Tag Archives: ridiculous transformations

SVH Super Edition: Falling for Lucas

4 Mar

fallingforlucas

Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 week

Summary/Overview:

It’s spring break and the twins are going on a ski trip to Colorado.  Along with them, Lila, Todd, Enid and Winston are all going (there are 16 fallinglucas2students and 2 chaperones in total).  Jessica and Lila are both committed to finding the cutest skiing outfits they can.  Todd is looking forward to some alone time with Liz, who keeps reminding them that there will be chaperones and also they will have roommates.  But Todd’s hormones must be on overdrive, because he tries to climb into Elizabeth’s bunk on the chartered bus before they even get to the resort.  Mr. Collins and Liz both freak out, and Todd shuffles back to his bunk.

Once they arrive at the ski resort, it’s clear that everyone has goals they want to meet on the trip.  Winston is not a good skiier and doesn’t want people to know; Enid is determined to hook up with a guy and buys a book to help her snag a hottie on the slopes; Lila & Jessica are in competition to find the cutest dude; and Todd is laser-focused on getting Liz alone in a hotel room.  I am already bored.

Jessica and Lila meet a super cute ski instructor named Lucas King and decide that they both want him.  They pretend to be really bad at skiing so he’ll pay attention to them.  Then they place a bet: whoever gets to kiss him first wins.  The loser has to ski down the most dangerous double black diamond run at the resort.  Jessica finagles an entire day’s worth of private lessons from him and Lila is pissed.  She demands to be let in on the lesson, and Jessica tells her what time it’s at only to cancel Lila’s wake-up call and sneak out when she’s still sleeping.  Lila gets back at her by going to a party thrown by Lucas without Jessica, and she ends up getting him to walk her back, where she kisses him under the window where Jessica is watching.  Jessica loses the bet but dumps snow on Lila’s head.

When Lucas finds out that Jessica is about to ski the hardest run, he rushes off to stop her, and Lila goes along, determined to keep Jessica from getting alone time with him.  Jessica and Lucas end up crashing into one another on the hill, and Lucas ends up with a sprained ankle while Jessica fractures hers.  She sidles up to Lucas in the lounge while Lila is skiing, and then Lila flips her lid on Jess in front of Lucas, who takes that moment to disappear.  He’s totally done with both of them.

While Lila and Jessica are fighting over the same boring dude, Enid is trying to get lucky on the slopes.  She keeps trying out advice from the book she bought, but it keeps attracting the wrong types of dudes.  WHO CARES.

Meanwhile, Todd convinces Winston to sleep elsewhere and gets Liz into his room.  They start making out, and she puts the brakes on their session only to find out his plan, complete with a “do not disturb” sign.  She’s pissed and ends up dumping a cold glass of water on his lap, which might be one of the coolest things she’s ever done.  Todd doesn’t get it, and he also doesn’t have the courtesy to tell Winston that Liz isn’t sleeping over, which pisses him off when he shows up the next morning sore from trying to sleep on a couch in the lounge.

Liz and Todd have a fight on the mountain and part ways.  There’s a storm brewing, and Liz watches as Todd skis past her into a different area.  Then there’s an avalanche and the two are separated! Liz thinks that he’s been trapped in the snow, and she runs to a nearby ski patrol station and tells them that she thinks Todd might be in danger.  The man, a dude named Dirk Roman, tells her they’ll send out a search party.

But Todd is fine, and has been brought to a cabin by an older woman named Cassandra Lee, who is very attractive, according to Todd.  He manages to reach the ski patrol station on a CB radio, but he doesn’t hear Liz and worries she might be trapped outside.  He loses contact with the patrol, and Cassandra convinces him that it’s too dark to do anything until the morning.  Todd gives her the bed and sleeps on the couch and wakes up in the middle of the night to find Cassandra kissing him.  This is seriously creepy.  He brushes her off and thinks about Liz.

Liz demands to stay the night in the patrol cabin even though it’s against the rules.  Dirk is very comforting.  He keeps bending rules for her, even allowing her to come on the rescue mission to find Todd.  They take a helicopter up to look for the cabin and finally find it.  When they clear the door and enter, Liz finds Todd in Cassandra’s embrace.  Liz storms off and when she’s back at the hotel, Dirk tries to comfort her by kissing her.  Todd walks in at that moment and is upset.  I DO NOT CARE.  It hardly matters because they make up at Winston’s second attempt at a “welcome back” party.

Enid hooks up with Lucas at the party and everyone goggles at it.  Enid feels like the punchline even when she gets the guy.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Jessica’s new ski outfit is purple spandex pants with a color-blocked pink and purple parka.
  • Enid is rooming with Liz; Todd is rooming with Winston, Lila is rooming with Jessica, and Olivia is rooming with Caroline Pearce.
  • Winston wears a shoe size 13. FYI.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “No, it wasn’t. Not exactly,” Elizabeth said, trying to be fair to her sister. “I don’t think that’s how she meant it. She made romance and love sound like one big, fun game.  The object is to have a great time. And to see who wins–the guy or the girl.” (27) [This is fucked.]
  • “You didn’t even ask me what I wanted last night! You just assumed that I would want whatever you wanted. Well, I didn’t! And right now I don’t want to talk.” (98)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

There are two major issues with this book, and they both deal with sex.  The first is obviously Todd’s desire to take things further with Elizabeth without actually talking about it, which is problematic in and of itself.  But it’s also totally tone-deaf.  This is a couple that discusses everything, and we are to believe that they haven’t talked about whether or not they’re ready to have sex?  I find it unrealistic that the furthest Liz and Todd have gone is making out, especially because neither is religious (I’m sure I’ve written about this before), but I find it even more ridiculous that he wouldn’t know how to talk about it with the Queen of Over-Analyzing.  It doesn’t make any sense, and it’s utterly ridiculous.

The second issue has to do with the portrayal of Cassandra, and her overt advances towards Todd.  It’s okay, if a little creepy, that she hits on him, but it’s another thing entirely to start making out with him while he’s asleep.  That is sexual assault, lady, on the way to rape town.  She sort of apologizes later for hitting on him, claiming she thought he was a “big boy,” but that doesn’t excuse making sexual advances while the other person was unconscious.  It is totally bonkers to me that this was included in the book as a thing that is not a big deal at all.  BONKERS.

SVH Magna Edition: Return of the Evil Twin

18 Feb

return twin

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3  weeks

Summary/Overview:

It’s Christmas time in Sweet Valley yet again, and the twins are excited about vacation.  Jessica and Elizabeth are working with some arbitrary inside twincharity group to raise funding for a new children’s wing at the Fowler Memorial Hospital, and they get the brilliant idea to host a New Year’s Eve party at the traveling carnival that will be in town over the holiday.  The owners of the carnival agree to donate all profits to the charity, which is super convenient to the plot.

To celebrate the start of the holiday, the entire gang throws a caroling party.  The group meets at Secca Lake for a bonfire before heading out to sing carols to the unsuspecting Sweet Valley citizens, but Jessica and Todd are both very late, and Elizabeth worries about them.  On his way to the lake, Todd’s car spins out after he sees something move across the road and he slams into a guardrail, fading into unconsciousness.  Jessica sees his car on the road as she approaches and jumps out, saving him just in time, as his car goes over the side of the cliff and blows up.  This is obviously big news, and Todd’s gratefulness for Jessica’s heroics lead him to start to have romantic feelings for her.  This is probably exacerbated by Liz’s completely irrational feelings of jealousy over Jessica saving her boyfriend’s life.  It doesn’t help that everyone wants to ask Jess about it, and the paper even runs their picture on the front page, calling Todd her boyfriend instead of Liz’s.

Things continue to go badly for Liz, who has started dreaming about Margo again, even though she’s totally dead, right?  Also, Todd and Jess are totally into telling their story about the harrowing experience near Secca Lake, and Liz and Ken both feel shunted aside.  Jessica and Liz argue a lot.  Jessica starts having nightmares about Margo.

Meanwhile, in Savannah, Georgia, a moody girl named Nora Chapelle has just lost her father.  Because her mother died years ago, this makes her an orphan.  This is especially true when her evil stepmother offers her $5o,ooo to disappear from her life.  She also lets the bomb drop that Nora had an identical twin sister who was so evil that they gave her up for adoption.  Nora takes off to New York to track her sister’s whereabouts and it isn’t long before she manages to trace Margo’s life from there to Ohio to Sweet Valley.  Despite providing the readers a solid recap of the first evil twin saga, this book also adds information about the ambulance carrying Margo’s body never reaching the hospital, and that it ended up in a river (Margo’s body wasn’t found).  Convinced it’s all the Wakefield twins’ fault, Nora hops a plane to L.A. to get revenge for her sister.  She books a room at the Sweet Valley Inn and starts spying on the Wakefields.

One night, she goes to visit the gravestone that a local teen shelter erected in Margo’s honor.  This makes no sense whatsoever, but neither does what comes next: Margo appears in the cemetary, and the girls realize that the other still exists.  Nora takes Margo back to her hotel room and cringes a lot because Margo is messy and Nora is pathologically clean.  Margo convinces Nora that the Wakefield twins’ lives are rightfully there, and it’s time to claim their dues.

Jessica and Liz make up, but then Margo and Nora mess with their heads one night at the most spectacularly attended screening of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Liz and Enid go, and Ken and Jessica go, but Nora, posing as Elizabeth, goes with Todd and makes out with him.  Liz and Enid see it and assume it’s Jessica, and Liz FREAKS OUT and screams at Jessica and Todd (separately, and later, instead of confronting them at the theater, which makes way more sense).  The twins stop speaking and go to the New Year’s Eve carnival at odds with one another yet again.

Meanwhile, Nora and Margo fight over who has to be Elizabeth once they take over for real. Margo tells Nora that she should be, since she’s so neat, but Nora also wants to be Jessica.  If this isn’t the most perfect encapsulation of the Liz/Jess dynamic, I don’t know what is.  At the carnival, Liz sulks and Jessica goes into the house of mirrors for a good spook.  After the carnival, Jessica goes home to sleep and Liz stays to clean up.  Nora realizes that Margo has left her to do her own spying and decides to go and kill Jessica before Margo can so that she can take over the twin’s life.  She sneaks into the Wakefield house, stabs the sleeping form of Jessica, and is nearly out the window when Liz walks in and sees it all happen.  Liz collapses onto Jessica and blacks out.  Nora takes off but is seen escaping by Alice and Ned on their way home from party.

The doctors can’t save Jessica, and it’s a few days later when they have a memorial service for Jessica at SVH.  Despite telling the detectives that she knows it was Margo, no one believes her.  When she’s standing in the auditorium, she suddenly realizes that Jessica is still alive and needs her help.  No one believes her about this, either.   She furiously works out the clues Jessica has sent her in dreams.  When the police come to question her again, she steals one of their guns and goes back to the school.

Nora is convinced she has to kill Margo so that she can take over the only remaining Wakefield twin’s life.  She becomes convinced that Margo’s hiding in the basement at SVH and goes there to kill her.  But it’s Jessica! Elizabeth arrives and points the gun at both girls, then makes a decision about which is which.  Nora spills the beans about how she’s not Margo, realizes that she killed her own sister and seems sad about it (even though she was prepared to do that again right here), and then cries.  The police come and arrest her, and all is well again.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Outfit alert: Jessica “borrows” Liz’s candy-striped sweater, white pants, and Christmas tree ornament earrings for the caroling party.
  • Liz and Ken go to see The Shining
  • According to Margo, she’s able to hold her breath for up to 3 minutes underwater

Memorable Quotes:

  • “I have a librarian friend–a former paramour of mine.” (75) [this just made me laugh because i’m a librarian]
  • “Elizabeth is such a prude, she makes me want to throw up.” (182)
  • “Do you know that in all this time Todd has never even managed to get Elizabeth out of her clothes? It’s positively sick!” (210)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

There’s something deeply unsettling to this reader about the idea of a father giving away one of his daughters to an adoption agency/foster care because of clear psychotic tendencies.  The family clearly has money, and it is astounding to me that they wouldn’t even consider psychiatric help before throwing in the towel on a toddler.  I’m choosing to ignore the idea that the Wakefield twins have not one but two doppelgangers, though.  I just can’t handle it.

My favorite part of this book is when Elizabeth steals a gun from the police and faces literally no repercussions.

SVH #92: She’s Not What She Seems

21 May

shesnotwhatsheseems

Estimated Elapsed Time: 5 weeks, tops

Summary/Overview:

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 #83: Steven’s Bride

21 Apr

steven's brideCan you say “Child Bride”?

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3-4 weeks

Summary/Overview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trivia/Fun Facts:

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

Memorable Quotes:

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

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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.

SVH #67: The Parent Plot

3 Mar

parentplot

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Ned and Alice are still separated, and the twins have very different ideas of what to do about that.  Both girls are working on their father’s bizarre campaign for mayor, and while doing so, they are also meddling in both their parents’ lives.  Jessica wants Ned and Alice to move on and start dating other people, and Elizabeth desperately wants them to get back together.

Elizabeth tries to set up schemes in which Ned and Alice are forced to interact.  She pretends to have a bad connection on the phone with Ned so he’ll call her back, and then has Alice answer.  Then, when that doesn’t work, she has Alice come along to the mall when she knows Ned is giving a political speech (why at the mall, though?).  That backfires, too.

Meanwhile, Jessica has decided that Ned should date his associate Amanda Mason.  But she’s engaged, which bums Jessica out.  Then she decides that Alice should date Mr. Collins, and arranges a parent-teacher conference between the two.  She’s thrilled when Mr. Collins asks Alice out to dinner at Chez Sam, but horrified when she learns that Ned is taking her and Elizabeth there that same night. OF COURSE they run into each other at the restaurant.  To their credit, Ned and Alice handle it really well, and actually the five of them have dinner together.  Then Alice and Mr. Collins go to a movie, and Ned is sad and drives the twins home.

That same night, Maria and Winston are out for a drive when she asks him to swing by the campaign office (where she’s been helping out) so she can pick up a textbook she left there.  When she’s inside the office, she overhears a phone conversation between Ned’s advisor, Mr. Knapp and some real estate developer.  It makes it sound like they framed Mr. Santelli and are trying to control Ned’s political speeches in an attempt to control him once in office.  This entire plot is so convoluted it hardly matters.  Anyway, she brings this information to Liz and one of the other volunteers.

They decide the only way to prove that Mr. Knapp is involved in shady business is to break into his office.  So Liz distracts a building security guard while Maria and this other guy, whose name I’ve already forgotten, go through Knapp’s office.  Liz runs upstairs to warn them that Knapp is on his way up, and the three hide in his closet, which is perfect, because they overhear another conversation which basically confirms that Knapp is a douchebag, framed Peter Santelli, and is working to control Ned.  They also see him hide a folder, which they promptly photocopy once he leaves.

Liz brings this information to Ned, who is like, “You are dumb.  This is not admissible in court, and what Maria heard is hearsay, so that’s out, too,” which I guess means that the ghostwriter of this one watches as many legal procedurals as I do.  But, whatever. I guess he gives the evidence to a detective, and then he makes a noble speech about corruption, pulls out of the race, and Mr. Knapp is arrested at that same rally.  Mr. Santelli, name newly cleared, steps back in as candidate and wins the election! Hooray!

Oh, and Alice and Ned get back together.  The fact that I forgot to mention that except as an afterthought tells you exactly how invested I am in that “love” story.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Elizabeth knows the name of the newspaper delivery man, and it is Tom.  I find this super creepy.
  • Awkwardly shoe-horned in literary parallel: Jessica’s English class is discussing Madame Bovary
  • Ramon’s cats are named Estrella and Maximillian
  • At Chez Sam, Elizabeth orders orange chicken, Jessica gets lobster and salad, and Ned has Caesar salad with

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Elizabeth went to her desk, deep in thought. Between worrying about her parents, trying to get her father elected, and wondering who was behind the Santelli scandal, she had quite a lot on her mind these days.” (8) [blogger’s note: don’t you ever think about normal things, like boys and carbohydrates and friend drama? JESUS CHRIST, LIZ]
  • “Her whole life was reduced to one concern: her parents.” (51)
  • “‘You know, that’s very interesting,’ Ramon said. ‘I really like being single, too. I can do what I want, go where I want. I know it sounds selfish, but I like not having to check in with anyone about what I’m doing. It’s just me and my cats.'” (98)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I guess my biggest issue here is not how completely sociopathic Jessica is in her quest to get her parents dating other people when it’s not even clear if they’re legally separated so much as it is the specific way the political aspects of this novel are handled.  I don’t expect much nuance (or any, really) from a Sweet Valley novel, but is it too much to ask for the plot to actually make sense?

This was glossed over in the recap because I try to keep them from being overly long, but the basic idea behind Knapp’s framing Peter Santelli was that Santelli didn’t want to bend to Knapp’s every wish.  Obviously, putting money in Santelli’s account to make it look like a bribe is illegal, and I’m not refuting that.  But if there was a bank receipt for it on Knapp’s end, there had to be one on the bank’s end, too, right?  This entire paragraph is a moron.  Why was there no “evidence” to convict or exonerate Santelli a few books back?

Setting aside that, Knapp’s entire purpose is sort of murky.  He and some other guy want to develop some land right on the oceanfront, and they believe that getting Ned to speak exclusively about the economic side of Sweet Valley is the way to see that through?  None of it makes any sense (this is me suspending disbelief over the fact that this entire election seems to have been run in about two months), especially when you consider that they could have done back-door dealings with members of the city council instead of trying to put a sock puppet in the mayor’s office.  Of course, this is giving the story too much credit: it might simply be that the publisher and ghostwriter wanted to stay away from anything resembling actual politics in this book.  (Though I have a sneaking suspicion that Ned is a democrat, based on his concerns about clean water and air and the homeless population.)

Whatever.  We’re done with this entire election and the stupid Wakefield separation.  Onto other boring things!

Super Star: Bruce’s Story

26 Feb

bruce

Estimated Elapsed Time: 6 long, grueling weeks.

Summary/Overview:

Apologies in advance for length: it’s a longer book and the story is ridiculously convoluted. 

Bruce and Roger are nervously awaiting the arrival of their grandfather, who is seventy but fairly spry.  He also still holds the family purse strings, I guess, because the entire family is on edge about this visit, which is six weeks long.  That’s not a visit so much as an internment, but okay.  At any rate, the family is throwing a 70th birthday bash for him, too.

After the party, Grandpa Patman announces that he’s going to host a contest for Roger and Bruce over the next four weeks while Mr. and Mrs. Patman are vacationing in Japan, the prize being control of the Patman empire.  OKAY THEN.  He gives each boy two thousand dollars in cash and tells them to invest it wisely.  Then he insists that both boys give up their credit cards and checkbooks for the month.  I don’t get it–is it an investment competition or a frugal-living one?  It can’t be both.  Bruce is horrified that a future he was once secure in is now up in the air and buckles down to win the thing.  Roger seems much less sure about this contest, and rightfully so, because it is LITERALLY THE DUMBEST THING EVER.

Bruce immediately buys concert tickets, gets in an expensive fender-bender, and then gambles away nearly all of his money.  He doesn’t seem to get the “investing” part of the contest.  Alternatively, Roger immediately invests $1500 dollars in some stocks for Robotech, a company that’s rising due to rumors of a takeover.  His stock soars for a while, and he feels invincible.  But then, surprise, it crashes, and he loses seven hundred dollars.

Meanwhile, Bruce is pursuing fellow hot senior Tracy Atkins, whose flattered but unsure she and Bruce have anything in common.  She prefers to spend her time sewing clothes and taking care of her little brother, who has a muscular disorder and goes to the Nicholson school, a special place for kids with disabilities.

BUT WAIT: the school is in dire financial straits and needs to raise $10,000 dollars or it faces closure.  She’s working with some other kids at Sweet Valley to raise money for the school.  Enter Harbor Days, a two-Saturday-long event that’s sort of like a carnival for vendors to sell food and goods and keep part of the profits while donating the rest to the school.  Bruce asks to help, in hopes of both impressing Tracy and also earning back the money he’s wasted.  Tracy suggests he write “The Bruce Patman Guide to Dating” and sell that [blogger’s note: I officially hope these two end up together because they are both INSANE].

Anyway, Bruce sabotages Roger’s first attempt at the Harbor Days sale by switching out his paint for water-soluble stuff and staging a water balloon fight near the painted hats so the colors run.  His dating guide sells like hot cakes, though, and he plans to secretly pocket all the money.  Roger totally knows it was Bruce and is super pissed, but whatever.  He plans to sell enlarged photos of people at the second day of the festival, and he swears his friend Lisa not to tell anyone.

Lisa, of course, tells Tracy, who tells Bruce.  But then Tracy gets suspicious of Bruce and follows him home, where she sees him about to tamper with the photo paper.  She’s mad, so she cries?  And runs away?  At any rate, she warns Roger, who confronts Bruce, who tells him that he thought about doing it but didn’t actually do it.  Whatever, I’m bored.

The second day of Harbor Days goes well, and Bruce sells homemade ice cream based on a recipe of Tracy’s grandma, even though the two are no longer on speaking terms.  Roger sells his photos.  The event raises just over three grand, which is way short of their projected fundraising efforts.  Everyone is sad, but then they get an anonymous donation and the school is saved! Hooray!

Grandpa Patman throws ANOTHER party to welcome back Mr. and Mrs. Patman and also to announce the winner of his STUPID contest.  When he goes to open both envelopes, though, he finds them empty, and he is LIVID.  Then Bruce and Roger tell their story about how they learned a valuable lesson on competition and family and gave all their money to the SAVE charity.  Whatever, they could have just donated that four grand at the start and saved me 200 pages.

Everyone wins!

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • The Patman’s maids (one of?) is named Miranda.
  • Grandfather Patman’s two mottos: “Get rich and work hard.” What a charmer!
  • Grandfather Patman’s party has a Latin-American band (I’m not sure what that means) and Latin-American-themed food. Why?  WHY?
  • Tracy’s brother has some sort of “genetic muscular disorder” that is never named but referred to as such several times. WEIRD.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Filled with contentment, Bruce settled back in his chair.  For just a minute, he was reminded that there was nothing better in the whole world than being Bruce Patman. Here he was, still in high school, and he could have anything he wanted.” (14)
  • “He couldn’t believe his ears.  Didn’t Tracy realize this was a dream of an invitation? From the modest look of the Atkinses’ home, she couldn’t be used to being offered fifty-dollar concert tickets.” (78)
  • “Put that in the Bruce Patman Guide to Dating, Bruce thought. Staying friends with a girl you used to date is definitely cool.” (208) YOU WILL NEVER SEE THIS GIRL AGAIN

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I had never read this one, because the only person who interests me less than Bruce Patman when it comes to a Super Star book all about them is Enid (I’m dreading that one, let me tell you).  After having read this one, I feel fairly confident in saying this: Bruce Patman is a total sociopath.

Setting aside the fact that this novel’s central premise–a financial competition between two seventeen-year-olds to see who will inherit the family business YEARS FROM NOW–is so skull-crushingly STUPID that I can’t believe I read the entire thing, let alone recapped it in detail, you’re still left with the fact that everyone in the world of Sweet Valley is completely off their rockers.

Grandpa Patman is nuts.  Mr. and Mrs. Patman are either clueless or cruel.  Bruce literally displays most of the criteria of someone with antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy).  Roger is a doormat.  All of these people blow, and yet this book goes on at length about them, and we are supposed to remain engaged.

Blech.

Spoilers for Sweet Valley Confidential: One thing that I couldn’t stop thinking about the entire way through this book was that Bruce ends up with Elizabeth.  There are so many things about the SVC book that make me angry (most of them have to do with how little respect Pascal seems to have for the fans), but this is one of the things I can’t let go of.  Bruce is the literal worst, and no amount of “growing up” would erase what a terrible fucking human being he is.

Whatever.  We’re on to SVH #66: Who’s to Blame?