Tag Archives: school play or talent show

SVH #124: Meet Me at Midnight

25 Mar

meet me midnight

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks?


Picking up right where we left off, Todd greets Elizabeth with a huge hug, completely oblivious to the fact that she looks guilty as hell and is still holding Joey’s hand.  He’s planning on staying with Winston because it’s been a whole week and he can’t live without Elizabeth.  He doesn’t notice the fact that Liz is not into this at all.  Joey tells Liz that it’s clear she’s not in love with Todd and tells her to cut him loose.  Liz agrees but backs out when it comes time to do so, telling herself she’ll just keep her summer fling a secret.  This will end well.  But Nicole tells Liz that she’ll tell Todd and blackmails her into breaking up with Joey so she can date him.

Meanwhile, Jessica nabs the lead in the camp play (shouldn’t this be for the, um, campers?).  She’s stoked about this until she gets a letter from Paul, who tells her he doesn’t want to see her again.  He calls her a dumb blonde and Jessica is pissed but sees it as a challenge, especially after she finds out that he had his heart broken by another counselor the year before and has sworn off those cheating, flighty camp counselors for his entire life.  THEY ARE ALL ALIKE.  Jessica calls him out and he tells her he’ll date her just to prove he isn’t afraid of women.  What a catch.

Apparently Jessica thinks he is the cat’s pajamas because she does stupid stuff like stealing the camp owner’s car to sneak into town to see Paul.  Of course she gets caught returning it and can’t risk sneaking off again, so she sends him a letter telling him to meet her later.  Do these people not have access to phones?  She ends up going into town to meet Joey on the day of the play and misses her own performance. Liz steps in for her and crushes it.  Joey comes up to Liz after and kisses her, telling her he knew it was her all along.  So that’s back on.

In other news, Winston is moping over the letters his girlfriend Maria (not to be confused with Maria SLATER) who is gushing over her experiences at her grandmother’s ranch and the fieldhand she’s met there.  Winston is sure she’s cheating on him with this rando cowboy, so Todd and Aaron get him gussied up as a cowboy so he can learn to ride horses or whatever and impress her when he sees her.  But he also starts dealing with a 15-year-old camper named Lara who “looks old for her age” and is totally hot to trot with Winston.  They make out a lot because whatever happens in Montana stays in Montana.  Then Winston gets a letter from Maria that includes a picture of the field hand and he’s an old dude who she is definitely not into.


Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Lila is still dating that dude but I don’t care.
  • Lara wears a burnt-orange baby doll dress to seduce Winston and that is the single best moment in the entire book.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “She was attracted to someone else. She had to break up with Todd.  Just the thought made her feel like the most disloyal girlfriend on earth.” (54)
  • “As Winston smoothed the lotion on her delicate skin, he bit his lip.  It was hard to remember that Lara was just a camper.” (104)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis: 

I cannot believe there’s still another book in this mini-series.  I know I’ve hated books before in the series, but something about this story is just slowly killing me with it’s complete banality.  Like, who the fuck cares about any of this?  I sure as hell don’t.  I don’t even get the sense that the characters in the book do.  The fact that they felt the need to stretch this paper-thin story across three books is boggling to the mind.

Two things bothered me about this book, though: Elizabeth’s weird mental gymnastics around her own cheating and Paul’s obvious misogyny.  It’s weird that the book frame’s Elizabeth’s guilt over having feelings for someone else as this terrible thing, because it is perfectly natural and happens all the time (in real life and in these books).  This is not the first time she’s cheated on Todd.  It’s like the 500th time, so I’m not sure why we’re supposed to be so scandalized by it.

But also, Paul’s whole “all women are alike/I’m not afraid of them” bullshit is tired, gross, and worrisome.  Are we supposed to be into the idea that Jessica has the tenacity and wherewithal to break him down into liking her?  Girl, throw that fish back.  There are plenty more out there!

SVH #123: Elizabeth’s Rival

11 Mar


Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 week


It’s summer vacation in Sweet Valley YET AGAIN, and Jessica and Elizabeth, along with Lila for some reason, are about to head off to Montana for a month long gig as junior counselors at a performing arts camp.  Liz is excited because one of her best friends from middle school, Maria Slater, is moving back to Sweet Valley and MIRACULOUSLY also joining the fun as a JC at the camp in Montana.  Jessica’s excited because she’s sure it’s her chance to finally become famous after being discovered.  She also makes a vow that it’s a summer with no boys, because she’s back to being sad about the death of Christian.  Lila hopes to only meet dudes, so the girls are at odds off the bat.

Things move along at a nice clip.  Within minutes of arriving, Liz has met Joey Mason, a super cute counselor who leads the acting workshops.  She’s attracted to him immediately.  Jessica starts to tire of Lila’s constant whining and wonders if she’ll manage to last the month listening to her complain.  When Maria shows up, Liz is overjoyed and then horrified when she realizes that Maria’s new best friend, Nicole Banes, is a total snot whom Elizabeth hates immediately.

Although Liz thinks that there must be something redeeming about Nicole since she’s Maria’s best friend, she plays like a total parody of a villain. She hides her own diary under Liz’s mattress and then accuses her of stealing it, then she steals the disk Liz has saved her script for the camp play on and passes it off as her own.  It seems that no one believes Liz, and it’s also clear that Joey is totally favoring Nicole over Liz.  It isn’t until Jessica accidentally sees evidence of Nicole taunting Liz about the play on camera (one of her campers is a little filmmaker) that she realizes what’s going on.  She shows it to the whole camp and Liz not only wins back Maria’s friendship but also the affection of Joey, who is now totally into Liz.  She tells him that she and Todd are in an open relationship, which backfires when Todd shows up at the camp.

Meanwhile, Lila falls for a guy named Bo, who comes off as a brave adventurer.  Lila tries to pretend she’s one, too, but is confused by how cowardly Bo actually seems to be.  Finally he comes clean to her: he’s actually the son of a millionaire.  They have tons in common! They kiss!

Jessica reluctantly falls for Paul, the older brother of one of her campers.  I AM SO BORED AND THERE ARE TWO MORE BOOKS IN THIS MINI-SERIES.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • According to this book, Robbie Goodman moved away to attend art school.  Did we know this? I literally can’t remember.
  • Jessica’s in charge of the dance classes, Liz is put on sailing duty, and Lila’s got arts and crafts covered.
  • Lila wears a periwinkle blue raw-silk romper with pearl buttons for her first day as a counselor, because of course she does.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Now that we’re both wet, come here and give me a hug!” The girls hugged for a long time, rocking side to side. (39)
  • Do I look like the kind of girl who would cheat on her boyfriend? she asked her reflection. No, she answered herself. (56) [Are you fucking kidding me?]

A (Totally Unqualified) Analysis:

I don’t know, haven’t we already done the camp thing to death already?  Lila and Jessica were counselors at Lila’s uncle’s resort that one time, and all of these people worked as JCs with overly-precocious kids in the far-superior Todd’s Story.  So yeah, I’m totally over the camp counselor thing they have going on.

What’s also distressing is that there isn’t even enough story here to sustain the 200-page book, let alone 2 more books.  It just doesn’t make any sense, and it isn’t fun.  UGH.

Also, what’s up with Nicole?  Why is she so terrible?  Why doesn’t she have any actual motivations?  How is it so completely out of the realm of possibility that anyone could hate Liz for an actual, legitimate reason?  I hate Liz and I like to think my reasons are wholly rational and air-tight.

SVH #104: Love and Death in London

25 Jun


Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 week


The twins are on summer vacation AGAIN and are heading to London to intern at a newspaper there.  You know, because it went so well for them the last time.  Upon arriving at their hostel, a place for international students that all the same seems to house quite a few Brits, the twins meet spunky Emily, an Australian, and their roommates, quiet Lina Smith and snobby Portia.  When they go to tea, they realize that Rene Glize is staying there (small world?), and he totally hits on Elizabeth.

The first day on the job at the newspaper, the girls are assigned to the society beat and are super disappointed that they don’t get to cover the exciting news, like the murder of a prominent doctor that has just occurred.  On the way to a story about a missing dog, the twins sneak onto the crime scene of the murder and see the dead body, whose throat has been ripped out.  Then they go cover the story about Poo-Poo, the missing dog, and laugh about the clumsy detective, Sergeant Bumpo, in charge of the case.  When they get back to the newspaper, Liz works on the write-up of Poo-Poo and talks to quiet, cute Luke Shepherd, who then takes her out to a pub for a sandwich and some googly-eyes.

Meanwhile, Jessica goes back out to cover a story about a missing fur coat at Lady Pembroke’s mansion.  While there, she meets Robert, the super handsome son of the estate.  They have tea, he asks her out.  She’s already in love.

The twins are startled to discover that the murder of the doctor, which should be front-page news, is buried in the back of the paper.  Then, when they discuss who the mysterious men standing over the body were, Jessica realizes that one of them was Lord Pembroke, Robert’s father.  When they find out that the Pembrokes own the London Journal, Liz is suspicious.

The girls decide to sneak out and go dancing with other tenants at the HIS.  Lina, Liz, Jess, and a bunch of other people sneak out after curfew and go dancing at Mondo, a club.  When they spot Princess Gloria, sister to missing Princess Eliana, Lina looks deathly pale and says she needs to leave.  Liz and Lina walk home and get lost on the way.  They encounter the mangled body of Poo-Poo.  It’s throat has been ripped out.

The next day at the paper, Lucy, the writer of the buried piece on the doctor, quits in a rage, accusing the paper of a cover-up.  Jessica and Elizabeth continue to work the Bumpo beat.  Liz and Luke go sightseeing, and she loses track of time and stands up Rene, whom she had accepted a date with.  He’s pissed about it.  Jessica continues to date Robert Pembroke, Jr.

Liz and Luke continue to investigate the murders and discover that there are many. They bring the information to Lucy, who confirms their suspicions: there’s a serial killer on the loose, and someone is downplaying it.  Luke is convinced it’s the work of werewolves.  He’s straight crazy, but Liz doesn’t see that.

The twins are invited to Portia’s play opening, and they’re amazed to see that she’s an incredible actress.  In fact, she’s so good that they realize she was in character the entire time she’s known them.  After the show, they have a heart-t0-heart with her where she tells them that she auditioned under a fake name so she wouldn’t be accused of nepotism (her father is a famous actor) and that she had to stay in character for her art.  Liz also discovers that Lina is the missing princess, Eliana, but promises not to say anything to anyone.

The twins and Luke head off to Robert Pembroke’s family’s estate in the country for the weekend.  While there, a butler mentions that a bunch of sheep have been murdered.  Liz doesn’t trust Robert or his family, but whatever. The first night, Liz has a nightmare about the full moon and wakes in a straight panic.  She runs to Jessica’s room and finds her dead body on the bed.  CLIFFHANGER.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Pop culture mentions: An American Werewolf in London, Lois Lane
  • Portia has a role in a play called A Common Man.
  • Robert went to Eaton

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘Remember what a blast we had interning for the Sweet Valley News? And that was just our local paper, ten minutes from home.'” (2)
  • “Jessica shook her head. ‘Still…two new suitors in twenty-four hours, Liz?’ she teased. ‘I’d say that’s moving pretty fast for somebody who’s not looking for romance. Poor, poor Todd!'” (67)
  • “She’d told Todd just about everything that had happened to her since she’d arrived in London except for the episodes involving Rene and Luke. I just kind of…left them out. Is that as bad as lying? she wondered.” (122)
  • “‘It does in my opinion,’ Jessica insisted. ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree, Liz. If you want to find some crooks and killers, start looking in the lower classes.'” (140)
  • How come some people have so much, and other so little? she wondered.” (176) [YOU’RE IN ENGLAND FOR THE SUMMER, LIZ]

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

Funny story: growing up, my library had only the first two books in this series and I didn’t know how to ILL.  I never actually read the conclusion to the mini-series, so while I have some suspicions about what is happening, I’m not actually sure if we have a legit werewolf on our hands or someone who is just really into horror movies.  I guess time will tell, right?

At any rate, I remember the first time I read this, I got to the last page and was like, “WAIT, WHAT?!” because Jessica can’t be dead, right?  Of course not.  But even so, it’s a pretty ballsy move on the book’s part.

So, Elizabeth is the worst, right?  Self-righteous, totally hypocritical, and bizarrely crazy when it comes to her own actions.  She’s away from Todd for like a second before she’s macking on some other dude and manages to justify it.  She might as well have said, “What happens in London stays in London! YOLO!” or something, because that’s how we’re supposed to interpret and accept her BLATANT CHEATING ON HER LONG-TERM BOYFRIEND.

Also, fuck the twins thinking that they would arrive in London for their unpaid internships and be put on the biggest murder case around.  Seriously?

SVH #101: The Boyfriend War

18 Jun


Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 week


Jessica and Lila are spending the week of spring break in Jamaica, at Lila’s uncle Jimmo’s beach resort, Club Paradise.  Jessica won’t shut up about how excited she is, and Lila is being extra nice to her.  When they arrive, Jessica discovers that her luggage was lost in the layover.  It also becomes clear to Jess why Lila was being so nice: they’re working as camp counselors at the kiddie version of the club. She tells Lila she’ll never forgive her/never speak to her again.

Jessica gets saddled with a group of bratty five-and-six-year-olds for the week.  They bicker, do gross things, and generally don’t listen to her.  She’s infuriated to see that Lila’s group is much better behaved, and then she’s fascinated when she sees Lila talking to a super hot guy who turns out to be the windsurfing instructor named Mick Myers.

Of course they both end up going out with this guy, who is a total skeeze.  Jessica dumps her campers off on Charles, a geeky guy who is totally into her.  This pisses off Julia, another counselor who is described as “chubby” but has a lovely voice.  She decides to get even with Jessica, because Jessica told her she was too fat to attract a man.  I kind of hate Jessica, too.

At any rate, Jessica and Lila continue to both date Mick and compete with each other when it comes to their little campers and the daily talent shows.  Meanwhile, Julia also starts dating Mick, who is starting to seem like a pathological liar and also a sex addict.  He takes each girl to his “secret” lagoon to make out.

Jessica runs into Larry the hot lifeguard on the beach one day, and they flirt.  Then they run into Lila and Mick, who are clearly on a date, and Jessica is such an idiot that she thinks Mick is only pretending to like her because her uncle is his boss.  They have a stupid game of chicken in the ocean and all of them get dunked.

It isn’t long before they realize that Mick is totally playing them.  After Jessica slaps Lila and she pulls her into the ocean with her as she falls, the two have a good laugh and decide to get revenge.  They get back to their cabin to find out that Mick is literally dating every female employed at the camp.

The last night of camp, Lila and Jessica put on a magician’s show and use Mick as their audience “volunteer.”  They break his watch, cut his hair, and dye it purple, and he has to sit and take it.  They get their revenge, totally make up as friends, and have a lemonade.  All is well.

Elizabeth has plans to spend the break sweating it out in Sweet Valley.  She wants to work on an Honors English project that asks students to do a biography of an ancestor.  Conveniently, Liz has chosen to focus on her mother.  The problem is, Alice has just accepted a freelance position working with Hank Patman in his Chicago office.

Amy shows up at the Wakefield’s house to ask for help with the English assignment, which she has to do for extra credit.  She doesn’t tell Elizabeth that Jessica told her she could “borrow” her ancestor Jessamyn, the circus performer.  The two look at an old family tree of Alice’s.

She runs into Bruce at the Dairi Burger and he blows up at her about her home-wrecker of a mother. She thinks he’s cracked until she gets home to find Alice rushing off to catch a plane to Chicago with Hank Patman.  She grills her dad for information about Alice’s life before they met, but he’s sort of cheerfully vague about it all.  She starts to worry that Bruce might be right.

Instead of really working on her project, she continues to obsess about her mother’s past with Hank.  She manages to awkwardly tie it into every single old classic movie she goes to see with Enid and Olivia that week, arguing with them about the meaning of leaving a fiance for an old flame, etc.  It’s boring and pedantic.

Bruce Patman is feeling the pains of his parents splitting up.  He lashes out even more than usual and feels the sads about his family fighting.  His mother accuses Hank of cheating on her.  He decides he’s going to tell his father exactly what he thinks of their separation and how its impacting his life.  Bruce is insufferable.  Before he can do so, he overhears a conversation between Hank and Alice on the phone that leads him to believe the two are carrying on an affair.

Bruce and Liz meet several times to discuss their parents affair, which they are sure Alice and Hank are having.  Bruce seems to be working on a plan to split them up before serious damage is done, but he doesn’t bother to share it with anyone.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • It seems like everyone is going away for spring break: Barry Rork to Palm Springs, Pamela Robertson to the Grand Canyon, Ken Matthews to Monterey, Todd to Yosemite.
  • Lila still plays the marimba and listens to Jamie Peters’ music.
  • The old movies Liz, Olivia, and Enid see include My Favorite Wife, His Girl Friday, Philadelphia Story, and Casablanca.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Bruce grabbed the lunch tray and hurled it away. He heard it clatter against a tree trunk and imagined that it was the sound of his whole world shattering into pieces.” (7)
  • “They turned to gape as Lila walked by with her nose in the air. In a straight line behind her, six obedient kindergartners waddled like baby geese, singing in unison, ‘Row, row, row your yacht…'” (51)
  • “‘Do you like my picture, Jessica?’ Suzy asked. ‘It’s a picture of you screaming at us.'” (81)
  • “Elizabeth had amnesia and her defenses were down. Bruce had tried to take advantage of her–what guy wouldn’t?” (165) [IS THIS REAL LIFE?]

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

Perhaps what’s oddest here is not that Jessica and Lila compete over the same dude, which has happened before, but the fact that Mick seems interested in anything with a vagina.  He literally dates something like six girls at once, and he’s also supposed to be the club’s full-time windsurfing instructor.  How does he manage to do this?  How can all the girls think that he’s only interested in them when he’s literally seen with other people in every scene?  There is virtually nothing about him that would indicate he oozes charm (except for the fact that we are told this).  Ugh.  Gross.

The other thing that really bothered me about this one is how fucking judgmental and antiquated Elizabeth is in her thinking about her mother.  She holds fast to this bizarre, sexist idea that a woman should only be in love once–and that she should marry that man.  Setting aside the fact that this is heteronormative drivel, it’s also so tone-deaf considering the fact that Elizabeth has been in love at least 3-4 times herself, and she is only 16 years old.   Is she damaged in some way?  Isn’t it possible that Alice was in love with Hank at one time, and then fundamentally changed and fell in love with Ned?

Also, could it be LESS of Elizabeth’s business?

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 #76: Miss Teen Sweet Valley

28 Mar

miss teen sweet valley

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trivia/Fun Facts:

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

Memorable Quotes:

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

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

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

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

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

SVH #68: The Love Bet

5 Mar


Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks


Elizabeth gets it into her pretty little head that Dana Larson, who has announced she’s given up on love, should totally date Aaron Dallas, who claims he’s too busy to find love.  She bets Todd that she can get them together.  Todd disagrees, but offers to help.  He also bets her that she can’t do it.  The loser has to grant the winner three wishes.  This entire premise is so fucked that I can’t even begin to dissect it.

At any rate, the two conspire to get their friends gossiping about how Dana likes Aaron and Aaron maybe likes Dana within earshot of the two, and then they invite them both to go see a movie at the Plaza.  The two seem to blush a lot around each other, so Liz feels like her plan is working.  Then it turns out that they actually have things to talk about.  Aaron tells Dana all about soccer, and she tells him all about songwriting, which she is apparently very good at because she wrote a song called “Fed Up With Love” and it’s not about the Federal Reserve Bank, despite my sincere hopes that it was.

The two continue to go out with Liz and Todd on what amounts to friend dates because neither one of them will shut up about how they’re through with love even though they’re totally having eye sex with each other all the time.  Then Dana gets a card from a secret admirer and shows it to Liz.  Dana tells her she’s going to be honest with Aaron and tell him how she feels.  Liz recognizes the handwriting as Todd’s and urges her to keep her feelings to herself and let Aaron be the first to speak it.  But Dana doesn’t listen, and tells Aaron about the card.  He tells her he didn’t send it and Dana is embarrassed and literally runs away.

Meanwhile, Liz blows up at Todd about the card.  She accuses him of intentionally sabotaging the set-up.  He’s not smart enough for that, of course, so he gets mad at her, too.  Whatever.  They’re so steady in their relationship until one of them farts and the other freaks out.  It’s hard to care.

There’s a Battle of the Bands at school, and the Droids are facing off against a couple of other bands, including SVH’s new band, Baja Beat.  The band has token black male student Andy Jenkins in it.  This doesn’t really matter now, but it will in the next book, so whatever.  The other bands are local, as well.

Anyway, right before the Droids perform, Aaron finds Dana and tells her that he’s totally into her.  They kiss, she sings, the Droids win.  Then they write notes to Todd and Liz, pretending to be Todd and Liz to get them to make up.  Everyone is happy in their heteronormative little bubbles.

The B-Plot involves Jessica getting pissed about Aaron getting serious with someone other than her because she likes to keep him in her rotation.  Again, that is literally her thought process in this novel.  So she tries to volunteer as a roadie for Baja Beat, thinking supporting the competition might make her feel better, but they don’t need help.  Andy tells her to try Spontaneous Combustion.  Spy, the leader of that band, sounds promising on the phone, so she enlists the help of Lila.  Turns out the dude is not hot, and kind of a letch.  Whatever.  This is literally the secondary plot in this book.  It goes nowhere.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Battle of the Bands contenders: The Droids, Baja Beat, Spontaneous Combustion, Suede Men.
  • Todd gives Liz what he calls “The Todd Wilkins Deluxe Smooch” and I puked in my mouth.

Memorable Quotes:

  •  “‘Having more competition will give me an excuse to spend more time writing songs and performing with The Droids,’ Dana went on. ‘Since I gave up love, the band has really become my life!'” (3)
  • “Enid agreed. ‘People don’t blush over people they don’t find attractive.  They yawn.'” (20) ENID WOULD BE THE EXPERT THERE.

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

It’s hard to care about this one enough to really dissect it.  I remember liking Dana Larson a lot when I was little, but I suspect that was because she wore weird clothes and sang in a band–both things I desperately wanted to do.  Now, I think she’s sort of boring and lame.  I’ve always felt this way about Aaron Dallas, so it’s nice that some things never change.

But I do think it’s completely stupid that Liz and Todd make a bet that involves granting the other three wishes and none of the suggested wishes are remotely interesting in any way.  Like, Todd jokes he needs his car washed and waxed.  Liz says she would’ve liked a dozen roses and someone to carry her books for a week, then changes her mind and asks him to never fight with her about something so trivial again.  GOOD LUCK WITH THAT ONE, LIZ.  THIS IS LITERALLY WHAT ALL YOUR FIGHTS LOOK LIKE.


Next up: #69 Friend Against Friend.  Racism.  This is is going to be painful.  Do they have critical race theory in Sweet Valley?

SVH #50: Out of Reach

28 Mar

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks


Sweet Valley High wants to start offering a dance program at the school, so they decide to hold a variety show as a sort of fundraiser.  How this one variety show is supposed to fund an entire dance program is never explained, so it must be a magic dance program that can be funded on wishes and unicorns.  Elizabeth is the student director because that’s what she does.  Jessica doesn’t want to participate for once, which I suppose is a plot device to introduce Jade Wu and keep her from being eclipsed by Jessica.

Jade Wu and her family are recent additions to the Sweet Valley community via San Francisco.  Jade is something of a mystery at SVH, but people know that she’s a) Chinese-American and b) supposedly a really great dancer.  Everyone is sure that she’ll get the coveted solo dance part at the end of the variety show, but Amy Sutton has it in her head that she’s going to get it.  When she blows her audition, she goes ballistic and blames Jade for throwing her off during the group choreography.  Jade feels bad, but she’s got bigger problems: her traditional Chinese father allows her to take dance lessons but doesn’t actually want her to ever dance in front of an audience.  She angsts about this for a long time, and that serves as the book’s central conflict.  Eventually he changes his mind and tells her she can dance in the show and even comes to watch her perform.

There’s some other shenanigans, too: Amy Sutton has a personal vendetta against Jade as a result of the dance audition, and when she realizes that Jade’s grandparents run a laundry/dry-cleaning service, she spreads it all over the school.  This is like a huge deal because it’s a stereotype that Chinese people own laundries, I guess.  Jade is mortified, and when she cries about it to her mom, her mom lectures her about being true to herself.

The night of the talent show, Jade is magnificent.  She gets offered a prestigious scholarship that would allow her to dance over the summer, but when the woman who awards it to her tells her she’ll have an easier go of it if she accepts it under the name Jade Warren, Jade turns her down.  She’d rather be true to her Chinese heritage than live a lie, I guess.

The B-Plot involves Ned Wakefield having a mid-life crisis.  He complains a lot about being out of shape and old and worries about his high school reunion.   The twins hatch a plan with the help of Alice to convince Ned that being forty is way better than being forty and wishing you were twenty.  They enroll him in a marathon club and take him to the beach disco, and he hates like all of it. At the end he comes to the realization that he should be true to himself and all is right with the world.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Amy stuck her lower lip in a pout. ‘But she’s Chinese! She doesn’t look right for the part.  The soloist for the finale should be blond, all-American–like me.'” (4) [Blogger’s note: Page 4, and I already want to throw this book across the room.  We’re off to a great start, folks.]
  • “‘Hah, practice!’ Amy snorted.  ‘That’s a total joke.  It’s just because she’s got a dancer’s body, that’s all.'” (53) [Blogger’s note: This is going to become my default excuse for EVERYTHING that goes wrong in my life.  That’s how awesome it is.]

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Jessica recently had a comedic role in You Can’t Take it With You
  • Jade has been studying ballet for six years
  • Ned’s 25-year high school reunion is coming up, and he orders an exercise bike as part of his mid-life crisis

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

In Jade’s history class, the unit they’re studying is about Ancient China.  Her teacher defers to her, the only Asian student in the class, to ask about what kind of customs she practices at home with her super-Chinese family (emphasis and hyperbole mine, of course).  Jade gets really embarrassed and makes a comment about not following any traditions because they’re American.  Her teacher gets flustered and moves on.

As readers, we’re supposed to see this as Jade being embarrassed of who she is.  Some of the recaps of this book that I’ve seen on other blogs make mention of the fact that Jade is really weird about this moment in class, while at least one other blogger takes issue with it the way that I do.  I’m not casting blame or making accusations about how each individual interprets this moment, but I do have my own thoughts on the situation.

What her teacher did was wrong.  It was completely insensitive and completely inappropriate.  If he had taken her aside before class and asked if she would be willing to give her perspective on the issue, it would be different.  Putting her on the spot in front of her entire class and essentially asking her for the “Modern Chinese Perspective” is total and complete bullshit.  It really, really pissed me off, and what’s more is that it was possibly one of the most realistic moments in this book, because it still happens.

As a teacher, I realize that I am particularly attuned to classroom dynamics and how they’re represented in the media: books, movies, TV shows, and news stories about classrooms are going to hold my interest in a different way than many other consumers simply because of my profession and training.  Because I have pursued a career in urban teaching, the issues of race and ethnicity in the classroom play a particularly important role in how I interpret classroom dynamics.  I teach in an urban school where there is a tremendous amount of diversity (and also a tremendous amount of segregation, but that is beyond the scope of this blog), but I attended a high school with a racial and ethnic makeup similar to that of SVH (albeit with less drop-dead gorgeous people).  I experienced moments like that in classrooms growing up, and it’s awful.

Do I have a point to make here, at the end of my long-winded rant?  Not really, I guess.  I found the scene to be unintentionally poignant, and I wanted to point it out.  Anyone else have thoughts about it?  Talk back!

SVH #47: Troublemaker

6 Jan

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks?  I can’t make myself care.


Elizabeth has been taking recorder lessons from Julie Porter.  Elizabeth notices that Julie seems to have a thing for Bruce Patman, who is back to his lothario ways after the death of his girlfriend Regina.  She worries that Julie’s totally oblivious to what a total jerkface Bruce is.  The two of them watch as Bruce harasses some Phi Epsilon pledges, including Julie’s friend Josh Bowen, and Elizabeth tries to push Julie to date Josh, who seems nice and non-threatening.

When Bruce asks Julie to be his date at the Phi Epsilon dance party he’s throwing, she’s thrilled.  She ignores warnings from Josh and Liz about Bruce and freaks out when they try to offer her solid advice about him.  Even though she’s been warned that he asked another girl to be his date at the party as well, she’s happy just to be going.  At the party, she makes out with Bruce.  Bruce also makes out with Danielle, his other date.  He pulls Julie into a make out room and turns the lights down low.  He leaves for a minute and turns on some romantic movie.  When he comes back, they make out some more…only Julie’s really making out with Josh, who had no idea what was happening, either.  This part is so alarming that I have no words.  Julie gets mad at everyone and runs away.

Josh continues to try to get into the fraternity because he wants to help Winston restore it to its former glory.  Bruce continues to give him terrible tasks, like getting Jell-O.  Instead of delivering the Jell-O to Julie, Josh dumps it on Bruce.  Then he and Julie make up and kiss.  All is right in the world again.

The B-Plot involves Jessica trying out for another school play that requires her to brush up on her ballet skills.  She works hard and wins the role.  Everyone loves her in her performance.  Yay.

Memorable Quotes:

  • None.  That’s how much this book blows.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • The Wakefield family still has a barre in the basement from when the twins took ballet in middle school.
  • Jessica tries on a blue French-cut leotard.  I don’t know what makes it French.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

To be honest, Gentle Readers, I don’t have anything for you.  I hated this book so much that I put off reading it for an extended amount of time.  I promise that the next book I read will come with an excellent recap and a wonderful critical analysis, but for the time being, let’s just move past this book and pretend like it never happened, okay?

SVH #22: Too Much in Love

29 Apr

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks


DeeDee Gordon is in love with Bill Chase.  She’s also terrified that she’s going to lose him, and so she clings to him as if her life depended on it.  Bill is feeling pretty crowded, and rightfully so, and longs for the days when DeeDee was independent and awesome.

When Elizabeth asks DeeDee to help with the planning of the talent show, DeeDee hesitates, not wanting to be apart from Bill.  But her best friend Patty Gilbert tells her to do it, and so she reluctantly starts to help.  When she finds out that Bill went to a movie with Dana Larson, she freaks out.  Bill is bewildered, because it was an innocent meeting between friends.  He tells her that he can’t keep meeting her needs and suggests they take a break.

DeeDee is crushed, but when Liz feigns laryngitis, she has to step up and finish planning the talent show.  DeeDee does a wonderful job and rediscovers her love of design and sense of independence.  Bill is taken with how beautiful DeeDee looks when she’s being independent or something, and the two reconcile.

The talent show goes off without a hitch and is a roaring success.  Everyone is stunned when Todd Wilkins gets up onstage and instead of doing stand-up comedy, he reads a sappy poem about remembering and goodbyes or something.  I think it’s supposed to be deep.  Elizabeth is confused and worried, and when she asks him what’s going on, he tells her that his dad is being transferred and he’s moving away!

The B-Plot involves Ma and Pa Wakefield taking a vacation to Mexico and leaving the twins unsupervised at the house.  Things start to go wrong immediately, with Jessica over-loading the washing machine (thus breaking it) and starting a small grease fire in the kitchen.  Things go really badly when Lila and Jessica throw a party at the Wakefield house that gets way out of hand when some college frat boys crash it with their BEER.  The police are called, Steven saves the day, but Ma Wakefield’s design plans for a huge project are ruined by the BEER.

In a panic, Jessica begs DeeDee to come and fix the plans (since she’s so good at design).  DeeDee does a beautiful job, just in the nick of time, because Ma and Pa Wakefield come home early.  All is well, though, because Ma Wakefield can’t tell the difference between her drawing and DeeDee’s.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Lila yawned. ‘Don’t get so excited. Daddy’s thinking of sending me to a spa for my birthday this year,’ she confided. ‘They have this marvelous machine at the Fountain of Youth that takes all the fat off the backs of your thighs.  And they soak you in minerals until you’re entirely purified.'” (96)
  • “‘It’s DeeDee,’ Elizabeth whispered, slipping her arm through Todd’s. ‘She’s driving me crazy!  Todd, the girl can’t do one single thing by herself.  I had to find people to help paint sets.  Do you realize she’s called me four times since she and Bill broke up?  And that was only yesterday!'” (82)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Todd has apparently started working part-time at his father’s office.  What his father does, however, is not mentioned.
  • At the talent show, Patty Gilbert dances, Winston and Ken do a magic act with Jessica as their assistant, Olivia sings, and Todd is supposed to do comedy (but instead reads a poem).
  • Pop culture references include Psycho, The Birds, The Philadelphia Story, Duck Soup, and West Side Story (I’m sensing a theme here).

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

It seems almost too easy to focus on the character of DeeDee and examine what the ghostwriters have done to her.  While she is described as being a girl who has always been fiercely independent, we as readers don’t have many examples of that.  Sure, when she and Bill first got together, she was trying to get into surfing and she went out alone and almost drowned, but was she really independent or just kind of foolish?

But we’re supposed to believe that all of this is okay because once DeeDee is given a project, she’s able to find her purpose again and no longer relies solely on Bill’s attention to fulfill herself.  It’s probably best not to look too closely at the female role models in her life (the little tidbits thrown into the story about her mom and her art teacher both losing the men in their lives because they were too busy pursuing other passions were both bizarre and jarring and were clearly added to rationalize DeeDee’s sudden behavior change) and just accept this story for what it is: a happy ending.

Looking at the cover makes me wonder how happy of an ending it can be when DeeDee’s been stuck with the worst name and the worst haircut, though.