Tag Archives: jeffrey french

SVH Magna Edition: Elizabeth’s Secret Diary, Vol. II

24 Aug

Estimated Elapsed Time: N/A, as this is a recap of books #55-70


The book starts off with Liz on a date with Todd Wilkins, who is distracted.  When she presses him for what’s going on, he tells her that his friend from Vermont, Michelle Thomas, is coming to visit him.  Liz freaks out about this, because Michelle is the girl who called Todd “cute buns” in a letter to him that one time, and she runs away from their date.  When he shows up at her house with Michelle a few days later, Liz is a raging bitch to them both and then cries to Enid about how sad she is while they eat cookie dough.  She goes to reconcile with Todd and sees him kissing Michelle.  She freaks out, runs home, and cries a lot. Then she picks up one of her journals and starts reading and reminiscing…

These are painful to recap, but not as painful as it is to read them.  Liz quickly recaps books 55-57, mentioning Olivia’s crush on their teacher from the mini-courses before getting to her real interest: herself.  She angsts over Todd moving back to Sweet Valley and her waffling over her feelings for him and her current boyfriend Jeffrey French.  When she decides to ditch Jeffrey and hook back up with Todd, we’re treated to a recap of that gloat-fest, too.  But the diary presents this as Liz actually second-guessing her decision to get back together with Todd and being shocked when Jeffrey rebuffs her attempts to reconcile.  It seems we’re supposed to believe that Liz really misses Jeffrey, which this reader doesn’t buy for a second.

We continue on with inane recaps of books 61-70, which are largely focused on other people’s problems, so I’m not sure why the team behind these books thought this was the section of books to focus on.  Readers are treated to reminders about Patty Gilbert’s problems, Jessica’s adventures in computer dating (this is still one of my favorites because it’s so balls-to-the-wall insane), Elizabeth’s adventures in surfing, a Tricia Martin doppelganger, and Wakefield Parent Drama for several painful books.  Very little insight is provided to readers that they didn’t already know.  There is one “scandalous” scene that is supposed to take place around The Parent Plot, where Jeffrey climbs up a trellis near Liz’s room (is this a thing that existed before this diary?) and they make out.  But conveniently, Todd shows up that same night for some smooches, so Liz literally shoves Jeffrey into the closet so she can make out with Todd before sending him on his way.  Jeffrey is super mad about having to listen to the smooth make out noises of Liz and her actual boyfriend, and he storms off.

But wait, there’s more.  Liz and Todd break up again, and then Sweet Valley deals with both racism (and actual hate crimes but whatever, right?) and sexism.  This might be the most pointless of the secret diary series yet, and I HATED the first round.  There’s no point to these whatsoever.

At any rate, the book ends with Liz seeing Jeffrey out on a date with some rando and Liz realizes that he never looked at her the way he’s looking at this girl, so she thinks they weren’t right for each other after all.  She realizes that she still loves Todd and that they’ve both made kissing mistakes with other people.  She calls him and they make up.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • I don’t have any trivia to provide this time.  The twins do love to wear blue-green items to match their eyes, though! This is a recurring theme that is starting to really grate on me.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Ooh,” Jeffrey joked. “You get me all excited when you say things like ‘male-female ratio!'” (29)
  • Sometime during the week (who cares what day it is?)” (56) [If this doesn’t sum up the way time lapses in this entire series, I don’t know what does.]
  • “Don’t punch things?” I asked. “Or don’t hold it in?” (211) [Too bad this was directed at Jeffrey and not Todd]

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

“I’ve been such a hypocrite,” I whispered. I’d judged Todd for kissing Michelle in his backyard. But how many times had I kissed Jeffrey behind Todd’s back? I had no right to criticize him. And it was time to make it up to him. (325)

I’m including this quote because it’s what I’d like to focus on for this analysis.  What’s striking about this quote is not only how clunky it is, shoe-horned in at the last minute, in the literal last couple of pages of a 300+ page book, but also how hilariously tone-deaf it is when considered with the series as a whole.  Throughout these recaps, I’ve harped on and on about the fact that both twins cheat on dudes they are dating REPEATEDLY, despite the fact that Jessica is supposed to be considered the twin who can’t commit.  Liz tends to be the worst offender when it comes to this, because she’s the one who is in a “monogamous” relationship throughout the majority of the series.

But this is supposed to be a huge revelation for Liz at the end of this book, after doing a great deal of self-reflection while reading through old journal entries.  It never ceases to astound me how quickly she flies off the handle about Todd’s behavior when she literally cheats on him any time she goes out of town (or he goes out of town).  It is weird to suddenly have this be the standard for which she can forgive him his trespasses.

I don’t know.  I’m thinking about this too much.  Liz is the worst because she’s self-righteous AND boring AND oblivious about how boring she is.  At least Jessica is practically sociopathic in her denial about her behavior.

SVH: Jessica’s Secret Diary, Vol. I

18 Jul

jessica's secret diary

Estimated Elapsed Time: N/A because this book recaps books 32-40.


Jessica is at a party at the Patman beach house when her boyfriend, Jack (whoever the fuck this is) tells her that he’s secretly been in love with her sister, Elizabeth.  Understandably distraught, Jessica runs home crying and decides to run away.  As she’s packing, she stumbles across a secret diary that no one knows she keeps and begins to revisit her own sordid past.  Oh, good.  More recapping.

We’re first treated to a recap of #32, in which Jessica dyes her hair black and tries to go faux-European.  She also thinks about how cute she thinks Jeffrey French is.  Then we get a recap of heroic Jessica’s impulse decision to bring home a lab puppy who becomes Prince Albert.  Bizarrely, we get info-dumped about #34, even though it’s totally not about Jessica at all.  Same thing with the book about Aaron Dallas’s anger issues (repressed homosexuality?  RIGHT?) and his girlfriend Heather’s baby voice.  UGH GOD WHY DO THEY HAVE TO DO THE BOOKS CHRONOLOGICALLY WITHOUT SKIPPING ANY.

Then Jessica reads about how she tried to break up Steve and Cara.  That was sweet.  Remember when Jessica thought Alice was pregnant again? Because she likes pistachio ice cream and shit?  Me neither, but it happened.  Jessica reminisces about how she and Steven schemed to keep Elizabeth from going away to boarding school and then actually admits to being pretty into Jeffrey, thinking at one point that she’d send Liz to Switzerland so she could steal Jeffrey away from her.  What a nice sister.  There’s an adorable and not at all tedious recap of the time she and Lila posted personal ads and got set up with the same dude. FINALLY we hit #40, where Jessica reminisces about poor Regina and how she died from that cocaine thing with her heart.  It’s here that she admits that she once went on a date with him, posing as Liz, and when they made out, Jeffrey figured it out but then made out with her some more.  Um, creepy?

Back in the present moment, Jessica cries about her and Jack, her and Jeffrey, Elizabeth too, she guesses, and then for Regina.  She unpacks her clothes and decides to stay.  I’m ready to self-immolate to get away from this book, so let’s call it a day.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • In the present day part of the novel, Ma and Pa Wakefield are out of town in Los Angeles
  • Jessica and “Jack” have been dating for one whole month

Memorable Quotes:

  • “But for most of the years I’ve known you, Jessica, you fall madly in love about twice a month.  How am I supposed to know when you really mean it?” (4)
  • “Jeffrey pulled me roughly toward him again and kissed me even more passionately.  I responded with a moan, feeling as if my heart would explode with a million tiny, twinkling stars of light.” (307)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

So what’s weird about this one is not the present-tense voice, which still bothers me but feels like a more natural fit than the one inflicted on Elizabeth in the previous diary book, but that once again I’m unsure what the lesson is to be learned in this.  As per usual, the message is muddled.

Part of the problem is that so many of the books being recapped in this one weren’t about Jessica at all.  This is only going to get worse with subsequent volumes of the diaries (ugh I can’t believe there are two more for EACH TWIN), but it still makes the lack of plot pretty glaring here.  Also, boring.  Like, really really boring.

The biggest issue here though is that I think the reader is supposed to realize (alongside Jessica) that the girls love each other and value one another so deeply that they can’t be apart.  But everything that happens in these books only goes to further illustrate what an asshole Jessica is.  So, I guess I don’t get it?

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


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 Super Star: Enid’s Story

12 Mar


Estimated Elapsed Time: Roughly 2 weeks


Inexplicably, it’s Christmastime in Sweet Valley once again, and Enid and Elizabeth are looking forward to a lot of time together over the holiday because Enid is single and Todd will be skiing with his family in Utah.  Enid is secretly thrilled that she’ll have Liz all to herself, but Liz is very upset about spending Christmas without Todd.  To try to cheer her up, Enid brings Liz to the Dairi Burger, where she ends up under the mistletoe with her ex, Jeffrey French.  The two share a kiss that’s supposed to be a joke but actually fires up Liz quite a bit.  That’s too bad, because it sort of looks like Jeffrey might be interested in Enid, as he invites her to go to the ice skating party with him the next day.

At first, Liz isn’t going to go to the party because she wants to mope about how she misses Todd.  But Jessica convinces her to go, and she FREAKS OUT when she sees Enid and Jeffrey skating together.  Liz believes that there’s something going on between them and Enid has been downplaying it.  Enid apologizes and Elizabeth accepts, but that doesn’t stop Enid from going to a movie with Jeffrey that night.  She’s pretty sure that he’s interested in her, too, but he keeps bringing up Liz.  When Enid stops by his house to give him his Christmas present, he wants to obsess over the fact that Elizabeth baked him cookies.  This upsets Enid, who realizes that her feelings for him are either completely one-sided, or he’s very confused about what he wants.

Wallowing in her pain, she goes out with a former friend from her wild-child days, Brian Saunders.  She ran into him at the ice-skating party, and then he called her and begged her to go out with him.  He swears he’s a changed man, and the two have a nice dinner at a Thai restaurant.  But then he wants to take her to a friend’s house, and though she’s hesitant, she agrees.  Turns out there’s a massive party happening, and Enid leaves a totally-drunk Brian and cabs it home.

Things go from bad to worse for her when she goes to meet her absent-father at the Recency Hotel.  They’re supposed to have lunch together, but when she gets there, he’s already at the bar, reeking of gin and drunk off his ass.  They have a horrible interaction and she runs home crying to her mother, who she promptly blames for her father’s drunkenness.  Her mother tells her that her father has a serious alcohol problem and the two sort of reconcile.

But Enid still feels bad about her dad and worse about Jeffrey.  She reluctantly goes to a Christmas Eve party with Jeffrey at her ex-boyfriend George Warren’s house, but when Jeffrey asks to take Liz aside Enid figures it’s because they’re getting back together.  They aren’t, though.  Jeffrey and Liz clarify their feelings of friendship for each other and part ways amicably.  When Jeffrey goes to find Enid, she’s dancing with Brian (why is he at this party?) and decides to leave with him to piss off Jeffrey.

The two end up drunk and stoned at Miller’s Point.  That escalated quickly.  Jessica brings her date up to the spot and sees Enid out of her mind blitzed, but instead of helping, she goes back to the party.  Meanwhile, both of Enid’s parents are worried about her.  Her dad is sober enough to go look for her, and tries Kelly’s Bar before heading up to Miller’s Point after Jessica spills the beans about what she saw to Liz.

Brian has been joyriding them around in his car even though Enid has begged for him to let her out.  He ends up crashing the car, flipping it over, and starting it on fire.  Luckily, Enid’s dad shows up and pulls her from the wreck before it combusts.  Brian and Enid’s dad are both badly burned, though.  Everyone ends up in the hospital for some reconciliation.

Lila throws a New Year’s Eve party and everyone is there.  Todd and Liz are reunited and Jeffrey and Enid kiss.  Their relationship is left completely undefined, which is good, because I’m pretty sure we will never hear of it again.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Jessica references Dorothy Hamill when she talks about her own skating skills.  Jeffrey tells Enid she’ll soon skate like Sonja Henie.  Hello, dated references.
  • Enid’s gift ideas for Jeffrey’s mom: perfume, a scarf, a fancy cake plate that spins around and sings a song (she already has one), a magazine subscription
  • Enid’s Christmas present for Liz: heart-shaped pink satin box. Elizabeth’s present for Enid: a framed picture of her and Enid.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Enid looked at Elizabeth affectionately. Elizabeth was always wonderful to be with. She was a warm and friendly girl, the one person everyone at school really liked.”  (2) [Blogger’s note: We’re on page two, and I’m already so creeped out I don’t know how I can go on.]
  • “‘That’s a great idea,’ Jeffrey said enthusiastically. ‘My mom’s always saying that feminism just means a woman gets to have two careers–one inside and one outside the home!'” (33)
  • “‘You’re grown up now, Enid. You should know that there’s nothing wrong with having a couple. Besides, I remember you used to do a little drinking yourself.'” (113)
  • Why do I even try? she wondered. What was the point of going straight and pulling myself together if this is where it gets me? At least before, I was too stoned to notice how miserable life can be.” (126)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

There are a lot of reasons I dreaded reading this one, and most of them have to do with the fact that Enid is pretty much the worst character to get her own Super Star book.  I mean, I might hate Bruce Patman because I think he’s a misogynistic sociopath, but at least he’s kind of interesting at the same time.  Enid doesn’t even have that going for her, which is why I refer to her as the “dripmaster.”  What’s funny, or perhaps alarming, is that it’s pretty clear that the ghost writer didn’t think Enid was very interesting, either, because almost half of this book focuses on Elizabeth’s problems.  Isn’t this supposed to be all about Enid?  Isn’t this her moment to shine?  WRONG! LIZ HAS FEELINGS.

If you are able to separate out the fact that it seems as though Enid’s feelings for Elizabeth run deeper than simply platonic friendship, this book still isn’t that interesting.  Enid finally gets a shot at romance, and it’s with Elizabeth’s leftovers! What is it about this town that encourages such incestuous relationships between its teens?  Furthermore, what “best friend” would ever think it was okay to go after her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, especially when readers know how serious it was for Liz and Jeffrey?

I get that life happens and we can’t actually help who we are attracted to.  I understand, even that if we adhere to the series’ cannon, Enid set her sights on Jeffrey first–although wasn’t that at Liz’s insane urging, because she didn’t want to admit her feelings for Jeffrey?  I’m even willing to admit that maybe these girls are more emotionally mature than I am and could accept their best friend hooking up with their ex–but based on how easily they freak out about stupid stuff, I doubt it.

SVH #58: Brokenhearted

8 Feb

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks


Todd Wilkins is moving back to Sweet Valley after an unspecified amount of time living in Burlington, Vermont.  Liz is distraught about this news, because she heard it from other people and not from Todd himself. She also worries about what it will mean for her and Jeffrey.  Jeffrey is also worried about this.

When Todd gets back into town, he’s a little different.  His dad is now president of his company, and they’re moving into a huge mansion in Lila’s neighborhood.  Todd visits with Elizabeth and makes it pretty clear he wants to start seeing her again, even though she’s dating someone else.  Elizabeth is confused.

Winston throws Todd a welcome back party, and everyone attends.  The girls  meet Courtney Kane, who clearly has it bad for Todd.  Jessica gets Todd to take her to a party at his school.  She meets a boy named Sheffield Eastman (seriously).  Liz is still confused about her feelings for both Jeffrey and Todd, despite the fact that Jeffrey takes her on a romantic date and couldn’t be more supportive of the bullshit she’s putting him through.

Todd and Courtney co-host a party, for whatever reason.  Courtney has set things up so that Todd thinks Elizabeth and Jeffrey are stronger than ever.  Liz seems to be awfully heartbroken about the fact that Todd has a date to his party, and Jeffrey picks up on this, because Jeffrey is not an idiot.  He realizes that Liz wants to be with Todd.  This is reinforced when he sees Courtney slip a piece of paper into Liz’s jacket and sneaks away.  He can tell she’s plotting something.

And she is: she sets it up so Liz accidentally sees the two of them kissing.  Liz runs away crying.  Jeffrey tells Todd what happened, and Todd rushes off to Secca Lake to meet Liz.  They get back together.

Poor Jeffrey.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Elizabeth punched him playfully on the arm. ‘I didn’t wear silk to eat pepperoni!'” (43)
  • “Elizabeth giggled, but Lila was not amused. ‘Oh, Jessica,’ she said, ‘don’t be so gauche!  I’m sure if you had the chance to spend more time with Courtney, you’d like her as much as I do.'” (71)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Todd no longer attends SVH.  He now goes to Lovett Academy.
  • The company Todd’s dad works for is called Varitronics.
  • Todd drives a BMW now instead of a rusty brown Datsun.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I guess my biggest problem with this book is the fact that Liz’s actions are totally irrational.  I understand that seeing an old boyfriend can stir up feelings long repressed, but it doesn’t make sense that her immediate reaction would be, “Will I choose Todd or Jeffrey?”  It’s incredibly egotistical to think that she’ll even have that choice.

Also, poor Jeffrey. He might be totally boring, but he doesn’t deserve this kind of crap.  The whole concept that he has to wait while Liz makes up her mind about who she wants to be with is totally shitty.  I don’t even begin to understand how this is like, a legitimate course of action.  It makes me mad, and then I get even madder because I’m mad about a Sweet Valley High book.

SVH #57: Teacher Crush

14 Jan

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks

Because the kids at Sweet Valley High don’t have enough random classes or extracurricular activities, the school is hosting two week long mini-courses.  All the students are super excited about these classes.  Liz, Enid, and Olivia Davidson end up in the painting course.  Olivia talks a lot about how lonely she is since she broke up with Roger, and Liz reflects rather smugly on how lucky she is to have a kick-ass boyfriend like Jeffrey (OH FORESHADOWING).

It doesn’t take long for Olivia to form a huge, obsessive stalker-crush on the painting class’s teacher, Stuart Bachman.  Her crush reaches insane levels very quickly: she finds out where he lives, cuts a picture of him out of a magazine, obsesses over whether or not every compliment he pays her about her art is an indication that he’s into her, too.  Enid notices Olivia’s weird behavior right away, but Elizabeth brushes it off for a really long time until Olivia misses a newspaper deadline.  The two worry about Olivia’s judgment and sanity.

Olivia continues to pursue Stuart, who seems blind to the fact that she’s so into him.  He invites her to come to his art show, and she’s sure this is the SIGN that she’s been waiting for.  She confides in Liz and Enid that she’s positive he’s going to do something romantic for her birthday.  Liz and Enid have been helping Olivia’s parents plan a surprise party, and they are skeptical that Stuart has anything on the agenda.  Their doubts are confirmed when Olivia goes to the art show and meets Stuart’s girlfriend Monica.  Olivia is crushed but gets over it when she realizes that Stuart is displaying some of Olivia’s artwork.  Everyone goes to her surprise party.  It is a success.  All is well.

The B-Plot involves Jessica and her mini-course of doom: electronics.  She chose the class thinking it would be full of cute boys, but it was full of nerds.  She and Randy Mason end up making a lie detector because she’s sick of Lila talking about her dad’s new soap-star girlfriend.  The lie detector is a huge success.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “So Far Olivia hadn’t told anyone how she felt about Stuart.  She knew it wasn’t a good idea.  After all, he was her instructor, and he was older–though not all that much older, she assured herself.  After all, her birthday was coming up–it was a week from tomorrow.” (49)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Lila’s dad’s new girlfriend is named Anika Hunt.
  • Lila takes a sewing class for her mini-course.
  • Olivia’s grandmother was a “serious” oil painter–whatever that means.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I mean, what is there to say about this one?  If I had majored in psych in undergrad, I could probably expound on the fact that Olivia’s crush on Stuart is indicative of daddy issues.  What’s more alarming to me is how totally creepy she is about her crush.  Driving by his apartment?  Cutting out pictures of his face?  Isn’t this the sort of thing a girl does when she’s much younger?  Okay, not the driving by his apartment part, because my friends and I totally did that in high school, but the rest of the stuff is totally bizarre.

And no matter how innocent Stuart thought Olivia was, I’m still unsettled that he’d invite her into his apartment when she showed up unannounced.  It’s not smart teaching–or living, for that matter.  A teacher should NEVER invite a student into their home.  Ever.

Next up: Todd Wilkins is moving back to Sweet Valley–and now he’s rich!

SVH #51: Against the Odds

7 Jun

Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 week


Sweet Valley High has a huge soccer game against Big Mesa coming up.  There will be college scouts there, which is a big deal to Jeffrey, who is already thinking about where to go in two years.  Ronnie Edwards, who used to date Enid Rollins, strolls into the Dairi Burger one night throwing around money and generally bragging.  This seems to skeeve pretty much everyone out, because no one wants to talk to him.  Some shady-looking guys ask to see his car in the parking lot and then corner him by the dumpsters and try to mug him.  Jeffrey intervenes and saves Ronnie, who showers him with gratitude.  Jeffrey worries about Ronnie and what he’s gotten himself into.

Ronnie has started placing bets with a bookie, which goes well until it doesn’t.  The bookie’s name is Big Al (seriously?  That’s the best name they could come up with?) and he threatens Ronnie with violence when Ronnie is short on the cash.  He basically tells him that Sweet Valley better win the soccer game against Big Mesa by no more than one point or else.  Ronnie panics and talks to Jeffrey, who’s understandably pissed.

The night of the game, Ronnie gets kidnapped by one of Big Al’s minions.  The minion also takes Elizabeth, who seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The two of them get tied up but Ronnie escapes, knocking the minion unconscious.  The two call the police and race to the game, where Jeffrey is playing badly (I guess because he’s so upset?).  Elizabeth gets the coach to call a time-out and tells Jeffrey to play his best.  Big Al gets arrested while watching the game in the bleachers (what?).  Sweet Valley wins!

The B-Plot involves Jessica deciding to become a jewelry designer.  She has some luck convincing her friends that her earrings are really cute, and then she gets a shop at the mall to agree to carry them.  To meet the demands of the order, though, she borrows her mom’s credit card, and spends something like $900 on supplies.  The shop decides to go another direction, leaving Jessica completely stranded.  Looks like she’ll have to get an actual job.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “They looked too old to be high school students, and with their sunglasses, beard stubble, and leather jackets they seemed like the kind of guys it would be better to stay away from.” (9)
  • “‘Listen, Ronnie,’ Mr. Russo said, in a firm, angry voice.  ‘I’m going to give you a chance to stand here like a considerate human being and wait ten minutes until the test is over.  If you so much as say one more word or move one inch closer to me, I swear I will suspend you so fast your head will spin?  Understood?'” (83)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Ronnie’s characterization in this book is completely at odds with what we already knew about him.  Even though he was a selfish jerk before, he’s now completely insecure and no one likes him.  It doesn’t make any sense.
  • Alice Wakefield authorizes Jessica to spend something like $400 on her credit card, but she spends over $900.  Awesome.
  • Jessica is totally wearing one of her earrings on the cover.  I actually think they look cute.
  • Big Mesa’s sports teams are called the Bull Dogs.  Did we know this already?

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I’m not going to lie: I don’t know very much about betting or gambling in general, and I know even less about bookies.  Most of what I know is from TV.  Didn’t Saved by the Bell have an episode with a bookie?  I remember that on Felicity, Ben got in trouble with one once.  They’re always dudes, they’re always sort of sketchy, and they always use violence to solve problems.

The character of Big Al is such a stereotype, though, that it’s hard to take him seriously.  I’m not even sure how seriously the teens in the book take him, because when Ronnie and Elizabeth get kidnapped by one of his minions, neither one seems particularly scared.  Once they’ve freed themselves, they seem to recover pretty quickly.  Ronnie gets taken in for questioning at the police station, but Elizabeth doesn’t.  She was a hostage, right?  Why wasn’t she questioned?  Are the ghostwriters really that lazy?

Next up: White Lies.  John Pfeiffer has a secret, but it’s not that he’s a rapist.  Not yet, anyway.

SVH #48: Slam Book Fever

17 Jan

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks


Amy Sutton decides that SVH needs some livening up, and the way to do that is through slam books, which were popular at her old school.  She convinces all the girls to buy black-and-white speckled notebooks and they go to town inventing categories and voting for classmates in each others’ books.  While Elizabeth and Enid abstain because they think the project could be mean, everyone else loves it, and it isn’t long before they start coming up with “Crystal Ball” categories that predict the future with clever titles like, “Most Likely to Have Six Kids” and “Most Likely to Earn a Million Dollars.”

Things start to go badly after Olivia Davidson and Roger Barrett Patman break up.  Her name starts appearing next to Jeffrey French’s in people’s slam books under the category of “Couple of the Future,” and it upsets Elizabeth.  To make matters worse, Jeffrey and Olivia are spending a lot of time together because they’re working on a photo essay project.  When Cara sees them parked on the side of the road looking cozy, Elizabeth freaks out.  By the time Olivia and Jeffrey can explain the situation (she had something in her eye), Liz has taken off and won’t speak to either of them.

Jessica and Olivia figure out that Lila’s been writing Jeffrey and Olivia’s names in the slam books to try to break up Jeffrey and Elizabeth.  It seems she wants to get her own claws in him, and this was her way of getting to him.  After they discover her (admittedly awesome) ploy, they get everyone to write her name under a new category they dub “Class Sneak.”  She takes it in stride, though, and remains awesome while doing so.  Liz makes up with Jeffrey and Olivia.  All is well in the world.

The B-Plot involves Jessica’s growing interest in new boy A.J. Morgan.  She finds herself completely tongue-tied whenever she’s around him, and even though she’s one of the most flirtatious girls in school, he thinks she’s really shy, which he digs.  She vows to be the girl that he thinks she is and plays up that shyness, going so far as to try to gain an interest in poetry.  Liz worries that Jessica’s going too far to impress A.J., but we’ll have to wait for the next book in order to really delve into that.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “She felt a shiver inside.  If they could break up, anyone could.” (45)
  • “Elizabeth stopped laughing. ‘He doesn’t–Jessica, what does that mean?  How in the world is he supposed to like you if he doesn’t like flirtatious girls?'” (126)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Jessica gets over ten votes for “Biggest Flirt”
  • A.J. scored 28 points in the basketball game against Riverside High.
  • Jessica asks if Emily Dickinson or John Keats are any good at the whole poetry thing

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I mean, what do I say about this one?  I remember really liking this book when I was younger.  For some reason, the idea of slam books was appealing to me, even though the moral (hazy though it might be) is that slam books can be hurtful and we should use our powers for good, not evil.  Perhaps it was because the concept of a slam book fed into my preconceived notions of what high school would be like.  Once more, Sweet Valley messed with my perception of reality.

My high school didn’t do slam books (doesn’t it seem like kind of a middle-school thing to do?), but we did have “Most Likely To…” categories that seniors voted on which were then put into the yearbook.  Categories ranged from “Best Eyes” to “Best Ride” to “Most Desirable Date,” and I think most girls I hung around with secretly wanted to win a category, but we were pretty nerdy and pretty quiet and my graduating class had something like 450 students, so…most of our dreams were squashed pretty quickly.  I did, however, win a category in the yearbook: “Most Likely to Take Over the World.”  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  (I also swept the vote in two categories in the underground newspaper: “Most Likely to Scar Their Children for Life” and “Most Likely to Commit a Hate Crime.”  I feel like I should clarify that both of these were jokes and that the votes were fabricated.  Seriously.)  At any rate, all three of my categories were a far cry from the kinds of things that Jessica and Elizabeth were considered for.

The point I’m trying to make (and am failing at) is that the concept of slam books actually applies to high school life.  We’re a culture that likes to categorize things, and so while the concept of slam books working outside of a single group of friends is dubious at best, it’s still something worth considering in terms of the larger social structure.  In today’s society, slam books would be electronic, and they would probably be tied to bullying.  But the general idea is the same: girls use it as a tool to exert power and inflict psychological pressure on their peers.  What Lila did in her attempts to steal Jeffrey (in a completely meta way, I might add) was the ultimate expression of such power.

Just something to think about.

SVH #35: Out of Control

2 Oct

Estimated Time Elapsed: 2 weeks


Lately, Aaron Dallas has been blowing up at everyone over seemingly little things.  Everyone is getting fed up with his short temper and is questioning whether he’s going through something or he’s just a really big douche bag.  The only people who seem to be standing by him are his best friend, Jeffrey French, and his girlfriend, sophomore Heather Sanford.  Elizabeth doesn’t understand Jeffrey’s unfailing loyalty to Aaron and she thinks Heather is a total airhead.  This is as mean as readers have ever seen Elizabeth, because she’s flat-out rude to Heather, cutting her off, rolling her eyes, and doing cruel imitations of her in front of her friends.

Aaron’s behavior causes problems between Elizabeth and Jeffrey, who can’t seem to agree about what’s happening.  Jeffrey rationalizes that Aaron is acting out because his parents are going through a nasty divorce.  Elizabeth that while it’s terrible that he’s having trouble with his parents getting divorced, it’s no excuse for his behavior, especially after he snaps and hits a soccer teammate.  The coach warns him that another outburst will get him booted from the team.  This must be pre-zero-tolerance, because where I come from, one attack would be the end for any player.  Liz writes an article about the incident, knowing that she’s going to piss off Aaron and Jeffrey.  She’s staying true to her serious newspaper reporter duties, I guess.

When the article comes out, Aaron won’t speak to Liz.  Jeffrey’s pissed, too.  Only Heather seems to be on Elizabeth’s side, telling her that she thinks it might be the catalyst for Aaron to get help.  Liz realizes that she’s misjudged Heather and feels bad.  When Aaron and Elizabeth run into each other in the cafeteria, Jeffrey asks him to get over it, and Aaron freaks out and punches Jeffrey.  Heather confronts Aaron and begs him to get help.  After seeing the guidance counselor, who gives him the number of a therapist for him and his father, Aaron manages to get back on the soccer team just in time for the big game against Big Mesa, which SVH promptly wins.

The B-Plot is in many ways more interesting than the A-plot.  Jessica has decided that her new get-rich-quick plan involves selling Tofu-Glo products.  She holds a party at her house for all the Pi Beta Alpha girls and sells a ton of the stuff.  The only problem is, she promises a money-back guarantee on the stuff, and she doesn’t realize that the products need to be refrigerated, so when she starts getting complaints about the products smelling and doing awful things, she realizes she’s totally screwed.  She cries a lot and has to buy it all back.  The company won’t refund her money, and then she has to have it all hauled away by a trash collector.  Jessica laments how she’ll never be able to pay Elizabeth and her parents back until her dad tells her that he did some research and found out the company wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up, and so she’s going to get a settlement from a lawsuit.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘Oh, you poor thing,’ Elizabeth said, teasing her.  ‘Remember, you had your chance.’  When Jeffrey had first moved to town, Elizabeth concocted a scheme to fix Enid up with him.  The plan had backfired, but Enid hadn’t minded at all.” (11) [Blogger’s note: That’s not how I remember it, Liz.]

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • The Tofu-Glo products include Tofu-Shampoo, Soya-Soft, and Soya-Life Diet Supplement.  The idea that anyone would want to rub soybeans all over themselves amuses me greatly.
  • The ingredients list of the products include PABA, which is something that I was allergic to as a child.  I remember reading this and FREAKING OUT about the fact that my one allergy was included in a Sweet Valley High novel.  It’s the little things, you know.
  • Heather Sanford makes most of her own clothes and is totally fashionable, but she maintains her figure by drinking a lot of Diet Coke.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

The thing that has always stood out to me about this book is how completely awful Elizabeth is to Heather.  To say that it’s uncharacteristic is an understatement because of the sheer amount of hostility Elizabeth seems to hold for the girl.  Considering the fact that Elizabeth is usually kind to even the most pathetic (and often irritating) characters of Sweet Valley, it is especially jarring.  After all, she tried to be kind to Betsy Martin, a character whom I find completely antagonistic and irredeemable.  She prides herself on finding the good in people and being a patient and kind listener, but she won’t even give Heather a shot even though Heather is never anything but genuine and nice to her.

When she goes on double date with Heather and Aaron, she is irritated by Heather’s comments during the movie.  When Heather tries to talk to her about the film afterward, she snarks about how annoying it is that Heather only wants to talk about clothes and Aaron.  She prickles at the phrase “girl talk,” doesn’t listen when Heather talks, and is absolutely horrified when Heather speaks in baby talk to Aaron in order to calm him down.  While I agree that baby talk spoken earnestly is faintly embarrassing, what Elizabeth fails to see is how it’s Heather’s way of coping with Aaron’s temper.  Heather is embarrassed by it as well, but Aaron thinks it’s cute, and it’s more embarrassing to be dating an asshole who blows up at the smallest things and can’t let things go.

It’s only after Heather tells her that she agrees with her that Elizabeth thinks that maybe she misjudged her.  Elizabeth needed this validation in order to see the good in Heather?  I don’t accept that.  That’s bullshit, and it’s lazy writing.  Oftentimes I feel sympathetic to Elizabeth, but not this time.

SVH Super Edition: Winter Carnival

22 Sep

Estimated Time Elapsed: 2 weeks


It is, apparently, winter in Sweet Valley again.  Everyone at SVH is all atwitter about the upcoming winter carnival extravaganza being held at Mont Blanc, a ski resort.  The weekend-long festival will include a mock-winter Olympics, ice-skating, skiing, ping-pong tournaments, and lots of wholesome, hot-chocolate-drinking winter fun.

There’s a bunch of other shit going on, too, because the reader is bombarded with information in the first few chapters.  Jessica and Amy Sutton beat out Elizabeth and Enid for a trivia competition, Elizabeth got a runner-up prize in an essay-writing contest, and Jessica’s cheerleading squad has been nominated for the all-state competition.

Much of this is causing problems in Elizabeth’s and Jessica’s relationship.  Elizabeth feels like Jessica sort of cheated her way into the trivia contest, and she’s tired of Jessica not picking up her slack when it comes to household chores.  She internalizes all of this, though, and sulks about how she’s always pegged as the conservative twin.

Todd is coming to town for an awards banquet and also for the carnival, and he asks Liz to attend the awards dinner with him.  She says yes, but doesn’t tell Jeffrey, and when she finds out it’s on the same night as the opening party for the carnival, it causes problems.  Jeffrey gets mad that Liz has been sort of sneaky, and he tells her that he’ll wait for her at Las Palmas Canyon at 6, and if she doesn’t show he’ll assume the relationship is over, which is pretty much the dumbest thing I’ve heard in a while.  Jessica and Amy win the trivia contest and lose track of time, leaving Liz without a car and thus missing the meet up with Jeffrey.  Liz is, understandably, pretty pissed off.

Jessica tries to fix things by telling Todd that Liz really wants to go to the carnival party.  Todd tells Liz she shouldn’t feel obligated to go to the dinner, and she gets bummed because she figures he doesn’t want to hang out with her.  When Jess realizes that she’s not really helping, she forges a note from Liz to Jeffrey asking him to meet her at the lodge.  The problem is, she doesn’t have time to tell Liz because she and Amy miss the bus taking them to Mont Blanc.  They arrive just in time for Jess to pose as Liz, which would work if one of their classmates hadn’t told Liz what they saw.  Liz assumes that Jessica is moving in on Jeffrey (hey, there’s precedent), and she gets ready to go home.

Jessica tries to call Liz at home and explain, but Liz hangs up on her.  She’s pissed, goes to take a nap, and awakes when the police call her and tell her that Jessica has been in a car accident and is in the E.R.  Todd shows up, sensing the need for his trustworthiness, and takes her to the hospital.  Jessica is dead.  The next two weeks are, as one would expect, pretty awful.  When Enid has a small get-together at her house, Todd and Jeffrey fight over Liz, kind of.  Liz hears someone call her name (it sounds just like Jessica, or maybe herself…), and Liz wakes up?  What?

It was all a dream!  Everyone makes up and everyone goes back up to the lodge for the carnival.  Everyone has a lovely time in their privileged little world, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “And I’m going to take you home, where you have strict instructions to languish in a bubble bath and keep that soapy smell of yours.” (36)
  • “‘I’ve decided Daddy needs to watch his weight,’ she had confided…Mr. Wakefield was in excellent shape, and in fact, he could still beat Steven at tennis.  But Jessica had been adamant.  She’d been reading about the dangers of high-cholesterol levels in middle-aged men, and she was determined that the Wakefields should start eating salads at least two nights a week.” (39)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • This book sucked.  How’s that for some trivia?
  • Amy and Jessica have to go to the library to find out what the longest river in Africa is.  Seriously.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I don’t have a lot to say about this one.  There’s so much build up to the winter carnival and then so little time actually spent at the ski lodge that one feels more than a little cheated.  Everyone acts so stupid in the book that it’s hard to choose a side.  Elizabeth is self-righteous, Jessica is a sociopath, and Todd and Jeffrey act as plot points (and not very good ones, either).  The fact that Elizabeth and Jeffrey are supposed to have such a strong, solid relationship is undermined by the fact that the two of them seem to break up in EVERY book because of stupid misunderstandings and weird ultimatums.