Tag Archives: unrealistic standards of beauty

SVH Super Thriller #8: Murder in Paradise

28 Jan

murderinparadise

Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 week

Summary/Overview:

Alice Wakefield has randomly won an all-expense paid trip to a spa in a glamorous location.  Because Alice has no friends, she takes her daughters, as well as Lila and her mom, Grace, and Enid (her mom has to “work” and can’t make it). The spa, creatively named Paradise Spa, is full of beautiful people, with the exception of the spa’s owner, Tatiana Mueller.  While Alice has a feeling of deja vu when she meets Tatiana, she largely ignores her feelings of foreboding.

The ladies settle into life at the spa.  Jessica and Lila are horrified to find that there are no mirrors anywhere at the resort, and when they ask if they can have a mirror delivered to their room, Tatiana tells them no, because the spa focuses on inner beauty.  Except this is a beauty spa, so that makes no sense, but whatever.  It takes approximately five seconds before Jessica meets a golf instructor named Chris and falls in love with him.  She gets worried when he seems to be pretty into Liz, though.

And indeed he is, because he asks Liz to meet him for a rousing game of tennis.  She agrees, so long as he’ll bring a friend for her friend, Enid.  Enid has been feeling bad about how gorgeous Liz is and how she gets all the boys or whatever.  Tatiana has actually been feeding into Enid’s insecurities, but they are boring, so whatever.  Enid hits it off with Chris’s friend Alex, and the date goes well until Jessica shows up and acts all distracting.  Enid is miserable and consumed with jealousy, which is only compounded by the fact that Tatiana has started hypnotizing Enid and telling her that her mother never loved her.  WHAT?

Liz and Chris run off and make out.  Later, the group of teens is on a fun outing of frisbee golf, like teens are wont to do, and they stumble upon a super weird building in the woods without any windows.  The hotel staffers run away, and there’s clearly something weird going on.  Liz overhears Tatiana yelling at a waitress named Katya about letting guests into the woods, and when Katya ends up dead in the steam room later, Liz finds it mighty suspicious, despite Tatiana saying that Katya had a heart condition.  Liz does some more snooping and discovers that not only was Katya a runaway, but so are most of the spa’s staff.  They work at the spa for room and board and make no actual income.  Liz also thinks that they seem a tad brainwashed.

Then Alice goes missing, and Tatiana brushes it off, saying she probably just wanted some time alone.  The twins try to call home, but the phone’s dead.  Tatiana continues to act weird, and Jessica spies on her and sneaks into her office when she’s not there.  Once inside, she finds a yearbook from Sweet Valley University with Alice’s picture cut out.  DUN DUN DUN!  Eventually, Elizabeth manages to get her laptop plugged into a phone line, and after a little research, pulls up some weird stuff about the spa and plastic surgery.  While she does that, Jessica goes through Tatiana’s files and finds that all of the staff have undergone plastic surgery, and Enid is next!

The twins get an email from Ned, who tells the girls that they did know a Tatiana Mueller in college.  She was obsessed with Alice and everyone made fun of her because she was unattractive.  Liz goes to do some thinking by a waterfall and gets kidnapped by Chris, who is wearing a lab coat.  Once she’s kidnapped, Chris reveals to her that Tatiana wants to look like Alice and has trained another person to be the perfect plastic surgeon so this can be accomplished.  The plan is to kill Alice once the surgery is complete.

Right before Elizabeth dies, Lila, Jessica, and Enid come rushing in to save the day.  Enid’s brainwashing unravels as Chris spews his story, and she helps overpower Tatiana and her assistants.  The police arrive, and all is well.  Everyone goes home.  Even the surgically-altered runaways.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • The shelter for runaways that Liz calls is called Manford House
  • There’s another plug for the search engine (?) INFOMAX in this book

Memorable Quotes:

  • “’I’ve gained four pounds since Hugh dumped me.’ Her green eyes glittered; a tear slid down her freckled cheek. ‘If I were prettier, if I looked more like you and Jessica, Hugh would have never gotten tired of me.’  Elizabeth continued to shake her head empathetically. Inside, though, she had to admit that there might be a tiny measure of truth to what Enid said.”

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

I mean, what is there even to say?  The idea that Alice would bring her daughters, their friends, and their friend’s mothers (well, except Enid’s) to a spa for a week is sad enough.  Don’t you have any friends, Alice?  Isn’t it weird to bring the mom of one of your daughter’s friends whom you barely know?  Setting aside that, don’t you think it’s weird that you can’t remember the name Tatiana Mueller, which is fairly unusual?  Remember how she lived down the hall from you in college and was OBSESSED with you?

But then the rest of it is just silly.  Both Jessica and Elizabeth are supposed to have boyfriends at home (Ken and Todd, respectively) and within minutes of arriving at Paradise Spa, they’re macking on the same dude.  Like, what the hell?  A fling when you’re across the world is one thing, but you’re going to be home in a matter of days (provided you don’t die at the hands of a deranged, body-image-obsessed psychopath).  Cool your jets, ladies.

Then there’s the issue of Tatiana and her hare-brained scheme.  How did she really see this playing out?  She was going to kill the entire group and take over Alice’s life?  That seems unlikely.  So she just wanted to look like Alice and go on living her life?  Did she not think that people were going to start getting suspicious about how many people “disappeared” or actually died in her health spa?  Are there not regulations regarding those sorts of things?  Didn’t she have to put in purchase orders for her medical equipment?  DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE SENSE?

Also, Enid.  LOL.

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SVH #101: The Boyfriend War

18 Jun

theboyfriendwar

Estimated Elapsed Time: 1 week

Summary/Overview:

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 #93: Stepsisters

23 May

stepsisters

Estimated Elapsed Time: 4 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Annie Whitman’s mom has been spending a lot of time in New York as part of her work as a fashion model (strictly catalog work, Annie is quick to tell her friends), and when she comes back from her latest month-long trip (leaving Annie alone, I guess?), she tells her that she’s been seeing a man in New York–a photographer named Walter Thomas, and the two of them are getting married! Walter has a daughter about Annie’s age named Cheryl, and the two of them will be moving to Sweet Valley.  Oh, and they’re black.  Annie is stunned but works hard to not be prejudiced about the fact that her new family will look different from her.  Whatever, I hate this book already.

In the span of like a day of this news, Annie’s mom buys the house next door to the Wakefield twins, and within the week, the new family is moving in, Walter and Cheryl already in tow.  The twins are excited about the new neighbors and are totally cool about Cheryl.  They help the girls unpack and notice that things between Annie and Cheryl are already tense, despite the fact that it’s clear Annie is trying as hard as she can to make Cheryl comfortable.  The problem is, Annie’s so concerned with not being a racist that she ends up being super, super racist, obsessing over color and inviting a bunch of students of color to the party she throws in Cheryl’s honor even though she’s not good friends with them.  She also doesn’t tell anyone that Cheryl is black before they meet her, making the situation even weirder.

Annie keeps trying to include Cheryl in her life, but everything keeps going wrong.  She encourages her to join Pi Beta Alpha and go to football games, even though neither is Cheryl’s scene. The two continue to resent one another but neither one is willing to admit it out loud.  At a pool party at Suzanne Hanlon’s house, Cheryl makes a little speech thanking the PBAs for considering her for membership, but then declines to even pledge.  She also accuses Annie of trying to make her fit in by turning her white.

Eventually, the two figure out a way to talk to one another, but it takes a trip to the hospital to do so.  Annie’s mother had appendicitis–but she’s fine now.  The girls decide to allow them to be themselves or something, and all is well with the world.  Cheryl also starts flirting pretty seriously with Steven Wakefield.

Oh, and Annie and Tony Esteban get back together.  YAWN.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Cheryl’s friends spend their summers at Blue Water, a place for musicians
  • Cheryl is a lacto-ovo-vegetarian
  • Rhomboid is a new up-and-coming band.  The name is literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.
  • Annie throws a party for Cheryl at their house the DAY AFTER they move in.  Jesus, that’s fast.
  • Apparently Annie is quite the cook?

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Annie thought carefully about the question. She was friends with Patsy Gilbert and Andy Jenkins, who were black, and Rosa Jameson and Manuel Lopez, who were Hispanic, and she could honestly say that she didn’t think about their skin colors or ethnic backgrounds any more than she did about, say, Jessica and Elizabeth’s English and Swedish background.” (13) [Blogger’s note: Are you fucking kidding me?]
  • “‘You actually have sororities in high school here?’ Cheryl asked, sounding surprised. ‘Sweet Valley sounds like something out of a 1950’s beach-party movie–football, cheerleaders, sororities, surfing. I suppose you have a burger joint, too?'” (75)
  • “‘And there’s something else I wanted to ask you about,’ Cheryl went on, looking a little troubled. ‘What gives with all these black, Asian, and Hispanic kids here? I don’t think I’ve seen this many people of color since I got to Sweet Valley, and certainly not in place.'” (86)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

Guys, this book is fucked.  Like, seriously, seriously fucked.  It’s hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure that the underlying message of the book is that skin color doesn’t matter and that people who worry about whether or not it does are doing the real anti-racist work, but the message is so, so wrong and so convoluted it’s hard to tell.  Annie’s obsession (and seriously, she is OBSESSED) with the fact that Cheryl is black is so hard to read, because I think we’re supposed to identify with Annie?  We’re supposed to think that because she’s worrying about it, it means she’s not racist?  When the reality is that she comes off as more racist than anyone else, even Suzanne Hanlon, who is clearly a racist little twat?

There were so many moments when I laughed out loud because I was completely incredulous about what was being said or done in the book.  Take this quote, for instance:

‘I’m sure you have less to worry about than you think,’ Elizabeth suggested. ‘Maybe you should talk to Patty or Tracy Gilbert, or maybe Andy Jenkins. I know Andy did have that trouble with Charlie Cashman, but aside from that I don’t think he or any of the other black kids have had much reason to feel uncomfortable at Sweet Valley High.’ (40)

She’s talking about that time that Andy Jenkins was jumped by five guys, punched in the stomach by his best friend, and was hospitalized.  You know, “that trouble” where Andy was the victim of racialized violence.  But apart from that, students of color at Sweet Valley don’t worry about racism in their high school or their town!

Except for when Rosa Jameson lied about her ethnic heritage because she was afraid that students wouldn’t accept her.  And when Sandy Bacon dealt with comments about the fact that her boyfriend, Manuel Lopez, was Hispanic and she was white.  Except for those incidents.

Also, how completely fucked is it that Liz is speaking on behalf of students of color to begin with?  YOU ARE THE PROBLEM, LIZ.

Ugh, I just can’t.

 

SVH #87: My Best Friend’s Boyfriend

5 May

mybestfriendsboyfriend

Estimated Elapsed Time: 4 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Denise Hadley is beautiful and popular and charismatic.  Her best friend, Ginny Belasca, feels like the dull, undesirable friend, forever in her shadow.  When Denise urges Ginny to volunteer at Project Youth, manning the teen line, Ginny is reluctant but finds that she’s actually sort of great at it.  It doesn’t take long before she takes a call from a teen named Mike, and the two hit it off.  He continues to call the teen line with his family problems (his mom is marrying a new guy and there are familial adjustments), and the two start to form a relationship.  When he presses her for a meeting, she finally relents, but then she begs Denise to go for her, just this once.  Denise agrees, telling herself she’ll explain to Mike how shy Ginny is and arrange a secret meeting for them.

When they meet, however, Denise is totally taken with how attractive Mike is.  Even though she has a boyfriend, she’s flustered and giggly around Mike, and she doesn’t tell him that she’s not Ginny.  In fact, she agrees to go out with him again later that week.  She tells Ginny that she’s really into Mike, and Ginny asks her what she’s going to do about her boyfriend, Jay. Denise hedges on this for a while and then breaks up with him.  Ginny angsts about the fact that she likes Mike but doesn’t ever tell Denise this.

Denise actually brings Ginny along on their next date, which is super creepy.  The girls tell Mike that Ginny’s name is Denise.  This will end well.  Throughout the course of the date, both girls reflect on how well the real Ginny gets along with Mike and how uncomfortable the real Denise is with him.  They have nothing in common, and it’s clear that Mike sees it.  But he still doesn’t say no when Denise asks him out again.

Mike continues to call the teen line and talks to Ginny.  At one point, she pretends to be someone else to avoid talking to him as Ginny, and he tells her all about how he’s actually into someone else now.  She assumes he means someone other than her, because Ginny kind of sucks.  At any rate, she cries a lot about it and worries how Denise will take it when she inevitably gets dumped.

It turns out, she takes it surprisingly well.  As she and Mike are leaving the Box Tree Cafe, Liz says hi to her and calls her by her real name.  This spurs a confession to Mike, who isn’t mad at all.  In fact, he goes along with Denise’s idea to set him up with the real Ginny.  He calls the teen line again, talks to Ginny-as-someone-else, and then, when she runs out into the hallway, he’s waiting to ask her out.  Great! Oh, and Denise gets back together with Jay, because a pretty girl in Sweet Valley can’t be single.

The B-Plot focuses on Liz wanting to write an article about sexual harassment for the school paper.  When she brings the idea forward, Mr. Collins gets super weird about it, but finally says he’ll read her draft and go from there.  But he tells Mr. Cooper about it before Liz has written a word, and he promptly shuts it down. Furious about the censorship, Liz decides to write it anyway, approaching it from an angle of being censored.  She shows it to Mr. Collins, who changes his mind, brings it to Cooper, but it’s still a no-go.  So Liz and the rest of the crack staff at the Oracle decide to distribute it as an “underground” newsletter.  They end up having another confrontation with Cooper, but because Liz is such a good writer, everything ends up just fine.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Shoehorned literary reference: Elizabeth’s English class is reading A Tale of Two Cities
  • In addition to Casey’s, there’s an ice cream place called the Lucky Duck where the waiters wear duck costumes.  Sign me up.
  • Pop culture references: Lady Macbeth and Frankenstein’s monster

Memorable Quotes: 

  • “You’re special, Ginny.  You’re a beautiful person. I know you must be so pretty.” (47)
  • “‘So what?’ Penny demanded hotly. ‘Newspapers aren’t about making people feel good.  Newspapers are about information that’s important.'” (71)
  • “Denise shrugged. She could understand the pressure that people put on attractive girls.  Being pretty was a very difficult responsibility.” (94) Okay, Denise is officially the worst. 

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

There are two things that struck me upon reading this one, a title which I had never read before.  The first is that although we are supposed to like Denise, she comes off as kind of the worst.  Like, throughout the entire novel.  She makes a weirdly disparaging remark about homeless people in Sweet Valley and how they’re bringing the town down, she thinks that completely obnoxious thing about pretty girls I quoted up above, and, oh yeah, she goes out with the guy her best friend is into when she’s still dating another dude.  Now, an argument could be made that Ginny is a total wet blanket incapable of actually standing up for herself, and that’s true–Ginny is also pretty terrible–but there isn’t anything cool or okay with what Denise does.  This is a totally sick, unbalanced friendship between the girls.  Gross.

But the thing that stood out to me during this reading most prominently was the issue of sexual harassment.  The book talks a lot about “sexual harassment,” but from what I can tell, they’re really talking about sexual assault and rape.  It’s weird, because the book touches on aspects of rape culture–society telling girls to stay quiet and not cause a scene, the entire idea of power dynamics as they relate to sexual assault–but the book is incredibly reticent to use the correct terminology.  Only when they refer to a rape crisis center is the word ever used.

This is probably largely due to when the book was written and published–these things are never so dated as when you see them try to tackle an issue deemed taboo–but it’s also probably in part because they didn’t want to rankle parents.  So in purporting to tackle the issue of censorship and rape culture, the book is actually censoring itself?  Maybe a little?

Also, at one point, Chrome Dome makes reference to issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault being a “family matter.”  I actually did a double take, because WHAT IN THE WHAT?

SVH #76: Miss Teen Sweet Valley

28 Mar

miss teen sweet valley

Estimated Elapsed Time: 3 weeks

Summary/Overview:

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 # 74: The Perfect Girl

24 Mar

perfectgirl

Estimated Elapsed Time: 4-5 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Robin seems to have it all since she lost all that weight and became co-captain of the cheerleading squad, but lately she has been feeling extremely self-conscious about her body.  She relies on her boyfriend, George Warren, to reaffirm her self-worth and self-image.  Then he announces that he wants to take up flying again (because it went so great last time?), and is going to be taking flying lessons and won’t be around as much.  This worries Robin for a number of reasons, but the biggest one seems to be that she doesn’t know what she’ll do without him around.

As Robin obsesses about her body and her weight, she also seems to worry about not seeing George.  Things worsen for her when George starts talking about his new friend from class, a woman named Vicky who’s an oceanography major and a math whiz.  When George brings her along for what’s supposed to be a double date to the disco that turns into a three’s-a-crowd situation, Robin starts to really freak out, because Vicky is thin and gorgeous, and George will literally not shut up about her.  Robin is rude to Vicky, who seems to be genuinely nice but also says things that kind of suck, and she and George fight, driving them further apart.  When Robin weighs herself and finds that she’s gained three pounds, she decides to start seriously restricting and excessively exercising, telling herself that she will be better when she’s thinner.

This continues for days, and Robin’s eating disorder worsens to the point where she seems unable to eat nearly anything, and certainly not in public.  As she restricts, she also becomes bossier when it comes to her cheerleading duties, as the girls are planning a fundraiser to raise money for a new gym floor for the high school.  The plan is to create the largest ice cream sundae they can and sell tickets to people who want to see it and eat it.  The girls notice that Robin looks drawn and thinner, and that she’s starting snapping at people when they offer her food, but her clearly obsessive food problems are largely ignored.

She keeps dropping weight and avoiding eating around people.  When George takes her out to dinner, she orders food and then sends it away, embarrassing George and making herself feel miserable.  Things worsen for her, and when people start to express concern about her frail frame, she brushes them off.  In addition to not eating, she starts to exhibit other signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  When she finally faints at the Super Sundae even the cheerleaders have put on and is unable to be revived, she wakes up in the hospital.

Pretty much everyone comes to visit her while she’s there, including Vicky, who gives her this weird speech about how George doesn’t even see Vicky as a girl because he’s so in love with Robin and Vicky isn’t perfect because she did drugs when she was 14 because her parents were getting divorced.  The whole thing feels tonally wrong, but whatever.  George is also there and they reconcile, with Robin apologizing for being angry with him.  But she also breaks up with him, because she finally admits that she has anorexia and needs to work on getting better.  When she returns to school a week later (are we really to believe they wouldn’t put Robin in treatment?), her friends are cautiously optimistic.  And that’s sort of it.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • All the ice cream comes from Izzy’s Famous Ice Cream stores, which is weird, because don’t the teens all love Casey’s for their frozen-dairy fix?
  • Robin’s safe foods include dry salad and water.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Even though she never had to go on a diet, Elizabeth was always aware of her weight. Some girls dieted religiously, and some girls were almost obsessed with the way their bodies looked.  It was hard not to be conscious of it to some extent. Elizabeth just hoped her friends used common sense.” (17)
  • “A cold fist closed around Robin’s heart. And who was to say it couldn’t happen again? If George had been capable of cheating on Enid, didn’t that mean he was capable of cheating on Robin?” (40)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

It’s hard to snark on this one not only because of how earnest it is, but also because it’s trying so hard to paint a fair picture of what an eating disorder looks like.  Of course, it’s a Sweet Valley High novel, it’s not even 150 pages, and the timeframe is so compressed that it makes the disease seem bizarrely short-lived.

While I was reading this, I was uncomfortable with the unintentionally ironic message the book is sending to its readers.  Throughout this entire ordeal, the ghost writer works hard to accurately portray body dysmorphia and the addictive feelings of hunger in Robin, who, I would argue, has been struggling with anorexia and disordered eating since she lost the weight back in book 4.  And for the most part, they do a pretty good job of giving credence to Robin’s thoughts and fears, even if it reads as sort of a textbook of what anorexia looked like, at least according to early 90s diagnoses.  So, fine, the book gets credit for handling this as well as could be hoped for a series that’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

No, the problem is with Elizabeth (and to a lesser degree, the other people in the book).  Throughout this entire novel, Elizabeth worries about how obsessed girls are with their weight and their bodies.  Several times, the word “sensible” is used to describe how girls should be about food and their bodies.  This doesn’t make sense, as an eating disorder is a mental illness and the concept of “sensibility” doesn’t apply, like, at all.  But more than that, Elizabeth keeps thinking about how a person’s size shouldn’t matter, and sort of smugly assesses Lois Waller, who is apparently the only fat girl in Sweet Valley High:

Lois would never be a fashion mode, but she clearly had a great relationship with Gene, and her life was completely optimistic. So what difference did it make if she couldn’t wear size-six jeans? None at all, Elizabeth told herself confidently.  None at all.

First of all, are you fucking kidding me?  Is this a joke?  I don’t think it is.  It’s so weird for Liz to be validating Lois’s existence despite, or in spite of, her size.  There’s something so bizarrely smug about this (even for Ms. Smug Smuggerson herself) that it’s completely and totally off-putting.  But what bothers me most about it, and perhaps what is most alarming, is that this feels like subconscious stuff on the part of the writer.  Elizabeth reassures herself that you don’t have to be a size-six to be happy and have a good life.

This is meant for the reader’s benefit, I guess, because Elizabeth is a “perfect size six” and it is mentioned in every single book before the reader is even 10 pages in.  So, we get this awful mixed message that says: love your body! Size doesn’t matter (but it’s better if you’re thin!).  If size truly didn’t matter here or anywhere, it would not be mentioned in every single book.

 

 

SVH #55: Perfect Shot

23 Jun

Estimated Elapsed Time: 4 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Shelley Novak is Sweet Valley’s star basketball player.  She’s great at basketball but sucks at interacting with the opposite sex.  SVH is in the playoffs, and there’s a big Varsity Club dance coming up.  Shelley angsts about not having a date and no boy wanting to take her because she’s so tall.  I guess sometimes people call her the “Towering Inferno,” which she finds really offensive.  As far as nicknames go…I think it’s kind of clever.  Shelley would really like to go to the dance with her neighbor Greg Hilliard, whom she’s had a crush on forever, but he seems to only see her as a friend.  This is confirmed when she works up the courage to ask him to the dance and he seems completely flummoxed.  She’s mortified.

Shelley plays a bunch of basketball games.  She plays pretty well, and then she plays terribly, and then she plays well again.  It all seems to depend on how she’s feeling about the boys in her life.  At one of the games, Jim Roberts snaps a great picture of her, but Shelley freaks out because she doesn’t like to have her picture taken.  She makes him promise not to show it to anyone.

Shelley and Jim start to hang out and realize that they actually like each other.  There’s a photo competition happening at school, and Jeffrey encourages Jim to enter with a picture of Shelley.  Jim is reluctant because of his promise to her.  When he does enter the contest, Olivia sees the photo and tells Shelley how great she looks.  Shelley FREAKS OUT and breaks up with Jim.  When her friend calls her on her ridiculous behavior, Shelley calls Jim to apologize, and he tells her he had the photo removed.  Imagine his surprise when he wins the contest.  Shelley told Mr. Collins to enter the photo.  Jim and Shelley still aren’t talking, though, so at halftime at the big game, Shelley writes him a note asking him to the dance.  SVH wins the game, and Shelley wins Jim’s heart.

The B-Plot involves dance lessons being held at Sweet Valley High.  Jessica, Lila, and Amy all sign up.  Amy and Jessica both end up crushing on the dance instructor, a young man named Patrick McLean.  Both girls fight over him and try to seduce him but don’t make much headway (this is because the man is clearly a homosexual).  Eventually they make a bet about who will get the first dance with him at the Varsity Dance.  Both girls show up in the same exact dress and are further humiliated when Patrick shows up with a beautiful woman on his arm.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “I wouldn’t mind winning a video camera.  I can think of someone I wouldn’t mind taking movies of!” He winked at Elizabeth. (3) [Blogger’s note: In a post-celebrity sex-tape world, as well as a world where underage sexting is a  a crime, a comment like this takes on a whole new meaning.]
  • “All those movie stars in the thirties knew how to waltz.  You can’t fall in love and go on big luxurious cruises and be totally romantic unless you know how to waltz.” (8)
  • “Maybe after Patrick and I get engaged, we can tour all over, doing the tango and the cha-cha, and our picture will be plastered all over the place.” (124)

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Patrick McLean has a diamond stud in his ear.
  • Shelley’s visit to Mr. Collins’s house is rationalized by the fact that she’s babysat for him before.
  • Amy and Jessica’s dress is described as being a pale lilac while Shelley’s dress is a silvery gray.

(Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

What is it with these stories about female athletes who lack confidence in themselves?  I suppose that in some ways, this one is worse than the story with Kristin Thompson because Shelley requires the attention of a male in order to validate herself.  It’s only after she sees herself through the lens (pun intended) of Jim’s affection that she decides she might just be pretty after all.  What kind of message is that to send to girls?  You’re not important or pretty if you don’t have the attention and desire of a boy?

Part of me feels that at this point in the series, the book packagers were playing with the trends that were starting to appear in popular culture.  Females can be strong athletes.  Girls can do anything that boys can do.  In all honesty, I think these story lines are supposed to reflect the prevailing trends of society at the time, but in true Sweet Valley fashion, they get it all wrong.

Up next: Jessica and Winston get shipwrecked in the most implausible story line yet.