February 14, 2017

SVT #82, Steven’s Enemy: Oh, Brother

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

With his stance and the vibe he's giving off, it looks like Steven's upset because he wants Ben for himself

With his stance and the vibe he’s giving off, it looks like Steven’s upset because he wants Ben for himself

Summary: Having not learned her lesson from the last time she decided to trade in Denny for a better model, Janet has her eye on an SVH freshman named Doug. The other Unicorns decide to go to the next SVH JV basketball practice to check him out and let her know whether they approve. (I doubt any of them would say no. It’s not like Janet’s looking for an honest opinion here.)

Speaking of basketball players, Steven has recently been switched from starting center to guard in favor of a new kid named Ben Oliver. Steven hates Ben, even though he seems like a perfectly nice guy. But Steven isn’t going to be overshadowed by a kid who always knows the answer in class and probably thinks he’s smarter than everyone just because he’s a year younger than the other freshmen, having skipped seventh grade. To make matters worse, Ben is running against Steven for class treasurer.

Steven’s campaign goes negative against Ben, though Cathy objects, insisting that Ben is a great guy. Steven’s furious that she would find even one good thing about his arch-nemesis. He thinks he’s a shoo-in for treasurer. The Unicorns attend the next basketball practice, and Jessica immediately develops a crush on Ben. She has no idea that he’s her brother’s enemy, and he has no idea that getting involved with her would make Steven mad.

The vote for treasurer is too close to call, so the freshmen vote again. This time, Ben wins. Steven acts like a jerk about it even though Ben is gracious. His day gets worse when he comes home to find Ben there, about to take Jessica to Casey’s for ice cream. Steven goes all overprotective brother, refusing to let Jess leave with Ben. I can’t believe he thinks that’ll work. Jessica ignores him and goes off with Ben. Then Cathy and Joe are friendly toward Ben at school, just making Steven madder.

Jessica and Ben plan a double date with Janet and Doug, which Steven tries to get Ned and Alice to cancel. Even though their 12-year-old daughter will be going out with a high-schooler, Ned and Alice are fine with the situation (I think they made Ben 13 so the age gap wouldn’t be so big. But still, a sixth-grader and a ninth-grader?). Steven practically threatens to get violent with Ben, which gets him sent to his room. Hey, an attempt at effective Wakefield parenting for once!

Elizabeth has already started to suspect that Jess is only with Ben to bug Steven, and after the double date, it seems like Jess might only stick with the relationship for that reason. Ben and Doug are both kind of annoying, and Jessica and Janet are starting to realize that dating a high-schooler isn’t as glamorous as they’d expected. Still, Jess isn’t going to pass up the chance to talk up the date so Steven gets even madder. She plays it off like they’re just friends, so Ned and Alice can’t really object. After Steven overhears the Unicorns talking about Veronica, he decides to handle the Jess/Ben situation (JessBen is an awful couple name; let’s hope that, say, Jessica Chastain and Ben Affleck never get together) on his own.

Steven asks Veronica out, I guess not worrying about what Cathy will say if she finds out. Jess is as furious as Steven is every time he sees her with Ben. Though he’s pleased with his plan, Steven gets upset again when he hears a rumor that Cathy voted for Ben in the election. He immediately believes this, which is dumb, but that’s par for the course for Steven in this book. However, Cathy then confirms this, claiming she has a good reason. Steven’s too angry to listen to her.

Now at the side of a high-schooler, Veronica is suddenly popular. Even the Unicorns want to spend time with her, despite the tricks she’s pulled on Jessica in the past. Steven is happy with his revenge plot, but clearly still wants to be with Cathy, as he gets jealous when he hears that she’s been spending time with a guy named Howie. Later, Steven hears Ben telling Doug that Howie lost a bunch of the class’ money for a class trip while he was serving as treasurer. Ben has to do a lot of work to make it back. He knows Cathy voted for him, but only because she didn’t want Steven to have to be stuck with the debt (which she found out about while tutoring Howie in math). Okay, but couldn’t she have told him that?

Steven suddenly gets that Ben isn’t a bad guy after all, and his jealousy comes from…well, nowhere, really. He tries to make up with Cathy, but she’s understandably tired of dealing with him. Steven takes Veronica to Casey’s, and Cathy shows up with Howie. Jessica spots Steven and flings a cherry at him. Steven fires back, innocents are dragged into the fight, and the whole restaurant gets trashed in a food fight. Mr. Casey kicks everyone out, surprisingly not banning them all for life.

The tension has been cut, and all the people who have been fighting make up. Ben and Veronica end up together, because why not? Then Ben has to quit basketball because being treasurer requires too much work, so Steven gets his position back. Everything is awesome again! At least until Steven dumps Cathy for a dumb reason and this whole thing starts over again!

The B-plot is really just setting up a future book: Amy’s suspicious of her parents, who keep having secret conversations and arguing. She thinks they’re going to split up, possibly because of a woman named Jane, as Mr. Sutton wrote a letter to her but hasn’t sent it yet. Liz finds a picture of Mr. Sutton with his arm around a woman, and the words “love, Jane” on the back.

She keeps this from Amy for a while, and when she finally tells her what she saw, Amy blows up at her. She accuses Liz of not wanting Amy to have a family as perfect as the Wakefields. What? Okay, Amy. They make up later, but things between Mr. and Mrs. Sutton don’t get any better. We get a cliffhanger when Jane calls the house and the Suttons ask Elizabeth to leave so they can discuss something in private. If you know the title of book #83, you can guess what the discussion’s about.

There’s also a teeny C-plot where Elizabeth learns that Bruce is going to release a pig in Mrs. Arnette’s class, so she publishes a story about it in the Sixers ahead of time. She and her friends are amused by how angry Bruce gets. I wish they’d done more with this plot; I thought it was funny.

Thoughts: Normally I would call Elizabeth a killjoy for ruining someone’s prank, but doing it to mess with Bruce makes me root for her.

Jessica considers wearing leggings with an Oxford shirt. Ick.

If the freshmen elected someone who’s bad at math to be their treasurer, they kind of deserve whatever happens.

February 7, 2017

SVT #81, Robbery at the Mall: Once Again, Elizabeth Does What an Entire Police Department Can’t

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

Elizabeth looks...weird

Elizabeth looks…weird

Summary: Maria Slater has suddenly become interested in directing (in case her career as an actress never gets back off the ground), so she’s excited when her dad gets a new video camera and lets her have his old one. She’s going to film a performance the Boosters are doing at the mall the next day to generate press for the opening of a new food court. This is a Big Deal, because things in Sweet Valley aren’t exciting enough with random visits from celebrities and people almost dying all the time. I mean, it can’t be too important if the main entertainment is some 12-year-old cheerleaders.

Everything’s going fine at the press event until everyone hears glass being smashed and realizes there’s been a robbery at a jewelry store. Jessica, who was about to jump on top of the Boosters’ pyramid (whatever), gets distracted and crashes. Lila’s angry that Jess wasn’t more professional. She thinks she should have Jessica’s role in the Boosters, and she wants to prove that she’s the better cheerleader.

Elizabeth has more important things to worry about – there’s a mystery afoot. Her parents don’t want her to look into the robbery, since she put herself in danger when she was investigating the charm school. But no way will Elizabeth turn her back on an opportunity to be like Christine Davenport, the heroine of her beloved Amanda Howard mysteries. Why leave the police work to the police when this 12-year-old has everything it takes to catch a robber?

The Boosters gather to watch Maria’s video of their performance (after Lila wins a high-jump competition with Jessica in her bid to prove that she’s a better Booster). The video is a disaster as apparently Maria is incompetent and can’t even figure out where the camera lens is. Jessica and Lila try to brush it off with a fence-walking contest. What is this, Anne of Green Gables? Guys, don’t go on the roof, okay? Anyway, Lila wins again.

While the kids are at school, another store at the mall is robbed. A security guard, MacDuff, gives a TV interview, and since he was present during the first robbery, Amy wonders if he’s pulling an inside job. Meanwhile, Jessica and Lila compete to see who can hold the most grapes in her mouth. Jess wins, but really, aren’t they both losers for this sort of stuff?

Since Elizabeth is writing about the new mall restaurants for the Sixers, she and her friends have a good excuse to keep hanging out at the mall. She and Todd go to a record store and chat with an employee who has a scar on his hand. Liz realizes that he was working elsewhere in the mall the last time she was there. Back in Jess/Lila Land, Lila wins a swimming competition. Their friends are at least entertained by their rivalry.

There’s another robbery, and Todd encourages Liz to go to the mall and investigate. She talks to a cop, offering to give a witness statement since she was at the mall during a previous robbery. She’d love to read the police reports and give her input. Amazingly, the cop doesn’t laugh in her face, but he also doesn’t indulge her fantasy that she’ll write about the robberies for the Sixers and, I don’t know, win a Pulitzer. Elizabeth talks to the employee from the record store instead; he’s now working at a Chinese restaurant.

Lila and Jess’ next competition is hanging upside-down from monkey bars. Jess wins, so she’s only one point behind Lila. They’ll have one more contest, after which Lila thinks she’ll be declared the winner and will get to take Jessica’s place at the top of the pyramid. If Jess wins, there will be a tie-breaker, but Lila clearly doesn’t think that will happen. The girls decide that whoever is the overall winner gets to pick her costume for the food court’s official opening, where the Boosters will be serving hors d’oeuvres. The loser gets last pick.

In a break from all the stealing going on at the mall, Maria’s house is robbed. She’s confused because all the family’s valuables are left alone, but her videotapes are stolen. Liz thinks that someone got a hold of Maria’s address after she gave it to the cop she offered to help. Jessica is on board with Amy’s theory that MacDuff is the robber – since he works at the mall, he would have easy access to all the stores.

Elizabeth realizes that Maria’s tape from the Boosters’ performance might contain evidence. Yeah, everyone reading figured that out, like, 50 pages ago, Liz. Since Maria didn’t keep it with her other tapes, it wasn’t stolen. Liz, Maria, and Amy watch it, and though the quality is horrible, they’re able to make out what looks like a hand taking a necklace. Well, at least it’s more than the police have found. They stake out the mall for a little while and see MacDuff at the Chinese restaurant, off-duty. Not long after, the Chinese restaurant is the next place to be robbed.

Lila and Jessica’s last contest is a bike race through an obstacle course. Jess wins, so the girls need a tiebreaker. They agree to a hot dog-eating contest at the mall. Lila wins, which I find really hard to believe. I can’t see her eating even one hot dog, let alone more than Jessica. But whatever, this means Jess could get stuck with a horrible costume at the opening.

Elizabeth stalks MacDuff, overhearing him on the phone, sounding sketchy. He catches her and she gets in major trouble with her parents. She’s even grounded! Undeterred, she continues her investigation, watching Maria’s tape again. This time Liz is able to see that the hand stealing the necklace has a scar on it. She knows she’s seen that scar before, but because she’s actually a much, much worse detective than she thinks, she doesn’t remember where. She thinks it’s MacDuff’s.

There’s a big party for the food court opening, and Elizabeth convinces Amy and Maria to sneak in with her. They don’t have invitations, but they pretend they were invited to cover the story for the Sixers. The record store/Chinese restaurant/various other stores guy is now working as a coat check. Just seconds after arriving, Elizabeth sees the scar on his hand and realizes she’s been investigating the wrong suspect.

Ironically (I guess), Liz turns to the person she just stopped suspecting to help her capture her new suspect. MacDuff is displeased that she’s still investigating, but he listens when she tells him the guy with the scar is probably the robber. The robber sees them together and figures out he’s busted, so he takes off. Elizabeth chases him, and MacDuff chases her. Jessica sees her sister being pursued by the guy she still thinks is a robber and decides to stop him by jumping out in front of him. Oh, and by the way, she’s dressed as a giant hot dog. The visual from this scene is one of my favorite things from this whole series.

So of course the robber is caught, and Elizabeth is hailed a hero (though Jessica should get half the credit for risking her physical safety). The Wakefields are so proud of their little detective that they give her back some of the privileges they took away when they grounded her. Steven calls bull, as do I, but we shouldn’t expect anything less from Ned and Alice. Maria is still horrible with her video camera, but she’s happy that her video helped catch a criminal. Maybe someone will let her know that the director doesn’t have to handle the camera, so her cinematography skills probably won’t have an effect on her career goals.

Thoughts: “The Valley Mall: An International Dining Extravaganza.” You have seven restaurants, four are American, and the Mexican one is called the Taco Shack. Calm down, Valley Mall.

Elizabeth describes a coconut-orange smoothie as a “platonic experience.” What are you on, Liz?

Janet picks a costume that consists of “a pair of short denim overalls, a red-checked blouse, and a blond wig with two braids.” I call bull again.

Elizabeth has black velvet leggings. WHAT?

This week in Adventures in Out-of-Context Passages: “‘Stop!’ the hot dog shouted with Jessica’s voice.”

December 27, 2016

SVT #76, Yours for a Day: Indentured Servitude Has Never Been So Romantic

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

I can't believe the Unicorns let Mandy wear this outfit in public

I can’t believe the Unicorns let Mandy wear this outfit in public

Summary: Valentine’s Day is approaching, as is a Valentine’s Day dance at SVMS. The Unicorns (spurred on by Mandy) are organizing a fundraiser for the local children’s hospital (appropriately named Children’s Hospital) in which students can hire a personal servant for a day or two. Ellen wants to call it Yours for a Day, but the other girls say that’s dumb since the fundraiser takes place over two days. But that’s what the book is called, so I guess Ellen wins in the end. Anyway, for $5 you can hire someone for a day, and for $10 you get someone over two days. The “servants” don’t have to pay, but they also don’t get compensated, so servants are just volunteering out of the kindness of their hearts.

Mandy has a crush on a guy named Peter Jeffries, but she’s too nervous to ask him to the dance. When she calls to talk to him, she just hangs up the phone. Oh, Mandy, we’ve all been there. She also can barely speak to Peter when he comes by the Unicorns’ table to sign up to be a servant. Jessica realizes that if Peter and Mandy (who will be a master) get paired up, she can order him to take her to the dance. How romantic.

At the drawing, Mandy winds up as Jessica’s servant, which Jess is thrilled about. Not only is she paired with a friend (the other girls were worried about being paired with people they don’t like), but she can order Mandy to ask Peter to the dance. The drawback here is that the Unicorns are working as both servants and masters, and Jess winds up as Lloyd Benson’s servant. Lila’s working for Peter, and Janet’s working for Winston. Ha ha!

Lloyd’s annoyed with Jessica for the earthquake stuff in the last book, so he makes her do lots of stuff for him. If Jess were really smart, she would have Mandy do it for her. Instead, she tells Mandy that her only task is to ask Peter to the dance. Mandy manages to pull herself together and do it…but Peter already has a date to the dance. Aw, Mandy. At least he’s nice about having to turn her down.

Still, Mandy feels humiliated and gets mad at Jessica. She gets a little pleasure out of watching Jessica do dumb things on Lloyd’s orders, like eat gross cafeteria food and help him with science experiments. Aaron feels bad for Jess and tries to think of a way to get her switched to him so Lloyd can’t mess with her anymore. Elizabeth correctly guesses that Lloyd won’t agree to a switch since he’s eager to get revenge on Jessica.

Jessica is also hoping to switch, and she even asks Elizabeth to be Lloyd’s servant. Liz balks, but since Jess rigged the drawing for her and Amy (see the B-plot), she eventually agrees. But Lila and Mandy, scheming against Jessica, pull their own switch. Jessica was supposed to work for Belinda, so the girls get Belinda to switch servants with Mandy, making Jessica serve Mandy instead. In the meantime, Aaron convinces Lloyd to switch with him, thinking he’d get Jessica. Now he has Elizabeth as a servant.

The usually-not-vindictive Mandy makes Jessica sing “Feelings” in the cafeteria so she’ll be humiliated like she inadvertently humiliated Mandy. The song makes Grace Oliver cry, but not from horribleness. She and Winston had been going out, or whatever the 12-year-old equivalent of that is, but they had a huge fight and aren’t speaking. Grace asked Peter to the dance, but now she wants to make up with Winston and go with him. Jessica realizes that she has the opportunity to make everyone happy.

She goes to Lloyd, who’s Grace’s master for the day, and gets him to switch servants with Winston. Winston thinks he’s getting Jessica as a servant, but he’s getting Grace. They quickly make up and will be going to the dance together. Half of Jess’ plan is a success, even though the switch means Lloyd will be Janet’s master.

Jessica tries to negotiate with Lila to get her to make Peter, her new servant, ask Mandy to the dance. Lila wants too much in return, so Jess just calls Peter on her own. But it turns out that her work is done, and Mandy and Peter have already decided to go to the dance together. Once Peter learned that Grace was going with Winston, he asked Mandy, the person he’d wanted to go with in the first place. He wasn’t sure Mandy liked him, but once Jessica made her ask him to the dance, he realized she did. So Jess’ meddling helped a couple get together!

The new couple has a great time at the dance, and the master/servant fundraiser makes $800 for the hospital. Jessica’s the only one who’s not happy at the end, since Janet makes Lloyd a certificate entitling him to another day of servitude from Jessica. I guess it’s a small price to pay for a successful fundraiser.

In the B-plot, Elizabeth and Amy are annoyed with Todd and Ken, who are just acting like typical preteen boys. They play a prank on the boys, getting them to eat mayo instead of vanilla pudding. They think this makes them even, especially when the guys send the girls on a scavenger hunt for what the girls think will be invitations to the dance. They get the invitations, but they also get drenched with cold water. The girls decide they need more revenge.

Elizabeth and Amy get Jessica to rig the master/servant drawing so Todd will be Liz’s servant and Ken will be Amy’s. Then they make the guys do things like wear embarrassing ties, walk on their hands in the cafeteria, and give the wrong answers in class. The guys handle things well, and still want to take the girls to the dance. They’re even going to get them corsages. The girls think they’ve learned their lesson and are going to be gentlemen from now on.

On Valentine’s Day, the girls spend most of the dance sneezing. They figure out that the guys got one last revenge by putting sneezing powder in their corsages. The girls get revenge right back by making them sing “Feelings” in front of everyone. I guess this evens things up, as the pranks stop. The girls were definitely winning that war anyway.

Thoughts: Grace is in a lot more books than I remembered. I really didn’t think she was ever mentioned again after The Big Camp Secret.

I can’t believe Amy and Elizabeth didn’t think the guys might try to get them back after everything they had to do as servants. I would expect Elizabeth to be smarter than that.

“Daddy would give more, but he already donated a whole wing to the hospital, and he didn’t want to overdo it.” Oh, of course not. There’s such a thing as helping too many sick children.

December 20, 2016

SVT #75, Jessica and the Earthquake: (Not a) Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 4:48 pm by Jenn

I thought Jessica's walls were brown

I thought Jessica’s walls were brown

Summary: Jessica wakes up in the middle of the night during what she later finds out is an earthquake. It’s minor – only a 3.2 – but it’s Sweet Valley’s first in 20 years, so it’s kind of a big deal. It becomes an even bigger deal for Jessica when she learns that she was the only person at school who woke up. I don’t know why anyone cares, but they do. Jessica uses her overactive imagination to spice up the story a little. She tells people that she woke up before the earthquake, and must have sensed that it was coming. Super-nerd Lloyd Benson is intrigued and starts following her around, wanting her help with a project on earthquakes.

With news of an aftershock possibly coming, Lila and Janet, who are sick of Jessica’s embellishments, decide to get some revenge. They urge her to predict when the aftershock will come, then plan a big part at the Fowlers’ so everyone can experience it together. At first Jess loves all the attention, but when Lila and Janet try to call her bluff, she gets worried. If she predicts an earthquake and nothing happens, she’ll be humiliated. She’s already humiliated enough by Lloyd’s sudden obsession with her.

Everyone is really excited about the possibility of Jessica proving her earthquake-sensing powers. A ton of people are invited to Lila’s party, and Bruce even has souvenir T-shirts made. Since the date of the party is on them, Jessica’s prediction better be right or no one will want a shirt, and she’ll have to deal with Bruce’s anger on top of everything else. Jess tries to put a stop to the party, but everyone wants earthcake, a cake Lila and Janet will decorate to look like Sweet Valley, then cut in half like it’s been split by an earthquake. I have to admit, that’s pretty clever.

Desperate for her prediction to come true, Jessica does an earthquake dance (a variation on a rain dance) before the party. This involves her hopping around her room, chanting, “Earthquake, earthquake, please come soon. If you don’t come, I’ll be ruined.” I have a feeling that if Lila and Janet saw this, they’d be satisfied with their revenge. Elizabeth sees Jess dancing and tries to cheer her up, noting that there’s a chance the aftershock will come just when she said.

At the party, Jessica frets that she’s going to be embarrassed in front of everyone. People are making a huge deal out of the aftershock – Aaron is even taking bets from people on what time it will occur. Jessica says it’ll happen at 8:30, so everyone spends the party checking the time. Bruce warns that if the aftershock doesn’t happen that night, Jess will have to pay for all his unsold shirts. Hey, Bruce, no one asked you to make shirts. That’s your own problem.

8:30 rolls around, and guess what? No earthquake. Jessica pretends that the vibes she was getting before were just off a little, but everyone’s lost interest. Jessica sulks off somewhere in the basement and takes a nap. As Lila brings the earthquake down to the party, the aftershock hits. Lila takes a header into the cake. Oh, sweet justice for Jess. Too bad she slept through the whole thing. (Fortunately, Amy takes a picture.)

In the B-plot, Steven’s new favorite band, the Katybugs, comes out with a video about animal cruelty and why people should be vegetarians. Steven’s so disturbed by the images and ideas that he reacts like Lisa in that Simpsons episode where she can’t eat lamb chops after seeing a lamb at a petting zoo. He gets very Dawn Schafer about the whole thing, annoying his family and friends with his self-righteousness.

In what I think might be an attempt to shove him out of his new habits by overloading him, Ned and Alice have the whole family adopt Steven’s new diet. The twins aren’t happy, though Elizabeth at least puts forth an effort. Steven quickly grows tired of his new self-imposed restrictions (the boy loves a bacon cheeseburger), but he knows he can’t back down, because his family and friends will call him out for being a hypocrite. Cathy tells him she understands his convictions, and she does what she can, but she’s not going to change her whole lifestyle just because some animals are cute.

Steven finally breaks down and decides to have some spaghetti and meatballs. But the earthquake hits and he drops the jar holding the sauce, ruining the last bit of non-healthy food in the house. The twins figure out what happened and follow him to Hughie’s Burger Shack (competition for the Dairi Burger? Oh, no!) after school. They catch him about to eat a burger and tease him about it. At this point he doesn’t really care anymore, and he agrees to stop trying to push his beliefs on other people if it means he can eat some meat.

The C-plot is connected to the A-plot: Elizabeth and Amy think they can only be true reporters if they experience something themselves, so they decide to stay up all night for a few nights in case the aftershock comes. That way, at least one of them will be able to write about it from first-hand experience. This leads to the girls falling asleep in school and even struggling to stay awake at Lila’s party. Of course, they’re awake for the aftershock, so they end up able to write their article without learning a lesson about responsible journalist procedures, or something.

Thoughts: These kids act like they’ve never experienced an earthquake before, but even if there hasn’t been one in Sweet Valley in 20 years, they can’t all have lived in S.V. their whole lives. None of them has ever been to L.A.? San Francisco? Any other freaking place in Southern California?

Alice has nothing to say about Elizabeth and Amy trying to stay up all night multiple nights in a row. I mean, of course.

Lloyd talks about “the magical terror of earthquakes.” Please get a life, Lloyd.

November 29, 2016

SVT #73, Lila’s Music Video: Another Dork Gets a Makeover

Posted in books tagged , , , at 5:03 pm by Jenn

Way to be discreet, Johanna

Way to be discreet, Johanna

Summary: Remember music videos? If not, the Unicorns are here to remind you. They’re hanging out at Lila’s house, watching a Melody Power video, and start dancing along. They decide to make their own video and enter it into [music TV station that isn’t MTV so don’t sue]’s School Days competition for teens. If they win, they can buy a new VCR for the school! Totally radical! Jessica’s never-consistent singing talents are currently present, so she wants to be the lead singer. But Lila has the practice space and the video camera, as well as the massive ego, so everyone is forced to let her sing lead.

The next step is to write an original song. Jessica can do the lyrics (okay, sure), but no one on the project can compose the music. Someone suggests Johanna Porter, a dork who happens to be a talented musician. Lila asks her to join the project, but Johanna declines. Lila’s shocked that someone would refuse to spend time with the coolest people in school. Johanna should be honored that someone like Lila Fowler would loser herself to even speak to her! Lila wears her down, though.

The first gathering of the music video-makers starts off horribly. No one seems to be in charge, and no one pays any attention to Johanna. Finally things start to come together, but then Lila pulls some of Jessica’s stunts from The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley, making excuses so she doesn’t have to sing. The others send Lila and Johanna off to work alone, and Lila confesses to Johanna that she can’t read music. This is the least of her problems, as Lila also can’t actually sing. Johanna can, though she’s too shy to sing in public. She agrees to work with Lila to get her voice into shape.

Lila practices a ton but doesn’t make any progress. Amazingly, she’s ready to admit defeat and concede the position of lead singer to Jessica. Then Jessica overhears Johanna telling her sister Julie that Lila can’t sing. Jess tries to get Lila to come clean, but Lila just gets mad and decides not to back down after all. She comes up with a new plan: She’ll lip-sync while Johanna sings off-stage.

Johanna doesn’t like the idea, so Lila says that Jessica found out about her lack of talent and is going to blackmail her into giving up her spot. Johanna caves and agrees to the plan. Things go so perfectly that they tape the video in only one take (okay, sure). Now that she doesn’t need Johanna anymore, Lila stops being friendly to her, which confuses the poor dork, since she thought Lila genuinely wanted to become friends.

Jessica’s suspicious, since Johanna said that Lila couldn’t sing. She watches the video over and over, looking for anything strange. She tries to get Elizabeth involved, but Liz has the flu and is barely in the book. Amy, however, is all excited for a mystery. She’s been bitten by the investigative-journalism bug and is itching to find something to expose for the Sixers. Meanwhile, the video wins first place in the School Days competition, and a [not MTV so seriously, don’t sue] VJ enters Lila in a new competition for young singers. Lila starts feeling really guilty about her lie.

Jess determines that Lila was lip-syncing in the video, and Amy publishes an exposé in the Sixers. But Johanna lies that she taught Lila to sing, and it really was her performing in the video. Jessica isn’t convinced, and when she hears Janet saying something to Kimberly about a secret, she starts to think that Janet’s behind whatever really happened.

Lila wins the second competition, of course, which means she’ll be performing on TV in L.A. She talks Johanna into pulling their lip-syncing stunt again, even though she knows it’ll be harder to do this time. She gives Johanna a makeover and tries to encourage her to have more self-confidence. I guess if you want to be more self-assured, Lila’s the right person to turn to.

While Jessica and Amy follow Janet to a super-top-secret appointment, Lila and Johanna head to L.A. in Mr. Fowler’s limo. They’re sidelined by a flat tire, so Lila decides that they should grab a bus. That’s right, Lila Fowler is willing to take public transportation. She snags her clothes on something and tells Johanna to make the driver wait while she untangles herself. Johanna practices having self-confidence by acting like Lila, which basically means being entitled. When the girls get to L.A., they realize they don’t have money for lunch or a cab to the studio, so Johanna sings with a guy playing guitar on a street corner to make some quick cash.

Back in Sweet Valley, Amy and Jessica spot Janet leaving an office building with something weird on her head. Since one of the companies in the building does something with radio satellites, they decide that Janet is going to sing there and transmit her voice to the TV studio so Lila can lip-sync. Janet admits that she’s actually wearing head gear and kept her orthodontist appointment secret so no one would know. For some reason, Amy and Jess find this harder to believe than the idea that Janet’s going to use a satellite to pull off a Milli Vanilli-style stunt.

In L.A., the studio won’t let Johanna go in with Lila, since her name isn’t on an approved list. It doesn’t matter how many times Lila insists that Johanna’s her hairstylist and absolutely has to come – only one girl can go in. So Lila convinces Johanna to go on in her place. Johanna overcomes her stage fright and gives an amazing performance (of course). People aren’t even really mad about the lie; they’re so impressed with Johanna that they quickly get over it. They realize that Johanna isn’t such a dork after all. So you see, kids? If you’re talented, everyone will like you! They certainly won’t use you, befriend you for five minutes, and then never speak to you again!

Thoughts: The Unicorns eat Ken & Harry’s ice cream and Amy gives Elizabeth a book called All the Emperor’s Tailors by Carl Birnbaum. Please kill me.

Amy does the same thing Elizabeth got in trouble for two books ago – she publishes an article without researching all sides of the story. What kind of trash publication is Mr. Bowman running?

Johanna gets her hair crimped and curled. That sounds like a disaster, and I’m so sad there’s no picture.

October 11, 2016

SVT #67, Jessica the Thief: American Swiper

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:54 pm by Jenn

I probably would have worn Jessica's skirt when I was her age

I probably would have worn Jessica’s skirt when I was her age

Summary: Veronica Brooks is settling in at SVMS, and she wants to become a Unicorn. Elizabeth is the only person who thinks Veronica is bad news. This is even after Veronica threatened to get even with Jessica at the end of the last book. The Unicorns haven’t yet invited Veronica to join them, possibly because right now they’re more interested in their newest accessories. Lila just got a Watchman (a watch/TV combo) and Ellen’s been allowed to wear her mother’s expensive hoop earrings to school.

At lunch, Ellen takes off her earrings (they’re heavy) and leaves them at the table while a bunch of the Unicorns go get cookies. Jessica and Veronica hang behind a little. When everyone gets back to the table, the earrings are missing. Then, at Boosters practice (which Veronica hangs around, since Bruce is also in the gym), Janet’s hairbrush and Lila’s newest Teenager magazine disappear. Veronica wonders if the same person took the magazine, hairbrush, and earrings. Jessica thinks the girls are all just bad at keeping track of their stuff.

Some of the girls chat about the disappearances in the bathroom, nicknaming the thief the Sweet Valley Swiper. Jessica admires Mandy’s new hat, which she got from a thrift store. By the way, everyone used to see Mandy’s style as low-class, but now she’s considered quirky and unique. She accidentally leaves the hat in the bathroom, and when she goes back to get it…well, of course it’s gone. The Sweet Valley Swiper strikes again!

Elizabeth fancies herself a detective, so she takes an interest in the case. She figures that since the hat was taken from the girls’ bathroom, the thief is probably a girl. Well, yeah – a guy probably isn’t going to steal earrings and a brush. Next, Mandy’s jacket vanishes. Ellen thinks her deodorant was also stolen, which leads to a lot of jokes about how she smells. There’s a pattern emerging beyond girls having their things taken – they’re all things Jessica has admired. Also, only the Unicorns have been victims of the thefts.

The pattern breaks when Veronica reports her notebook missing. The girls finally tell the principal, Mr. Clark, who promises to get the teachers to keep their eyes out. Elizabeth and Amy apparently solved mysteries together as kids, calling themselves the Snoopers, and they consider getting back together for one last case. How is this situation different from the other times they’ve teamed up to solve mysteries?

Lila gets her Watchman taken away in class, and when she goes to get it back from the teacher, it’s gone. I’m impressed that the thief was able to grab it without the teacher seeing. Later, Lila gets a note telling her she can find the Watchman in Jessica’s locker. Indeed, that’s where it is, though Jess has no idea how it got there. Half the Unicorns turn on her, thinking she’s the swiper. They want to oust her from the Unicorns and replace her with Veronica.

Even Elizabeth isn’t sure about her sister’s innocence. After all, Jessica borrowed her sweatshirt and lost it…or did she steal it? But Elizabeth thinks that Occam’s Razor is bull: The simplest explanation is that Jess is the thief, but that’s too easy. She’s probably being framed. Liz decides to focus on the note Lila got about the Watchman’s location, but she’s already thrown it out. Elizabeth recruits Amy to help her dig through the trash at school, which means Amy is a much better friend to Liz than I could ever be. Too bad they don’t find the note. Right now the only thing going in Jess’ favor is the fact that Aaron doesn’t think she’s the swiper.

Elizabeth sees the Unicorns hanging out with Veronica and thinks she’s cracked the case. She comes up with a multi-step plan to catch the swiper. First, Jessica pretends to be sick so she can stay home from school. Elizabeth goes to school as her twin, saying Liz is the one who’s sick. She chats with Veronica, telling her that Mandy still believes in Jessica’s innocence. The only thing that could make her turn on Jess is if her favorite rhinestone pin disappeared.

Guess what disappears not long after? Like Lila, Mandy gets a note telling her Jess took the pin. But Elizabeth announces that she’s not Jess, and that Jess isn’t even at school today, so there’s no way she could have taken the pin. Mandy calls Alice to confirm that Liz is who she says she is, getting confirmation when Jessica can’t spell “thief.” But even with Jess out of school, the pin is in her locker.

Elizabeth tells Mandy and Lila that she’s figured it out: Veronica is the thief. She framed Jessica to get her kicked out of the Unicorns. While Amy goes to get Mr. Clark, Elizabeth and Mandy stage a fight so Veronica will overhear. Veronica thinks Mandy’s mad at “Jessica” for stealing her pin, but the girls point out that they never mentioned a pin being missing. Mandy even says it’s not gone.

Elizabeth notes that only the thief would know it was missing. Veronica tries to blame Jessica, but Liz tells her that Jess isn’t at school. Mr. Clark checks Veronica’s locker, where all the missing things have been stashed. Jessica’s name is cleared, and Veronica’s suspended. Jess figures out that Veronica got her locker combination from a book she borrowed from Jess. The Unicorns, amazingly, feel horrible about the way they treated Jess, and they bring her ice cream as a peace offering. Also, Jess finds Elizabeth’s missing sweatshirt, proving once and for all that she may be a thoughtless sister, but she’s not a thief.

The B-plot is kind of entertaining. Steven and Joe take tests to see if they qualify for MEGA (the Mentally Gifted Association), the Sweet Valley-verse’s version (say that five times fast) of MENSA. Steven’s mailed results say he’s in the 99th percentile, the “genius intelligence quoshent [sic].” Steven thinks this is awesome, not just because it means he’s super-smart but also because Jess told him she would never tease him again if he got a genius score on the test.

Suddenly Steven has a new hobby: being an intellectual. He gets interested in tort law, chess, opera, and a Jeopardy-style TV show called Q&A. Even the twins are impressed with his ability to answer all the questions correctly. He gets Joe to watch a documentary about the mating habits of porcupines. Everyone finds him insufferable now, since he just wants to talk about high-brow things, and doesn’t even want to play basketball anymore.

On her day home “sick,” Jessica helps clean Steven’s room and does some detective work of her own. She finds a list of answers (or questions, I guess) from the episode of Q&A they watched, and realizes that he cheated – they watched a taped episode that Steven had already seen. Along with some other evidence proving that Steven isn’t, in fact, a genius, Jess is able to bust her brother.

Steven admits that he was playing a joke on Joe; he knew Joe made up the test results. Messing with the twins was just a bonus for Steven. Now he wants the girls to help him get payback. A bunch of the Wakefield kids’ friends come over, and Janet tells Jessica that Joe made up the test results to mess with Steven. Jessica pretends that Steven has no idea. Then Steven announces that his genius IQ makes him too smart for high school, so he’s going to drop out and try to get into Harvard. Joe tries to pretend that the test results were a mistake (there’s a guy out there named Steven Wokefield who doesn’t know he’s a genius), but Steven comes clean. Everyone’s amused by the whole thing.

Thoughts: A watch that you can watch TV on is so ahead of its time.

“When a crime seems too easy to solve, there’s probably a good reason.” And maybe the reason is that the criminal was too dumb to avoid getting caught.

Rick Hunter thought Jessica was too much of a klutz to be a thief. I don’t get that logic. She would have dropped the things she tried to steal? She would have tripped while taking them? Please explain yourself, Rick.

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.

September 13, 2016

SVT #64, The Charm School Mystery: Don’t You Know By Now That Elizabeth Is Always Right?

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

This isn't suspicious at all

This isn’t suspicious at all

Summary: For some reason, a bunch of girls at SVMS are excited to learn that a charm school is opening in Sweet Valley. I’m not sure I even knew what a charm school was when I was 12. No, wait, I knew about it from A League of Their Own. The school is run by a Ms. Monique Beaumont, who has come all the way to little Sweet Valley from Switzerland. She wants to teach her students about all of Europe’s beautiful things and how to live gracefully, or something. She’s also opening an art gallery. She’s working with her husband, as well as a guy named Richard. They have different accents but supposedly both hail from Switzerland.

While the Unicorns are thrilled about the charm school, Elizabeth, Amy, and Maria don’t see the point. I guess Elizabeth already has enough charm. Maria’s cool with or without it. Amy’s hopeless either way, so why bother? Besides, girls have to be invited in order to attend. And first, their parents are invited to the opening of the art gallery, which will allow the Beaumonts to see what kinds of families live in Sweet Valley. Poorer families like the Millers and McCormicks are overlooked.

Ned and Alice go to the opening with Jessica, while Elizabeth and Amy hang out at home. Elizabeth wants them to put their hair in beehives, the style that was all the rage when Alice was in school. They look at one of Alice’s high school yearbooks and spot a girl named Margaret Rudenthaler who looks an awful lot like Ms. Beaumont. Meanwhile, Jessica realizes that the Beaumonts have only invited rich families to the gallery opening (which makes sense to her, since poorer families aren’t going to buy any art). She gives Ms. Beaumont the names of a couple more girls to invite to charm school. Later, Elizabeth asks Alice about Margaret, but Margaret didn’t spend a lot of time in Sweet Valley, so Alice doesn’t remember her much.

Maria (whose family went to the opening even though she’s not going to charm school) tells Elizabeth that her sister Nina chatted with Ms. Beaumont in French but told Maria that her accent sounded strange. Maria chalks this up to Ms. Beaumont being Swiss, not French. That night, Elizabeth sees a newspaper article about phony art and antiques, and she starts to get the idea that the Beaumonts are conning everyone in Sweet Valley. Keep in mind that at this point she has absolutely no evidence of this. But she, Amy, and Maria are suspicious enough to decide they need to attend charm school and gather more information.

How to do so when they’ve told their parents they’re not interested? Convince their parents that they need some charm. Maria’s on her worst behavior at a dinner with one of her mother’s clients, and her punishment is charm school. Amy acts overly clumsy, which would make me think she had a neurological disorder if she were my daughter, but what do I know? Elizabeth pretends to let Jessica change her mind about going, and somehow, no one’s suspicious.

Charm school is just as awesome as the other girls (read: the Unicorns) hoped. At the end of the classes, someone will get the Mademoiselle Manners/Queen of Charm award, which means wearing a tiara and having bragging rights. Jessica and Janet each think they’re a lock for the award, and they decide to make a bet. Whichever of them doesn’t win has to curtsy to the other for a week. No word on what happens if neither of them wins.

Because Europe is full of beautiful things, and Ms. Beaumont wants the Sweet Valley girls to recognize the beautiful things in their own lives, she tells them to write down all the expensive things in their homes for homework. Sure, that sounds completely unsuspicious. Then the girls work on their posture by walking around with books on their heads. Jessica and Janet bicker, then act overly gracious and polite to each other so they don’t risk losing their chances at the Queen of Charm award.

Jessica and Lila work on their homework assignments together, though Jessica has trouble completing hers, since her family doesn’t have a lot of fancy, expensive stuff. Really, all they have is Alice’s jewelry and some things her ancestors brought over from Sweden. Richard arrives with a painting Mr. Fowler bought from the Beaumonts’ gallery, and Jessica tries to impress him by telling him about all the expensive things the Wakefields have. According to her, they’re about three times richer than the Fowlers. She’s so caught up in her lie that she doesn’t see the cartoon dollar signs in Richard’s eyes.

At the next class, Ms. Beaumont expresses concern over how the Wakefields safeguard all the fabulous things in their home. Jessica has apparently forgotten all her lies already, so she tells Ms. Beaumont that they just keep Alice’s jewelry in an old tennis shoe. The best hiding place I’ve ever heard of is a plastic bag under the liner in a litterbox. No burglar is going to look there. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is goofing off in class, so Ms. Beaumont tells her to stop wasting everyone’s time. She humiliates Liz in front of the rest of the class, causing her to run off in tears.

Really, though, Elizabeth is just taking advantage of the situation to check out the Beaumonts’ office. She doesn’t have much time to look around, but she does overhear Mr. Beaumont on the phone, talking about how Mr. Fowler isn’t suspicious about his new painting. He pretty much confirms that the charm school is just a front so he and “Margaret” can pull some con. So Elizabeth thinks she’s right about Monique being Margaret, and about the Beaumonts selling fake art.

Elizabeth shares the news with Amy and Maria, who agree to help her gather more evidence to take to the police. They sneak back into the office and learn that the antiques Alice bought from the gallery for a design client are fakes. Ouch. Liz tries to warn her mother, but Ned and Alice dismiss her suspicions.

As a plan B, Liz asks her art teacher about authenticating paintings. Then she has Maria call Mr. Beaumont, pretending to be Alice, to ask him to meet her at the Fowlers’ to help her get some ideas for a design client. “Alice” also calls Mr. Fowler to ask if she can come over that weekend, and Alice (as Ms. Beaumont) to get her to show up as well. Everyone shows up at the Fowlers’ as they’re supposed to, and Elizabeth announces that she thinks the Beaumonts are crooks who sold Mr. Fowler a fake painting. Unfortunately, she’s wrong – a museum curator she called comes and authenticates the painting.

Elizabeth, Amy, and Maria are all in trouble with their parents for their stunt, and Elizabeth is even told she can’t read Amanda Howard mysteries for a year, since they’re making her so suspicious. Since Jessica and Lila were present during the accusations at the Fowlers’, they gleefully spread word to the school, and Elizabeth becomes a laughingstock. She still thinks the Beaumonts are up to something, though, and she’s not about to give up her investigation.

Elizabeth sneaks into the office again and overhears the Beaumonts talking…with American accents. They’re thrilled that everything is going as planned. During the big, fancy dinner the charm students are attending with their families to celebrate the end of classes, Mr. Beaumont and Richard will rob their houses. Since the girls so helpfully provided the Beaumonts lists of their expensive belongings, the cons know exactly who has what, and where it is. One house in particular has them very eager to get on with things. The Beaumonts know Elizabeth is suspicious, so Monique is going to give her the Queen of Charm award, which will somehow keep her from interfering with their plans.

Now Elizabeth has more than enough evidence to convince her friends that she was right about the Beaumonts…but they don’t want to listen to her anymore. Jessica’s especially skeptical since Liz says the Beaumonts plan to give her the Mademoiselle Manners award. Elizabeth notes that if they do, Jess will have to believe the rest of her claims, so Jessica agrees to help her out of Liz gets the award. They come up with a plan.

Steven pretends to have a headache so he can stay home while the other Wakefields go to the dinner. I thought this would mean he’d catch the robbers in the act, but it doesn’t really serve a purpose. Elizabeth does, indeed, get the title of Mademoiselle Manners (Ms. Beaumont claims that it’s because she made so much progress in a short amount of time), so Jessica realizes that Liz’s suspicions were right.

The twins enact their plan, with Jessica pretending to be devastated over losing the award. When Elizabeth goes to “comfort” her, Jessica puts on Liz’s clothes and returns to the dinner as Elizabeth, pretending Jess is too upset to see anyone. Elizabeth heads off to the Fowlers’, thinking she’ll be able to catch Mr. Beaumont and Richard in the act there and call the police on them. Jessica brings Amy and Maria in on things, telling them to make sure one of them is by a pay phone in the building every 20 minutes. If Elizabeth doesn’t call, she’s in trouble.

Elizabeth follows Mr. Beaumont and Richard around town, but they don’t stop at any of the houses Liz thinks they will. She can’t figure out which family they think has the most things to steal. Meanwhile, Jessica goes back and forth between being herself and pretending to be Elizabeth so no one wonders where Liz is. Her parents are dumb enough to fall for this.

After this goes on for about an hour, Elizabeth makes a pit stop at the Wakefields’ to call the payphone and give Maria or Amy an update. She catches Steven leaving with a friend and overhears him saying that the same van has driven past a bunch of times. Somehow, Liz doesn’t get that this means Mr. Beaumont and Richard are targeting their house. While she’s calling Maria, the robbers show up and lock Liz in a closet. They decide to take her with them when they head to Mexico (to pull their con again), so she can’t rat them out.

Maria tells Jessica and Amy that something happened while she was on the phone with Liz, and she thinks Elizabeth is in trouble. Jessica figures out that the robbers broke into the Wakefields’ house, thinking they could steal a bunch of nonexistent treasures. Fortunately, Elizabeth has the real treasures (Alice’s jewelry) in her hands. Her sister and friends call the police, who arrive just before Elizabeth can be spirited away to Mexico.

Jessica uses her acceptance speech as Mademoiselle Manners to call out Ms. Beaumont for being a criminal. She also takes the opportunity to boast to Janet that she’s Jess, not Elizabeth, so she wound up with the Queen of Charm crown after all (sort of). The Wakefields are upset that Elizabeth took such a big risk, but they’re proud of her for taking down some criminals. I guess the ban on Amanda Howard books is off?

Thoughts: “We also hope that Sweet Valley will learn to appreciate the art of gracious living.” The what now?

“I have been in countries far, far away where your head would be cut off if you tripped and fell in front of their queen.” Westeros?

If all the mysteries Elizabeth has read turned her into a good detective, then that book I once read about brain surgery should come in REALLY handy.

Imagine coming up with this whole big con and getting outsmarted by some 12-year-olds. Imagine having to live that down in prison.

August 23, 2016

SVT #61, Jessica the Nerd: A Girl Who’s Good at Science? What Kind of Bizarro World Is This??

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

Nothing says nerd like an E=MC2 shirt

Nothing says nerd like an E=MC2 shirt

Summary: A new program called SOAR! (Science Offers Awesome Rewards) is coming to SVMS to offer some students two weeks of science, science, and more science, AKA my worst nightmare. The students all take an aptitude test to determine who gets to miss regular classes for all the science-y goodness (i.e., the smart kids) and who has to miss out on beakers and microscopes and frog dissections (i.e., the losers). Jessica has no interest in this and figures only the nerds will get into SOAR!.

She’s wrong. Yes, all the known SVMS nerds score high enough to get in, but Jessica does as well. She’s shocked – though the questions on the aptitude test were more like puzzles than test questions, she hates science. Amy is also shocked, and upset that she didn’t get in, since she loves science. Janet’s crush, Denny Jacobson, gets in but Janet doesn’t consider him a nerd. Only girls who like science are nerds. Well, and nerdy guys. Janet has very strict qualifications for who is and who isn’t a nerd.

The Unicorns vow to help Jessica get out of the program, but their ideas are all dumb, and Jess has to go to the first SOAR! class. The teacher, Mr. Baker, is like Bill Nye and David Tennant’s Doctor rolled into one. He teaches through fun experiments like finding out which of two water balloons (one small, one big) will fall on the twins’ heads first. Jessica’s surprised to find herself enjoying it, even with all the school’s nerds around. Of course, she won’t admit that to the Unicorns.

Janet can’t believe that Aaron doesn’t think Jessica’s a nerd for scoring well on the test. She thinks Jess should downplay her basketball knowledge because guys don’t like it when girls know more about something than they do. $5 says Janet was a Rules girl in the ’90s. Mary clarifies that Janet thinks Jessica should dumb herself down so a guy will like her. Well, of course.

As things in SOAR! get more fun, and Jessica gets recognition for saying smart things, the Unicorns get more and more annoyed. She’s spending so much time with the nerds that she misses Unicorn meetings and Boosters practices. How dare she talk about life on Venus when she could be watching music videos and painting her nails! Amy’s also getting more and more upset, since all the nerds are having such a good time without her.

The Unicorns come up with a plan to get Jessica out of SOAR!: They start a rumor that she cheated on the aptitude test. Jessica is horrified when the principal accuses her of cheating, and even offers to retake the test. He backs off and doesn’t bring it up again, so it’s kind of a waste of a plot. The Unicorns can’t believe that Jessica didn’t take advantage of her chance to get out of SOAR! Then Janet gets even madder when Denny strikes up a conversation with Jessica. She announces that Jessica has to choose between SOAR! and the Unicorns. (Never mind that SOAR! is mandatory, or that it’ll be over in just a few more days.)

Jessica confides in Elizabeth that she’s been enjoying SOAR! and has realized the nerds aren’t so bad after all. In fact, she has some things in common with them. She’s worried that she really is a nerd. After Jessica misses a basketball game because she’s planting a tree with the class, she tells Mr. Baker all about her problems. He helps her come up with some ideas for how to win over the Unicorns.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth, Sophia, and Maria (all of whom are in SOAR!) decide to have a sleepover so Amy will know they still want to be friends with her. Amy ditches them because she’s a whiny baby. You couldn’t pay me to go back to the drama of middle-school friendships. They’re probably better off without Amy pouting all over their sleepover.

Jessica tries to make up with the Unicorns by pointing out how much they use science, especially electricity. Mandy even chimes in, noting that medical science saved her life when she had the world’s shortest battle with cancer. The Unicorns are sold, but Janet remains stubborn. Since Jessica won’t give up science, she’s out of the club. This is a fate worse than death, of course.

But Mandy comes by the Wakefields’ to tell Jessica that Janet’s just upset because she thinks Denny likes Jess. She thinks that if Janet knew that Jess doesn’t like Denny, things will go back to normal. Jessica takes it upon herself to approach Denny, who makes it clear that he doesn’t want to date Jess. But he was thinking about asking out Janet, so he’s happy to hear from Jessica that Janet likes him, too.

Just when it looks like Janet will get a boyfriend and basically be forced to back down from Jessica, Janet does an actual mature thing. She tells Jessica that a recent struggle with the family VCR made her realize that boys aren’t the only people good at science. Her father and brother told her not to try to fix the VCR since girls aren’t science-y (Joe? Sexist? No!), but then they couldn’t fix it either. Now Janet knows that your gender doesn’t determine your scientific aptitude.

So Jessica’s allowed back in the club. She gets a little revenge on Janet with some makeup that turns to mud, but since Janet ends up with Denny, I don’t think she’s too mad about it. Amy randomly gets over her issues by performing an awesome baton routine. I’m not sure what the connection is, but she stops moping, so I’ll take it.

In the B-plot, Steven is a huge sexist. He thinks guys are better than girls at science and sports, especially ping pong. The Wakefields have just gotten a ping pong table, and Steven’s obsessed. He gets upset when Cathy beats him, because girls aren’t supposed to be good at stuff like that. They have a rematch, and when Steven wins, he becomes unsufferable. Cathy secretly tells the twins that she let him win so he’d stop moping. But the bragging is worse than the pouting, and Jess ends up telling Steven the truth. After another rematch, which Cathy wins, Steven calms down. Yay, sexism is over!

Thoughts: This book isn’t exactly the best way to let girls know it’s okay to like science, but it’s a start.

“I wish I’d never taken that test. I could have gone my whole life without knowing I was smart.” Jessica Wakefield, ladies and gentlemen.

Ellen once tried to get out of doing a project on fruit flies by saying she was allergic to bananas. Sounds about right.

“You are smart. I mean, it’s only natural. You’re my twin, after all.” I wish Elizabeth were smart enough to shut up.

June 28, 2016

SVT #56, The Wakefields Strike It Rich: Why Don’t My Relatives Ever Want to Give Me Money for No Reason?

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

This is so dorky, it almost comes all the way back around to cool

This is so dorky, it almost comes all the way back around to cool

Summary: The twins and Steven are hanging out with their friends after school, not wanting to go home because they know their parents will ask them to clean the house again. Jessica only has 50 cents on her and has to ask to borrow $2 from Lila to cover her sundae at Casey’s. Only $2.50 for a sundae? I miss the ’90s. Lila gives her a hard time because Jess never has any money and always asks her rich BFF for a loan. Well, Lila, you can stop giving her money any time. Let her learn to make sure she has enough before she tries to buy something.

Aunt Helen is in Sweet Valley for a visit, and she’s brought a big surprise: She wants to give each of the Wakefield kids $100. The kids are amazed, having never had that much money before. Jessica immediately boasts about her new riches to her friends, then buys them all ice cream at Casey’s. The girls next go to a Claire’s-type store, and Jess treats them to bracelets, posters, shirts, and other things preteen girls spend their babysitting money on. After just a couple days, she’s down to just $15. That’s pretty impressive. When her friends want to go back to the mall, Jess comes up with excuses not to go, which makes Lila realize she’s out of money.

The next time Jess goes shopping with her friends, she keeps her money to herself. Her friends are a little miffed, but really, if you can’t afford a $4 necklace, KIMBERLY, that’s your own problem. Jessica pretends that she enjoyed being so generous with her money, since Lila never is. What’s nice is that the Unicorns get her some earrings to thank her for spending her money on them, so they’re not completely selfish. Then they all go to Casey’s again, and Jessica’s back to having no money, so she has to borrow another $2 from Lila. Heh.

Elizabeth, our more responsible twin, first decides to put at least some of Aunt Helen’s money toward a new camera. Then she does exactly what I would do with $100 – she goes to the bookstore. She gets the new Amanda Howard and learns that Ms. Howard herself will be at the store the next day and can sign it.

But reading a mystery puts Elizabeth in investigator mode, and she starts to think there’s something fishy about the circumstances of Aunt Helen’s presents and the fact that she has a broken arm but won’t tell anyone what happened. Liz overhears Helen talking to Ned about a court case and possibly being sued. She gets a super-special delivery but won’t open the envelope in front of anyone. Chatting with Amanda Howard makes Liz think there’s a mystery to be solved, since there are mysteries all around us.

Liz gets more suspicious when she catches Aunt Helen crying. Helen says she’s just upset about the death of her favorite soap character. She was present when another character was killed for witnessing a crime, and the gangsters killed her to keep her quiet. What’s funny is that Elizabeth says the character might not really be dead, since presumed-dead soap characters often come back, but Aunt Helen – who’s watched the show for 20 years – says the character must be dead because they just had her funeral. Helen. Sweetie. No.

Anyway, Liz consults with Amy, who thinks Helen is a spy. Okay, Amy. Liz gets Amy to snoop through Helen’s things, but she doesn’t find any clues. The girls find a picture of a man in Helen’s purse and wonder if he’s threatening her. After watching a movie about a mob hit, Liz and Amy think Helen is being targeted by gangsters. Freaking A, girls. They rush home to protect Helen, because if mobsters are afraid of anyone, it’s 12-year-old girls. (Not that the mob exists. It doesn’t. Tony Soprano was in waste management and had no other sources of income.)

Now that Elizabeth is flinging around wild accusations, Helen decides to just explain what really happened. She broke her arm in a car accident and has been having trouble getting her insurance company to pay up. They claim that she hasn’t paid them, and she’s worried about having to go to court to prove that she did. The man in the picture is her boyfriend. There’s no real explanation of why Helen suddenly handed out $300, though. Liz is like, “Whatever, I’m still going to say I solved a mystery.”

Steven has a big crush on a new girl, Jill Hale. Jill clearly doesn’t like him like that, and seems to prefer Steven’s best friend, Joe Howell (Janet’s older brother). Awww, Joe and Jill even have the same initials. It’s like they’re meant to be. Steven’s annoyed that Jill pays more attention to Joe when they’re all together, so he decides to ask Jill out on a date for some one-on-one time. He really wants to wow her, so he buys her gold earrings (which, by the way, can’t be returned).

Jessica takes an interest in her brother’s love life, giving him advice and a magazine article with ideas on what to do on his date with Jill. Steven finally calls Jill to actually ask her on the date. Her response: “[long pause] I guess that would be okay.” Awww, true love. Steven treats the whole thing like they’re going to prom – he gets Jill a corsage, finds a fancy French restaurant for them to go to, and even puts on a tie. If he had enough money, he’d probably rent a limo, but he goes with a cab instead.

The date is…not great. Jill puts forth a good effort, acting really nice even though she clearly doesn’t want to be more than friends with Steven, but he has a miserable time. First, she makes him dance. Then he worries about money. Then he discovers that Jill has the same earrings he bought her, and is even wearing them on the date.

Is if that weren’t bad enough, the bill is $50 (which is pretty low for what’s supposed to be such an elegant place), and Steven only has $45 with him. He would have had $10 more but Jessica asked for a fee for helping him get ready for the date. Steven has to ask Jill for some money, which is pretty embarrassing, and has to get a ride home from her father, since he doesn’t have cab fare anymore, which is even more embarrassing. I don’t think Jill will be going out with him again.

Thoughts: “If the girl who had written this article had liked it enough to call it a ‘dream date,’ wouldn’t Jill?” Yes, Steven. All girls like all the same exact things.

Aunt Helen: (visits family, keeps secrets, gives the kids money). Amy: “She’s a spy!” Try again, Ames.

Elizabeth is okay with searching Helen’s room and suitcase, but not her purse. Why draw the line there?

Jill: “I love dancing. Of course, my favorite kind is square dancing.” Yes, of course. That’s a really sophisticated girl you like there, Steven.

Next page