SVH #33: Starting Over

26 Sep

Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 week

Summary/Overview:

Dana Larson’s cousin, Sally, is coming to stay with her family in Sweet Valley.  After being abandoned by her mother thirteen years ago, Sally has been shuffled from foster home to foster home, never really finding a home.  Even though she’s a year older than Dana, she’ll be a junior at Sweet Valley as a result of her constant moving around.  This embarrasses Dana, who tries to hide Sally’s past from her friends.  But she’s determined to help Sally fit in at Sweet Valley High, and I guess that means making her change her clothes, makeup, and hair, and to pretend like she doesn’t come from foster care.

Sally can’t believe that she finally has a real home, and she’s determined to do everything she can to remain with the Larsons.  She volunteers to do all sorts of household chores, is completely gracious and accommodating, and does everything Dana asks of her, like becoming the pseud0-manager of The Droids even though she’d rather be writing for the Oracle.  No matter how hard she tries, though, she can’t help but feel like it could all be taken away.  It doesn’t help that Jeremy, Dana’s brother, seems to hate her on sight.

Things culminate on the way home from school one day when Jeremy decides it’s a perfect time to pick up a pair of totally shady and not at all stereotypical hitchhikers.  Even though Dana and Sally protest, Jeremy picks them up and is then astonished when they demand that he drive them to Kelly’s and then hand over his wallet.  They kind of threaten them, and want Dana to come inside the bar with them, but Sally convinces them that Dana’s a bore and she’s the real party.  Sally goes inside with them and Jeremy and Dana leave.

About halfway home, Dana realizes how stupid this was, and she and Jeremy race over to his friend Mark Riley’s house for help.  Mark, John Pfeifer, and Ken Matthews rush over to the bar to save Sally.  Mark and Sally hold hands and he looks at her with admiration in his eyes.  Dana and Jeremy refer to Sally as their sister, and when they get home, the Larsons announce that they’re formally adopting Sally.

The B-Plot involves Jessica bringing home a Labrador puppy and naming him Prince Albert (the joke’s been done to death, so I’ll just leave it at that).  The only problem is, she and Liz can’t tell Ma and Pa Wakefield about it, so they decide to keep him a secret.  The puppy wreaks havoc in a typical puppy way, peeing on the floor and chewing on the washing machine’s tubing.  The twins are frantic to keep him secret, and one day on a walk, he slips out of his collar and runs away.  Jessica is inconsolable.

But lo and behold, Ned brings home a puppy from the shelter a few days later and it’s Prince Albert!  What are the odds?!?!  The twins are excited, and the Wakefield parents are none the wiser.

Memorable Quotes:

Guy struck a jangling chord on the keyboards and then another.  “You know,” he announced, sitting back and crossing his arms.  “We need some new material.  We’ve got to write some new songs.”

“Like what?”

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Throw out some ideas.”

“Love! Death! Existential struggle!” Emily intoned dramatically, rattling out a drumroll.  “Agriculture!” (47)

What a little comedienne.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

The book’s central plot has to do with Sally Larson, who was abandoned by her mother thirteen years ago after her father walked out on them and she got remarried.  Although I realize that sometimes this happens, that there are totally shit people out there who abandon their children sometimes when they find a new paramour, it is difficult to think about.  The fact that no one seems to bat an eye about the fact that this happened to Sally when she was about four years old is particularly disconcerting.  Very little is mentioned about her life in foster care, except for the fact that she moved a lot and had to shop at thrift stores.

When all of this is introduced, the reader learns that Dana is reluctant to mention Sally’s background to her friends.  The author writes, “The only problem was that Sally’s situation was embarrassing.  A father who was a bum, no real home, a year behind in school.  Sure, it wasn’t Sally’s fault, but…” (2).  But what?  There is never any discussion of why Dana should feel embarrassed by this, and the “but” followed by the ellipses indicates that it might not be Sally’s fault, but she’s going to be blamed for it, anyway.  No mention of the fact that Sally probably has deep-seated psychological issues as a result of this abandonment is ever mentioned.  Of course, the books aren’t really meant for all that.  It might be too upsetting for readers to delve that deeply into a real issue.

What is also alarming about this book is the fact that Jeremy, Sally’s cousin, is so completely hostile to her from the start, without any reasoning behind his behavior.  He is sarcastic about her upbringing, referring to her as “Miss Neglected Child” when speaking about her to his parents, and is openly hostile towards her.  It could be that Jeremy struggles with change or is worried about his own place in the family when Sally is brought in, but none of this is ever dealt with or even mentioned.  In many ways, he is at fault with what happens at the end of the novel, when they pick up the hitchhikers, and yet there is never any blame assigned to him.  A sudden change of heart is supposed to make everything right, and suddenly he feels as though she is his sister.

Happy endings are the best, especially when there are crazed hitchhikers involved.

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One Response to “SVH #33: Starting Over”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. SVH: Jessica’s Secret Diary, Vol. I | A Critical Analysis of Sweet Valley's Most Famous Twins - July 18, 2014

    […] Jeffrey French is.  Then we get a recap of heroic Jessica’s impulse decision to bring home a lab puppy who becomes Prince Albert.  Bizarrely, we get info-dumped about #34, even though it’s totally not about Jessica at […]

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