (But they’re just friends, ok, even if he doesn’t tell DeeDee about it.)

Dana is punk-y, spunky, and independent. She even likes to go to the movies by all by herself. Bill compares the two throughout the afternoon, when he’s not wallowing in the death of his previous girlfriend. Basically, it all “why can’t DeeDee be more like this? She’s always crying. And I want to enjoy the little free time I have and not be miserable.” It’s nothing you would want your boyfriend to think of you.23951918

I won’t lie. Dana is one of my fav characters. She’s New Wave,  loves Hitchcock and Truffaut, and old movies in general. She’s in the heppest bank around, the Droids. Her wardrobe is the ultimate in alternative 80’s fashion. A prince will eventually fall in love with her! I always imagined her as a young Debbie Harry from Blondie. Bill, of course, doesn’t tell DeeDee about this non-date date. But he runs into Jessica and Cara, who easily sniff out his treachery and can hardly wait to tell DeeDee. Jess has a long memory, Bill! DeeDee angrily and publicly confronts Bill at school. She says she will change, but Bill says they need a “break.” Ugh.

Let me play devil’s advocate here for a minute. I know DeeDee’s supposed to be the crazy, psycho stalker with dependence issues, but doesn’t she raise some valid points? Bill is allegedly too busy for her what with school, swimming, and the special history research project. School is the requisite 8 hours/day I’m assuming. Swimming practice is 10 hours per week, per the book. And what is with this special Civil War Project for Mr. Fellows? What is it, and why does it require that Bill go over to his history teacher’s house? Inappropriate. And if Bill is soooo busy, how does he have time for an afternoon with Dana? And if it’s soooo innocent, why doesn’t he tell DeeDee about it casually in conversation? Not defending DeeDee or anything, but why doesn’t Bill get any of the blame? (And can you tell I’ve dealt with a Bill Chase or two in my life, and I’m a very independent woman, thank you.)

DeeDee had agreed to help Liz with the set design for the talent show before the big breakup, but she’s just a total basket case now. She can’t do anything on her own. Plus, all she wants to do is lament to our Saint Liz about her love troubles.  Elizabeth muses about Poor Bill having to put up with this and no wonder DeeDee got dumped. Rude.

Since Liz can’t leave anything alone, she decides that she must help DeeDee help herself. Of course, she does this in the most convoluted way possible. Elizabeth fakes an illness (even tumblr_mn9mdclARi1s5ruqso1_500skipping school to add to the realness of it all) to force DeeDee to take over the reigns as talent show director. And it works! DeeDee is so busy putting this shindig together that she doesn’t have time to moon over Bill. And she turns back into that independent girl who Bill fell in love with, so Bill wants her back! Shockingly enough, DeeDee doesn’t go running back into his arms. She decides that they needed to keep that break going and take things slowly, so whatever happens, happens. Shockingly sage, Sweet Valley.

Our B-plot has Ned going to Mexico City to get some documents for a case about the illegal importation of goods into the US. (Pre-NAFTA, y’all) He and Alice are turning this into a 10-day-vacay, so the twins will be home alone. In the Sweet Valley world, anything can happen (stalkers, serial killers, werewolves, vampires, doppelgangers). But since this is relatively early in the series’ run, the twin’s hijinx are super tame (and all Jessica’s doing). She stuff too many sheets in the washer and floods the basement, while she simultaneously leaves an unattended grease fire in the kitchen.

Of course, Jessica decides to throw a small soiree later in the week, which turns into a full-blown house party when Lila’s new college boyfriend invites his beer-swilling frat bros over. One of them spills beer all over Mrs. Wakefield’s important interior design plans, and newly-independent DeeDee uses her two weeks of art school training to make them good as new.

Minority Report:  This book is notable for introducing our first Person of Color (POC), Patty Gilbert. She’s pretty, popular, and DeeDee’s best friend. That’s about it. She doesn’t really get to do much else in Sweet Valley until she has relationship problems of her own in #61 Boy Trouble. (Yes, Elizabeth has to come to her aid.)
English Major Moment: “‘We’ve been studying the Bronte sisters in Mr. Collins’s class,’ Jessica added slyly. ‘And Mr. Collins said they were truly remarkable women because they had vivid imagination and they took risks all the time.’
‘Just what have you got in mind?’ Elizabeth asked warily. ‘Are you planing on running through Sweet Valley at midnight screaming ‘Heathcliff’?'”
I love Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.” Any excuse I can ever have to play “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush I will take!!

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 26, 2010

#16 Rags to Riches

“Look who’s after Roger Barrett!”

First Lila in #9 Racing Hearts, now Jessica. How is POOR Roger managing to attract the snobbiest girls at Sweet Valley High? Well, as we’re told in a super clunky first chapter, he’s Roger Patman now and RICH to boot. He is totally embracing his inner Patman douchebag on the cover, with the layered polos/popped collar/sports jacket ensemble he’s sporting.

How does this transformation occur? Roger’s mom dies in between books, and  he discovers that he’s the bastard scion of Paul Patman. He totally looks broken up about his dead mom too. I’m sure he shed a few tears when he bought his Lacoste shirts and Italian loafers. Note to readers: Being a bastard is okay if one of your parents is rich and/or famous.

“‘Well according to Uncle Henry, this is the story. When my mother first moved to Sweet Valley, she took a job working for the Patmans. That was before Uncle Henry was married or had a family. He was living with his older brother, Paul, who was married to this woman everyone hated. Well, I guess my mother fell in love with Paul Patman, and they sent more and more time together, amd -‘ Roger stopped, his face turning red.

‘I understand, Roger,’ Olivia said softly.

‘Well, I guess my mother moved away when she found out she was going to have a baby. While she was gone, Paul tried to divorce his awful wife. He wanted to marry my mother. But nobody ever found out about it because he was killed in a plane crash flying down to Mexico on business.'”

I love how Roger justifies the cheating because Paul Patman’s wife is so horrible, and everyone hates her. How many dudes in real life use this line to lure chicks into becoming their mistresses? (And yes, I’ve had someone try this out on me, unsuccessfully I might add.)

Roger’s dad was probably flying down to Tijuana to experience transnational hookers and donkey shows. If I were Mrs. Barrett, I wouldn’t have held out hope for Paul Patman sweeping me off my feet in the assembly line, à la Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentleman.

And seriously, Roger can’t even discuss the events leading to his birth without blushing. On behalf of every character in Sweet Valley, S-E-X!!! I can only imagine what their sex ed would be like.

I work at a public high school in a non-instructional capacity (thank god), and I had the distinct displeasure of walking into a classroom during a sex-ed lesson. I didn’t know this at first. Everyone had their crayons out, and they were going to town. When I looked to see what they were coloring, I noticed that it was line drawings of the male and female reproductive systems. How is coloring  a penis lime green teaching them about sexual health? The most depressing part is that most of the students in there were 18-years-old, two were pregnant, and one already had two kids. Methinks that’s a little late to hear about the birds and the bees and the penises and the vaginas. End rant.

Anyway, Jessica is in gold-digger mode now that Roger claimed his share of the Patman fortune. The only one standing in her way is Olivia Davidson, Roger’s present girlfriend and Sweet Valley’s resident boho hippie. I’m not condoning Jessica’s shenanigans by any means, but I’ve just always disliked the whole Olivia/Roger pairing. They just seem asexual and boring.

Jessica’s first plan of attack occurs at the Patman bar-b-q. Jess thinks that by ingratiating herself with Mrs. Patman that she will somehow gain an advantage with Roger. It’s how she ingratiates herself that doesn’t make any sense. Jess is acting like she’s the Patman scullery maid–clearing dishes,  running errands, etc. Well, I guess Jess was onto something because Mrs. Patman jumps on the Jessica bandwagon and completely dismisses Olivia.

Jessica decides the next course of action is to blow Olivia out of the water–by becoming her new best friend. Jess preys on Olivia’s insecurities about Roger’s new situation by giving her some well-aimed, horrible advice. Why any one trusts Jessica at this point is a mystery to me. Olivia and Roger break up. Roger eventually realizes that Jessica was behind all the drama in their relationship, and he goes to Olivia (with interloper Liz, of course) and wins her back. Still don’t care about their relationship.

Awesome B-plot: Ms. Lila Fowler is jealous of the new rich girl in town, Regina Morrow. See, Regina is just as wealthy as Lila and nice to boot so that sort of dulls Lila’s lustre. When Lila sees Regina seemingly cavorting with a hot, middle-aged man, she makes sure that the Perez Hilton of Sweet Valley High, Caroline Pearce, has the exclusive. That means Regina is on the fast track to a bad reputation! Quelle horreur!

No worries. Regina doesn’t have daddy issues. She’s just moonlighting as a covergirl, and she doesn’t want any one in Sweet Valley to know. Apparently, she’s nervous because her mom was a supermodel, and her mom didn’t think that Regina could follow in her footsteps because she’s deaf. uh, okay.

When Lila discovers that Regina is going to be on the cover of Ingenue magazine, she goes down to the modeling agency that hired Regina. Lila thinks that once the agent meets her that he will immediately put her on the cover instead of Regina. Haha. How do I love thee Lila? Let me count the ways.

Anyway, the director royally dismisses Lila, which is the highlight of the book.

“‘It’s my business to meet pretty girls,’ he told her. ‘Lila, try not to be too disappointed about the modeling job. You’re a pretty girl, but you don’t really have the right facial structure, I’m afraid. You wouldn’t like how flat your face would look in photographs. Anyway,’ he told her, seeing her to the door, ‘modeling is hard work. You’ll probably thank me a few years from now.'”

English major moment: A few minutes earlier (Elizabeth had) gotten home from the library, where she’d been doing research for the playwright’s competition. After several days of thought, she’d decided to write about her favorite poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”

I bet the only reason Elizabeth Barrett Browning is her favorite poet is because they share the same first name.

August 21, 2010

#14 Deceptions

Filed under: Books #1-20 — mediumcore @ 11:06 pm
Tags: , ,

“Has Elizabeth found a new love?”

After that whole kidnapping kerfluffle in the last book, #13 Kidnapped!, Liz decides she wants to throw herself a homecoming party ASAP.  (I would probably want a stiff drink (or three) and some pharmaceuticals, but I digress.)

Fast forward to said soiree, and Liz meets Nicholas Morrow, who I think is intended to be the anti-Bruce Patman. See, Nicholas is heavy on the tall, dark, and handsome (and RICH!) and light on the date-raping and douchebaggery. I don’t remember what I thought of him as a kid, but he is my absolute favorite Sweet Valley guy now. He loves fairy tales (!), Hemingway (!!), and French food (!!!). I kind of imagine him looking like a young Mark Ronson, which equals extra swooning in my book.

His one major character flaw is his instantaneous obsession with Liz upon meeting her. Even though he’s already met Jessica, Nick experiences love at first sight with Liz. This seems kind of odd, since they’re identical twins. Anyway, Nicholas follows her around all night, which royally pisses off Todd (ha!). Before Nick leaves, he confesses his love for Liz and coerces her into a date. It comes across as pretty creepy, especially since Liz just finished dealing with a psycho orderly who was obsessed with her. (If Nicholas were less aesthetically pleasing and POOR, this would be more like Kidnapped! Part Deux.)

Liz struggles with the idea of going on a date with Nicholas. For one, she has Todd, the old ball and chain, waiting in the wings at home. Then, there’s the fact that Jessica thinks that Nicholas is totally in love with her. If Liz goes, a clusterfuck is sure to ensue. What’s a normally-good girl supposed to do? (Do it!)

Liz decides to go on the date, but she wants to tell Todd (to clear her conscience). Not surprisingly, every time she mentions Nicholas’ name, Todd gets whiny and jealous. I love how the ghostwriter contrasts Liz’s dates with Todd and Nicholas. Team Nicholas, all day, every day.

Todd takes Liz to a scary monster movie, “Teenage Terror,” and she just laughs about how much she hates those type of films. Then, Todd whisks her away to dinner at Chez Dairyburger.  Très originale, Todd. I won’t even get into his shitty idea of wooing over the previous 13 books. Let’s just say that I’m eagerly awaiting Todd’s train ride to Vermont in #23 Say Goodbye.

The next day, Nicholas takes Liz to an upscale French restaurant. (Two dates in two days. Wouldn’t that make Liz a ho by Sweet Valley standards of slutdom?) Anyway, the date goes swimmingly. They have a lively conversation about their shared interests and values. Liz even gets over her prejudice about rich people for a couple of hours. It’s a home run of a first date. My only slight irritation is that she lets Nicholas order for her. Maybe, it’s my own experience shining through, but I bristle when someone tries to do this.

Liz’s date is ruined when Todd and his family, who just happen to  be dining at the same restaurant an hour outside of Sweet Valley, walk right by their table. What a coincidence. Liz pretends she is Jessica and proceeds to mock Todd for thinking she is Liz. (Oooh, bitchy moment, Liz!)  Todd feels so bad about confusing the two that he drives down to the Wakefield house and kisses the first Wakefield he sees. Jessica is not amused, and neither is Todd when he realizes that Liz really was on a date with Nicholas. Jess is pissed too because she had been throwing herself at Nick unsuccessfully for two whole  books.

Oh, how I get tired of Liz/Todd antics. They’re continuously presented as this paradigm of a loving, successful relationship,  and even my nine-year-old self saw how fucked up they were. But have no fear, Liz and Todd lovers! A happy ending is right around the corner, of course.

Nicholas tells Todd that he practically forced Liz to go out with him. (Yeah, what an ordeal–dating a rich, handsome, literate man.) Nick then tells Todd that Liz wouldn’t shut up about how much she loves him. With that, Todd vows to get his girl (and win the Big Mesa game) in one fell swoop, and the Sweet Valley High universe has righted itself again. Seriously, this was such a hard book to get through. I thought of all five of you who will read this, and it propelled me forward. : )

Get your kleenex ready, guys. Tricia Martin dies in the next book, followed soon after by Roger Barrett’s mom. The poor are dropping like flies in Sweet Valley!

English major moment: “Outside the school, (Liz) stopped. She had a long way to go. A line from a poem she’d studied in English came back to her; ‘And miles to go before I sleep.’ It was by the poet Robert Frost, and Elizabeth had been so moved when she first read it that she had almost cried. It was then that she’d vowed to do her very best, no matter what she wrote.”

My eyes were rolling out of my head when I read this. Now whenever anyone starts piously complaining about all the shit in their life, I will respond, “Miles to go before you sleep, huh?”

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