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.

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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.”

March 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 14, 2017

SVT #84, Romeo and 2 Juliets: Two Wakefields, Both Alike in Indignity

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

I guess Todd was too out of it to notice that anything weird was going on

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

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

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

Elizabeth looks...weird

Elizabeth looks…weird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth has black velvet leggings. WHAT?

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

January 31, 2017

SVT #80, The Gossip War: Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Member of the Unicorn Club?

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

No, I don't know why Ellen's using a pay phone

No, I don’t know why Ellen’s using a pay phone

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

SVT Super Chiller #6, The Curse of the Golden Heart: Half-Hearted

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:20 pm by Jenn

This isn't in any way, shape, or form what happened, but okay

This isn’t in any way, shape, or form what happened, but okay

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.

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