March 21, 2017
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!”
March 14, 2017
Summary: Apparently no one at SVMS is familiar with Romeo and Juliet, arguably Shakespeare’s most famous play, so Mr. Bowman is going to change that. Only instead of just reading the play in class, the students will be acting out some of the scenes. After some confusion where Mr. Bowman says that Shakespeare’s language is musical, and Jess thinks the play is a musical, everyone’s excited about doing something new. Jessica and Lila both want to play Juliet, and they make a bet where whichever of them doesn’t get the part has to wear fake warts (meant to be for whoever plays Juliet’s nurse) for a week. Sadly, this does not lead to a scene where neither girl gets the role and both have to wear the warts.
Jess prepares for her audition by reading Juliet’s scenes over and over at home, until everyone in the house has memorized all the lines. But then Jessica comes down with the cold/flu (the ghostwriter seems to think these are interchangeable) that’s been spreading through the school, and the day of the first auditions, she can barely speak. Alice deems Jessica too sick to go to school, and she misses all of the audition days. Desperate for the part, and especially desperate to keep Lila from getting it, Jessica talks Liz into auditioning as her.
At first Elizabeth isn’t that excited about the scheme, but when she realizes that she can’t let Lila win, she really gets into it. Her audition is great, and everyone responds like she just gave a Tony-worthy performance. Liz quickly remembers that Jessica is technically the star here, as everyone thinks that’s who she is. Elizabeth wants the part for herself, though, and Jessica refuses to give it to her.
Instead of going to Mr. Bowman to say there was a mix-up and she’s the rightful Juliet, Elizabeth just pretends to be Jessica at rehearsals and takes her role. The girls fight over the part, and Jessica wins the first round by locking Liz in a bathroom. Diabolical! Jessica gets her back by blowing pepper at her during dinner so Ned and Alice will think she caught Jess’ cold and keep her home from school. This doesn’t work, and just makes Elizabeth madder and more vicious. Like, she dresses like Jess, then rips Jessica’s shirt so she can’t go on stage to rehearse.
Lila figures things out and agrees to let Jessica out of their wart bet (which I guess is back in play because technically Jessica didn’t win the role) if Jess gives her a chance, as Jess’ understudy, to appear on stage during the big performance. In exchange, Lila will help Jessica ensure that Elizabeth can’t take her place. She has two costumes from a professional production, and she’ll make sure both are kept under lock and key so Liz can’t steal one. Jess isn’t happy about having to give Lila a chance to shine on stage, but it’s worth it to keep her role, not to mention keep herself from having to wear warts.
The night of the performance, Jessica schemes to keep Liz out of the way by dosing her with cold medicine before the show, so she’ll be too drowsy to perform. Meanwhile, Elizabeth works with Amy and Maria to create a diversion and get Jessica out of the way so Liz can take her place backstage. Even Lila is fooled, easily handing over one of the costumes. When Jess finds out that Liz has already gotten her hands on a dress, she gives Mandy (the stage manager) a soda with cold medicine in it. Mandy gives it to Amy, who ends up giving it to Todd (who’s playing Romeo), since he needs something to soothe a tickle in his throat.
Jessica manages to be the first Juliet to make it onstage, but Elizabeth lies in wait by the balcony to beat her up there for the next scene. The two start trying to physically pull each other off the set. The audience doesn’t seem to catch on that something weird is going on, and they definitely don’t notice that Juliet is being played by two girls.
When it’s time for the big death scene, which Elizabeth is in place for, Todd falls asleep while playing dead. His understudy is out sick, so Amy gets Jessica to play Romeo for the final scene. It goes great, but the twins are immediately busted after the show, and Mr. Bowman is TICKED. He threatens to give them both Fs for the week, but ultimately agrees to punish them by making them wear the fake warts for a day. Somehow, Elizabeth gets away with not having to undergo a psych evaluation for her out-of-character behavior through the book.
Thoughts: Everyone at SVMS seems awfully excited about a performance that’s just for one class. Though Janet’s involved, so I’m not sure what’s going on here.
How do the Wakefield kids ever make it to school when Alice considers keeping them home every time they sneeze?
No girls want to play the nurse, because of the warts, so Dennis Cookman takes the role. Beautiful.
February 7, 2017
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.”
January 31, 2017
Summary: Janet’s birthday is coming up, and for the Unicorns, that’s basically on the same level as a national holiday. Ellen is determined to throw her birthday party and organize the planning and purchasing of her gift. Jessica’s mad because she wants that honor (not to mention the awesome hostess gift Janet will give her in return), but since Steven has been hogging the phone so much to talk to Cathy, it’s hard for her to call the other Unicorns or be let in on their plans. Ellen thinks they should get Janet a gift certificate for a psychic reading. Janet, Betsy, and Kimberly have recently become beatniks, so the girls’ usual ideas for gifts for Janet are things she’s no longer interested in.
Ellen gets right to the party planning by calling a bunch of the Unicorns and asking them to support her plan to have the party at her house. She’s very invested in this and works on it harder than probably anything else she’s ever worked on. Jessica tries to stage a coup and get the Unicorns to agree to have the party at her house instead, but even the Wakefields’ pool doesn’t sway them.
Jess sees an ad for three-way calling and gets excited about the possibility of having mini-conference calls with her friends. Ned won’t pay for it, so Jess recruits Elizabeth to help her stage a chaotic situation that would be eased with three-way calling. The girls are working on group projects for history, and they make Ned keep calling the houses where they’re working so he can arrange their rides home. After very little work, Ned cracks and gets the three-way calling. I don’t know why Jessica doesn’t ask for her own phone line instead. Then she wouldn’t have to deal with Steven hogging the phone all the time.
Ellen scores another win when Janet asks her to host and run a Unicorn meeting she can’t attend. I’m surprised they have meetings when Janet can’t come. Janet strikes me as the type who doesn’t want people hanging out without her. Jessica has to miss the meeting as well, which thrills Ellen, since they’re going to vote on where Janet’s party will be held. The meeting doesn’t go great, not least because Ellen’s father crashes it, wearing a hat with an octopus on it, and embarrasses his daughter. But the Unicorns vote to have the party at Ellen’s, so she’s happy.
Mandy calls Jessica that night to tell her about the vote. She admits that she wanted to have the party at the Wakefields’, since Ellen’s father will be grilling at Janet’s party, and he’s not great with barbecuing. The last time he did, Mandy almost choked on a dry hot dog. Since the three-way calling is up and running, Jess brings Ellen into the conversation to find out what to bring to the party. Ellen’s suddenly become disorganized again and can’t remember what Jess was supposed to be in charge of. The two of them fight and Mandy hangs up, not wanting to deal with their drama.
Jessica calls Lila, and once she’s clarified things, Jess hangs up on Ellen and complains to Lila about how annoying Ellen is, and how Mr. Riteman almost gave Mandy food poisoning. Except she’s still getting the hang of three-way calling and doesn’t hang up on Ellen properly, so Ellen hears her. Lila hangs up for real, so Jess and Ellen can fight in peace, but they easily make up. Lila doesn’t know this, though, and she tells Belinda about Jessica’s accusation about Mr. Riteman. The two of them wonder if they should still have Janet’s party at Ellen’s house.
Belinda then tells Grace that Mandy had food poisoning, and Grace tells Tamara that Ellen’s father poisoned Mandy. The whole thing turns into a big game of Telephone, with Mandy’s condition slowly growing worse. Kimberly mentions her aunt, a teacher, having food poisoning once, and Betsy misunderstands and tells Mary that Mr. Riteman poisoned a teacher. The tale gets back to Belinda, who now thinks Mr. Riteman poisoned both Mandy and the teacher. They tell Lila that Mr. Riteman was in jail for attempted murder.
Jessica’s oblivious to the whole thing until Kimberly and Betsy tell her. She realizes the rumor stems from her fight with Ellen, and she confronts Lila, who says she only told one person about it. Jess is ready to set the record straight when the other Unicorns decide to revote on the location of Janet’s party. They want it at the Wakefields’ instead. Jess thinks this is more important than clearing up a rumor, so she doesn’t say anything. Kimberly gives Ellen the news that the party is no longer at her house because of what her father did. Ellen thinks she means wearing the dorky octopus hat.
Janet’s the first person to mention to Ellen that everyone thinks her father’s a murderer (the rumor has now expanded so that Mr. Riteman is a serial killer). Ellen’s shocked at the accusation; her father has never even gotten a speeding ticket. She even calls her dad to get him to tell Janet that he’s not a killer. Janet realizes that someone has started a vicious rumor about Ellen, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.
The school projects the kids have been working on are about the Cold War era, and Elizabeth has been teamed with Lila and not-yet-dead Olivia. They get the idea to talk to Mrs. Harrington about her experiences in Hollywood during blacklisting. Liz realizes how much damage was done to people’s careers simply because others spread rumors about them. Jessica’s like, “Yeah, I get it, I get it.”
Janet believes that Mandy started the rumor about Mr. Riteman, so she kicks her out of the Unicorns. Poor Mandy. She just wanted an edible hot dog, that’s all! Grace, Mary, and Belinda are appalled at Janet’s actions and side with Mandy. The other Unicorns shun Mandy for being a traitor. Jessica tries to make peace between the two groups, but each side accuses her of being a spy for the other.
Elizabeth helps Jessica come up with a plan to work everything out. No, it doesn’t involve just confessing that she accidentally started a rumor. They use three-way calling to let Lila overhear Elizabeth telling Olivia that Johnny Buck is going to make a surprise appearance at Janet’s party. Then Jess has Mandy overhear the same thing. The rumor spreads through both groups, picking up more and more exaggerations as it moves. Eventually one side thinks Johnny Buck is going to play Janet a special song at the party, and the other thinks he’s moving to Sweet Valley.
Everyone shows up to the party excited for Johnny Buck but trying to act like they don’t know he’s coming, since it’s supposed to be a surprise. Jessica breaks the news that it was all a rumor they let get out of control. Everyone realizes how ridiculous they’ve been, and they all make up. (I guess Mandy’s let back in the club, too.) Jessica actually feels bad for Ellen and gives her Janet’s hostess gift, which is a book of poems neither of them wants anyway. Lila uses the experience in her, Liz, and Olivia’s presentation on McCarthyism and how rumors can ruin lives. I’m sure these girls will never gossip again…
There’s also a pointless not-even-good-enough-to-be-considered-a-B-plot where Alice has a difficult client. No one cares.
Thoughts: Ellen is more pathetic than she usually comes across. She’s desperate to be liked and prove her worth. I’d feel sorrier for her if she weren’t so annoying.
All of the Unicorns decided to wear gold and white to school one day (in honor of Johnny Buck’s new album, Gold Heart), but Jessica didn’t get the message. She wore purple as usual, so the other girls made her sit at the end of their lunch table “so she wouldn’t wreck the color scheme.” That is some Mean Girls craziness right there.
Janet: “When you think of the ocean, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” Jessica: “Um, food?” Janet: “Food.” Jessica: “Yeah, everything makes me think of food.” I guess Jess and I aren’t so different after all.
The SVMS spring musical CANNOT be Hair. There’s no freaking way.
Ellen’s father is peak embarrassing dad and I love him.
January 24, 2017
Summary: Once again, it’s spring break in Sweet Valley, so the twins, Steven, and a couple friends are spending time at the beach. The twins decide to go snorkeling, and Jessica suggests that they explore a part of the beach they’re supposed to stay away from. Elizabeth comes across what looks like a shipwreck and takes a couple of keepsakes from the bottom of the ocean. Back on land, they run into a man who’s staring out at the water and generally being a little creepy.
The twins want to keep up their ocean exploration, so they decide to take scuba lessons. They find a teacher and get Steven, Joe, Amy, Lila, and Janet interested in his class. The teacher happens to be the man the twins saw on the beach, Joshua Farrell. He’s Scottish and talks like a stereotypical Scotsman (“aye,” “lass,” etc.). Some of the kids who signed up for lessons are unsure about hanging out with Joshua, but Steven thinks his experience will give them a better…well, experience.
Liz throws away something she got from the ocean, unable to tell what it is, since it’s covered in barnacles. The next day, the twins get chain letters talking about a curse from someone named Carlotta. If they don’t forward letters to six people, they’ll be punished for taking half of something that’s not theirs. Any reader over the age of five can figure out what that means, but Liz doesn’t put 2 and 2 together that the thing she took from the ocean and then threw away is the “half of something.” Jess quickly writes the letters, but Elizabeth dismisses the threat of a “curse.”
Lila receives one of Jessica’s letters, but she can’t forward her own because her dad’s secretary is out of town, and she does all of Lila’s correspondence for her. Lila doesn’t even write her own thank-you notes. So Elizabeth and Lila are both facing a curse. Liz is rewarded with a nightmare about being on a pirate ship during a storm. Two men swordfight, and she realizes one of them looks like Joshua.
The kids head to the beach to meet Joshua for their first scuba lesson. At first they can’t find him, and Liz gets spooked by an empty wetsuit that seems to be moving on its own. But the lesson starts and everything goes fine, except for Lila, who loses a watch. Her day gets worse as she falls down the stairs at home, rips her robe, and breaks a nail. She figures she’s suffering from the curse and needs to get her letters written right away. She uses her father’s computer without his permission, but she’s so unfamiliar with modern (well, modern in the ’90s) technology that she basically breaks it.
At the next scuba lesson, it’s Elizabeth’s turn to have a bad day. When she looks at Joshua underwater, it seems like there’s no face behind his diving mask. Liz is so stunned that she passes out and almost drowns. Everyone tells Liz (very nicely) that she doesn’t have to continue the lessons if she doesn’t want to, and no one will think any less of her. Liz, to her credit, wants to keep going with them.
Lila’s still having a rough week, as she accidentally emailed her chain letter to everyone at her father’s company. I’m impressed that they all have email. On the bright side, she’s sent more than her requisite six letters, so she’s no longer in danger of being cursed. Liz, however, still is. She has another dream about the ship, this time featuring Joshua’s swordfighting opponent, a man with a red beard. He seems to be in love with a woman on the ship. Joshua’s supposed to be manning a post on deck, but he leaves it.
A scorpion winds up in Elizabeth’s lunch bag one day, so everyone thinks she’s cursed. She still won’t write the letters, because she’s Elizabeth. One of Lila’s letters was received by a man named John Filber, who tracks down the twins (totally not cool, guy), having gotten their address from the Fowlers’ cook (TOTALLY not cool, cook). He wants them to come to the beach with him so he can show them something. Surprisingly, Jessica’s the one who immediately says no, but the twins do agree to meet him there the next day.
John shows them something shiny caught in some coral under a pier, and tells them his father brought him to see it as a child. He was warned to never touch it or he’d be a victim of Carlotta’s curse. He’s had dreams just like the ones Liz has been having, where he’s on a sinking ship and sees a couple being separated. Okay, fine, but why are you getting 12-year-olds involved in your problems?
The scuba students have a cookout on the beach, and Joshua tells them a story about a pirate named Red Beard. He was in love with a woman named Carlotta, and they were going to travel to America together. Her uncle, a governor, gave them a gold heart-shaped locket, and they split it in half. Their ship wrecked, thanks to the bosun, who left his post to look for a treasure map Red Beard supposedly had. Joshua tells the kids that the bosun’s ghost is restless because he’s never been able to find the pieces of the heart and get the couple back together.
Elizabeth finally realizes that she might have half of the locket, but she can’t find it. She gets another chain letter, which offers her a reward. She just has to deposit $100,000 in a bank account so Carlotta can pay for her child’s medical treatments. It’s totally not a scam at all. Steven finds the thing Liz threw away, and yes, of course, it’s half of the locket. It has part of a treasure map on the back, which means the bosun wouldn’t have found it in Red Beard’s quarters, and he caused a shipwreck for nothing.
The twins and Steven figure out that the thing Filber showed them at the pier has to be the other half of the heart. Before they go confirm this, Liz does some library research and finds out that the bosun was…dun dun DUN…Joshua. That’s right, the kids have been taking scuba lessons from a ghost. She thinks Filber is one of his descendants. Liz soon has another dream, this one of Carlotta confirming that the bosun is still around – in fact, he sent the chain letter. Liz knows she needs to get the other half of the heart and put the pieces together to end the curse.
Steven accompanies the twins back to the beach, and they get the second half of the heart. Then Filber shows up, demanding the pieces so he can follow the treasure map. Liz puts the pieces together to end the curse, then hands the reunited locket over to Filber, not wanting to put herself or her siblings in danger over a piece of jewelry. Then, awesomely, Filber drops the locket in the water as he’s running off. Joshua’s watching from nearby, and Elizabeth sees him disappear. Way to get a 12-year-old to do all the work so you can be at peace, dude.
Elizabeth tells Jessica and Steven that Joshua was the bosun, and he sent the chain letter so Elizabeth would get the second half of the heart. Since they believe in curses but not ghosts, Jess and Steven decide that Elizabeth was behind the whole thing and doesn’t want to admit that she sent the letters. Liz just lets it go. That night, she dreams of Red Beard and Carlotta being reunited. Aww, some dead people got a happy ending. How sweet.
Thoughts: The story of Carlotta is supposed to be well-known, but none of the kids has heard it. And how has no one ever noticed the remains of the ship or searched them?
Why would Lila’s driver take the girls to a bus stop so they can catch a bus to the beach? He can’t just drive them to the beach? Because – and I know I’ve said this before – no way would Lila take public transportation if she didn’t have to.
The librarian at Sweet Valley’s public library is probably the only person in town who can tell the twins apart without thinking about it. Jessica’s probably never even been there.
Sweet Valley has no benches downtown. What’s up with that, S.V.?
Of course Elizabeth took a calligraphy course last summer. That’s one of the least surprising things I’ve ever read.
December 27, 2016
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
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
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.
November 15, 2016
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 18, 2016
Summary: I guess some of the teachers at SVMS don’t want to have to teach for a little while, so science teacher Mr. Seigel is heading up a project where all the middle-schoolers get fake-married to each other and learn what being an adult is all about. The project combines math (because they have to make budgets), social studies, and science, somehow. The “couples” have to work together on every aspect of the project. A lot of the students are excited about getting “married,” even though the couples will be chosen randomly.
Jessica’s paired with Rick Hunter, a hot seventh-grader, and though she knows she should be happy about this, she’s not. Rick is the epitome of a seventh-grade boy, and most of his interactions with Jess involve teasing her. They fight most of the time. When the couples get eggs they have to pretend are babies, Jessica keeps breaking hers and Rick’s (which they hilariously name Steven Fido). Normally Jess would just grit her teeth and wait things out, but she needs a good grade on the project, so she actually does some work. Rick is horrible with making a budget, but Jess ends up being good at it.
One of the tasks during the project is to shop for, cook, and eat a meal together. Jess and Rick both screw everything up and get in yet another fight. But then, in something right out of a movie, Rick kisses Jessica in the middle of the fight. Suddenly they’re happy together and getting along for the first time. Except it quickly becomes clear that they only thing interesting they had going for them was their rivalry. Now they have nothing to talk about. Womp womp.
Elizabeth is paired with Bruce, who really couldn’t care less about the project. Then when he comes to the Wakefields’ house to work with Liz and sees what an involved parent Ned is, he gets really intense about the whole thing. They have to spend quality time with their egg, he lectures Elizabeth with information from a guide they’ve been given for the project, and he basically treats her like she’s his child. Elizabeth gets mad and accidentally breaks their egg, but replaces it and pretends nothing happened. Bruce doesn’t find out until he realizes their “baby” is hard-boiled.
The only people generally happy at the beginning of the project are Sophia Rizzo and Patrick Morris, since they got along well before being partnered up. Unfortunately, being with Patrick brings out the worst in Sophia. She’s afraid to eat too much in front of him because she might not seem girly. She won’t give her opinion or make any decisions because she’s afraid she’ll come across as bossy, like Janet. Since Patrick is nice and wants to make sure he and Sophia are making all their decisions together, this leads to a lot of stalemates. They can’t make up their minds on anything because neither wants to hurt the other’s feelings.
After things finally boil over and Sophia and Patrick have a big fight, Sophia learns that her mother and Sarah’s father are getting married. (And in only two weeks!) Sophia hates this idea, even though the adults are happy together right now – marriage is stupid, and they’re just going to end up hating each other.
All of the students are in study hall together, working on the finishing touches of their final projects, when Rick and Jessica get in their last big fight. The tension between all the other couples finally reaches its peak, and everyone starts fighting. Eggs are even thrown. The students all agree that it’s impossible to get a good grade on the project because marriage itself is impossible to succeed at. But this is exactly what Mr. Seigel wanted to hear. He wanted the kids to realize that marrying someone without discussing what you want from the partnership won’t work out. For recognizing this, everyone gets an A.
With the madness over, Jess and Rick sort of become friends. Just the kind of friends who mock each other all the time. Bruce calms down, but I don’t think Elizabeth wants to spend any more time with him. Lila, who was paired with Todd (though we don’t hear much about them, other than that Lila has expensive tastes and Todd is a little too obsessed with neatness), decides he’s a nice guy. Sophia realizes that her mom and Sarah’s dad know what they’re doing, so there’s no reason to think their marriage won’t work out. And then I think no one who participated in the project ever eats an egg again.
Thoughts: I’m not sure the lesson taught here was the right one. What are the odds that these middle-schoolers will grow up to get married without discussing the details of marriage? Probably lower than the odds of them getting married young because they think it’s romantic (which is how a lot of them feel before the project begins). I wonder what would have happened if they’d been allowed to pick their partners, and kids with crushes on each other had been forced to face every aspect of each other’s personalities and find out if they’re really compatible. I mean, obviously the project was harder for people who didn’t get along. Pairing everyone up randomly basically stacked the deck against them.
I don’t think Mr. Seigel has the patience to teach middle-schoolers. He should probably go into a different line of work.
Lila and Todd were late turning in their budget because he couldn’t find a folder that looked neat enough. This is why Todd and Elizabeth are perfect for each other.