May 23, 2017

SVT #91, Deadly Voyage: It’s Like “Home Alone,” But on a Boat

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , at 5:11 pm by Jenn

This dude looks like a deranged monk with jaundice

Summary: The twins are about to head out on a day-long Saturday field trip with a bunch of other middle-schoolers. They’ll be exploring Santa Maria Island and observing wildlife for extra credit in science. Everyone’s excited to hang out on an island all day, and some of the students figure this will just be an easy extra-credit grab while they work on their tans. For once, Alice is getting involved in her kids’ lives, as she’s going along as a chaperone.

The kids are on a strict schedule, since a storm is coming that afternoon, and they need to be back before it hits. While the kids board the boat, the adults – teacher Mr. Siegel and chaperones Alice and Mr. Slater – stay on the dock, dealing with Kimberly, who doesn’t have a permission slip. Bruce gets all “I’m on boats all the time because my father has one, but it’s much better than this one.” He thinks he could run the boat, called the Island Dreamer, by himself. Nerd Donald Zwerdling disagrees, since the boat is old and probably doesn’t have the kind of technology Bruce is used to.

A man on the boat tells Aaron they’re ready to cast off, so Aaron undoes the rope tying the boat to the dock. After a couple minutes, the boat starts moving. The kids realize that the adults are all still on the dock (and Kimberly, but no one cares about her). Elizabeth and her smart friends (namely Amy, Maria, and Todd) panic about the lack of adult supervision, while the cool kids like the Unicorns think this means they get to hang out all day without doing schoolwork. They get annoyed when Liz says she’s going to tell the captain he needs to go back to the dock.

The captain isn’t as concerned as Elizabeth, telling her that the chaperones will join them on the island from another boat. He won’t open the door very wide or come out to talk to the kids, which Liz finds strange. The cool kids tell her to calm down. Janet even blasts her for always trying to run things, which is pretty rich coming from the bossy president of the Unicorns. Liz tries to relax and have fun with all the other kids, who are all enjoying themselves, except Donald. He brought a bunch of equipment with him for the island, and it’s telling him that they’re not going toward Santa Maria Island.

The kids foreshadow the next book by talking about getting shipwrecked on an island. The girls think it could be romantic. Bruce brings up Lord of the Flies, and suddenly the idea isn’t so appealing anymore. Then Jessica and Lila hear a banging noise from a supply closet and go to investigate. They’re shocked to find the real captain and a crewman tied up inside. They explain that the boat was hijacked, and two men knocked them out to use the boat as a getaway vehicle. The captain thinks they may be going to Mexico to get out of the country. This is a bigger problem than it seems: The trip to Mexico will take ten hours, so they won’t be able to dock before that big storm hits. The captain tells the kids to use a CB radio in his room to call for help.

Despite the fact that Janet was just mocking Elizabeth for always wanting to be in charge, this is the sort of situation where Liz shines. She quickly shifts into leader mode, assigning some kids to get the radio while the others pretend they don’t know anything’s up, in case the hijackers are watching them. Bruce tries to keep quiet about how he said before that he could handle the boat on his own.

While Liz, Amy, Maria, and Winston go find the CB, Jessica and Lila listen to a regular radio and hear that two men robbed a bank in Sweet Valley that morning. The police suspect that they’re on a boat. Good job, police! You’re so effective in this book! The other kids find the radio and Winston makes a mayday call, but the hijackers hear and get rid of the radio. They take the kids back to the rest of the group and tie everyone to the guardrail. Bruce and Jerry try to fight back with some karate moves, but they just embarrass themselves in front of everyone. This feels realistic – 13-year-old boys would probably think they can take on criminals, but would just end up looking ridiculous.

Back on shore, the chaperones have contacted authorities and are told that Winston made a mayday call. The adults start to realize that something really bad is going on. On the boat, the hijackers – who are dumb enough to use their real names, Jack and Gary – eat the kids’ lunches in front of them (just for funsies, I guess), then put the captain and crewman on a lifeboat and set them adrift in the water. Now the kids are completely on their own against the two hijackers.

Some of the kids start getting emotional, including Tamara Chase, one of the seldom-mentioned Unicorns. Janet’s like, “There’s no crying in Unicorns! Suck it up!” Ken thinks he sees dolphins, but they’re really sharks. So much for that sliver of happiness. Back on shore, the parents have all gathered and are told that the storm will make a rescue effort impossible. They’ll have to wait until it passes before they go looking for the kids.

As time passes on the boat, where everyone remains tied up, it soon becomes clear that the hijackers aren’t very bright. For one thing, they didn’t search the boat to make sure they’d secured all the hostages. Cammi Adams and Donald were able to hide during all the typing-up, and they use Winston’s pocketknife to start cutting kids free. Cammi proves her intelligence by deciding that they should only free a couple of people, to make it less likely that the hijackers will notice.

The freed kids, including Elizabeth, run off to hide. Lila and Bruce start fighting about which of their fathers will be first to offer up a reward for their return. Everyone is a little reassured that Elizabeth, Sweet Valley’s patron saint of good ideas, will come up with a plan to save everyone. Fortunately, they’re right. Liz uses Winston’s Walkman to make the hijackers think she’s found another CB. When they emerge to confront her, she scalds them with hot water and tries to flee through a porthole. She loses a shoe, but it’s a worthy sacrifice. The other kids then trap the men in a room, using brooms to keep the doors closed.

The good news is that now all the kids are untied. The bad news is that the storm is approaching. While the kids are trying to figure out how to get the boat to shore, the hijackers escape and recapture Elizabeth. Gary starts to push her overboard, but Jess channels her inner Liz and uses suntan oil to make Gary slip, then knocks him out with Bruce’s boogie board. One hijacker down, one to go. Elizabeth throws Gary’s gun overboard, wanting to decrease the odds of violence on the boat. I guess the ghostwriter didn’t want the book to end with one of the kids murdering someone.

Lila suddenly remembers that she has a cell phone with her (it’s 1995, so everyone calls it a cellular phone), so she starts to call her dad. Bruce is there to tell her she’s an idiot and call 911 instead. While they’re fighting with each other and trying to convince the 911 operator that they’re not pulling a prank, the phone goes flying into the water.

The kids move on to capturing Jack, which they pull off by having Winston drop a life preserver on him, then pulling it down to keep his arms immobilized. They knock him out with the boogie board and stash him with Gary. But before they can even celebrate the fact that they’ve now outsmarted two adults, they learn that Donald can’t figure out where they are, and the boat’s radio is broken. They’re lost at sea with a storm coming, and no way to call for help. Oh, and then the boat starts leaking.

Tamara loses it. This is seriously the only thing she contributes to the whole series – a meltdown. She goes out on deck, ranting about wanting to go home, and Liz has to go out in the middle of the storm to try to calm her down. It works, but a huge wave knocks Elizabeth overboard. The book ends with Liz just moments away from drowning. To be continued!

Thoughts: Re: Cammi: “She was a sixth-grader, and she looked it, Bruce thought dryly. Straight up and down.” Which I guess means he’s not going to try to rape her.

Jessica asks Elizabeth what she would pick if she could eat anything right now, and Liz chooses a salad. Girl, what’s wrong with you?

Lila, finding her cell phone: “I forgot that Daddy lent this to me this morning. He does that every now and then, you know. In case of an emergency.” Bruce: “Well, as soon as an emergency comes up, we’ll let you know! Then maybe you can use it!” Hee!

May 16, 2017

SVT Super Chiller #9, Evil Elizabeth: Can’t Fight the Moonlight

Posted in books tagged , , , at 4:56 pm by Jenn

So no one finds it weird that Elizabeth is just walking around with this on her face all the time? Really?

Summary: Elizabeth is really excited about Halloween, and wants to do a paired costume with her twin. Jessica thinks that’s immature, when everyone knows Halloween is the chance to dress up fancy and be really sophisticated. Whatever you say, Jess. Fortunately for Liz, Amy and Maria are up for figuring out a three-part costume. Jessica decides to go as a figure skater but has to reconsider when Lila announces that as her costume – and she’s even going to wear an outfit worn by an actual famous skater.

On the way to the Wakefields’ for a big sleepover, the twins and some of their friends pass a rundown house everyone calls the “Luna place.” Jess makes up a story about a witch who lives there, which annoys Liz. She sees a full moon over the house and points it out to her friends, but Amy and Maria don’t see it as full.

The girls have a séance at their sleepover, and Mandy seems to channel someone who speaks through her. The channeled voice warns the “sisters” (and Liz and Jess are the only sisters present) to “watch the rising of the moon, and watch your sister.” If they’re not careful, someone tragic will happen. Jessica sees the shape of a full moon in a candle flame, but no one else notices it.

Liz learns that “luna” means moon, and that there will be a full moon on Halloween. Those two things combined with the full moon she thought she saw make her a little creeped out. She comes across a black dog with an orange face carrying a grotesque mask in its mouth. When Liz takes the mask, she sees another moon. She puts on the mask and starts taunting Jessica. Jess tries to brush off her nastiness, thinking Elizabeth is just messing with her.

Elizabeth starts wearing the mask more and more often, acting meaner and meaner every time, both to Jessica and to Amy and Maria. When she’s not wearing the mask, she claims not to have any idea that she acted out of character. Jess is worried that the warning from the séance is the real deal, and that something horrible is happening. When she and Steven both see the moon turn red one night, Jess gets even more spooked.

Jessica tries to get Elizabeth interested in sisterly bonding by carving pumpkins together. Liz is back in the mask, though, and thinks carving pumpkins is immature. Later, maskless, Elizabeth is really hurt that Jess carved a pumpkin without her. Jess realizes that the mask is causing Liz’s strange behavior, so she steals it, but Liz easily finds it again and puts it back on.

Jess runs into the dog Liz got the mask from and follows it to the Luna place. There, she meets Corinna Black, the alleged witch who lives there. Jess tells her about the mask, which Corinna says was buried for decades. I guess the dog dug it up? She warns that the mask will make Elizabeth worse the more she wears it, and eventually Liz will be a horrible person even without it. Jess needs to make sure Liz doesn’t wear it when the moon rises, or the process will speed up.

Jessica tries to steal the mask again, but Elizabeth is obsessed with it and won’t let it go. She has a nightmare about feeling like everything is changing. Is this all just a metaphor for puberty? I guess it’s possible. Liz’s behavior keeps getting worse, and she’s reached the point where she doesn’t have to wear the mask to be awful. She starts hanging out with the SVH series’ reformed bad girl Betsy Martin, and everyone at school wonders why she’s suddenly changed so much.

When Jess tries to go back to the Luna place to talk to Corinna, there’s no door to the house. Jess doesn’t seem as freaked out by this as she should be. Elizabeth and Betsy get ready for Halloween mischief by egging houses, including the Luna place. Ned and Alice are their usual clueless selves about Elizabeth’s sudden shift – they think she’s just moody, and they don’t see anything wrong with her hanging out with different people.

Steven asks his astronomy teacher if the moon could appear red, but she says no. Again, mass hallucinations should be freaking these people out. Jess finally reconnects with Corinna, who insists that she make Elizabeth destroy the mask during the lunar eclipse that is conveniently happening on Halloween. Corinna reveals that the last person who wore the mask burned down her house, killing her entire family…except Corinna. So…maybe she should have done a better job of getting rid of the mask, eh?

Once Jess has filled Steven in on everything going on, the two of them come up with a plan. They know they need to stick close to Elizabeth on Halloween, but they also know she’s not going to let them. So Jessica dresses as Liz and tells Betsy that they should crash a Halloween party on Courage Mountain. She leaves Liz a note about the party, pretending it’s from Betsy. They plan to meet up with Liz on the mountain and force her to destroy the mask.

Jess goes out trick-or-treating with the Unicorns (she ran out of time to come up with a costume, so she goes with the classic sheet-ghost look) while Elizabeth and Betsy terrorize little kids by stealing their candy. An hour before midnight, Jessica pretends to go to bed while Steven tells their parents he’s going to a party. Jess sneaks out and the two ride their bikes up Courage Mountain. Jessica has a vision of the moon on fire, dropping flames onto the Wakefields’ house.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth and Betsy aren’t on their way up the mountain – they’re at the Wakefields’, where Betsy wants Liz to smash the pumpkin Jessica carved. Liz hesitates, because even in her possessed state, she doesn’t want to hurt Jess. But she gives in to peer pressure and chucks the pumpkin on the ground, accidentally lighting some leaves on fire with the candle inside.

As the eclipse begins, Jessica has a bad feeling and tells Steven she needs to go back home. Elizabeth is unable to break her trance as she watches the leaves catch fire, putting the house at risk. Jess arrives pretty quickly and starts to put on the fire before anyone even notices it. Liz throws the mask in, finally destroying it. The twins are extremely grateful to Corinna for helping them out, though Jess can’t help but wonder if Corinna was an innocent victim when someone else was cursed by the mask, or if she was the one who burned down her own house and killed her family. That’s…messed up for a book for preteens.

Thoughts: Clearly, the ghostwriter saw The Mask and wanted to adapt it for middle-schoolers.

I actually feel bad for Jessica in this book. No one wants a mean sibling.

Looks like Jess learned nothing from the Nora situation about not assuming people are witches. Why am I not surprised?

Ned, parent of the year, re: Elizabeth’s behavioral changes and horrible new friends: “She’s just going through a phase. It’s nothing to worry about.” Again, why am I not surprised?

What DOES surprise me is that Janet and Lila don’t consider themselves too told to go trick-or-treating.

May 9, 2017

SVT #90, The Cousin War: Blockin’ Robin

Posted in books tagged , , , , , at 5:11 pm by Jenn

No one wears her hair like that

Summary: Cousin Robin is coming to visit for two weeks while her parents are on a trip for their anniversary. (No mention of Robin’s younger sister Stacey, so I guess she’s Home Alone-ing it.) Jessica’s top priority while Robin is in town is to find her cousin a “vacation boyfriend.” There’s a Sadie Hawkins dance coming, and she wants to get Robin hooked up with someone. Jessica herself is interested in a guy named Juan, an exchange student from Argentina. She has no problem ditching Aaron…even though, awkwardly, Aaron’s family is Juan’s host family.

A bunch of sixth-graders go bowling together one afternoon, though Elizabeth has to skip the fun to work on a special issue of The Sixers. She asks Todd to be nice to Robin, since she doesn’t know anyone except Jessica. Robin and Todd hit it off, while Jessica tries to get to know Juan better. Robin quickly falls in luv with Todd, telling Elizabeth all about her new crush without mentioning his name. Liz has no idea that her cousin is interested in her sort-of boyfriend. And Jessica has no idea that her new crush, Juan, is interested in Robin.

Robin gets a note and some candy from a secret admirer and figures that Todd is trying to express his interest. Jessica thinks Robin is interested in Juan, so she wants to make a move before her cousin does. When she learns that Robin actually likes Todd, she decides to use this to her advantage – she’ll send Robin after Todd to keep her away from Juan. She doesn’t care that this might hurt Liz. She just wants Juan all to herself.

When Robin gets another secret-admirer note, Jessica eggs her on to go ask Todd to the dance already. But when Robin goes to Casey’s to talk to him, she sees him with Elizabeth. Robin is immediately furious with her cousin, thinking Liz is trying to steal her man. Because she’s 12, she doesn’t stop to think about how Elizabeth and Todd might have already had something going, or that Elizabeth couldn’t steal Todd from Robin when she didn’t know Robin liked him, or that you can’t steal a guy from someone he’s not actually dating. All Robin knows is that her cousin betrayed her.

Jessica sees this is a great time to ask Juan to the dance, but first she needs to make sure Robin doesn’t find out that Liz and Todd are together. She pretends to be Elizabeth and asks Todd to accept when Robin inevitably asks him to the dance. Liz won’t be attending herself since she’s so busy with the Sixers issue. Robin asks Todd to the dance, and he says yes, so he’s really surprised when the real Elizabeth is upset with him for agreeing to go on a date with another girl.

Jess asks Juan to the dance, and he admits that he was hoping Robin would ask him. She tells him Robin’s going with someone else, so Juan accepts her invitation. Meanwhile, Todd feels bad about accidentally hurting Elizabeth, so he backs out of the date with Robin. Robin is stunned to learn that Todd and Liz are sort of dating. Also, now she knows that Juan is her secret admirer, not Todd, and she’s lost her chance to go to the dance with him. To her credit, she feels bad about the way she treated Liz.

To make amends, Robin invites Todd over the night of the dance so she can smooth things over with Liz. The three of them figure out that Jess masqueraded as her twin to get Todd to accept the date with Robin. As retaliation, Elizabeth pretends to be Jessica and tells Juan that Robin wants to be with him. Then Liz gets to go to the dance with Todd, while Robin gets to hang out with her secret admirer, and Jess is alone. Well, at least until she learns that Aaron was helping Juan win over Robin, in part because he didn’t want Juan to be with Jessica. Jess thinks jealousy is hot, so she’s back to liking Aaron. Ick.

Thoughts: Robin knows her way around Sweet Valley pretty well for someone who’s only visited a few times.

“What was the big deal about Robin, anyway?” So Jessica throws over Elizabeth and helps Robin steal Todd, and then wonders what’s so great about her. JESSICA, YOU ARE A HORRIBLE PERSON.

“Then it hit her. The only reason Elizabeth would dress just like Jessica was if she wanted everyone to think she was Jessica.” Check out the big brain on Jess!

May 2, 2017

SVT #89, Jessica’s Cookie Disaster: Sweet Misery

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

If that blonde is supposed to be Jessica, the artist drew her wrong

Summary: Thanks to a recent unexpected A on a test, Jessica is close to making the honor roll. She suddenly starts caring about her grades and being smart. She gets the chance to earn some extra credit in home ec, which will give her a needed boost – all she has to do is make the best cookies in the class. But a fight with Elizabeth leaves Jess baking on her own, and she barely has enough time to finish her cookies (and make them properly). She basically throws a bunch of stuff together and hopes for the best. She fights with Liz again and, distracted, spills some flavors into her batter, making Jess think she’s sunk. She adds some purple food coloring to try to salvage the day.

Surprisingly, the cookies turn out terrific, and Jessica easily gets the extra-credit points. Her teacher, Mrs. Gerhart, knows someone who works on a cooking show, and she wants to send her Jessica’s cookies to see if she’ll get booked as a guest. Jess is ecstatic because the show, Lifestyles of the French and Famous, is her new obsession, and a few simple minutes of work could land her in the spotlight. The twins make up, but when Ned and Alice reward Jessica for her good grades, Liz starts to get a little jealous.

Mrs. Gerhart’s friend books Jessica on Lifestyles of the French and Famous, asking her to bring 400 cookies for the audience. Jess enlists the Unicorns to help her bake, agreeing to call the treats Unicookies, even though this will take away some of her spotlight. The girls seem to think that having a signature cookie will make them even more popular.

The problem is that Jessica doesn’t remember all the ingredients that went into her batter. She makes herself out to be a genius in a Sixers interview with Liz, though she secretly had nothing to do with how well the cookies turned out. The Unicorns keep asking for her “secret ingredient,” and Jessica keeps playing up the “secret” angle, like she doesn’t want to share what made the first batch such a success.

Eventually, she has to confess, so the Unicorns decide to try a bunch of different things to figure out the secret ingredient. When this goes poorly, Lila comes up with the idea to hypnotize Jessica into remembering her baking process from class. This also fails, though Tamara accidentally gets hypnotized instead of Jess. It’s the most interesting thing Tamara has ever done or will ever do in this series.

In one last attempt at replicating the cookies, the Unicorns use the home-ec room in hopes that being in the same location as her triumph will help Jessica recreate it. This soon devolves into a big food fight, and the girls all get in trouble. They have to clean up the room and each write a two-page essay explaining why their behavior was inappropriate. The best essay will be published in the Sixers as an example to the rest of the school (and to embarrass the writer).

The Unicorns are done baking cookies and won’t be putting their name on Jessica’s failures anymore. She’s on her own to come up with 400 cookies for the show. Lila secretly orders some cookies from a Swiss bakery, hoping to swoop in and save the day, plus steal the spotlight from Jessica. I can’t wait until Mr. Fowler gets that credit card bill and wonders why his daughter placed a rush order for 400 cookies.

Elizabeth has been working overtime to try to make the principal’s list (the honor roll for straight-A-plus students, AKA super-nerds), wanting to regain some of the glory she feels she’s lost to Jess. She eventually puts her brains to good use, setting up the Wakefields’ kitchen with the same supplies and circumstances as the setting of Jessica’s success. She even picks a fight to make Jess mad so she’ll spill her flavors again. Of course, this works perfectly, and the girls determine that the secret ingredients are almond powder, almond extract, and extra vanilla.

With one problem solved, the girls face a much more daunting one: They still have to bake 400 cookies for the show. Fortunately, Ned, Alice, and a reluctant Steven are available to help. The family stays up half the night working together to produce 400 delicious cookies (which none of them wants to taste, since they’re sick of baking). Jessica dubs them JEM cookies; the J and E are for the twins, and the M is because Jess thought JEM sounded good. (Maybe it’s for her musical alter-ego. Also, if she’d called them JEW cookies for Jessica-Elizabeth-Wakefield, Brian couldn’t eat them.)

Since the Unicorns abandoned her at her time of need, Jessica lets them think she’s going to make a fool of herself by showing up to Lifestyles of the French and Famous without any cookies. Lila believes she’s still going to be the one to save the day. Instead, the twins make a splash on the show, while Lila drops all of her boxes of expensive Swiss cookies on the way to the studio and ruins her outfit. Womp womp. Sadly, despite making the best cookies people have ever tasted, Jessica gets a D+ on another home-ec assignment and loses her shot at the honor roll. Double womp womp.

Thoughts: This book is basically that Friends episode where Monica tries to recreate Phoebe’s grandmother’s cookie recipe, only that episode had a punchline.

I find it hard to believe that out of all the people who tried the cookies, not one person recognized the almond flavor.

Jessica combines pineapple and licorice flavors. The thought of that makes me feel like I need to lie down.

The punishment of possibly having your essay on your bad behavior published for everyone to read is clever, but what’s to stop you from just writing bad essay to avoid having yours chosen?

Elizabeth: “Just an A. Not an A+. Dang.” Urge to kill, rising…

April 25, 2017

SVT #88, Steven Gets Even: Pranks a Lot

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:53 pm by Jenn

I’m so glad I don’t have to live next door to these people

Summary: Even though it’s not Halloween, Mr. Bowman wants his class to study scary books, starting with Frankenstein. Each student also has to pick a scary story that’s at least 20 years old and write a report about it. All the kids think this will be a piece of cake – nothing more than 20 years old is going to scare them. These kids are the reason slasher movies have gotten so grotesque. Mr. Bowman suggests that Elizabeth read The Hound of the Baskervilles, which is dumb – it’s not a horror story.

The kids slowly realize that the stories Mr. Bowman wants them to read are scarier than they expected. Jessica gets spooked when he reads Dracula in class, and afterward, none of the girls wants to go to the bathroom alone. I’d make fun of them but I’ve been watching The Vampire Diaries, and there’s definitely safety in numbers where vampires are concerned. Some spooky stuff happens in the bathroom, and Jessica hears glass breaking and sees a hand turning off the lights. It turns out Bruce, Aaron, Brian, and Charlie Cashman were just pulling a prank. Now Jess wants revenge.

Inspired by a trick Steven pulls with a knife, pretending he cut off his finger (and he probably shouldn’t pull that with his parents around, because Ned practically has a heart attack), Jessica pulls the old gross-finger-in-the-candy-box prank on Charlie while Mr. Bowman is reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the class. Elizabeth finds a Barbie hanging in her locker, dripping with fake blood, and the kids officially kick off a “scare war,” boys vs. girls. It’s mainly the twins, Lila, Janet, Amy, Maria, and Mandy against the four boys.

Since the girls are unsure what will actually scare the boys, they decide to use Steven to test out some pranks. Steven is a lot more gullible and prankable than you’d expect, considering he’s the one who’s usually pulling tricks. The girls become savvier and less scareable, to the boys’ dismay. However, they’re also getting spooked by Edgar Allan Poe stories and other stuff they said wouldn’t frighten them.

By the end of the week, Steven is scared to be in his own house because his sisters have been pulling so many pranks on him. They’re having a sleepover on Friday, and Ned and Alice will be out for a while, so he figures this is a good time to get revenge. The four boys show up to scare the girls, who quickly come up with a plan to spook them back, using glow-in-the-dark paint and sleeping bags to fool them into thinking there are weird floating faces outside the house. When Elizabeth realizes Charlie is dressed as a mummy, she drenches him with the hose. The boys admit defeat in the scare war, so the girls make them cluck like chickens and call the girls “Your Awesomeness” for a week.

Steven gets his revenge by making scary noises in the basement, where he’s been hiding the whole night, having made the girls think he was out somewhere. Jessica hides in the pantry, thinking there’s some sort of monster in the basement. The other girls have to face off with the “monster,” but Steven can’t keep from laughing, so he gets busted pretty easily. He tells the younger kids that they’re all wimps, so the girls’ win in the scare war doesn’t really mean anything. Then Ned and Alice scare everyone with masks. I don’t know. This book was probably fun to read when I was younger, but now it’s pretty weak.

Thoughts: “Kids today are too sophisticated to be frightened by a story like Frankenstein.” Are you sure, Amy? Are you sure you’re sophisticated? (I hope Mr. Bowman heard about all the scaring afterward and teased the kids about thinking they were unscareable.)

Why is Aaron still hanging out with Brian?

Here it is, the greatest sentence to appear in any Sweet Valley book: “‘I want to go home!’ Bruce sobbed.”

April 18, 2017

SVT Super Chiller #8, The Secret of the Magic Pen: Ghostwriter

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:11 pm by Jenn

Oh, come on, this didn’t happen

Summary: You’d think that after so many summers, the twins would have found a number of ways to entertain themselves, but no, they’re already bored. Fortunately, their parents don’t want to have to put up with them, so they’re being sent to Camp Faraway for two weeks. Come on, Ned and Alice, shell out for the whole summer! Imagine how quiet the house will be! Elizabeth has decided that this is the summer she’ll write a novel, and she thinks that Faraway, which offers writing classes, will be the perfect setting. Someone needs to talk to Liz about her writing process, though, since she wants to write a mystery but has no actual plot in mind and no idea what she’s doing.

Other than Mandy Miller, the twins don’t know anyone at camp. Of course, since they’re such wonderful people, they immediately make friends. Jessica hits it off with a girl named Miranda, who’ also an actress, and Liz connects with Starr, who is obsessed with Shakespeare and gets on my nerves within two pages of her introduction. There’s also an annoying girl named Priscilla who I think is supposed to be a southern belle, but she’s a southern belle as written by a ghostwriter who doesn’t know anyone about southern belles. I guess she’s the antagonist of the book, but she’s not very good at it.

The camp owner, Gunnie (…what is that even a nickname for?), tells everyone that some famous people were campers there as kids. One is Roland Barge, who gained fame writing thrillers before he disappeared. Also, there were murders on the property decades ago. Raise your hand if you would send your daughter to camp at a place where people were once murdered. Now go sit in the corner and think about your parenting decisions, you monsters.

The girls’ awesome counselor, Heather, takes them to Hangman’s Cave for a little expedition. Yes, sign me right up for a trip to Hangman’s Cave on the property of Camp Murder. Elizabeth finds a glowing pen stuck near the wall and decides to use it to write her book. I’m sure one pen – which is very old, so the ink has probably dried up – is all she’ll need for an entire manuscript. She figures she’ll get some inspiration from the research she does while writing an article about Barge.

While Jessica gets into her acting classes (and dreads having to go up against Priscilla in an audition for a play called The Royal Switch), Elizabeth starts working on her article. Only she finds herself writing a story, unclear on where the idea or words came from. Her handwriting even looks different. The story is about a servant named Amelia Champlain who works at a manor 70 years ago. She wants to be a writer, but a fellow servant named Richard Bittle thinks she should keep that to herself, since servants aren’t allowed to have dreams or aspirations. Amelia writes a story, but after she has Richard read it, she sees the title page in the fireplace. She figures the wind blew the whole manuscript into the fire. There goes Amelia’s dream!

Jessica gets her script for The Royal Switch, but when she gets up from the table where she’s reading, it disappears. She finds the title page in the fireplace, just like Amelia did in Elizabeth’s story. This combined with Elizabeth’s story that came out of nowhere make Liz think something eerie is going on. Jessica thinks she’s nuts for believing there could be something supernatural going on with the pen. Strange, since Liz is usually the skeptic, while Jess once thought she was psychic and could predict earthquakes.

Elizabeth does more research on Barge, learning that his earlier novels were well-liked, but his last one was a critical disaster. Meanwhile, Jessica lands the lead in the play, of course. Priscilla gives a horrible audition and then basically disappears from the story. Even with the dumbness of the main plot (I mean, a supernatural pen?), it’s still more interesting than Priscilla, the weakest “villain” this series has ever produced.

Liz’s article gets pushed aside when more of the story comes to her. Richard asks Amelia to meet him on the lake, but when she goes out in a boat, it sinks and she almost drowns. The fisherman who saves her tells her that someone stabbed holes in the boat to make it sink. In the present, Jessica goes out on the lake in a boat and also almost drowns. Elizabeth saves her and freaks out about Jess’s life paralleling Amelia’s.

Gunnie provides some information on Barge, whose real name was…drumroll…Richard Bittle. He was in love with a servant named Amelia, who disappeared one day, leaving behind a note saying she’d run off with another man. Elizabeth finds this suspicious, though not as suspicious as the fact that she’s been writing about things that actually happened. For once in her life, Elizabeth makes a smart decision: She tells Jess they need to call their parents and get the frick away from Camp Murder. Jessica refuses, because she needs to have her big stage debut. The show must go on, even if your life is in danger.

Elizabeth backs down and goes back to her article on Barge. She reads his first novel, Death of a Hangman, which takes place in Hangman’s Cave and involves a murderer being killed by the ghosts of his victims. She continues writing her story, which features Richard luring Amelia to Hangman’s Cave and strangling her. Scared that Jessica will face the same fate, Elizabeth grabs Gunnie and takes her to the cave, where they find Jess about to be strangled by…a ghost, I guess.

Elizabeth writes the rest of the story on the wall of the cave, and it’s now clear that Amelia has been telling her story through the pen and Liz. Richard strangled Amelia and drowned her in a pool in the cave so he could steal all the books she somehow had time to write. The one she had him read wasn’t burned after all; Richard just got rid of the title page to fool her. They find the rest of Amelia’s manuscripts under the stables, along with Richard’s last novel. He wrote that one himself because he had no more of Amelia’s to publish under his own name.

Gunnie and the twins then find Richard’s journal, in which he confesses his crimes. He regrets murdering the woman he loved just so he could get a little fame. Everyone wondered where he disappeared to after his disastrous last novel was published, but the journal gives the explanation: He killed himself. How cheery in a book for preteens.

Elizabeth writes a big article about Barge, which gets published both in the camp newspaper and in a local paper. Everyone thinks it’s quality work and Liz has a great career ahead of her. Jessica also gets rave reviews for the play. I’m so sure a paper is reviewing a camp performance. Liz’s story being published outside of the camp paper at least makes sense, since Barge was a famous writer. But I wonder if she included the part about the magic pen channeling a woman who’s been dead for 70 years.

Thoughts: “There’s nothing else to do this summer. I might as well accomplish something.” That’s probably not as funny as I thought it was.

Jessica’s “always dreamed about going away to camp,” so I guess The Big Camp Secret never happened.

The Unicorns have really screwed with Jessica. When Miranda gives her a compliment after an acting exercise, Jess is “a little surprised. Whenever she competed with Lila or the other Unicorns, they never admitted that she’d done a good job. Is it because Miranda’s super confident?” Oh, sweetie, no. It’s because she’s a nice person, unlike your so-called friends.

Miranda calls Jessica’s purple walking shorts “dramatic.” Okay, Miranda.

Starr: “‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ That’s from Hamlet.” Me: “Shut up, Starr. That’s from me.”

April 11, 2017

SVT #87, The Mother-Daughter Switch: Freaky Friday (and Saturday and Sunday)

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:04 pm by Jenn

I just realized that I’m almost as old as Alice, and now I have to go lie down

Summary: Jessica’s getting ready for a rollerblading fundraiser (creatively called the Rollerblade-a-thon) when she almost flattens a neighbor’s flowers and gets yelled at for being irresponsible. I imagine that the neighbor, Mrs. Wolsky, screams at kids to get off her lawn no fewer than six times a day. Jessica’s offended at the implication that she’s irresponsible… then proceeds to prove how irresponsible she is by throwing together a barbecue with Liz in 20 minutes because neither did what she was supposed to do to get ready.

Alice is also irresponsible, though, as she hasn’t done her part. She blames all the time she’s spent working on a design for Mrs. Wolsky’s sunporch. They’re supposed to be hosting a mother-daughter event for friends, but neither mother nor daughters has bought anything. Instead of hamburgers, they serve bologna and tomato sandwiches with weak lemonade. They couldn’t at least order a bunch of pizzas?

After the disastrous event, Alice blasts the twins for thinking they’re busier than her when all they have to deal with is school and homework, while she works full-time and parents three kids. Ha ha, like Alice actually does any parenting. Jessica thinks being a preteen is way harder than being an adult. She suggests that she and Elizabeth switch places with Alice for the weekend. Alice will do Elizabeth’s project for her media class (reviewing some TV shows – what kind of easy homework is that?) and collect Jessica’s pledges for the Rollerblade-a-thon. In exchange, the twins will decorate Mrs. Wolsky’s sunporch.

Alice immediately slips into lazy-and-flighty-kid mode, while the twins relish getting to boss around both their mother and their brother. Really, at this point, Alice has already won this little experiment – as a working mom, she basically has two jobs, so she’s automatically busier than the twins. Alice gets to eat junk food and lounge around while the twins have to do grown-up things like cook dinner and clean.

Alice does struggle to get sponsors for the Rollerblade-a-thon (and she ends up just giving the money herself), but that’s nothing compared to her normal life. She also has trouble getting the VCR to work, because it’s supposed to be funny when people over the age of 18 have trouble with modern electronic devices, though in this case, either Alice has some actual cognitive problems or the VCR is needlessly complicated. She tries to get Steven to help her figure it out, but the twins get him to agree not to.

The twins get to work on Mrs. Wolsky’s sunporch but immediately hit a snag when they discover how much furniture costs. They also never talk to her about what she wants. It’s a good thing the twins are still kids because they wouldn’t last five minutes as adults (despite their experiences in BIG for Christmas). They spend a few minutes back as their kid selves by helping Steven, who’s now a budding filmmaker, create fake blood by microwaving tomatoes. The kid in me thinks that sounds awesome. The adult in me just cries, “Who’s going to clean that up?”

Alice solves her VCR problem by reviewing episodes of Days of Turmoil that Jessica had already taped. She’s having fun with the switch again, so when the twins come to her admitting defeat and asking to switch back, she says no. After all, when you’re an adult, you can’t just…stop being an adult. Okay, but a) when you’re an adult and you’re struggling to do something, you can ask for help, and b) if Alice had agreed to stop the experiment, she would have proven that being an adult is harder than being a kid. I think she just wants to have an excuse to keep sleeping in and eating donuts.

The twins have to cook dinner again, even though we know Alice doesn’t usually cook every night, so they shouldn’t have to do it this much. They try to pass off Dairi Burgers as their own, but Steven busts them. Whatever – the family got fed, so who cares? The twins then go back to their design job, and Jessica comes up with the “brilliant” idea of just moving the Wakefields’ sunporch furniture over to Mrs. Wolsky’s house. They don’t think anyone will notice that their own furniture is missing for a few days. No word on what they plan to do to replace it.

Apparently Alice is now participating in the Rollerblade-a-thon instead of Jessica, but she’s never rollerbladed before, and it soon becomes clear that she’s horrible at it. Steven tries to help her, but she doesn’t have much time to learn. Now she wants to end the switch, but the twins are doing well and say no. While Alice is off making a fool of herself on rollerblades, the twins sneak the sunporch furniture over to Mrs. Wolsky’s house. Steven promises to keep quiet if they dress up as burglars and let him film it.

The twins find a collage Alice made them all about how awesome they are and how much she loves having them as daughters. She was going to give it to them after the barbecue, but everyone ended up mad at each other, so she must have forgotten about it. The twins hurry to the Rollerblade-a-thon and see how hard she’s trying to finish. They realize that being a working mom is a lot harder than being a kid, and that Alice now sees how they sometimes have it rough, too.

Alice comes home from the Rollerblade-a-thon to find a redo of the mother-daughter barbecue (this time with food and napkins and stuff). Everyone’s happy and they all sympathize with each other now. Even Mrs. Wolsky is happy and thinks the twins are responsible after all. Alice lets them know that she had a backup plan in place – she bought furniture on the sly and was ready to swap it in for whatever monstrosities the twins put in Mrs. Wolsky’s sunporch. Since Mrs. Wolsky is so happy with what the twins did (she must not realize it’s all used furniture), the Wakefields will keep the new stuff. I hope Mrs. Wolsky also got a discount for letting 12-year-olds make decisions about her décor.

Thoughts: How do you “accidentally put all the cheese on one side of the pizza”?

But wait, that’s not the dumbest thing Elizabeth does in this book. She has no idea how interior decorators work. She and Jess think they have to pay for all the furniture themselves. How do they think their mother makes money, anyway?

When the girls come up with a plan to serve the family burgers from Dairi Burger and pretend they cooked, they hope no one finds all the hamburger patties in the freezer that they’re going to pretend they made. So why didn’t they…cook the burgers in the freezer? We know they know how to cook. They’re just so incredibly dumb in this book.

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

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

No stripes in Brian’s regime!

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.”

March 27, 2017

SVT #85, Elizabeth the Seventh-Grader: What a Difference a Year Makes

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 8:03 pm by Jenn

Same, Liz

Summary: Ned and Alice are called to school on a Monday night to discuss Elizabeth. Yes, Elizabeth, not Jessica, the twin you would expect to have a parent-teacher conference called for. Liz is terrified that she’s done something wrong, and normally I’d make fun of her, because when has she ever done anything wrong, but this is a totally normal reaction. It’s like when you drive by a police car and start worrying that you’ve broken the law. Anyway, the conference is for something completely unexpected: Elizabeth’s teachers think she’s not being challenged enough at school, and she should skip ahead to the seventh grade.

Elizabeth thinks this is a great idea, even if it might be hard for her socially. Jessica is less than thrilled, since being in different classes will mean that the sisters won’t get to spend as much time together or have as much in common. Steven tells Jess that he doesn’t think Liz will be able to handle hanging out with the older kids. For the first in what will be dozens of instances through the book, I roll my eyes, because there is not that much difference between sixth-graders and seventh-graders, but whatever. Jessica and Steven decide to try to convince Liz not to move up to seventh grade.

Liz doesn’t think much will change – she’ll keep her friends and will still see them a bunch. But she soon realizes that she’ll no longer be able to write for The Sixers. Amy takes over as editor-in-chief, and Elizabeth becomes the lowest person on the totem pole at the 7&8 Gazette. (Sidebar: Maybe people wouldn’t see the sixth-graders as so different from the other middle-schoolers if they were allowed to do things with them, like work on the same dang newspaper.)

I’m not sure Jessica and Steven fully understand reverse psychology, but that’s what they plan to use on Liz to get her to change her mind about switching grades. Jess will join The Sixers and hang out with Liz’s friends to make her realize what she’ll be missing. If they make the sixth grade seem super-fun, Elizabeth won’t want to leave it. You know, because Liz always chooses what’s fun over what seems to be the best fit for her, especially when it comes to academics.

Elizabeth gets a B+ on the very first quiz she takes as a seventh-grader, and she realizes she’ll have to work harder to maintain her grades. Maybe they shouldn’t have moved her ahead in the middle of the school year? Liz tries to befriend some seventh-graders, but they seem to view her as a child. Again, there’s only a year’s difference in their ages, and one of the girls is Kerry Glenn, who’s never had a problem being friends with sixth-grader Jessica, so there shouldn’t be an issue here.

Elizabeth is invited to a party Tom McKay is throwing (no sixth-graders allowed!), so now Jess has something to be jealous about. She and Steven tell Ned and Alice that seventh- and eighth-grade parties are wild, and Elizabeth is in for some eye-opening stuff. Ned and Alice are really only strict when it comes to parties, and they tell Elizabeth she can’t go. Liz’s new friends point out that the party will be a great way for her to socialize with her new classmates, so she decides she needs to find a way to go. She’s going to pull a trick from Jessica’s book and sneak out.

Jessica gives Elizabeth a mini-makeover so she won’t look like a baby in front of the “older” kids. Secretly, Jess and Steven plan to alert Ned and Alice (who are going to a dinner party) once Elizabeth leaves, so they’ll bust her and demote her to the sixth grade. But Steven realizes that Ned and Alice are so proud of Elizabeth that they’ll just punish her and let her stay in the seventh grade. He thinks that the better idea is to let Liz go to the party and find out for herself how unready she is for the seventh grade.

While Jessica hangs out with Elizabeth’s friends, who are planning the sixth grade’s class camping trip, Elizabeth goes to the party with Mary. The kids play Spin the Bottle, and Liz’s spin lands on Bruce. Liz negs him and runs off to cry in the bathroom. When she rejoins the party, everyone’s playing Truth or Dare. Mary realizes that Liz is going to be dared to do something horrible, so she pretends they have to leave right away. Janet announces that since Liz is going to miss her dare, Janet will think of something for her to do at school. Elizabeth is so desperate to leave that she agrees, not thinking about what Janet might make her do.

Alice and Ned catch Elizabeth coming back from the party, and though they’re upset that she disobeyed their orders, they’re fine with her desire to fit in with her new classmates. Liz realizes that she has to make it work in her new grade so her parents won’t be disappointed. She tells Jessica the party was great but won’t give her any details, since she’s not a seventh-grader and therefore not cool enough to find out.

Jess finds out what really happened at the party from Janet, and realizes she can use the upcoming dare to show Elizabeth that she’s not ready for the seventh grade. She gets Janet to dare Elizabeth to kiss Bruce in the cafeteria, in front of the whole middle school. Amy and Maria tell Liz to just not do it (really, what can Janet do if she doesn’t?), but Liz is suddenly big on peer pressure and worried that she’ll be ostracized if she doesn’t follow through. Someone please tell Elizabeth that she doesn’t have to make everyone like her.

Jessica is supposed to write a couple of articles for The Sixers, but she gets Liz to write one for her. Jess says that Amy can’t handle being editor-in-chief, so Liz needs to help out so the paper goes out on time and Amy won’t be embarrassed. Jess will probably keep this in her back pocket and use it as an excuse again in the future. On top of trying to make Elizabeth think that The Sixers is struggling without her, Jess hints that Todd is upset because he thinks his girlfriend is going to kiss Bruce in front of the whole school. Elizabeth is miserable in the seventh grade now, and she decides to tell her parents she wants to go back to the sixth grade. But they’re so proud of her that she realizes she can’t break their hearts.

Jess and Steven tease Liz about kissing Bruce, thinking they’ll get her to back out. Jessica brings up Todd again, saying that he might dump Elizabeth if she goes through with the kiss. Amy and Maria still think Liz should stand up to Janet and refuse to do it. Instead, Elizabeth goes for the kiss…and then balks at the last minute, announcing that she’s not going to do it. Instead of looking like a baby, though, Elizabeth looks like a boss for dissing the coolest guy in school.

Elizabeth decides to forget about making seventh-grade friends and just hang out with the sixth-graders. They all go on their camping trip, which Liz is now unable to go on, but Alice surprises her by taking her to join them. She tells her that she and Ned realized that, while Liz was doing well in her classes, she was clearly unhappy in every other aspect of the seventh grade, so she needs to go back to sixth. So Elizabeth’s two weeks in the seventh grade are over, and I guess she’ll go back to being unchallenged in her classes.

Thoughts: Saint Elizabeth is so pure and innocent that she’s never heard of Spin the Bottle.

Steven: “One time, a bunch of eighth-grade guys got together and…” Alice: “What?” Steven: “Maybe I shouldn’t say.” I know it’s Sweet Valley, so it couldn’t have been anything you wouldn’t see in a G-rated movie, but all I can think of is dirty stuff.

Elizabeth has green jeans. I feel sick.

While people are teasing Elizabeth about her upcoming kiss, Tom McKay says, “Bruce! Bruce! Kiss me! Kiss me!” So I guess the signs were there all along.

March 21, 2017

SVT Super Edition #5, Lila’s Secret Valentine: Pretty Little Liar

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

Ugh, bunny ears. 12-year-old boys are exhausting

Summary: The Boosters want to raise money to hire a professional photographer for an upcoming Valentine’s Day dance, so they sell personalized cheers. For $2, they’ll give a shout-out to your crush or significant other in a cheer. For $4, they’ll create a brand-new cheer all about that person. Admittedly, this is pretty creative. But the Boosters aren’t going to spend so much time on this project that it takes away from their mission to find dates to the dance.

Lila is sure that Jake Hamilton, who’s practically her boyfriend, will ask her, so she’s crushed when he buys a cheer for Brooke Dennis. To save face, she tells her friends that she dumped Jake last week, so she’s not bothered. Besides, she’s already seeing a new guy, eighth-grader Gray Williams, who goes to a private school. Lila is so convincing when she describes him that no one catches on that he’s completely made up.

Lila figures she’ll just “break up” with Gray in a few days and her friends will never know the truth. But when the Unicorns come over and see some freshly cut flowers, they guess that they’re from Gray, and Lila plays along. She loves the attention too much to tell the truth now. Plus, she doesn’t want to admit that she’s single and Jake isn’t interested.

The ending of the book becomes clear early on, when Lila meets the Fowlers’ gardener’s grandson, Justin. She’s a jerk to him, but he’s hot for her. Justin, get some self-respect, man. Anyone over the age of five can figure out that Justin will eventually pretend to be Gray. But Lila hasn’t thought that far ahead, and is focused on having a hot date for the dance. She meets a guy at Casey’s, but the Unicorns chase him away, telling him that Lila’s spoken for.

Lila decides to fake a break-up, using an onion to make herself cry when she tells her friends that she and Gray had a huge fight after she forgot his birthday. The Unicorns secretly get him a cake and plan to take it to his school and tell him how sorry Lila is. To keep them from discovering that Gray doesn’t exist, Lila pretends that he called her at school and they’ve already made up. The Unicorns are gullible enough to buy this.

Just as Lila’s about to suck it up and come clean, Janet reveals that Sarah Thomas has been lying about her boyfriend. She said she was dating a ninth-grader, but she’s really seeing a seventh-grader. Now Lila can’t risk confessing her lies and being mocked by her friends. She confides in Justin, who quickly comes up with a solution but doesn’t get the chance to share it with Lila.

Lila’s next plan is to fake appendicitis (inspired by a teacher who just had it) so she has an excuse not to go to the dance. Most girls would just fake a cold or the flu, but not our Lila. She has to go all-out. She’s about to collapse at school when attention shifts to Jessica (more on that in the C-plot), so she misses her chance. Lila then tries to convince her housekeeper that she’s too sick to go to the dance, but she makes the classic fake-illness mistake of keeping the thermometer on the lightbulb too long, so her supposed super-high fever isn’t believable. Plus, Mr. Fowler is going to be one of the chaperones at the dance, and Lila knows she’d disappoint him by missing it. (By the way, Mr. Fowler is pretty awesome in this book, and clearly loves Lila a lot, despite never spending time with her.)

At the dance, Lila makes various excuses for why Gray isn’t with her – he’s running late, he’s getting refreshments, he’s talking to a friend across the room, etc. The Unicorns want to celebrate the new relationship by giving Lila and Gray a spotlight dance. When the spotlight falls on Lila and Gray is nowhere in sight, the Unicorns start to figure out that she was lying about him the whole time. But then! Justin arrives, pretending to be Gray, and saves Lila’s reputation. I would find it sweet, but Justin’s affection for a girl who treats him like dirt is just sad.

In the B-plot, Elizabeth and her fellow Sixers staff are publishing “lovegrams” to make some money. For a little extra, you can hire one of them to write a special Valentine’s message to your crush/significant other. Elizabeth gets really into it, going along the lines of “I burn, I pine, I perish!” On a roll, she decides to write Todd a passionate poem for Valentine’s Day. She thinks it’s more romantic to leave it unsigned, and she’s sure Todd will know it’s from her.

Todd, however, is a dolt and thinks he has a secret admirer. He becomes obsessed with finding out who wrote him a love poem. He’s so sure it wasn’t Liz that he breaks up with her. She turns her sadness and rage into super-passionate lovegrams, which disturb the buyers a little bit. Like, they want to tell girls they like hanging out with them, not pledge their undying love. Mandy Miller’s like, “I want this guy to think I’m nice, not that I want to elope.” It takes a little while, but Liz does get the hint.

Todd starts thinking that any girl who’s ever been nice to him could be his secret admirer. Brooke asked to borrow some money, so she must be in love with him! Maria smiled at him, so she must be hot for him! I fear for Todd’s ability to read signals when he’s older. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has become an object of affection for many guys at SVMS, now that she’s back on the market, and even Bruce wants to take her to the dance. Todd’s upset about this, and eventually realizes that any girl who might want him can’t be nearly as awesome as Elizabeth. He needs to make up with her and get back together.

At the dance, Todd tries to apologize with flowers and candy, but Liz is slow to warm up to him. I don’t blame her. When it comes out that she wrote the poem, she has to laugh at his failure to realize who it was from. I guess it’s a little funny that he dumped her for the poet, who turned out to be her all along, but it was also a jerk move.

The C-plot is that Jessica wants Aaron to ask her to the dance, but he keeps hanging out with and talking to Elizabeth. Jess decides to call him out in the cafeteria, while the Boosters are performing their Valentine’s cheers. But just as she’s about to call him a snake in front of everyone, the Boosters perform a special cheer Aaron commissioned for Jess. (You have to read it – see below.) All is forgiven when Aaron explains that he was only talking to Elizabeth to get help with the cheer. Jess is definitely his preferred twin.

Thoughts: This is almost exactly the plot of Love Letters, just for the middle-school set.

Amy thinks Elizabeth should get Todd a stuffed animal for Valentine’s Day. Amy, stop helping.

Lila: “[Gray] threatened to do something drastic if I didn’t immediately break up with Jake and go out with him instead.” Tamara: “Oh, Lila, how romantic.” OH, GIRLS, NO.

Lila’s outfit for the dance: “The top was a sophisticated black velvet bodysuit. Displayed with it were long hiphuggers with huge bells at the bottom.” OH, GIRL, NO.

Here’s Aaron’s cheer, in all its…well, glory certainly isn’t the right word:

“Oh Jessica, oh Jessica,
You make my heart beat fast.
You’ve always been the twin for me,
From first until the last.
I love the way you chew your gum,
Right in our science class.
Around you I am never glum,
Not even when you sass.
Your long blond hair is like the sun,
Your eyes are like the sky.
With you I have terrific fun,
I’ll never make you cry.
You take a joke just like a boy,
You look just like a girl.
I’d follow you to Illinois,
Or all around the world.
I can’t compete with Johnny Buck,
He sure gives me a blister.
And now I find, with just my luck,
You think I like your sister.
But Jessica, you must believe,
There is no other one.
I’d like to take you out tonight,
In order to have fun.
Please say you’ll be my date tonight,
I’ll bring you one red rose.
There’s no way I’ll be late tonight,
Or step upon your toes.
Be my Valentine, Jessica! Love Aaron! Yay!”

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