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SVH #120: In Love with the Enemy

25 Feb


Estimated Elapsed Time: 8-10 days


SVH is playing Palisades High in an important football game.  The Palisades team plays unfairly according to SVH, but they still win, leaving Ken Matthews feeling particularly unhappy about the outcome.  There’s tension between the football players on the opposing teams, which is too bad, because Liz and Enid have made friends with Marla Daniels and Caitlin Alexander, both Palisades High students, and the foursome plan to hold a joint dance for the schools.

Jessica, Amy, and Lila are at the beach one day and watch a surf contest happening. At the end of the contest, it’s announced that another competition will be held in a month, and the winner gets an interview on RockTV and a trip to Hawaii.  Jessica decides to enter, despite the fact that she doesn’t currently surf.  This is met with derision from not only Lila and Amy, but also from the surf contest’s champion Rosie, who tells Jessica that cheerleaders can’t surf and she’ll never make it.  This only fuels Jessica’s desire to win even more.  She bets Lila that she’ll win, or she’ll wear a wet suit to school, and Lila takes the bet, swearing she’ll wear pink sunscreen on her nose if Jessica does indeed take the trophy.

Elizabeth and Enid continue making plans for a charity dance with the girls from Palisades despite the fact that tensions between the guys at both schools continue to ramp up.  They decide on a masked dance to help encourage co-mingling, and Elizabeth is stunned when Bruce and Todd have violent reactions to the idea of the dance.  Things continue to escalate after both groups of dudes play pranks on the others, and they decide to “have it out” at the dance.  Liz decides that the only course of action is to call the dance off completely.  But then Jessica tells them that the guys are going to meet at the warehouse where the dance is being held regardless of the status of the dance, and the girls think their presence might help calm tensions.

Meanwhile, Jessica starts taking surfing lessons from a mysterious surfer dude named Christian Gorman.  The two meet nearly every morning before school to surf the waves and reveal secrets to one another.  They kiss a bunch, and Jessica feels more distant from Ken than ever before.  It doesn’t help that he’s become obsessed with getting even with Palisades.

The Oracle’s attempt to run a feature on Palisades to highlight their good qualities backfires and only serves to ramp up feelings of hostility.  The night of the dance, the two groups of dudes meet and start a fight.  Jessica runs outside to tell Ken and Todd that Liz is calling the police, and she sees Christian beating the bloody hell out of Ken.  And…scene.


Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • According to this book, Ocean Bay is the most popular beach in Sweet Valley
  • The Palisades High School newspaper is called the Pentagon.
  • The Droids dress up as the Flintstones for the dance

Memorable Quotes:

  • “This whole world is a boys’ club. Girls need to stick together.  Otherwise, we just spend all our time hating each other and ourselves and competing for boys’ attention.” Jessica took a breath.  The words had come out in a rush. (57)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

It feels redundant to point out how dumb and unnatural the rivalry between Palisades and SVH is in this book.  There are a couple of sporting events where bad feelings are bred, and all of a sudden, both schools have dangerous gangs of dudes wearing black jeans and black leather jackets and totally living up the Sharks vs. Jets thing without any of the fancy dancing.  It feels very obvious and very forced, and none of it works on any level.

Another clunker of a plot point is the SHOCKING reveal that Christian is a Palisades High student, which is obvious from the book’s title alone but also makes no sense within the confines of what Jessica and Christian have been doing.  They’ve been meeting every day, have professed their love for one another, and yet never bothered to mention that they go to newly-rivaled schools?  I don’t buy it.

This whole book is dumb, dumb, dumb.  I don’t have high hopes for the two books that follow in this little mini-series.  Talk about stretching out a topic already worn thin.

SVH Super Star: Todd’s Story

2 May

todds story

Estimated Elapsed Time: just over 2 weeks


It’s summer vacation in Sweet Valley yet again, and everyone is talking about how they’re going to be day camp counselors at Secca Lake for two weeks.  Elizabeth hopes that it will help reinvigorate her relationship with Todd, which she thinks has gotten stale lately.  Todd worries that his unpaid gig as a camp counselor won’t be enough to appease his father, who has been pushing for him to take an internship at Varitronics, the company he works for.  Liz watches them butt heads at a family dinner and wonders why Todd won’t stand up to his father more.

When the gang goes to the day camp training, Todd is shocked to see Kevin Holmes, a boy he crossed paths with in Vermont.  Back in Vermont, Todd stopped Kevin in the midst of mugging and old man in an alley and sent him to jail (it’s referred to as “prison” several times, but this was within the last year, so is it really?).  At the trial, Kevin’s dad tried to bribe Todd, and then after his sentencing, Kevin swore to Todd he’d get his revenge.  Todd wonders if Kevin is also the person who has been calling him and hanging up without saying anything.

Instead of telling Liz or Jessica or, I don’t know, the camp director, Todd decides to keep it to himself, especially after Kevin pretends to not know Todd.  He worries about Kevin not having changed at all and having sinister motives, but everyone else seems to really like him, including Todd’s parents, who keep inviting him over for dinner.  Turns out Kevin’s interested in an internship at Varitronics, and Todd’s dad is over the moon about it.  While Kevin charms everyone else, he keeps making weird threats to Todd about not letting it slip about his past.  Todd is completely distracted by this, and his refusal to confide in Liz drives a wedge further between them.

Meanwhile, camp starts and Todd continues to obsess about Kevin.  Kevin starts flirting or dating Jessica, and Todd worries about how this brings him closer to Liz.  No one can understand why Todd is so cold to Kevin, and there are several moments when Todd completely loses his cool around him, including an unfortunate moment after Kevin beat Todd to a drowning child.  Todd snaps that not everything is a competition, but it seems like no one else thought that was an appropriate thing to say.  By this point, Liz has told Todd she thinks they need a breather, and they are broken up (again).  Todd is miserable.

Kevin lies about a bunch of stuff, and while people seem to sort of catch the lies, they let them go, which is weird.  Also, things start disappearing around the camp, like Liz’s lavaliere necklace and Cara’s keys.  Todd continues to withdraw into himself, further alienating himself from his friends.

Then Kevin starts telling people that Todd had a reputation back in Vermont as kind of a bully.  He tells people that he roughed up some basketball players, punched a teammate, and there were rumors that he maybe sexually assaulted a girl.  Because Todd’s friends are literally the dumbest, most gullible people on the planet, they believe Kevin’s story, even though they have known Todd for sixteen years.

Somehow, Kevin gets Liz to agree to a date with him, which pisses Jessica off to no end.  Liz goes on the date and is struck by how awful Kevin is when he’s by himself.  Obsessed with the sound of his own voice and with how much he hates Todd, Liz realizes that he isn’t as cool as she first thought.  After the date, she goes home to worry about stuff, and Kevin goes out to mug one of the other camp counselors at Secca Lake.

Todd witnesses the mugging, which is just one in a string of recent muggings in the otherwise crime-free Sweet Valley.  The next day, he tells Winston and Aaron about his suspicions and what really happened in Vermont, and he feels better.  He decides to go to the police the following day.  Only, he doesn’t get to do that, because Kevin has framed Todd for the muggings, I guess?  They seem to think the fact that his pen shows up on the beach means he’s guilty?  Despite the fact that this is where everyone has been working for the past two weeks?  Whatever, I don’t care.  Todd gets arrested.

At the final BBQ party for the camp, Kevin asks Liz to go for a walk.  She agrees for some reason, and the two take a hike alone.  At the same time, Jessica finds Liz’s lavaliere in Kevin’s car and realizes that he’s been the stealing stealer all along!  She runs to tell her friends.

In the nature, Kevin tells Liz that he used to have a brother named Brent and that he accidentally killed him in a car crash.  He tells Liz this, and then he tries to kill Liz, because that’s the only way he can think to hurt Todd.  Luckily, Todd is out of jail and rushes into the scene in time to save Liz.  Kevin gets arrested, Liz and Todd are back together, and all is right with the world.  I guess.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • This book takes place in the summer, but it is after Todd has moved back from Vermont.  It is also after Cara Walker has moved to England, and yet she is here and still dating Steven.  Sam Woodruf is nowhere to be found, despite the fact that he and Jessica have been dating for a while now.  HELP ME FIGURE THIS OUT.
  • Almost 100 six-to-ten-year-olds enrolled in the summer camp.  Talk about a nightmare.
  • Kevin drives a black Mazda

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Kevin nodded. ‘My dad thinks everybody should be required to read The Wall Street Journal with their breakfast.'” (83)
  • “Maybe there was nothing behind them.  Maybe Kevin Holmes didn’t have a soul.” (97)
  • “‘No, he’s not lying,’ Aaron agreed. ‘He’d have no reason to lie.'” (134) Are you a fucking idiot, Aaron?
  • “No, Kevin must be innocent, Todd decided. A person simply couldn’t be one thing on the outside and something entirely different on the inside.” (151) WHAT THE HOLY FUCK IS HAPPENING HERE?

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

Here’s the thing about this completely ridiculous book: I remember liking this best of all the Super Stars.  That’s not surprising, really.  It has the most interesting premise: working as camp counselors during summer break, dealing with a mysterious new person who displays signs of being an actual psychopath, etc.  But reading this book now, I’m struck by how completely fucking stupid everyone is in the book.

Talk about plot points! Everything that happens here is meant to further the plot and not the characters.  Todd doesn’t tell anyone that he knows Kevin from before, ostensibly because he’s scared if he does, Kevin will retaliate.  Okay, fine, but shouldn’t the camp director have run a basic background check on anyone being left alone with children for any period of time?  Is that not a lawsuit waiting to happen?  If Kevin had served any jail time, which we are led to believe, he would have had a record.

Moving on: Todd continues to not tell anyone despite his suspicions.  He puts off going to the police for days, despite his having witnessed one of the muggings.  All of this is way, way too convenient for the plot we end up with.  I can’t help but think that the ghostwriter of this one thought that the readers were really, really dumb, because we aren’t allowed to think anything about anything here.

Also, the completely ridiculous rationalizations of everyone throughout the novel make no sense whatsoever.  Why would everyone believe Kevin over Todd?  Why does Todd continue to doubt Kevin’s motivations and behavior, despite the fact that he has continually threatened him throughout the course of the book?  Do these people have selective amnesia?  Am I the crazy one?


SVH #73: Regina’s Legacy

21 Mar


Estimated Elapsed Time: 2 weeks


Apparently the fact that Elizabeth decided she could only focus on one hobby at a time about two books ago is lost on her now, because she’s joined the new club that’s all the rage at Sweet Valley High: the photography club! Good timing, too, because as soon as she joins, poor dead Regina Morrow’s mom stops by with a gift for Elizabeth: Regina’s fancy camera.  Elizabeth wastes no time learning how to use it, and starts snapping photos left and right.

Some are for the secret photo mural the photography club decides to make for the school, and some are for her own benefit.  One day at the beach, she takes a picture of three men who look suspicious, and one of them sees her and starts running after her, trying to take her camera! Luckily, Prince Albert barks at the man, and Liz escapes to her car just in time.  She develops the photos and still feels weird about what she saw, even though she can’t put her finger on why that is.

Things get weirder when a cute young guy tails Jessica and Lila when they’re cruising around in the Fiat.  His name is Chad, and he asks Jess about the picture she took on the beach, and it doesn’t take long for Jess to realize he means Liz.  She plays along, promises to show him the photo, which she says is in the darkroom at school (it isn’t), and gives him her phone number.

Liz and Todd see a news broadcast about a congressman turning tail about prosecuting a drug ring, and Liz is sure the man is the one she photographed.  But how could it be the same man she saw on the beach in California if he’s in Washington?  Todd thinks she’s overreacting, but Liz is sure something weird is up with the photo she took.  Whatever, I’m bored.

Meanwhile, someone breaks into the darkroom at SVH and ransacks the place, destroying a bunch of equipment.  Todd and Elizabeth were just about to use it, too! They decide to go use the equipment at the local news station to blow up the photograph, because Liz has a feeling about a shirt one of the men is wearing.  Finally, they discern that the shirt is from a restaurant called Rick’s Place.

Chad asks Jessica out and takes her bowling.  Then he drives her to Big Mesa for dinnner…to Rick’s place.  Todd and Liz see Jessica there, and they panic when they see Chad grab her wrist and pull her out of the restaurant.  They chase after them in their car, but Todd gets pulled over before they can catch up.  Liz tells the policeman where she thinks they’re going (SVH), and everyone races to the school.  Todd tackles Chad, he gets arrested, and the whole story comes tumbling out.  And it is even dumber than you can imagine.

The man in the picture is Rich or Ron Hunter (I can’t remember and can’t be bothered to check).  They’re identical twins and were both involved in the biggest drug ring in America that the government was unaware of.  One of them had a change of heart about it and turned informant, and the bad guys put his brother in for him in congress so that they wouldn’t be prosecuted.  Yes, this whole thing is a big bag of stupid.  They would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those pesky teens!

The B-Plot involves Shelley Novak getting jealous of how much time her boyfriend Jim Roberts spends on the photography club project.  He won’t tell her what he’s working on, which pisses her off further.  They fight, and then Jim puts a photo of Shelley at the center of the mural to prove his love for her.  They make up. I barf.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • The book refers to Nicholas Morrow being a recent Sweet Valley High graduate, but that’s not true, because Nicholas moved with his family after he was already done with high school.  Sigh.
  • The camera Liz is given by Skye Morrow is a Nikon.
  • Jessica wears a silk blouse and a mini-skirt on her date with Chad.  Liz wears a pink dress and pearls to a casual dinner with Todd’s parents.  Whatever.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘That nerd Allen Walters,’ continued Jessica. ‘He snuck into cheerleading practice today and was zooming in at us from all over the place! I thought he was only interested in math and chemistry. You photography-club types are just a bunc of Peeping Toms. It gives me the creeps!'” (27)
  • “‘I’ll tell you one thing,’ Jessica said, shaking her head. ‘That’s the last time I go out with a total stranger just because he’s cute, and it’s also the last time I let somebody think I’m you! Talk about a double whammy!'” (124)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I guess the first thing worth mentioning is how much I didn’t care about the mystery at the center of Liz’s photograph.  I literally just finished the book and already can’t be bothered to remember which brother was in which role or why it mattered.  The details surrounding the drug ring, the kidnapping, and the twin switch are so hilariously vague that it’s clear no one expected readers to care much about it, either.

There’s this awkward moment near the end of the book where Liz feels like Regina’s spirit helped her put an end to the drug ring because Regina died of a drug overdose, and she congratulates herself on how many lives have been saved.  I feel like Liz has no idea how drug rings work.  But whatever.  This part is dumb, and kind of boring.

Something that struck me while reading this book: all of Liz and Todd’s research would have been done so differently now.  First of all, Liz’s camera would likely have been a digital one, which means she could have enhanced the photos on a computer instead of painstakingly by hand.  Second of all, all of their research about “Rick’s Place” and the congressman could have been put to rest with a simple Google search.  Isn’t technology weird?

Next up: More of Robin Wilson’s eating disorder! I’m super, super nervous about this one.

SVH #7: Dear Sister

7 Mar

Total Elapsed Time: 9 weeks

The Overview

Elizabeth is still in her coma as a result of the motorcycle crash, and Jessica sits by her bedside every day, begging her to awake.  When Elizabeth does, everyone is immensely relieved.  But it isn’t long before Jessica realizes that Liz is acting differently.  She’s uninterested in things like reading and school and becomes obsessed with her looks and with flirting with every guy at Sweet Valley High.  She spurns he advances of Todd, choosing instead to focus on Ken Matthews and Bruce Patman and pretty much anything with a penis.

When the twins throw a pool party, Liz somehow gets out of helping set up and clean up, leaving Jessica to do all the work.  She cheats on a research paper, gets kicked off the staff of the Oracle, and doesn’t seem to care.  Jessica can only watch as her twin acts more and more like her, causing Jess to act more like the old Elizabeth just to pick up the slack.

Things come to a head when Liz decides to go off with Bruce Patman after dancing with him at one of Lila’s infamous “pickup parties.”  The two of them head off to another party at the country club, and Bruce gets her drunk off some wine he serves her in a paper cup (classy, party of two).  Jessica pleads with Todd to intervene, and he does, chasing them down in the parking lot, punching Bruce in the face and dragging Elizabeth off into his own car.  She’s furious with him and refuses to see reason.

Liz decides to go out with Bruce again, and doesn’t even think twice about double-booking herself that night when Bill Chase also asks her out.  She’s long gone when he shows up for their date, so Jessica pretends to be Elizabeth and goes out with Bill.  Meanwhile, Liz and Bruce have gone to his house to fool around.  When Bruce goes downstairs to get some wine, Liz trips on a rug and bangs her head on a table.  This seems to snap her back to her senses, and when Bruce returns and she has no memory of going out with him, he tries to force her into having sex with him. She runs away and into the arms of Todd, where they make up and she cries a lot.

The B-Plot involves Jean and Joan Percy, a set of 12-year-old identical twin girls whose parents are apparently friends of the Wakefields.  They come to stay with the family for a few weeks while their parents are out of town.  Because Elizabeth is being irresponsible, Jessica ends up having to care for them, shlepping them to the movies with her when she goes on a date and driving them to their flute auditions.  She’s annoyed with them until they help her out of a tight spot with her parents after getting a speeding ticket and putting a dent in the fiat’s fender.  The end.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Roger Collins wasn’t the most popular teacher at school only because he was interesting in class.  In fact, most of the girls would have loved a little after-class attention from this teacher.” (34)

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis

I’m not lying when I say that this is one of my least favorite books.  I recognize the fact that this book is considered the pinnacle of what the series was at its peak, but it just doesn’t work for me.  Putting aside the ludicrous idea that Elizabeth wakes up acting like Jessica and only reverts back to her old self after hitting her head again, the book just irritates me.  Everyone complains throughout the whole book that they’ve seen negative changes in Elizabeth, but no one does anything.  Mr. Collins throws her off the paper staff, teachers notice that she’s failing her classes (and plagiarizing papers), Todd essentially gets cheated on and then dumped, and Jessica becomes the responsible twin, but no one does anything remotely proactive to figure out what’s going on.

What’s more alarming is the fact that Ma and Pa Wakefield seem to be completely oblivious to these drastic changes.  Sure, they get upset with Elizabeth when she copies her paper, and she gets grounded for a while, but they don’t actually seem to be concerned that the behavior is indicative of a bigger issue.  They recognize that Jessica is pulling more weight than usual but don’t investigate that further.  True to the other books in the series, the Wakefield parents remain conspicuously absent from the book’s plot.

I leave you with this final thought: What kind of parents invite 12-year-old twin girls to come for an extended stay when one of their own daughters is recovering from a tragic motorcycle accident in which she was in a coma for several days?

SVH #1: Double Love

25 Feb


Estimated Total Elapsed Time: My conservative estimate is 3 weeks to 1 month.

The Overview:

The twins are perfect.  They have classic, all-American good looks (I think that means they’re white), and perfect bodies.  They’re tanned and toned without any real effort, and they lead very privileged upper-middle class lives.  When the book opens, it’s the morning of a very big day.  The twins will be inducted into Pi Beta Alpha, the school’s most exclusive sorority during lunch.  Jessica wheedles her way into borrowing Elizabeth’s new tuxedo shirt, bow tie, and matching pants in what is the first of many outfit descriptions.

It seems also that both girls have their eyes on the same boy.  Todd Wilkins is the school’s basketball star and is quite the dreamboat, although he exhibits very little personality or character throughout the book.  Jessica uses a series of manipulations and lies throughout the book to keep Todd away from Elizabeth and in her clutches.  She’s determined to get him to ask her to the Pi Epsilon Sweetheart dance, and she goes out of her way to make sure he does, even though it means lying and stepping all over her doormat of a sister.

Liz spends the majority of the book crying about how she’s completely forgettable.  She also cries about the fact that Todd likes her sister and not her.  When Jessica goes out with wild-boy Rick Andover and gets escorted home by the police, a case of mistaken identity (not the last in the series, and not even the last case of it IN THIS BOOK) makes Liz look like the guilty party and sends the school’s gossipmongers into overdrive.

Todd takes Jessica to the dance, Liz goes with Winston Egbert, and everyone has a pretty miserable time.  Jessica is pissed that Todd doesn’t seem into her, and so at the end of the night, she storms into Liz’s room and essentially accuses him of attempted date rape.  Liz gets mad and tells Todd off, and Todd acts all confused and butt-hurt, because he’s supposed to be mad at her for going to Kelly’s with Rick and acting like a general floozy.

The book culminates with Jessica and Liz essentially getting carjacked and kidnapped by a drunk Rick Andover.  The logistics of how this happens are so ridiculous that I’ll spare you the details.  It’s important to note that Todd saves the day by chasing down their car, punching Rick, and then kissing Elizabeth.  Elizabeth gets her revenge on Jessica by doing the old identity switcheroo on her and then reveals that “Elizabeth” is the author of the school’s gossip column, an outing that means a dunk in the school’s pool.  Jessica swears revenge, but Elizabeth doesn’t seem worried (I would be).

The B Plot involves the twins being convinced that Ned Wakefield (or big Papa Dubs, as I like to refer to him) is having an affair with a divorcee lawyer at his firm named Marianna West.  He is not.  Jessica is also convinced that Steven is dating the trashy Betsy Martin, who sleeps around and whose father is the town drunk, but really he’s dating Betsy’s angelic sister Tricia.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘Why in the world are you two still playing that ridiculous game?  You wouldn’t think it was funny if you really were gross-looking,’ Jessica said, shuddering at the thought of having anything but an attractive family.” (34)
  • “‘Jess, are you sure?  I can’t believe it.  Betsy’s been doing drugs for years–she sleeps around–‘ ‘And her father gets bombed out of his mind every night,’ Jessica said wildly.” (76)

Outfits Described:

  • a tuxedo shirt with matching pants and bow tie
  • a red blouse, black pencil skirt, and black sandals
  • pressed jeans and a blue button-down
  • a white strapless dress
  • a blue dress with a handkerchief neckline and full skirt
  • an ice-blue suit

Trivia and Fun Facts:

  • Rick Andover orders two boilermakers when he takes Jessica out.  This was the most badass drink the ghostwriter could come up with?
  • Jessica isn’t allowed to drive the Fiat because of a fender bender that cost $200 to repair.  When adjusted for inflation, that would be the equivalent of about $470 today.
  • The twins have perfect figures, but they consumed the following food items over the course of the book: pepperoni pizza, french toast, green grapes, milk, duck a la orange, creamed asparagus, chilled parfait, bacon cheeseburger, root beer, and hamburgers.
  • Pop culture references made include: Star Wars, the Twilight Zone, Jaws, Sherlock Holmes, and a reference to Clint Eastwood.

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis

The book that started it all has its share of ridiculous plot points.  It’s hard to pick just one to point out for this anaylsis, to be honest.  Jessica’s intentional lying and concealing information from both Todd and Elizabeth throughout the book is reprehensible at best and downright malicious if looked at more closely.  For a girl who loves her sister so much, she sure treats Elizabeth like shit a lot.  Her false accusations about Todd attempting to date-rape her are also alarming.  I wonder if such claims would be dealt with so haphazardly in a book written for teens today.

But it is the handling of Rick Andover’s tragic character that bothers me most.  He’s described as a badass, and I suppose he is, in that he dropped out of school, drinks and smokes and speeds around in a car that’s shiny, sporty and probably shaped like a penis.  He hits on anything that moves, and apparently Jessica goes for this, because she accepts his offer of a date even though they have nothing in common and he used some cheesy pick-up line on her.  Jessica decides later that he’s the terrifying kind of trouble, and she’s right, because he kidnaps her and Elizabeth at the end of the book.  Todd punches him and saves the day, though, and that’s that.  I have to wonder why the girls didn’t press charges, why there was no police involvement, and why Ma and Pa Wakefield seem to know nothing about what happened.

The moral of the story?  Don’t date high school dropouts.  They’ll take you to a dive bar and try to make you drink a boilermaker.