November 29, 2016

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

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

Way to be discreet, Johanna

Way to be discreet, Johanna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 15, 2016

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

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

Untuck your shirts, you nerds

Untuck your shirts, you nerds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 18, 2016

SVT #68, The Middle School Gets Married: You Mean Young Love Doesn’t Always Work Out?

Posted in books tagged , , , at 5:17 pm by Jenn

Not a bad cover, actually

Not a bad cover, actually

Summary: I guess some of the teachers at SVMS don’t want to have to teach for a little while, so science teacher Mr. Seigel is heading up a project where all the middle-schoolers get fake-married to each other and learn what being an adult is all about. The project combines math (because they have to make budgets), social studies, and science, somehow. The “couples” have to work together on every aspect of the project. A lot of the students are excited about getting “married,” even though the couples will be chosen randomly.

Jessica’s paired with Rick Hunter, a hot seventh-grader, and though she knows she should be happy about this, she’s not. Rick is the epitome of a seventh-grade boy, and most of his interactions with Jess involve teasing her. They fight most of the time. When the couples get eggs they have to pretend are babies, Jessica keeps breaking hers and Rick’s (which they hilariously name Steven Fido). Normally Jess would just grit her teeth and wait things out, but she needs a good grade on the project, so she actually does some work. Rick is horrible with making a budget, but Jess ends up being good at it.

One of the tasks during the project is to shop for, cook, and eat a meal together. Jess and Rick both screw everything up and get in yet another fight. But then, in something right out of a movie, Rick kisses Jessica in the middle of the fight. Suddenly they’re happy together and getting along for the first time. Except it quickly becomes clear that they only thing interesting they had going for them was their rivalry. Now they have nothing to talk about. Womp womp.

Elizabeth is paired with Bruce, who really couldn’t care less about the project. Then when he comes to the Wakefields’ house to work with Liz and sees what an involved parent Ned is, he gets really intense about the whole thing. They have to spend quality time with their egg, he lectures Elizabeth with information from a guide they’ve been given for the project, and he basically treats her like she’s his child. Elizabeth gets mad and accidentally breaks their egg, but replaces it and pretends nothing happened. Bruce doesn’t find out until he realizes their “baby” is hard-boiled.

The only people generally happy at the beginning of the project are Sophia Rizzo and Patrick Morris, since they got along well before being partnered up. Unfortunately, being with Patrick brings out the worst in Sophia. She’s afraid to eat too much in front of him because she might not seem girly. She won’t give her opinion or make any decisions because she’s afraid she’ll come across as bossy, like Janet. Since Patrick is nice and wants to make sure he and Sophia are making all their decisions together, this leads to a lot of stalemates. They can’t make up their minds on anything because neither wants to hurt the other’s feelings.

After things finally boil over and Sophia and Patrick have a big fight, Sophia learns that her mother and Sarah’s father are getting married. (And in only two weeks!) Sophia hates this idea, even though the adults are happy together right now – marriage is stupid, and they’re just going to end up hating each other.

All of the students are in study hall together, working on the finishing touches of their final projects, when Rick and Jessica get in their last big fight. The tension between all the other couples finally reaches its peak, and everyone starts fighting. Eggs are even thrown. The students all agree that it’s impossible to get a good grade on the project because marriage itself is impossible to succeed at. But this is exactly what Mr. Seigel wanted to hear. He wanted the kids to realize that marrying someone without discussing what you want from the partnership won’t work out. For recognizing this, everyone gets an A.

With the madness over, Jess and Rick sort of become friends. Just the kind of friends who mock each other all the time. Bruce calms down, but I don’t think Elizabeth wants to spend any more time with him. Lila, who was paired with Todd (though we don’t hear much about them, other than that Lila has expensive tastes and Todd is a little too obsessed with neatness), decides he’s a nice guy. Sophia realizes that her mom and Sarah’s dad know what they’re doing, so there’s no reason to think their marriage won’t work out. And then I think no one who participated in the project ever eats an egg again.

Thoughts: I’m not sure the lesson taught here was the right one. What are the odds that these middle-schoolers will grow up to get married without discussing the details of marriage? Probably lower than the odds of them getting married young because they think it’s romantic (which is how a lot of them feel before the project begins). I wonder what would have happened if they’d been allowed to pick their partners, and kids with crushes on each other had been forced to face every aspect of each other’s personalities and find out if they’re really compatible. I mean, obviously the project was harder for people who didn’t get along. Pairing everyone up randomly basically stacked the deck against them.

I don’t think Mr. Seigel has the patience to teach middle-schoolers. He should probably go into a different line of work.

Lila and Todd were late turning in their budget because he couldn’t find a folder that looked neat enough. This is why Todd and Elizabeth are perfect for each other.

September 6, 2016

SVT #63, Poor Lila!: Riches to Rags

Posted in books tagged , , at 4:37 pm by Jenn

It's embarrassing to admit, but we really did dress like this in the '90s

It’s embarrassing to admit, but we really did dress like this in the ’90s

Summary: Lila’s planning a huge bash called the Unicorn Founding Fling, to celebrate the anniversary of…well, the founding of the Unicorns. It’s such a big deal that even non-Unicorns are invited. Lila even sent the mayor an invitation, for some reason. (If I were the mayor, I’d totally go. Make some kids happy + free food = good times.) Lila is going way overboard with caterers, souvenir T-shirts, and, she hopes, a purple hot-air balloon. I don’t think her father knows anything about this.

While shopping, Lila’s credit card gets declined, something that’s never happened to her before. I feel horrible for the clerk who has to deal with this diva 12-year-old’s tantrum over not being able to spend Daddy’s money on a sweater she’ll probably only wear once. Lila tries to tell herself that it was a tech error and the credit card is fine. But when she gets home, she learns that her chauffeur is being fired. The housekeeper doing the firing says it “has to do with the money.”

When Mr. Fowler says no to the hot-air balloon at the party, Lila starts worrying that they’re having money problems. Why else would her card get declined and her father have to make cutbacks like getting rid of the driver and not paying for ridiculous expenses? Lila tries to distract herself with a good deed, donating some of her old clothes to a local homeless shelter where Elizabeth and Melissa have been volunteering. Lila thinks Melissa, the only poor person she knows, should claim some clothes for herself. Melissa doesn’t exactly appreciate the charity.

Lila hears her father on the phone, talking about losing a fortune on a business deal, and her worst fears are realized: The Fowlers are no longer stinking rich. This is a fate worse than death for Lila. It doesn’t help that she now has to walk home from school (life is hard for a girl with no chauffeur). Melissa and Andy run into her on one of those walks and offer to give her a ride home. When they learn that she’d be eating dinner alone, they invite her to their place. Lila enjoys spending some time with a happy (though poor) family.

Jessica can’t believe Lila would voluntarily spend time with Melissa. Lila worries that, without all her money, her friends won’t have a reason to spend time with her anymore. Instead of realizing that she could ensure her friendships by actually being friendly, Lila decides to learn how to be poor so she’s ready when the time comes. Melissa can be her Yoda and teach her the ways of the lower-middle-class. Melissa may be a saint.

Melissa’s also doing good deeds over at the shelter, volunteering with Elizabeth to spend time with the kids in the shelter’s daycare. They take interest in a boy named David who keeps sneaking an extra sandwich at snack time, even when they tell him he can eat as much as he wants. They learn that he’s taking the food for his dog, Charlie, which he and his father had to give up when Mr. Lowell lost his job, then their house. They were supposed to give the dog up, but David tied him up somewhere in hopes of getting him back once he has a house again. Elizabeth offers up the Wakefields as a doggy foster family until then.

Despite promising to keep Lila’s financial crisis secret, Melissa confides to Jessica that the Fowlers are soon to be dirt-poor. Jessica assures Melissa that the Unicorns will still want to be friends with Lila no matter how much money she has. Of course, she can’t come up with any reasons WHY they would want to stay friends with a self-centered, snobby princess. But still, good news for Lila. Jess tells the other Unicorns, and they decide that since Lila has to cancel all the fancy stuff for the Founding Fling, they’ll organize the rest of it themselves and surprise her.

Since the girls keep their plans to themselves, Lila isn’t sure what’s going on when they suddenly start acting weird. She turns to Melissa for friendship, and the two of them come up with bargain ideas for the Founding Fling. Melissa’s only repayment is getting Lila to volunteer at the shelter. She almost enjoys herself, even though she has to do normal-people things like clean. Lila starts to think the other Unicorns are acting weird because they’re throwing a Founding Fling that she won’t be invited to. She decides to invite the kids from the shelter to her party so she’ll still have some guests. Plus, she actually feels bad that they can’t afford things like hot-air balloons and personal drivers.

Mr. Fowler finds Lila baking cupcakes for the Founding Fling and comments on how weird it is to find her making food instead of letting the housekeeper cater to her. Lila tells him that she knows about their money troubles and is prepared to make adjustments so she can handle being poor. Mr. Fowler’s very confused. They’re not poor at all – the credit card is fine, the chauffeur was fired for stealing (and sucking at his job), and though Mr. Fowler did lose some money on a deal, he turned around and made a bunch on another deal. In fact, the Fowlers are probably richer than ever. Oh, happy day!

The pared-down version of the Founding Fling goes forward, and the kids from the shelter have a great time. Melissa admits that she told Jessica about Lila’s soon-to-be-poorness, and Jess must have told the others. Lila realizes that she’s better off without friends who only liked her for her money. Even though she didn’t enjoy thinking she’d become poor, at least the situation taught her who her real friends are (you know, the girl she’s only spoken to once and would have never given the time of day if she didn’t think they’d have to slum it together).

But then the Unicorns arrive with their own food and decorations, and let Lila know that they like her no matter how much money she has. Lila’s thrilled to be both rich and surrounded by friends. Things get even better when David’s father proves to be a great mechanic, and Mr. Fowler hires him as a mechanic/chauffeur. This means the Lowells can get a new house and take their dog back. Jessica pretends to be upset about this, since the dog has become obsessed with her. The mayor even comes to the party, which is kind of cool. And Mr. Fowler surprises Lila by renting the hot-air balloon.

The end of the book is a tiny bit heartwarming, especially by Sweet Valley standards and super-especially by Lila Fowler standards. She and Mr. Fowler donate the leftovers from the party to the shelter. Then Lila buys a bunch of sweaters and donates them as well. Maybe she’s finally decided to use her riches for good? Yeah, probably not.

Thoughts: Lila doesn’t know how to use a microwave. I am sad.

Why did the Unicorns invite so many non-Unicorns to the party? I can’t believe they’re willing to lower themselves to spend time with the unwashed masses.

Pin the Tail on the Unicorn? Lila would never suggest that even ironically. And she comes up with this idea before she even invites the kids from the shelter, so she was going to have preteens and teens play it. Whatever.

June 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 31, 2016

SVT Super Edition #4, The Unicorns Go Hawaiian: Pineapple Express

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:12 pm by Jenn

I want to stay away from all of them

I want to stay away from all of them

Summary: Jessica and Mandy are hanging out after school one day when they see an ad in a magazine for a cooking competition sponsored by the Pineapple People. They’re looking for an interesting recipe using their pineapple. Jessica and Mandy start throwing gross stuff in a bowl to make Poisonous Pineapple Salad. They get Steven to taste it, and though he says it’s not bad, there’s no way either girl is going to try it. Jess sends in the recipe, basically as a joke.

Two months later, guess what? Jessica won the competition. The prize is a trip for her and two friends to Hawaii. The caveat is that she has to accept the prize in a certain amount of time, and the only chance she has to go is over Christmas break. The twins are supposed to go skiing with their grandparents, but Jess doesn’t want to go, so here’s the perfect excuse to skip the trip. If I had a nickel for every time I had to choose between skiing and going to Hawaii… She chooses Mandy and Mary as her travel buddies. (She wanted to take Liz, but Liz feels like at least one of them should go see their grandparents. If I were their grandparents, I’d understand and reschedule the ski trip so they could both go to Hawaii, but whatever.)

Of course, the girls are still in middle school, so there’s no way Alice and Ned will let Jess go to Hawaii without a chaperone. Just as she thinks she’ll have to turn down her fabulous grand prize (and accept the consolation, hundreds of cans of pineapple, which Jessica doesn’t even like), a jealous Lila inadvertently comes up with a solution. She complained to her father about not being invited on the trip, so he agreed to take her, Ellen, and Janet to Hawaii. Jessica realizes that Mr. Fowler can chaperone her, Mary, and Mandy as well. So the trip is back on.

The only drawback is that Mr. Fowler will also be bringing his new girlfriend, Bambi. Yes, Bambi. She’s an aspiring actress, which Lila doesn’t find endearing. She hates how much time her father spends with Bambi rather than paying attention to his daughter. Fair enough. But, of course, Bambi is very sweet and doesn’t deserve any of the animosity Lila directs toward her. Lila, sweetie, you’re going to Hawaii with your best friends. Lighten up.

As soon as the girls get to Hawaii, it becomes clear that Mr. Fowler’s chaperoning is pretty much in name only. The only rule he gives the girls is to not spend their money on cheap crap. Bambi promises to keep an eye on the girls, then promptly disappears. The girls all split up to go shopping, go to the beach, etc. Apparently 12-year-old girls are perfectly capable of navigating around Hawaii without any help, even though the only one who’s ever been there before is Lila, and it was just for a long weekend.

Janet runs into a local boy named Kenji, who insists that she’s the reincarnation of the Hawaiian princess Keiko. Janet falls for it, because she doesn’t realize that a Hawaiian princess would most likely not be white. Kenji warns that, according to lore, if Keiko’s reincarnation ever tries to leave Hawaii, the goddess Pele will erupt and cover the island in lava. Fun! Janet tries to find a way out of this mess, but Kenji tells her she’s now cursed for wanting to leave.

The Pineapple People have arranged a tour of their plant for the Unicorns, which sounds like a really exciting way to spend your time in Hawaii. Jessica’s confused because they keep calling her Jessica Wakely. She and Mandy decide that they must have gotten her mixed up with the real competition winner. After all, how could their pineapple disaster beat a delicious pineapple upside-down cake? They don’t bother to wonder how a pineapple upside-down cake could win a contest looking for a unique recipe. Anyway, Jess feels guilty for the rest of the trip, thinking she’s taken someone else’s prize.

Lila finds a ring on the beach and convinces herself that it’s super-fancy and expensive. Janet’s new buddy Kenji meets her and tells her it’s from King Kamehameha’s tomb, and now she’s cursed for wearing it. Kenji sure knows a lot about curses, doesn’t he? Lila spends the rest of the book trying and failing to take the ring off.

Mary and Mandy don’t have much of a plot (though at least they get more to do than Ellen, who’s at her dumbest here), but they overhear Mr. Fowler and Bambi talking and think they’re getting married. Bambi mentions that she’s not sure she’s ready to be a stepmother. Mandy and Mary know that Lila will freak out if she learns her father wants to marry Bambi, so they keep it to themselves.

The girls go on a tour of a volcano, and Lila and Janet think it’s erupting. They think nearby bulldozers are the shaking ground and the sudden extreme heat for lava. The other girls get a good laugh at them. Then they go on a glass-bottom boat tour, and Jessica falls in the water and thinks she’s drowning. The other girls gleefully tell her to put her feet down because the water’s only three feet deep. I love the visual here.

Mary and Mandy tell Ellen, Jess, and Janet about Mr. Fowler’s possible marriage plans, so the girls decide to sneak into Bambi’s room and look for…I don’t know, a piece of paper where she’s written down, “I’m getting married”? There’s some weirdness where they get access to the room by calling the front desk, pretending to be Bambi, and complain that there are no towels. This requires hiding all the towels in the room so the maid doesn’t see them. Once they’re in the room, Bambi almost catches them, but they hide in the bathtub. Bambi wants to take a shower, but there are no towels, of course. The girls hear her on the phone, talking again about getting married and becoming a stepmother.

The girls end up telling Lila about their investigation, so now she’s upset that Mr. Fowler is getting remarried. They all have dinner together, and Janet and Lila’s supposed curses rear their heads again – Janet sits in cole slaw, Lila accidentally lets out a belch, and Jessica falls out of her chair. Everyone else is really amused.

The girls get caught eavesdropping on Bambi and Mr. Fowler, who reveal that Bambi’s auditioning for a role on a soap (Days of Turmoil – Jessica’s favorite), and Mr. Fowler has been helping her with her lines. The role is a woman who’s in love with a guy who has a daughter, so every time Bambi’s said she’s not sure she can be a stepmother, she’s either been in character or is worried about playing a stepmother on TV. Bambi makes it clear that she’s nowhere near ready to marry Mr. Fowler, and isn’t even sure it’ll ever happen. Lila starts to warm up to her.

Kenji and his friend Lono have Jessica believing she’s cursed, too, because of her lies, but they have a solution: She needs to mix up a bunch of ingredients and perform a ritual at midnight. For some reason, she also has to wear her hair in a ponytail. The boys tell Lila that she can only remove her “cursed” ring if she goes to King Kamehameha’s tomb at midnight…though no one who’s ever gone there has come back out. Lila’s willing to risk it.

As both girls are trying to sneak out at midnight, the other girls catch them and everything comes out. They figure out that Kenji and Lono have been messing with them all the whole time. (Also, Lila’s ring comes off with suntan lotion, and the inside shows that it’s from a souvenir shop.) The girls come up with a revenge plan, enlisting Bambi to play Pele and make the boys think they’ve angered her into erupting and burying the island in lava. That’s actually pretty clever. The boys apologize and invite the girls to a luau.

As for Jessica’s “curse,” she didn’t take her grand prize from anyone. She goes to the Pineapple People to confess, and they realize that the memo announcing her the contest winner spelled her name wrong. There’s no Jessica Wakely, and Jess’ recipe did win. All of the recipes were awful, so the Pineapple People went with the most original, just for fun. For Jessica’s honesty, she’s rewarded with 200 cans of pineapple. I only wish we’d wrapped up the book with a scene where Ned and Alice accept dozens of boxes from the Pineapple People and have no idea why.

Thoughts: The Pineapple People expect over a million entires. Uh-huh. They also publish an announcement about Jessica winning in a magazine instead of calling her directly. And they don’t bother to confirm that she’s who she says she is when she calls – she could be any random person. I don’t think this company is run by very smart people.

“Hawaii was nice, but it was no Sweet Valley.” You have GOT to be kidding me.

“Pele! It’s me, Princess Keiko! Mellow out, would you?” Janet’s a mess.

Janet’s suggestions for gifts to appease Pele so she can leave Hawaii: a curling iron and a Johnny Buck cassette. Like I said, a mess.

Bambi wants to play a character named Flame, who’s in love with Caleb Dakota. I love it.

May 3, 2016

SVT #53, The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley: It’s Ironic That Leslie Has Stage Fright About a Horror Movie

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

Elizabeth is right to be this amused

Elizabeth is right to be this amused

Summary: The sixth-graders have reached that point in the school year where they just can’t handle the thought of doing more work. When I was in college, we called that October. Mr. Bowman, everyone’s favorite English teacher, agrees to let them do something different. A girl named Leslie Forsythe thinks they should make a movie – writing the script would fit in with their English curriculum, and the whole experience would be educational. Mr. Bowman and the rest of the class think this is a great idea.

Jessica and Lila both want to play the lead. Never mind that the movie doesn’t even have a plot yet. Leslie is somehow friends with a woman named Deirdre who works at a video store and studied acting in college, so Leslie takes a few classmates to meet her after school. Leslie secretly wants to be an actress, too, but is too shy to fulfill her dreams. Deirdre thinks Leslie should work on that and get over it, since her own acting career was derailed by stage fright, and she doesn’t want Leslie to face the same fate.

The guys want to do a horror movie, but the girls want a romance. Elizabeth comes up with a kind of compromise: a horror spoof with a love triangle. The students then write down which three jobs they’d like on the movie. Jess and Lila only want to act. Leslie does, too, but pretends it’s just because she can’t think of another job she wants. Liz and Amy end up thinking up a plot everyone likes: A boy grows cucumbers in his basement, one becomes infested with some kind of slime, and the slime gets into a love triangle with the boy and his girlfriend. This is more creative than 85% of what gets made in Hollywood.

Even though the plot hasn’t been finalized and there’s no script, auditions are held. There are only a handful of characters – in addition to the three mains, there’s the boy’s grandmother and sister, as well as an English teacher. The principal kindly agrees to play himself and get eaten by the Slime. That’s pretty awesome. Two of the boys auditioning for the male lead are Winston and resident nerd Randy Mason. Jess and Lila are horrified that they have to read with these guys, though both boys prove to be good actors. Lila’s audition sucks, but Jessica’s is good.

Leslie’s supposed to audition last, but she overhears Lila and Ellen talking trash about her. They think she’s a loser and could never land the female lead. Even though Elizabeth and Amy were supportive, Leslie decides it’s not worth the risk to audition – she could screw up in front of everyone and embarrass herself. Plus, she would have to read with Randy, and face her huge crush on him. Awww, nerdy love. I’m going to picture Leslie as Alex from Modern Family.

Since Leslie didn’t audition, Jessica has little competition and lands the female lead. She’ll be acting opposite Randy as the male lead. Mr. Bowman first picks Lila to play the Slime (I thought her audition was horrible?), but there’s no way Lila Fowler is going to do something like that, so Winston gets the part and Lila is put in charge of clean-up. Ha! Lila assigns herself the job of camera operator, since her father just got an expensive new camcorder and she’s the only one allowed to use it.

Lila’s new interest in making movies drives her friends crazy. She takes the camcorder on a trip to the mall and films the Unicorns embarrassing themselves. I have a feeling there’s a lot of footage of Ellen doing stupid things. Meanwhile, the movie’s screenwriters – Elizabeth, Amy, Leslie, and Maria – come up with a plot point that will also embarrass Jessica. They think her character, Sherri, should kiss the Slime.

When Jess reads the script, she’s outraged. She’ll have to kiss both Randy and Winston on screen. Plus, rehearsals start next week, so Jessica needs to pucker up pretty soon. Jess finds ways to delay the kiss at rehearsals, being enough of a diva that they run out of time fulfilling her needs, then faking a cold. Lila invites Jess over to teach her about stage kissing, but it’s really just an excuse for Lila to film Jessica while she makes a fool out of herself.

Leslie watches a movie with her new buddies Elizabeth, Amy, and Maria, and when the sound goes out, Leslie acts out the ending. The other girls gush over what a great actress she is. Leslie admits that she was too shy to audition for the movie, and was afraid to have to speak full sentences in front of her crush. Maria, who’s been through this herself, gives Leslie some encouragement.

Lila shows a bunch of people the embarrassing footage she’s gotten of her friends, including Jessica’s fake make-out session with a pillow. She points out that if Jess is humiliated by it, she’ll be even more humiliated when she has to kiss Randy and Winston on camera. Jess agrees and drops out of the movie. Now that Leslie has the courage to audition, she nails it and gets Jessica’s role.

The rest of the filmmaking goes smoothly, and after just a couple weeks, the final product is ready to be screened. Jessica puts together a fake film for the coming attractions, starring Lila doing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet opposite a mop, while wearing curlers and an oatmeal face mask. This is her payback for embarrassing all her friends. Looks good on you, Li. Why are they all friends with her, anyway?

So I guess the final movie is spectacular and Leslie is a star. She inspires Deirdre to go back to acting. Of course. And after all the talk of her crush, Leslie disappears and we never hear about her and Randy becoming a couple. Oh, well.

Thoughts: Ellen: “It’s worse than dumb. It’s stupid.” Well, Ellen would know.

Caroline: “How do you audition for the part of a Slime victim?” Mr. Bowman: “Just be yourself, Caroline.” I know that was supposed to be innocent, but it reminded me of an exchange from Addams Family Values: “I’ll be the victim!” “All your life.”

The Unicorns have a weird pajama contest at a sleepover: “Belinda’s weird pajamas turned out to be an old Ranger T-shirt and a pair of baseball pants.” Belinda, are you even trying? Then again, Lila just wears a long shirt with a unicorn on it, which is nowhere near weird.

April 12, 2016

SVU #54, Rush Week: I Really Wish People Would Stop Rewarding Chloe’s Horrible Behavior

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:49 pm by Jenn

Is that Chloe? I want to bite her

Is that Chloe? I want to bite her

Summary: When Chloe first arrived at SVU, she was very much against joining a sorority, since she didn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. But now that everyone in her dorm thinks she’s a dork, and she’s kind of become friends with Jessica, she’s desperate to join Theta and move into the sorority house. Chloe befriends a girl in her dorm, Val, and is so eager not to lose her that when Val says she also wants to become a Theta, Chloe decides to work extra-hard to get them both inducted.

Theta has just elected new officers: Denise is president, Alex is vice president, Lila is treasurer, and Jessica is pledge chairwoman. Jessica is immediately inundated with requests to consider new pledges. She was really excited about her new role, but that wears off pretty quickly since people only want to talk to her to kiss up or ask for a favor. Chloe doesn’t like that other girls are sucking up, either, but it’s because she can’t convince them that she and Jessica are totally BFFs. Chloe has totally deluded herself into thinking she’s not annoying and that Jess really wants to spend time with her.

The first step in making Val a viable pledge: a makeover! Chloe wants to turn Val from dorky to glam. Val has un-rush-worthy clothes and spends too much time with her dumpy roommate, Deena, which disgusts Chloe. Chloe, by the way, becomes a huge witch in this book, to the point where I can no longer tolerate her. She thinks that if Val keeps hanging out with Deena, Deena will ruin Val’s chances with Theta. Chloe takes Val shopping, buys her a bunch of new clothes, and pays for her to get a haircut. Val continually objects to letting Chloe spend so much money on her, but Chloe’s family is so rich that she doesn’t think her parents will even notice.

Rush week events begin, and Jessica is already sick of them. The girls rushing Theta are all idiots. Two of them make the huge mistake of saying homophobic things about Neil, not realizing that he and Jessica are best friends. They figure they’ve lost their shot at Theta because of that, but Jess tells them it’s really because Theta doesn’t want bigots. It’s a pretty awesome moment.

Chloe is shocked when Val hits it off really well with the Thetas – much better than Chloe herself does. Jess can see that Chloe’s trying really hard and reminds her that the whole sorority votes on new members. In other words, sucking up to Jess is a waste of time. But Chloe doesn’t catch the hint, and she hatches a plan to win Jessica over. She buys scalped tickets to a concert Jessica really wants to go to and offers them to Jess, pretending her mom bought them but Chloe can’t go. Even though Jess was really hoping to get tickets, she turns Chloe down, knowing it’s wrong to accept a bribe.

Val meets Chloe’s horrible roommate and her horrible friends, and again, Val manages to make a good impression. Chloe worries that Val will end up surpassing her in the popular department and ditch her, so she invites her to the concert. But then they run into a couple of Thetas who want to go to the concert, and Chloe gives them the tickets, deciding that a bribe is more important than having a good time with a new friend.

At the next rush event, Chloe goes on and on about how she’s a Theta legacy and her family’s rich and her mom is BFFs with some designer. Jess is irritated until someone calls Chloe out for lying about dating Tom. Jess comes to her defense, saying that Tom led her on. That night, Chloe starts worrying that she won’t get into Theta, and even wakes Val up to get reassurance. I really don’t know what Val sees in Chloe, especially since she’s starting to get that Chloe thinks Val will ruin her chances with Theta.

When it comes time for the Thetas to discuss pledges, it first seems like Chloe will be turned down. Jessica starts talking her up, though, and everyone begins to spin Chloe’s negatives into positives. I don’t understand this. Jess clearly can’t stand Chloe. Why is she going to bat for her? Anyway, the officers decide to give Chloe a little test.

On Bid Day, Val gets an offer from Theta, Jessica invites Chloe to breakfast off-campus. Chloe thinks she’s being taken somewhere private so Jess can break bad news to her where she can’t make a scene. They meet up with Lila, Alex, and Denise, and everyone but Chloe orders a huge breakfast. When they’re done, the Thetas all pretend they haven’t brought any money with them, so Chloe will have to pay. Chloe says she will, since she’s desperate to be a Theta and will do anything for a bid.

The girls imply that they’d like Chloe to buy new furniture for the house (didn’t Alison do that?), so if she agrees to, they’ll make her a Theta. Chloe says again that she’ll do anything because being a Theta is the most important thing in the world to her, despite the fact that she was so against it just a couple books ago. When bids go out, Val gets an offer from Theta, but Chloe gets nothing. Then Jessica tells her in person that Theta wants her, but they wanted to teach her a lesson about sucking up. I can’t believe they want to voluntarily spend time with this trainwreck of a girl.

Elizabeth is still seeing Finn, and since she hasn’t talked to him for a little while, she goes by the med school to see if she runs into him. She does, and she has to pretend she’s there to meet up with someone else. This makes Finn jealous, and he quickly invites Elizabeth to his place for dinner. Sam is also jealous because Liz likes Finn, but I really don’t care how Sam feels about anything.

The couple’s date goes well, but when Finn is ready for dessert, Elizabeth backs off. Oh, and by “dessert,” I mean sex. Elizabeth isn’t quite ready to take that step, so she asks Finn if they can slow things down. He’s all, “Yeah, that’s completely fine. Now I’m going to take you home for a completely unrelated reason.” Smooth, Doctor. He tries again after another date, using the excuse that he’s so into Liz that he can’t help himself. Red flag!

Elizabeth tells Jessica what’s going on, and Jess says she’s doing the right thing – Finn will be more interested in her if she keeps denying him sex. Yeah, that sounds like a foolproof plan. Off-screen, so to speak, Liz tells Finn about her relationships with Todd and Tom, and why she’s a little gun-shy. She’s still thinking over what to do the next time Finn brings up sex. Also, somehow their relationship has made her feel like she needs to stop fighting with Sam over stupid things, since she’s dating a man instead of a boy, which makes her more of an adult. Oh, just hook up with Sam already. We all know it’s going to happen.

Nina decides to move out of the duplex, thank God – her constant fighting with Sam was bugging the crap out of me. She gets a single in a dorm, but I guess she doesn’t have any friends other than Elizabeth, because she gets lonely pretty quickly. She meets a classmate named Francesca and agrees to go see a band with her. Nina has to study, so she plans to only go out for a few hours, but she ends up staying out until one in the morning. Then she decides to keep partying since she’s already out. Never mind that she has an 8 a.m. class.

After falling asleep in class, Nina goes to her dorm to take a quick nap before she has to go to her part-time job. The nap turns into an hours-long sleep, and Nina misses work. Francesca is completely unconcerned. Nina doesn’t seem to get that Francesca only cares about having fun. Then again, Nina’s decided that she needs to have more fun, even if it means her grades suffer a little. There’s no way this will turn out badly!

Todd gets the really boring plotline in this book. To make a long story short, Dana has moved out, and Todd wants to become a big ol’ bachelor. He decides to drop some classes and work more hours at the bar, possibly using some of his money to buy a motorcycle. He meets a girl named Lucy and they hit it off, but she cools off on him when she finds out he works at a “townie” bar. He hangs out with a friend all night and decides going to class isn’t that important, now that he’s a grown-up with a grown-up job. Yeah, good luck explaining that logic to your parents.

Thoughts: In a throwaway moment, we learn that Neil lost the election. Boo!

Finn wears “a black Armani jacket, Levi’s, and loafers without socks.” Run away, Elizabeth! Never trust a guy who wears loafers without socks.

A girl named Angela asks Jessica if she can eat coconut, since she’s allergic to nuts. Jessica can’t believe she’s never had coconut before. Angela says it’s because she’s from Michigan. Jessica doesn’t know what that has to do with anything, but she realizes she doesn’t know if coconut is a nut. My head hurts.

March 29, 2016

SVU Thriller, Killer Party: And Then There Was One

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

Jessica, what is UP with your hair?

Jessica, what is UP with your hair?

Summary: Lila’s throwing an exclusive party on New Year’s Eve, having only invited a few dozen people. Making the cut: the twins, Denise, Alex, Chloe, Todd, Neil, Sam, and Nina, who I didn’t think Lila had ever even met. She’s barely in the book anyway. And I’m not sure how Chloe made the cut, but whatever. As Lila’s boyfriend, Bruce is also invited, of course, but he hasn’t yet made it back from his semester in France. An anonymous girl who wasn’t invited calls Lila to complain, warning that Lila will be sorry for not including her on the guest list.

Bruce calls Lila from Europe to tell her that his father has their private jet, and since Bruce would never in a million years fly commercial, he’s stuck until the jet is free again. He can’t just hire a private plane? Lila is furious that Bruce would rather sit around and wait than come home to her. She tells him they’re over. Jessica, of all people, tries to cheer Lila up by reminding her that she doesn’t need a guy to make her feel fulfilled. They’re going to have an awesome time at the party with or without Bruce. Chloe meets some grungy guys at the mall and invites them to the party. Chloe, NO. Lila tells the guys there’s no party, and for some reason doesn’t disinvite Chloe on the spot.

The party starts, but Lila’s sad because of what happened with Bruce. She distracts herself by dancing with Sam. Todd learns of the breakup and tries to convince Lila to give Bruce a second chance. Why does he even care? Chloe’s new friends from the mall crash the party, but Lila and Neil chase them off, threatening to call the cops. The guys warn that Lila will be sorry. After they leave, someone watches Lila from the bushes.

The partiers go back to partying, but suddenly the lights go out. The Fowlers’ house is apparently right near some woods, and far enough from the rest of civilization for it to be pitch black with the electricity out. Chloe’s on the deck and has to feel her way back into the house. As she’s getting there, someone grabs her and takes her into the woods. She figures the guys from the mall have come back to get revenge.

Inside the house, Todd heads off to check out the circuits. Lila gets another call from the girl who called before, making Lila think this is what the girl was planning when she warned that Lila would be sorry. Lila, Jessica, Elizabeth, Denise, and Alex light some candles, slowly realizing that a bunch of the partygoers have vanished. In fact, they’re being dragged through the woods by people they can’t see.

There are only a dozen or so people left at the party, and they can’t figure out how everyone else disappeared without anyone noticing. No one heard cars driving away, and it’s pretty unlikely that 25 just randomly decided to leave all at once without anyone seeing them go. They don’t think the guys from the mall could have kidnapped everyone, since some of the guests were big football players and would have fought back.

Lila gets two Theta pledges to go look for Todd, who never came back from checking the circuits. But since this is basically a horror movie, the pledges don’t come back either. The person watching from the bushes has himself a good laugh when he realizes how spooked Lila is by all the disappearances. The 13 remaining guests lock themselves in a room together, realizing that there are only girls left.

Alex and Denise talk Lila and the twins out of calling the police, because why do something logical? They don’t think the police will believe them without any evidence, like, if 13 girls tell the police that 27 other people disappeared, they’ll have to do something. I’ll just say that it turns out to be a good thing that the police never get involved, because someone would be in a ton of trouble. Lila suspects that her caller is responsible, and worries that the girl’s warnings about something happening at midnight mean more danger.

A few of the girls head back to the ballroom to get cigarettes, and another little group heads off to the bathroom. Only Lila, the twins, Alex, and Denise stay behind. Alex and Denise follow the other group the ballroom, since Denise hurt her ankle and needs ice. Jessica follows a minute later, wanting her sweater. This leaves Elizabeth and Lila alone, not wanting to accompany Jess in case someone comes back to the room they’re hiding in.

Jess checks to make sure the deck doors are locked, but while she’s there, someone comes inside and grabs her. Jess realizes that this person must have keys to the house. When she doesn’t return to Lila and Elizabeth, they go looking for her, then decide to call the police, finally. But now the phones don’t work, and Lila’s cell phone is missing. When she finds it, she gets another call from the girl, reminding her that something big is coming at midnight. Lila’s so spooked that she faints. Yeah, I bet.

Elizabeth hears someone in the house and ditches Lila to hide. Sorry, Lila! The person in the house knows Liz is there and is specifically looking for her. She gets grabbed, leaving only Lila in the house, like the only survivor in an Agatha Christie mystery. When Lila regains consciousness, she gets another call from the girl – but this time it’s a confession. The caller is Marnie, a girl from down the street who Lila has babysat for. She was mad about not getting to come to a glamorous party with college students, so she pranked Lila as revenge. Her mom caught her and made her come clean. Since there’s no way a 12-year-old could have orchestrated everything that happened at the party, the calls were a red herring.

The kidnapper comes back into the house, looking for the last woman standing. One of the rooms in the house has a secret room behind a bookshelf (of course), so Lila hides in there. I’m surprised the Fowlers don’t have a panic room, but the movie didn’t come out for a couple more years, so maybe they got one then. The kidnapper stumbles around in the dark for a whole (weird, since he had a flashlight earlier), then figures out where Lila is. He grabs her, blindfolds her, and takes her through the woods to the Patmans’ house, which is apparently right next door (since when?).

Lila realizes that the other partygoers are probably all at the mansion. The Patmans are out of town, so what better place to stash 40 people? She wonders if this is all a scheme to get revenge on the Fowlers and Patmans. But the truth is much, much more annoying. When Lila’s blindfold comes off, the partygoers all yell, “Surprise!” Then she realizes that her kidnapper is Bruce.

The whole twisted story is that Bruce wanted revenge on Lila for being mean to him on the phone. SO HE KIDNAPPED ALL HER FRIENDS AND MADE HER THINK SHE WAS GOING TO BE MURDERED. A totally fair response, right? Bruce enlisted some crew guys to help him “kidnap” the guests, many of whom were in on the game. And most of those people only agreed to participate because they were told that the twins were in on it and approved of the “joke.”

Instead of a New Year’s kiss, Lila gives Bruce a punch in the face. He deserves that and much more. The twins promise that they weren’t in on the plan (neither were Denise, Alex, or Todd). Sam and Neil were given the story that the twins were in on it, so they went along. Bruce tries to make up with Lila, who spends about 15 pages hating him before forgiving him. Lila, no! He’s messed up! That is not normal behavior! Let’s hope she’s just stringing him along while she comes up with a proportionate revenge plan of her own.

P.S. Chloe wasn’t part of the mass “kidnapping” – she was actually kidnapped by the guys from the mall. They took her to a treehouse and then ditched her. If she were anyone else, I would feel bad for her, but she’s really annoying in this book, so I just have to laugh.

Thoughts: Jessica mentions that all of her and Lila’s friends are “guyless and happy,” so I guess Denise and Winston broke up.

Jess thinks the partygoers’ disappearances are like something out of The X-Files, and that Elizabeth is like Scully. Okay, but Jessica is no Mulder.

“Eyewitnesses to the kidnapping – none! So that rules out any proof that the guess were kidnapped.” So Elizabeth’s logic is if no one saw a crime take place, the crime didn’t happen? That might be the dumbest thing she’s ever said.

Lila: “I’m not budging from my decision not to budge, and that’s final!” Hee.

“If there was one thing Jessica knew she could do, it was use her smarts.” Me: “…”

February 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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