SVH #3: Playing With Fire

26 Feb

Total Elapsed Time: Somewhere between 1-2 months.

The Overview

Jessica wants to win the SVH dance contest because it’ll help her win the heart (or at least the attention) of Bruce Patman, who has been the object of our favorite sociopath’s obsession for at least a book and a half.  When Jess’s obligatory date, Fall King Winston Egbert doesn’t cut it as a dance partner, she ditches him in the middle of a song and takes up with Bruce, who promptly helps her win the contest.  He then takes her to Ken Matthew’s after-party, where they canoodle in the water and Bruce unties her bikini top (an action that absolutely shocked my ten-year-old self).  Jessica is determined to keep Bruce interested, and she begins to submit to his increasingly controlling and ego-maniacal behavior.

Elizabeth clutches her pears about Jessica’s unusually submissive behavior.  She tries to intercede several times but is rebuffed.  Throughout the book Liz stands idly by while Jessica becomes the ultimate doormat: waiting by the phone, intentionally losing at tennis, blowing off cheerleading practice, and hanging on Bruce’s every dull and arrogant word.

This uncharacteristic behavior goes on far too long, culminating in a terrible evening out for Bruce’s birthday.  What was supposed to be a romantic evening alone turns into a huge country-club bash with like, the entire student body present.  The after-party at Guido’s doesn’t last long before Bruce claims he has to go visit a suddenly-sick grandmother.  Liz and Todd smell a rat and offer to drive Jessica home, but they trick her and bring her back to the restaurant, where Bruce is still holding court with “an attractive redhead” named Aline Montgomery (I already hate her because I’ve never met a girl named Aline who isn’t a total bitch).

Seeing Bruce there with another girl is the shock to the system that Jessica needed, because she immediately tells him off and dumps a slice of pizza and a pitcher of soda over his head.  In his haste to get away from a second pitcher of soda, he falls into a nearby fountain, causing everyone to laugh at him.  That’s the end of that relationship.

The B Plot involves Emily Mayer and her band, Sweet Valley’s super-hip and super-popular The Droids getting discovered by a talent scout from L.A.  The band practices a lot and plays a couple of gigs at some dive bars before the in-fighting starts and threatens to break up the band.  Emily is so busy with shows and practice that she fails a couple of chemistry tests and cheats on one (which she then confesses to Saint Elizabeth and later the chemistry teacher).  The scout turns out to be more interested in scamming on lead singer Dana, so the band dumps him, and all is well with the world again.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Earlier in the day Jessica had begged her not to try to win the contest.  Elizabeth hadn’t taken her seriously.  Jessica simply never begged for anything.” (7) [This is so far removed from the truth I don’t know where to begin.]
  • Ned’s face assumed that slightly bemused expression that always came over him when they discussed his wife’s career moves.” (37) [Whoa, holy shit.]
  • “But Robin…well, she’s OK.  We really don’t have much in common, though.  I get nervous around people who eat all the time.” (66)

Outfits Described:

  • Bright blue skintight mini-dress with matching tights
  • Black crepe de chine dress with a low-cut front and back
  • Red leather pants with a matching skinny tie and a white shirt (on the talent scout)

Trivia and Fun Facts:

  • Pop culture references were few and far between in this book, with merely a mention of Jack the Ripper, the Peanuts comic strip, and Chris Everett Lloyd, whom I assume is some sort of tennis player.
  • Food consumed by the twins includes: cheeseburgers, fries, root beer (Elizabeth loves that root beer), toast, orange juice, tuna salad, and roast chicken.
  • The name of the famous band that the talent scout name drops is called August Moon and the Savage Six, which is almost kind of awesome.
  • Max Dillon, one of the members of The Droids, is a smoker, and this is mentioned in a very nonchalant manner.

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis

While the very early books hold a great deal of nostalgia for many SVH fans, I find most of them to be a bit dull.  This book touches on a few topics that are quite alarming.  The comment the author makes about Ned being bemused at the topic of his wife’s career is dismissive of Alice’s success as well as (unintentionally) sexist.  But it is Jessica’s submissive behavior towards Bruce and his subsequent abusive behavior toward her that I would like to focus on.

Jessica’s behavior throughout the book in relation to Bruce is alarming, and although the author makes mention of how uncharacteristic it is, it still bothers me.  Jessica is willing to drop everything to meet Bruce’s every need and whim, and the people in Jessica’s life do very little to dissuade her from her actions.  At dinner one night, Jessica mentions watching Bruce play tennis, and when her parents ask her why she doesn’t play with him, she responds, “I’d rather watch him, daddy.  He looks so beautiful when he plays” (83).  Ned writes this off as one of Jessica’s romantic visions, and while Alice shoots Elizabeth a worried look, nothing more is made of it.

In fact, the Wakefield parents are conspicuously absent (as they are in much of the series, it’s true) throughout Jessica’s transformation.  She changes what she wears, where she goes, who she hangs out with, and they don’t blink an eye at it.  Their social butterfly of a daughter stays home every night waiting by the phone for a boy to call, and they don’t question it?  Bruce threatens Jessica and uses all sorts of emotional techniques to control her, and no mention of how wrong this is is ever mentioned.  In fact, the only lesson that the reader learns is that Bruce is a jerk because he lies to Jessica and has been taking other girls out behind her back.  The fact that he treats women like shit is pretty much just accepted, and he’s still an attractive potential boyfriend because he’s rich and handsome.

Whatever.  Bruce Patman is still a total douchetruck.

4 Responses to “SVH #3: Playing With Fire”

  1. girlwiththeradio April 20, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    i was shocked by the bikini untie too. so funny that you get sucked into their virginial world!

    • earlynerdspecial April 21, 2010 at 9:02 am #

      But in defense of our scandalized surprise, it was a shocking thing for Bruce to do in a book aimed at (relatively) young readers. Also, I like to think of the 80s as a simpler time, before sexting and YouTube allowed every 9-year-old with a cell phone or computer access to act like a jaded teenager.

  2. Helen February 6, 2017 at 9:21 pm #

    You don’t know who Chris Everett Lloyd is? LOL. She was a major tennis player of the eighties. The term “tennis bracelet” became famous because of her but that’s another story.


  1. SVH Magna Edition: Jessica’s Secret Diary, Vol. II | A Critical Analysis of Sweet Valley's Most Famous Twins - August 21, 2015

    […] version of when she dated him.  She claims it was one date, but that’s not really how this reader remembers it.  It hardly matters, because who cares?  Jessica and Todd are still writing to each other, which […]

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