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!

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 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 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!”

January 17, 2017

SVT #79, Jessica’s Blind Date: Print Media Really Isn’t Dead

Posted in books tagged , at 5:18 pm by Jenn

Jessica's dress is actually really cute

Jessica’s dress is actually really cute

Summary: Jessica has recently started to think that a 12-year-old boy might not make the best boyfriend. Aaron Dallas may be cool and popular, but he’s not exactly mature. She tries to avoid him in the cafeteria, getting delayed by Elizabeth, who’s trying to find a tutor for Amy. Jess suggests that she run an ad in the Sixers. She’s unable to run off before Aaron can reach her, so she agrees to go get ice cream with him after school. But he’s childish, ordering bubblegum ice cream with rainbow sprinkles, and wearing a Donald Duck shirt. They have a fight about how she’s snobby and he’s immature, and that’s it for their relationship.

Going off of Jess’ suggestion to run an ad in the paper, Elizabeth comes up with the idea to start a Classified section. Jessica decides to run an ad looking for a date to a party at Rick Hunter’s house. Liz balks at running it, since she wants the Sixers to be a serious paper, like The New York Times. (No, seriously, she makes that comparison. I don’t think the Times prints cafeteria menus, though.) But Jets gets her way, of course.

The ad gets Jess a few responses, including one from a high schooler who says Johnny Buck is his cousin. Jess is naïve enough to believe that, as well as believe that a guy old enough to drive is looking for a 12-year-old girlfriend. She goes to meet him at the Dairi Burger, but it turns out to be Steven pulling a prank. Still, there are some guys at SVMS who are interested in Jessica, or at least her personal-ad persona, Gorgeous Blond.

Lila’s having guy problems of her own now, as Jake forgot their one-month anniversary. I didn’t realize they were officially dating. He probably didn’t either, which explains not acknowledging their anniversary. Jess suggests that Lila write a personal ad, too, keeping quiet the fact that she wrote the first one. After they write Lila’s ad, she tells Janet, and suddenly a bunch of girls at SVMS want to find new guys.

Suddenly the Sixers is super-popular, though not for the reasons Elizabeth would prefer. Everyone’s reading the paper just for the Classified section, which is now mostly the Personals section. She’s also annoyed that Amy ran an ad, and they fight about it. The only good thing she has going for her right now is that Todd has no interest in running an ad or finding a new girlfriend.

Unimpressed with the guys who responded to her ad, Jessica reads the other ads and comes across Athletic Guy. He likes pineapple pizza and roller coasters, just like she does. She writes him a letter but doesn’t get a response. She’s disappointed until she realizes that she didn’t give him the number of her response box, so he couldn’t write her back. Instead, he places a new ad asking for her contact info.

The two start writing each other like this is You’ve Got Mail, and Jess is smitten. A bunch of other girls who wrote ads have also made new love connections, and with Rick’s party coming up, they all decide to meet there for their first official dates. The only pair not going on a blind date to the party is Elizabeth and Todd. Liz is also happy because she’s turned the Classified/Personals section into a profit center. Charging people $1 to place an ad, the Sixers makes about $200.

Athletic Guy shows up to the Wakefields’ house to get Jessica for the party, and she’s floored to see that he’s Aaron. He, like Tom Hanks, already figured out who she was but didn’t say anything. Jessica, like Meg Ryan, is glad he’s Athletic Guy. They’ve learned a bunch about each other, and I guess now their relationship is going to be fine. They even skip the party so they can get pineapple pizza together.

This was probably a good idea, since the party isn’t great. All the new couples are complete mismatches, like Janet and Ken, Sophia and Rick, and Ellen and nerdy Donald Zwerdling. Everyone quickly realizes that they were happier with their original people. So the paper made $200 while everyone went back to relationships they were already in. I think Elizabeth comes out on top here.

Thoughts: Please enjoy the song stylings of Mr. Johnny Buck:

“Bringin’ me down
Bringin’ me up
Rockin’ me round
Just like a pup
She’s my roller coaster baby
My roller coaster gal
See if you can catch her
My roller coaster pal.”

Everyone gets pretty dressed up for a party at a teenage boy’s house. These kids go to parties practically every week; they can’t consider this a special occasion.

Mandy: “How did you come up with the name Awesome Dude?” Jake: “It fit me.” Mandy: “Oh. I should have known.” For some reaso, that cracked me up.

November 15, 2016

SVT #71, Jessica Saves the Trees: Soccer? I Hardly Even Know Her!

Posted in books tagged , , , at 4:59 pm by Jenn

Untuck your shirts, you nerds

Untuck your shirts, you nerds

Summary: Soccer has become a big deal at SVMS, especially since the boys have just qualified for division A. (Apparently this means they’re really good.) As boys try out for the team, they dedicate their goals to the girls they like. I had no idea this was a thing. Jessica’s excited that Aaron might make a goal and dedicate it to her. Considering how low-scoring soccer games can be, she may have to wait a while.

Elizabeth isn’t having such a great day – she wrote an article for the Sixers about two boys being kicked out of a new sweet shop, and the shop owner, Mrs. Simmons, is upset that she wasn’t interviewed. The article said that the boys were turned away because Mrs. Simmons doesn’t like kids, but she claims it’s because they started a food fight the last time they were there. Elizabeth is embarrassed, and Mr. Bowman is unhappy with her failure to get both sides of the story.

At the scrimmage that serves as tryouts for the soccer team, Aaron dedicates two goals to Jessica. The Unicorns fawn all over her, except Lila, who’s jealous. Janet thinks Denny Jacobson is going to dedicate a goal to her, but he gives a shout-out to his English teacher instead, since he failed a test last week. Heh. Jess thinks Elizabeth should write an article about Aaron and the goals, though of course it should focus on Jess rather than Aaron’s accomplishments. Liz knows better than to write something stupid just to boost her sister’s ego, but at least she can hide behind the excuse of journalistic integrity.

Jess watches an interview with her favorite actress, Lois Latimer, who’s really into activism. She encourages kids to get involved in good causes because doing so makes people beautiful. Jess realizes how many protests her parents were involved in back in college, and starts to think that activism really does make you more attractive. You know, like how all the people who marched for Civil Rights woke up the next morning with magically clearer skin.

Liz writes a correction piece to retract what she reported about the boys at the sweet shop. But she’s in for another embarrassment, as she accidentally publishes a version where Amy added a line about the boys being jerks for lying to Liz about the reason for their banishment. Liz is in trouble with Mr. Bowman again. Doesn’t he read the paper before it’s published? Later, it turns out that Mrs. Simmons mistook the two boys for two other troublemakers, so their banishment was based on mistaken identity. Maybe she should just require all kids in her shop to be chaperoned. Anyway, the whole thing is a mess, and everyone’s upset with Elizabeth for not covering all the angles of the story.

The students receive some bad news: The school’s soccer field is a few yards too short for regulation size, which means they can’t compete in division A after all. No other fields nearby are available, and expanding the field would cost $5,000, so the season is effectively cancelled. Can’t they just compete in division B instead? Whatever. The kids take a shot at fundraising, but since they only have a week to make the money (for some reason), they only get $1,767. Lila gets her father to make up the difference, so she gets all the credit for the fundraising, even though Jessica gave an impassioned motivational speech. The boys on the team decide to dedicate all of that season’s goals to Lila.

Jess gets depressed about the turn of events – the students got what they wanted, but they’re not paying attention to her. Sadly, Lois Latimer doesn’t show up to tell Jess to suck it up because activism isn’t about getting praise. Jess just spends the afternoon in the woods by the soccer field, crying to a bird that she thinks is sympathetic but that’s probably just waiting for Jess to feed it.

Elizabeth takes Jess with her to an interview with an engineer who will be working on the enlargement of the soccer field. She tells them that some trees will have to be bulldozed to make room. Jessica then goes with Liz to the Nature Society to learn more about the trees. (Elizabeth is obsessed with covering every single angle of the story. She’ll probably interview the birds about how they feel about their trees being taken away.) A man named Bill tells the twins that knocking down trees isn’t the greatest idea. Some trees in the area are 400 years old, and should be put ahead of expanding a soccer field.

Jess, feeling lonely and unappreciated, grabs a hold of this idea. She thinks the enlargement of the field should be stopped so the trees aren’t disturbed. She tells Elizabeth to say so in her article, but Elizabeth wants to just present facts and let the readers decide for themselves what they want. So Jessica starts recruiting her own little band of environmentalists and starts a movement to stop the expansion of the field. They only have a week to get out the word, so they get right to work.

Aaron is surprised that Jess is suddenly against the soccer field. After all, there are plenty of other trees around; cutting a few down isn’t going to hurt anything. He takes it personally that Jess wants to keep him from playing soccer. The Unicorns are also unhappy with Jess (and Mandy, to a lesser extent, since she’s on Jess’ side); they want to keep watching cute guys play soccer. Janet tells Jessica and Mandy to pick the Unicorns or the trees. The girls pick the trees, even picking up another supporter when Mary decides to join their cause.

By this point, pretty much everyone at SVMS has chosen a side except Elizabeth and Todd. Elizabeth is refraining from making a decision on the issue so she can continue to remain objective in her articles. Todd just hasn’t made up his mind yet. Both sides are getting ugly, calling each other “tree killers” and “tree huggers.” They protest on school property and get threatened with suspension for not being civil to each other. Jessica almost gets in trouble for announcing that they refuse to negotiate.

Aaron tries to make up with Jessica, but it’s really so she’ll back down and let the field expansion go forward. She’s so sure she’s on the right side that she refuses to compromise or admit that she’s done anything wrong. Aaron thinks she’s acting out because Lila got all the glory for the fundraising. Jessica insists that she really does want to save the trees. They’re at a stalemate.

Elizabeth interviews some students and teachers for her article on the whole fiasco. Randy Mason helped with the fundraising for the field, but now that he knows the trees are 400 years old, he thinks they should be protected. Rick Hunter points out that 400 years isn’t very long when you consider how old the world is, so they can sacrifice some trees to enlarge the field. A teacher tells Elizabeth she’s for saving the trees because she likes nature, and somehow Liz interprets this as her wanting to side with her friends, which she and Todd had agreed was a bad idea.

The only thing everyone can agree on at this point is that Elizabeth should be on their side. They want her to write articles supporting their opinions rather than just presenting the issue in a straightforward manner. Mr. Bowman finally tells Liz that she needs to put stories in the paper that express people’s passion over the situation. She gets Jessica and Aaron to write editorials and publishes them next to each other. Everyone’s mad about that, too, since Liz still hasn’t backed one side over the other.

There’s a protest outside Casey’s, I guess because the kids got in trouble for protesting at school, and it ends with yelling and everyone getting kicked out. Todd gets booted, even though he wasn’t involved in the protest, and he tells Liz he’s now against both sides. I can’t believe Todd makes it through this book without getting beaten up.

After chats with Bill and Ned, Elizabeth decides to do some research on the trees themselves. This research leads her to a surprising turn of events. She tries to tell Jessica what she found out, but Jess is too focused on her cause to listen. Just as the trees are about to be bulldozed, Jessica and her supporters leave their classrooms and run outside to chain themselves to the trees with bike locks.

Elizabeth brings Bill to the school to confirm what her research has revealed: The trees that would be knocked down for the field are diseased and actually NEED to be removed. What’s more, their disease could spread to other trees, so the whole wooded area needs to be bulldozed so the trees don’t die. People object, since the trees are 400 years old. Bill says that he told Jess some of the trees in Sweet Valley are that old, but he didn’t specify that they were the ones she wanted to protect. Those trees are actually only about 60 years old. (Not that it should matter – if they’re dying and going to kill other trees, their age isn’t really an issue.)

Jessica is embarrassed that she went full force on the protests without having all the information, and with faulty facts. Steven thinks she should look on the bright side: Without her protests, no one would have paid attention to the trees in the first place, and the disease might not have been discovered until it was too late. Not that Jess cares about that right now. The trees still have to go, and getting rid of the whole wooded area will cost so much that the school won’t be able to afford the field expansion after all.

Finally, though, Jessica’s desire to be an activist leads to something good. Since the trees are part of the town, not just the school, the community should contribute to the cost of removing them. The City Council agrees and will pitch in, which means SVMS can still expand their field. The students finally stop fighting and organize a fundraiser so they can plant new trees. Jessica even gets rewarded with a letter from Lois Latimer telling her to keep up the good work. Well, crap, now Jess is only going to do good things so she can get praise.

Thoughts: Jessica: “I’m not just trying to get attention for myself.” So you admit you ARE trying to get attention, at last partly.

Of course Todd is neutral. When has he ever been passionate about anything?

If Mr. Bowman doesn’t read the paper before it goes to press, and he never taught Elizabeth about interviewing both sides of a matter, what, exactly, does he do as the Sixers‘ advisor?

October 4, 2016

SVT #66, The Great Boyfriend Switch: Middle-School Relationship Drama Is the Worst

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , , , at 5:09 pm by Jenn

Everyone looks fine except Amy (what else is new?)

Everyone looks fine except Amy (what else is new?)

Summary: Believe it or not, but even though it seemed like there was a dance in every SVH book, the SVT crew has yet to have one. Their first is coming up, and the girls are worried that the boys will be their usual annoying, immature selves. New girl Veronica Brooks would be especially disappointed if that happened. You see, at Veronica’s old school, the boys were all charming and intelligent and clearly alien life forms because there’s no such thing as a mature 12-year-old boy.

Todd asks Elizabeth to the dance, and Veronica’s totally jealous. Amy hopes Ken will ask her, since they’re basically dating, but Ken is an idiot in this book and doesn’t get that his sort-of girlfriend might want to do something girlfriend-y with him. When the Unicorns graciously hold an “open meeting,” which is basically a crash course on style, Amy attends so she can get some pointers on making herself girlier so Ken will want to take her to the dance. The Unicorns happily take on Amy as a project. I don’t know why they care whether a girl they don’t even like has a date with a guy they don’t like, but okay.

Amy wears some eye makeup to school, and I guess it’s a pretty bad application because Ken thinks she was in a fight. So did Amy try to do her own makeup, or did the Unicorns overdo it on purpose? Discuss. Either way, later Ken does ask her to the dance, but he’s really casual about it and doesn’t want it to seem like a date. Amy will take it. Meanwhile, Veronica’s mad that Elizabeth keeps outscoring her on tests, because at her old school, Veronica was the best student (and, I imagine, also the most popular and the prettiest and the best athlete and the best singer and…). Also, she likes Todd.

The night of the dance, a bunch of girls get ready together at the Wakefields’. Remember middle-school dances, you guys? My friends and I got ready together, too. Then when high school came around, we skipped all the dances except homecoming and prom because we realized how boring they were. Anyway, everyone has a date, and the guys all come by the house to pick up their girls, which is cute. Todd gives Elizabeth a heart-shaped locket with their pictures inside.

Even though Aaron is Jessica’s date to the dance, she accepts a dance with Bruce. One dance turns into many dances, and Aaron is effectively ditched. Then Veronica steals Todd away from Elizabeth, so Liz and Aaron are stuck on the sidelines, watching their dates with other people. Jessica and Bruce even kiss on the dance floor! Elizabeth tries to comfort Aaron by dancing with him, and they end up kissing, too. They’re outside, so at least they’re not giving the whole school a show…but Caroline Pearce sees them, so that event isn’t going to stay secret for long.

Indeed, by Monday morning, rumors are flying that Elizabeth and Aaron kissed. Todd confronts Elizabeth, who blasts him for spending so much of the dance with Veronica. He argues that he was just trying to be nice, like, one dance with her is nice enough, Todd. They end up having a big fight, as do Jessica and Aaron. Then Jess confronts her sister, and the two of them fight about Jess treating Aaron badly, and how Liz kissed her sister’s guy. No one comes off looking great.

Elizabeth and Aaron have lunch together, as do Todd and Veronica. It’s clear that they’re all trying to make each other jealous. Amy thinks everyone’s nuts. Jess starts hanging out with Bruce, who’s at his Bruceiest in this book. We always hear about how self-centered he is, and it’s really apparent here. He expects Jess to laugh at all his jokes, and for everyone to talk about how awesome he is. Ohhhhhh. Bruce is Donald Trump. I get it.

That night, Aaron calls the Wakefields’ house, and there’s a fun moment where Ned offers the phone to Jessica and is shocked when Aaron wants to talk to Elizabeth. He’s not much of a conversationalist on the phone, as most middle-school girls can confirm about their middle-school boyfriends. Bruce also calls Jessica, but again, he just wants to talk about himself, so she’s not as thrilled anymore about having a popular seventh-grader interested in her.

Jessica wants revenge on Elizabeth, and who better to help her than Liz’s new #1 enemy, Veronica? Veronica changes a bunch of answers on Elizabeth’s math homework so her grade will be lower than Veronica’s. She wants to read Liz’s diary, too, but Jessica doesn’t want to go that far. Instead, Veronica steals something from Elizabeth’s room, though Jess doesn’t see what it is. The next day, Elizabeth is shocked to learn that she failed her math homework. Veronica changed a lot more answers than Jessica expected, and Jess isn’t happy.

Also not happy: Amy, who’s trying a new look to attract Ken. The Unicorns give her a makeover, styling and dressing her like a hippie. Ken thinks she’s sticking it to Valentine’s Day (which is coming up) by acting like it’s Halloween instead. He still wants to go to Ellen’s Valentine’s Day party with her, though. Jess will be going with Bruce, and Liz is going with Aaron. But the twins have realized they want to get each other back together with their original boyfriends, and they’ve separately decided that the party is the place to do it. Neither twin realizes it, but they’ve both decided to pull a classic twin switch.

Liz also wants to make up with Todd, and thinks wearing her locket is a good way to indicate that, but she can’t find it. Then Veronica shows up to the party wearing one just like it. Amy sees her first and thinks this means Todd is moving on from Elizabeth. Jessica, meanwhile, is at the end of her rope with Bruce. He can’t believe she didn’t notice that he parted his hair on the left instead of the right! Bruce in this scene reminds me of Joey from 10 Things I Hate About You. Through all this, Amy and Ken are fighting because he thinks Valentine’s Day is dumb, and she doesn’t want to admit that she likes all the heart-shaped stuff at the party.

The twins quickly get to work on their switch, though they still have no idea that they’re both up to the same plot. “Jessica” makes up with Aaron pretty easily, but “Elizabeth” takes longer with Todd. He gets really awkward and clumsy when he sees “Elizabeth,” making Jessica think that he still likes her. Also, the only thing she can think of to talk to him about is books.

Amy tells “Elizabeth” that Todd gave Veronica a locket just like Liz’s, and Jessica realizes that it’s really Liz’s locket – that’s what Veronica stole from her room. “Elizabeth” calls Veronica out, and they end up in a little shoving match. Once it’s over, the twins switch back and make up with their boyfriends. (Also, they catch Amy and Ken making out.) Veronica, however, is angry (even though she ends up with Bruce), and she tells Jessica she’s going to get revenge. Hell hath no fury like a 12-year-old girl scorned.

Thoughts: Veronica: “At my old school, I was one of the in crowd. We were really wild. We didn’t just have geeky school dances – we had real kissing parties.” Wow. Wild.

The local drugstore has a soda fountain. What year is this?

“[The Unicorns are] all obsessed with this romance stuff. It’s like they’re always trying to get guys to say mushy things. That’s why I like hanging out with you, Amy. You never do stuff like that. It’s almost like being with another guy.” KEN. STOP TALKING.

“You still love to read. I love to read. We both love to read. That’s why we have so much in common.” You stop talking, too, Jessica.

February 9, 2016

SVT #47, Jessica’s New Look: Guys Don’t Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:26 pm by Jenn

That purple outfit isn't a dress. It's two separate pieces. THAT'S what Jessica should be self-conscious about

That purple outfit isn’t a dress. It’s two separate pieces. THAT’S what Jessica should be self-conscious about

Summary: Things are going pretty well for Jessica, at least in the boy department: Bruce, Aaron, and Jake Hamilton want to eat lunch with the Unicorns. After changing her mind about getting chocolate cake (you can’t eat cake in front of boys! Also, cake makes you fat! Boys don’t like fat girls!), Jess gets to spend lunch flirting with Aaron and making the other Unicorns jealous that she has a love interest. They talk about basketball, and Aaron invites Jess to a Lakers game. Jessica is super-excited about her first official non-group date, and the fact that the other Unicorns envy her.

But Jessica’s world is about to come crashing down. She has trouble reading the blackboard at school. She gets headaches when she does her homework. Mr. Bowman thinks she should get her eyes checked – she might need glasses. This, for Jess, is a fate worse than death. Boys won’t pay attention to her if she wears glasses. She’ll be branded a nerd and forced to spend the rest of her life in the library. She decides to tell Mr. Bowman she’ll talk to her parents, then never bring it up.

After school, the twins go for a bike ride, picking a route that takes them by Aaron’s house. Jess sees what she thinks is paper in the street, realizing too late that she’s about to hit a cat. She crashes in Aaron’s yard, thinking she’s humiliated herself in front of her crush. Fortunately, Aaron is a nice guy and likes her so much that he’s worried about her rather than amused.

Mr. Bowman is smart enough not to trust Jess to talk to her parents, so he calls them to say she should get her eyes checked. Jessica brushes off her eye problems, even though she has to admit that her vision is bad enough to make her mistake a cat for paper. She tries to heal herself by eating a lot of carrots over the weekend before her eye appointment. This, of course, doesn’t work.

The twins both go to the eye doctor (even though Elizabeth hasn’t shown any signs of having vision problems), and Jessica is told she’ll need to wear glasses for a few months. Apparently they’ll strengthen the muscles in her eyes and she’ll eventually be fixed. Uh, sure. Jess is mad that Liz doesn’t need glasses. She’s even madder that she can’t get out of looking like a nerd.

Jessica wears her glasses around the house, freaking out that someone might come by and see her. She takes them off at school, so only Elizabeth knows that she has them. Then one night, the Wakefields decide to go to a movie. Jessica panics, knowing she’ll have to wear her glasses in public. Liz reminds her that the theater will be dark. But it’s not too dark for Lila to spot Jessica and see that she’s been nerdified. Jess swears her to secrecy, buying Lila’s silence with a purple outfit she just got. Lila accepts, then starts using the glasses to blackmail Jessica.

Jess continues to avoid wearing her glasses at school and around her friends. Then one night she’s at the skating rink (more on that in the B-plot) when her parents show up. Jessica’s first instinct is to slam into Lois Waller and steal her glasses. Read that again. Jessica’s first impulse when she’s about to get busted is to physically assault an innocent person. She puts on the glasses, telling Aaron she’s just goofing around, and hopes that her parents mistake them for her pair when she skates past them. It doesn’t work.

No longer able to get away with going out in public without her glasses, Jessica decides her best option is to…never go out in public again. Sounds like a winning plan. Elizabeth is sick of Jessica moping and being vain, so she comes up with a plan: She’ll pretend she’s into Aaron so she can take Jessica’s Lakers ticket and go to the game with him. Hopefully, Jess will be so jealous that she chooses looking nerdy over losing out on having a boyfriend. It’s a good effort on Liz’s part, but Jess catches on and pretends she doesn’t care, even when Elizabeth gushes on the phone to Amy about how cute Aaron is.

Plan B: Elizabeth gets her own fake glasses to show Jessica how good they look. Jess agrees that she looks cute in them, but only because they fit Liz’s image, not her own. It’s plan C that really fixes things, though. When Aaron comes to get Jessica for the Lakers game, Elizabeth wears Jess’ glasses and pretends to be her. Aaron loves them on her, convincing the real Jessica that glasses won’t make her seem nerdy. Jessica takes her place for the date, and Aaron is none the wiser.

In the B-plot, Elizabeth has been chosen to write an article for the Sweet Valley Tribune on students who make a difference. The Unicorns are desperate to be featured, despite the fact that they have yet to make a difference and have never even thought about doing something for anyone outside the club. After some horrible brainstorming (one suggestion is to raise money to buy curling irons for the girls’ bathrooms), they settle on holding a skate-a-thon to buy new encyclopedias.

The local rink is currently closed for renovations, but one of the lesser Unicorns has a connection to the owner, and they convince him to reopen a day early for a charity event. The Unicorns do some actual work, planning the whole thing and only employing outside labor (in the form of nerdy Mandy Miller) to hang up posters. Elizabeth and her friends think the whole thing will crash and burn, which is a safe bet. But the whole thing goes off without a hitch. The Unicorns even play a trick on Liz, making her think there are no skates, so everyone will have to pretend to skate. Elizabeth writes her article about the event, and everyone’s happy.

Thoughts: I don’t remember glasses being a big deal in middle school. Same with braces. Jessica probably started a trend anyway, and all the other sixth-graders wound up wanting glasses.

“That doesn’t mean we couldn’t do something charitable just this once, to be sure we’re the focus of Elizabeth’s article.” Lila Fowler in a nutshell.

Ugh, Alice, stop trying to bribe Jessica with clothes to wear her glasses. Be a parent for once.

I do like that Jessica enjoys basketball and doesn’t dumb down her knowledge about it when she’s with Aaron. But that’s pretty much the only non-annoying thing she does in this book.

June 30, 2015

SVT #34, Jessica, the Rock Star: Becoming Famous Is Hard, You Guys

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 8:09 pm by Jenn

I'm on board for the orange guitar

I’m on board for the orange guitar

Summary: At the end of Elizabeth’s New Hero, the twins won tickets to a Melody Power concert. At the beginning of this book, they’ve just gotten back from the concert, and Jessica is way too excited about it. Her new life goal is to become a rock star. She starts dressing like Melody, who seems to have the same wardrobe preferences as one Robin Sparkles. She talks about the concert all the time, annoying the other Unicorns. Yeah, that would definitely get old very quickly.

Jessica finds out that some SVMS guys have started a band, and they’re looking for a singer. She decides to audition, but using a singing voice that’s more like Melody Power’s than her own. Elizabeth thinks this is a horrible idea, since Jessica’s Melody impression makes her sound terrible. Jess won’t hear it – this is how rock stars sound, and she’s destined to be a rock star. She thinks her Melody voice will help her beat out the competition, which happens to include Dana Larson, future SVH rock star.

The guys in the band are Bruce, Aaron, and two other guys we don’t care about. Apparently Bruce plays the bass. I’m surprised he doesn’t want to play lead guitar and be the band’s obnoxious front man. Everyone gathers for the auditions, but Mrs. Patman soon kicks them out because she’s having a committee meeting. There will be other meetings at the house, which is apparently not big enough to accommodate a rock band, even though the Patmans are freaking rich, so the kids have to find a new place to practice.

Jessica immediately offers up the Wakefields’ basement, not bothering to ask her parents if it’s okay (of course). After the girls audition, the guys pick Jessica. How convenient that they chose the girl who has rehearsal space for them! Even though she clearly wasn’t the best singer! Isn’t that just the best coincidence? Elizabeth immediately realizes what’s going on, but Jessica’s too happy and clueless to figure out that the guys are just using her.

Jess remains clueless as the guys hold practices in her basement but don’t give her a chance to sing. They send her on errands and treat her like a manager/roadie instead of a lead singer. This might be a blessing, though, since Jessica still sounds horrible when she sings like Melody. She picks the stage name Gem, but she sure doesn’t sound like one. Even though the practices cause Jess to miss Unicorn meetings, making everyone mad at her, she keeps going to them.

Jessica advertises for the band, NRG (sounds like Energy), putting up signs around town so people can hire them to play at parties. They actually land a birthday party, though the guys in NRG don’t bother crediting Jess with getting them the gig. They know they’re not in the best shape to play in public, but they get to work improving their sound. Jess has to fend for herself. She hears herself on tape and realizes that she’s not as great as she thought. Fortunately, she figures out quickly that it’s the Melody voice causing the trouble, and she practices using her own voice.

Lila learns about the birthday party and decides to get herself invited so she can hear NRG. Jessica is self-aware enough to know this is a bad idea. She’s starting to realize how much work goes into being a big star. Plus, all the practices mean she doesn’t get to spend time with the Unicorns, doing stuff she actually enjoys.

At the mall, Elizabeth overhears the NRG guys talking about the party. They want matching outfits, and they don’t care if Jessica looks dumb for dressing differently. In fact, they don’t want her there at all. They’re going to tell her to come to the part an hour and a half after it starts, so by the time she gets there, she won’t have a chance to sing. Elizabeth is mad about their scheming, but she’s not sure if she should tell Jessica what they’re up to. After all, Jess will just embarrass herself if she sings.

Back at home, Elizabeth hears Jessica practicing and realizes that she’s good. She tells Jessica that Bruce called to change the time she’s supposed to be at the party, so now Jess will be there on time. She also tells her sister what the guys are wearing and loans her an outfit that will match theirs. At the party, NRG is pretty bad, but Gem swoops in to save the day, impressing everyone.

Now the tables have turned, and the guys in the band want to make sure Jessica is involved in everything. But Jess has decided that being a rock star is too much work, so she’s done with the band. She’d rather hang out with the Unicorns and talk about boys than do something a lot of people would love to do. The guys will have to find a new place to practice and/or a new girl to use.

The B-plot is pretty brief, and is only there to set the stage for the next book. Amy has a pen pal named Samantha, but Samantha hasn’t written her lately, so Amy’s worried about her. Samantha probably just found out that Amy is lame and decided to stop writing her.

Thoughts: Mary’s stepfather is a big Melody Power fan. Isn’t that kind of weird?

I can’t believe no one makes a Jem joke about Jessica’s stage name.

“All the boys laughed at his wit.” Bruce is only 13 and he already has yes men.

October 21, 2014

SVT #19, The Bully: Dennis the Menace

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 6:33 pm by Jenn

The look on Lila's face cracks me up

The look on Lila’s face cracks me up

Summary: Seventh-grader Dennis Cookman has been menacing sixth-graders, and they decide they’ve had enough. They inform a teacher, Dennis is punished and starts receiving counseling, and everyone calls a truce. The end. Oh, wait, that doesn’t happen. Instead, some of the sixth-graders – including Ken, Aaron Dallas, and some scrawny kid named Jimmy Underwood – call a “summit conference” and invite Elizabeth to help them with their problem. Dennis is so intimidating that even Lila can’t bring herself to stand up to him – when he asks her for money, she just hands it over.

The summiteers meet at a place called Larson’s lot, which is near something everyone calls Dean Man’s Cave. The kids decide that instead of telling a teacher about Dennis’ bullying, they’ll just get revenge on him. Steven wanders by and tells them they’re dumb and they should tell an adult what’s going on. Jimmy hates this idea, since it’ll just get him in more trouble with Dennis, but the other kids decide to talk to Mr. Bowman.

Elizabeth and her cronies talk to the English teacher, who promises to handle Dennis. Elizabeth thinks that’ll be the end of it. Of course, it’s not. Dennis corners the summiteers after school, starts a fight with Aaron and Ken, and threatens to come after everyone else. The summiteers decide Operation Tell a Teacher was a bust, and they should try revenge next.

Their plan is to tell Dennis they’re going to spend the night in Dead Man’s Cave to peer-pressure him into doing the same. Aaron and Ken know there’s a rain pipe in the cave that they can use to get to the woods and head home. Dennis will sleep in the cave when his turn comes, not realizing that no one else spent the night. The summiteers put their plan in motion, making sure Dennis overhears Amy daring Aaron to spend the night in Dead Man’s Cave.

Meanwhile, Grace Oliver (who I remember from a later book but didn’t realize was in the series this early on) wants to join the Unicorns. To make sure she’s special enough for this super-exclusive group of girls who like shopping and own purple clothing, Jessica, Lila, and Ellen decide to put her through a series of initiation rituals. First she has to recite a poem in the middle of class. Then she has to get a bunch of kids’ homework. (I’m not sure what that’s about. Why would they give her their homework? Is she just pretending she needs to borrow it?)

For Grace’s last initiation task, Jessica comes up with the idea to make Grace ask Dennis to each lunch with her. Even Lila and Ellen are like, “Whoa, slow down, Regina George.” But Jessica is, for some reason, set on making Grace do her bidding. Grace tries to summon the courage to ask Dennis to eat lunch with her but fails so badly that she thinks that’s it for her chances with the Unicorns. Later, she happens to find Dennis’ baseball mitt, so she takes it to his house. He’s kind of surprised that someone’s doing something nice for him.

That night, Aaron completes his part of the revenge plan, pretending to sleep in Dead Man’s Cave. Ken agrees to go next, but Dennis is skeptical about the legitimacy of the situation and wants to stay outside the cave overnight so he can’t leave. Jimmy gets roped into staying with him. Once Ken’s part is complete, Jimmy takes his turn, which means Dennis really has no excuse not to do it as well.

Grace tries again to ask Dennis to have lunch with her, not realizing that Jessica (having been yelled at by Elizabeth for making Grace do something so difficult) has decided to let her off the hook. But at lunch, Dennis asks if he can sit with Grace. They talk about how he has no friends, and she points out that, you know, he’s mean to everyone. Dennis is all, “They’re mean to me, too! They make fun of me because I’m huge!” Grace is like, “Well, then clearly you’re allowed to be mean back and be surprised that no one likes you.”

Dennis really doesn’t want to spend the night in Dead Man’s Cave, so he tries to pretend he’s sick. No one’s going to let him off the hook, especially after Jimmy supposedly went through with it. When the big night comes, there’s a storm a-brewin’, which means lots of rain in the rain pipe. Aaron realizes that if it gets too blocked, Dennis could drown. The kids head into the cave and rescue Dennis, who realizes that he should probably start treating them differently. He and Jimmy seem to become friends, while Grace gets to be a Unicorn. So the lesson here is that if you have a bully, you just have to save his life and everything will be okay.

Thoughts: They had to have named him Dennis just so people could make Dennis the Menace references, right?

“Steven Wakefield was fourteen going on obnoxious.” Hee.

Amy gets Dennis away from Jimmy by sending him after another group of kids. Well, that’s a bad idea.

“Jessica had just finished dyeing most of her white socks purple to add to her Unicorn wardrobe. If Grace managed to get Dennis to eat lunch with her, maybe Jessica would even give her a pair as an initiation gift.” Ooh, used socks! Go for it, Grace!

Next page