Tag Archives: casual misogyny

SVH #86: Jessica Against Bruce

30 Apr

jessicaagainstbruce

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2-3 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Bruce Patman declares that life at SVH is boring and then he starts a secret club that everyone seems to know about called Club X.  He says it’s only for real men, which really pisses off Jessica.  She hounds him repeatedly in public until he agrees to let her try out for it.  Her initiation dare involves driving her Jeep down a hill at night with her lights off, and after she accomplishes this, she’s given a black leather jacket, her sign that she’s in the club.  The other members are Tad Johnson and Ronnie Edwards, so I have no idea why she’d want to be in this club, apart from the fact that Bruce says a bunch of vile, sexist shit at school.

At any rate, Jessica and the rest of Club X continue to cause havoc at school.  They glue lockers shut, pull the fire alarm, etc.  Jessica notices that the wheel of pranks they use to decide who has to complete a dare seems to land on her a lot, but she chalks this up to probability, at least at first.  When Bruce looks surprised when it lands on someone else’s name, Jessica starts to get really suspicious.  She hotwires Bruce’s car and drives away in it, which is kind of cool, I guess.

Bruce dares her to walk across some rail road tracks, telling her that the train won’t come because he knows the schedule.  But of course it does, and Jessica barely makes it over the tracks before the train goes roaring by  It’s dangerous, and Jessica realizes she wants out of the club.  But not before she gets revenge, because it’s Jessica Wakefield.

At the next meeting, Jessica creates a diversion to get the rest of the guys out of the room so she can examine the wheel.  Turns out there’s a magnet under her name, which Jessica promptly switches out with Bruce’s name.  That’ll show him. As predicted, the wheel lands on Bruce’s name, and she dares him to broadcast a radio station during a school assembly.  He gets caught, the club gets disbanded.  Jessica gets grounded but still manages to convince Liz to pull a twin switch so she can go see Sam.

The B-Plot involves the International Federation of Teachers coming to visit Sweet Valley High.  Liz and a couple of other goody-two-shoes get put in charge of showing the teachers around.  Of course, this coincides with the height of Club X’s pranks, which doesn’t make SVH look very good.  Liz is mad at Jessica for ruining it all, but it seems pretty low-stakes to me.  Also, vaguely racist/ethnocentric in how the teachers are portrayed from other countries.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Sam is apparently in Colorado for close to a month for a special college-immersion program.  But, in the middle of the school year?  Really?
  • Shoehorned literary reference: Elizabeth’s English class is reading Silas Marner.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘You are the biggest sexist pig in this school, Bruce Patman,’ Rosa said. ‘No, scratch that.  The biggest sexist pig in California.'” (15) And Elizabeth Wakefield’s future husband, natch!
  • “She didn’t feel as if she were being manipulated by Bruce. But was she?” (110)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I don’t have a lot of strong feelings about this one, for various reasons.  It might be that I’m slightly burned out on the Sweet Valley books, which was bound to happen. It might also be that this one just felt sort of boring to me.  I don’t care about a secret club, we knew that it would never last more than one book, and the stakes were supposed to be high, but come on–Jessica wasn’t going to get seriously hurt.

The thing that I found weirder about this one was the concept of the visiting teachers.  Everything about them was so stereotypical that it was cringe-worthy.  Their shock at how “American” students behaved felt so been there, done that?  But that might be part of the books not holding up years later.

Thoughts?

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SVH #80: The Girl They Both Loved

9 Apr

girl theyloved

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2-3 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Michael Harris and April Dawson are dating.  This is the same Michael who had a secret engagement to Maria Santelli that one time.  Apparently he’s still kind of a dingbat, because he is OBSESSED with dirt bike racing.  It comes before everything else, including April’s interests and his ailing grandmother in Texas.  But his parents don’t see it that way, and off to Texas he goes to visit his gma.

In the meantime, April runs into Michael’s former-best-friend-turned-rival Artie Western, and the two hit it off.  They end up racing together in a relay, and they win!  April tries to get Artie to tell her what happened between him and Michael, but he brushes her off, saying it was a misunderstanding best left in the past.

When Michael gets back into town, it takes exactly five seconds for two different people to congratulate him for patching things up with Artie.  He freaks out on April and says some of the most ridiculous, emotionally manipulative shit imaginable.  April goes home pissed, and rightfully so.  He calls to apologize, and she accepts it, and then acquiesces to his request that she not see Artie any more.

But April totally can’t help it that he sits next to her at the movies again, when Michael is stuck at home babysitting his little sister.  The two go out after, and Artie finally tells her the story of why he and Michael don’t talk any more: they both had a crush on a girl who used to come watch the motorbike races, and they challenged one another to a race around Secca Lake.  Artie lost control of his bike and swerved in front of Michael, forcing him to drop his bike.  Mike thought it was on purpose, and that was it.  Wait, that was it? Seriously?

Of course Michael is waiting on April’s porch when she gets home with Artie in tow, and the boy scream at each other until April’s dad threatens to call the police.  Then they challenge each other to another race around Secca Lake.  This time, Michael swerves in front of Artie’s bike, and Artie ends up in the hospital.  It’s never clear if Michael did it on purpose, but April seems pretty pissed at him.

Eventually, the three make up, and April and Michael continue seeing each other even though Michael is a total d-bag.

The B-and-C-Plots: Elizabeth and Todd bet each other that they other can’t do tasks that are traditionally fairly gendered.  So, Todd has to cook, grocery shop, and sew an apron.  Liz has to change a tire, build a shelf, and change a washer on a pipe.  Okaaaaaaay.  Both end up admitting that the tasks are hard, so I’m not sure what the message here is, because it’s super weird and sexist.

Meanwhile, Jessica meets Sam Woodruff after attending a dirtbike rally, and is totally smitten.  It turns out that the two have a lot in common, and she ends up falling for him completely.  But she doesn’t want to introduce him to her parents, because they’re super anti-motorcycle after that one time Liz was in a coma after Todd crashed his motorcycle a week after getting it. But then Sam shows up at her house, charms the pants off Alice, and all is well.  I actually really like Sam, so this worked for me.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Michael drives a Trans Am and his middle name is Lloyd
  • The Plaza Theater is hosting an Alfred Hitchcock film festival
  • Elizabeth likes walnuts in her chocolate chip cookies.  She’s a MONSTER.
  • Jessica and Sam like the same kind of pizza: pepperoni with double cheese and hot pepper flakes.  That actually sounds pretty awesome.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Michael stared hard at the road ahead. ‘My grandmother would understand,’ he said shortly. ‘She wouldn’t want Artie Western to beat me, either.'” (23)
  • “‘Michale and I are equals in everything. Even in dirt bike racing.  Who is he to boss me around?'” (52)


A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I’m sorry, but Michael Harris is a total douche.  I don’t have a lot of investment in any of the characters featured in this ridiculous plot, but he comes off looking the absolute worst throughout the book.  There isn’t anything compelling about his feud with Artie except how self-obsessed Michael is (something that both Artie and April point out to him more than once), and it doesn’t actually seem like he undergoes any sort of personality change by the time the book is through.

Also, Artie is in the hospital for like a week after his accident, even though his injuries aren’t that serious.  Doesn’t that seem like a really long time for a broken rib and some scratches?  My dad just had heart surgery and he was out in 24 hours.  Whatever.

Last thing: how dumb is the title?  The “girl” in question isn’t April, as the cover might suggest, but some rando chick they knew back when they were friends.  She doesn’t get more than a mention in passing, and they never even bother to name her! What the fuck!?

 

SVH #78: The Dating Game

4 Apr

datinggame

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2-3 weeks

Summary/Overview:

There’s a big dance coming up at SVH called Love in Bloom, and I guess love is in the air, because Liz and Todd won’t stop bothering Claire Middleton about whether or not she’s interested in any boys.  Claire plays coy for a while and then mentions that she’s noticed one boy has shown interest in her while she’s sort of interested in another.  Liz is super interested in this, but Claire won’t budge on who these people are.

Meanwhile, recently reinstated quarterback Scott Trost (are we to believe that the school now has three quarterbacks?) is getting razzed by the dudes at a nearby lunch table about how he never goes out with any girls.  He says a couple of things that are sort of irritating and entitled, and Liz FREAKS OUT about what a jerk he is.  Her response is so disproportionate to what he’s said that I wonder if Liz is just predisposed to hate him, because I’m pretty sure her “good friends” Ken Matthews and Aaron Dallas have said way worse things about girls before, but whatever.  Liz and Todd butt heads about whether or not Scott is secretly a good guy or if all men are just pigs out for one thing (that “thing” here is looks, because no one in Sweet Valley has an actual sex drive, folks).

Then Jean West gets a love letter from Scott Trost, and she’s unsure how to proceed.  After asking around about him at school, she feels like he might be okay, kind of?  And since she hasn’t had a date since her still-in-the-closet boyfriend Tom McKay dumped her, she’s kind of desperate.  So she ends up accepting a date with Scott when he calls and asks her out.  And she also goes shopping with Claire Middleton, who also has a date that same weekend.  While shopping, the girls realize that they’re both supposed to go out with Scott and that he sent them the same letter.  Whatever, I’m bored.  They decide that they’ll get even with him by both dating him and then dumping him publicly at school.

So they both go out with Scott, and only Jean seems to have a good time with him.  Scott is pretty nice to her and they have an interesting and fun date.  Or what we’re supposed to believe passes for such a date in Sweet Valley.  At any rate, both girls get confronted by their friends about how Scott seems to be dating both of them, so they plan their confrontation in the cafeteria and Scott plays it off coolly, telling them they can play a sort of “Dating Game” and compete for his affections.  This is so weird.  Claire goes along with whatever Jean says, so they agree to it, because Jean is actually sort of interested in Scott.

Continuing to date Scott means that Jean seems to fall harder for him.  She feels bad because she and Claire are playing him, but I don’t understand her at all because the Dating Game was his fucking idea.  By the time the contest is over, Jean is totally into him, wants to come clean to Claire and call it off, but doesn’t get a chance to do so before Scott gives a weird, mansplain-y speech in the cafeteria before declaring Jean the winner.  She’s pissed and turns him down.  He offers his hand to Claire, who basically laughs and makes out with Danny Porter, the dude she’s been interested in from the start.

Liz and Claire go to Jean’s house to stage an intervention, but they aren’t as successful as Scott, who shows up after they leave.  He tells her he’s sorry and she’s the only girl for him, and they go to the dance.  Yay?

The B-Plots include Jessica having recurring dreams about a dude on a beach and deciding she’s a professional dream-interpreter.  She advertises her business and helps friends interpret their dreams.  Then she realizes she’s been having the same dream because she read a magazine article or something?

At the same time, Liz puts out a questionnaire for The Oracle about what qualities boys and girls look for in a potential date.  She’s surprised to see the responses come in and questions her faux-feminist tendencies.  I AM SO BORED, LIZ.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Clothes by Jessica: at one point she wears a “wildly patterned skirt in greens and blues and purples, a pink top, and several bright scarves.”
  • Sandra Bacon drives a Toyota, Scott Trost drives a Corvette

Memorable Quotes:

  • “He acts as if he’s the best thing to happen to women since pantyhose.” (10) [Blogger’s note: a man wrote this, because no woman has ever thought of pantyhose in a positive light.  Jesus!]
  • “‘I don’t know why you just can’t face the truth, Todd,’ she replied. ‘Boys are shallower than girls, and that’s all their is to it.  They’re much more interested in looks than in brains or personality.'” (57)
  • “It’s just that I don’t know what people who don’t go out do on Saturday nights.  Are there special shows on television for them, or something like that?” (142)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I feel like I already covered this in my recap (this happens sometimes when I hate a book so much I can’t help but add my own comments in the summary), but nothing about this book makes any fucking sense.  Why would Scott send the same letter to two different girls who are on friendly terms with one another?  In what reality was he not going to get caught?  What was his end game?  Why are we never given any insight into what’s going on in his head?

Furthermore, what kind of idiot is Jean West?  Why does she feel bad about what she and Claire are doing to Scott when it doesn’t seem like they aren’t actually doing anything?  They don’t actually appear to have a plan of attack for once the game is over.  Are they going to yell at him again in the cafeteria?  Did she believe it worked so well the first time that this time it will really stick?  In what reality would Scott not laugh it off and be like, “Bitches be crazy”?

Ugh, I just can’t with this book.  When Jessica’s weird, dream-fueled subplot is more interesting than anything else happening in the book, you know you’re in trouble.

 

SVH #76: Miss Teen Sweet Valley

28 Mar

miss teen sweet valley

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks

Summary/Overview:

The Sweet Valley Chamber of Commerce is hosting a beauty pageant for girls ages 15-18 as part of a fundraiser for a new community pool.  Just go with it.  It’s going to be hosted in the Sweet Valley High auditorium, and Jessica is stoked to participate, because she knows she’ll win.  Elizabeth is horrified at the concept of the pageant because she believes they’re sexist, outdated, and bring women back.  So she decides to stage a protest in hopes of changing the minds of Sweet Valley officials.  Jessica is horrified that Elizabeth would do this, so the two girls end up fighting a lot and not speaking to one another for most of the book.

Meanwhile, Jessica gets serious about the competition.  She hopes to attract the attention of Steven’s college buddy Frazer McConnell, who so far has been completely uninterested in her.  She also loves the idea of winning–and the rumors about the increasingly extravagant prizes for the winners doesn’t seem to hurt her desire, either.  People at school keep talking about the prizes, and the winning amount keeps going up–like up to $10,000, which Jessica thinks will buy her a car.  But she doesn’t consider for a second that giving away that kind of prize money would completely negate the fact that this is a charity fundraiser?  Whatever.

Liz is determined to bring the pageant to a grinding halt.  She enlists the help of her friends to sign a petition and even goes to the mall to collect signatures and hand out flyers.  The group protests in front of the Chamber of Commerce and continues to fight the good fight, much to Jessica’s dismay.

As determined as Liz is, Jessica also has a lot of drive and resolve.  She figures her biggest competition is not Amy Sutton, who is going to twirl her baton as a talent, but Maggie Simmons, a talented actress at SVH, and Sharon Jefferson, a deaf pianist.  Okay.  So Jessica decides to take some dance lessons to brush up on her skills.  With the help of a loan from her mother, she’s able to pay for lessons with Mr. Krezenski, who is actually kind of awesome throughout the book.  He’s hard on her but tells her she has enormous potential, which helps push her even further towards her goal.

Right before the night of the pageant, Liz discovers a loophole in the SVH bylaws or something.  The school can’t host an event that is for-profit (it’s not really, though) without the express permission of the school’s superintendent who has been out of the country all this time.  But before she brings this evidence to Mr. Cooper, she talks to Jessica, who tells her about how hard she’s been  working, and Liz’s resolve crumbles.  She doesn’t say anything, and the show goes on.

During Jessica’s dance number, she trips and falls, but gets back up and finishes.  She’s humiliated, though, and rushes backstage to pack her things and leave halfway through the competition.  Liz goes to try to talk her into staying, but Jessica refuses.  So Liz puts on Jess’s swimsuit and does probably the grossest twin switch the series has seen yet (but we aren’t at the Secret Diaries yet, so whatever).  Then Jessica ends up rejoining the evening in her dress, and wins the competition!  Hooray!

The book ends with Frazer McConnell finally asking Jessica out.  Like this was going to end any other way–we already have our ambiguously gay dude in Sweet Valley.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Rumor alert: the prizes for the contest allegedly include a shopping spree at Simple Splendor, a brass bed, a stereo, $1,000 cash (or maybe $5,000)
  • Actual prizes: free bowling, free video rentals, a haircut, and like $100 cash
  • Jessica’s perfect pageant dress is a pale pink chiffon number with a full skirt and stitched pearls on the bodice.
  • Cara has a cousin named Barbara, and apparently she’s pretty hot.
  • The school district’s superintendent has been away in the Soviet Union to meet with educators there.  WHY, though?

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Until that day, she had known Mr. Krezenski only by reputation. Elizabeth had watched a special on public television about his career as a dancer and his dramatic, daring escape from some little country in Eastern Europe, and she had talked about practically nothing else for a week after the show.” (55)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

To be honest, this might actually be my favorite Sweet Valley High novel, which makes it harder, though not impossible, to snark on.  So here are my thoughts on this:

I see both sides of the argument here, but Elizabeth’s argument is a lot stronger.  Beauty pageants are totally sexist, totally outdated, and totally ridiculous.  But that’s just it: they’re ridiculous.  For the most part, people don’t take them seriously, which is probably why Elizabeth has so much trouble drumming up strong support for her cause: NO ONE CARES.

That being said, I think it’s super, super weird that this event attracted underage girls to parade around in their bathing suits and no one batted an eye.  That doesn’t raise red flags for anyone?  Really?

SVH #70: Ms. Quarterback

10 Mar

ms. quarterback

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2-3 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Sweet Valley High has a couple of big football games against Big Mesa and Palisades High coming up, but their new-ish quarterback Scott Trost is in danger of being suspended from the team because his grades are bad.  Scott took over after Ken Matthews went temporarily blind that one time, but now it looks like Ken might be ready to take over the team again.  The school is holding try-outs, and it looks like Ken has some competition in the form of new-girl Claire Middleton, who is totally serious about football.

Everyone is shocked and intrigued by the fact that Claire wants to play on the football team.  When Liz interviews her for The Oracle, she’s surprised to find out that Claire isn’t dazzled by her friendly persona.  Claire gives her the bare minimum of information about herself, and Liz actually has the audacity to get frustrated with her because of this.

Other people aren’t faring much better with Claire, either.  When Jessica tries to talk to her in hopes of getting her to join Pi Beta Alpha, Claire makes an insensitive comment about cheerleaders that pisses Jessica off so much she decides to get the other cheerleaders to help her sort of haze Claire during try-outs.

On the other hand, Terri Adams becomes increasingly worried about the idea of Claire on the team.  She worries about this almost as much as she worries about Ken not being ready to play football again.  Apparently he still has moments where his eyes “black out” and he can’t see anything.  He won’t listen to her worries though, and continually makes comments about how awesome Claire is, sending Terri into fits of near-psychosis.  In her sad little mind, she believes Ken is going to leave her for Claire.

So naturally, she helps the cheerleaders “teach” Claire a lesson by telling them about a picture signed by “Ted” in Claire’s locker.  The girls work it into a cheer that they perform at try-outs, and Claire FREAKS OUT and walks off the field.  Ted is Claire’s dead brother.  I know.  Yikes.

At any rate, Ken gets first-string and Claire is put in as second-string quarterback.  The day of the big game, Ken fumbles a pass and benches himself, leaving Claire to save the day and win the game.  Whatever, I’m bored.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Terri has a little brother.  Seriously, this book is scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of anything being remotely interesting.
  • At one point, Amy says that all she’s been able to think about is the comment Claire made about cheerleading.  Homegirl needs to get a life.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Claire shrugged but didn’t even bother to look at Jessica.  ‘Suit yourself. I think you’d do yourselves and everyone else a lot more good if you played a sport instead of jumping around and screaming.'” (44)
  • “That’s when it hit her: she was intensely jealous of Claire.” (70)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

This book sucks.  I don’t even hate it enough to have a multitude of thoughts on it.  I will say that I thought Terri acted like a complete PSYCHO throughout this whole book and I had to go back to #60, That Fatal Night, to see if I felt the same way about her.  Turns out there is such a thing as consistent character writing in the world of Sweet Valley, because she was just as much of a doormat then as she is now.

Whatever.  This book blows.

SVH #69: Friend Against Friend

7 Mar

friendvfriend

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Andy Jenkins is totally one of the gang at Sweet Valley even though the first time we’d ever heard of him was offhandedly in the last book.  He’s also one of the only black students at SVH, but he’s a super good student, especially when it comes to science.  That’s why he’s won a special scholarship to spend the summer studying marine biology at the Monterey Bay Acquarium.  He’s thrilled about this, and so is his friend, Neil Freemount, and his girlfriend, Tracy Gilbert (who the book wants you to know is also black).

Not everyone is super thrilled about Andy’s existence, though.  One day after school, Andy opens his locker and finds all sorts of garbage stuffed in there, as well as a note that says “Go back to Africa where you belong.”  Charlie Cashman is likely the dude behind this stupid, racist prank, because he hassles Andy in the parking lot of the Dairi Burger a few days later, and then Tracy discovers that all four of her tires have been slashed in the parking lot, too.  Neil witnesses all of this but is nervous about pointing fingers, yet he’s also confused as to why Andy doesn’t seem to want to report it.

Secretly, Neil is feeling conflicted about the whole thing.  Charlie Cashman’s father and Neil’s dad both work at Patman Canning, and they both make fairly overtly racist comments about their black supervisor, Willis.  Neil hopes that his dad is just saying these things because of Mr. Cashman, but deep down, he doesn’t believe that to be true.  Things worsen on this front when Mr. Cashman is fired, and Neil’s dad says a bunch more racist things.

What’s more alarming to Neil is that Andy doesn’t seem to want his help.  At one point, Neil tries to suggest that Andy think of what Martin Luther King, Jr. would do in the situation, and Andy (rightfully) loses his shit at him.  The two part ways, and there’s genuine tension on both ends.  Neil feels like Andy is being racist towards whites; they can’t all be bad, right?  This angers him, and he starts to resent how Andy shuts him out.

Things continue to escalate: Charlie purposely trips Andy in the hall and makes some stupid comments.  The two boys fight, and Mr. Collins breaks it up.  He pulls Neil aside and asks if Charlie started it because Andy is black, and Neil sort of shrugs his way out of the situation.  He feels increasing resentment about his perceived persecution by Andy.

The culmination of these increasingly violent acts comes when Neil and Penny see a movie and are leaving the theater one night.  They see Andy’s father’s car being attacked by Charlie and his gang, and then, when Penny goes to call the police, Neil watches in horror as they pull Andy out of the car and start beating him.  Neil runs over to save the unconscious Andy, but instead ends up hitting him, just once, after being pressured by the group to do so.  He immediately flees the scene and then lies to protect himself.

When Neil finally comes clean, it’s because Charlie Cashman has basically blackmailed or threatened him to lie about it, and he can’t live with the guilt any more.  He comes clean in the cafeteria one day, after Andy has apologized for being angry, and everyone is appalled that Neil could ever do such a thing.  It’s clear that his friendship with Andy is over, and it looks like his relationship with Penny, too.

Andy is walking home from school and is being trailed by Charlie and his gang.  While he doesn’t see them, Neil does, and he runs over to stand with Andy, despite the fact that Andy clearly hates him.  Presented with Neil and Andy, Charlie and his gang back down.

The B-Plot is nearly non-existent but basically serves to further the plot about the racist shit happening at SVH and set up the plot for the next book about a female quarterback.  Liz asks students what they’d like to change about their school and is SHOCKED when they have serious answers for her about racism, sexism, and other stuff that’s hard to think about.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Things to change at SVH: Olivia wants 3-day school weeks; Penny wants to outlaw Pi Beta Alpha, Manuel wants a non-white perspective of history; Jade Wu wants pizza ovens (?); Dana wants less focus on boys’ sports; and someone wants girls to be able to try out for the football team.
  • Mr. Archer is the marine biology teacher at SVH, Miss Jacobi is the sociology teacher.
  • Neil and Charlie listen to the Rolling Stones in his car

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Privately, Elizabeth had thought of it as just a fun thing to do.  More soft drink machines, shorter classes, better food in the cafeteria: those were the responses she had expected.  But maybe there was more dissatisfaction at Sweet Valley High than she thought.” (7)
  • “It was almost as if Andy held a grudge against every single student at Sweet Valley High because of Charlie’s bigotry. It was true that many of them hadn’t ever faced real hardships or discrimination, but that didn’t make them terrible people.” (40)
  • “‘Everyone is completely shocked,’ Penny continued.  ‘I just can’t believe something like that could happen here. I thought it only happened in big cities, like New York or L.A., but I guess I was naive.'” (84) HAS EVERYONE LOST THEIR DAMN MIND?

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

This was a hard book to recap, and it’s actually a hard one to write a critical analysis of, too.  It’s like so many other books that are published about hard stuff like racism and racialized violence and white guilt: well-meaning, completely misguided, and about as subtle as an anvil.  There’s also the fact that this book was written in 1990, which means that the lens we view it through now is fairly different.

Some thoughts, in bullet points because why not?

  • This is a classic case of a story about racism being told through the eyes of a white person.  What’s interesting here is that unlike many of the other books in the series, we never spend a minute inside Andy’s head, despite the fact that we are inside both Neil and Elizabeth’s heads at several points, as well as Penny’s.  So, we spend a lot of time being taught about racism but never actually hear from anyone experiencing it.
  • There’s a scene in which the sociology teacher tries a social experiment on her class, treating those with light-colored eyes as second-class citizens in an attempt to teach them about discrimination.  Again: well-meaning, but totally fucked up.  All these white kids get to go back to being the dominant majority as soon as the class is over.  Are we, as readers, supposed to feel bad for Jessica because she’s uncomfortable for a class period?  How can this possibly compare to a lifetime of living it?
  • Throughout the book, there are several mentions of feeling guilt over being privileged.  This is white guilt, and it’s very real–but it’s never named or explored.  And why would it be?  This is Sweet Valley.
  • When Andy apologizes to Neil for being angry, my jaw actually dropped.  It takes a lot to shock me when it comes to these books, but it was one of those moments that was so misplaced and so incredibly wrong (and I’m speaking of being unintentionally wrong, because it’s clear that both the reader and Neil are supposed to see  this as the right thing for Andy to do) that it defies logic.  Andy should be angry.  He has every right to be.  And to have him apologize for it?  Sends. The. Wrong. Message.

Look, I understand that this is a Sweet Valley High novel, and it’s not supposed to be super great literature or provide its readers a really nuanced, in-depth look at structural racism.  It can’t have been easy to be that ghost writer writing this didactic novel about racism that’s supposed to leave its readers (especially the white ones, and maybe only the white ones) feeling good about they know racism is bad.

I need something to cleanse my brain after this one, and I somehow doubt it’s going to be SVH #70: Ms. Quarterback.