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.

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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.

December 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 20, 2016

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

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

I thought Jessica's walls were brown

I thought Jessica’s walls were brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 29, 2016

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

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

Way to be discreet, Johanna

Way to be discreet, Johanna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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