SVH Super Edition: Perfect Summer

28 Apr

Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 month


Jessica and Elizabeth are on summer vacation, and they’re going on a 1-month-long bicycle trip with a bunch of their classmates and chaperones in the form of Ms. Nora Dalton and Mr. Roger Collins.  Apparently the two teachers signed on for the trip back when they were hot and heavy but have since broken up.  Scandal!  The rest of the teens going on the trip are: Todd Wilkins, Bruce Patman and Roger (Barrett) Patman, Olivia Davidson, Lila Fowler, Charlie Markus, Annie Whitman, and Principal Cooper’s nephew from Ohio Barry Cooper, who has never met any of the SVH kids and yet wants to spend four weeks bicycling and camping with them.  Barry is chubby and awkward, and the author reminds the reader of this at every turn.  He’s slovenly and slow and has a thing for Jessica, who’s downright rude to him at every chance she gets.  This is a recipe for disaster.

The twelve of them depart and start heading up the coast.  Their itinerary is kind of weird, but they make stops in Newport Bay, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco.  The group makes a 3-day stopover in Los Angeles to stay with a very rich family-friend of the Patman’s.  Steve Thomas and his daughter, Courtney live in a huge mansion in Hollywood, and while Mr. Thomas is pretty nice, his daughter Courtney is a raging bitch.  Within minutes of meeting the group, she hops on her boyfriend Nolan Ruggers’s (best name ever?) dirt bike and takes off with him, clad only in a bikini, which is just bad sense.

That night, when the teens head out for an unsupervised night on the town (really?), Mr. Thomas invites Ms. Dalton and Mr. Collins up to the main house for a drink.  He and Dalton have champagne, but Collins has a glass of Perrier with lime, which makes me think HE IS AN ALCOHOLIC.  Over drinks, Mr. Thomas begs the two teachers to take Courtney with them on the rest of the trip.  He needs to get her away from her bad-news boyfriend and is at his wit’s end.  Mr. Collins is angry and privately thinks Mr. Thomas is abandoning his own bad parenting and pushing Courtney off on someone else, but he reluctantly agrees to the arrangement.

Once on the trip with the group, Courtney does a complete turn-around, behavior wise.  She kills with kindness, sweetness, and light.  But she’s also pretty helpless, and requires the near-constant attention of Todd.  This bothers Elizabeth, who doesn’t trust Courtney and the stories she’s spinning (her dad’s an alcoholic, she’s worried sick about him).  Todd begs Elizabeth to give her a fair chance, and this becomes a thorn in the side of their relationship, and it pushes them to the breaking point.

Lila is pissed that Ms. Dalton is dating her father and taking up even more of his time.  She is nasty to her whenever she can, and when she runs into a few boys at a hostel who recognize Dalton from a few years back and tell her that Dalton used to be called Beth Curtis, Lila blackmails her into bending to her every whim.

This secret that Ms. Dalton is carrying around causes problems between her and Mr. Collins.  When swimming one day, Dalton sees a stingray and panics, nearly drowning.  Mr. Collins saves her, and she shivers in his arms and they have a nice little moment before she pulls away.  When Lila finally spills the beans about Ms. Dalton’s former life (and marriage), the whole story comes out.  Ms. Dalton, formerly known as Beth Curtis, was a French teacher in Arizona, married to a man named John.  John was a mean drunk, and he beat her.  When she finally got the courage to leave, he begged her to return, and when she refused, he shot himself.  His family blamed her and wouldn’t leave it be, so she changed her name and moved away.  Somehow, George Fowler knew the Curtises and pseudo-blackmailed her into dating him.  Mr. Collins and Ms. Dalton make up and make with the love-promises.

Meanwhile, Jessica becomes obsessed with a boy named Robbie October, who is riding up the coast with his brother.  After a few encounters where she kind of blows it, she meets up with him in Big Sur, where they sneak off in the middle of the night to take a hike.  When she’s not back in the morning, everyone goes looking for her and they discover that Robbie and Jessica (who now hate each other) are trapped in a bear cave with a very angry mama bear.  Barry Cooper distracts the bear long enough for them to escape, and thus he saves the day.

That night, Courtney asks Todd to meet her in the woods.  She smokes a cigarette while waiting for him, and flicks it into the brush when he arrives.  She asks him to go back with her to L.A., and he agrees and kisses her.

The next morning, a forest fire is raging near the group’s campsite.  Bruce, Roger, Mr. Collins, and Charlie courageously put it out, with Bruce finally acknowledging that Roger is his blood-kin.  Elizabeth blames herself for the fire starting, assuming that she didn’t put the campfire out properly the night before.  She tries to run away but Mr. Collins intercedes and tells her about Courtney’s problems.  Liz goes to confront her and the whole truth comes out, including the fact that Courtney set the fire accidentally.  Mr. Collins ships Courtney off the next morning, and the group continues on to San Francisco.  All is well in the world.

Oh, and Annie Whitman and Charlie Markus start dating.

Memorable Quotes

  • “As the bike got closer, leaving churned-up bits of grass and dirt in its wake, Elizabeth could make out its rider–dressed from head to toe in black leather.  He was wearing spike-studded wristbands and calf-high, black, lace-up army boots he had decorated with heavy chains.  His hair was shorn almost to his skull, except for a narrow strip that ran from the middle of his forehead to his neck and stood straight up in stiff bristles.” (25)
  • “‘Somebody ought to give both Todd and Courtney a sound spanking!’ Jessica wrote in bold letters.” (116)
  • “‘Honestly,’ she said when they were out of Bruce’s earshot, ‘he’s as bad in the kitchen as you are.  What do you people do on the servant’s night off, anyway?’  Lila looked Jessica straight in the eye. ‘Cold lobster and caviar,’ she said earnestly.” (119)

Trivia and Pop Culture

  • Enid is working at Casey’s Ice Cream Parlor over the summer, while Cara is a junior counselor at a camp in Oregon.
  • Courtney favors Marlboro cigarettes.
  • Sweet Valley High apparently has campus gates.  This blows my mind.
  • References to The Twilight Zone, the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” The Brady Bunch, and Munchkins are made.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis

The first thing I’d like to focus on is the food the group consumes on this trip.  By far, the list of items they eat is the most extensive we’ve seen.  Over the course of the trip, the group consumes: chicken parmesan, blueberry muffins, cheese fondue, chocolate fondue, trout almondine, asparagus, shredded carrot salad, flaky fruit pastries, fudgy brownies, cider, paella, hot-and-sour soup, burgers, salad, cookies, seafood (a clambake), melon, prosciutto, cream of tomato soup, rootbeer and other sodas, pizza, and chocolate cake.  Much of this food is consumed while camping, which boggles the mind.  True, some of these items are eaten at restaurants, which brings me to my actual point.

Who is funding this trip?  I mean, is it organized through the school?  I’m assuming it is, since there are teachers chaperoning the event (I’m not even going to get into the details of the fact that the teachers were sharing tents with students).  But like, did families pay for their children to go on the trip?  How much would a trip like this cost?  What would the insurance liabilities be for a trip like this?  Why is none of this even explained?

The theme of Mr. Collins-as-savior is explored in this book again, with him rescuing Nora from drowning, carrying Barry after he is chased by the bear, and interceding before Elizabeth runs away after the forest fire.  He is presented as a man of morals (and yet no mention of what kind of child care he had arranged for his six-year-old son while he was on the trip is made), a man who loves Nora in a pure, mostly non-sexual way, a man who doesn’t indulge in alcohol and who remains true to the well-being of his students, no matter what.

Which is mostly boring, although he does have one moment of almost-real insight when standing in Mr. Thomas’s house:

Roger Collins weighed the pros and cons of taking Courtney along.  He found himself thinking that perhaps Steve Thomas had given up on disciplining his daughter and that he was now turning to someone else for a solution.  What’s more, there were certainly more pleasant prospects than suddenly becoming responsible for a girl like Courtney (31).

But despite showing a rare moment of good sense, he agrees to the half-assed plan and that’s where all the trouble begins.  Oh, Mr. Collins.  So close, and yet so far.

I will give a shout-out to the SVH crowd for going green way before it was trendy.


2 Responses to “SVH Super Edition: Perfect Summer”

  1. Helen January 26, 2017 at 9:43 pm #

    No mention of how much of a jerk Todd is? Seriously, that self righteous creep really had my blood boiling in this book. Turning on Elizabeth just because he had the hots for Courtney was pathetic. And the way Elizabeth just took him back, no questions asked, was equally as pathetic. Also, the way the group treated Barry was awful. Bruce needs to have someone punch him in the face.

    • Clementine Bojangles January 27, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

      All good points! I could write an entire thesis on what a jerk Todd is.

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