July 26, 2016
SVT #58, Elizabeth and the Orphans: Like Party of Five, Except I Like These People
Summary: The twins’ social studies class has been given a new project: Pair with another classmate to interview and write about each other’s families. Jessica is paired with Lila, which makes her happy since Lila only has one family member to interview. Elizabeth is paired with a girl named Melissa McCormick, who’s shy but nice. Elizabeth is happy to have a chance to get to know Melissa better. Melissa, however, is worried about having to reveal that her father abandoned the family years ago and has no contact with her or her brother Andy, a senior at SVH.
But Melissa has bigger things to worry about: A long-time heart problem has landed her mother in the hospital. Melissa and Andy are pulled out of school to see her, and minutes later, she’s dead. What a fun book! Andy decides that no one can find out that their father is out of the picture, because he and Melissa could be sent to separate foster homes. They lie to a social worker and their neighbors, saying their father is traveling but will be home soon. The social worker allows the kids to stay with the neighbors until Mr. McCormick gets back.
This works for a week. Andy even gets a guy named Sam to pretend to be Mr. McCormick and talk to the neighbors on the phone. This is, at best, a short-term solution, because I think the neighbors will notice when a few weeks pass and they don’t see any fathers at the house. Plus, the neighbors are heading off on a long European vacation soon, so Andy and Melissa can only stay with them for a few days. But the adults all fall for the ploy, so the McCormicks are in the clear for now.
Lest any impressionable preteens reading this book think the kids are living the dream, we learn that reality makes the situation pretty bleak. Though the house is paid for (which makes no sense to me; Melissa says they’ve moved around a lot because her mother was always looking for better work, so why buy a house when you might not stay in that town?), the kids still have to deal with things like utility bills. Andy decides to get an after-school job, but he refuses to let Melissa get one. He wants her to focus on school instead.
This seems like a fine solution until Andy realizes that two people can’t live on money from a part-time job. He quits the basketball team so he can work longer hours. Melissa’s finding it harder and harder to keep up the lies she and Andy have told people about their dad, and she finally tells Elizabeth the truth – they don’t know where he is or how to reach him, and she and Andy are living on their own. Elizabeth agrees not to tell anyone, though she knows this is a Bad Situation for grownups to take care of.
Liz helps Melissa clean up around the house, and they find a bunch of letters Mr. McCormick sent Mrs. McCormick over the years. Even though he left the family and doesn’t keep in touch with his kids, he clearly loves them and has sent money to help take care of them. Hey, if they move around so much, how does he know where they are? Wait, this book doesn’t care about being realistic. Never mind. Andy worries that Elizabeth will spill the secret and he and Melissa will be separated.
Andy skips school to work, so the principal announces she’s going to call his father. Andy enlists Sam again to pretend to be Mr. McCormick, and the principal is completely fooled. At first Sam says he’s doing this as a favor to Andy, but then he says he’ll find a way for Andy to repay him. Andy admits to Melissa that Sam wants him to do something illegal. Melissa tries not to worry too much, since Andy’s generally a good guy.
Not long after, Melissa’s home alone when she sees a couple of people breaking into the neighbor’s house. She calls the police, who easily nab the robbers. Unfortunately, one of them is Andy. Sam blackmailed him into breaking in, threatening to tell social services the truth if Andy didn’t do it. The McCormicks’ worst fears are realized, and they’re sent to separate foster homes. Elizabeth tells Ned what’s been going on, and he’s nice enough to pay Andy’s bail and work on his case.
Now that she’s broken her promise to keep Andy and Melissa’s secret, Liz figures she might as well keep meddling. She finds the last return address Mr. McCormick wrote from and sends a letter to it. It’s a motel in Texas, and he was there a year ago, but somehow, her letter gets to Mr. McCormick. (The details are never mentioned. I assume the ghostwriter didn’t plan to think them up.) Mr. McCormick comes to Sweet Valley and reunites with his kids, who are suddenly forgiving of him for not talking to them in years. Andy doesn’t go to jail, so that’s good. I hope Mr. McCormick has enough money for his legal fees.
In the dumb B-plot, Jessica’s mad at Steven for some reason she doesn’t even remember, and she WILL NOT SHUT UP about how annoying he is. She’s especially mad that he keeps hogging the phone, so she makes a phone schedule, giving him slots in the middle of the night. Ned and Alice can’t be bothered to parent their kids, as usual, and leave them to work things out themselves, which really means they just ignore all the fighting. Jessica also creates a jerk-o-meter to keep track of how annoying Steven is, but I’m not sure what happens when he gets more than a certain number of points.
Just as Jessica’s only a few seconds away from splitting the house down the middle with masking tape, Melissa’s home situation makes her realize how dumb she’s being. She’s grateful that her family is so normal (relatively speaking) and drops her vendetta against Steven. She also admits that she can’t remember how their battle started. Thanks for wasting my time, B-plot!
Thoughts: Dear whoever named this book: They’re not orphans.
Lila is really nice to Melissa, since they’re both motherless, so someone should probably check on her and make sure she’s feeling okay.
Sam’s watch has diamonds on it. I’m afraid to ask how he got it or why hangs out with teenagers.
“They had another big electricity bill and he was hoping his overtime pay would be enough to cover it.” Either the McCormicks’ electricity bills aren’t really that big or supermarket jobs pay a lot in overtime.
“Maybe if I’d been a better friend, none of this would have happened.” IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU, LIZ.