June 16, 2015
SVT #33, Elizabeth’s New Hero: Willkommen to Sweet Valley
Summary: I guess East Germany (yes, that’s how old this book is) wants to strengthen relations with the U.S., at least in terms of teen gymnasts, because a group of male gymnasts is coming to Sweet Valley. Everyone is super-excited. The Unicorns may be the most excited, because all they heard is “boys are coming.” One of the gymnasts is supposed to stay with Caroline Pearce’s family, but her mom gets sick, so the Wakefields become host family to a 13-year-old name Christoph. Steven is half joking, half serious when he wonders if Christoph is a spy.
Most of the gymnasts are really nice, and very excited to be in the U.S. for the first time. Christoph doesn’t talk much about life in East Germany; he’d much rather learn about America, with its freedom and opportunities and cheeseburgers. He likes gymnastics but feels a lot of pressure, especially from his father, whose own Olympic dreams were never realized. Christoph and Steven bond over basketball, which I doubt Christoph’s father would approve of.
To Christoph, America is like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. There’s pizza! There are movies! There are more Johnny Buck cassettes than he knew existed! Also, he’s free to play air drums without worrying that his father will see drumming as a waste of time. As much as Christoph likes gymnastics, he’d also like to have other hobbies and not practice all the time.
But practice he must, because the gymnasts are in town for exhibitions. Christoph is the best on the team, which ticks off another gymnast named Bruno. Bruno is a jerk. I bet anything he comes from a family of Nazi sympathizers. He threatens to tell Christoph’s parents that he’s having too much fun and not working enough. I’m surprised the twins don’t organize some sort of big prank to teach Bruno a lesson, or how to loosen up. But it’s probably good they don’t, because I bet Bruno knows people who can make them disappear.
Christoph starts hanging out more with the Unicorns, because they need a mascot this week, and what’s cuter than an athlete who knows less than them about something? Bruno runs into them and tells Christoph that that night’s exhibition has been pushed back an hour. Christoph goes a little early to get ready… and learns that Bruno lied. The time was never changed, and now Christoph is late, making his coach angry. Christoph is barred from being in the exhibition, which could spell trouble for the more important exhibition the next night. If his father finds out, Christoph will be in even more trouble.
After a brief discussion with Steven about a ballet dancer who just defected from East Germany to the U.S., Christoph struggles at the next exhibition. He’s worried about how his father will react. Everyone goes to a dance (of course), and the Sweet Valley kids say goodbye to the gymnasts, who will be leaving the next day. The Unicorns give Christoph drumsticks so he can… continue playing air drum, I guess, because I doubt his father will let him have a drumset. Elizabeth sweetly arranges for him to play drums with the band at the dance, which thrills Christoph but makes Bruno glare.
The next morning, when the gymnasts are supposed to leave, Christoph is sick. A doctor – who apparently still makes house calls in 1989 – says that he shouldn’t travel, so he’ll have to spend a couple extra days in Sweet Valley. How conveeeeeeeenient. After a couple days, Elizabeth realizes that Christoph has been faking to avoid going back to East Germany. In fact, he never wants to go back. He wants to defect to the U.S.!
Christoph’s parents call and beg him to come home. Christoph refuses to listen, I guess thinking that a 13-year-old has any say in where he lives. I can’t imagine the U.S. government would have been okay with a kid from a Communist country basically squatting in America. Ned and Alice basically say that the family needs to figure things out by themselves, like, no – tell the kid to get out of your house before he gets you involved in an international incident. If he wants to defect, that’s up to him, but he has to figure out how he’ll survive on his own. Also, if I were Christoph’s parents, I would probably send Bruno to collect him.
Anyway, the twins find out that Christoph’s birthday is approaching, so they throw him a big party with German music, food, and decorations, so he’ll get homesick. It works. I guess his desire to defect wasn’t political, eh? At the end, in a setup for the next book, Elizabeth wins Melody Power concert tickets in the most contrived way possible – a radio station randomly calls the house, and Liz is able to answer a question about Melody Power with Jess’ help. What radio station randomly calls people and asks trivia questions, then gives a 12-year-old concert tickets? Eh, like that’s the least realistic part of this book.
Thoughts: How mad do you think the ghostwriter was when the Berlin Wall came down literally a month after this book came out and immediately rendered it out of date?
Kids reading this book would be really confused about defection and what’s so bad about East Germany. I’m not sure Christoph even gets it – he just wants to stay because he likes America. But I guess a children’s book isn’t really a place for a discussion of the Cold War or Communism.
I’m not sure if this is realistic for the time period, but every gymnast on the team speaks perfect English.
There’s a side horse and a long horse? I thought there was just one horse in men’s gymnastics. Or is one of those supposed to be the vault?