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SVH #107: Jessica’s Secret Love

9 Jul

jessicas secret love Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks


Jessica and Lila meet some dudes on the beach when a Frisbee collides with Jessica’s head.  Lila goes off with one, named Robby, immediately, while Jessica and the other unnamed dude make googly eyes at each other.  It is love at first sight, they kiss, and before she can get his name or give him her number, he tells her they can never be together and then runs away.  Jessica is completely distraught and can’t believe her friends won’t take her seriously when she tells them she just met her soul mate.

Alice gets a letter from her dear dead friend’s daughter, Sue Gibbons.  She is planning her wedding and wants to do it in true California style.  So Alice invites Sue to stay with the Wakefields while she plans the wedding.  Sue arrives and is lovely but sad.  She tells the twins all about her dream man fiance, Jeremy, and Jessica gets excited when she realizes that they might know her mystery man, who she has found out works for a conservation group, too.

Imagine Jessica’s surprise when her mystery man turns out to be one Jeremy Randall, fiance to Sue and general creepster.  They’re both shocked when he shows up at the door, but neither one says anything.  Jeremy sits with the Wakefields and they talk about the wedding.  It’s clear that Jeremy has a different idea about the kind of wedding they should have, and Liz and Jess are surprised when Sue just goes along with what he says.  Jessica decides that she’s got to try to convince him he’s with the wrong girl, and after confiding in Elizabeth, who tells her to leave it all alone, she plots and plots.

The first thing she does is lie to Jeremy about what time they’re supposed to go ring shopping with Elizabeth.  At the mall, he picks out the ring Jessica chose and then they have a moment where the clerk thinks she’s his fiance.  Then, later, she finds out that Jeremy is taking Sue to the Carousel, and she begs every dude she’s ever dated to take her there, finally getting Bruce Patman to agree.  They go and it’s a weird encounter.  Jeremy seems jealous, which thrills Jessica. Things continue to truck along, in terms of wedding planning.  Jessica and Jeremy alternate between making eyes at each other and sniping at each other, and tensions between Sue and Jeremy seem to rise, too.  They seem to be getting married for very different reasons, although neither will admit it.

Jessica and Liz go with Sue to look at wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses and Jessica freaks out about the fact that she should be the one marrying Jeremy.  She goes so far as to “accidentally” throw Sue’s dress under the wheels of a truck, thinking it will ruin it, but Alice is able to fix it.

Ned and Alice throw an engagement party for Jeremy and Sue, and Jeremy and Jessica sneak outside to kiss.  Jessica is sure this is true love.

The B-Plot involves Elizabeth questioning her romantic life after the whole fiasco with not-a-were-wolf Luke.  Because Todd is away vacationing with his family and doesn’t actually know about Luke, Liz turns to self-help books to get in touch with her inner goddess or whatever.  She makes her friends have discussions about the books she’s reading and then drags Jessica to a seminar about the books, where they wear animal furs and pick new names for themselves.  Liz goes with “Runs with the Wind.” I go with vomit.

Oh, and Lila starts to fall for Robby, who is a talented artist and who also appears to be super poor, despite Lila thinking he is very wealthy.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Sue is staying in Steven’s room even though it is apparently summer vacation.  Whatever.
  • Sue is 18 and Jeremy is 23, and I am creeped out wholly.
  • Jeremy and Sue both work at Project Nature, and Jeremy “specializes in computer programs that track deforestation”
  • When the girls look at engagement rings, Liz picks out a pearl surrounded by diamonds, while Jessica prefers an oval sapphire in a gold band with triangular diamonds on each side.
  • The self-help books Elizabeth reads include Real Women, Bad Men and  Primal Woman, Woman of Strength 
  • Apparently the Carousel is one of Jessica’s favorite restaurants.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Even though Jessica wanted to be friendly to Sue, she couldn’t help feel a twinge of jealousy–here this girl was just a little older than Jessica, and already planning the rest of her life with her husband.” (26) [This is not a normal thought for a 16-year-old who hasn’t grown up indoctrinated by the Church.]
  • “‘I mean, finally we decided we had to get married before we got into trouble.’ Sue blushed and gave a girlish giggle.” (29) [Fucked.]
  • “‘It just goes to show you how troubled the relationships between men and women are.  If Sue were really strong within herself, maybe Jeremy wouldn’t be attracted to other women.'” (66) [WHAT]

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

It took me several days to sit down and read this book, despite carting it around with me.  I don’t care about this mini-series (which, by the way, claims to be a two-parter on this book’s cover, but is really like four books?), and I don’t believe for a second that Jessica would decide she wants to get married to a stranger all of a sudden.  I get that she’s the flighty, impulsive twin or whatever, but I don’t buy for a second that she would be fighting to get married this young.  I just don’t.

And I don’t understand anything else that happens in this book, either.  Why is Sue staying with the Wakefields when she still has family?  If she has as many friends as she claims she does, why is she making Jessica and Elizabeth, two girls she has met maybe one other time in her life, her BRIDESMAIDS?  This is clearly to further the plot and nothing else, and it’s bullshit.

Don’t even get me started on Elizabeth’s weird, pseudo-feminism bullshit, either.  It’s the most fucked view of feminism and actually ends up doing more to blame the woman than anything, and it’s gross.

SVH Super Star: Olivia’s Story

11 Apr

olivia's story

Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 month


Olivia Davidson is obsessed with painting, and she’s particularly focused on abstract impressionism.  She’s taking classes at the Forester School, and it’s there that she meets devoted artist James Yates.  James is the definition of the starving artist, taking classes on scholarship and living in a tiny apartment, often forgoing dinner and wearing threadbare clothes.  All in the name of art, guys.  At any rate, the two start to spend time together, and despite the fact that James is an insufferable twat, Olivia likes him and feels challenged by his devotion to art.

But she’s feeling pressure at home to conform to more “normal” standards.  Her parents are the definition of conservative, and when her aunt June and cousin Emily come to stay with her family while Emily looks at colleges out west, Olivia feels even more like she doesn’t fit in.  It seems as though her straight-laced cousin has her entire life planned, and that freaks Olivia out.  So she asks her mom to get her a part-time job at Simpson’s Department Store, where she promptly runs into the owner’s son, Robert Simpson.  He lets her redo a display and admires her art, but when she shows him her paintings, the only ones he likes are the generic landscape ones.

Olivia continues to hang out with James, but when he brushes off their plans so he can do art, she goes with Robert to a country club party after asking her to dress down a bit.  It’s as awful as you’d expect, and she feels out of place.  However, she keeps making nearly no progress with James, and when she gives him his Christmas present (a paperweight with his initial) and he tells her it’s the emptiest and most meaningless present he’s even received, she storms out.  But then when Robert gives her a planner, she understands what James means and decides to eschew corporate life for a life of art.

Oh, I suppose it helps that her mother takes her aside one day and shows her the paintings from her youth, before she gave it up for a business degree.  She has a business degree and she’s a manager at a department store?  Really?  That was her life’s dream?  By the end of the story, Olivia and James are together because they love each other and Emily is thinking about going to school in California. I don’t know.   I hated this one.

The B-Plot, if you can call it that, involves Jessica and Elizabeth getting seasonal jobs at Simpson’s Department Store.  Jessica works in the children’s section and Liz wraps gifts.  Jessica sets her sights on Robert, but he’s really only interested in Olivia.  For whatever reason.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Olivia outfit: black leotard and leggins, pink and yellow chiffon skirt, blue checked vest, and an Elvis record in her hair.
  • As if you didn’t know the timeline was fucked: it’s Christmas AGAIN, but Jessica mentions their summer internship at the paper.  FFS.
  • Emily wears a khaki-colored suit and blue espadrilles, because she’s forty

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘Paintings are life,’ James answered seriously. ‘Everything else is unimportant–money, living in a fancy house, worrying about the little things.'” (19) 

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

This was a total slog for me to get through.  Sometimes I struggle with the regular books featuring tertiary characters, but this one had an extra 60 pages or so, and it was AWFUL.  Olivia isn’t interesting.  I remember her being more interesting as a child, but her wishy-washy feelings on everything in this one and complete lack of self awareness or a sense of humor make this a total bore.

Also, the twins have never felt so awkwardly inserted in a story line before.  There was no need for them to be in this one, apart from any fear that it wouldn’t be a “real” SVH novel without their presence.

Finally, is this like the 8th Christmas of their junior year or what?  I’d be willing to suspend some disbelief if there was even a mention of some of the events from past Christmas stories happening concurrently, but there isn’t.  It’s like each one of these Christmas books takes place in a vacuum.  These books are so weird!

SVH #53: Second Chance

14 Jun

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks


Kristin Thompson is a total tennis star.  She has a chance of going pro in the upcoming Avery Cup, but her concentration declines when Bruce Patman asks her out and starts wooing her.  Part of her wants to continue to practice tennis and maintain her grueling schedule, and another part of her wants to experience what it’s like to be a normal teenager.  She feels obligation to continue to work toward the tennis goal, though, because her mother was a tennis star who died tragically in a plane crash when Kristin was a little girl.  Her fear of disappointing her father keeps her relatively complacent.

Kristin tries to juggle her tennis schedule with dating Bruce and being a big sister to a little girl named Emily, who also happens to like tennis.  It starts to have an effect on her game, though, and she plays badly in the first round of the Avery Cup.  She still wins, though, and goes onto the second round, where she wins again, but still isn’t playing her best.  Kristin faces a dilemma: Bruce has invited her to be his date at his parents’ annual blow-0ut party on Saturday, but the last round of the tennis competition is on Sunday.  Kristin decides to go to the party anyway.

At the party, Kristin feels out of place.  She feels under-dressed, and when she goes up to Bruce to be introduced to his parents, Amy Sutton squeezes her way in between them, and Bruce just sort of goes with it.  Kristin has a miserable time at the party and goes home early, but it doesn’t matter, because she loses the match the next day.  She’ll still qualify for the pro team, but only as an alternate.

She cries to her coach about how she feels like a failure, and her coach consoles her.  The coach tells her that her mother was going to give up tennis to be with her family.  Kristin feels better after hearing this.  She goes to school the next day, and Bruce tries to flirt with her.  She shuts him down.  When she picks up Emily after school, Emily cries and tells her that she tried out for tennis camp and didn’t make it and she was scared that Kristin wouldn’t like her anymore.  Kristin tells Emily that she’ll love her no matter what, which is the moment that serves as Kristin’s epiphany about her father and tennis coach.  YOU GUYS.  THEY WILL LOVE HER NO MATTER WHAT.

Kristin decides that she still really loves tennis but will play for herself instead of her dead mother or whatever.  Elizabeth and the gang go to see Kristin play in her next match, and she wins, because now her heart’s in it.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Kristin blushed.  She had never heard anyone talk about Bruce before.  Did he have a bad reputation?” (92)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • The ghostwriter uses the word “diaphanous” to describe some of the girls’ dresses at Bruce’s party.  Why, hello, big word.
  • SVH students are working on an essay about the American Dream.  I read this and threw up in my mouth.
  • Elizabeth and Enid are described as having been friends for years.  I hope that this is the ghostwriter’s sly nod to how long these girls have been in the eleventh grade, because we all know that Enid moved to SVH not that long ago.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

What is there to say, really?  We’ve had several books in a row now that feature characters who exist solely for the purpose of the story being told.  Kristin Thompson wasn’t on our radar before, and she probably won’t be again.  Trying to care about her and her problems is really, really hard.  Also, sports bore me, which makes a book like this doubly terrible.

There is one thing I want to talk about, though.  I didn’t mention it in my recap because I sort of glossed over the entire Bruce Patman situation.  Now seems like a good time to bring it up, though.  Ready?  Okay.

Kristin ends up with a free afternoon before her tennis practice, and she heads over to the courts at SVH.  She sees a group of her peers playing, and they invite her to join.  She goes up against Bruce Patman, and instead of wiping the court with him (or whatever.  Sports metaphors aren’t my thing), she allows him to win, because she thinks that Bruce being beaten by a girl would be humiliating for him.  It’s almost a throwaway line in the book, and yet it really got stuck in my craw.  What kind of message is this supposed to send?  How is this ever okay?

Am I focusing on the wrong details here?  Should I instead focus on the creepy-as-all-hell relationship Kristin has with her father.  More than once, she thinks about the fact that she’s a replacement for her own mother.  There’s nothing inherently incestuous in the story, but the constant comparisons to her mother skeeved me out all the same.

What do you think?

SVH #45: Family Secrets

30 Oct

Estimated Time Elapsed: 2 weeks


Kelly Bates is a cousin of Jessica and Elizabeth, daughter of Laura, who is a sister to Alice..  She’s the same age as the twins and looks almost exactly like them.  Laura is getting remarried, and Kelly’s having a really hard time with it, so she’s staying with the Wakefields for a while in order to get used to the idea of her mother’s new marriage.  This plan makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but whatever fuels the plot, right?

At any rate, the twins are super-excited about hanging out with their cousin.  Ma and Pa Wakefield have warned the twins that they shouldn’t say anything disparaging about Kelly’s dad, because her mom has made it a rule to let Kelly come to her own conclusions about a man that we are supposed to be wary of from the beginning.  The twins and Kelly play up their resemblances and dress alike for Kelly’s first day at Sweet Valley High.  They also set her up with Nicholas Morrow, who promptly asks her to be his date at the costume party at his country club.

When Kelly starts hanging out with Kirk Anderson, Jessica and Elizabeth are mildly horrified.  Kelly seems blind to Kirk’s many faults, including his tendency to be completely arrogant, show up really late for dates, and use the most terrible pick-up lines.  The twins realize that Kelly maybe has a blind spot when it comes to questionable men in her life (OH YOU MEAN LIKE HER FATHER?), but nothing they say can convince her about Kirk.  He asks her to the costume party and she says yes but doesn’t bother cancelling her date with Nicholas.

Kelly’s father is supposed to come into town for her birthday, and she has plans to ask him to move to Sweet Valley so she can live with him instead of going back to Tucson.  Kelly blames her mother for the divorce and doesn’t want to live with her.  When Kelly’s dad arrives an hour and a half late to her birthday dinner and then ducks out after like 5 minutes, she’s crushed but still doesn’t see that he’s a total douche truck.

Jessica, Elizabeth, and Kelly go to the costume party as the N0-Evil monkeys (it’s so perfect and not heavy-handed at all: Jessica’s Hear No Evil, Liz is Speak No Evil, and Kelly is See No Evil) and when Kirk invites Kelly to go up to Miller’s Point with him, she agrees.  Then he tries to basically assault her, throws some beer bottles, and she kicks him in the shin and starts walking home.  The sound of breaking glass triggers memories from her childhood when her father would throw dishes, and so she realizes that her dad maybe kind of sucks.  She goes home, her mom gets called and gets on a plane, and Kelly decides to go home to Tuscon.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Jessica scowled.  Kelly’s complaints about her mother didn’t impress her.  All mothers acted that way, Jessica wanted to point out.  That was just the way they were.” (56)
  • “‘Are you kidding? Me with my mouth shut all night? I’d die!’ Jessica exclaimed.  ‘No, you should be Speak-No-Evil, Liz.  You never say anything bad about anybody.'” (75-76)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Costumes at costume party: Lila is Princess Diana, Jeffrey is a wino, Enid is a hippie, Ken is Donald Duck (what the crap?), Sandra Bacon is…a Mexican?, Winston goes as a bunch of grapes, and Kirk is a pirate.
  • In addition to French, Ms. Dalton apparently also covers study hall.  Sucks to be her.
  • Weird factoid: Jessica has a discussion with Liz about Kelly’s nightmares while cutting split ends out of her hair.  For some reason, this split ends detail has stayed with me for 15 years.  I don’t know why.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

Do you know what bothers me about this book the most?  I mean, even more than the fact that the best plan Laura could come up with to help Kelly get acclimated to life with a new family was to move her away from said family?  The fact that Kelly never tells Nicholas that she’s not going to the dance with him. It’s not mentioned ONCE.  Way to drop the ball midway through the book, ghost writer.  Merciful Zeus!

That being said, how stupid is the whole plot?  Kelly is having issues adjusting to her new family, so in order to help her get used to it, they send her away?  What the hell?  How is Kelly going to come to terms with her new life by living apart from it?  What, exactly, is that supposed to accomplish?  BAD PARENTING.