January 3, 2017

SVT #77, Todd Runs Away: Put the Ball in the Hoop and Stop Trying to Get Good Grades

Posted in books tagged , at 4:49 pm by Jenn

Back in 1994, I would have wanted Elizabeth's jacket

Back in 1994, I would have wanted Elizabeth’s jacket

Summary: Todd is the new star of SVMS’s basketball team, which is in the middle of a winning streak thanks to him. Everyone at school loves him, including the Unicorns. His dad is especially proud because he wanted to be a pro basketball player but had to give up his dream because of knee problems. So now he lives vicariously through his son, though he won’t admit it.

SVMS is offering a new creative writing class that Mr. Bowman gets to pick students to participate in for a few weeks. Apparently the students who are chosen can’t opt out, which is dumb, since it’s an after-school thing. Todd is worried that he’ll be chosen, since he has basketball practice right after the class is supposed to take place. Plus, he thinks there will be a lot of extra work. Of course, he does get chosen, and Mr. Bowman won’t let him back out. He thinks Todd shows a lot of potential as a writer and wants him to develop his skills.

The class is taught by a guy named Mark Ramirez who’s brought in from outside the school. He’s every cliché you’ve seen in the young, hip teacher who wants to connect with his students. They can call him Mark! Todd is immediately interested in writing and puts in a lot of work on a story about making a difficult decision. He even skips out on shooting hoops with his father. Mr. Wilkins is concerned that Mark is assigning too much work. The thing is that he really isn’t – he tells the kids to write a story that’s three pages long or so, and Todd just chooses to do a lot of work on it.

It pays off, as Mark thinks Todd wrote the best story in the class. But all that writing took time away from practice, so Todd doesn’t play as well as usual in the next basketball game. Mr. Wilkins is ticked. How dare Todd enjoy writing as much as he enjoys basketball! How dare he want to do well in a class if it’ll conflict with a sport! How dare he want to go see a play with his class when he should be practicing! He’s also mad that Mark doesn’t use textbooks to teach. Shut up, Mr. Wilkins.

Todd’s father says he can make his own choice about going to the play; of course Mr. Wilkins wants him to choose to go to practice instead. He doesn’t, and in the next game, Todd misses the winning shot. The team’s winning streak is over. What’s nice is that the coach doesn’t hold it against him, because the coach is a better parent toward Todd than his own father is. Now Mr. Wilkins wants Todd to drop out of the writing class, since it’s taking too much time away from basketball.

Todd talks to Mark, who gets him to realize that he likes writing and doesn’t necessarily want to choose basketball over the class. Todd gains some courage and tells his dad he’s not dropping the class. Mr. Wilkins is furious and decides to go after Mark. He goes to the principal, Mr. Clark, and complains that Mark gives his students too much work. Mrs. Wilkins, by the way, is useless in this book. Apparently she’s totally okay with her husband basically bullying their child.

Some of Todd’s friends see his father going in to talk to Mr. Clark and wonder what’s going on. Todd worries that his dad is going to get Mark fired. Mr. Wilkins says nothing happened in the meeting, but then Todd overhears him calling Alice in an attempt to rally all the parents against Mark. His classmates think he complained to his dad about Mark, and now Mark’s going to get in trouble. Instead of explaining what’s really going on, Todd ditches school to avoid everyone.

Mr. Clark suspends Todd from the basketball team for skipping school, so Todd’s life is just getting worse. He ditches school again, this time planning to run away. Now that he can’t play basketball, his father’s mad at him, and his friends have all turned on him, he doesn’t see a reason to stay in town. The kid thinks $50 and a can-do attitude will help him get by in San Diego. Good luck renting an apartment, buddy. Apparently he’s learned nothing from the assignment about making difficult decisions. He’s just giving up and not making any decisions.

Mr. Clark changes his mind about Todd’s punishment, letting him back on the team as long as he serves a few detentions. Todd, however, is already on his way to the bus station when the news gets out. Todd’s friends find out about the new punishment, and Elizabeth tracks Todd down and lets him know about it. He doesn’t care and continues his plan to run away. But Liz knows something’s up and follows him to the bus station. When he falls asleep waiting for his bus, Liz calls his parents.

Now that he’s realized how distraught Todd has become, Mr. Wilkins finally feels bad. He comes to the station and reveals that he actually talked to Mark and learned he’s a good guy. Todd will be allowed to come to practice a little bit late, and he won’t have to do as much work in the class. Which…he didn’t have to do that much work in the first place. He wanted to. But why would Mr. Wilkins want to encourage Todd in an activity he likes when he can push him to be successful at a sport he has a 2% chance of playing professionally someday? What’s Mr. Wilkins’ damage?

In the B-plot, the twins have realized separately that it’s time for them to start wearing bras. They’re too nervous to actually talk to each other about it (and Alice is too useless a parent for them to talk to her), so Jessica leaves a magazine ad for bras in Elizabeth’s closet in hopes of starting a conversation. Liz finds it and hides it in Jessica’s room. Eventually they “find” the ad together and agree to go bra shopping together.

There’s a pep rally on Wednesday, so the girls decide to go to Kendall’s then, since everyone at school will be occupied. But they spot Rick Hunter’s mother at the store and worry that she’ll say something to Rick about seeing them there. The next time they go, they see Caroline Pearce and run away before she can see what they’re shopping for. Panicking about Mrs. Hunter was an overreaction, but I have to say, leaving before Caroline could see them was a good move.

The twins go back to Kendall’s a third time, but they can’t just sneak in and out with their purchases: They’re customers 1,000,001 and 1,000,002, and Kendall’s wants to use them in their ads for the next year. Plus, they get 10% off anything they buy for the year. Wow, 10%. Way to be generous, Kendall’s. The girls panic and run again.

On their fourth attempt, right before a big basketball game, the girls encounter a super-loud employee who doesn’t get that 12-year-old girls buying their first bras might want a little discretion. They finally manage to get their bras, but on the way home, the bag breaks and the bras fall out in front of some of their guy friends. Womp womp. It’s probably more embarrassing for the guys than for the girls. The twins decide to buy from a mail-order catalog next time. Wait until the Internet comes around – they’ll be ecstatic.

Thoughts: Continuity alert: Pamela Jacobson exists again.

First description of Mark: “Instead of a suit and tie, he was wearing faded jeans and high-top sneakers.” That means he’s fun, guys! He’s not like a regular teacher, he’s a cool teacher!

“I already know what I want to write about: a girl who has to choose between being a mystery writer and a journalist.” Now I have to choose between telling Elizabeth to shut up and telling her to stuff it.

“That class is going to ruin your chance to make something of yourself.” Is this the first time a parent has argued AGAINST school being vital to a child’s future?

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1 Comment »

  1. Cassie said,

    Haha the kids would have a heart attack over what most teachers wear nowadays. My boyfriend almost always wears jeans in his middle school, and I alternate between casual dresses with cardigans and black combat boots, and jeans with geeky t-shirts and cardigans and black combat boots while teaching high school. And I have hot pink streaks in my hair haha

    Unless Sweet Valley is super strict and conservative. No school I’ve taught in has ever had a problem with my hair, but they have had strict no-jeans policies for their staff.


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