March 22, 2016
SVT #50, Jessica and the Secret Star: Maria, Jess Just Met a Girl Named Maria
Summary: Maria Slater is finally here! One of SVT and SVH’s most normal recurring characters has just moved to Sweet Valley from L.A. Jessica’s eager to meet the cool new girl, who she finds a little familiar. The next day, stuck at home with a cold (wimp), Jessica realizes where she’s seen Maria before – in movies and commercials. Maria’s a former child actress who’s found it hard to transition to tween actress. Nowadays she’d have her pick of Nickelodeon and Disney shows, but in the early 1990s, I guess TV and movies weren’t interested in kids who weren’t tiny and cute.
Jessica’s even happier than before to become friends with Maria, who seems more like she would fit in with Elizabeth’s crowed. She’s interested in writing, so Liz assigns her to write about the about-to-be-formed drama club for the Sixers. Jess takes Maria home with her after school, and Maria accidentally leaves her backpack behind. Jessica looks through her notebook for an address or phone number but instead finds something she’s writing about researching a role as a regular 12-year-old. Jess thinks she’s only in town to prepare for a movie role, and wants to do it undercover. (Jess is wrong – Maria was just working on a story.)
The next time Jess talks to Maria, she tries to play up how average and normal she is, so Maria will want to use her in her research. Maria’s pretty smart and figures out that Jess is on to her. When Jessica comes clean, Maria asks her to keep quiet. Of course, Jess can’t do that, and immediately tells the Unicorns that their new classmate is a movie star. This is possibly the best thing to ever happen to the Unicorns. Meanwhile, Maria befriends Mandy Miller, who convinces her to try out for the drama club.
The Unicorns try to latch on to Maria, who unsurprisingly thinks she’s better suited to be friends with Liz’s group. She’s so comfortable with them that she shows them her story about researching a movie role. The Unicorns come up with a plan to reveal to Maria that they know her secret: They’ll have a sleepover and play Truth or Dare. Jess will ask Maria if she’s an actress under penalty of…whatever, and when Maria confirms it, the Unicorns will pretend that this is the first time they’ve heard the news.
This works, somehow, and Maria tells the Unicorns that the movie she’s preparing for will be a star-studded feature. Melody Power and Johnny Buck will star, and Kent Kellerman will make an appearance. Maria agrees to arrange for the Unicorns to meet the stars, because I guess she wants to impress these girls she doesn’t really have an interest in being friends with.
With the news out about her real identity, Maria is suddenly very popular at school. Lila wants to throw a big party for Maria’s co-stars on her father’s yacht. Maria starts to realize that this is getting a little out of hand, but she doesn’t come clean about the fact that there’s no movie. Jessica tells Elizabeth that she found out Maria’s secret by reading her notebook, which makes Liz realize that her “diary” isn’t a diary, and Jess read her story. Maria’s sister Nina confirms this.
Elizabeth confronts Maria (kindly, of course), and Maria admits that there’s no movie. She confides that she can’t get work anymore. She wants to skip the yacht party so she’s not humiliated when no stars show up. But that’s the coward’s way out, and cowards never win in Sweet Valley. Maria goes to the party and tells everyone the truth about not being undercover or being able to find roles anymore. Literally no one cares, and she even gets a slow clap. Ew. I think everyone’s just happy to get to hang out on a yacht.
There isn’t really a B-plot, just Mandy and Maria becoming friends as they prepare for drama-club auditions. They both want to do the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, but they can’t find a Romeo. They eventually decide to switch off, with Mandy playing Juliet to Maria’s Romeo, then Maria playing Juliet to Mandy’s Romeo. They both nail the audition, of course.
Thoughts: I have to say, it’s refreshing that absolutely no one in Sweet Valley cares that Maria isn’t white. Contrast that with the Baby-sitters Club, where people were practically burning crosses on the Ramseys’ lawn. Is it because California isn’t as WASP-y as Connecticut? Or did SVT just not want to introduce racism into the series (though they do take on antisemitism later)?
Tamara: “We’re average!” From what I’ve read in this series, yes, you definitely are.
Lila’s father’s yacth is decorated in apricot and puce. To…gether?