Tag Archives: oh the melodrama

SVH #109: Double-Crossed

25 Jul


Estimated Elapsed Time:  8 weeks, for whatever reason.


The day after the wedding, Jessica has escaped to live at Lila’s until the hubbub dies down.  Elizabeth calls to warn Jess that her parents want to ship her off to boarding school in Washington state, but Jess isn’t worried.  She meets Jeremy and he proposes to her using the sapphire ring she loved way back when.  He tells her to keep their engagement a secret until at least after he returns from a trip out of the country.  Jessica agrees, albeit reluctantly.

Back at the Wakefield house, Elizabeth tries to console Sue, who is acting heartbroken.  Sue tells her that her dead mother never liked Jeremy, and now she knows why.  Sue says her mother cut her out of the will, and that as a result, Sue has lost out on a TON of money that is news to literally everyone.  Except, then it turns out that Sue’s mother’s will had “stipulations” and now that Sue didn’t marry Jeremy, she gets the inheritance after all.  In a series of paragraphs that make absolutely no sense, we learn (through Elizabeth’s eavesdropping), that: Sue gets the money if Sue stays away from Jeremy for at least two months.  If not, Alice gets the money (WTF) to do with what she sees fit.

Jessica drives Jeremy to the airport for his trip to Costa Rica, but he won’t let her stay until his plane lifts off. He also can’t give her the full address of where he’s staying.  Probably because he’s not, you know, actually going to Costa Rica, but whatever.  Jessica cries about how much she’ll miss him.  Meanwhile, Sue attempts suicide by taking a bunch of pills and having her stomach pumped.

It takes nearly two weeks, but Jessica lets it slip to Lila that she’s engaged, and within seconds, the entire school knows.  When Liz finds out, she cries a lot about how Jessica is going to leave her forever.  Jessica says she won’t.  Then she tells Liz she’s moving back home even though Sue is still living there.  Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield tell Jessica they want her to stay away from Jeremy for about 6 months, and she tells them that will be hard to do since they’re engaged.  Obviously Ma and Pa Wakefield freak out, but Jess remains calm.

Later, Liz tells Jess about the money situation, and Jess can’t believe when Liz suggests that Jeremy might be a gold digger.  She continues to hold fast to the idea that it is True Love between her and Jeremy, despite the fact that she can never get ahold of him and he seems to only call in the middle of the night.  Jeremy promises he’ll be back in time for the Project Nature Halloween party, which Jessica promptly invites the entire school to.

We get snippets of Sue talking on the phone to someone and generally acting like she doesn’t have a care in the world.  She admits that her suicide attempt was faked. Okay.  She also admits to Liz that she was lying about having the same rare blood disease that her mother had.  OKAY.

When Principal Cooper announces a new initiative that places girls in single-sex math classes, Liz FREAKS OUT because it’s the most sexist thing she’s ever heard of, despite the fact that there’s research that supports that girls in co-ed classes fall behind their male peers by like 3rd grade or something. But then she starts taking the math class and is amazed that the research backs up the results: all the girls are doing way better in math, after like a day or something.

Project Nature throws a Halloween party and Jeremy is finally back in town for it.  He’s distracted, though, and Jessica starts to worry.  She goes outside to find him and discovers that he and Sue are totally making out.  She breaks up with him and storms out.

The B-Plot involves Lila secretly enrolling Robby in a business class at the university so he can become rich or something.  He gets mad and they break up.  He comes to apologize and tells her he actually started taking the class, plus a life drawing class. When Lila realizes that means he’s looking at naked women, they break up again.  Then they get back together.

Also, Todd grows a mustache and Liz is super, super turned off by it.  They fight, they break up, he shaves, they get back together.

The book ends with Jeremy showing up at the Wakefields’ looking “ashen” to announce that Sue has disappeared.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Both Todd and Winston get their hair cut at a place called Rigoberto’s
  • Sue’s mother’s family invented a kind of frozen dinner and that’s why they’re Oprah-rich.
  • Sue’s psychiatrist prescribes tranquilizers for Sue’s “difficult time.” Jesus Christ!
  • Todd apparently has a part-time job? Doing what?
  • Ned had a soul patch when he was younger.
  • Apparently they’re back in school, despite there being no fanfare about this happening.  The timeline is FUCKED.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “It was going to absolutely kill her to keep this to herself until Jeremy returned.  But she had promised him. And for the first time in her life, it seemed very important that she keep a promise.” (42)
  • “‘We’re not just family, Liz. We’re twin. We’re two halves of the same person,’ Jessica said sincerely. ‘We always have to be together. I couldn’t be happy without you.'” (73)
  • “‘That sounds like a lot of fun,’ Amy said, her face brightening.  ‘We can start spreading the word. It’ll be the first party anyone’s had so far this year.'” (130) THAT IS A LIE.

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

The first thing I noticed about this one was that the tone was different than previous books and that the characters speak differently.  My guess: we have a new group of ghost writers, but who knows, really?

The second thing has to do with how dumb the legal provisions are in Sue’s mother’s will.  It doesn’t make sense for the funds to go to Alice, a woman she doesn’t seem to have had much contact with in the past twenty years or so.  It makes even LESS sense for the will to stipulate that Sue can inherit the fortune if she stays away from Jeremy for 60 days.  Like, what the hell?  Why that period of time?  WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL?

Also, they’re back in school again but are still sixteen and still juniors.  I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but it does.  Like, a lot.

SVH #92: She’s Not What She Seems

21 May


Estimated Elapsed Time: 5 weeks, tops


Sweet Valley High’s theater is putting on a production of Macbeth, and Jessica is determined to play the lead (kind of?) of Lady Macbeth.  She sacrifices time with friends and with Sam to prepare for the auditions, and she totally knocks each round out of the park.  Even Lila, who is a very good actress as well, doesn’t stand a chance in the shadow of Jessica.  It helps that the shy, quiet new girl Paula Perrine has been helping Jessica get ready.  She helps her run lines and feeds her ego to a creepy, bizarre degree.  Jessica nabs the lead, obviously, and her opposite is Bill Chase.  Lila gets cast as one of the witches.  After Jessica encourages her to do so, Paula tries out for the role of Lady Macbeth’s gentlewoman and gets it.

From there, she starts hanging out with the gang more.  After a makeover from Jessica, she really comes out of her shell, flirting with the assistant director and generally grabbing the attention of Jessica’s friends.  Jessica starts to feel uneasy about it, but both she and Liz (and everyone else) bought her sob story about her dead mother and abusive, alcoholic father, so they mostly feel sorry for her.

As the days go by, Jessica becomes increasingly paranoid about Paula and her motivations.  She frames situations so Jessica blows up at her because Paula didn’t do something she promised and makes herself look like total victim while Jessica looks like an asshole.  This isn’t hard, as Jessica is an asshole, but Paula is also a master manipulator.  She also starts cutting out Jessica from activities with the friend group.  Then, when Jennifer Mitchell gets mono and has to drop out as Jessica’s understudy, Paula steps up and doesn’t actually tell Jessica.  She’s also taken to wearing much better clothes and makeup at school, but still dresses way down when she and Jessica rehearse privately.

Things come to a head the night of the play’s opening, when Paula calls Jessica during a thunderstorm, crying about her alcoholic father and asking if Jessica can come get her from Cold Springs.  Jessica obliges, and it doesn’t take her long to realize she’s being played in a major way.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth figures out that Paula has been lying about her parents the entire time just before the play starts, with Paula set to go on in Jessica’s absence.

At Lila’s cast party that night, Jessica confronts Paula in front of everyone, and all her friends applaud after Paula leaves, still pretty smug about her performance.  The next day, at the Wakefield’s pool party, Paula shows up, still smug and positively delusional, and when she doesn’t receive the warm welcome she expects, she turns to leave, falling into the pool.  She storms off.  The world makes sense again.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Plot convenience: Steven is taking a Shakespeare class at college and is full of factoids about the play
  • Jessica likes strawberry milkshakes from Casey’s
  • School let out early because of the play’s opening night performance. What an institution of learning!
  • Luke Perry gets a mention.  Yikes.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘I don’t want to discourage you, Annie,’ said Jessica, ‘but you ought to be more realistic. You don’t have a chance at playing Lady Macbeth. Not with me trying out.'” (10)
  • “‘Oh yes,’ said Paula, almost in a whisper. ‘Everyone knows who all of you are.'” (32) [Blogger’s note: How is this not the creepiest thing they’ve ever seen?]
  • “It’s pouring outside, Prince Albert. That’s got to be bad luck on opening night. It never rains in Sweet Valley; it must be the Macbeth curse.” (121)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

There are a lot of things about this one that I actually really like.  For one, I was once in Macbeth, and so the play is near and dear to my heart.  But I also remember really liking this one as a kid, probably because it featured acting (my favorite thing) and crazy single white female shenanigans (another great thing).  As an adult, I actually still found this one pretty compelling, if not a little ridiculous.  There are several things that don’t work for me here:

Paula is a total creeper from page one, and I have a hard time that people wouldn’t get the heebie-jeebies from her.  She lays it on so thick that it’s impossible not to feel like something is off about her, and while the Sweet Valley kids have proven themselves to be the dumbest, densest teens around time and time again, it still feels like a little much.

Part of this has to do with the exchange Jessica has with Sam on page 104:

“Jessica, I don’t know what’s wrong with you lately…But you seem to go off the deep end whenever Paula’s involved…It’s not like you to be so paranoid.”

“Sam,” Jessica said, trying to stay calm, “I am not paranoid. But Paula is trying to sabotage me somehow. You’ve got to believe me!”

The thing is, if Sam knows her as well as we’re supposed to believe, he would know it’s not like her to be so crazy paranoid about Paula.  It’s weird to me that she’d be able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes like that.  Eh, whatever.  Sweet Valley, am I right?

The other thing that stood out to me was that when Jessica gets the call from Paula saying she needs rescuing, there’s a clap of thunder on Jessica and on Paula’s end.  If she’s in Silver Springs, you idiot, you would not hear the same clap of thunder miles and miles away.  Whatever. I’m probably overthinking it.

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 #37: Rumors

6 Oct

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks


Susan Stewart has a pretty good life in Sweet Valley.  She’s very pretty, has nice clothes, and a comfortable life living with her Aunt Helen.  Even though she’s never known who her parents are, she’s been promised a reveal on her 18th birthday.  Not knowing hasn’t hurt her social life–if anything, it’s created a sort of mystique around her–and her wealthy boyfriend Gordon Stoddard seems to think she’s someone of importance when he asks her to the incredibly exclusive Bridgewater Ball.

Lila Fowler will attend the ball too, but she doesn’t have a date yet, so she decides to start a rumor about Susan’s parentage, telling everyone that Susan’s mother has been in a hospital for the criminally insane.  Apparently in Sweet Valley, mental illness is akin to being a murderer and child molester anywhere else in the world, because people freak out about it.  Susan loses friends left and right for no apparent reason, and when Gordon tells her he’s uninviting her to the ball, she begs to know why.  He tells her he can’t be associated with someone whose mother is totes crazy.

Meanwhile, Susan’s mother (who is really Aunt Helen) angsts about what to do. She knows that Susan is hurting, but her own shame about Susan’s conception hinders her from admitting the truth.  Apparently she got pregnant by a man who couldn’t marry her due to his career, and the shame of that has forced her to keep up a facade about being Susan’s guardian.  This angsting is interrupted by Jackson Croft, famous movie director, knocking on the door and asking to see his daughter.  When Susan arrives home, the entire story comes tumbling out in one of the most MELODRAMATIC scenes ever.

Jackson Croft is holding an open casting call for his new movie, and Liz, Enid, and Jessica go for varying reasons.  Jessica is sure she’s right for the role, and Liz is hoping to score an interview about his donations to SADD (as a result of his son being killed by a drunk driver).  At the interview/casting call, Jackson reveals that he’s Susan’s father, and her stock goes way up again.  Gordon tries to grovel and she rejects him.  This is followed up by Lila dumping a soda on his head as well.  Not a great day to be Gordon, I guess.  Allen Walters and Susan head off into the sunset, because Allen always liked her just for being her.

The B Plot has to do with Jessica suspecting that Alice Wakefield is pregnant.  There’s a bunch of small signs, like arguing with Ned about babies, Alice having cravings for pistachio ice cream, and finding baby clothes in the closet.  Jessica convinces Liz and Steve, and the three of them plot unnecessarily about how to get Ma and Pa Wakefield to confess.  This plot goes on for entirely too long until we find out that Alice isn’t pregnant; she and Ned have just been discussing whether or not they could leave the twins alone for a month while they take an extended vacation.  A month?  Really?

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘What a drag,’ Lila drawled, looking around her. ‘That’s the problem with morning classes–you have less time to get the work from someone else first.'” (15)
  • “Gross, she thought with a suppressed shudder.  She didn’t even like the idea of someone in her forties having a baby.  Mrs. Wakefield was that old.” (24)
  • “A teenage girl had enough trouble finding out what she was without the extra burden of not knowing who she was.” (117) [Blogger’s note: Huh?]

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Gordon’s parents are named Binky and Farley.  This is (unintentionally?) hilarious.
  • Bridgewater is apparently about 20 miles from Sweet Valley and is full of wealthy people.
  • Jessica and Lila are taking health with a teacher named Ms. Rice
  • The ghostwriter kept adding weird exposition, like “Mr. Stoddard, a florid-faced senior vice president at West Coast OilCam Corporation said” (27).  Do we really need all that?  Isn’t it a bit…clunky?

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

While choosing to ignore the total shit that Lila is in this book, I instead want to focus on the complete contrivance of the central plot.  The book was first published in 1987.  If Susan is 16, then she was born in 1971.  We’re supposed to believe that the shame of having a child out of wedlock was so severe that Helen Reister decided that pretending she was simply Susan’s guardian was a better alternative than the truth?  Really?

At one point, Susan fantasizes about her past: “Had Mrs. Reister been the trusted servant of some rich, unmarried girl who got into trouble?  Or maybe Susan was the product of a tragic love affair, entrusted to Mrs. Reister until the truth could be revealed” (38).  These kinds of plots are straight out of a romance novel, and while I can see a sixteen-year-old girl thinking about these things, I assume that they’re hardly serious conclusions to draw about one’s conception.

The shock of finding out her real parentage comes in the most dramatic fashion.  Susan walks in to find Jackson Croft sitting in her living room with Aunt Helen, and then he tells her that he’s her father.  She is incredulous, and even after he announces that he’s her father, she’s unclear about who actually gave birth to her: “The auburn hair.  The large brown eyes.  The finely molded cheekbones. How could she have been so blind?  All the years of waiting and hoping and wondering, and her mother had been there all the time!” (134).  All I can think about after this reveal is that Susan is going to end up in some seriously costly family therapy.

One more thing: I’m really tired of the completely vapid, one-dimensional characters we’re being treated to in these books that focus on “friends” of the twins.  In the last book we had the completely narcissistic and long-winded Peter DeHaven, and in this one we had the cardboard piece of shit known as Gordon Stoddard.  A little depth wouldn’t kill you, SVH ghostwriters.