December 30, 2014

SVT #23, Claim to Fame: Pass! Interception! Fumble! Other Football Terms as Metaphors for Plot Developments!

Posted in books tagged , , at 12:55 pm by Jenn

This isn't a good look for either of them

This isn’t a good look for either of them

Summary: Exciting things are happening at Sweet Valley Middle School! Well, “exciting” for the students. I couldn’t care less. The school’s 25th anniversary is approaching, and to commemorate, they’re going to bury a time capsule to be opened in 25 years. (Also, the school used to be called Sweet Valley Junior High, but I don’t get the big deal, unless the ghostwriter slipped that in to cover continuity issues.)

The students get to compete in teams to find the three best items from the ’60s (when the school opened) to put in the capsule. Jessica teams with Lila, Ellen, and the oft-mentioned Tamara Chase (who never gets her own book), while Elizabeth, Amy, and Julie team up. A teacher suggests that they invite a quiet boy named George Henkel to join them, and since they’re nice girls, they do.

Despite living in Sweet Valley his whole life, no one knows much about George. Elizabeth quickly learns that his mother died when he was a baby, and he and his father are estranged; he lives with his aunt and uncle. Elizabeth realizes that she knows George’s father, a man in a wheelchair who she often helps out around the house. She has no idea why the two aren’t speaking.

All the teams start looking for the three perfect things to put in the capsule. Jessica and her team are sure they’ll have the best items. The first is a poster for Bikini Beach Party, and the second is a Beatles record. I’ll give them the record as being iconic for the era, but a poster from a dime-a-dozen beach movie? Not that great. Anyway, since they’re Unicorns, they have to be the best. Lila thinks Jessica should snoop and find out what Elizabeth’s team has found.

What Elizabeth’s team has found is…not great. They visit a thrift store and find a textbook from the school, though the fact that they pay only a dollar for it is pretty awesome. (College students everywhere die laughing at the idea of paying only a dollar for a textbook.) Amy’s mother generously gives them a signed picture of President Kennedy, which she received when she wrote him a letter as a preteen.

The team needs one last item, but they can’t figure out what would make their collection better than everyone else’s. Elizabeth does some research into Sweet Valley happenings in the ’60s and discovers that Mr. Henkel caught a touchdown pass in a championship football game, won the game for Sweet Valley Junior High, and became a local hero. He was given the game ball, and if the team can convince him to hand it over for the capsule, they’ll definitely win the competition.

But getting the ball is easier said than done. George refuses to talk to his father about it, and Mr. Henkel himself is pretty prickly and might not be easy to convince. Elizabeth thinks she can solve the family’s problems AND get the ball, thereby becoming a hero herself. Ned’s like, “Don’t you do this in every book? Take a break, okay?” Elizabeth’s like, “Yes, of course, Father.” Then she asks Mr. Henkel about the ball as soon as she gets the chance. He declines to hand it over.

Elizabeth and Amy think that George might be able to talk his father into giving up the ball. Again, Elizabeth figures that she can solve the family’s problems with one simple gesture. As if there aren’t 12 years of resentment baked in here. George agrees to try to talk to his dad about the football, but things go poorly. The ball is the only good thing his father has left in his life. He was injured in Vietnam and can’t walk, then lost his wife when George was born, so his only happiness comes from a ball from a game he played 25 years ago. That’s…depressing.

Jessica takes Mr. Henkel some books, at Elizabeth’s request, and a now-penitent Mr. Henkel offers her the ball, having changed his mind. He thinks Jess is Elizabeth. Jessica literally takes the ball and runs with it. She tells the Unicorns that they’re sure to win the competition now, thanks to a case of mistaken identity. Unfortunately for Jess, Caroline overhears and spreads the word that Jessica ended up with a capsule item intended for Elizabeth. To her credit, Jessica gives the ball to her sister.

Elizabeth tells George that she got the ball, and that his father wanted him to have it. George doesn’t want it, though – his father didn’t have the guts to give it to him in person. Elizabeth takes the ball back to Mr. Henkel, telling him that George is really angry. Well, Mr. Henkel is angry, too, and doesn’t want to have to admit he did anything wrong.

The teams scramble to find third items for the capsule, since the ball is now out of play. (Do you like my sports metaphors? Is it at all obvious that I never use them?) Jessica’s team finds a fashion magazine, but Elizabeth’s team can’t come up with anything, so they’re out of the competition. The day of the judging, Mr. Henkel makes an unexpected appearance. He gives George the ball, telling him how much more important he is than a memory from 25 years ago. Elizabeth’s team wins the competition, of course, but it’s not as important as the fact that George and his father have reunited. Look at that – Elizabeth fixed a broken family after all! Who woulda thunk?

In super-unimportant pieces of the plot, Jessica tries to iron her hair using an actual iron, there’s a school dance where everyone dresses and dances like it’s the ’60s, and George has a crush on Nora Mercandy. I’m about 98 percent sure we never hear about him ever again.

Thoughts: George is, like, the tenth George to appear in a Sweet Valley book. Come up with some other names, please, Francine.

Why do so many kids in Sweet Valley only have one parent? Having a single parent because of divorce makes sense, but look how many of them have dead parents. Doesn’t that seem weird? When I was a kid, I think only two kids I knew had lost a parent. Is there a high mortality rate for Sweet Valley parents or something?

The time capsule is supposed to be opened after 25 years. 25 years after this book came out was last year. Ugh, we’re all old.

Also, why would kids in the ’80s bury things from the ’60s? People in 2013 would be so confused. “Why is all this stuff 50 years old? What did stuff look like in the ’80s? I guess we’ll never know!”

They never explain why George and his father don’t speak or live together. There’s a brief mention of Mr. Henkel being angry after his wife died, but he doesn’t seem to have any anger directly toward his son. Whatever – I’m sure they work everything out and everything’s perfect for them after this book.

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1 Comment »

  1. Angela said,

    Oh how I loved these stories! I could not imagine trying to write this kind of series in our electronic age 🙂


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