Tag Archives: secrets

SVH #86: Jessica Against Bruce

30 Apr

jessicaagainstbruce

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2-3 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Bruce Patman declares that life at SVH is boring and then he starts a secret club that everyone seems to know about called Club X.  He says it’s only for real men, which really pisses off Jessica.  She hounds him repeatedly in public until he agrees to let her try out for it.  Her initiation dare involves driving her Jeep down a hill at night with her lights off, and after she accomplishes this, she’s given a black leather jacket, her sign that she’s in the club.  The other members are Tad Johnson and Ronnie Edwards, so I have no idea why she’d want to be in this club, apart from the fact that Bruce says a bunch of vile, sexist shit at school.

At any rate, Jessica and the rest of Club X continue to cause havoc at school.  They glue lockers shut, pull the fire alarm, etc.  Jessica notices that the wheel of pranks they use to decide who has to complete a dare seems to land on her a lot, but she chalks this up to probability, at least at first.  When Bruce looks surprised when it lands on someone else’s name, Jessica starts to get really suspicious.  She hotwires Bruce’s car and drives away in it, which is kind of cool, I guess.

Bruce dares her to walk across some rail road tracks, telling her that the train won’t come because he knows the schedule.  But of course it does, and Jessica barely makes it over the tracks before the train goes roaring by  It’s dangerous, and Jessica realizes she wants out of the club.  But not before she gets revenge, because it’s Jessica Wakefield.

At the next meeting, Jessica creates a diversion to get the rest of the guys out of the room so she can examine the wheel.  Turns out there’s a magnet under her name, which Jessica promptly switches out with Bruce’s name.  That’ll show him. As predicted, the wheel lands on Bruce’s name, and she dares him to broadcast a radio station during a school assembly.  He gets caught, the club gets disbanded.  Jessica gets grounded but still manages to convince Liz to pull a twin switch so she can go see Sam.

The B-Plot involves the International Federation of Teachers coming to visit Sweet Valley High.  Liz and a couple of other goody-two-shoes get put in charge of showing the teachers around.  Of course, this coincides with the height of Club X’s pranks, which doesn’t make SVH look very good.  Liz is mad at Jessica for ruining it all, but it seems pretty low-stakes to me.  Also, vaguely racist/ethnocentric in how the teachers are portrayed from other countries.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Sam is apparently in Colorado for close to a month for a special college-immersion program.  But, in the middle of the school year?  Really?
  • Shoehorned literary reference: Elizabeth’s English class is reading Silas Marner.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘You are the biggest sexist pig in this school, Bruce Patman,’ Rosa said. ‘No, scratch that.  The biggest sexist pig in California.'” (15) And Elizabeth Wakefield’s future husband, natch!
  • “She didn’t feel as if she were being manipulated by Bruce. But was she?” (110)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I don’t have a lot of strong feelings about this one, for various reasons.  It might be that I’m slightly burned out on the Sweet Valley books, which was bound to happen. It might also be that this one just felt sort of boring to me.  I don’t care about a secret club, we knew that it would never last more than one book, and the stakes were supposed to be high, but come on–Jessica wasn’t going to get seriously hurt.

The thing that I found weirder about this one was the concept of the visiting teachers.  Everything about them was so stereotypical that it was cringe-worthy.  Their shock at how “American” students behaved felt so been there, done that?  But that might be part of the books not holding up years later.

Thoughts?

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SVH Sweet Valley Saga #2: The Wakefield Legacy: The Untold Story

28 Apr

wakefieldlegacy

As if the maternal family tree of the Wakefield twins wasn’t wacky (read: awful) enough, readers are treated to the paternal family tree in this one.  Blech.

Summary/Overview:

Theodore Wakefield, 1866

Theodore is the second son tothe Earl of (you guessed it) Wakefield, England.  When his older brother dies in a terrible horse accident, his father insists that Theodore take over his roles and marry his brother’s fiance.  Theodore refuses, and leaves home to board a ship to America. Onboard, he meets Alice Larsen, after he saves her from a near death by drowning.  The two are separated when they reach land, and Theodore joins up with a circus.

There, he meets a young half-Indian woman (this is seriously how she’s described the moment she appears on the page) named Dancing Wind.  Dancing Wind is something like 16, and Theodore is definitely in his mid-to-late 30s, so this is all kinds of super creepy.  The book glosses right over, that, though!  One night at the circus, Theodore meets a young blond girl named Jessamyn who is the spitting image of his long-lost love, Alice Larsen! He is distracted with thoughts of her all through the show.  Distraught, Dancing Wind attempts a dangerous move during her routine and falls from the air.  The net breaks, injuring her badly.  Theodore realizes he loves her, and they end up married in Nebraska.

Four years later, Dancing Wind gives birth to twins: Sarah and James, and then DIES.  Theodore continues to raise the twins by himself, eventually transporting them to California.

James and Sarah Wakefield, 1905

Now settled in Vista California and rich off the wine business Theodore started, James and Sarah are 16 and inhabit many of the same characteristics SVH readers are comfortable reading about when it comes to twins.  Sarah falls for one of her father’s employees, a boy in her class named Edward Brooke.  When she brings him to the Manor (this is what they call their estate, y’all) to formally introduce him to Theodore, though, she’s shocked when her father is kind of a douche to him.  He tells her that Edward isn’t good enough (read: rich enough) and she’d be better off with some dude named George.  Sarah decides to keep seeing Edward anyway.

When an influenza epidemic runs through the country, James dies.  Now that Sarah is all Theodore has left, she feels guilty about the fact that she’s been lying to him.  Doesn’t matter: Theodore reads her journal while she’s at school, discovers her secret, and tells her she can stop seeing Edward or she can leave.  So she leaves, and she and Edward escape to San Francisco.  OF COURSE THEY ARRIVE ON THE DAY OF AN EARTHQUAKE.  Trapped in their hotel room, the two perform their own marriage ceremony, declare it “legal enough,” and consummate the “marriage.”

After they are rescued, Edward goes back into the hotel to help save others, and, of course, dies.  Sarah returns home to her father, but their happy reunion is sullied when she realizes she’s pregnant.  Her father sends her away for the duration of the pregnancy.  After she gives birth to a healthy boy named Edward (Teddy), her father tells her he will return for her–and only her.  Sarah refuses and decides to live on her own with Teddy.  Afraid of causing a scandal or upsetting her son, she decides not to tell him he was conceived out of wedlock and pretends to be his aunt.  This will end well.

Ted, 1924

Ted is working as a waiter in a jazz club and tells his “aunt” that he doesn’t want to go to college.  She disagrees, and the two fight about it.  When she gets a letter with news that her father has died, Ted is confused, because he’s always been told his grandfather died years ago.  This is when the whole story comes tumbling out.

Confused, Ted ends up fleeing his house for college in Ohio.  He does well at school, and on a break one year, he goes home with his friend Harry Watson.  There, he meets Harry’s twin sisters, Samantha and Amanda.  This section is literally a retelling of what we already heard in the first saga.  Since it bored me then, I’m skipping it now.

After that whole fiasco, Ted travels west to discover his family’s roots.  He tracks down his grandmother’s tribe and it is there he meets the super blond Julia Marks, a reporter working a story about government corruption relating to the tribe.  The two fall in love despite the fact that he’s been burned before and is a bastard, and it isn’t long before they’re married and living in Washington.  They have a son together, named Robert.

Julia dies in the Hindenburg explosion (I’m not joking).

Robert, 1943

Robert joins the military at 16 after lying about his age.  He ends up working in communications and communicates with a POW who goes by the code name of Pacific Star.  They communicate for months before finally liberating the camp and meeting.  Pacific Star is Hannah Weiss, and the two end up married and settling in Sweet Valley, California.

Hannah gives birth to Ned.  I can’t be bothered to care.

Ned, late 1960s (way to fudge the numbers, SVH ghostwriter)

Ned and his cousin Rachel are total hippies, working to set the Man straight and fight the good fight.  At college, Rachel introduces Ned to her friend Becky, who seems like she sucks, but he sort of falls for her after she starts calling herself Rainbow.  The two date, and then Rachel finds out that Becky’s using Ned for help studying (?) so she can become a lawyer.  Whatever.  Her true colors finally come out after an arrest at a protest, and Ned breaks off their relationship.

His senior year, he rescues a blond woman who ends up being Alice Roberts.  Even though the two have a connection, Alice is set to marry a Patman.  Heartbroken, Ned mopes around until Alice shows up at his door, still wearing the wedding dress she was supposed to marry another man in.  Okie dokie.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Someone did a little research and actually got the date of the Great San Francisco Earthquake (4/18/1906) right.  Kudos.
  • Theodore’s father is either named George or Theodore, depending on whether or not you consult the family tree or the book’s first chapter.  OKAY.
  • There are some pretty big gaps in continuity here: Ned once told Steven that he named him after his friend who died in a car crash in college, but that doesn’t work here.  Also, at one point, Grandma Wakefield mentioned that Ned had a half-brother from her husband’s first marriage, but maybe she suffered a stroke? Because that doesn’t happen here at all.

Memorable Quotes:

  •  “When Dancing Wind approached him, she was surprised to see that he was in the grips of a very powerful emotion.” (47)
  • “‘I don’t get it,’ Ned went on. ‘You’d think the more well-off people are, the more generous they’d be.'” (290) ARE YOU A FUCKING IDIOT?

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I’ve been carrying this book around with me for something like two weeks, and I really only managed to skim it.  I don’t know why these Sagas are so hard for me.  I remember loving The Fowlers of Sweet Valley, so I guess we’ll see when I get to that one.  But these super long books about the lame Wakefields of the past?  I’d like to take a hard pass on them.

That being said, isn’t it weird that people die in every single one of these stories in horrifically tragic and yet oddly famous historical disasters?  Isn’t that super weird?  Like, we needed people to die in both the San Francisco earthquake AND the Hindenburg disaster?  Doesn’t that seem a bit much?

The only other thing I have to say about this one is how weird it is that Theodore would be so weird about Sarah’s pregnancy and desire to keep the child.  After being sent away by his own father, do we really believe that’s something he would do?  It seems incredibly out of character for him to banish the only family he has left after losing his other two relatives in tragic accidents (this isn’t even counting the time he lost his brother in a terrible horse accident, either).

Oh, the melodrama.

SVH #44: Pretenses

26 Oct

Estimated Time Elapsed: 3 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Steven Wakefield is coming home for a few weeks to get a bunch of allergy tests done.  He’s stressed because he’s missing so much school, but Cara is hoping that the two of them will be able to spend some quality time together.  This desire to bond with Steven is exacerbated by the fact that Jessica convinces Cara that what’s missing in her relationship with Steve is an air of mystery.  This plot is so flimsy that I’m having a hard time even writing about it, but whatever.

Cara has also decided to throw herself a belated birthday party because she and Steve were going through some problems when her actual birthday occurred, which seems like a weird way to talk about that time that Steve left her at a restaurant after freaking out about his dead girlfriend.  She’s holding it at some exclusive place and can only invite 13 people, so she leaves out Abbie Richardson, who apparently goes to Sweet Valley High and matters.  Abbie is sad, and Cara is mortified when she finds out that Abbie’s feelings were hurt.  I try to care.

Steve and Cara fight a lot, because he’s acting withdrawn and sort of snappish.  He seems distracted, and Cara worries that he might be interested in someone else.  Abbie hangs out at the Wakefield house a lot, and so she and Steve get to talking.  He finds that she’s a sympathetic ear, and Jessica gets it into her pretty little head that Abbie might be moving in on Cara’s man.  Jessica thinks she has further proof when she sees some pink stationery that Steve’s reading and then places it to Abbie after going to a stationery store at the mall.  I don’t know.

Steve’s been distracted because he’s been receiving anonymous love letters on Tricia Martin’s old stationery.  He’s understandably upset about it, and when Jessica and Elizabeth tell him that they think it’s Abbie, the three confront her.  She cries and denies it, and after a while, it’s discovered that it’s been Cara sending letters to add mystery to her relationship.  She had no idea that it was Tricia’s stationery.  They make up with each other, and with Abbie

The B-Plot involves the Oracle hosting a contest for a comedy column.  The reasoning behind this is that interest in the Oracle is waning.  Elizabeth is really upset about this.  The comedy search ends up with two main contenders: Amy Sutton’s mock-Miss Manners column and Abbie Richardson’s comic strip.  Abbie’s apparently very talented and funny, but I didn’t find any actual humor in her strips.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Abbie, a sweet-tempered brunette who had never spent much time with Jessica or any of her friends since ninth grade, suddenly seemed to be everywhere.” (4) [Breaking the fourth wall, much?]
  • “[Elizabeth] felt slightly uncomfortable talking about Abbie, although she wasn’t sure why.  Maybe it was because she didn’t really know her that well yet, and she hated to make judgments prematurely.” (29)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Steven’s college is apparently 45 minutes away.  Why this means that he can’t commute back and forth for the allergy shots, I don’t know.
  • The ghost writer had a weird preoccupation with Abbie’s small hands, mentioning their size more than a few times
  • Prince Albert is referred to repeatedly in this book as simply Prince, which set my teeth on edge

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I guess I don’t have much to say about this one.  What is alarming to me is that I found the character of Abbie Richardson kind of sympathetic (though not that interesting, apparently, because I glossed over her in the recap) and not really annoying.  She’s incredibly selfless and maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but it seemed genuine.  Ugh.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the book is that the entire plot feels recycled.  How many times has Jessica inserted herself into someone’s long-term relationship and caused these sorts of problems?  Even more frustrating is the fact that this isn’t even the first time that Jessica’s inserted herself into Steve and Cara’s relationship!  Why can’t these people learn that when Jessica starts complaining about how boring monogamy is and then decides to offer relationship advice, it’s never good?  WHY?

SVH #42: Caught in the Middle

19 Oct

Estimated Time Elapsed: 2 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Ugh.  Sandra Bacon and Maunuel Lopez have started dating and are totally in love, but they have to keep their relationship a secret because Sandra’s parents totally hate Mexicans.  I feel like we’ve done this plot before. At any rate, Manuel is getting tired of Sandra keeping their relationship a secret from her totally racist parents.  Sandra feels trapped because she loves Manuel and her parents, and she doesn’t know what to do, so she keeps lying to her parents and telling them she’s at her best friend Jean West’s house instead of telling them she’s hanging out with a Mexican boy.

Liz gets involved because that’s how she is.  She urges Sandra to tell her parents.  Sandra tries to but keeps chickening out.  Manuel is also pressuring her, and she can see how hurt he is but she still can’t bring herself to do it.  Liz tags along on a boating trip with Sandra and Manuel, and the boat explodes (?).  Sandra is knocked unconscious by the blast, and Manuel swims her to safety, but when the police and paramedics arrive, she begs Liz to say that she saved her.  Sandra’s parents would just die if they knew a Mexican had been on their boat.  Or something.

Understandably, Liz is upset about having to play the hero.  Things are complicated when witnesses say that they saw a Mexican lurking around the boat before it took off.  The police suspect foul play, and they bring Manuel in for questioning.  Sandra and her parents are there as well, and her parents push her to identify Manuel as the scapegoat for the boat’s explosion.  Sandra pretends not to know him at first and then breaks down crying, finally telling her parents the truth.  Both of them are unsettled about the idea of their white child dating someone from another race, but they make some sort of effort to understand because he saved her life.

The B-Plot involves Lila’s impending birthday.  Jessica is planning a surprise party for her but doesn’t want to let her know about it, so she has everyone be really callous about Lila’s birthday.  Lila is furious with her all the way up to the party at the Wakefield’s house, where she is so surprised that she almost falls over.  It is a success.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘Yeah,’ Sandra sighed. ‘Sad to say, but true.  And it isn’t just a superficial prejudice with them.  I know how they really feel, and they’d kill me, absolutely kill me, if they knew about Manuel.'” (10)
  • “‘Sure,’ Manuel said, his voice bitter.  ‘I know.  All my life I’ve met people like that, basically good people, who think just because my last name is Lopez and my skin is brown instead of white, that I’m not worth bothering with…I guess in a community like this one, you get used to prejudice, and you learn to live with it.'” (33)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • This is Lila’s second birthday party.  She has turned sixteen again?  Or is she seventeen?  I can’t tell.
  • The word “racist” is never once mentioned in this book when describing Sandra’s parents.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I’m having a hard time with this one.  Obviously, we have to talk about the racism that runs rampant in this book, but it’s a slippery slope.  As a white woman who grew up in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class suburb, I have firsthand experience with the kind of racism and prejudice that is ingrained in a community like (fictional) Sweet Valley.  The fact that Sandra’s parents are total racists doesn’t surprise me; the fact that the word “racist” is never used does.

Sandra’s parents are both completely ignorant.  Her father has written some letters to the local paper complaining about the immigrant population in the community.  Her mother remembers with horror the racial tension that existed in the town she grew up in.  She also worries about racial riots, but these issues are talked about in only the most vague way possible.  She tells Sandy that she doesn’t want her to associate with “those kinds of people,” and tries to remind her of how different Mexicans are from their own family.  Sandy is understandably confused and upset by this, but the issue is never talked about in depth.

My issue with this book’s central theme is that it’s dealt with so superficially.  The “othering” of Manuel and his family (and all Mexican-Americans) is done even in the passages where the reader is supposed to understand Sandra’s attraction to and love for Manuel.  The ghost writer goes on and on about how different Manuel looks from other boys, focusing on his accent, his dark features, and the fact that he looks older than other boys Sandra’s age.

Near the end of the book, after the big reveal about their relationship, the ghost writer throws in a line about how a lifetime of prejudices (still not the word “racism”) cannot be overturned in a moment.  This feels like too little too late.  I realize that these books were written for a younger audience, but that doesn’t mean that an actual conversation about race couldn’t take place.  Giving us the after-school-special-lite version seems like a total cop-out, even for Sweet Valley.

SVH #37: Rumors

6 Oct

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks

Summary/Overview:

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

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

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

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

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

Memorable Quotes:

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

Trivia/Fun Facts:

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

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

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

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

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

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

SVH Super Edition: Spring Fever

4 Oct

[Blogger’s Note: This book was one of my favorites when I was younger, and when I started collecting the books a few years ago, it was one of the first ones I reread.  I was so excited about it that I took it to class with me.  I was reading it during a break, trying to hide it from view, when the guy that I was crushing on walked up to me and asked what I was reading.  I was totally trapped, and I had to show it to him.  Mortified, I tried to quickly explain that it was ironic.  He laughed, but it was still really embarrassing.  SEE WHAT I ENDURE FOR YOU, SWEET VALLEY?]

Estimated Time Elapsed: Roughly 2 weeks (an 11-day trip to Walkersville, Kansas)

Summary/Overview:

Jessica and Elizabeth are traveling all the way to Walkersville, Kansas to stay with their great-aunt and uncle Herman and Shirley Walker for their spring break.  By my count, this is something like their third spring break in their junior year alone.  The twins are super excited to spend time in a real life small-town, because apparently Sweet Valley is a busting metropolis.  Alice Wakefield spends some time reflecting about the time she spent there as a young girl, and then she worries over the kinds of clothes that Jessica is bringing, because they’re a little risque for a town like Walkersville.

Once the twins arrive, they gush over how wonderful the town is.  Everything is quaint and perfect; there’s a main street and a five-and-dime (owned by their great-uncle) with a REAL SODA FOUNTAIN INSIDE.  Holy moley!  Everything about the town seems perfect with the one exception of Annie Sue Sawyer, a local girl who gives the twins a pretty cold reception.  Jessica is indignant about this, which is weird, because she’s the queen of icy greetings.  Apparently Annie Sue hasn’t taken kindly to two beautiful blondes from California showing up and potentially moving in on her boyfriend.  Despite their attempts to kill her with kindness, Annie Sue stays mean, setting them up for a bunch of embarrassing things, including a day of hijinx on her family’s farm.

A carnival comes to town, and the twins FREAK OUT about going.  Even though they want to go alone, their aunt and uncle are aghast at such an idea and insist on going with them.  Jessica is mortified but makes up for it by wearing her white jumpsuit with rhinestones on it.  The carnival itself isn’t much to write home about, but it isn’t long before Jessica and Liz meet Alex Parker, the guy in charge of horses at the carnival.  It turns out that Alex has an identical twin named Brad who is just like Elizabeth.  Jessica makes plans to meet Alex after the carnival closes up that night, but these plans are vetoed by Herman and Shirley, who go apoplectic at the idea of Jessica going out with a carny after ten o’clock.  So Jess fakes being sleepy and sneaks out to see him.

The twins alternate seeing Brad and Alex, but Elizabeth starts to get worried about her feelings for Brad and her feelings for Jeffrey.  She also wonders why Alex and Brad are never in the same place in the same time.  But Jessica has fallen head over heels for Alex and is continuing her late night rendezvous with him, causing her aunt and uncle to worry about her health.  What normal sixteen year old girl goes to bed at nine every night? [Blogger’s note: Um, this one did.] Elizabeth and Jessica assure them that’s she’s catching up on lost sleep from how busy she is in her real life.

Of course, Annie Sue sees Jessica and Alex together and concocts a weak blackmail scheme.  She gets a bunch of Jessica’s clothes and accessories in exchange for not spilling the beans about Jessica’s new love.  Elizabeth figures out that Alex and Brad are the same person due to a hand injury that ends up on both of them, but Alex begs Liz not to tell Jessica because he’s really fallen for her.  She agrees, but she’s pissed about it.

On the second to last night in Walkersville, Jessica is put in charge of watching Midnight, Alex’s most wild horse.  Annie Sue’s dad is buying it for her, and so she decides that it’s time to ride Midnight.  The horse gets spooked and takes off, and Jessica jumps on another horse and saves a now-hysterical Annie Sue.  She thanks Jessica and renounces every mean thing she’s ever said to her.  She throws a party to celebrate the awesomeness of the Wakefield twins.  Herman and Shirley meet Alex and reluctantly agree to allow Jessica to go with him to the barn dance the following night.  The twins have a rip-roaring good time, and they’ll never forget all the wonderful folks they met in Kansas.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “I read a great book about a girl who fell in love with a Ferris wheel operator.  It was incredibly romantic.” (44)
  • “‘Well, it’s just that we have an unspoken rule in town about the carnival,’ Mrs. Walker continued. ‘The boys who work the carnival are known as carnies in local slang.  Generally they come from very different backgrounds than any of the boys in town.  They’re not necessarily rough or anything, but they’re certainly not the kind of boys either of you two would be interested in.  I’m sure you know what I mean,’ she concluded…” (47)
  • “‘You’re a good kid, you know that?’ Alex said huskily.” (231) [Blogger’s note: And you’re a total creep-ass, Alex.]

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • While the twins are in Kansas, Lila’s going to Rome with her father.
  • Cara Walker is referred to as Cora Walker in this book.
  • Annie Sue has a younger sister whom the twins meet at her family farm, but at the end of the book, Annie Sue blames her bad behavior on being an only child and not knowing how to share.  What the hell?

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

Well I mean, where do we begin?  After rereading this book, I can’t figure out why I loved it so much all those years ago.  This book sucks.  It SUCKS, you guys.  Uncle Herman and Aunt Shirley are like, caricatures of caricatures.  When they find out that Jessica wants to go out after dark to meet a boy, Shirley literally clutches at her heart and asks Herman to bring her “her pills.”  Other bloggers have also pointed this out, but it bears repeating.  Who says things like that?

I remember being totally enamored with the whole Alex-Brad thing when I was young, which makes me cringe now.  The idea that this guy would invent a twin brother so that he could date both girls and figure out which one he liked better is so awful that the feminist in me is like, screaming at my 8-year-old self.  He’s a total creeper, and there’s no other way of looking at it.  At the end of the book, after Elizabeth plays with him a bit at the dance, we’re supposed to forgive him and root for him and Jessica, but I don’t see it that way.  So he decided he likes Jess more?  Good job, asshole.  You’re still a total dick.

Finally, everyone in the town of Walkersville is a complete cliche of what Midwestern life is supposed to be like.  I mean, I guess it’s supposed to be a cliche.  I live in the Midwest and I’ve never in my life met a girl named Annie Sue.  I’ve never attended a barn dance, and I’ve never mistaken rhinestones for real diamonds.  But all of those things happen in this book.  Which is, you know, lame.

SVH#19: Showdown

20 Apr

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Lila’s dating a new guy, a construction worker named Jack (no last name), and she throws a pool party at her mansion to show him off to her friends.  Jessica catches sight of him and decides he super-cute and worth pursuing relentlessly, so she flirts with him outrageously at the party, going so far as to write her phone number in a matchbook with the charred end of a match.  Classy.

Jack is pretty classy too, because he starts dating both girls–Jessica during the week and Lila on the weekends–and keeps dropping little information nuggets that make him seem like he comes from a lot of money but is trying to make it on his own.  Both girls eat this shit up and it isn’t long before Sweet Valley High is buzzing with gossip about who Jack is, ranging from a millionaire’s son to a secret prince.  During this time, Jack manages to also convince both girls that they’re the only one for him, and does a bunch of cheesy stuff like naming stars after them.  He also proposes to Lila but tells her they must keep their engagement a secret.

Elizabeth is weirded out by Jack and is worried about Jessica dating him while he’s also dating Lila, but her attempts to convey this worry to Jessica aren’t very successful.  She keeps trying to brush off her doubts about Jack, which worsen when she runs into him and he acts erratically and seems to have red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes.  When Jessica tells her that he’s breaking it off with Lila, some of her fears are quelled, but not totally.

Things come to a head one night when Jessica goes out with Jack and they run into Nicholas Morrow and a friend of his visiting from Boston.  Both boys seem to recognize Jack but can’t place him, and when Jack pulls Jessica out of the restaurant in a hurry, Nicholas focuses on where he knows him from.  The boys figure out that Jack is the same boy who was expelled from their prep school a few years back.  Apparently he had robbed a girl at knife-point (his own girlfriend), and although she chose not to press charges (WHAT?), he got really heavy into drugs and was totally dangerous.  He had never been the same since his entire family was killed in a tragic boating accident.

The boys race over to the Wakefield’s house in hopes of catching Jessica before it’s too late, but she’s not there!  Elizabeth is, and when they fill her in on the situation, she races along with them as they try to find Jessica.  Lila supplies Jack’s address when she finds out he’s been two-timing her, and the three of them go over to his apartment, bursting in as Jack holds a knife to Jessica’s throat after she discovers his drug stash in his bathroom.  They tackle Jack and Jessica is rescued.

The Wakefield family goes to the police station to file a report and press charges.  While they’re there, they hear a distress call come over the radio about a small plane over Secca Lake.  Elizabeth screams because it’s Enid and George’s plane!

The B-Plot involves a mystery photographer submitting photos to the school newspaper.  The photos are great: they’re funny, smart, and sneaky, and Liz is determined to figure out who the mystery photographer is.  She catches Tina Ayala, sister to Penny Ayala (the SVH newspaper editor out sick with “mononucleosis”), dropping pictures off late one night.  One of the pictures she has is of Robin Wilson and George Warren at the air field, locked in a passionate embrace.  Liz promises to help Tina get on the paper and begs her to keep quiet about the information about Robin and George.

She worries about what to do about Robin and George, and when she confronts them, they admit they’re in love.  George tells Liz that he was planning on telling Enid but promised her the first ride in a plane with him after he gets his pilot’s license.  This will end well.

Trivia/Pop Culture:

  • Jack tends to favor neutral clothing: khaki walking shorts, green La Coste shirt, top-siders; a brown crew-neck sweater, and wheat-tone button down shirt.
  • Jessica wears a slinky blue dress with buttons down the back that falls just below her knees with slits up both sides.  Scandalous!
  • Lila has a pale-blue princess phone, a detail that I find awesome.  She also brings a butter-and-caviar sandwich and shrimp salad to lunch at school.
  • Pop culture references include: The Twilight Zone, Never-Never Land, Fantasy Island, The Maltese Falcon, and The Police

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

The entire book is so ridiculous that I have a hard time even trying to critique it in a serious manner.  The fact that both girls would be interested in dating a construction worker is laughable; the fact that we are supposed to believe that sixteen-year-old princess Lila Fowler would enter into a secret engagement with one after dating for a week is absolutely ludicrous.

The character of Jack is also pretty ridiculous.  He is never given a last name, and the fact that Jessica’s parents are okay with her going out with some older guy they know nothing about is further testament to their terrible parenting.  Jack is supposed to be a character the reader both fears and feels sympathy for, and yet it is difficult to do either because we know so little about him (aside from the fact that he likes to wear top-siders). Lazy writing and sloppy plotting alert.