April 4, 2017
SVT #86, It Can’t Happen Here: There Are at Least Two Jewish Families in Sweet Valley and They’re Probably Pretty Ticked Right Now
Summary: Aaron Dallas’ grandfather is visiting for a few weeks while recovering from heart surgery, and he wants Aaron to get in touch with his Jewish roots. Aaron clearly knows nothing about his family’s religion, and has no interest in learning more. He’d much rather hang out with his friends, and with the super-cool new kid, Brian Boyd. He’s from L.A.! He’s automatically awesome! Besides, Aaron doesn’t see what’s so important about his family’s past, or why he needs to dwell on things that happened to Jews decades ago.
When Aaron tries to go off and hang out with his friends, Grandpa invites himself along. Aaron thinks he would get laughed out of the mall if he showed up with his grandfather, even when said grandfather wants to buy him and all his friends ice cream. He pretends he doesn’t feel well and skips being with the cool kids. Meanwhile, Jessica and Lila get to hang out with Brian, who everyone thinks is awesome. Spoiler alert: He is not.
Grandpa tries again to connect with Aaron, showing him old family photos. Aaron’s like, “Oh, your sisters died? In the 1940s? In Europe? And we’re Jewish? Why is this important?” He just wants to watch basketball. Aaron is why the older generations hate kids. He’s trying to give you some foreshadowing for the rest of the book, Aaron! Pay attention!
The twins’ social studies class has a new teacher named Mr. Levin, who will be spending a few weeks with them while they study World War II. The kids are intrigued because instead of lecturing or doing any other traditional teaching, Mr. Levin has a game for them. For now, all they have to do is wear a white shirt to the next class. Those who don’t will get a lower grade. If you see someone not wearing a white shirt, you can rat him or her out for extra credit.
Everyone completes Mr. Levin’s assignment, still not understanding why it was so important for them to wear white shirts. Mr. Levin then splits the class into two groups, one led by Brooke Dennis and the other by Brian. Each group is now a club, and the leaders get to make rules for the members to follow. Brian picks all the seemingly cool kids and tells them to wear black shirts the next day. Oh, Brian. Just tell them to wear brown and drive this metaphor all the way home. He also enlists Aaron as his right-hand man.
When Janet hears about Brian’s new Club of Coolness, she wants in. Keep in mind that the “club” serves no purpose, does no special activities, has no theme, etc. It’s just a bunch of people who want to hang out together. I guess it’s no different from the Unicorns, though. Grandpa learns about the club and has a healthy amount of skepticism about it, since he’s not convinced Brian is a good guy. Aaron doesn’t see any reason to be concerned.
Brian names the group IN and suggests that they all wear something to identify who’s in the club and who isn’t. Jessica comes up with armbands. Armbands are okay under the Unicorns’ rules of fashion? Amazingly, Brian doesn’t suggest that they make people who aren’t IN members wear some other accessory to differentiate themselves, like yellow stars.
Randy Mason wants to join IN, but Aaron knows a nerd like him would never make the cut. Randy doesn’t get the restrictions and thinks that since Aaron’s his friend, he’ll make a good argument for his acceptance. It turns out Randy is also Jewish, and his mother’s family, like Grandpa’s, is from Austria. Grandpa would probably like to trade his unappreciative grandson for Randy, who’s genuinely interested in his stories.
Brian approves of Bruce’s acceptance into IN, but he clearly doesn’t want someone like Randy associating with the cool kids. Elizabeth is growing disenchanted with this elitist club that does nothing, and she actually dares to eat lunch with her friends instead of the club members. BANISH HER! Brian used to go to school with Amy’s cousin Emily, who’s told Amy some stories that make her realize Brian isn’t as great as people think.
Aaron goes home with Brian after school one day, amazed by how incredibly rich the Boyds are. They start solidifying the club roster, nixing Randy and Amy (cut for being ugly, the poor girl). While Brooke has turned her group into an environmental club, Brian is focused on making his group as elite as possible. Anyone who doesn’t follow his rules will be punished. Jess worries that Elizabeth will be kicked out for not falling in line.
Randy and Winston are both hurt that they’ve been excluded from IN after being so nice to Brian. This just makes Elizabeth surer that Brian is bad news and she should avoid him. Proving her right, Brian has IN litter in the parking lot of Casey’s, which Brooke’s club is on their way over to clean up. Aaron knows this is bad, but he’s not about to say anything to get himself singled out – especially when Brian’s about to throw a huge party for all his cool friends.
Brian notices that Elizabeth isn’t at the meeting and asks Jess about it. Jess covers for her sister, desperate not to let her get kicked out of IN. Brian tells her to make sure Liz comes to his party. When Jess goes to tell her sister how important it is that she come to some jerk’s party so she can keep hanging out with other jerks, Elizabeth is busy reading The Diary of Anne Frank. Jess is genuinely upset over the events of the time period and realizes it’s more important than making sure Liz goes to a party.
Brian cuts Melissa McCormick (poor) and Anna Reynolds (deaf) from the guest list, making Aaron disinvite them. Liz is so ticked at the way Brian’s treating the “lesser” people that she decides to have her own party the same night as his. Aaron feels bad that some people are being excluded, but obviously he’s not going to say anything to his new BFF, lest he be seen as uncool. When Brian shoplifts some CDs from the mall (which…you’re rich, dude. Just buy them), Aaron sees clearly that his new friend is a horrible person, but he’s still not willing to give up his spot in the popular crowd.
Jessica can’t talk Elizabeth into going to Brian’s party, and when Brian almost gets violent with Liz while trying to order her to go, Liz just becomes surer than ever that this is not a guy to spend time with. Meanwhile, Aaron lies about having to work on a school project about the Holocaust so he can go to the party instead of spending time with Grandpa. Brian puts Aaron to work at the party, but Aaron STILL thinks this is a better arrangement than being disinvited altogether. He also thinks Elizabeth should apologize for being rude to Brian and refusing to attend. Freaking A, Aaron.
At school the Monday after the party, Elizabeth officially breaks ranks with IN, wearing her regular clothes instead of a black shirt. Jess is mad that Liz would make her look bad like this. Of course this is all about Jess. When Elizabeth tries to tell her sister that Brian is horrible, he overhears and says she’s paranoid. He ignores her when she straight-out calls him a bigot. (For the record, Maria is never invited to join IN, but Brian never gives a reason. I guess the ghostwriter didn’t want to actually call him a racist.)
Brian wants to punish Elizabeth for her resistance, so he gets Aaron to ask her to meet him after school. When she arrives, Brian and Kimberly Haver try to shove her into her locker. Aaron is horrified but doesn’t do anything to stop them. Jessica comes across the scene and saves her sister while Aaron runs off, finally realizing that he and the club have been acting like Nazis. I mean, not really, but that’s the point of the book. Brian is Hitler. Aaron is Goebbels, I guess.
Aaron goes straight home and breaks down, telling Grandpa that he gets what’s been going on and why it’s so awful. He feels horrible that he let Brian charm him into following all his orders, even though Aaron knew they weren’t doing the right things. Grandpa confirms that he’s a Holocaust survivor, and lost his whole family at a concentration camp when he was Aaron’s age.
Aaron brings Grandpa to class so he can tell everyone his experiences. Aaron compares the Holocaust to the events at SVMS over the past couple of weeks, and everyone turns on Brian. Brian doesn’t think he did anything wrong – Mr. Levin gave him an assignment, and he completed it. So…you were just following orders, Brian? Is that what you’re saying? Mr. Levin is surprised that his “game” got so out of hand, which makes me think that he hasn’t spent much time with middle-schoolers, since they can be pretty vicious.
Brian’s parents will need to come in for a meeting with his teachers, so they can be told that they’re raising a fascist bigot, I guess. I can’t see him having any friends after this, but I guess that’s not Mr. Levin’s problem. And all the students at SVMS learned their lesson about conformity and following the orders of power-crazy 12-year-olds, and they were never mean to anyone ever again.
Thoughts: Jessica, re: IN: “It’s just like the Unicorns, only bigger! And including guys!” Confirmation that the Unicorns is a fascist organization.
Since when do the Howells live in a mansion next door to the Fowlers?
Either the ghostwriter has Melissa confused with Mandy or Melissa’s mom is back from the dead.
I’m floored that this book acknowledges that gay people were also targeted during the Holocaust. People always ignore that. I also guarantee that this is the only SVT book the use the word “homosexuals.”