SVH #4: Power Play

28 Feb

Total Elapsed Time: 3-4 months (this book plays fast and loose with time to a ridiculous degree)

The Overview:

Robin Wilson is fat, and apparently that’s the most important aspect of her person.  She thinks she and Jessica are best buds, and that Jessica will put her name up during Pi Beta Alpha’s pledging, but Jessica has no plans to do so.  Elizabeth takes pity on Robin and submits her name, pissing Jessica off.  The Pi Beta Alphas put Robin through a series of cruel and humiliating pledge challenges (running the track in front of the entire school, playing volleyball in a bikini, and asking resident asshole Bruce Patman to the Discomarathon).  Robin does all these things and performs them well, but she’s blackballed during the PBA induction ceremony.

This seems to be the final straw for Robin, who begins to run the track at school every morning and trades in her cheesecakes and double burgers for lettuce and hard-boiled eggs.  She loses a ton of weight in a very short period of time, and people start to notice how beautiful she is.  Jessica is furious that Robin now ignores her and rants at length about how ungrateful Robin is about everything she did for her.  This complete disconnect from reality is perhaps the most socipathic behavior Jessica has exhibited in a while.  Robin ends up being elected co-captain of the cheerleading squad, running against Jessica for the title of Miss Sweet Valley High, and winning.  The PBAs offer her a spot in their sorority, and she turns them down, electing instead to stay true to herself and date the quiet string bean Allen Walters, photographer for The Oracle.

The B-Plot revolves around Lila lavishing all sorts of extravagant gifts on Jessica, claiming they are from a mysterious aunt on the other coast.  Elizabeth is suspicious of the presents, and when she sees Lila dressed strangely at the mall swipe a bracelet from the upscale boutique Lisette’s, her fears are confirmed.

Lila calls Elizabeth one afternoon in hysterics, telling her that Jessica has been arrested for stealing.  Liz rushes to the mall, where there’s a confrontation (Liz’s “sleuthing” looked a lot like “lurking”, and Jessica looks a lot like Elizabeth), some mistaken identity, and a shit ton of tears.  Lila finally confesses (not before fainting), and when her dad shows up to sort it all out, she tells him that she’s been acting out because he’s gone all the time.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘Bruce Patman is the jerkiest person in thirty-seven states and Mexico,’ Jessica fumed. ‘Any anyway, what does he know?  Beauty is only skin deep, Liz.  Just remember that.  It’s what’s underneath that really counts.'” (124)
  • “…Jessica ignored her.  She was looking in her pocket mirror, trying to figure out why she’d lost.” (145)

Trivia and Fun Facts:

  • Robin’s weight is mentioned or referenced at least 40 times throughout the course of the book.
  • George Fowler takes Liz and Lila out to dinner at the Palomar House (the poshest restaurant in SV) to thank Liz for helping with the shoplifting debacle, and they order: Shrimp scampi, baby lamb chops, asparagus tips, and chocolate souffle.
  • Pop culture references abound in this book, including the following: Jane Fonda, Elvis Pressley, Fantasy Island, Rip van Winkle, and Pinocchio.
  • Both Lila and Elizabeth refer to Jessica as “Jessie” throughout the book.  Way to go, ghostwriter.
  • Speaking of Lila: as of this book, she’s a cheerleader, which doesn’t jive with the continuity of the other books.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

There’s a lot of plot in this book, but I want to focus on the issue of Robin’s weight.  Like I mentioned before, her weight is mentioned, hinted at, or referenced at least 40 times in this 150-page book.  I did not include the times that other girls’ slim figures were mentioned when Robin was around.  The people around Robin constantly refer to her as “tubby,” “fatso,” and the “Queen Mary” to her face.  Even the ghostwriter seems to take pleasure in Robin’s weight, devoting whole passages to describing how Robin devours several candy bars in a sitting before struggling to get out of the couch cushions and describing how she tackles a “whole cherry cheesecake” after hearing she’s a Pi Beta Alpha pledge.

Elizabeth, who is usually so fair and just, thinks about Robin’s weight several times during the book.  She seems disgusted when Robin eats the candy bars, and she doesn’t jump to her defense when Jessica goes on at length about how fat Robin is.  The amount of weight-shaming that goes on in the book is appalling.  It seems, in fact, that Robin is the exception to the rule in Sweet Valley: she is the only fat girl surrounded by a bunch of slender, perfect girls.

Robin’s “pretty face” is mentioned several times in the book, before she begins to rapidly loose the weight, but it is this quote that I found particularly disturbing: “Everybody at Sweet Valley High, even Elizabeth, seemed to forget that there was ever a fat and ugly Robin.  But Robin would never forget.” (129)  Since when does being overweight get equated with being ugly?  Why is it okay to make a pronouncement like this?  Was the world so different in 1984 that sending out the message that fat=ugly was okay and widely accepted?

In the interest of saving time, energy, and my sanity, I’m going to leave it at this.  It’s not the only time that the series pisses me off for a serious reason, but it’s one of the biggest thorns in my side.  The way the issue of weight is treated in this book is completely unacceptable.  For shame, Francine Pascal.  For shame!


2 Responses to “SVH #4: Power Play”

  1. Leslie Brooks September 5, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    As a plus size woman myself yes 1984 was very much into fat shaming and the problem is it’s still a society that fat shames. If you are over a size 4 your disgusting and everybody hates you and your ugly. We still get the, “You have such a pretty face and if you’d lose a few pounds.” I wish things were better but it’s a slow process.


  1. SVH # 74: The Perfect Girl | A Critical Analysis of Sweet Valley's Most Famous Twins - March 24, 2014

    […] seems to have it all since she lost all that weight and became co-captain of the cheerleading squad, but lately she has been feeling extremely self-conscious about her body.  She relies on her […]

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