SVH #50: Out of Reach

28 Mar

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks


Sweet Valley High wants to start offering a dance program at the school, so they decide to hold a variety show as a sort of fundraiser.  How this one variety show is supposed to fund an entire dance program is never explained, so it must be a magic dance program that can be funded on wishes and unicorns.  Elizabeth is the student director because that’s what she does.  Jessica doesn’t want to participate for once, which I suppose is a plot device to introduce Jade Wu and keep her from being eclipsed by Jessica.

Jade Wu and her family are recent additions to the Sweet Valley community via San Francisco.  Jade is something of a mystery at SVH, but people know that she’s a) Chinese-American and b) supposedly a really great dancer.  Everyone is sure that she’ll get the coveted solo dance part at the end of the variety show, but Amy Sutton has it in her head that she’s going to get it.  When she blows her audition, she goes ballistic and blames Jade for throwing her off during the group choreography.  Jade feels bad, but she’s got bigger problems: her traditional Chinese father allows her to take dance lessons but doesn’t actually want her to ever dance in front of an audience.  She angsts about this for a long time, and that serves as the book’s central conflict.  Eventually he changes his mind and tells her she can dance in the show and even comes to watch her perform.

There’s some other shenanigans, too: Amy Sutton has a personal vendetta against Jade as a result of the dance audition, and when she realizes that Jade’s grandparents run a laundry/dry-cleaning service, she spreads it all over the school.  This is like a huge deal because it’s a stereotype that Chinese people own laundries, I guess.  Jade is mortified, and when she cries about it to her mom, her mom lectures her about being true to herself.

The night of the talent show, Jade is magnificent.  She gets offered a prestigious scholarship that would allow her to dance over the summer, but when the woman who awards it to her tells her she’ll have an easier go of it if she accepts it under the name Jade Warren, Jade turns her down.  She’d rather be true to her Chinese heritage than live a lie, I guess.

The B-Plot involves Ned Wakefield having a mid-life crisis.  He complains a lot about being out of shape and old and worries about his high school reunion.   The twins hatch a plan with the help of Alice to convince Ned that being forty is way better than being forty and wishing you were twenty.  They enroll him in a marathon club and take him to the beach disco, and he hates like all of it. At the end he comes to the realization that he should be true to himself and all is right with the world.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Amy stuck her lower lip in a pout. ‘But she’s Chinese! She doesn’t look right for the part.  The soloist for the finale should be blond, all-American–like me.'” (4) [Blogger’s note: Page 4, and I already want to throw this book across the room.  We’re off to a great start, folks.]
  • “‘Hah, practice!’ Amy snorted.  ‘That’s a total joke.  It’s just because she’s got a dancer’s body, that’s all.'” (53) [Blogger’s note: This is going to become my default excuse for EVERYTHING that goes wrong in my life.  That’s how awesome it is.]

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Jessica recently had a comedic role in You Can’t Take it With You
  • Jade has been studying ballet for six years
  • Ned’s 25-year high school reunion is coming up, and he orders an exercise bike as part of his mid-life crisis

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

In Jade’s history class, the unit they’re studying is about Ancient China.  Her teacher defers to her, the only Asian student in the class, to ask about what kind of customs she practices at home with her super-Chinese family (emphasis and hyperbole mine, of course).  Jade gets really embarrassed and makes a comment about not following any traditions because they’re American.  Her teacher gets flustered and moves on.

As readers, we’re supposed to see this as Jade being embarrassed of who she is.  Some of the recaps of this book that I’ve seen on other blogs make mention of the fact that Jade is really weird about this moment in class, while at least one other blogger takes issue with it the way that I do.  I’m not casting blame or making accusations about how each individual interprets this moment, but I do have my own thoughts on the situation.

What her teacher did was wrong.  It was completely insensitive and completely inappropriate.  If he had taken her aside before class and asked if she would be willing to give her perspective on the issue, it would be different.  Putting her on the spot in front of her entire class and essentially asking her for the “Modern Chinese Perspective” is total and complete bullshit.  It really, really pissed me off, and what’s more is that it was possibly one of the most realistic moments in this book, because it still happens.

As a teacher, I realize that I am particularly attuned to classroom dynamics and how they’re represented in the media: books, movies, TV shows, and news stories about classrooms are going to hold my interest in a different way than many other consumers simply because of my profession and training.  Because I have pursued a career in urban teaching, the issues of race and ethnicity in the classroom play a particularly important role in how I interpret classroom dynamics.  I teach in an urban school where there is a tremendous amount of diversity (and also a tremendous amount of segregation, but that is beyond the scope of this blog), but I attended a high school with a racial and ethnic makeup similar to that of SVH (albeit with less drop-dead gorgeous people).  I experienced moments like that in classrooms growing up, and it’s awful.

Do I have a point to make here, at the end of my long-winded rant?  Not really, I guess.  I found the scene to be unintentionally poignant, and I wanted to point it out.  Anyone else have thoughts about it?  Talk back!


3 Responses to “SVH #50: Out of Reach”

  1. Nikki July 4, 2014 at 3:35 am #

    So Jade’s grandparents are successful business owners and this embarrasses her? Seriously, this is about as frustrating as the Hispanic girl who was ashamed of her Mexican, Spanish speaking grandmother in another book (can’t remember the specifics, I haven’t read these books in years. I only remember being annoyed and frustrated w/ her attitude towards her grandmother). Guess I just can’t relate to that. I also agree that the teacher singling out Jade was wrong. A teacher shouldn’t single out a child for any reason be it racial, gender, sexual orientation, or any other reason, no matter how well meaning or well intentioned. It’s offensive, and you’re right, it does still happen. The part about the teacher telling her she can only get the scholarship if she changes her name to Jade Warren rubs me the wrong way too. There are plenty of scholarships for ethnic “minorities” (I hate that term). Jade could’ve easily applied for those or the teacher could’ve simply recommended them to her. That was either a lame plot point or just weak, lazy writing from the writer’s.

    • Helen January 31, 2017 at 3:47 am #

      I can’t believe Jade was told she had to change her surname to sound more Western. That’s racism, pure and simple and wouldn’t fly today, thank God. All the idiot conservatives who scream about SJW’s have no idea the crap “ethnic minorities” had to go through. Good on Jade for turning down the scholarship, if that was the condition she had to accept it under. The teacher was just an ignoramus who may have meant well but should’ve known better. People are more similar than different but unfortunately, there are those can’t help stereotyping and this will never change.


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