Tag Archives: beach disco

SVH Super Thriller #9: A Stranger in the House

6 Feb

stranger

Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 week

Summary/Overview:

For some bizarre reason, it is summer vacation AGAIN.  Steven is home and working at Ned’s law office, and the twins stranger 2have both gotten jobs at the Marina Cafe as waitresses.  Jessica thinks it’s going to be all hot guys and big tips, but Liz is, predictably, much more practical about the entire endeavor.  When Jessica points out that Liz is in a rut, she actually agrees and wonders if she can shake things up.  Their first day of waitressing entails a lot of running around and getting mixed up by the restaurant’s manager.  Liz leaves with Todd for a date and Jessica ends up meeting  handsome young man named Scott Maderlake who tells her he’s a scout for a television series.  The two flirt and make plans for a date.

Meanwhile, Ned Wakefield is obsessing over news that convicted murderer John Marin is being release 15 years early from prison.  Ten years prior, Ned put him away while working as an assistant district attorney.  Before Marin was locked up, he swore he’d get his revenge on Ned by coming at him through his family.  Worried about the safety of his children, Ned leaps at the chance to send Steven down to San Diego for a month to work on a case, and frets over Liz and Jess’s safety.

When Ned receives a threatening card from someone who signs it “JM,” he is sure it’s from Marin.  But the police basically tell him that they can’t do anything unless Marin violates parole, which he does about five minutes later, as he gave his PO a fake address.  But now no one can figure out where Marin went, so they have to look for him.  In a panic, Ned calls in a favor to a PI friend and arranges to have someone follow Jess and Liz during the day, for their “protection.” He doesn’t tell the girls–or even Alice–this, of course.  This will end well.

Of course, Marin is already in Sweet Valley, has already broken into the Wakefield home, and has gathered intel on the twins and their lives.  He’s also set up a phone tap on the house phone, because of course he has.  So he’s one step ahead of Ned (or, like, seven, but whatever).  Ned continues to receive threatening mail from him, including an envelope with Jessica’s lavalier necklace.

Liz locks eyes with a mysterious cute boy at the Dairi Burger one night and thinks he might be her soulmate because he’s writing in a notebook.  When he shows up at the cafe the next day, she finds out from Jane that he’s living on a boat and is a writer.  Liz practically swoons.  When she finally gets a chance to talk to him a few days later, she finds out that his name is Ben Morgan.  They take a walk along the docks.

In fact, both twins continue to see their new dudes (who is totally the same person but whatever) in secret, not even telling each other about their newfound love.  When Ned asks tensely if either girl has met anyone new or unusual lately, they both lie, and it’s clear that they are both lying.  Ned doesn’t tell the girls about the necklace and though he worries about it and Jim the PI tells him it’s important to know which twin it came from, he continues to sit on it.

The police call Ned with good news: they’ve arrested who they think John Marin is.  But then the twins are attacked while closing the cafe one night, and when they ID the man they think did it, it’s the dude the police had already arrested.  It becomes clear that Marin set this guy up to take the fall.  Although both twins know about John Marin and their father’s past now, Elizabeth still sneaks out to meet Ben for a midnight sail.  Ned is distracted by the fact that Marin has killed Jim, his PI.  The police also find the body of the security detail that was hired to watch over Jess and Liz.  What a murdering spree!

Once Jessica figures out that Liz isn’t with Todd like she said (because he calls the house), she and Ned and the police rush to the beach disco to interrogate Jane about who Liz has been seeing in secret.  They go to find the boat and end up sending out the coast guard (and riding along, because why not) to meet the boat.  John tries to kill Elizabeth with a knife but she stomps on his foot and runs towards the back of the boat while he heads towards the dinghy to make an escape.  She nearly drowns, but Jessica saves her.

At home, the police show up and tell the twins they found bloody remnants of Marin’s jacket and that he’s believed to have been eaten by sharks.  Because that’s the most logical explanation for his disappearance.  The twins rest easy for approximately five minutes before Marin shows up, having hidden in the basement and drugging Prince Albert.  Marin hits Ned with a piece of wood and goes upstairs to kill the twins.  Before he can, Ned storms in and throws him against a wall.  Then Marin jumps out a window. I’m not sure why.

The police arrest Marin and all is well with the world.  OR IS IT?

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • The Marina Cafe makes their waitresses wear turquoise polo shirts and khaki shorts. Glamorous!
  • Ned has “progressive views on rehabilitation”
  • Jane has just graduated college but at one point she sees Todd and says, “If I were ten years younger…” So, you’d be into him when you were 12? WHAT?
  • “Ben’s” boat is named Emily Dickinson

Memorable Quotes:

  • “After ten years in prison, there isn’t much I don’t know about picking a lock.” (37) [Wait, what?!]
  • “Calm down, Ned. Your daughters are attractive girls. They might not have realized that this was different from the kind of surveillance they must be used to from men.” (174)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

My first issue with the book is the entire concept of John Marin.  First of all, he committed a horrific crime, was convicted of it, and was up for parole in 10 years.  He murdered two people brutally, which under California law would have made him eligible to be tried under a Capital offense, unless I’m mistaken (I’m no lawyer like Ned, but I think this is right).  So he wouldn’t be up for parole.  But even if he hadn’t been tried under that, he still wouldn’t have been eligible for parole after 10 years.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Not even for a pretty white dude in prison.

But then there’s the complete ridiculousness of Ned Wakefield.  He tells no one in his family that he’s worried about John Marin, even after John Marin has started to break into the house.  This is not the reaction of a human being who loves his family.  This is the reaction of a person who has lost his grip on reality, or someone who secretly wants his family dead (can’t blame him there).  It makes no sense.

My favorite part of this book was when the police show up with scraps of the windbreaker Marin was wearing on the boat and they tell the Wakefields that there’s blood on the clothes and it’s being tested for a DNA match, but it’s only a “formality” because they’re sure Marin is dead. I actually laughed out loud, because this is legitimately the dumbest thing I have heard, maybe ever.

SVH: Elizabeth’s Secret Diary, Vol. I

16 Jul

elizabeth's secret diary

Estimated Elapsed Time: N/A, as this is a recap of books 23-31

Summary/Overview:

Liz and Todd are making out in his room instead of studying.  There’s a lot of weird almost-sex talk about how they never let themselves be alone in each other’s rooms, and then Todd takes a phone call from Ken Matthews and Liz snoops around Todd’s desk, finding a letter from a girl he knew in Vermont.  She calls him cute-buns and sends him lots of love and kisses, and Liz FREAKS OUT.  That night, she ends up in the arms of Jeffrey French, and they make out.  Confused, Liz goes home crying and opens one of her old journals.  Cue flashbacks!

We’re dumped into #28, when Liz finds out that Todd is moving with his family to Vermont.  After he leaves and they agree to do a long-distance thing, Liz starts hanging out and making out with Nicholas Morrow.  If this is supposed to be scandalous, it’s not.  When Todd comes to visit, the two make up and he climbs a ladder into her bedroom.

After that, we’re treated to a retread of #29, where Steven mopes about his dead fucking girlfriend and his new feelings for Cara.  Liz also chases a Todd lookalike around Sweet Valley (DOPPELGANGER ALERT).  I can’t be bothered to care about any of this.  After that excitement, Liz boasts about helping poor Emily Mayer cope with a blended family and then negotiate a hostage situation (when it’s written out like this, is it more or less ridiculous? I can’t tell anymore).  Also, Liz’s writing is SO GOOD that people steal it, like Ken Matthews did that one time but he totally learned his lesson and they’re cool now.

For whatever fucking reason, we are treated to a very long recap of Lynne Henry’s makeover transformation, and then Liz and Ken start hanging out a lot because now she’s “single” and she and Todd chat on the phone about people he’s dating in Vermont.  Oh, and she reconnects with Amy Sutton but thinks she’s a snob.  WHEN WILL THIS END.  By the time the book gets around to recapping #31, where she and Jessica fight over which of their friends gets to date Jeffrey (like this is a reward?), Liz and Ken aren’t really seeing each other any more, and then Liz decides that she loves Jeffrey.

In the present, Liz stays up all night reading her journal and realizes that her life has been exciting and amazing.  Todd drives over to the Wakefield house and they make up.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Liz has an awful lot of poetry written in her diaries, and they’re all terrible.  Check it: “Rainy Sunday/Foggy Monday/Closely creeping fears,/Can’t take much more of this./Drive east, drive fast/until at last/desert rainbows dry my tears/like a kiss.”

Memorable Quotes:

  • “She’s my sister and I adore her, but sometimes she can be so…shallow. Forgive me, Diary, but it’s true.” (27)
  • “‘Congratulations,’ I whispered. ‘You’ve just become the first man to successfully scale Mount Wakefield!'” (53) [This is sexual, right?]
  • “I glanced at Amy out of the corner of my eye. Could she really be as heartless as she sounded?” (236)
  • “I’m only sixteen, and already my life has been so full!” (322) [Wait, this is the takeaway?]

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

It’s weird that this book is written in first-person.  I had completely forgotten about that, though I guess it makes sense, since the reader is supposed to be in Liz’s diary.  But it’s jarring to read this first-person perspective of Liz that doesn’t sound at all how she should sound, in my opinion.

Also, this book is so fucking boring.  It’s like watching a clips-heavy episode of a comedy from the 90s.  There’s no real reason to show all these things readers have already experienced, and by adding in details that I refuse to accept as cannon at this point, the book is doing itself no favors.  There’s no reason–except to sell more books and make more money–to recap the books in a huge volume like this.  It makes no sense.

Which brings me to the thing that I find most disturbing about this book.  At the beginning, Liz is upset because Todd saw some other girl while he was in Vermont, which WE ALREADY KNEW, and then wonders if he’s loved other people besides her.  So she turns to her diary, which documents every covert hookup with basically every dude in Sweet Valley (no shame here, just pointing out the facts), some of which she had genuine feelings for.  At the end of the book, though, she realizes that her life has been full and exciting, and she feels better about everything?  What?  Wasn’t the point that she was doing some soul-searching about her feelings for Todd?

Also, isn’t the message here: your experiences with boys define you?  Am I wrong?

SVH #102: Almost Married

20 Jun

almost married

Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 week

Summary/Overview:

Elizabeth is still obsessing over her mother’s suspected affair with Hank Patman. She lets Jessica in on the secret, and Jessica’s response is to go and ask Alice about it, but Liz tells her not to. We wouldn’t want to wrap this plot point up too fast, now would we?

At any rate, Alice goes out of town with Hank again, and Ned is away for a legal conference, so the twins are on their own.  Because Todd’s parents are also away, he decides this is the perfect time for them to practice living together.  He says they’ll be able to be together all the time, but he will sleep on the couch or in Steven’s room, because these teens are actually neutered.  In order to get Jessica on board, they agree to do her chores and cook for her during the week Todd is there.

When Elizabeth and Todd get home, she rushes off immediately to meet with Bruce Patman without telling Todd anything.  Jessica gets home and “accidentally” spills the beans about what Liz thinks is happening with Alice and Hank, and Todd is irritated.  Meanwhile, Liz and Bruce dig through the Patman mansion attic for clues and find a gushy love letter and Alice’s engagement and wedding rings.  They also share A Moment.

Upon returning to her house, she finds that Todd is sort of annoyed, but they make up quickly and Todd tells her that they’re partners and generally sounds way, way older than 16.  This entire plot is so weird.  While Elizabeth and Todd act like they are 40, Bruce plays tennis with Pamela but is distracted with thoughts of Elizabeth, even as Pamela tells him about Project Youth facing budget cuts.

Todd and Elizabeth continue to spend time together, but nothing is really going the way they plan. When they have a date at the Videomat, a new laundromat that also rents DVDs and sells espresso, Elizabeth drinks six cups of espresso and won’t stop yammering.  Todd overfills the washing machine and ends up with suds everywhere.  The two oversleep the next day and nearly miss putting the recycling out.  To make matters worse, Elizabeth keeps zipping off with Bruce, which pisses Todd off.  Jessica keeps giving him a hard time about how much Liz and Bruce are hanging out, which only further infuriates him.

After school one day, Liz misses a ride home with Todd and goes with Bruce.  The two go up to the attic at the Wakefield house to dig around and decide to visit their parents’ college to keep digging for information.  Todd comes home to find them hanging out and begrudgingly ends up making dinner for all of them, plus Lila and Jessica.  Later, Bruce and Jessica are watching TV and Bruce sees the hotel room number for Alice, realizes that it’s the same room number as his father’s, and freaks out.

Liz and Bruce head up to the local university to investigate their parents’ shared past.  They share several Moments together, and on the way home they stop to help a stalled vehicle and realize it’s Todd.  That night, a bunch of them sneak off to the Beach Disco, and Liz spends a great deal of time dancing with Bruce.  She’s attracted to him and is clearly enjoying the rush it gives her, but she pretends to feel conflicted about it.

The twins and Todd decide to throw a pool party at their house, and Todd loses his shit when Elizabeth invites Bruce along to help run errands.  He sulks inside as they get everything ready on the patio.  Elizabeth and Bruce flirt, Todd acts like a creepy, jealous loser.

Bruce and Pamela end up breaking up at the party, because she’s the only person in this book who isn’t an idiot.  Then Bruce corners Liz in the kitchen, cries, and they end up making out.  OF COURSE Todd walks in, they fight, and he storms off.  But as he’s driving away, he has a change of heart and returns to the party.

He arrives just in the nick of time, too, because Liz is so upset that she does a bad dive off the diving board and belly flops into the pool so hard she blacks out and nearly drowns.  Todd saves her and they make up, with Liz realizing he’s the one she truly loves.

Mrs. Wakefield surprises everyone by showing up early and acting super pissed off about the fact that the girls have thrown a party with no alcohol or drugs.  She then tells Liz that the Beckwiths (JESUS CHRIST THESE PEOPLE MOVED AWAY AGES AGO) called her to let her know that Todd’s car had been parked in the driveway all week (this is basic sneaking around 101, idiots). She yells at Liz, but then Liz goes ballistic on her, telling her she and Bruce know everything about the affair.  Alice sits them all down and tells the tragic story of her and Hank.  Liz and Bruce decide that now that they know Hank and Alice aren’t having an affair, they’ll work on getting Hank and Marie Patman back together.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Fun Fact: When I was a kid, my mom wouldn’t let me read this one based on the title alone. Oh, mom.
  • The ghost writer spells Barry’s last name as “Rourke” in this one, but it has always been “Rork,” hasn’t it?
  • Jamie Peters has a song called “Lawless Love”

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘People say it’s a man’s world,’ Mr. Wakefield commented…’but let me tell you, girls, sometimes it’s not so easy being male…for example, having to wear a suit and tie on a scorcher like this. Talk about oppression!'” (6-7). Die in a fire, Ned.
  • “‘OK, not twenty-four hours,’ Todd amended with a grin. ‘I’ll sleep on the couch or in Steven’s room, of course.'” (17)
  • “Jessica hurried to defend Elizabeth’s honor. ‘Of course they’re not sleeping together. This is Elizabeth we’re talking about! She’s relegated Todd to the downstairs couch–they’re the king and queen of self-control, believe me.'” (124)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

There’s really only one thing that bothers me about this book a lot.

That is how completely weird and improbable the entire plot is with regard to Todd “moving in” with Elizabeth for a week and not expecting to have sex or at least fool around hardcore.  I’ve written before about how weird it is that every teen seems to lack a sex drive (I’m not counting incidences of sexual assault as those are about violence) completely.  Despite the fact that the teenagers in these books kiss a lot, no one ever has sex, and when they think someone else has, they FREAK OUT ABOUT IT (see: Pamela Robertson’s weird, inaccurate reputation).

So for Todd to move in and sleep on the couch rings false in many ways.  The teens in these novels aren’t at all religious.  There is no overarching idea that Christianity or God is governing their lives.  Their decisions to “wait” seem to have more to do with the intended audience age of the readers.  So then why even write a story like this one?

Todd wants to move in to practice living together, but they only engage in the hardest aspects of living together: doing chores, squabbling, etc.  There’s no benefit to this arrangement, and OH YEAH THEY ARE SIXTEEN AND WOULD BE WAY MORE INTERESTED IN THE PHYSICALITY.  So I call bullshit.

 

 

SVH #97: The Verdict

4 Jun

theverdict

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Elizabeth goes on trial for manslaughter.  She feels lonely and alone, because Jessica won’t talk to her, Todd is cheating on her with Jessica, and her mother has turned into a zombie 50s housewife.  When she gets on the witness stand, she can’t really give testimony because she can’t remember.  This is seriously the most boring trial ever.  At one point, Liz takes the bus to the ocean and contemplates suicide.  On the last day of the trial, Ned calls a surprise witness–a man named Gilbert–who was drunk driving the night of the accident and swerved into the path of the Jeep. He sideswiped the vehicle and caused the accident.  With this news, the judge rules Elizabeth guilty of drunk driving but not of vehicular manslaughter.  The Wakefields (sans Jessica) rejoice.

Jessica continues to go out with Todd, including to the beach disco the night before the start of the trial.  They slow dance and make out.  She worries constantly about losing him to Liz and is generally a crazy person, doing everything she can into manipulating him to stay with her.  She intercepts a letter Todd wrote to Elizabeth and hides it from her sister, lying to Todd about how Liz read it and ripped it up when he asks about it.  Despite the fact that Todd is clearly miserable and the fact that Jessica is exhibiting signs of a psychotic break, the two continue to see each other.

Lila watches her parents reminisce about when they were young and in love and wonders if they could ever be a real unit again.  When she asks her mom if she’s thought about moving back to Sweet Valley, Grace tells Lila about why she left.  She tells her that she threatened to take Lila and leave George because he was a workaholic.  George told Grace that if she tried, he’d sue her for full custody and prove she was an unfit mother.  And then he did just that.  So Grace fled to Paris.  Jesus.

Bruce is still refusing to speak to Pamela, who has transferred to SVH.  He continues to be really cruel to her in public, and doesn’t seem to care that she keeps crying.  This story is so fucking boring.  When Amy and Lila see Pamela volunteering at Project Youth, they decide to give her a chance and become fast friends.  Then Amy tells Bruce how wrong everyone was about Pamela, and he finally finds her (and rescues her from some dude trying to take her out) and they embrace.

Steven is enjoying living with his new female roommate, Billie Winkler.  She’s a great cook and decorator and is very empathetic.  The two share some creepy, totally not-normal-roommate-behavior moments before Steven goes home for the trial.  When a classmate mentions that he heard Steven’s mom is really losing it, Steven gets super pissed, wondering who could be spreading rumors about the family and then comes to the totally logical conclusion that it must have been Billie.  He goes off on her and she tells him she’ll move out.  When Steven finally realizes that it was Jessica who was talking about how unhinged Alice has become, he takes a while to work up the nerve to apologize to Billie.

Margo arrives in Los Angeles and promptly runs into Josh, the brother of Georgie, who she killed.  He confronts her in a diner, but she escapes and boards a train to San Diego instead of Sweet Valley as a way to throw police off the scent.  When she finally arrives in Sweet Valley, she buys a blond wig and thinks about how she’ll soon take over Elizabeth’s life.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • The district attorney prosecuting Elizabeth’s case is named Hempstead Dilworth, and that is legitimately the most amazing thing this series has ever done.
  • Liz’s license has been “indefinitely” suspended because of the accident and the trial.
  • According to Grace, she was 19 when she met George, and he was 27.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘Wakefield Manslaughter Trial Starts Tomorrow,’ she read. Lila shivered. ‘Manslaughter trial–they make it sound like she’s a serial killer or something!'” (20) [Blogger’s note: you’re an idiot.]
  • What’s she doing here, anyway? he wondered as he sauntered down the hall, hoping everyone could see that Pamela Robertson meant absolutely nothing to him. Has she slept with all the guys in Big Mesa? Did she switch schools so she could make some new conquests?” (26)
  • “Couldn’t he see that Jessica was the one he was meant to be with? Hadn’t they secretly been drawn to each other from the very beginning? We would have been going steady ages ago, if Liz hadn’t stolen him away from me, Jessica reflected.” (64)
  • “‘That’s what families are for,’ Steven declared, his own eyes damp. ‘When everything else is falling apart, your family will always be there for you. We would never have let you face something like this on your own.'” (169)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I don’t even know where to start with this one.  Okay, first of all, let’s talk about the fact that this new mini-series format makes each story line absolutely interminable.  These stories have no substance and are severely underplotted, but go on FOREVER.  There was no reason to have Bruce and Pamela stretch their will-they-won’t-they stuff over three books.  The trial of Elizabeth Wakefield didn’t need three books, either, especially because the trial itself was over in a week.  JEEZY CHREEZY.  Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Jessica needs serious psychological help. I don’t feel qualified to go any further, but seriously.

Not going to lie: I will never understand the rational for the trial plot-twist readers are treated to in this one.  So Elizabeth isn’t guilty for the death of Sam even though she was intoxicated because the eyewitness testimony of someone who was also drunk says “she was driving just fine”? Like, this is seriously all it takes?  It’s such a bizarre plot twist (the first and perhaps most ominous of those to come) and such a way of providing an out so Elizabeth isn’t a murderer.

 

SVH #94: Are We in Love?

26 May

areweinlove

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3-4 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Steven Wakefield and Cheryl Thomas have been spending a lot of time together.  They get along well and Steven has been teaching Cheryl to drive (stick).  They notice that everyone seems to think they’re dating, and they aren’t sure how they feel about it.  Everyone has an opinion about an interracial relationship, and they aren’t shy about them.  Most of these opinions are super, super racist, by the way.

One night, Steven and Cheryl go to a restaurant for a bite and they’re hassled by some skinheads.  It shakes them both up, and after they leave, they embrace on the beach and then end up kissing.  Because of this, or because they feel like they have something to prove, the two start dating.  It’s clear from the start that neither one is into the other, though.  Both agonize over how to deal with this privately, because they want to prove that people of different races can be attracted to each other.

This drags on for over 150 pages.  They continue to date, mostly to prove a point, while also dealing with casual racism and ignorance at every turn.  Jessica tries to be super supportive because she loves the idea of her brother being a trailblazer, but it just makes everyone feel even more awkward.

It isn’t until the wedding of Cheryl’s father and Annie’s mother that Cheryl finally comes clean to Steven by making her toast to her parents all about love and standing up for it or something.  The point is, she’s just not into him.  They laugh it off, embrace, and decide to just be friends.  Everyone celebrates the marriage of Walter and Mrs. Whitman! Hooray!

The B-Plot involves Jessica baking the wedding cake for the wedding.  Shenanigans ensue.  I can’t bring myself to care.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Steven takes Cheryl to the Crooked Canyon Cafe, which has Mexican food and burgers.
  • Marpa Heights is a town near Sweet Valley, though this is the first we as readers have heard of it.
  • Apparently Steven has friends, because they all go with him to the Beach Disco one night, including token black friend Martin Bell
  • Jess and Liz talk about their future weddings. Liz would want Enid, Penny, Olivia, and Jessica to be bridesmaids, and they’d wear cornflower-blue dresses.  She thinks Todd would pick his dad to be his best man (WHAT?) and Winston, Ken, and Aaron would be ushers.  WHAT IS THIS?
  • Andrea Slade and Nicholas Morrow have broken up.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘Look, all I’m saying is that Steven could have any girl in Sweet Valley,’ Lila defended herself. ‘Cheryl’s fine for a friend, but I think it’s kind of odd that he’d like her that way.'” (19)
  • “She looked over at Steven, feeling something like awe. My big brother is half of the very first interracial couple at Sweet Valley High!” (20) [blogger’s note: LOL WHAT?]
  • “Why is everybody so racist?” (51)
  • “She and Steven had needed to hug, to kiss. Cheryl’s eyes stung with tears. They had come together, briefly, for the right reason. But they had stayed together for the wrong one.” (130)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

This is the last of the regular series books.  After this, it’s all mini-series, all the time.  I’m excited for the shake-up, but this book as the conclusion to the traditional run of the series is TERRIBLE.

The problems here are myriad, but one that sticks out is that the book seems to have taken the issues of race, racism, and identity in the last book and run with them.  What was problematic (and it was super, super problematic) in the last book is off the charts bizarre here.  While readers are supposed to recognize the blatant displays of racism on the pages here, where characters talk about race in a blatant, horrible way, there’s also a lot of weird, underlying racism intrinsic to the story.

Both Steven and Cheryl think a lot about the fact that they’ve never dated someone of the other race, and they worry that it’s because they can’t be attracted to someone of the other race.  This is a theme revisited again and again by multiple characters in the book, and it is weird and oddly tone-deaf, considering the fact that the book culminates in the wedding of Walter Thomas and Mrs. Whitman, people of different races.

But also worrying is the fact that everyone keeps talking about the fact that Steven and Cheryl will be the first interracial couple at Sweet Valley High (nevermind the fact that they won’t actually appear at SVH because Steven is [allegedly] in college).

I’m sorry, but what?  Haven’t we dealt with this before?  There are at least three other coupes at SVH who are interracial.  This issue has been dealt with before.  I read this as the (presumably white) writers acknowledging their own bias in that a white person dating a black person is, in some way, a “bigger deal” than a white person dating someone who is Hispanic or Asian or whatever.  Which is totally FUCKED.

Okay, enough with the race stuff, SVH.  This is starting to really bother me.

 

SVH Super Star: Todd’s Story

2 May

todds story

Estimated Elapsed Time: just over 2 weeks

Summary/Overview:

It’s summer vacation in Sweet Valley yet again, and everyone is talking about how they’re going to be day camp counselors at Secca Lake for two weeks.  Elizabeth hopes that it will help reinvigorate her relationship with Todd, which she thinks has gotten stale lately.  Todd worries that his unpaid gig as a camp counselor won’t be enough to appease his father, who has been pushing for him to take an internship at Varitronics, the company he works for.  Liz watches them butt heads at a family dinner and wonders why Todd won’t stand up to his father more.

When the gang goes to the day camp training, Todd is shocked to see Kevin Holmes, a boy he crossed paths with in Vermont.  Back in Vermont, Todd stopped Kevin in the midst of mugging and old man in an alley and sent him to jail (it’s referred to as “prison” several times, but this was within the last year, so is it really?).  At the trial, Kevin’s dad tried to bribe Todd, and then after his sentencing, Kevin swore to Todd he’d get his revenge.  Todd wonders if Kevin is also the person who has been calling him and hanging up without saying anything.

Instead of telling Liz or Jessica or, I don’t know, the camp director, Todd decides to keep it to himself, especially after Kevin pretends to not know Todd.  He worries about Kevin not having changed at all and having sinister motives, but everyone else seems to really like him, including Todd’s parents, who keep inviting him over for dinner.  Turns out Kevin’s interested in an internship at Varitronics, and Todd’s dad is over the moon about it.  While Kevin charms everyone else, he keeps making weird threats to Todd about not letting it slip about his past.  Todd is completely distracted by this, and his refusal to confide in Liz drives a wedge further between them.

Meanwhile, camp starts and Todd continues to obsess about Kevin.  Kevin starts flirting or dating Jessica, and Todd worries about how this brings him closer to Liz.  No one can understand why Todd is so cold to Kevin, and there are several moments when Todd completely loses his cool around him, including an unfortunate moment after Kevin beat Todd to a drowning child.  Todd snaps that not everything is a competition, but it seems like no one else thought that was an appropriate thing to say.  By this point, Liz has told Todd she thinks they need a breather, and they are broken up (again).  Todd is miserable.

Kevin lies about a bunch of stuff, and while people seem to sort of catch the lies, they let them go, which is weird.  Also, things start disappearing around the camp, like Liz’s lavaliere necklace and Cara’s keys.  Todd continues to withdraw into himself, further alienating himself from his friends.

Then Kevin starts telling people that Todd had a reputation back in Vermont as kind of a bully.  He tells people that he roughed up some basketball players, punched a teammate, and there were rumors that he maybe sexually assaulted a girl.  Because Todd’s friends are literally the dumbest, most gullible people on the planet, they believe Kevin’s story, even though they have known Todd for sixteen years.

Somehow, Kevin gets Liz to agree to a date with him, which pisses Jessica off to no end.  Liz goes on the date and is struck by how awful Kevin is when he’s by himself.  Obsessed with the sound of his own voice and with how much he hates Todd, Liz realizes that he isn’t as cool as she first thought.  After the date, she goes home to worry about stuff, and Kevin goes out to mug one of the other camp counselors at Secca Lake.

Todd witnesses the mugging, which is just one in a string of recent muggings in the otherwise crime-free Sweet Valley.  The next day, he tells Winston and Aaron about his suspicions and what really happened in Vermont, and he feels better.  He decides to go to the police the following day.  Only, he doesn’t get to do that, because Kevin has framed Todd for the muggings, I guess?  They seem to think the fact that his pen shows up on the beach means he’s guilty?  Despite the fact that this is where everyone has been working for the past two weeks?  Whatever, I don’t care.  Todd gets arrested.

At the final BBQ party for the camp, Kevin asks Liz to go for a walk.  She agrees for some reason, and the two take a hike alone.  At the same time, Jessica finds Liz’s lavaliere in Kevin’s car and realizes that he’s been the stealing stealer all along!  She runs to tell her friends.

In the nature, Kevin tells Liz that he used to have a brother named Brent and that he accidentally killed him in a car crash.  He tells Liz this, and then he tries to kill Liz, because that’s the only way he can think to hurt Todd.  Luckily, Todd is out of jail and rushes into the scene in time to save Liz.  Kevin gets arrested, Liz and Todd are back together, and all is right with the world.  I guess.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • This book takes place in the summer, but it is after Todd has moved back from Vermont.  It is also after Cara Walker has moved to England, and yet she is here and still dating Steven.  Sam Woodruf is nowhere to be found, despite the fact that he and Jessica have been dating for a while now.  HELP ME FIGURE THIS OUT.
  • Almost 100 six-to-ten-year-olds enrolled in the summer camp.  Talk about a nightmare.
  • Kevin drives a black Mazda

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Kevin nodded. ‘My dad thinks everybody should be required to read The Wall Street Journal with their breakfast.'” (83)
  • “Maybe there was nothing behind them.  Maybe Kevin Holmes didn’t have a soul.” (97)
  • “‘No, he’s not lying,’ Aaron agreed. ‘He’d have no reason to lie.'” (134) Are you a fucking idiot, Aaron?
  • “No, Kevin must be innocent, Todd decided. A person simply couldn’t be one thing on the outside and something entirely different on the inside.” (151) WHAT THE HOLY FUCK IS HAPPENING HERE?

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

Here’s the thing about this completely ridiculous book: I remember liking this best of all the Super Stars.  That’s not surprising, really.  It has the most interesting premise: working as camp counselors during summer break, dealing with a mysterious new person who displays signs of being an actual psychopath, etc.  But reading this book now, I’m struck by how completely fucking stupid everyone is in the book.

Talk about plot points! Everything that happens here is meant to further the plot and not the characters.  Todd doesn’t tell anyone that he knows Kevin from before, ostensibly because he’s scared if he does, Kevin will retaliate.  Okay, fine, but shouldn’t the camp director have run a basic background check on anyone being left alone with children for any period of time?  Is that not a lawsuit waiting to happen?  If Kevin had served any jail time, which we are led to believe, he would have had a record.

Moving on: Todd continues to not tell anyone despite his suspicions.  He puts off going to the police for days, despite his having witnessed one of the muggings.  All of this is way, way too convenient for the plot we end up with.  I can’t help but think that the ghostwriter of this one thought that the readers were really, really dumb, because we aren’t allowed to think anything about anything here.

Also, the completely ridiculous rationalizations of everyone throughout the novel make no sense whatsoever.  Why would everyone believe Kevin over Todd?  Why does Todd continue to doubt Kevin’s motivations and behavior, despite the fact that he has continually threatened him throughout the course of the book?  Do these people have selective amnesia?  Am I the crazy one?

 

SVH #83: Steven’s Bride

21 Apr

steven's brideCan you say “Child Bride”?

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3-4 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Cara Walker is acting weird at the Wakefield’s impromptu barbeque-pool party.  When Steven presses her about it later, she admits that the trip to London she just took with her mom was more permanent than originally thought: she and her mother are moving there in three weeks! Steven is devastated, because all the girls he loves leave him.  Miserable, he sulks around about Cara’s impending departure until Jessica is struck with a brilliant idea while watching Love Story: Steve and Cara should get married!  This will end well.  Instead of telling Jessica she’s an insane person, Steven agrees and rushes over to Cara’s apartment to propose.

Cara thinks about it for like five seconds before saying yes, telling herself that it will solve all her problems: she won’t have to leave Sweet Valley, and she can throw loud parties whenever she wants once they have an apartment of their own.  Um, okay.  The two vow to keep it a secret until after they get married (a few days before Cara is set to leave with her mom), and they ask Jessica to keep the secret, too.  But Jessica is physically incapable of doing so, because she keeps dropping heavy hints at school and home about Steven and Cara’s plans.  Even though Steven has told everyone that Cara is going on a ski trip with some of his college friends the weekend before she leaves, people start to get suspicious.

Elizabeth figures it out when the jewelry store calls the house to let Steven know the engraved rings he ordered are ready.  Elizabeth even wonders why Steven would give the store the phone number for the house instead of his dorm, but simply pointing that out doesn’t make it any less IDIOTIC.  When she confronts Jessica about it, Jess comes clean.  When she confronts Steven about it, he sort of brushes her off and is like, “this is happening!”

Jessica ends up telling Lila and Amy about Cara’s plans, and the girls decide to throw a secret bridal shower for her.  The bridal shower ends up being not so secret, as nearly all the cheerleaders are there.  Cara is super uncomfortable the whole time, wincing when people refer to her as the bride and positively melting down when she realizes that marriage equals sex.  This never occurred to her?  Really?  She ruminates over the fact that she doesn’t feel ready for sex, which probably means she definitely isn’t ready for marriage.  When her father calls and tells her he’s coming for a visit and has a surprise, her brain leaps to a parental reconciliation, for some reason.  She figures this would solve all her problems and she won’t have to leave Sweet Valley–or get married!

But it turns out her father’s news is that he’s marrying someone else–a woman with auburn hair named Julia–and Cara is furious at HER MOTHER for it.  She accuses her mother of blowing her chance to put the family back together and then decides to really commit to marrying Steven.  That will show her family!

Meanwhile, Steven is stressing about what married life will mean for him.  He goes apartment hunting for something in their price range (free?) and then angsts about the fact that he got into the accelerated law program at his school.  Realizing that he can’t be married and do the law program, he tells his family he didn’t get in.  But when Jessica finds the acceptance letter, she realizes that the marriage is a terrible idea after all and decides she has to drop hints to Cara and Steven to get them to change their minds.

Nothing she does seems to work, though.  Cara babysits for a family with awful children one night but is able to laugh it off, even after Jessica lays it on thick that Cara and Steven will have TONS of kids someday soon.  Then she takes Cara shopping for boring housewares stuff and tries to stress how much everything costs.  When that doesn’t work, Jessica spills the beans about the fact that Steven got into the law program and lied about it.  Cara feels bad.

The day of the wedding, Steven is feeling pretty resolved about marrying Cara, and she is filled with doubts.  They arrive at the chapel in Nevada and being the proceedings.  Steven says “I do” and Cara says “No” just as the entire Wakefield family and Cara’s mother burst in to stop the ceremony.  Steven runs out, feeling betrayed.

Lila throws Cara  a going-away party and Liz REFUSES to come because she’s butthurt that Cara would hurt Steven like that.  Apparently Liz doesn’t think that telling her parents about the wedding to stop it is the same as Cara stopping it?  I can’t figure this out at all.  Liz is the LITERAL WORST.  Cara is sad, and ends up calling Liz and asking her to meet her at the Dairi Burger.  The two girls meet, hash it out, and Liz ends up feeling so bad she tells Steven about how much Cara loves him.

Steven rushes to the airport in what is supposed to be a tense scene.  He catches Cara right before she’s about to board, and they swear their love to each other and have one last kiss.  Steven is sad, Cara is sad, but at least they parted without misunderstanding.  Or whatever.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Steve’s roommate is named Bob?
  • Despite proclaiming to hate popcorn the previous book, Jessica eats a big bowl of it in this one.
  • Jessica makes Sam watch Love Story on TV, a movie she has seen “at least three or four times.”
  • Cara’s bridal shower gifts: a VHS copy of Barefoot in the Park, lace-trimmed silk negligee, bath towels, plastic tumblers and an ice bucket, a black lace teddy

Memorable Quotes:

  • You can’t go, he repeated silently. Don’t go. Don’t leave me like Tricia did.” (13)
  • “‘You’re not really engaged if you don’t have a diamond,’ Lila said decidedly. ‘No man’s marrying me until I have a big fat rock on my finger.'” (52)
  • “Of course marriage meant sex. Everybody knew that. So why hadn’t it occurred to her?” (65)
  • “‘You can’t be sure of that,’ Jessica pointed out. ‘You know the facts of life as well as I do.  Even when you use birth control, accidents can happen.'” (106)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

As far as the novels go, this wasn’t horrific in terms of having to slog through it.  But I couldn’t seem to suspend disbelief when it came to a couple of different things: the lack of awareness of the logistics of marriage and the lack of understanding of how laws work.

Okay, first of all, let’s talk about laws.  Even in the crazy state of Nevada, both parties entering into a marriage must be at least 18 years of age or have consent from the parents.  This is never once mentioned throughout the entire book.  Cara is 16, so are we to believe she either lied about her age or forged consent from a parent?  Wouldn’t the parent actually have to be present?  Either way, this marriage wouldn’t be legal and would have no standing as such.  It’s weird to me that Steven, a dude obsessed with becoming a lawyer, wouldn’t think about this at least once.

Second of all, while the book gets props for actually saying the word “sex” more than once (twice, by my count) and talking, albeit nervously, about life after marriage, it’s completely disingenuous to me that Cara wouldn’t have thought about sex.  It’s weird that these teens never talk or think about sex in any real, authentic way.  It might be the thing that bothers me most about the series as a whole (it’s not, but I’m being hyperbolic).

Look, I get that not everyone is ready for sex at 16.  It’s cool that Cara isn’t ready to have sex with Steven, and I think that’s a fine message to send to readers. Whatever.  But the fact is, she’s dating a dude who is in college, and sex would be an issue for them.  They’re alone in his dorm a lot.  There would be conversations about this.  To think that the idea of sex has never occurred to Cara is completely ridiculous.

What is Sweet Valley doing to all its teens? Are they putting some sort of weird libido-crushing drug in the water?