January 9, 2018

SVT #118, No Escape!: Well, a Landslide Brought Them Down

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

I hope Terry gets workers’ comp

Summary: SVMS thinks 12-year-olds enjoy caving, so they’ve arranged a field trip for the sixth-graders to explore some caves. Jessica couldn’t care less about the trip itself, but she’s interested in hanging out with Aaron. Lila suddenly has a crush on him, too, so Jess isn’t thrilled to have to compete for Aaron’s attention. Aaron is a big fan of cave exploration, so the girls try to pretend they’re excited.

A cool new store called Metro is opening at the mall, and there will be a bunch of giveaways and sales. Jess and Lila are dying to go, but all the kids going on the field trip are supposed to attend a mandatory safety lecture at the same time. Eyeshadow is more important than safety, so the girls recruit Unicorns Tamara and Kimberly, here being more useful than they’ve been in the entire series, to attend the lecture for them and take the safety quiz at the end. (Anyone who doesn’t pass the quiz can’t go on the trip.) Since the seminar is run by a group outside of SVMS, the people in charge won’t know that Tamara and Kimberly aren’t Lila and Jess.

Elizabeth, of course, takes the lecture super-seriously, writing down everything they’re supposed to bring along, like garbage bags and three sources of light. Meanwhile, Jess and Lila buy phosphorescent nail polish and eyeshadow. Apparently neon is still hip in Sweet Valley in 1998, so the Unicorns are excited about the makeup. Lila and Jess give some to Kimberly and Tamara to thank them for attending the lecture for them. They don’t bother listening when Kimberly and Tamara want to tell them what they should know for the trip.

Liz packs everything essential for the trip, knowing that this is a situation that needs to be taken seriously. Jess is like, “I have gum and eyeshadow; I’m good to go.” The kids are split into smaller groups to explore different caves, and the twins wind up with each other’s bags. Elizabeth isn’t worried, though, since she’s sure Jessica packed everything she was supposed to. Oh, Liz. She’s in a group with Aaron, Lila, Winston, and Maria – in other words, three people who take the trip seriously, one who would rather be anywhere else, and Winston. Lila entertains herself by drawing on the cave walls with her glowing makeup.

There’s an earthquake and a landslide, and Elizabeth’s group gets trapped. Their guide, Terry, breaks his leg and hits his head, causing him to keep losing consciousness. A bunch of the kids’ bags get swept away by an icy river, which Liz falls into. While her bag (well, Jessica’s bag) is saved, it doesn’t have any of the supplies Liz hoped it would. She has to settle for putting on leggings and plastic bags to warm herself up.

Thanks to the earthquake, the river gets dammed up, and the water level in the cave starts to rise. The kids realize that they’re in danger, but the only way out is a small passageway. It also comes out that Aaron and Winston both cheated off of Liz on the safety quiz, so they’re clueless about what to do. (Even Aaron, the self-proclaimed cave expert.) Elizabeth agrees to crawl through the passageway and get help. She manages to take three light sources with her, but her flashlight breaks, and she doesn’t have many matches. She’s able to mark her path with glowing eyeshadow, though.

The other groups were less affected by the earthquake, if at all, so they’re all outside, waiting for Liz’s group. The kids are worried about their friends, but the group that runs the cave tours has a policy of waiting three hours to go looking for anyone missing. This is a horrible policy, especially with children involved. They keep insisting that Terry’s a good guide, so he’ll save the kids if anything bad happens. Yeah, unless Terry’s dead. I doubt this was all spelled out on the permission slip these kids’ parents had to sign. Wait, this is Sweet Valley. Their parents probably don’t even know where they are.

Jessica desperately wants to go find her sister; she feels horrible that Elizabeth doesn’t have anything that could actually help her. She, Amy, and Todd sneak off to go on a rescue mission. They find the marks Lila made on the walls and are able to find Elizabeth’s group and send help to them. Liz, however, has no idea where she’s going and has run out of matches. She can hear a rescue team searching for her, but they can’t hear her yelling for help. She searches her things and finds a camera Jessica threw in her bag. Liz uses the flash to get the rescuers’ attention and is found.

Liz is pretty ticked at Jessica for not packing right, but it’s hard to hold a grudge when Jessica is apologetic and so happy that Liz is okay. They use the last photo on the camera to commemorate their field trip. Somehow, the book doesn’t end with the kids’ families filing a class-action lawsuit against the tour group.

Thoughts: I don’t buy Lila wanting to go on the trip just because everyone else is going. She should have gotten Tamara to fail the quiz for her.

I’ll never cheat on a quiz again, she thought. On second thought, maybe that was a bit drastic.” That’s our Jess.

Lila: “What kind of cave is this? I’m going to see if Daddy can sue them.” Winston: “Lila…you can’t sue a ground tremor.” She’ll probably try, though.

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December 27, 2017

SVT #116, Jessica Takes Charge: Even When These Kids Try to Do Nice Things, Disaster Follows

Posted in books tagged , at 4:14 pm by Jenn

This is exactly what working with children is like

Summary: For two weeks, all the sixth-graders at SVMS have to do volunteer work. (Yes, someone does mention that forced volunteer work probably doesn’t really count as volunteering.) Jobs vary from working at a soup kitchen to helping out at the mayor’s office. The tasks are assigned randomly, but no one seems to care if the kids swap with each other. Liz wants to work at the soup kitchen, since she likes actually helping people. Jess and Lila want the job at the mayor’s office, thinking it’ll be glamorous.

When the kids draw their assignments, Jessica gets one at the health trailer, which means she’ll be teaching little kids about health. Lila draws the soup kitchen, while Liz draws the mayor’s office. Lila and Jessica try to get Elizabeth to trade with them, upping the ante until Lila buys the job with $200 in cash and a ride in her limo. Elizabeth doesn’t feel great about taking money for the assignment, but Lila points out that she can donate it to the soup kitchen.

On Elizabeth’s first day of volunteering, she immediately sees what an impact the soup kitchen has on the people it serves. Almost 300 people eat there every day, and the staff is desperate for funds to keep up their work. They’re so busy that Liz forgets to give Andre, the man in charge, Lila’s “anonymous donation,” AKA the $200 she paid for the gig at the mayor’s office.

Jessica has a horrible time at the health trailer, mostly because her supervisor, Nurse Jennings, is awful. Jess has to put together a model of the human heart and lungs, but she has no idea what she’s doing. Nurse Jennings yells at her for snacking on a candy bar, since it’s not healthy. Jess’ partner is Winston, who just makes wisecracks the whole afternoon. She hates every minute of it.

Lila isn’t having a much better time. The office manager, Ashlee, doesn’t want a preteen volunteer, and she definitely doesn’t want one who thinks she should have the red carpet rolled out for her just for showing up. She makes Lila fold brochures all afternoon, like some sort of pauper. Lila doesn’t even get to meet the mayor! The only good thing that happens is the arrival of a cute high-school intern named Paul. Lila quickly falls in luuuuuuv with him and bores Jessica by gushing about him whenever she can.

The next day, a camera crew shows up at the health trailer, and Jessica learns that the mayor will be stopping by for a photo op. She hears the crew talking about the volunteer program; the one for the middle-schoolers is too new for anyone to know if it’s worth it yet, but the one for the high-schoolers is going really well. Specifically, Paul is thriving after being placed in the program as punishment for vandalism and shoplifting. Jess is thrilled to hear that Lila’s new crush is a juvenile delinquent.

Over at the soup kitchen, Liz finally remembers to give Andre the $200. They’re putting on a rummage sale for an Outreach Fair (part of the outreach program that’s arranged all the volunteer work), and things are hectic enough even without Jeff, the young grandson of a worker named Mrs. Tooney, getting in everyone’s way. Mrs. Tooney admires a red cookie jar just like one she owns. Her grandmother used to store money in it during the Depression, and Mrs. Tooney picked up the habit and keeps her money in the same jar now.

A group from the daycare where Mandy’s volunteering comes to the health trailer for the mayor’s photo op. Andre, Paul, and Lila also come over; Paul’s hoping to find some information on nutrition for his grandfather, who’s been having stomach problems. Even though Jess has only been working at the trailer for about a day, she’s expected to give a presentation to the kids. All she has to help her is a pamphlet about the digestive system, but it happens to be in Spanish, so that’s no good.

The presentation goes horribly, to no one’s surprise. Jessica gives a valiant effort, but she keeps forgetting what she’s talking about, and the kids end up thinking that you use both your lungs and your stomach to breathe. Also, the ghostwriter has never spoken with children and has no idea how they talk. The big finale involves a bunch of pamphlets getting knocked over and raining down on Jessica. Thanks to the news crew there for the mayor, the whole disaster ends up on the local news.

That’s not the worse disaster to come out of the presentation, though – in all the chaos, Andre misplaces Lila’s $200. Everyone searches the pamphlets, but they can’t find it. Jessica remembers Paul picking up a pamphlet and looking surprised, so she guesses that Andre tucked the money inside one, and Paul stole it. In Sweet Valley, you’re guilty until proven innocent, so Paul loses the internship that helped turn his life around.

Lila refuses to believe that her crush could do something so horrible, so she goes to his house to get his side of the story. She meets Paul’s grandfather, who only speaks Spanish. Paul swears he’s innocent, and he won’t take any money from Lila to repay the missing $200 and make everything go away. After all, it would just make him look guilty. Lila takes out her anger on Jessica, which is fair, since Jess is the reason Paul became a suspect.

At the Outreach Fair, Jeff tries to argue with his grandmother that your lungs are in your stomach, one of the things Jessica accidentally said in her presentation. He also mentions that he has money in a cookie jar. Elizabeth puts together that Jeff found the $200 and stashed it in the red rummage-sale cookie jar. Liz goes to get the jar from the sale, but someone just bought it.

Elsewhere at the fair, a glimpse of a Spanish brochure about colon health makes Lila piece together what happened with Paul. He wasn’t surprised because he found money in a pamphlet; he was surprised because he found one in Spanish, which means he could give it to his grandfather. Lila and Liz run into each other and go in search of the cookie jar.

The girls finally find the antiques dealer who bought the jar, but he won’t let them take it back. Instead of just telling the man that she needs to look inside (she doesn’t think just having the money turn up will exonerate Paul), Lila tries to buy the jar. The bidding goes up to $600 before the mayor happens to walk by and wonder what’s going on. Finally, Lila explains everything and is allowed to retrieve the money from the jar.

The mayor makes a public apology to Paul and offers him his internship back. Paul gives a shout-out to the outreach program, which ends up getting the funding it needs to continue. The mayor gives Paul some money so he can take Lila and some friends out for ice cream. She picks Mandy and Elizabeth, then extends an olive branch to Jessica. The fair is a big success, Paul’s reputation is restored, and the soup kitchen gets its $200. Happy ending!

Thoughts: Elizabeth mentions a boy at the soup kitchen who asks for a tuna sandwich for his stuffed tiger. 10 begrudging cool points to the ghostwriter for the Calvin and Hobbes reference.

Paul was caught spray-painting “Jazz rules!” Um, what?

“Rich as a toad”? Shut up, Ashlee.

“I’d been looking all over for something in Spanish to give him.” You live in Southern California, Paul. Look harder next time.

December 19, 2017

SVT #115, Happy Mother’s Day, Lila: Pygmomlion

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:05 pm by Jenn

Lila would never wear jeans that hideous

Summary: It’s almost Mother’s Day, but who cares about moms when there’s going to be a fashion show? There are only 20 slots, and they all get taken before Jessica even learns about the show. All the Unicorns are in, so Jess feels left out. But then she learns that it’s a mother/daughter fashion show, and motherless Lila took a slot that could have gone to Jessica and Alice. Lila lies that her mother will be in town for the show. Jess is legitimately happy for her, which may be a first. Elizabeth isn’t sure Lila’s telling the truth. It would seem pretty coincidental to me if I didn’t know she was lying.

Lila tries to call her mother, who apparently moves around Europe a lot and doesn’t tell her daughter how to reach her. This is still more contact than I always assumed; I thought Grace didn’t keep in touch with Lila at all. From what we learn of her in SVH, she would be desperate for any contact she could get with Lila. Lila tries to talk to her father about her mother, but he’s on his way out of town for business, as usual. Poor, practically orphaned Lila.

Jessica wants to make a poster for Alice for Mother’s Day (how…thoughtful?), and she asks Tamara to help her. Tamara is more into fashion than art, and she doesn’t have much of an attention span, so it doesn’t go well. The girls end up splashing water at each other and get in trouble with the art teacher. As punishment, he sends them to deliver some things to the women’s shelter that will receive the proceeds from the fashion show. Jessica doesn’t want to spend too much time with homeless, jobless, sad women, but at least the trip gives her the chance to ask Marcella, an employee in charge of the show, if she and Alice can be alternates in case another mother/daughter pair can’t make the show.

The shelter gives Lila some inspiration for how to solve her problem: She’ll just pay a woman staying there to pretend to be her mother. Then she’ll have her father give the woman a job in Mexico so she’ll have to leave town and no one will spot her later and wonder why she’s still in Sweet Valley. That Lila, she’s a real do-gooder. She checks out her prospects and settles on a woman named Kate who bears enough resemblance to her that people will believe she’s Grace.

Just as Kate arrives at Lila’s house for a discussion of the deal, Jessica shows up. Lila pretends that “Grace” is out of it from a stampede during a safari that left her with some amnesia. This is also supposed to explain why she’s not wearing designer clothing. Jess finds Kate familiar but can’t place her. Lila glams Kate up and goes all <i>My Fair Lady </i>on her to teach her how to be a sophisticated world-traveler instead of some grimy, down-on-her-luck single mom. Kate doesn’t seem that interested; she appreciates the money, but her sophistication lessons mean she can’t be with her real daughter.

Jessica’s coming over for lunch with Lila and “Grace,” which will be Kate’s first real test to see if she can pass for an upper-class lady. There are a couple snafus over the stories Lila has told Jessica about her mother’s travels, so after lunch, Jess decides to follow Kate. She trails her to the women’s shelter, realizes that’s where she first saw Kate, and asks the workers there who she is. Just as Kate and Lila are connecting on a human level, and Lila’s realizing that poor people aren’t icky, Jessica announces that she’s on to Lila’s scheme. Kate blasts Jess for being a bad friend and just wanting her slot in the fashion show.

Lila’s miserable now and knows she can’t get away with her plan. To her credit, Jessica takes Kate’s words to heart and realizes how lucky she is to have a stable, loving family. She keeps quiet about Lila’s lies and comes up with a plan to cheer up her friend. She tells Lila to keep her slot in the fashion show; Jessica will make sure her modeling partner shows up. Then Jess gets a break when Tamara gets the flu and has to drop out of the show. Jess and Alice get her and her mother’s spots.

The girls and their mothers go to a fitting for the show, and Lila is stunned to learn that her new partner is…her father. Jessica told him everything, and he wanted to be there for his daughter. Unfortunately, the day of the show, Mr. Fowler doesn’t show up. Lila gets to do commentary, since she doesn’t have someone to model with. After the show, Alice relays a message that Mr. Fowler was in a car accident and is in the hospital. He was rushing to get to the show on time, but it was raining and he crashed. He’s not badly hurt, and Lila’s touched that he really cared enough to want to do something fun with her.

On Mother’s Day, Lila makes her father breakfast in bed. It’s not great, but it’s the thought that counts. They spend a bunch of time together, probably the most they’ve ever spent with each other. They decide to take flowers to the women at the shelter. Meanwhile, Alice tells Jessica that her kindness toward Lila was a wonderful Mother’s Day present. Yeah, I wouldn’t get used to it.

Thoughts: I hope the people who work at the shelter don’t give away personal information about the women staying there to just anyone, like they do with Jessica. Many of those women are most likely trying to escape domestic violence. I mean, obviously Jessica isn’t going to attack Kate, but it’s a bad policy.

Also, for a town that’s supposed to be perfect, Sweet Valley sure has a lot of homeless people.

Lila wants to wear a straw boater hat in the fashion show. Lila SUGGESTS wearing a straw boater hat. Lila should be checked for a head injury.

I’m surprised the book doesn’t end with Mr. Fowler and Kate meeting and falling in love.

December 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 22, 2017

SVT #102, The Mysterious Dr. Q: As Usual, Bruce Screws Everything Up

Posted in books tagged , , , , , at 5:15 pm by Jenn

I hope Jess hypnotizes Liz into developing a better fashion sense

Summary: Jessica’s excited because a hypnotist is coming to SVMS for an assembly. Elizabeth will be writing a story for The Sixers debunking hypnotism. Meanwhile, Bruce urges Todd to ask her out after Todd admits that he has a crush on her. Also meanwhile, Amy’s mom is doing a news story on female pilots and gives Amy the opportunity to interview a pilot’s daughter. Amy’s thrilled until she learns that the interviews will take place on a helicopter – she’s scared of flying. To her credit, she decides to suck it up and face her fears.

At school, Todd writes Elizabeth a note asking her to a movie. She’s thrilled and immediately finds him and accepts. Everyone goes to the assembly, where the hypnotist, Dr. Q, brings the twins and some other kids on stage for a demonstration. Elizabeth plays along with the hypnosis and wonders if the other volunteers are faking as well, or if Dr. Q really hypnotized them.

Since Lila didn’t get chosen, Jessica suggests that she hypnotize her. She thinks she knows how to do it since she’s seen it done. Yes, and since I’ve watched multiple episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and ER, I’m confident that I could remove a ruptured spleen if necessary. Jess tries it out, but it doesn’t work. Wow, what a surprise! Amy’s also disappointed not to be picked, since she was hoping to have Dr. Q hypnotize her to overcome her fear of flying. Throughout the book, Amy is the only person who truly grasps the point of hypnotism.

Bruce asks Elizabeth to a movie, and, of course, she turns him down. She goes to interview Dr. Q for The Sixers, and Amy and Jessica crash the meeting, Jess so she can learn about hypnosis and Amy so she can be hypnotized. Dr. Q warns Jessica that she shouldn’t mess around with hypnosis. She explains the practice to Elizabeth, who still thinks it’s a scam.

Jessica decides to prove Liz wrong by hypnotizing her and some of their friends – Lila, Amy, Janet, and Bruce. Bruce disrupts the process by listening to a baseball game and talking out loud about the Twins and certain plays. Jess tries to ignore him as she hypnotizes Janet and Amy to overcome their fear of spiders, and makes Lila quack whenever she sees the principal, Mr. Clark. As she’s trying to hypnotize Elizabeth into adoring her, someone yells at Bruce.

Thanks to the distractions and Bruce’s comments about the game, Amy and Janet end up thinking they’re identical twins, Elizabeth falls in love with Bruce, and Lila starts calling the principal Mr. Quack. Jessica’s thrilled. Todd, not so much – now Elizabeth wants to go to a movie with Bruce instead. Todd gets Jess to go to the movie with him so they can spy on the new couple. They end up getting kicked out when Todd dumps food on Bruce just as he’s about to kiss Liz.

Amy and Janet are suddenly BFFs, constantly talking about how much they love being twins and the awesome parts of their shared childhood. I don’t know how that’s possible, since it’s not like Jessica planted false memories in them, but okay. Lila and Jessica both get in trouble when Lila keeps quacking at Mr. Clark. Elizabeth isn’t sure why she’s suddenly into Bruce, or why she even wants to hang out with him, but she just goes with it.

Jessica realizes that everything’s backfired and she needs to fix it. She calls Dr. Q and begs for her help, then gathers everyone for another hypnosis session. This time Steven’s watching baseball, and the game again interferes with Jessica’s efforts. Everyone hears her yelling at Steven to turn the volume back to normal, then telling him to forget all about baseball. When her hypnosis subjects awaken, they’re back to their usual selves, but they don’t know what baseball is.

Dr. Q arrives and saves the day. She restores everyone’s memories of baseball and hypnotizes Amy to not be afraid of flying. Elizabeth is now over Bruce (and even dumps a milkshake on him to prove it) and back with Todd. Janet and Amy hate each other again. And Amy’s able to do her interview without any fear. Thanks, Dr. Q! Sorry Jessica is such an idiot!

Thoughts: Who approved an assembly with a hypnotist? No parents had objections?

Todd gets 5 points for deciding that “cad” is the best word to describe Bruce, but he loses them for shouting at him that he hopes Liz turns into a pumpkin, which makes no sense.

Ellen, to Amy and Janet when they won’t shut up about being twins: “Hey, guys, like, nobody cares.” Turns out Ellen’s good for something after all.

I wish it had turned out that no one was really hypnotized and everyone was just messing with Jessica.

May 30, 2017

SVT #92, Escape from Terror Island: Yeah, Yeah, We All Read “Lord of the Flies”

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 4:51 pm by Jenn

That’s Todd. He looks like a doofus, doesn’t he?

Summary: While Elizabeth was drowning at the end of the last book, the boat was somehow breaking up, so we’re in an official shipwreck situation. Somehow, everyone ends up on an island, alive and unharmed. The unpopular kids are all stranded on the same side of the island together, while the popular kids are on the other side; neither group knows the other group is there. Whenever they hear noises made by the other group, they think they’re sharing the island with cannibals or pirates.

Elizabeth almost drowns again, this time in a waterfall, but it leads to her discovering a cave. Mandy falls into a pit that also leads to the cave, and the two groups meet up there. (Also, Lila and Janet are all, “Mandy’s just trying to get attention,” which is really weird.) The twins are thrilled to see each other, but the others aren’t especially happy to be stuck with each other again. Bruce takes charge, and the unpopular kids are immediately sick of hearing him talk.

Bruce thinks their first priority is building a fire and hunting something to eat (other than the melons they’ve been finding all over the island.) Elizabeth and the unpopular kids think they should build a shelter and make an SOS in the sand. Bruce argues that they can just sleep in the cave they’ve already found. The popular kids all side with him, but Jessica takes some convincing. The two groups split up again.

In the morning, Liz and Maria discover the briefcase of money the hijackers stole from a bank before taking their boat. They decide to hide it in the cave. Bruce’s crew thinks they should build a raft so they can leave the island, but Liz thinks their chances of doing it well enough to get themselves to safety are pretty low. Bruce and his group disagree: He’s a Boy Scout, which I guess gives him a natural ability to build a seaworthy raft. But the kids all build one anyway, planning to head out on it the next day.

That night, Jessica dreams that two people are wandering around the kids’ camp. Anyone who’s ever read a book can figure out that the hijackers have also wound up on the island. In the morning, the kids get on the raft, which is somehow big enough to hold everyone. I’m not sure if all the kids who were on the boat are on the island, since I was under the impression that a lot more kids went on the field trip, but I guess the other kids get rescued, because this book doesn’t end with a mass funeral for a bunch of minor characters.

Anyway, the raft doesn’t stay together, and Elizabeth almost drowns AGAIN. How did she ever qualify as a lifeguard in the SVU books? And Janet and Lila are all, “Attention-seeking!” again. I don’t get them at all. Bruce accuses Liz of sabotaging the raft to show that he was inept. Because she would want to sabotage her one way off the island? Whatever, Bruce. Jessica brings up her dream and wonders if there really were two people at their camp who might have sabotaged the raft. While everyone’s fighting, they spot a plane flying over the island and realize that if they’d made an SOS, as Liz and Maria suggested, they could have been rescued.

More sabotages occur: The popular kids’ fruit stash disappears, and Bruce suspects Elizabeth stole it. He’s ready to vote her off the island. Sorry, Bruce, but Jeff Probst won’t approve of this. Jessica remembers all the supposedly horrible things her sister has done to her in the past and decides that Bruce is right. Over at the unpopular kids’ camp, they realize that all their shoes are gone and their shelter has been moved. They, of course, suspect the popular kids. Of course, the truth is that the hijackers are on the island and have been messing with both groups of kids. Once they’ve found their money, they plan to kill all the kids.

The two groups meet up and fight, but they get distracted when they see a message written for them in the sand: “$ or you are dead.” They realize the hijackers are on the island with them, and they need to work together to protect themselves. They decide to keep the money hidden – they can’t trust that the hijackers will really let them live if they hand it over. Liz thinks they should tell the hijackers that only one of them knows where the money is, so the hijackers can’t kill any of them. The popular kids don’t like this idea, and there’s another fight and another separation of the two groups.

Jessica thinks the popular kids should hide on the beach, since it’ll be easier for them to see the hijackers coming. They hope the tide will wipe out their footprints so the hijackers can’t follow them. The unpopular kids find a dinghy, figuring it’s how the hijackers made it to the island. Instead of piling in and leaving the popular kids behind to fend for themselves, they head off to find the rest of the kids so they can all escape together.

But the hijackers find the popular kids first, tying them to each other with vines and marching them through the jungle or forest or whatever’s on this island. At first the kids pretend they haven’t seen the briefcase with all the money, but Lila’s an idiot and says they did. Jessica tries out Elizabeth’s plan, telling the hijackers that only one kid knows where the money is, so they can’t kill anyone yet. This backfires, and the hijackers decide to torture the information out of the kids by withholding food and water until someone cracks.

The unpopular kids arrive and are too dumb to listen when Jessica warns them to run away. Now everyone’s tied up together, and the hijackers are ready to get their money and get off the island. They announce that they’ll kill someone every hour until they find out where the money is. It’s not long before Bruce announces that he knows where it is and will take them to it. The other kids are horrified that he’s sacrificing them to save himself. Bruce pretends to be sorry, telling the others that the hijackers “exerted undue pressure on me.” As he heads off with them, he yells “Not!” back at the others.

Bruce is, amazingly, actually being heroic. He takes the hijackers (who are too dumb to split up and have one stay behind to keep an eye on their hostages) to the waterfall, then torches the money and runs away. Back in the forest/jungle/wherever, Elizabeth realizes that Bruce’s final words were instructions to undo the knots in the vines tying them all together. They do so and free themselves, then meet up with Bruce and head for the dinghy.

A fishing boat comes across the kids and rescues them. They learn that the captain and crew member who were set adrift in the lifeboat in the last book were also rescued and are fine. The kids are all proud of themselves for finally working together, and for saving themselves. Somehow, everyone makes it home in one piece. I assume the hijackers were later found by the proper authorities and taken to prison, or they burned in a forest/jungle/whatever fire, along with their precious money. In which case, Bruce is technically a murderer, which sounds about right.

Thoughts: I can’t believe there isn’t at least one kid crying the entire time they’re on the island. I’m sure it would have been Tamara, who cried her way through the last book, but she’s never mentioned in this one.

“‘I didn’t mean to sound bossy,’ she said, wondering if she had sounded that way.” Because when you’re stranded on an island with bank robbers and a bunch of preteen morons, your tone is what’s important. Get a backbone, Liz.

So if Bruce hadn’t said anything, the kids wouldn’t have thought to untie themselves? Like I said, they’re morons.

May 23, 2017

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

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

This dude looks like a deranged monk with jaundice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 25, 2017

SVT #88, Steven Gets Even: Pranks a Lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is Aaron still hanging out with Brian?

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

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