December 12, 2017

SVT Super Edition #11, Jessica’s No Angel: Truth and Consequences

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:12 pm by Jenn

This makes you think the book is very different from how it really is

Summary: Janet Howell is mad. (Janet seems to spend most of her life mad, yeah?) She was supposed to hang out with her boyfriend Denny, but he had to bail because he was studying for a science test. Then Janet caught him playing basketball with some friends. She wants to start a petition banning lying from SVMS. Anyone who lies has to wear an ugly shirt that reads “I am a liar.” All the Unicorns are offended on Janet’s behalf and quickly sign the petition.

The school year is winding down, and the kids will soon be rewarded with a school-wide picnic. For some reason, everyone thinks this is the sort of event they should attend with dates. Everyone quickly pairs up (including Elizabeth and Todd, of course), but Jessica, Lila, and Janet are the only Unicorns who don’t get invited. Lila wants to go with Bruce, despite never having expressed interest in him before. Jess wants to go with Aaron, and Janet has no potential suitors since she just broke up with Denny.

Janet tells Jess and Lila that the three of them can just go to the picnic together. Jess and Lila hate this idea, knowing how high-maintenance Janet is. They don’t want to spend the whole day consoling her or listening to her complain about how boys are scum. They make a deal that whoever gets a date to the picnic first gets to bow out of babysitting duty; the other girl will have to look after Janet.

Even without a date, Jessica wants a new outfit for the picnic. Her math grade has been falling, so Ned and Alice, in a rare moment of being actual parents, tell her that she’ll need to get at least a B on her next test in order to earn a reward. Suddenly, Lila shows up at the Wakefields’ house with a shocking surprise: She got a perm. It looks horrible, but Jessica doesn’t want to hurt her feelings (that must be a first), so she lies that it looks great. She secretly hopes that this will help keep boys away from Lila, which will give Jess a better chance of getting a date first.

Everyone at school makes fun of Lila, though Jess keeps up the charade that her new hairstyle looks awesome. She learns that she only got a C on her math test, so now she has bigger problems to deal with. Her math teacher, Mr. Glennon, offers her extra credit: If she walks his dog while doing some measurements (the test was on converting to the metric system), she’ll earn a B. Even Jessica, who canonically hates dogs, can’t say no to that deal.

Jessica walks the dog, Sparky, downtown, running into Denny at the bakery where he was supposed to meet Janet the day he supposedly lied about his activities. He confides that he really did have a science test to study for, but his tutor canceled the session. He tried to call Janet to meet up, but he couldn’t reach her, so he went to hang out with his friends instead. Jess encourages him to tell Janet what happened so they can make up, but Denny’s stubborn and mad that Janet thought he lied, so he doesn’t feel like making the first move.

Jess has earned her B, so Ned and Alice give her money for a new outfit. She goes to Casey’s to celebrate and runs into Bruce. As Jess hoped, Bruce thinks Lila’s hair is hideous and doesn’t want to take her to the picnic. Instead, he wants to go with Jess. Even though she still wants to go with Aaron, she doesn’t want that as badly as she doesn’t want to spend the day with Janet, so she accepts. Minutes later, Aaron asks Jessica to the picnic. She accepts that date as well, planning to set up two different blankets and go back and forth between the guys without telling them.

But Lila has also accepted a date, and hers was arranged earlier in the day, so Jess still has to hang out with Janet. Jess goes from two dates to zero in a matter of minutes. She realizes that she just has to get Janet and Denny back together so Janet will be off her hands. She tells both of them some lies about the situation, expecting them to make up without going into too many details. Elizabeth lectures her sister about lying, ticking her off so much that Jessica wishes on a shooting star that Liz will learn a lesson about why being 100% honest all the time isn’t as great as it sounds.

The results start manifesting almost immediately. Elizabeth tells Mr. Bowman that she didn’t write an essay for some competition because the topic is boring. She tells Lila that her hair looks awful and everyone has been making fun of her behind her back. She adds that even Jess thinks it’s horrible and has been lying to her about it. Liz then overhears Bruce telling Aaron that, like Jessica, he has two dates to the picnic and is even going to do the same back-and-forth thing she’d planned. Liz tells Aaron that Jessica had the same idea.

Jessica confronts Elizabeth for her overeager truth-telling just as Liz is on her way to tell Janet and Denny about how Jess lied to get them back together. Jess is able to stop her, but Elizabeth then tells Bruce that Jessica has two dates to the picnic. Bruce dumps Jess, and Aaron was already ticked at her, so she’s back to having no date to the picnic. Also, Denny and Janet have broken up again, since a simple conversation about their reunion makes them realize that Jess lied to both of them.

Elizabeth further ruins her sister’s life by telling their parents that she only got a B on her test after she did extra credit. I’m not sure why this matters, since the deal didn’t say anything about how or when the B had to be earned, and at least Jessica did the work, unlike Cher, who just talked her way into higher grades. Anyway, Ned and Alice are mad that Jess misled them about her grade, and they ground her. Jessica tries to undo her earlier wish by wishing on another shooting star that Elizabeth will stop being so honest.

This means that Liz starts lying all the time. She uses the “my dog ate my homework” story on Mr. Bowman. She tells Aaron that Jessica actually turned down Bruce’s invitation to the picnic, but he pretended she’d accepted. She tells Janet that Jess only lied because she wanted to get her and Denny back together. Suddenly everyone’s happy, and Aaron even asks Jess to the picnic again.

Lila tells Liz that she wants payback, but it’ll only work if Jessica is ungrounded. Elizabeth helps out by smoothing things over with Ned and Alice. Lila takes Jess to a salon for a makeover, secretly making sure she gets a perm so she looks as hideous as Lila does. Well, as Lila did – she gets her hair straightened at the same time, so now Jess is the only one with the outdated hairstyle.

That night, Jessica spots Sparky outside her house during a big thunderstorm. She goes to rescue him, in the process getting in a big fight with Liz about how Liz’s recent actions have affected her. Jess just wishes that things would go back to normal. She trails Sparky to Denny’s house, where the poor dog hides from the storm under a car in the garage. Jess and Denny need a way to coax the dog out, so they go to the bakery to get a piece of the cake Sparky liked the last time Jess took him there.

Janet’s at the bakery, buying the last piece of the same cake Jess needs. At first Janet thinks the two of them are dating now, but Denny explains what’s going on. They convince Janet to hand over the cake, then realize that she was buying it as a peace offering for Denny. Jess and Denny successfully get the dog out of hiding and return him to Mr. Glennon. Unfortunately, Ned and Alice are furious when Jess gets home and has a seemingly dumb explanation for why she was running around in a thunderstorm.

The good news is that getting rained on all night has ruined Jessica’s perm (a lesson we all learned from Legally Blonde), so her hair is back to normal. Jess explains to Aaron why she accepted Bruce’s invitation to the picnic, even though she didn’t want to go with him. Janet and Denny have made up, which means Jess can go to the picnic with Aaron. Or at least she could, if Ned and Alice hadn’t told her she can’t go.

Mr. Glennon to the rescue! He calls them in for a parent-teacher conference and tells them how grateful he is that Jessica saved Sparky. He then reveals that he graded her test wrong; she had a B even before the extra credit. In fact, her grade is improving, and she’s on track to get an A in the class. Ned and Alice reward Jess by allowing her to go to the picnic. Elizabeth uses the experience to write an essay for the competition about truth and consequences. She doesn’t know what happened to make her behave so strangely, but it seems to be over. P.S. No one picked up the “I am a liar” shirts Janet ordered, so the store put them on clearance, and Mr. Clark bought one. It’s orange with pink lettering. Oh, Mr. Clark. Why?

Thoughts: It’s 1998 and only one computer in the middle school’s lab is connected to the Internet. Aww.

Also, it’s 1998 and people are still getting perms. Though, according to Legally Blonde, they were still getting them through at least 2001.

“So now that you look good again, and I’m free, I was thinking this works out sort of perfectly.” Even if I didn’t tell you Bruce was the one who said this, you would know it was him, wouldn’t you?

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December 5, 2017

SVT #114, The Boyfriend Mess: You’re 12! Stop Worrying About Love!

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , at 4:57 pm by Jenn

Scrunchie sighting!

Summary: The couples from Young Love have gathered for their prize trip to Dizzy Planet. No one’s happy (except for totally-in-the-dark Todd, who thinks he’s going with Elizabeth, and Maria, who doesn’t mind spending the day with Patrick), since no one has matched with the person they wanted to be with. But if they want their Valentine’s Day dance, they have to fulfill their contractual obligations. No one seems to remember that they’ve all been wanting to go to Dizzy Planet, so hanging out with people they may not like is a small price to pay.

Jessica wants to get Todd carsick so she can ditch him and hang out with Byron. The plan backfires, and instead Byron ends up carsick. Byron’s cousin Marshall (well, he says he’s Byron’s cousin, but he sounds kind of uncertain) is tagging along, and he and Maria hit it off right away. Now she’s not quite as thrilled about having to spend the day with Patrick when she could be spending it with Marshall.

Sophia learns that the show is trying to catch “cheaters,” and she worries that she and Patrick will get busted for trying to rig their match. She takes a bus to Dizzy Planet but can’t afford the entrance fee. She manages to sneak in with a group of kids from a daycare by pretending to be a chaperone. Elizabeth also learns about the hunt for cheaters and accidentally stumbles into a way to enter the park without paying – Byron mistakes her for Jessica and brings her in. He also gives her a shirt from the show, so now the twins are accidentally dressed alike.

While the girls search the park for Patrick and Jessica, Maria tries to get some alone time with Marshall. For some reason, these 12-year-olds are willing to admit that they want to ride a carousel. Todd wants to win Elizabeth (really Jessica) a teddy bear by playing some sort of bowling game, but the bear costs 100 tickets and Todd isn’t very good at the game. Jessica’s getting more and more bored by the second.

Liz finds her sister and asks to undo their twin switch so she can hang out with Todd. Jessica jumps at the chance to go find Byron and spend the day with him instead. But she also has to make sure he doesn’t see Todd with Elizabeth and bust the twins for their scheme. The twins and their guys end up on the same water ride, and Jess has to fall overboard to distract Byron from seeing Liz and Todd together. Meanwhile, Liz herself is so distracted by the scheme that Todd thinks she’s lost interest in him and takes off alone.

Sophia finds Patrick and shares her theory that Marshall was sent to spy on him. She thinks Patrick can fool him by pretending he really wants to be with Maria. Patrick takes it too far, though, and Maria blasts him for showering her with affection right in front of Sophia. Good for Maria for being all sisters before misters here. Patrick explains what’s going on to Maria, but now she thinks Marshall was just being nice to her because he was sent to spy on her. Her and Sophia’s day have been ruined.

When it’s time for everyone to leave the park, Maria doesn’t get on the van with everyone else. Apparently this is a violation of the contract, and if she doesn’t come home with everyone else, they have to forfeit the dance. The people there with the show find this amusing, apparently forgetting that they’ll have to tell Maria’s parents that they lost her.

Amy tracks down Maria, who’s moping because she thinks everyone in Sweet Valley is awful. Amy reminds her that she has friends, then encourages her to get in the van because if she loses the dance for everyone, they’ll be even more awful to her. So Maria secures the dance for her classmates, but then Byron, who says he’s suspected the twin switch all day, tricks “Elizabeth” into outing herself as Jessica. He doesn’t care, though, since the same twin who came in the morning is going home with the group. And at least now Todd knows why “Elizabeth” was acting so weird all day.

Everyone goes to the dance, where Byron reveals that he’s been filming them all day for a new show about the negative side of dating. They were only looking for “cheaters” so they could feature them on the new show. Byron waxes poetic about love, and how it can be tough, and blah blah blah, they’re 12, dude. They’re all going to break up next week for stupid reasons.

Elizabeth and Sophia are busted for their scheming, but they don’t get in trouble, so it doesn’t matter. Everyone ends up with his or her preferred partner, including Maria, who learns that Marshall, while not a spy, is really Byron’s nephew. (His sister is a lot older and had a child just a few years after Byron was born. They find it easier to say they’re cousins than to explain their real relationship. No one cares.)

In other news, Janet and Donald wound up having a great day together and are now practically BFFs. Who knew?

Thoughts: The kids seem to think that enjoying their time together is part of the deal for the party, but there’s no way that’s enforceable. Plus, the odds are pretty low that all those couples who were paired off because one of them liked three answers the other gave to random questions would be 100% compatible.

One of the women from the show, when Maria doesn’t show up to the van: “You don’t like it, blame her. Tear her apart Monday morning when she gets to school. Or poison her milk.” LADY. You should not be allowed around children.

Maria is suddenly insecure about what people think of her. It’s really out of character for her.

Marshall calls the SVMS kids “the losingest bunch of stuck-up dorks I’ve ever met.” He’s not wrong.

November 28, 2017

SVT #113, The Boyfriend Game: Let’s Make a Date

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , at 5:02 pm by Jenn

The guy on the far left is very, very ’90s. Like, every guy in my school dressed like that

Summary: The hottest show in Sweet Valley right now is Young Love, a dating show where middle-schoolers get to question three unseen potential suitors and then go out with them. Ahh, yes, the ever-elusive preteen-matchmaking market has finally been targeted. The show is holding a contest for local schools who want to send students on the show; all couples matched on the show get a trip to Dizzy Planet, a new theme park everyone wants to go to. To enter the running to be chosen, SVMS has to submit a group photo and an essay on why they should be considered.

A bunch of different clubs write essays, and Elizabeth is one of the students put in charge of choosing which should be submitted to the show. Since each essay does such a good job of highlighting a portion of the student body, Liz decides that all the essays should be submitted so the show’s producers can see how eclectic the school is. They have to take the group photo multiple times, since the Unicorns keep ruining it, but ultimately, SVMS sends in their essays and photo, and they’re chosen to be on Young Love.

Now the kids at SVMS get to sign up to be contestants or candidates (the potential dates the contestants can choose from). They’re sworn to secrecy so no one can make any arrangements to choose/be chosen by someone they want to go out with. Liz is chosen as a contestant, while Jess is picked to be a candidate, though she’d rather just go out with the show’s host, Byron Miller. Sophia Rizzo is also a candidate, and her boyfriend Patrick is a contestant, which they tell each other even under threat of disqualification for violating the secrecy agreement. They want to come up with a way to ensure they end up together.

Jess watches the show to figure out which candidates are more likely to be chosen for dates. She realizes that honesty and sincerity are big pluses, but being Jess, she has no idea how to be either of those things, so she goes to Liz for help. Liz is like, “Tell…the truth? Maybe?” Jess: “That sounds difficult, but maybe I can fake it.” Also, this is ironic considering what Liz pulls next.

Elizabeth isn’t that familiar with the show, so she’s worried when she learns from Amy that Byron sometimes teases the contestants. (They’re children, Byron. Take it easy.) Liz doesn’t want to be embarrassed on TV, but she still wants to go to Dizzy Planet, so she asks Jess to pull a twin switch with her. So much for honesty. Jessica doesn’t really care how she gets to Dizzy Planet, so she easily agrees to pretend to be Liz.

Patrick and Sophia start sneaking around to try to meet up to discuss how they’re going to rig the show. Guys, you’re dating. No one would find it suspicious if you were seen hanging out. They’ve heard about the game-show scandals of the ’50s and are worried that they’ll get busted and investigated by the FBI. Patrick’s really paranoid and barely listens when Sophia tries to tell him what their secret signal will be. Contestants get to pick the questions they ask the candidates, so Patrick will need to ask his three potential dates about their favorite foods. Sophia will answer, “Poetry, for woman does not live by bread alone.”

The twins pull their switch the day of the taping, and no one notices. Jessica is up first, and her three potential suitors are Todd, Bruce, and Winston (though she doesn’t know this, as they’re separated by a divider and the guys are using voice-changing mics). Even though Jess makes a fool of herself in front of Byron, she accidentally makes Liz and Todd look like they’re meant to be, or something, by picking Todd as her date. She’s disappointed that she won’t get to go to Dizzy Planet as Bruce’s date, but at least she won’t have to hang out with Winston.

Liz’s fellow candidates are Amy and Ellen, and their contestant is Aaron. Liz realizes that if she and Jess hadn’t pulled their switch, they could have a chance at being with their preferred guys. But Aaron ends up picking Amy, since Liz was too preoccupied by the switch to give good answers, and Ellen probably doesn’t even know where she is. Now the twins can’t even undo their switch and go to Dizzy Planet with the guys they like.

After Janet takes her turn as a contestant and unwittingly picks nerdy Donald Zwerdling as her date, Patrick is up. His choices are Sophia, Maria, and some other girl who’s not important. Patrick forgets the signal question and instead asks what the girls think of poetry. Each gives an answer that includes the word “bread,” so Patrick has no idea which one is Sophia. He accidentally chooses Maria as his date. Sophia’s so annoyed with him that Patrick is probably glad he gets to spend the trip to Dizzy Planet with someone other than her.

Everyone’s upset with the way things turned out, but they learn that they have to go on their dates to Dizzy Planet or the show won’t put on the Valentine’s Day dance that serves as part of their prize. The ones who pulled twin switches or rigged the game also can’t say anything, for fear of having the whole school punished. Basically, the only person who’s happy at the end of the book is Maria, who has no idea why everyone else is mad at each other. This will, I’m sure, all get worked out in the next book.

Thoughts: “Honest and sincere. Jessica thought about that for a moment. It was definitely an approach she wouldn’t have come up with on her own.” Yeah, that’s a shocker.

When asked which Johnny Buck song best describes what he’s looking for in romance, Bruce picks “Forever Fever,” “because that’s what any girl gets when she’s with me.” From an STD, right?

Todd wants to be a dolphin, because “they’re so beautiful and smart.” Oh, Todd. You’re beautiful on the inside.

I’m so disappointed that we barely get to witness the moment Janet discovers she matched with Donald. I bet you could hear her scream from two counties away.

Aaron’s a jerk. Jessica can do better.

November 21, 2017

SVT #112, If Looks Could Kill: No TV and No Fighting Make the Wakefields…Something Something

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , at 5:01 pm by Jenn

No, I don’t know why it’s called “If Looks Could Kill”

Summary: It’s New Year’s Eve, and of course there’s a party. This one will be at Lila’s house. The twins go shopping and pick out matching makeup bags. Jessica’s the only one who wants to actually use hers for makeup; Elizabeth has recently gotten into rock-collecting and thinks the bag will be perfect to store her collection. Jess hates the idea of having the same bag as her dorky sister with her dorky new hobby, so she ditches the bag. Liz does, too, since it’s expensive. So that whole part of the book was pointless, and only sets up a new fight between the twins.

The girls run into a new classmate, Eric, and Jess invites him to Lila’s party. She already has a crush on him, but Eric seems to have more in common with Liz, as he also likes rocks. Meanwhile, Joe Howell spots Eric’s sister, Patty, and tries to flirt with her. She’s nice to him but doesn’t seem that interested. Steven has a much easier time talking to Patty, though she doesn’t show much interest in him either.

The Wakefield kids all go home, where the twins get into a fight over Eric. Alice tells them that their aunt and uncle have invited them to go skiing during their next school break, but the twins’ constant bickering makes her think they’re not mature enough to go away without their parents. Alice, you’re looking at this all wrong: If they go away on a trip, they’re out of the house and you don’t have to deal with them. But no, Alice decides that Steven can go on the trip, but the twins have to earn it.

The twins really want to go skiing, so they quickly come up with an idea: Their New Year’s resolution will be to stop fighting for a whole week. Steven hates the idea of his little sisters tagging along on the ski trip, and he complains to his mother that she wasn’t hard enough on them. Alice ignores this and instead notes that Steven has been watching a lot of TV lately. Steven volunteers to stop watching TV, movies, and videotapes for a week, though at this point he’s not getting anything out of the deal.

At Lila’s party, Janet becomes smitten with Eric and basically calls dibs on him. Then Janet starts hassling Elizabeth, telling Jessica to let her know how dumb her rock collection is. If Jess doesn’t, she may be kicked out of the Unicorns. Remembering her resolution, Jessica defends her twin. Then she has to tell her friends about her resolution, so they don’t think she actually likes her sister.

Some of the other girls decide to make resolutions as well. Lila thinks they should compete – anyone who breaks her resolution has to wear a cloth diaper to the party Janet’s having in a week. For some reason, they all agree to this. The winner gets nothing other than the satisfaction of not wearing a diaper. Weak. Anyway, the resolutions:

  • Amy has been late for school a lot recently, so she resolves to be on time.
  • Maria wants to stop being vain, and will give up looking at herself in the mirror.
  • Lila will stop bragging for a week.
  • Janet will give up all sweets.

Steven and Joe somehow get roped into the competition as well; Steven will make his TV ban official, and Joe will avoid going to Casey’s for a week. The kids seem to be on the honor system for the competition, and the threat of having to wear a diaper in front of their classmates is enough to keep them on their best behavior.

On top of the competition, Steven still wants to get the twins banned from the ski trip, so he tries to come up with ways to get them to fight. Nothing works. Meanwhile, everyone else in the competition gets really serious about it. Amy even makes up scorecards with “kill” columns so they can check off when someone breaks a resolution. Everyone wants to make Janet break, but Lila’s the one who cracks first. It makes sense, since bragging is so much a part of who she is.

Janet proves to be a master manipulator, taking down both Amy and Maria even as the others try to get her to break her resolution. Maria’s easy to crack, since it only takes one glance in a mirror to make that kill. Amy’s tougher, but Janet turns her own manipulation against her. Amy takes Janet to a bunch of places to try to tempt her with sweets, but makes the mistake of eating them all herself. Janet just sits back and lets Amy stuff herself until she’s sick, thereby ensuring that she doesn’t make it to school on time the next day.

Steven is now desperate to get the twins to fight, and he turns to Janet for help. In exchange, Steven will get Janet a date with Eric. They’re not very good at this, though; their plan is to have the Unicorns run into Elizabeth at a rock and mineral show, and make Liz think that Jess brought her friends to mock her, but the twins just pretend everything is great. However, Elizabeth is starting to crack, and when the kids go to Casey’s, and Jess orders the same shake Liz wanted, Liz throws a tantrum.

Because the answering machine had started to pick up when Steven called Janet to present his plan, Joe is able to hear their conversation and learn that they’re plotting against the twins. He doesn’t want Janet to win the competition, so he runs to Casey’s to warn the twins that she’s trying to take them down. Unfortunately, this means he’s broken his own resolution, so he’s out. Then the twins eliminate Steven by talking up some awesome action movie and getting him to watch it in secret. It’s actually an episode of Jess’ soap, Days of Turmoil, so Steven didn’t even get eliminated for something cool.

The twins and Janet are the only people left in the competition, so the twins bring in the big guns: Eric. They get him to bake cookies for Janet’s party, then pretend to be disappointed when she declines to try one. Since Janet doesn’t want her new crush to think she’s a loser, she has to eat a cookie, thereby removing herself from the competition. This means the twins win the competition and are the only participants who don’t have to wear diapers to the party,

But Steven gets one last swing in by telling each twin that the other is going to buy the diapers, leading to a fight when neither has them. This should mean they can’t go on the ski trip, but now Ned and Alice have been invited along, so the whole family is going. Sorry, Steven. The twins make up, Eric dances with both of them at the party, and no one wears diapers. So what was described as a book where the twins fight over a guy turned out to be something completely different (and actually kind of fun to read).

Thoughts: Alice should have offered Steven something in exchange for his week without TV. He had no incentive to try it.

TV shows in the Sweet Valley universe: Celebrity Ping-Pong (which I’m surprised hasn’t become a real thing yet) and The Extra-Late Show hosted by Daniel Betterman. Sigh.

Quotable Liz, when the twins are listing things Steven might like about the fake movie: “And the babes. They were so, like, um, pretty.”

November 14, 2017

SVT Super Edition #10, The Year Without Christmas: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…Again

Posted in books tagged , at 4:52 pm by Jenn

Oh, if only this had happened

Summary: The twins are having a Christmas Eve party for their friends, and everyone has gathered to choose names for a Secret Santa gift exchange. Jessica hopes she draws cute new guy Mike, though really, why would you want to buy a present for someone you barely know? Jess isn’t as thrilled as she should be to draw her own twin’s name, even though Liz should be the easiest person to shop for. She’s gracious enough to at least pretend to like anything you give her.

The twins haven’t yet finalized their plans for the party (which is only two days away), and haven’t even agreed on the theme. Jess wants to do something sophisticated, though I’m not sure Jess would know what sophistication is if it were the pair of elbow-length gloves she probably plans to wear with her evening gown. Liz would prefer a traditional Christmas party with caroling and tree-trimming. When I was 12, I would have thought both of these ideas were dumb. Just feed your friends pizza and cookies, exchange gifts, and let me go home and dream of the presents I’ll open the next day.

Elizabeth has drawn Lila for Secret Santa, and she has no clue what to buy the girl who already has at least one of everything. She eventually decides to make a scrapbook with pictures of Lila and all of her friends. It makes sense: Give the girl with the giant ego a big book of pictures of herself. However, Liz is going to put a lot more work into this present than she needs to, considering the amount of praise Lila is likely to give her in return.

Jess goes to the mall to get Liz’s gift and runs into Mike. He’s looking at hats for his Secret Santa recipient and asks Jessica her opinion on one for a basketball team called the Utah Unicorns. I cry foul (a little bit of basketball humor there, folks) that there would be a professional team with that name. Mike claims the hat is for his sister, Miranda, but it’s obvious he’s lying even before Jessica asks around and learns that Mike doesn’t have a sister. Jess thinks the hat is really for her.

She moves on to look at earrings for her sister and finds a pair shaped like little typewriters. They’re $8.99, easily under the $10 cap for the gift exchange, so Jess is really pleased. But then, like a raccoon, she gets distracted by something shiny. She sees some $10 earrings shaped like Christmas decorations and decides they would be perfect to wear to the party. But she doesn’t have enough money with her to buy both pairs of earrings, and the clerk tells her the ones she wants will probably sell out quickly. Jess convinces herself that the typewriter earrings are dorky anyway, so she buys earrings for herself and decides to come back to the mall the next day to get something for Liz, as well as a new dress for herself.

The twins discuss their party theme again, which means that, the day before this big bash, they have yet to do any baking, shopping, planning, etc. Sounds about right. Jess’s “sophistication” idea is officially shot down. Also, Steven is assigned to be a waiter/host for the party, and will even be paid for it. I would have guessed that this is so Ned and Alice can have someone keep an eye on the party without having to pay any attention themselves, but they end up attending, so this is just a contrivance to keep Steven there.

Jessica wakes up Christmas Eve morning to hear her parents discussing whether or not to give the kids cards from their Uncle Bob then or later. They decide on then, and each kid gets $50. I don’t know who Uncle Bob is, but he’s either very generous or feels very guilty about never paying his nieces and nephew any attention (which could be why we’ve never heard of him before). Jess now has more than enough for her new dress and Liz’s present. Liz, however, plans to donate her money along with the clothes she’s giving to charity. For anyone else, this would be a last-ditch effort to get on Santa’s nice list, but we all know Elizabeth has always been there.

Jessica goes back to the mall and buys a red dress she thinks is perfect for the party. As she’s leaving, she runs into Janet, Ellen, and Mandy. Janet makes fun of the red dress, saying that Jess will look like Mrs. Claus. Jessica returns the dress and buys a silver lame one that any 12-year-old, even one as dense as Jess, would know her parents would never let her wear. Indeed, Alice vetoes the outfit, and Jess has to find something in her closet to wear at the last minute. The horror!

Even worse than a wardrobe disaster is Jessica’s realization that she never bought Elizabeth a Secret Santa gift. For some reason (oh, right, because she’s a sociopath), Jess swaps out the tag on Elizabeth’s present for Lila so that it looks like Jess made the scrapbook. She’s mad at Liz for taking control of the party, and she figures this works well as revenge. Jess has probably struggled to get on the nice list in the past, but this is one year she’s not going to make it.

Instant karma smacks Jess around all night. Janet shows up to the party in the dress Jessica returned, and Jess is chastised for mocking her. Her sometimes excellent/sometimes awful singing voice is awful here, and she embarrasses herself while singing carols. She’s chastised for trying to get food before anyone else, and her friends are too greedy to save her any lasagna. She accidentally breaks Elizabeth’s favorite ornament. Ned embarrasses everyone by playing the harmonica while Winston plays the accordion. Steven tricks everyone with garlic-flavored candy, since he was left in charge of buying party favors.

Mike is late to the party, but just after he arrives, the kids start trimming the tree. Jessica accidentally knocks it over, almost crushing Lila. Jess laughs off Lila’s overblown traumatic reaction, but Mike says that people can easily be killed by trees – his grandfather was. And he doesn’t appreciate Jessica’s attitude when one of her friends was almost hurt.

The kids exchange gifts, and Jessica is secretly humiliated when the hat Mike bought turns out to be for Ellen. Jess is further humiliated when her gift from Winston is three accordion lessons. Lila gushes over Liz’s present, but thinks it’s from Jessica. For some reason, Elizabeth doesn’t correct her. But then Amy arrives late, having been held up by helping her mother make gingerbread houses for charity, and reveals that she knows Liz, not Jess, made the scrapbook. Everyone turns on Jess, who flees the party crying.

The next morning, things unfold exactly as they did the day before. It takes Jessica a little while (I guess she hasn’t seen Groundhog Day), but she eventually realizes that it’s Christmas Eve again, and she gets to relive the whole day. Most people would be happy that they get the chance to make all the wrongs of the previous day right, but…you know, sociopath. (She also doesn’t question how it’s possible for the day to repeat itself, but Jess isn’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.)

As far as Jessica’s concerned, Elizabeth still deserves revenge, and Amy is the key to getting it. After buying the red dress again, and keeping it this time, Jessica calls in a fake order for more gingerbread houses, hoping that Amy will be so busy that she can’t come to the party. As the party progresses, Jess does everything right this time, but Amy still shows up and outs Elizabeth as the real scrapbooker. After all that work, Jess ends up in the same place she was the night before.

But the next morning, it’s Christmas Eve again. This time Jessica slashes Amy’s bike tires, because I guess Jess has never heard of cars. Of course, Amy can still get to the party, and Jess still ends the day in tears. On the fourth go-round, Jessica fakes illness and stays in bed all day. But even though she didn’t put her name on Lila’s present, she gets busted for not getting Elizabeth a present, as Liz is the only person in the gift exchange without one.

Take 5: Jessica buys Amy and Mrs. Sutton tickets to some ice show the night of the party. But Amy would rather be with her friends, so that doesn’t work. Jessica gets credit for the scrapbook, but this time, Elizabeth just pretends that Jess made it. She’s all noble about making Lila happy and letting Jessica feel proud by getting the credit. Jess finally feels horrible for how badly she’s treated her sister. She figures that since she’s finally gotten things right, the repeating Christmas Eves are over, and she feels bad that she won’t get to make things up to Elizabeth.

But surprise, surprise: The next day is Christmas Eve again. Jessica wants everything to be perfect, so she basically acts like Elizabeth. She donates her check from Uncle Bob to charity, she buys Elizabeth the typewriter earrings, she compliments Janet’s new red dress, and she pretends she loves Winston’s gift. Everyone is thrilled with Jessica’s attitude – especially Mike, who wants to take her to a Utah Unicorns game. And the next day is Christmas, which means Jess finally did things right and learned her lesson. I mean, until the next time she has to choose between being a good person and being selfish, which will most likely be sooner rather than later.

Thoughts: If I had Lila for Secret Santa, I would just give her a $10 bill. Though she would probably say, “They make them this small?”

“And everyone knows, red is the color to wear to holiday parties this year.” And every year. Because it’s a Christmas color. Go away, Sweet Valley Fashions store clerk Danielle.

“You know, Mr. Wakefield, I always wanted to play the harmonica.” How does Ken become popular in high school?

November 7, 2017

SVT #111, Sisters at War: I’m Thankful I’m Not Part of This Crazy Family

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:02 pm by Jenn

This has to be Elizabeth. Jessica would never wear that dorky jumper

Summary: Alice’s sisters Nancy and Laura are coming to Sweet Valley with their families for Thanksgiving. We’ve read about Nancy’s daughters, Robin and Stacey, a few times, but Kelly has never appeared in SVT, only in SVH. The twins are excited to get to spend time with their cousins. Steven is much, much less excited, since there are no boys in the family. I wouldn’t want to spend that much time with four 12-year-old girls either, so Steven actually has some of my sympathy for once.

The kids have to give the house a massive cleaning to prepare for their guests. Everyone will be staying at the house, which sounds like a recipe for disaster. Even before that, the twins are starting to get on each other’s nerves. Alice claims that she and her sisters never fought as kids, which is either a) the biggest lie she’s ever told, b) means she’s in incredible denial, or c) indicates that at some point, Alice suffered a head injury or some sort of trauma that wiped out part of her memory.

We know from Kelly’s previous appearance in the Sweet Valley-verse that her parents are no longer together. At 12, the twins don’t know why, and are especially confused about why Laura and her husband Greg would split up since he’s so likable. Alice mentions that he’s “unreliable,” which is PG code for “deadbeat.” Alice also mentions that she thinks Laura should have married another guy. Steven’s interested in learning more about this family dirt, since he has to write about family stories for a school project.

Jessica overhears Alice on the phone, talking about arranging a surprise for someone at Thanksgiving. She’s pretty sure she hears Aaron’s name in the conversation, which means Alice must have invited Aaron over for dinner. I’d make fun of Jess for believing this, but it’s a pretty 12-year-old thing to think, and very keeping with Jessica’s character (mainly, her belief that the world revolves around her).

The relatives all arrive, and Kelly soon proves to be a quiet, shy, delicate flower. The twins aren’t as close to her as they are Robin, so they don’t know her very well. Kelly is clearly depressed, and hasn’t made any friends since she and Laura moved to Tucson, even though it was four years ago. Jessica wants to help Robin and Kelly become close, so she makes up some things they might have in common. Robin quickly discovers that they’re not true, but fortunately, the two have enough real things in common that they’re able to connect anyway. For the first time in four years, Kelly’s happy.

Steven tries to glean some interesting information from Alice’s conversations with her sisters. All he learns is that Kelly is boring, and Nancy shares Alice’s opinion that Laura shouldn’t have married Greg. She thinks Laura should have ended up with her high school boyfriend, Darren Caruso. In fact, they were supposed to go to college together and would probably have gotten married eventually, if not for Darren’s sudden disappearance. Laura never found out why he ditched her and joined the Marines with no notice. He sent her a couple letters a few months later, but she never read them.

It isn’t long before the Robertson sisters’ supposedly solid relationship starts to crack. Nancy criticizes Laura for not being a stricter parent. Alice has fonder memories of a childhood trip to the Grand Canyon than her sisters do. Elizabeth is like, “So you guys never fight, huh?” The tension isn’t helped by the fact that the younger pairs of sisters are bickering, especially the twins. They fight through most of the book, ignoring the fact that there are guests in the house. If I were Ned or Alice, I would pull them aside, threaten to never give them allowance again if they kept fighting, and mean it. But of course, Ned and Alice have no parenting skills, so the girls just keep fighting.

By the time Thanksgiving dinner rolls around, everyone seems to be ready to calm down and enjoy the holiday. Then they realize that there are 12 places set at the table instead of 11. Alice reveals that she ran into Darren, exchanged a few letters with him, and invited him to dinner. Jessica’s embarrassed that she misheard “Darren” as “Aaron” and isn’t getting a surprise visit from her sort-of boyfriend after all.

Laura goes nuclear. She tells Kelly they’re leaving immediately and refuses to stay long enough to see Darren. Kelly’s upset, since she’s been enjoying the time with her cousins and was just starting to feel happy. Both of Alice’s sisters are mad at her. Surprisingly, we don’t get a moment where Steven’s like, “Can I eat while everyone’s fighting?” Because honestly, that would be me.

In the midst of the chaos, Darren arrives, deeply apologetic for the way things went down with Laura. He explains that he was too embarrassed to tell her when he didn’t get into college, thanks to some learning disabilities. He joined the Marines and wrote a letter to ask her to wait. But his dyslexia made him transpose the numbers in her address, so she didn’t get the letter. By the time Darren figured that out, a few months had gone by. He sent more letters, but as we know, Laura didn’t read them. He asks her forgiveness, and amazingly, she quickly grants it.

But not everything is peachy: Kelly’s now missing. Her cousins find her at her old house, and she admits that she hates living in Tucson. Her only friend is her mom. She’s worried that, now that Laura and Darren have reconnected, Kelly and her mother won’t have as much time together anymore. Okay, girlfriend, they’ve talked for five minutes after 20 years apart. They don’t even live in the same state. It’s not like they’re going to get married tomorrow and ship you off to boarding school.

Stacey, who at eight years old is an Elizabeth in training, tells Kelly a story she wants to turn into a play. It’s about a girl who makes a ragdoll that comes to life and becomes her friend. Somehow, this makes Kelly feel better, like, is she going to go back to Tucson and build herself a friend? Is there a Build-a-Friend Workshop at the mall? The cousins try to cheer her up by pointing out that, if Laura and Darren do get back together, Laura could decide to move back to Sweet Valley to be closer to him. Then Kelly would be around the twins all the time.

Back at the house, Kelly tells everyone that they’re lucky to have sisters, and she wishes she had one. I think Steven just wishes he had something juicy to include in his family-stories project. How about a story about a disastrous Thanksgiving? No, wait, every family has one of those stories. Eh, just borrow one of Stacey’s.

Thoughts: I’d love to know the odds of three sisters all having children in the same year, especially when there’s an eight-year age difference between two of them.

Way to be on time for dinner at someone else’s house, Darren.

…And then Kelly got therapy, right? Her mother realized she’d been depressed for years and did something about it?

October 31, 2017

SVT #110, Pumpkin Fever: This Halloween, Jessica’s Masquerading as a Good Person

Posted in books tagged , at 5:00 pm by Jenn

Do it! Do it! Do it!

Summary: A week before Halloween, Mr. Clark tells the students at SVMS about a local contest to find the school with the most “pumpkin fever.” If SVMS can get into the spirit of the season better than any other school in the area, they’ll win money they can use for a big school trip. The kids immediately start brainstorming, and Elizabeth comes up with the winning idea: elect a King and Queen of Halloween, with votes cast via jack-o’-lanterns. Aaron volunteers the soccer team to carve jack-o’-lanterns in each contestant’s likeness.

The Unicorns figure that since they’re the prettiest, most popular, bestest girls in the school, they’ll lead the votes. But Liz accidentally puts herself ahead in the running by arranging for a local newspaper reporter to cover SVMS’s participation in the competition. Everyone repays Liz’s favor by voting for her. And since the carvers put each contestant’s initials on the pumpkin, there’s no way Jessica can pretend those votes are really for her.

Jessica has to do a fall-themed art project, but she has no ideas. She sees some jack-o’-lantern earrings Elizabeth made out of acorns and decides to pass them off as her project, after telling Liz that they’re dumb and a big fashion don’t. This is exactly the opposite of the truth, as everyone at school loves the earrings. Janet decides that the Unicorns should make and sell them to make more money for the school trip. Since Jessica would rather die than lose the approval of Queen Janet, she agrees.

Elizabeth catches Jessica gathering acorns for the earrings, so Jess lies that she’s been taking care of a poor, orphaned baby squirrel. Liz buys this, even though Jess isn’t usually the type of person to do something like this. Elizabeth even decides to write an article about her heroic sister for The Sixers. And no, she doesn’t do any fact-checking.

The Unicorns’ earrings are a huge hit, and Elizabeth quickly realizes that a) Jessica stole her design and b) the acorns weren’t for a squirrel. She tries to stop the paper from going to press with her story, but it’s too late. Now Jessica is both an artistic visionary and the next Dr. Doolittle. Everyone votes for her for Queen of Halloween, and the reporter who comes to cover the contest gets interested in doing a piece on Jess and the squirrel, too.

Liz is fed up with her sister and tries to out her as a liar by telling the reporter to get a picture of the squirrel. Jess lies that the squirrel died, and she’s really emotional about it and would rather not talk about it right now, okay? Elizabeth’s plan completely backfires, as Jessica’s popularity only increases, and people commission pumpkins for her in the squirrel’s memory. Jess, sociopath that she is, has no remorse.

Apparently the acorn earrings are so fashionable and creative that a woman from a local boutique wants to buy two dozen pairs. Jessica enlists the Unicorns to make them, though they’re growing tired of all the attention she’s getting. California Girl magazine, which declined to feature Jessica back in Breakfast of Enemies, now wants to include her in a fall fashion article. Somewhere, Claudia Kishi is incredibly jealous.

Elizabeth is even more tired of Jessica’s sudden popularity than the Unicorns are, and she tells Amy and Maria that the first earrings were actually hers. They agree to help her get revenge on her twin. At first they want to just pelt her with water balloons, but Liz chooses to inflict some psychological damage instead. She writes a Telltale Heart-ish story called The Telltale Jack-o’-Lantern (I guess Elizabeth’s creativity was all tapped out by the earrings) about a girl who steals and buries her twin’s jack-o’-lantern so she won’t win a contest. The jack-o’-lantern digs itself out of the ground, driving the thief crazy with the sound. The girls also play a tape of digging noises to drive Jessica crazy.

It works, and when Jessica is inevitably crowned Queen of Halloween, she reveals that Elizabeth deserves the honor. However, everyone wants to reward Jessica’s honesty by letting her keep the title. Ultimately, though, Liz gets the last laugh, as she’d arranged for a big pumpkin-guts fight without telling Jess. Yeah, getting slimed with pumpkin guts totally makes up for all the lying. Also, California Girl no longer wants to feature Jessica in the fashion section, but they do want her to write about everything that happened for a piece about embarrassing experiences. She makes up with Liz by asking her to co-write the article. So, as usual, Jessica gets away with her scheming. Sigh.

Thoughts: I can’t believe this came up on the schedule the week of Halloween. What are the odds?

Also, what are the odds that the soccer players are also accomplished enough carvers that the faces on their jack-o’-lanterns turn out recognizable?

I guess we should be grateful that Jessica doesn’t try to catch a squirrel just to back up her story.

This book proves that Elizabeth can be almost as devious as her twin, just in a different way. Fortunately, she normally chooses to ignore her evil inclinations.

October 24, 2017

SVT #109, Don’t Go in the Basement: The Principal of the Matter

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:10 pm by Jenn

Yeah, they never actually went in the basement, but nice try, cover artist

Summary: As periodically happens in this series, the twins want money. Elizabeth wants an Amanda Howard computer game, and Jessica wants a $75 blouse. For $75, that blouse better also paint my garage and cook me dinner. (In this scenario, in which I can afford a $75 blouse, I also have a house with a garage that needs painting.) The girls know their parents won’t give them a raise in their allowance, so they’ll need to find a way to earn money. Their past experiences with babysitting and dog-walking don’t sound appealing, but they figure house-sitting might be both easy and lucrative.

Wakefield and Wakefield post fliers advertising their new “company,” but no one seems to need their services. They’re losing hope when their principal, Mr. Clark, tells Elizabeth that he has to leave town for a little while and needs the twins to feed his fish and collect his mail while he’s gone. He’s nervous about leaving Jessica in charge of such important tasks, but I think with Liz around, he can rest easy. Mr. Clark is in a rush to leave town and doesn’t have many options anyway. He gives Liz a key to the house and a few instructions, including the order not to go in the basement.

When the twins go over to take care of the house the first time, a neighbor tells them that Mrs. Clark has been gone for three weeks. Then, when the girls are looking for a net to rescue the fish after they accidentally break the fishbowl, they find a knife with some blood on it. They try to convince themselves that it’s a fishing knife, and the blood isn’t human. But then they find a few drops of blood on the floor and some hair in a door hinge right near the basement. Jessica’s conclusion: Mrs. Clark was murdered.

The next day, Elizabeth learns from Mr. Clark’s secretary that he didn’t leave a number where he could be reached. No one knows where he went or when he’ll be back. The secretary later tells Maria Slater that Mrs. Clark hasn’t been to her job in three weeks, ever since Mr. Clark called to say that she would be taking a leave of absence. The twins encounter the Clarks’ paperboy, who tells them he heard yelling the last time he was at the house, just about three weeks ago.

Jessica thinks her murder theory is just gathering more and more evidence. She snoops through the Clarks’ things, surprised to see that Mr. Clark’s side of the closet is empty, while all of his wife’s clothes are still there. She suspects that he doesn’t plan to come back from wherever he is. Then a guy named Hank calls to announce that he’s coming over later in the week to do some work Mr. Clark needed done in the basement.

Jessica’s more convinced than ever that Mr. Clark killed his wife, and the proof is in the basement. She tells all her friends her suspicions, and word gets around school. However, Jess can’t find a basement key, so she can’t go down and confirm her theory. Elizabeth tells her to leave it alone and stop spreading rumors, but she can’t help thinking that Jess might be right. She goes to Maria’s house in the middle of the night and convinces her to go to the Clarks’ house with her to see if Jessica’s right.

The girls check out the whole house, finding a room where sheets have been placed over the furniture. For some reason, they think this is an indication that no one’s coming back to the house. They’re spooked when they realize someone else is in the house with them, but it turns out to be Jessica and Mandy Miller, who are there on the same mission to find clues about the possible murder. They learn from an answering-machine message that Mr. Clark is in China, so if he did kill his wife and flee the country, he went pretty far away.

With no other way to get into the basement, the girls agree that they need to take the door off its hinges. Since it’s dark out and they don’t want to turn on any lights, they decide they’ll need to come back during the daytime. Elizabeth has convinced herself that they may find Mrs. Clark’s body in the basement. If she was killed three weeks ago, I’m guessing they would be able to tell there was a rotting corpse in the basement without even having to go down there, but okay.

At school the next day, Jessica invites the Unicorns to come to the Clarks’ for a door-removal party. The other girls are too freaked out to want to be a part of the investigation. It’s just the twins, Maria, and Mandy back at the house when Harry shows up. He has a key to the basement but tells the girls not to follow him down. They wait around while he does something for a few hours, then leaves with a large metal box, telling them t won’t be safe to go downstairs for 24 hours.

The girls follow Harry to see what he does with what they think is Mrs. Clark’s body. It’s about here that I realize this is really twisted for a book aimed at preteens. Harry goes to a hazardous-waste dump, then calls out the girls for stalking him. They worry that he’s going to hurt them, so they split up and run away. They head to the police station and report a murder.

The police accompany the girls back to the house, where they’re surprised to see that Mr. Clark has come home. They’re even more surprised to see Mrs. Clark there, alive and well. She also has a little girl with her. The girls pretend that they called the police because they thought Harry was robbing the house. The Clarks are a little confused but not that worried. They’re probably jetlagged and distracted anyway, since they just got back from China with the little girl they were there adopting.

The story: The Clarks have been trying to adopt for years, and they finally heard about an organization that could help them get a slightly older child from China. When they called to say there was a child available, Mrs. Clark had to fly over immediately. She was there for three weeks before the adoption became a sure thing and she summoned Mr. Clark to join her. They decided not to tell anyone what was going on in case the adoption fell through, like one they hoped for a few years ago.

As for the basement and other weird stuff in the house, there’s lead paint downstairs, and Mr. Clark hired Harry to remove it. Mr. Clark’s clothes were missing from the closet because he and his wife are moving to a different bedroom to give their new daughter their old room. The blood on the knife was from a fish, and the blood on the floor was Mrs. Clark’s, but only because she accidentally cut herself with a pair of scissors. Her hair got caught in the door frame when she excitedly ran to tell Mr. Clark about the phone call from China (which I guess was the yelling the paperboy heard).

Jessica thinks the girls are in the clear for their crazy theory, but Elizabeth reminds her that everyone at school still thinks Mr. Clark killed his wife. They manage to distract everyone from mentioning the accusations, then divert everyone’s attention entirely by coming up with the idea to throw a shower/welcome to America party for little Janelle. So at least something nice comes out of it what could have been a disastrous situation. I assume Mr. Clark never finds out that so many of his students – including logical Elizabeth Wakefield – were willing to believe that he’s capable of murder.

Thoughts: Someone please teach these girls about Occam’s Razor.

Mandy at the police station, accusing Mr. Clark of murder: “We have proof.” Unseen narrator Ron Howard: “They did not have proof.”

Since the girls only tell the Clarks that they thought they’d been robbed, it’s pretty nice of the police not to mention that they came out to investigate a possible murder.

Lila: “I like kids! As long as they keep their dirty fingers off me.” Amen to that.

So the lesson here is, if you have to admit to your friends that you were wrong about something, just distract them with a party.

October 17, 2017

SVT Super Edition #9, The Twins Go to College: This Isn’t the Kind of Pot I Expected Jessica to Do

Posted in books tagged , at 5:01 pm by Jenn

BURN THOSE OVERALLS

Summary: Jessica’s ready for a mindless summer of shopping and tanning, but when she and Elizabeth get accepted into a two-week study program at SVU, Ned and Alice tell her she’s going. They’ll be vacationing in Grand Canyon, no kids allowed, and Steven will be at basketball camp, so Jess has no choice. She’s devastated, and it doesn’t help when the Unicorns amusingly throw her a mini-funeral to mourn the loss of her summer. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is excited to take one class for two weeks, live in the dorms, and basically get a taste of what college will be like (minus the love triangles and attempted murder).

Ned and Alice take the girls to SVU and proceed to talk nonstop about their time there. The twins try to rush them along so they can sign up for their classes before all the slots fill up. Elizabeth will be taking a course on Romantic poetry (that’s Romantic with a capital R, as in odes and nature and stuff, not love), while Jessica has settled on ceramics, since she thinks it’ll be easy. Thanks to a broken clock tower, the girls are able to get rid of their parents an hour ahead of schedule.

They get the classes they want, then meet their roommates. Elizabeth’s is a girl named Marion whose parents are both detectives. She’s learned her parents’ tricks and become a master of disguise and observation. I kind of love her. She’s taking a criminology course, which I think I would choose if I were in this program. Jessica’s roommate, Susan, is AWFUL. She’s a snob from L.A. who thinks Jessica’s beneath her because she wears jeans and T-shirts. She’s Lila cranked up to 11, without the class.

The girls meet a guy named Mike who’s at SVU for a few days before he and his fellow Nature Scouts go on a canoe trip. Jessica likes him, but Susan quickly steals him, so now Jess hates her even more. Elizabeth is next to meet a guy, encountering a kid on a bridge and quoting poetry with him. She doesn’t get his name, but she’s in luuuuuuuuuuuv.

Jessica’s hopeful about her ceramics class, thanks to all the cute guys there, but when she starts actually working, she realizes it won’t be as easy as she’d hoped. Just making a clay pot takes a lot of concentration and control. She ends up covered in clay and embarrassed in front of her new classmates. Liz, meanwhile, gets a shock in her poetry class – it’s taught by her poetry buddy. His name is Ethan, and he’s a student and TA at SVU, which means he’s too old for Elizabeth.

Jessica comes across a gallery on campus and chats with an old woman who tells her about a curse pot. To mess with someone you hate, you can make an imperfect pot with the face of your enemy etched into it, along with some symbols. Firing the pot will trap the person’s spirit inside it. As she’s leaving, Jess runs into a guy transporting her classmates’ work and accidentally breaks some of it. So far, this summer isn’t going great for Jessica.

Inspired by Marion’s skill with disguises, Elizabeth decides to try to land Ethan by pretending to be someone else – specifically, someone older. She calls her new alter ego Geraldine and decides she talks like a southern belle from a few decades ago. She’s supposed to be 18, by the way. I would love to know how the characters in Elizabeth’s stories talk.

Jess decides she’s done with the study program (wow, she almost lasted an entire day!), so she packs a bag and heads for the bus stop. She’s missed the last bus home for the day, but it’s not a complete bust: She sees Elizabeth leaving a boutique in her new Geraldine clothes and decides to follow her. Liz goes to SVU’s snack bar and chats with Ethan, pretending to be her own older sister. They arrange to hang out later in the week and discuss poetry.

Jess gives ceramics another try, this time making a pretty decent-looking pot. She etches Susan’s face in it and turns it into a curse pot. She fires it with Bernard, the guy she ran into who was transporting the other pots. Meanwhile, Ethan tells Liz that he met Geraldine, then asks her to come along when the two of them hang out. Liz says she can’t go. Marion figures out what she’s up to and seems amused by the whole thing. Susan doesn’t come back to her and Jessica’s room that night, and she’s not around the next morning. Jessica is a little confused but doesn’t give it much thought.

Ethan and Elizabeth chat after a class, and he tells her that he thinks she’s more suited to Romantic poetry than Geraldine is, just from the way Geraldine talks. Way to insult your student’s sister, dude. Liz realizes she needs to quit it with always saying “my, my!” and “indeed” as Geraldine. Yeah, I’d say so. Jess has lunch with Bernard and later finds a poem in her pocket called Ode to Blue-Green Eyes. She figures it’s from Bernard, since she was just with him, but it’s obvious to the reader that it’s from Ethan, and he mistook Jess for Liz.

Susan is still MIA, and Jess starts to wonder if her curse pot actually did the job what it was supposed to. She goes looking for Elizabeth to fill her in, and finds her hanging out with Ethan, as Geraldine. Liz quickly pretends that Jessica is her. Jess plays along, hoping that in exchange, she’ll get a favor in the future. She mentions the poem she found in her pocket, and again, it’s clear to the reader that Ethan wrote it, but the twins don’t catch on.

Jessica pressures/threatens Elizabeth into helping her find the woman from the gallery so she can learn more about curse pots. Marion helps them get into the gallery after hours, but they have to hide from a guard and can’t get to the curse pot. The next day, Bernard tells Jessica that someone broke into the gallery and stole the pot. Jess is shocked, since it was there when she, Liz, and Marion broke in, and she knows none of them took it. She asks about the old woman, and Bernard offers to try to get contact information for her.

Ethan mentions Ode to Blue-Green Eyes to Liz, who has no idea what he’s talking about. He invites her and Geraldine to a concert on campus that night. Liz tries to bow out so only Geraldine will go, but Ethan insists. Elizabeth gets Jess to agree to play her again, and Jess gets Liz to agree to go with her to see the old woman, Hatta. The mystery of the missing curse pot is quickly solved, as Hatta took it. She made it, so she figures she can do what she wants with it. Jessica tells her that she made her own curse pot but now wants to reverse the curse. Hatta isn’t sure she can.

When the girls are back at their dorm, Ethan calls to tell Elizabeth that he got a fourth ticket to the concert, so she should bring Jessica along. Of course, Jess is already planning to play Liz while Liz plays Geraldine, so they’re all out of twins. But Marion looks enough like the twins and can mimic Jessica’s characteristics well enough to pass herself off as Jess. It seems like a foolproof plan until Bernard joins them and easily IDs “Elizabeth” as Jessica, and Marion as an imposter. All three girls fake stomachaches and flee.

Jess finds another poem in her pocket, and Liz starts figuring out that Ethan is writing the poetry. Good job, Nancy Drew! However, she thinks Ethan likes Jessica. She’s surprised when Marion tells her that obviously Ethan likes Elizabeth – the real Elizabeth, not Geraldine. This is gross, because he knows Liz is 12, but I think it’s supposed to seem sweet.

Ethan confirms his crush after the next class. He also reveals that he’s 16, and the Doogie Howser of SVU’s English department. So there’s only a four-year age difference between him and Liz, which is less gross than when she thought he was at least 18, but still gross enough. Fortunately, both realize that their difference in ages means they shouldn’t date. They agree to just be friends.

The twins, Ethan, and Bernard go back to Hatta’s house, but she’s still not sure how Jess can break the pot’s curse. Her only idea is for Jess to break the pot and leave the pieces in the mud on her riverbank, which is where the clay came from. Maybe if it’s returned to its origins, the curse will be ended. Jessica reluctantly breaks the pot, and the clay seems to pull the pieces into the ground. Moments later, the Nature Scouts appear in canoes, on their way back from their trip. Among them is Susan.

The official story is that Susan decided to ditch the study program after she met Mike. She didn’t bother to tell anyone she was going on the trip with the Nature Scouts, and I guess the school didn’t call her parents when they couldn’t find her, since no one went looking for her. This would have been a better plot if Jessica had said her roommate was missing and everyone else denied that Susan ever existed. Also, Susan doesn’t strike me as the sort of girl who would enjoy a nature trip, so she must have really liked Mike. I wish Jess had just enjoyed that she was gone – she got to have a dorm room all to herself.

Thoughts: Some of the courses offered: Cooking for Fun and Profit, Cruising the Internet, What Really Happened to the Titanic?

This program has no curfew or chaperones, and I really can’t believe so many parents would allow their kids to participate. I suspect they just wanted them out of the house for two weeks.

I’d rather read a series about Marion than the twins.

October 10, 2017

SVT #108, Cammi’s Crush: The Three Matchketeers

Posted in books tagged at 5:06 pm by Jenn

The phones! Hee hee hee!

Summary: Principal Clark announces that the school district wants to honor a Scholar of the Semester, a student from any school in the area who has the highest GPA for the semester. There are three finalists, and two are from SVMS – Cammi Adams and Randy Mason. (Elizabeth is out of the running thanks to a B she was given after a fight with a home-ec teacher over the proper consistency of brownies.) If Cammi or Randy wins, Mr. Clark will give the entire sixth grade a picnic and an entire day off from anything school-related, including homework.

Jessica is desperate for that day off, and she takes it upon herself to ensure that one of her classmates wins the competition. After Elizabeth talks her out of getting the unknown third student eliminated (and Jessica figures she couldn’t pull that off anyway), Jess approaches Cammi with an offer to sabotage Randy. Cammi notes that the third student could still beat her, so that’s no guarantee. Jess advises her to suck up to her teachers, but Cammi wants to win fair and square. Jessica next approaches Randy about sabotaging Cammi, but he has the same attitude Cammi does, wanting to rely on his intelligence to win, since that’s what’s gotten him this far.

Both Cammi and Randy start getting paranoid that the other has agreed to work with Jessica to sabotage him or her. They decide to worker harder than ever to take their grades from straight A’s to straight A+s. But one morning, Cammi oversleeps, misses a quiz, and has to hand in crumpled homework, earning herself two F’s from a cranky substitute, Ms. Sherman. Later in the day, Randy accidentally rips a project he spent extra time on and earning himself a 0 from another cranky sub, Mr. Jules.

Thanks to one teacher out on paternity leave and another out with a broken ankle, the SVMS students are stuck with Ms. Sherman and Mr. Jules for a while, and no one’s happy about it. They’re tough graders, taking off points for poor penmanship, and they have no sympathy over the amount of work the kids have to do for other classes. Randy and Cammi realize that they won’t be getting a break from these two, so they both turn to Jessica for help getting their grades back up. Because…that’s exactly who anyone would think of for that?

Jessica’s first instinct is to find a way to get rid of Ms. Sherman and Mr. Jules. Her plan involves playing pranks until the teachers get so fed up that they quit. When Cammi and Randy veto this idea, Jessica says they should instead try to make the two teachers happy so they’ll be nicer to everyone. Cammi comes up with a plan that all three agree to: Play matchmaker for the teachers, a la Clueless. Love conquers all!

The Three Matchketeers start by finding out the teachers’ favorite colors, flowers, and food. They leave Ms. Sherman a bouquet of her favorite flowers, pretending they’re from a secret admirer. Then they arrange for Mr. Jules to find out about a new Mexican restaurant in town so he’ll ask Ms. Sherman to go there with him. It works, and Jessica tells the Unicorns that she’s ensured the sixth grade’s day off. What she doesn’t realize is that Cammi and Randy have started to develop feelings for each other as well.

Now that the subs are mellower, Cammi is able to get one of her bad grades changed, since Ms. Sherman realizes she graded her unfairly. Mr. Jules decides not to give Randy’s class a quiz, which means one less potential bad grade for Randy. Everything seems to be going great, but then Janet notes to Jessica that Mr. Jules and Ms. Sherman’s blossoming relationship might not work out. If they break up, they’ll be crankier than ever, and the students will suffer. Jessica realizes that she, Randy, and Cammi need to make sure the two teachers stay happy.

Cammi tries to get closer to Randy by asking him the same questions they asked the teachers. He doesn’t seem interested in her, so Cammi asks Jessica for more matchmaking help. Jessica turns to her go-to plan for helping her female classmates: a makeover. Cammi thinks that Randy doesn’t care about her new look, but the truth is that Randy doesn’t think Cammi has the same feelings for him that he does for her. He thinks she got a makeover because she’s trying to get the attention of another guy. He decides to try to drop his crush on her and focus on his grades.

Cammi tells Jessica that Randy acted kind of weird with her, so Jess encourages her to talk to him about it. Just as Cammi finds him, they hear Ms. Sherman and Mr. Jules fighting – he found Jessica’s notebook with notes about his favorite things, and he thinks Ms. Sherman was coming up with ways to woo him. They break up, and they’re back to being cranky with their students. Randy and Cammi take out their anger on Jessica for not keeping a better eye on her notebook.

Jessica goes back to brainstorming and comes up with a variation on the get-Mr.-Jules-to-ask-Ms.-Sherman-out-on-a-date plan. While looking for a calculator so she can make sure she can pay for their next date, Jessica comes across some of Ned’s client files and discovers that Ms. Sherman and Mr. Jules knew each other before they started subbing at SVMS – they’re currently going through a divorce.

She tells Ned, who breaks attorney-client privilege to tell her that the two teachers probably shouldn’t get a divorce. They fight because they’re competitive with each other, but they don’t have any issues that they couldn’t resolve. The fact that their last straw was a fight over a bowling match makes me think that they’re not mature enough for this kind of committed relationship, but what do I know?

Jessica takes this new information to Cammi and Randy, getting them to agree that they need to use the teachers’ competitive nature to their advantage. If they each think the other is beloved by the students, they’ll try harder to be nicer. This actually makes so much sense that I’m surprised Jessica came up with it. Unfortunately, the Matchketeers don’t get to put their new plan into action. Mr. Jules and Ms. Sherman hear them plotting and call them out.

The good news is that the teachers admit that they’ve been letting their personal problems affect their teaching, and they need to stop. They punish Jessica by making her write a 10- to 12-page paper about why you shouldn’t meddle in people’s lives (which is way over the top), but they allow Cammi and Randy to make up the assignments they got bad grades on.

All of the Matchketeers’ work amounts to nothing, however: The third student, who goes to a school in Big Mesa, wins Scholar of the Semester. Fortunately, Mr. Clark decides to reward Randy and Cammi’s hard work by giving the sixth grade a day off anyway. And at the picnic, the two nerds admit their feelings to each other, wrapping up that barely-there subplot. They give Jessica a Certificate of Excellence to thank her for helping them out. So Jessica will mostly likely take that as a sign that she needs to meddle in people’s lives more often.

Thoughts: No one mentions that if Cammi and Randy’s poor grades would knock them out of the running for Scholar of the Semester, someone else from SVMS would move into the running. The competition isn’t for students with perfect GPAs, just the students with the highest averages. If Elizabeth was taken out by one B, Cammi and Randy’s F’s should bump her up to the top. Eh, whatever.

Randy: “If I don’t get my average back above a C soon, I can forget about being valedictorian of Sweet Valley High.” Jessica: “Randy, that’s like five years from now. At least.” Maybe a few more for you, Jess.

Jessica: “Randy won’t even know what hit him when you show up at school tomorrow, looking gorgeous.” Cammi: “I don’t want to hit him.” Seriously, Cammi?

Not only does Ned break attorney-client privilege, but he also thinks Jessica will keep what he told her secret. In related news, Ned is new here.

“She’d been making notes for over two hours, but so far she hadn’t come up with a good reason not to interfere in other people’s lives.” It’s official: Jessica never learns anything.

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