SVH #40: On the Edge (Revisited)

23 Jun

And as for Regina Morrow, the girl had better get ready to face some bad news. Amy had Bruce where she wanted him, and she wasn’t about to let him get away!

The original cover, circa 1987

Details: Originally published in September 1987 by Bantam Books. Paperback, 150 pages.

Summary/Overview: Bruce Patman and Amy Sutton start hooking up behind Regina Morrow’s back. When they have the audacity to make out behind a tree at a barbecue the Wakefield girls throw, Elizabeth tries to distract Regina to keep her from seeing what’s happening, but she does and freaks out at Bruce and Amy and also Elizabeth. Though Elizabeth and Bruce both try to talk to Regina over the next few days, she completely shuts them out and starts hanging out with Justin Belson a kid who hangs with a rougher crowd.

Though several people (Nicholas, Elizabeth) try to warn Regina that Justin’s friends are bad news, she thinks he’s misunderstood. She agrees to go to a party with him at his ex-girlfriend Molly Hecht’s house, even though there’s rumors that a serious drug dealer will be there. At the party, a drug dealer named Buzz shows up with coke and everyone crowds around him. Regina gets teased for being a goody-two-shoes and decides to try the coke. She does two lines and immediately has a reaction and collapses.

At that same moment, Nicholas barges in with the police after Liz tips him off that Regina’s at the party. He would have gotten there sooner but was pulled over by the police for speeding and not having his license on him. They call an ambulance and rush her to the hospital, but Regina DIES. A week later, the school holds a memorial service for Regina and everyone swears they’ll never do drugs.

The B-Plot: There truly isn’t one. There’s a small sub-plot about Bruce and Amy working on a project about drugs in Sweet Valley, and they get some information from Amy’s cousin about kids in the community that are users, but it’s the clunkiest exposition (which is saying something) and clearly means to move the plot forward.

“You’ve never been to Kelly’s?” Justin repeated incredulously. “You’re kidding! Boy, you really have lead a sheltered life.”

Sweet Valley Social Calendar
Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks
– Party at the Wakefield’s house
– Party at Molly Hecht’s
– Regina’s memorial service

– The Morrows have a new housekeeper named Nola
– Amy’s got a cousin named Mimi who is 19 and somehow a junior in college
– Nicholas reads a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay: Dirge without Music

Pop Culture:
– Academy Awards

Does it hold up? (A Totally Unqualified Critical Analysis)

I mean, no. This is probably one of the most iconic Sweet Valley High novels because it features the death of a (beloved) character from a drug overdose, but it’s so funny to revisit this one as an adult and realize that this book came about because of the moral panic over drugs in the eighties. I kept thinking about the novel Go Ask Alice while reading this one, where the character devolves into madness and drugs very quickly, and wondering which one was more offensive (probably Alice, but this one is a contender).

I know Regina was spiraling because of her breakup with Bruce, but I do not believe that she would just be like, “No thanks on the teen drinking or marijuana, but I’d love to do a couple lines of cocaine with a bunch of strangers!” It just doesn’t feel authentic to me? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have one of the characters who are already dabbling in drug use to die from an overdose? It would, but then we’d have a flawed character who would require reader sympathy, and these books lack the nuance for that.

Nothing about this one makes a lick of sense: either Regina died of an overdose or she died because of a rare heart condition, but the book can’t make up its mind and we end up with a confusing narrative where maybe it’s both? Just pick a lane, book!

SVH #39: Secret Admirer (Revisited)

16 Jun

For some reason Penny Ayala didn’t date anyone, even on a casual basis. Elizabeth had often wondered about it but had put it down to Penny’s busy academic and extracurricular schedule.

The original cover, circa 1987

Details: Originally published in August 1987 by Bantam Books. Paperback, 153 pages.

Summary/Overview: Lynne Henry (remember her?) has a great idea for a new feature for The Oracle: personal ads! Kids can write in and answer each other’s ads. It’s a hit, and Elizabeth and Enid convince Oracle editor Penny Ayala to write one of her own. She writes a pretty funny, self-deprecating one, and she ends up hitting it off with a guy named “Jamie.” The two correspond for a while before agreeing to meet at the mall.

The thing is, “Jamie” is really Kirk Anderson and a bunch of other bozos. Neil Freemount is the one doing the actual writing, and he starts to develop real feelings for her and feels bad about the joke. When Penny gets stood up at the mall, Neil writes her one more letter begging for her to meet him at the Dairi Burger. Neil stands up to Kirk the Jerk and he and Penny hit it off. I am wildly bored.

The B-Plot: Jessica and Lila also decide to try their hand at the personal ads, with their aim being attracting college boys. This makes absolutely no sense for a variety of reasons, not least of all because it’s a fucking HIGH SCHOOL PAPER, but somehow it works and Jessica hits it off with an Italian guy named Paolo. She’s horrified to discover that he’s fat and bails halfway through their date. Cool!

Then she goes out with a guy named John who is cute (thin), and she doesn’t seem to think it’s weird that he’s mostly interested in why she’d place a personal ad. Before the big Forties Swing Dance she finds out that he’s also dating Lila and it’s all a social experiment? Cool! The girls laugh it off because the stakes could not be lower.

Sweet Valley Social Calendar:
Estimated Elapsed Time: 2-3 weeks
– Forties Fling Dance

– The Droids play a gig at a place called The Hot Potato
– Paolo drives a Camaro; Kirk Anderson drives a Trans Am

Pop Culture:
– Lord of the Flies
– The Scarlet Letter
– Quasimodo
– Walt Disney
– Huckleberry Finn

The Finnish cover with a literal translation

“Maybe it gives you goose bumps,” Lila said, “but it gives me a rash! He sounds way too conceited to me.”

Does it hold up? (A totally unqualified critical analysis):

The casual fatphobia in this book is so gross. The way Jessica treats Paolo is disgusting and the book waves it away so quickly that it could give a person whiplash. I guess we’re supposed to think she gets her comeuppance when John turns out to be doing some sort of sociological experiment, but it doesn’t really feel like she learns anything? It’s so disturbing!

But the weirdest part of this book remains the fact that Jessica and Lila use the personal ads as a way to attract college men. It literally makes no sense! Even if Steven shared a copy of the paper with his friends on campus, it still doesn’t explain how they’d be able to answer personal ads and write letters back and forth with high school kids unless they’re traveling between the college campus (supposedly an hour away) and the high school. Not to mention: why would they want to hang out with high school girls? Make it make sense!

SVH #38: Leaving Home (Revisited)

14 Jun

“Gag,” Jessica said, getting up to look in the cupboards. “No wonder this girl didn’t make it to maturity. She sounds like she was more of a saint than a human being.”

The original cover, circa 1987

Details: Originally published in July 1987 by Bantam Books. Paperback, 150 pages

Summary/Overview: Elizabeth decides she wants to go to school in Switzerland. There’s a boarding school there called the Interlochen School (not the one in Michigan, I guess), and it has a strong focus on writing and literature. Luckily, there’s also a scholarship for teenage girls between the ages of 15-17 who live in California, and so Liz decides to apply. The application process is pretty rigorous, including letters of recommendation, writing samples, and two different character interviews, including one with the applicant’s family (weird).

To say that her friends and family are jazzed about this entire thing would be an overstatement. While Jeffrey and Enid decide to be supportive, Jessica and Steven decide to actively try to sabotage the application. Jeffrey and Enid work on a scrapbook, devoting so much time to it that Liz thinks they’re secretly hooking up behind her back. Meanwhile, Jess and Steven act like fools during the family interview and Jess does a #twinswitch and pretends to be Liz at school, even going so far as to hit on the interviewer in a scene that has not aged well at all!

Liz finds out what her siblings have been doing and has an absolute meltdown about it. While she’s in the middle of screaming at them, the interviewer shows up at her house (???) and offers her the scholarship, telling her that they came clean about their scheme. Jeffrey and Enid show up with the scrapbook and Liz realizes that the magic of Sweet Valley is better magic than the magic of Switzerland, or something, and decides to stay, turning down the scholarship. Okay!

The B-Plot: Winston buys a lottery ticket and decides to throw a “Get Rich Quick” party because he’s certain he’s going to win. Then he accidentally switches jackets with a poor old man at the convenience store and ends up with that man’s lottery ticket – and it’s the winner! He goes back and forth about what to do before finally returning the winning ticket to its rightful owner, and everyone calls him a hero. I’m so bored.

“Dad!” Elizabeth shrieked. “He’ll think we have a broken family or something.”

The German cover, translated to “Jessica and her Thousand Tricks”

Sweet Valley Social Calendar:
Estimated Elapsed Time: 1-2 weeks
– Get Rich Quick party at Winston’s
– Beach Disco
– Scholarship application process for Liz

– More brand-name madness: Diet Coke and Oreos are mentioned
– The Droids have a “hit” song called “Something Sure”
– According to this one, Steve’s school is an hour away?
– Jeffrey’s birthday is July 12

Pop Culture:
– Star Trek

Does it hold up? (A Totally Unqualified Critical Analysis)
This is not one of the better Sweet Valley High novels. I don’t think that any reader of this series thought for a second that Elizabeth was actually going to move to Switzerland, so the stakes feel pretty low throughout the book. I’m not crazy about a book that goes heavy on an Enid subplot, either. And the way that Jessica and Steven act throughout this book doesn’t just strain credulity, it actively annoys. The whole thing is a boring bummer.

This one sucks and was boring.

SVH #37: Rumors (Revisited)

9 Jun

Jessica stared at Lila, open-mouthed. “Nobodies! Come on! Susan probably is a somebody, and you know it. I mean first of all, she lives with that woman who takes care of her, and nobody knows who her mother is, except that she obviously sends a lot of money. Susan wears the most incredible clothes.”

The original cover, circa 1987

Details: Originally published by Bantam Books in May 1987. Paperback, 167 pages.

Summary/Overview: Susan Stewart is a very nice girl at Sweet Valley High who lives with her aunt/guardian, Helen Reister. She has never known her parentage, but has been promised to be informed of this on her 18th birthday. The story is that her mother sends lots of money each month, and so most of the kids at school think her mother might be someone rich, important, and/or famous. Her rich boyfriend Gordon Stoddard thinks so, and he invites her to the prestigious Bridgewater Ball.

Lila also plans to attend the ball, but she doesn’t have a date, so she decides to spread a rumor about Susan’s real mother being in an insane asylum. The story has legs, it runs through the school, and Gordon drops Susan like a hot potato. The only person at school who shows her any kindness (besides Saint Elizabeth) is Allen Walters, who has been nursing a crush on her. They make plans for a date the same night of the ball.

The thing is, Aunt Helen is really Susan’s mother, and she’s been keeping it from her daughter all these years because of shame of being a single unwed mother. But when famous director Jackson Croft shows up on their doorstep and asks to see his daughter, Helen comes clean to Susan. The three of them have a very weird conversation about it that’s incredibly melodramatic.

Croft is in town because he’s holding open auditions for his next movie. The twins go to the auditions (Jessica because she wants to become famous, Liz because she wants to interview him about his charity work), and he reveals that he’s Susan’s father. This news elevates Susan’s social capital, and Gordon tries to get back together with her. Susan rebuffs his advances. Lila is also pissed about this, because Gordon had agreed to go to the ball with her in the meantime, and she dumps a soda on his head. Susan and Allen start dating.

The B-Plot: Jessica is studying female reproduction in health class, and she connects a couple of coincidences between her reading and Alice’s behavior. This leads her to believe her mother is pregnant. Liz and Jess try to get their mom to admit to this fact instead of just asking her, and I guess this is supposed to be funny. It’s mostly boring, and it turns out that Alice isn’t pregnant, and the strange conversations the twins have been catching between their parents are about whether or not they can leave the twins home alone for a month while they go on vacation. Okay!

Google tells me this is “West Frisian,” a Germanic language. It also tells me this translates to “The Flood of Rumors”

With a heavy sigh, Jessica shook her head. “Honestly. When mom looked at us and said, ‘Which one of you is in trouble?’ I nearly died.”

Sweet Valley Social Calendar:
Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks
– Bridgewater Ball
– Casting call for major motion picture in Sweet Valley
– Beach Disco

– Bridgewater is about 20 miles from Sweet Valley and is supposedly famous for the amount of rich people who reside there
– Bridgewater Ball Theme: Tales from Vienna
– Ms. Rice is the health teacher at SVH
– Lots of name-brand food in this one: Diet Coke and Doritos are mentioned

Pop Culture:
– Splendor in the Grass

Does it hold up? (A Totally Unqualified Critical Analysis)

Woof. This is a rough run of the series, isn’t it? I simply do not care about Susan Stewart and her “problems,” and I do not care about Alice maybe being pregnant again. The result is that this book was a boring slog (and it’s longer than most of the others, clocking in at 167 pages!), and I just wanted it to be over with.

But in terms of this holding up? Absolutely not! I have truly never grasped the entire premise of this one, which is that Susan’s mother was ashamed of being an unwed mother, so she pretended to be Susan’s…unwed aunt who was raising her? I don’t get it! I know it was a DiFfErEnT tImE, but, like, even in an era when unwed mothers were looked down on, I don’t see how it’s better for an unwed “aunt” to do it instead? It’s so weird?

Truthfully, Susan should be worrying less about who her mother is and focusing on the fact that she’s kind of a big dumb-dumb. They look related and she’s never able to piece together the fact that her mom is her mom, even after Jackson Croft comes to their house and says, “I’m your father.” She’s standing in a room with both her parents and she still asks, “But who is my mom?” Girl, what?

What’s weirder is that when Jackson Croft announces he’s her father, all the worry about having an unwed mother seems to go out the window? I guess it’s fine if you’re unmarried if your father is a famous movie director? Make it make sense!

SVH #36: Last Chance (Revisited)

7 Jun

Peter stared at her, then turned back to the road. “Yes,” he said. “Or her choice.” He was quiet for a minute. “You don’t seem like the sort,” he added strangely…”You know, the sort who cares about using ‘his’ instead of ‘hers.’ That sort of thing.”

Girl, RUN.
Original cover, circa 1987

Details: Originally published in April 1987 by Bantam Books. Paperback, 136 pages. There’s an ad in the back of my copy for a new book series called All that Glitters, about the behind the scenes on a soap opera.


Johanna Porter, sister to Julie, has decided to return to school after dropping out shortly before her mom’s death. Everyone at Sweet Valley is all atwitter with the news of her return, and she is nervous to be back and embarrassed to be starting as a junior when her classmates are all seniors. She struggles with her classes at first, enlisting the help of Liz when it comes to English. She soon finds her stride when it comes to math and science, though, and it isn’t long before she bumps into her longtime crush, Peter DeHaven. When he asks her to come with him to Las Palmas Canyon, she says yes, ignoring the fact that he’s been dating Amy Sutton, and turning a blind eye to the fact that he might have only asked her because Amy has gone out of town. They kiss, and she is certain he’ll dump Amy when she returns.

Of course, he does not do this. Instead, he basically ignores Johanna at school until she confronts him. He tells her that he has to break up with Amy gradually, and she believes this, even though he makes no indication of actually making strides to do this. She confides in both her sister and in Liz, who both express a little concern about the fact that he’s definitely still dating Amy. Liz immediately tells Jessica, who promises not to tell Amy but then does when Amy does something to annoy her. Amy freaks out on Peter, who swears it’s untrue. He breaks up with Johanna via a note in her locker, and she contemplates quitting school again.

Amy throws a pre-dance party before the big PTA dance, but everyone is mad at everyone else. When Amy insults Johanna at the party and Peter says nothing, Liz gives him the business, calling out his shitty behavior. He acts chagrined and thinks about apologizing to Johanna. When he tries one of her suggestions on his computer program for an upcoming science contest, he’s shocked when it works and it wins him the competition. When he goes to ask Johanna to celebrate with him, he’s surprised to find that Johanna has found some self esteem. Her epiphany included the realization that she should go back to school for herself. She excels at school.

The B-Plot: Jessica has decided that Cara and Steven have been going steady for too long and decides to spice things up by breaking them up. She drops hints that they might both be seeing other people and causes a fight between the two of them. They take separate dates to the dance (unclear why Steven is at a high school dance, as usual) and then realize they’ve been played and get back together. I am bored.

Amy shuddered. “How could you? Couldn’t you at least do a little better than Johanna Porter? The girl can barely spell her own name!”

The German cover, translates as “The Love Story of the Year?” which feels…ambitious

Sweet Valley Social Calendar:
Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks
– PTA dance
– Party at Amy Sutton’s
– Southern California Science Fair

– Peter has been admitted early decision to MIT
– The Porter sisters have musician parents: a (dead) opera singer mother and a symphony violinist father
– Cara takes Ken Matthews to the dance while Steven attends with Eve

Pop Culture:
– Robert Redford
– Vogue

Does it hold up? (A Totally Unqualified Critical Analysis)

A bit of inside-baseball as it relates to this here blog, before we get into the “analysis”: I was so far ahead in my Sweet Valley reading that I had posts scheduled for all of May, and so I took a little break that ended up being a month-long break, and now I’m scrambling to keep up with my twice-a-week posting schedule. This is, of course, in addition to having a full time job, doing household stuff, and reading books other than Sweet Valley. I’m hopeful that I can keep up the pace, but we’ll see.

That said: I read this in one sitting, because I knew that if I didn’t, I would never get through this book. I remembered exactly nothing about this one before picking it up this time, and upon finishing it, I can see why: it’s another case of an incredibly boring plot being coupled with characters that we absolutely do not care about, nor will we invest in!

First things first: dump! this! man! This is literally just a man, ladies! Y’all are fighting over a bag of garbage and don’t even know it! There’s nothing appealing about Peter, and even when the book takes a weird turn and gives us Peter’s perspective for a weird little detour, he basically thinks “I probably should ask Johanna some questions about her interests” and then goes back to whatever he was doing. That doesn’t count, buddy!

Can someone explain to me how Johanna’s decision to stay in school got tied to the absolute mansplaining nightmare that is Peter DeHaven? I get that this is supposed to be an after-school special about the dangers of high school dropouts, but Johanna’s low self-esteem seemed to be tied to so many things other than Peter. I also kept scratching my head about how she went on and on about her family only caring about music and not about her interest in STEM, when research has shown forever that the two subjects are tied together and talent in one often leads to success in the other. The entire thing was very yikes?

Also, Amy Sutton is the absolute worst. There’s no nuance here. While Jessica often acts like a complete sociopath, she does have moments where she seems human. There isn’t anything about Amy that makes me feel the same way.

SVH Super Edition #6: Spring Fever (Revisited)

2 Jun

Well, it’s just that we have an unspoken rule in town about the carnival,’ Mrs. Walker continued. ‘The boys who work the carnival are known as carnies in local slang.  Generally they come from very different backgrounds than any of the boys in town.  They’re not necessarily rough or anything, but they’re certainly not the kind of boys either of you two would be interested in.  I’m sure you know what I mean,’ she concluded.

Details: Originally published March 1987 by Bantam Books. Paperback, 233 pages.

One version of the cover

Jessica and Elizabeth are spending another inexplicable school break visiting their maternal great aunt and uncle in Walkersville, Kansas. The way that the two go on about how excited they are to spend time in a “real” small town is really something else, and the book takes great pains at the start to show readers how quaint the town is upon their arrival. Uncle Herman and Aunt Shirley take the twins on a walk through town, where they are greeted by some local teens. The boys are friendly enough, but the girls, led by Annie Sue, are decidedly less so. The twins can’t figure out why they’ve received such a cold reception from the girls but get distracted when they find out that a carnival is coming to town for basically their entire stay.

On the first night of the carnival, the twins are horrified to discover that their aunt and uncle intend to accompany them the entire time. In fact, it becomes clear very quickly that their chaperons do not think that two teenage girls should be left to their own devices at all. When Elizabeth and Jessica meet Alex Parker, the carnival’s horse handler, he tells them he also has an identical twin named Brad, who is more available during the day. Alex is appealing to Jessica, while Brad seems to share many interests with Elizabeth. Jessica makes plans to meet Alex after the carnival ends for the night, despite Liz warning her that their aunt and uncle will never agree to it.

Thus begins a series of escapades where Jessica fakes being sleepy at nine p.m. so she can sneak out to meet Alex at night while Elizabeth spends time with Brad during the day. She feels conflicted about her feelings for him, since she’s still dating Jeffrey back at home, but this doesn’t stop her from going on a bunch of dates. But something about the entire situation doesn’t sit right with her, and she starts to wonder why they’ve never seen Brad and Alex in the same place at the same time. Meanwhile, Jessica has none of the same concerns and falls head over heels with Alex.

Of course, Annie Sue sees Jessica out with Alex and tries to do a scheme. She demands a bunch of Jessica’s clothes and accessories in return for her silence. Things come to a head when Annie Sue jumps on a horse named Midnight who hasn’t been fully broken in yet, and it runs off with her. Jessica saves the day by intercepting the horse, Annie Sue apologies for being mean, and her aunt and uncle are so proud of her that they let go of their anger about her sneaking around.

Meanwhile, Liz figures out that Alex and Brad are the same person when they have the same hand injury. She confronts him, and he tells her that he couldn’t decide which girl he was interested in, which is why he concocted the twin thing. He swears that he’s fallen for Jessica, and Elizabeth decides to keep it a secret from her twin. Extremely cool!

We should probably scold you for sneaking out of the house, but, Jessica, we’re so proud of you for being such a heroine tonight that nothing else seems to matter!

Another version of the cover

Sweet Valley Social Calendar:
Estimated Elapsed Time: 11 days
– Trip to Walkersville, Kansas
– Carnival
– Square dance

– Lila is spending the break in Rome
– Annie Sue takes a page out of the Todd Wilkins’ sibling book: she has a sister when they visit the farm and then claims to be an only child near the book’s end

Pop Culture:
– The Wizard of Oz (more than once)
– Vogue

Does it hold up? (A Totally Unqualified Critical Analysis):

I wrote about this before, but this used to be one of my favorite books in the series. I can’t find any of that same enthusiasm for it this time around. It took me weeks to get through this one, and it was an absolute slog. Nothing about this book feels well done: the characterization is somehow worse than usual, the stakes feel hysterically low, and the portrayal of small town America is really offensive.

Aunt Shirley and Uncle Herman are the worst. The idea that they wouldn’t follow the ground rules that the Wakefields had set for their girls – or that they wouldn’t at least have a conversation about it prior to the twins’ arrival – is absolutely bonkers to me. The weird hand-wringing about “carnies” is deeply funny, as is Shirley’s constant performance of clutching her chest and asking for her pills.

Also, the whole Alex/Brad thing feels icky. It is fundamentally disgusting for a guy to pretend to be two people to date a set of twins. It is also WILD that they never tell Jessica, so that she just ends up “in love” with a dude who has been lying to her for a week!

Mostly, I was bored, though I did scream when one of the town’s teens asked Jessica if the rhinestones on her jumper were real diamonds. This analysis is all over the place, but what I really mean to say is that this is a textbook case of something not holding up at all. This has not aged well.

SVH #35: Out of Control (Revisited)

31 May

On the other hand, if there was one person who would make a good salesperson, it had to be Jessica Wakefield…if Jessica did try to sell health and beauty products, she had to be successful because she was so healthy and beautiful, a walking advertisement.

The original cover, circa 1987

Details: Originally published February 1987 by Bantam Books. Paperback, 154 pages.

Summary/Overview: Aaron Dallas’s parents are going through a divorce, and Aaron is having a Hard Time because of it. He seems to have a short fuse with everyone, blowing up at friends over tiny things and generally acting like he’s in a permanent ‘roid rage. It’s a huge bummer for basically everyone, and it isn’t long before most of his friends are at their wit’s end with his behavior. The only people in Aaron’s corner are Jeffrey French and Aaron’s girlfriend, sophomore Heather Sanford. Elizabeth doesn’t understand why Jeffrey is being so lenient with him and thinks Heather is an absolute waste of space. She goes so far as to mock Heather openly at a party after observing her talking baby-talk to Aaron (a coping strategy that embarrasses Heather but helps Aaron calm down).

When Aaron snaps and hits one of his soccer teammates, his coach tells him that any more outbursts will mean expulsion from the team. Elizabeth witnesses the punch and writes an article about Aaron’s behavior for the article, which enrages Aaron and makes Jeffrey angry, too. But when Heather tells Liz that she’s glad she wrote it, Liz realizes that she pre-judged Heather. When Aaron runs into Liz at school, Jeffrey asks him to get over his anger at her and he punches Jeffrey. This is the final straw for Heather, who begs Aaron to get help. He meets with the guidance counselor and his coach, and they encourage him to see a therapist (maybe with his father), and he remains on the soccer team just in time to win a big game against Big Mesa.

The German edition – “Freshly in love and pretty pissed off”

The B-Plot: Jessica decides to seek fortune by signing up to sell health and beauty products from a company called Tofu-Glo. She invites all the girls at school to her house for a party to demonstrate the products, and she sells a ton of product to them and to folks in the neighborhood by knocking door-to-door. When she starts receiving complaints about the products not working (and stinking to high heaven), she realizes that offering a “money-back guarantee” was a bad idea: she has to eat the cost of all the products she sold. When she contacts the company, they tell her it’s her fault for not reading the fine print: the products have to be refrigerated. Just when she thinks she’ll be completely bankrupt (or wahtever), Ned swoops in with news that a class action lawsuit against the company means she’ll get her money back. This is why we don’t join MLMs, hun.

“Why would you want to sell Cara tofu to put on her hair?” Steven asked for the seventh time, annoyed and puzzled. “I don’t get it.”

Sweet Valley Social Calendar:
Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks
– Big soccer game
– Party at the Wakefield’s

– Jesssica and the number 37: “I bet I can sell a hundred and thirty-seven tons of the stuff,” “a hundred and thirty-seven wild horses couldn’t make you fetch”
– Steven was a Boy Scout

Pop Culture:
– None!

Does it hold up? (A totally unqualified critical analysis): Probably the most glaring thing worth noting about this book is the way it dances around the concept of therapy for both Aaron and his father. They never really want to say the word “therapist,” and when it’s even hinted at, Aaron (and others) make mention of therapy being something for psychopaths. Which is pretty rich, given the fact that Aaron acts like one throughout the entire book!

In the end, Aaron agrees to see the school guidance counselor, which feels like a weird choice. I’m not even sure they’re trained in anything therapy-adjacent – and one meeting with this woman and Aaron’s problems are fixed?

It’s also worth noting that Elizabeth is such an asshole in this one!

SVH #34: Forbidden Love (Revisited)

31 May

“Oh, you wouldn’t understand,” Maria said quickly. “You and Jeffrey haven’t known each other all that long. And you two don’t have a real commitment to each other yet.”

“That’s true,” Elizabeth said, secretly annoyed.

The original cover, circa 1987

Details: Originally published January 1987 by Bantam Books. Paperback, 138 pages.

Summary/Overview: Maria Santelli and Michael Harris have been dating, but since their parents have been feuding and they’ve been forbidden to see one another, they’ve been doing so in secret. They decide their parents will take them seriously if they can show them they’re serious about one another, so they get engaged – ring and all – and decide to keep it a secret until the right moment. But then Maria tells basically the entire school, and Lila and Jessica decide to throw a surprise engagement party for them.

They move forward with this even though Elizabeth tells them that she thinks it’s a bad idea. Meanwhile, Maria starts to worry about her relationship with Michael, which seems to be rapidly fraying in the wake of their engagement. Michael demands more of her time and seems to be irritated that she’s helping Winston Egbert with his student council campaign. The two butt heads over this and other things, and things come to an absolute boiling point at the engagement party at Lila’s. They’re both horrified to find themselves the center of attention at the party, but when Maria dances with Winston, Michael flies off the handle and announces that he’s also running for an election that’s literally days away.

Maria gives Michael his ring back and tells him that she thinks they’ve made a mistake. She heads out onto the Fowler grounds to find Winston, who has run off. Meanwhile, The Santelli and the Harris parents have discovered that their teenage children are at an engagement party thrown in their honor, and they set aside their years-long vague business feud to rush to the party and talk to their children. Michael realizes that he and Maria love each other but acted badly. The two families make up, Maria and Michael realize their relationship is done, and Maria and Winston admit they have feelings for one another. A week later, Winston wins the student council election.

Swedish cover: Love, with Obstacles

The B-Plot: In what is surely pure coincidence, the kids in Mr. Jaworski’s social studies class are participating in a two-week project where they’ll pair up with a member of the opposite sex and be assigned a fake income and family situation. The idea is that they’ll learn how to budget and plan for their futures. Liz gets paired with Bruce, Jessica gets paired with Winston, Lila ends up with Bill (who she finds dull, which is incredibly relatable), and Maria and Michael end up paired together, even though Michael is a senior and would not be in the class. Whatever!

The duos bicker over spending money and housing, and it serves as a way to exacerbate the problems between Maria and Michael, who have completely different visions for their futures and how they want to raise children. The lesson at the end is that marriage is hard but it’s harder without love (seriously).

“Why not?” Jessica asked gaily, cutting herself a piece of cake. “I’m sure it was just a little spat,” she added. “It happens on my favorite soap all the time. No engagement counts unless it’s been broken at least twice.”

Sweet Valley Social Calendar:
Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks
– Engagement party for Maria and Michael at Lila’s
– Student Council election (Winston wins)

– Michael works part time as a mechanic
– The Droids premiere a song written for Maria & Michael called “Hold on Tight”
– A rare moment of continuity has Lila mentioning her cousin from Kennebunkport, Christopher
– TYPO alert: Roger Patman is referred to Roger Collins in a scene where he’s dancing with Olivia

Pop Culture:
– Romeo & Juliet (duh)
– Vogue, Bride’s magazine
– The Newlywed Game

Does it hold up? (A totally unqualified critical analysis)
I mean, it holds up in that it’s boring trash! Truly, I don’t know what to say about the whole “teenagers get engaged in secret” thing because it just feels so weird and so far-fetched? It’s especially weird because it doesn’t seem like either of these dumb-dumbs is religious or particularly interested in sex (literally never even alluded to), which might be factors for such a young marriage situation. Yes, teenagers are impulsive, etc., but I am just not buying any of this!

The thing that really struck me on this read-through is how thoroughly stupid and offensive this social studies project is! I know it was the 80s, but pairing up teens according to their sex so that they can simulate a heterosexual marriage and, like, make a budget is so gross! There’s probably some great skills within the project that kids need (learning how to budget, having them research what apartments cost, figuring out what kinds of skills/training they’d need for careers, etc.) but framing it within the confines of a heterosexual relationship is just so unnecessary? I HATE IT.

SVH #33: Starting Over (Revisited)

26 May

“Don’t you think malls are wild? They’re like the new Main Street, USA, know what I mean?” Dana took a bite of soft pretzel and gave Sally a huge grin.

The original cover, circa 1986. Dana giving me princess Diana vibes.

Details: Originally published in December 1986 by Bantam Books. Paperback, 153 pages.

Summary/Overview: Sally Larson has been in and out of foster care for most of her life. She’s arrived in Sweet Valley to live with Dana Larson and her family, and she’s determined to have a fresh start and make this her forever home. But while her aunt and uncle are incredibly welcoming, Dana seems to be pushing Sally to forget about her past and her cousin Jeremy is outright hostile to her presence in their home. Sally worries that if she doesn’t do everything in her power to make her cousins like her, she’ll be sent back into foster care.

In order to make them love her, Sally covers a lot of their chores, agrees to be the manager for The Droids (even though she hates rock music and would rather write for The Oracle), and never asks for anything, like use of the car. It doesn’t seem to help, though – as the days pass, both Dana and Jeremy seem to resent Sally’s mere existence. When Jeremy insists on picking up two hitch-hikers after school one day, things come to a head: the hitch-hikers basically kidnap them and force Jeremy to drive them to Kelly’s Bar, where they insist Dana join them for a round of drinks (courtesy of Jeremy’s wallet, which they also abscond with). Sally steps in and convinces them that Dana’s the bore and she’s the real fun, and then Dana and Jeremy drive away, because they’re absolute monsters.

About halfway home, Dana has a change of heart and gets Jeremy to go to his friend Mark Riley’s house for help. Mark, Ken, and John Pfeifer race to Kelly’s with the Larson siblings and save Sally from the lecherous creeps. Sally and Mark hold hands. Upon returning to the Larson home, Sally’s aunt and uncle announce their plans to formally adopt Sally. All is well.

The B-Plot: Jessica brings home a golden retriever puppy that she names Prince Albert. With the help of Elizabeth, the twins conceal the puppy from their parents until they can figure out a plan to convince Ned and Alice that it’s time for a family dog. Prince Albert doesn’t make it easy, as he pees on the floor and chews on things. When he escapes from his collar during a walk, Jessica is beside herself. Luckily, the hints the girls have been dropping about wanting a dog have worked on Ned, who shows up with a puppy from the shelter: and that puppy is one Prince Albert. Coincidence? Not in Sweet Valley!

Lila sniffed. “Oh, I don’t know. I’d rather be sure of what I was getting. Bloodlines are so important.”

The German cover. Translate tells me: The Girl Who Always Put Her Foot in It, which is so WEIRD.

Sweet Valley Social Calendar:
Estimated Elapsed Time: 1-2 weeks

– Jessica considers naming the dog Spot
– Puppy Chow is the dog food of choice in the Wakefield house
– The Droids have a song called “Monterey Way”

Pop Culture:
Rolling Stone
– Bergman, Bogart, Hitchcock
– Romeo & Juliet
Bringing Up Baby

Does it hold up? (A totally unqualified critical analysis):
It took me almost two weeks to read this one, so I’m going to go with: no, this one does not hold up. I’m not sure it’s really the book’s fault: is this any more boring than some of the other books about tertiary characters I don’t care about? Not really, though I find the book’s climax with the hitch-hikers and the kidnapping attempt to be a little far-fetched, even for the world of Sweet Valley (TM). I just think that this book makes Dana suck more than usual, and Jeremy is like a proto-red-pill MRA monster, and I mostly just feel sad for Sally.

Mostly, I spent my time reading this book wondering why the Larsons didn’t take Sally in when her mom relinquished her parental rights all those years ago? When a parent relinquishes their rights, the first thing the state does is contact literally every family relation to see if anyone is able to take in the child. Maybe the Larsons did not feel as though they could handle a third child at the time (which is fair), but it seems weird to me that all of a sudden they’d take Sally in at 17, just as she’s about to age out of foster care?

SVH Super Edition #5: Winter Carnival (Revisited)

24 May

“Liz,” Mr. Wakefield said reprovingly, “you heard your mother. Conversation at the dinner table should be pleasant and edifying, which means no squabbling over sweaters!”

The original cover, circa 1986

Details: Originally published November 1986 by Bantam Books. Paperback, 215 pages.

Summary/Overview: It’s winter again in Sweet Valley, and Elizabeth has the mid-winter blues. Although the Winter Carnival weekend is approaching, she’s feeling fairly down. She’s growing increasingly frustrated with Jessica’s inability to think of anyone but herself, and is tired of covering for Jessica when it comes to household chores like making dinner. Jessica and Amy win a trivia contest that they only qualified for because they stole a bunch of answers from her application, which pisses her off. When Jessica breaks yet another promise and strands Liz without a ride, Liz feels like she’s hit her breaking point and really blows up at Jessica.

It doesn’t help that Liz is having problems with Jeffrey. She’s looking forward to spending time with him at the carnival, but the opening night is the same evening as an awards banquet that Todd Wilkins is attending, and she’s promised to attend with him. Jeffrey feels weird about the fact that Liz is going to something with her ex-boyfriend, and they fight about it. When she doesn’t show up at Las Palmas Canyon at a specific time he outlined in a weird note to her (because Jessica has the car), he figures it’s over for good.

When Jessica realizes that at least part of the fight between Jeffrey and Liz is her fault, she tries to fix things. Once everyone is at Mont Blanc for the carnival, she poses as Liz and reconciles with Jeffrey, but a classmate sees them and mentions it to Liz. Liz assumes that Jessica and Jeffrey are seeing each other (???) and freaks out. She takes a bus back to Sweet Valley just as the weather’s getting worse. When Jessica calls her at home and begs her to listen to reason, Liz hangs up and angrily wishes she never had a twin. She falls asleep, and is awoken by the police, who tell her that Jessica died in a car accident on her way down the mountain.

Her family is devastated. Ned starts smoking and Alice ages ten years in a day. Liz attends a small gathering at Enid’s, and Jeffrey and Todd start to fight over Elizabeth. Then she hears someone call her name, and it sounds just like Jessica. Liz wakes up again, this time for real – she has imagined the crash and Jessica’s death. She is so relieved that her twin isn’t dead that all is forgiven. She and Jeffrey make up, Todd and Jeffrey get along fine, and everyone heads back to the carnival to enjoy some winter fun.

The German cover – “A Twin to Despair”

Jessica frowned. “It seems to have hit a temporary snag,” she admitted. “I didn’t count on the fact that Elizabeth and Jeffrey are so completely inept when it comes to making up. You wouldn’t believe the way they’re avoiding each other! You’d think this dumb misunderstanding was something really serious!”

Sweet Valley Social Calendar:
Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks
– Televised Trivia Contest
– Winter Carnival (Festivities include mock Olympics, party,
– Snow Ball Dance

– Elizabeth, Enid, Olivia, and Regina room together at the Inn
– Tiberino’s is Elizabeth’s favorite restaurant
– Mr. Collins has a sister named Heather
– The Droids play a new song called “Snow Girl”

Pop Culture:
– Guinness Book of World Records
– Rip Van Winkle

Does it hold up? (A totally unqualified critical analysis)
Look, this is not the best of the Super Edition bunch. It’s so weird to me that the book spends so much time in the days leading up to the carnival instead of at the actual carnival, which is where all the interesting stuff could happen. Barely supervised teenagers staying in a hotel? Give me that story, not this boring slog of a story where Elizabeth feels bad about herself, fights with everyone, and mopes around.

The pacing is really weird as a result of waiting so long to get to the actual carnival, and the book’s rising action (which is mostly a dream sequence) feels crammed into the last third in a weird way. These books are not masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still frustrating to see the most interesting part of the book get handled so ineptly.

Also, this is definitely a case where almost every problem in the book (except for Jessica’s not-death) could have been solved by the use of cell phones. Wild to think about that one!