SVH #9: Racing Hearts

17 Mar

Estimated Elapsed Time: 1-2 weeks, depending on which part of the book you consult.

The Overview:

There’s a big race coming up in Sweet Valley called the Bart, in which the boys from surrounding high schools run a mile as fast as they can for a chance at a full scholarship to Sweet Valley College.  Bruce Patman is in, as is Tony Esteban.  Todd tries out but isn’t fast enough.  This makes me gleefully happy.  Roger Barrett, a skinny kid whose clothes are ragged and ill-fitting, tries out on a lark and turns out to be incredibly fast.  But Roger has a problem–his family is super-poor, and he works as a janitor after school and on weekends to help pay for his family’s rent.  His mother is sick and his father is a drunk.  Yeah Roger, we all have problems.

The school is excited about Roger running in the race because they haven’t won the Bart since 1956 or something, and suddenly he’s hot shit around the campus.  He wears a track suit given to him by the principal, and all of a sudden he’s quite the cutie.  Lila Fowler notices him and decides she might be interested in him after all, despite the fact that he’s been in love with her forever and she’s never even given him the time of day.  Roger is all a-flutter over Lila’s sudden interest, but Olivia Davidson, Roger’s best friend, is totally crushed because she loooooves him.  Intrigue!

All of this is beside the point because Roger can’t ask off of work to practice for the race after school, let alone get a whole day off to run in the race.  He gives up and seems to sort of wise up about Lila’s superficial attention towards him, and when he comes clean about being a janitor, she freaks out and loses all interest.  Roger mopes around about not being able to run until Liz butts in saves the day and gets her father, the powerful attorney who happens to have an office in the building where Roger cleans, to put the screws to Roger’s boss.  Roger can run in the race, and he does, and of course he wins.  He celebrates by making out with Olivia, who he was blind to before but no longer.

The B-plot involves Jessica suddenly deciding that she wants to be a lawyer and demanding that her father give her a part-time job in his firm.  She expects that she’ll be working with him on the cases and imagines how exciting it will be only to be disappointed when she’s delegated to doing office tasks like copying and running errands.  After an hour she decides to quit, but that decision is put on hold after she meets a handsome boy named Dennis Creighton who works at his father’s ad agency across the hall.  The two of them have some clandestine meetings at the office after-hours, but Jessica gets tired of meeting in secret and can’t believe that he won’t ask her to the dance that takes place after the Bart.  She finally gets the reason out of Dennis: he’s only 15 and can’t drive yet.  Jessica breaks up with him on the spot, but we’re supposed to believe she’s heartbroken.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Lila couldn’t hide the feelings of disgust that began to run through her.  ‘You’re a cleaning boy!'” (111)
  • “‘Well, I wouldn’t waste my time feeling sorry for your sister,’ Todd said. ‘Knowing Jessica, she’ll be after someone else before the day’s out.'” (131)

Trivia and Fun Facts:

  • The best outfit description: When Jessica tries on her mother’s chocolate-brown suit and the ghost writer spends a considerable amount of time describing how “the lines of the suit showed off her slender, shapely legs” (1).
  • I can’t remember if it’s this book or the last that made mention of the fact that Lila is jealous about what Jessica can get away with eating.  The book goes on to mention that Lila has to work like crazy to keep her slim figure.  That might be a direct quote.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

This book is rife with alarming issues and weird statements that indicate social norms and mores that seem out of place.  There is the issue of Roger’s poverty, which we’ll get to in a minute, but first I wanted to touch on Jessica’s after-school job.  Jessica decides she wants to be a lawyer, and while Elizabeth is skeptical of the sudden interest, the family is fairly supportive.  Ned gets her a job working in his office, and although it’s office work, Jessica’s dreams are crushed immediately.  She is bored by the work and decides to quit until she meets Dennis, whose first real statement to her is an assumption about her aiming for a career as a secretary.  She corrects him that she wants to be a lawyer, and he’s impressed, but the implication stands: she is a pretty girl, and she is on the secretary track until she finds a husband rich enough to support her so she doesn’t have to work.  Irritating?  Yes.  Surprising?  Not so much.

The second event that I take issue with is the way Roger’s job is handled.  He feels deep shame about having to work as a janitor (which seems an odd job for a 16-year-old who attends high school full-time) and hides it from everyone at school, even his closest friend, Olivia.  When Jessica sees him working, he panics, thinking she’ll spread it all around school.  Liz feels sorry for Roger, which irritates me, because I don’t believe for a second that Roger is the only kid at SVH who has to work.  The concept of Roger having a part-time job seems foreign to everyone around him, especially Lila Fowler, who freaks out when he tells her he works for a living.

What kind of ideas and biases does a plot like this place in the heads of young readers?  I grew up upper-middle class, but I worked from the time I was 12 years old, babysitting regularly before I could work legally in retail.  My family wasn’t poor, but the importance of having a job and being reliable, responsible, and earning my own money was something that was stressed from an early age.  At the end of the book, Roger decides he’s no longer ashamed, but by that point, it doesn’t matter.  He’s been ostracized since the beginning of the book, and the only way he’s able to break into the school’s social scene is by winning a prestigious race.  Again, what message does that send?



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