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SVH: Elizabeth’s Secret Diary, Vol. I

16 Jul

elizabeth's secret diary

Estimated Elapsed Time: N/A, as this is a recap of books 23-31


Liz and Todd are making out in his room instead of studying.  There’s a lot of weird almost-sex talk about how they never let themselves be alone in each other’s rooms, and then Todd takes a phone call from Ken Matthews and Liz snoops around Todd’s desk, finding a letter from a girl he knew in Vermont.  She calls him cute-buns and sends him lots of love and kisses, and Liz FREAKS OUT.  That night, she ends up in the arms of Jeffrey French, and they make out.  Confused, Liz goes home crying and opens one of her old journals.  Cue flashbacks!

We’re dumped into #28, when Liz finds out that Todd is moving with his family to Vermont.  After he leaves and they agree to do a long-distance thing, Liz starts hanging out and making out with Nicholas Morrow.  If this is supposed to be scandalous, it’s not.  When Todd comes to visit, the two make up and he climbs a ladder into her bedroom.

After that, we’re treated to a retread of #29, where Steven mopes about his dead fucking girlfriend and his new feelings for Cara.  Liz also chases a Todd lookalike around Sweet Valley (DOPPELGANGER ALERT).  I can’t be bothered to care about any of this.  After that excitement, Liz boasts about helping poor Emily Mayer cope with a blended family and then negotiate a hostage situation (when it’s written out like this, is it more or less ridiculous? I can’t tell anymore).  Also, Liz’s writing is SO GOOD that people steal it, like Ken Matthews did that one time but he totally learned his lesson and they’re cool now.

For whatever fucking reason, we are treated to a very long recap of Lynne Henry’s makeover transformation, and then Liz and Ken start hanging out a lot because now she’s “single” and she and Todd chat on the phone about people he’s dating in Vermont.  Oh, and she reconnects with Amy Sutton but thinks she’s a snob.  WHEN WILL THIS END.  By the time the book gets around to recapping #31, where she and Jessica fight over which of their friends gets to date Jeffrey (like this is a reward?), Liz and Ken aren’t really seeing each other any more, and then Liz decides that she loves Jeffrey.

In the present, Liz stays up all night reading her journal and realizes that her life has been exciting and amazing.  Todd drives over to the Wakefield house and they make up.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Liz has an awful lot of poetry written in her diaries, and they’re all terrible.  Check it: “Rainy Sunday/Foggy Monday/Closely creeping fears,/Can’t take much more of this./Drive east, drive fast/until at last/desert rainbows dry my tears/like a kiss.”

Memorable Quotes:

  • “She’s my sister and I adore her, but sometimes she can be so…shallow. Forgive me, Diary, but it’s true.” (27)
  • “‘Congratulations,’ I whispered. ‘You’ve just become the first man to successfully scale Mount Wakefield!'” (53) [This is sexual, right?]
  • “I glanced at Amy out of the corner of my eye. Could she really be as heartless as she sounded?” (236)
  • “I’m only sixteen, and already my life has been so full!” (322) [Wait, this is the takeaway?]

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

It’s weird that this book is written in first-person.  I had completely forgotten about that, though I guess it makes sense, since the reader is supposed to be in Liz’s diary.  But it’s jarring to read this first-person perspective of Liz that doesn’t sound at all how she should sound, in my opinion.

Also, this book is so fucking boring.  It’s like watching a clips-heavy episode of a comedy from the 90s.  There’s no real reason to show all these things readers have already experienced, and by adding in details that I refuse to accept as cannon at this point, the book is doing itself no favors.  There’s no reason–except to sell more books and make more money–to recap the books in a huge volume like this.  It makes no sense.

Which brings me to the thing that I find most disturbing about this book.  At the beginning, Liz is upset because Todd saw some other girl while he was in Vermont, which WE ALREADY KNEW, and then wonders if he’s loved other people besides her.  So she turns to her diary, which documents every covert hookup with basically every dude in Sweet Valley (no shame here, just pointing out the facts), some of which she had genuine feelings for.  At the end of the book, though, she realizes that her life has been full and exciting, and she feels better about everything?  What?  Wasn’t the point that she was doing some soul-searching about her feelings for Todd?

Also, isn’t the message here: your experiences with boys define you?  Am I wrong?

SVH #91: In Love With a Prince

19 May


Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks


Apparently Elizabeth and Prince Arthur Castillo of Santa Dora have been pen pals since they were in sixth grade, and now he’s coming back to Sweet Valley to visit.  Everyone is super, duper stoked about the prince arriving, as long as they’re female.  The dudes are not stoked.  Todd is convinced Arthur has designs on Liz (he does), and the other boys, including Sam, are extremely jealous about how much attention the girls are giving his impending arrival.  The only female who is not excited is Dana Larson, who thinks royalty is stupid and, like, America and stuff.

Somehow, Jessica convinces Dana to come along to the airport when they go to greet Prince Arthur in hopes of convincing her to have The Droids play at her party for him.  Dana admits to herself that he’s super good-looking but still thinks he must be a snob.  She’s withdrawn and judgmental at the lunch party Liz hosts for him that afternoon.  Then she acts like a total snot in English class when they discuss Hamlet, saying that royals always trod upon people who work for a living.

Because Dana runs her mouth off about this, Mr. Collins proposes the two have a debate about the need and/or place for royal families in the 20th century.  Dana thinks she’ll crush it but doesn’t seem to do any sort of research whatsoever about Santa Dora, modern political structures, or anything else.  She gets up and rambles about America and how they fought for freedom, and then Prince Arthur gets up and gives a really thoughtful (seriously thoughtful given the series we’re in) rebuttal about how Santa Dora is different, etc.  He wins, obviously, and Dana is mortified.  She also realizes she has a crush on Arthur.

Jessica throws a party for Arthur and tries to get him to dance with her all night.  But he’s pretty booked up with other obligations, and keeps apologizing for the fact that he can’t spare a dance.  Sam is REALLY displeased with the way Jessica acts, but Jessica doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the fact that she is actively pursuing another dude in front of her boyfriend.  This is exacerbated by the fact that Jessica overheard Elizabeth talking about Arthur telling her he has a crush on a spunky girl. Arthur is talking about Dana, but Jessica is a sociopath and assumes he means her, until Arthur asks her to ask Dana to dance.  That’s pretty clear

After Dana and Arthur dance together, they become inseparable.  Over the course of a week, they go out, make out, and end up falling in love.  So when he proposes marriage to her, she doesn’t think it’s the craziest thing she’s ever heard.  In fact, she tells him she’ll seriously think about it, and give him an answer at Lila’s big party in a week.  He tells her that they could have a long engagement, like that makes this entire thing less crazy.

Meanwhile, Lila has been trying to get close to Arthur his entire visit, to no avail.  She flirts with one of his bodyguards and gets some information about a “secret mission” the prince is on while visiting the United States.  She does some research at the library and finds out that he has to pick a fiance by the time he turns 17 or his parents will arrange his marriage.  Betting that Dana doesn’t know this part of the story, she leaks it to the Sweet Valley News, who then ask Dana about it.

Dana is furious for whatever reason and breaks up with Arthur.  He’s heartbroken, and though he attends Lila’s party, he brushes off her attempts to get close to him, which makes Jessica nearly glow with glee.  Dana sulks a lot and feels sorry for herself until Elizabeth comes and tells her that Arthur’s feelings for her were very real and that he’s leaving town.  Realizing what an idiot she is, Dana rushes to meet him before he leaves.  The two cry and embrace and promise to remain friends, but she still can’t marry him.  He tells her he will fight with his parents about the antiquated rule.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Lila is getting counseling for her near-rape at Project Youth
  • Liz throws Arthur a lunch party and the menu includes: veggies and dip, fresh fruit, croissants and seafood salad, and cookies.’
  • Lynne Henry wrote a song for Arthur and it’s called “Rule My Heart”
  • Literary references: Mr. Collins’s English class is reading Hamlet
  • Arthur’s parents’ names are Armand and Stephanie.  How…weird?

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Dana did. ‘It’s always been that way with royalty,’ she declared. ‘It was worse back then, because royalty was more common, but it’s the same thing today. Royal families use, abuse, and sponge off the people who actually work for a living.'” (34)
  • “‘I’ve danced with him twice,’ Lila informed Jessica huffily, getting to her feet. ‘And we split a hamburger.'” (56)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I have so many questions about this one, actually.  As one of the books I remember LOVING as a child, it sure didn’t hold up to my adult scrutiny.  So, first of all:

Why is Arthur in Sweet Valley for 3 weeks?

If he’s doing a tour around the world, why on EARTH would he stay in Sweet Valley for 3 weeks at the start?  I know he was planning on pursuing Liz before she was like, “Todd is my special friend,” but wouldn’t he sort of think that either way,  a 3 week stay was sort of ambititious?  Doesn’t he have other places to go? And if he does, since it is a “world tour,” does he have girls who are like, contingency plans?  I don’t get it.

Why is he going on a world tour to find a woman to marry?

Isn’t that weird?  He expects to find someone to marry, at 16, in America? If it’s okay to have a super-long engagement, why is the rule there in the first place? If he’s going to college and is allowed to basically go wherever he wants, how does this engagement thing signify that he’s ready to take over the throne?

Also, Dana is the WORST.


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 #28: Alone in the Crowd

9 Jul

Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks


Lynne Henry is Sweet Valley High’s biggest outcast.  She doesn’t talk to anyone and walks through the halls like a zombie.  Her life pretty much blows, even though she’s got a good mom who’s trying to reach out to her and a comfortable home.  The only time she feels any pleasure is when she’s playing her guitar and composing songs, so when The Droids announce a star-search contest for a great new song, she feels compelled to submit one.  She writes it as she thinks about lead guitarist Guy Chesney, and she cries.

Lynne’s self-esteem is so shot that she submits the song anonymously.  When it comes time for the band to listen to the song, everyone agrees that it’s the best they’ve heard.  Lynne has some serious talent, but she still doesn’t want to come forward as the author.  When Liz accidentally discovers that Lynne wrote the song when she hears her singing during a guitar lesson, she feels torn about what to do.  Apparently, Guy has fallen in love with the singer of the song.

Through some contrived plotting and the repetition of the name Linda Ronstadt, Guy figures out that Lynne is the author and creates a flyer with a police sketch of the “mystery” songwriter.  While he’s busy doing this, Lynne’s mom helps her with a makeover that turns her from a “zero” into a total hottie.  Guy distributes the flyer around the school and everyone congratulates Lynne, who realizes then that Guy is totes in love with her.  They make out.

The B-Plot involves Jessica organizing a fundraiser for new cheerleader uniforms.  She comes up with the idea that they’ll have a rocking chair relay, which I thought meant they would figure out how to race around in rocking chairs but actually means that the cheerleaders will take turns rocking in a chair for hours at a time.  THAT IS LAME.  To counteract the lameness of the event, she also decides there will be a dance in the gym during the relay.  It is a rocking success (oh I see what you did there) and the cheerleaders get their new uniforms.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • I can’t help but feel that this book was written very quickly, as there are numerous glaring typos and the character of Enid seems more like a Jessica than an Elizabeth.
  • Lynne teaches music classes at a place called the Music Center.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Most girls I know think music is OK as long as it stays in the background.” (20)  [ed. note: Really, Guy?  You play in a band, and this is really what you believe?]
  • “‘A mysterious oil magnate was proposing marriage to me on his jet,’ Lila told her. ‘He had a diamond ring the size of a hard-boiled egg in his hands.'” (130)

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

In the interest of full disclosure, I struggle through many of the books that focus on tertiary characters instead of the Wakefield twins.  As a child, I only really loved (and re-read) the ones that were all about Elizabeth and Jessica.  It’s hard for me, even now, to read these titles about characters who pop out of the woodwork only to disappear again, and try to care.  But I will say that Lynne’s obvious depression is alarming, especially because the word “depression” is never mentioned.

Throughout the book, the reader is inundated with examples of Lynne’s depression.  She’s an insomniac who has trouble getting up in the morning, she wears clothing that helps her become invisible and hides her body.  She takes no care with her appearance.  Multiple times throughout the story, she looks in the mirror and tells herself she’s “too ugly to be human” and a “total zero.”  It’s disturbing, heartbreaking, and uncomfortable.

All of this, of course, is solved in true Sweet Valley fashion: 1.) she gets a makeover–loses the glasses, puts some makeup on and some clothes that fit, and she’s pretty; and 2.) a boy notices her and suddenly she has self-worth.  At one point, Elizabeth sees her laughing and talking to Guy and thinks, “she’s almost actually pretty” which is so condescending that it makes me want to punch Elizabeth in the uterus.  But Lynne’s psychological issues cannot be solved by these things, and it makes me wonder what kind of message it sends to young readers.