April 18, 2017
Summary: You’d think that after so many summers, the twins would have found a number of ways to entertain themselves, but no, they’re already bored. Fortunately, their parents don’t want to have to put up with them, so they’re being sent to Camp Faraway for two weeks. Come on, Ned and Alice, shell out for the whole summer! Imagine how quiet the house will be! Elizabeth has decided that this is the summer she’ll write a novel, and she thinks that Faraway, which offers writing classes, will be the perfect setting. Someone needs to talk to Liz about her writing process, though, since she wants to write a mystery but has no actual plot in mind and no idea what she’s doing.
Other than Mandy Miller, the twins don’t know anyone at camp. Of course, since they’re such wonderful people, they immediately make friends. Jessica hits it off with a girl named Miranda, who’ also an actress, and Liz connects with Starr, who is obsessed with Shakespeare and gets on my nerves within two pages of her introduction. There’s also an annoying girl named Priscilla who I think is supposed to be a southern belle, but she’s a southern belle as written by a ghostwriter who doesn’t know anyone about southern belles. I guess she’s the antagonist of the book, but she’s not very good at it.
The camp owner, Gunnie (…what is that even a nickname for?), tells everyone that some famous people were campers there as kids. One is Roland Barge, who gained fame writing thrillers before he disappeared. Also, there were murders on the property decades ago. Raise your hand if you would send your daughter to camp at a place where people were once murdered. Now go sit in the corner and think about your parenting decisions, you monsters.
The girls’ awesome counselor, Heather, takes them to Hangman’s Cave for a little expedition. Yes, sign me right up for a trip to Hangman’s Cave on the property of Camp Murder. Elizabeth finds a glowing pen stuck near the wall and decides to use it to write her book. I’m sure one pen – which is very old, so the ink has probably dried up – is all she’ll need for an entire manuscript. She figures she’ll get some inspiration from the research she does while writing an article about Barge.
While Jessica gets into her acting classes (and dreads having to go up against Priscilla in an audition for a play called The Royal Switch), Elizabeth starts working on her article. Only she finds herself writing a story, unclear on where the idea or words came from. Her handwriting even looks different. The story is about a servant named Amelia Champlain who works at a manor 70 years ago. She wants to be a writer, but a fellow servant named Richard Bittle thinks she should keep that to herself, since servants aren’t allowed to have dreams or aspirations. Amelia writes a story, but after she has Richard read it, she sees the title page in the fireplace. She figures the wind blew the whole manuscript into the fire. There goes Amelia’s dream!
Jessica gets her script for The Royal Switch, but when she gets up from the table where she’s reading, it disappears. She finds the title page in the fireplace, just like Amelia did in Elizabeth’s story. This combined with Elizabeth’s story that came out of nowhere make Liz think something eerie is going on. Jessica thinks she’s nuts for believing there could be something supernatural going on with the pen. Strange, since Liz is usually the skeptic, while Jess once thought she was psychic and could predict earthquakes.
Elizabeth does more research on Barge, learning that his earlier novels were well-liked, but his last one was a critical disaster. Meanwhile, Jessica lands the lead in the play, of course. Priscilla gives a horrible audition and then basically disappears from the story. Even with the dumbness of the main plot (I mean, a supernatural pen?), it’s still more interesting than Priscilla, the weakest “villain” this series has ever produced.
Liz’s article gets pushed aside when more of the story comes to her. Richard asks Amelia to meet him on the lake, but when she goes out in a boat, it sinks and she almost drowns. The fisherman who saves her tells her that someone stabbed holes in the boat to make it sink. In the present, Jessica goes out on the lake in a boat and also almost drowns. Elizabeth saves her and freaks out about Jess’s life paralleling Amelia’s.
Gunnie provides some information on Barge, whose real name was…drumroll…Richard Bittle. He was in love with a servant named Amelia, who disappeared one day, leaving behind a note saying she’d run off with another man. Elizabeth finds this suspicious, though not as suspicious as the fact that she’s been writing about things that actually happened. For once in her life, Elizabeth makes a smart decision: She tells Jess they need to call their parents and get the frick away from Camp Murder. Jessica refuses, because she needs to have her big stage debut. The show must go on, even if your life is in danger.
Elizabeth backs down and goes back to her article on Barge. She reads his first novel, Death of a Hangman, which takes place in Hangman’s Cave and involves a murderer being killed by the ghosts of his victims. She continues writing her story, which features Richard luring Amelia to Hangman’s Cave and strangling her. Scared that Jessica will face the same fate, Elizabeth grabs Gunnie and takes her to the cave, where they find Jess about to be strangled by…a ghost, I guess.
Elizabeth writes the rest of the story on the wall of the cave, and it’s now clear that Amelia has been telling her story through the pen and Liz. Richard strangled Amelia and drowned her in a pool in the cave so he could steal all the books she somehow had time to write. The one she had him read wasn’t burned after all; Richard just got rid of the title page to fool her. They find the rest of Amelia’s manuscripts under the stables, along with Richard’s last novel. He wrote that one himself because he had no more of Amelia’s to publish under his own name.
Gunnie and the twins then find Richard’s journal, in which he confesses his crimes. He regrets murdering the woman he loved just so he could get a little fame. Everyone wondered where he disappeared to after his disastrous last novel was published, but the journal gives the explanation: He killed himself. How cheery in a book for preteens.
Elizabeth writes a big article about Barge, which gets published both in the camp newspaper and in a local paper. Everyone thinks it’s quality work and Liz has a great career ahead of her. Jessica also gets rave reviews for the play. I’m so sure a paper is reviewing a camp performance. Liz’s story being published outside of the camp paper at least makes sense, since Barge was a famous writer. But I wonder if she included the part about the magic pen channeling a woman who’s been dead for 70 years.
Thoughts: “There’s nothing else to do this summer. I might as well accomplish something.” That’s probably not as funny as I thought it was.
Jessica’s “always dreamed about going away to camp,” so I guess The Big Camp Secret never happened.
The Unicorns have really screwed with Jessica. When Miranda gives her a compliment after an acting exercise, Jess is “a little surprised. Whenever she competed with Lila or the other Unicorns, they never admitted that she’d done a good job. Is it because Miranda’s super confident?” Oh, sweetie, no. It’s because she’s a nice person, unlike your so-called friends.
Miranda calls Jessica’s purple walking shorts “dramatic.” Okay, Miranda.
Starr: “‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ That’s from Hamlet.” Me: “Shut up, Starr. That’s from me.”
January 31, 2017
Summary: Janet’s birthday is coming up, and for the Unicorns, that’s basically on the same level as a national holiday. Ellen is determined to throw her birthday party and organize the planning and purchasing of her gift. Jessica’s mad because she wants that honor (not to mention the awesome hostess gift Janet will give her in return), but since Steven has been hogging the phone so much to talk to Cathy, it’s hard for her to call the other Unicorns or be let in on their plans. Ellen thinks they should get Janet a gift certificate for a psychic reading. Janet, Betsy, and Kimberly have recently become beatniks, so the girls’ usual ideas for gifts for Janet are things she’s no longer interested in.
Ellen gets right to the party planning by calling a bunch of the Unicorns and asking them to support her plan to have the party at her house. She’s very invested in this and works on it harder than probably anything else she’s ever worked on. Jessica tries to stage a coup and get the Unicorns to agree to have the party at her house instead, but even the Wakefields’ pool doesn’t sway them.
Jess sees an ad for three-way calling and gets excited about the possibility of having mini-conference calls with her friends. Ned won’t pay for it, so Jess recruits Elizabeth to help her stage a chaotic situation that would be eased with three-way calling. The girls are working on group projects for history, and they make Ned keep calling the houses where they’re working so he can arrange their rides home. After very little work, Ned cracks and gets the three-way calling. I don’t know why Jessica doesn’t ask for her own phone line instead. Then she wouldn’t have to deal with Steven hogging the phone all the time.
Ellen scores another win when Janet asks her to host and run a Unicorn meeting she can’t attend. I’m surprised they have meetings when Janet can’t come. Janet strikes me as the type who doesn’t want people hanging out without her. Jessica has to miss the meeting as well, which thrills Ellen, since they’re going to vote on where Janet’s party will be held. The meeting doesn’t go great, not least because Ellen’s father crashes it, wearing a hat with an octopus on it, and embarrasses his daughter. But the Unicorns vote to have the party at Ellen’s, so she’s happy.
Mandy calls Jessica that night to tell her about the vote. She admits that she wanted to have the party at the Wakefields’, since Ellen’s father will be grilling at Janet’s party, and he’s not great with barbecuing. The last time he did, Mandy almost choked on a dry hot dog. Since the three-way calling is up and running, Jess brings Ellen into the conversation to find out what to bring to the party. Ellen’s suddenly become disorganized again and can’t remember what Jess was supposed to be in charge of. The two of them fight and Mandy hangs up, not wanting to deal with their drama.
Jessica calls Lila, and once she’s clarified things, Jess hangs up on Ellen and complains to Lila about how annoying Ellen is, and how Mr. Riteman almost gave Mandy food poisoning. Except she’s still getting the hang of three-way calling and doesn’t hang up on Ellen properly, so Ellen hears her. Lila hangs up for real, so Jess and Ellen can fight in peace, but they easily make up. Lila doesn’t know this, though, and she tells Belinda about Jessica’s accusation about Mr. Riteman. The two of them wonder if they should still have Janet’s party at Ellen’s house.
Belinda then tells Grace that Mandy had food poisoning, and Grace tells Tamara that Ellen’s father poisoned Mandy. The whole thing turns into a big game of Telephone, with Mandy’s condition slowly growing worse. Kimberly mentions her aunt, a teacher, having food poisoning once, and Betsy misunderstands and tells Mary that Mr. Riteman poisoned a teacher. The tale gets back to Belinda, who now thinks Mr. Riteman poisoned both Mandy and the teacher. They tell Lila that Mr. Riteman was in jail for attempted murder.
Jessica’s oblivious to the whole thing until Kimberly and Betsy tell her. She realizes the rumor stems from her fight with Ellen, and she confronts Lila, who says she only told one person about it. Jess is ready to set the record straight when the other Unicorns decide to revote on the location of Janet’s party. They want it at the Wakefields’ instead. Jess thinks this is more important than clearing up a rumor, so she doesn’t say anything. Kimberly gives Ellen the news that the party is no longer at her house because of what her father did. Ellen thinks she means wearing the dorky octopus hat.
Janet’s the first person to mention to Ellen that everyone thinks her father’s a murderer (the rumor has now expanded so that Mr. Riteman is a serial killer). Ellen’s shocked at the accusation; her father has never even gotten a speeding ticket. She even calls her dad to get him to tell Janet that he’s not a killer. Janet realizes that someone has started a vicious rumor about Ellen, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.
The school projects the kids have been working on are about the Cold War era, and Elizabeth has been teamed with Lila and not-yet-dead Olivia. They get the idea to talk to Mrs. Harrington about her experiences in Hollywood during blacklisting. Liz realizes how much damage was done to people’s careers simply because others spread rumors about them. Jessica’s like, “Yeah, I get it, I get it.”
Janet believes that Mandy started the rumor about Mr. Riteman, so she kicks her out of the Unicorns. Poor Mandy. She just wanted an edible hot dog, that’s all! Grace, Mary, and Belinda are appalled at Janet’s actions and side with Mandy. The other Unicorns shun Mandy for being a traitor. Jessica tries to make peace between the two groups, but each side accuses her of being a spy for the other.
Elizabeth helps Jessica come up with a plan to work everything out. No, it doesn’t involve just confessing that she accidentally started a rumor. They use three-way calling to let Lila overhear Elizabeth telling Olivia that Johnny Buck is going to make a surprise appearance at Janet’s party. Then Jess has Mandy overhear the same thing. The rumor spreads through both groups, picking up more and more exaggerations as it moves. Eventually one side thinks Johnny Buck is going to play Janet a special song at the party, and the other thinks he’s moving to Sweet Valley.
Everyone shows up to the party excited for Johnny Buck but trying to act like they don’t know he’s coming, since it’s supposed to be a surprise. Jessica breaks the news that it was all a rumor they let get out of control. Everyone realizes how ridiculous they’ve been, and they all make up. (I guess Mandy’s let back in the club, too.) Jessica actually feels bad for Ellen and gives her Janet’s hostess gift, which is a book of poems neither of them wants anyway. Lila uses the experience in her, Liz, and Olivia’s presentation on McCarthyism and how rumors can ruin lives. I’m sure these girls will never gossip again…
There’s also a pointless not-even-good-enough-to-be-considered-a-B-plot where Alice has a difficult client. No one cares.
Thoughts: Ellen is more pathetic than she usually comes across. She’s desperate to be liked and prove her worth. I’d feel sorrier for her if she weren’t so annoying.
All of the Unicorns decided to wear gold and white to school one day (in honor of Johnny Buck’s new album, Gold Heart), but Jessica didn’t get the message. She wore purple as usual, so the other girls made her sit at the end of their lunch table “so she wouldn’t wreck the color scheme.” That is some Mean Girls craziness right there.
Janet: “When you think of the ocean, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” Jessica: “Um, food?” Janet: “Food.” Jessica: “Yeah, everything makes me think of food.” I guess Jess and I aren’t so different after all.
The SVMS spring musical CANNOT be Hair. There’s no freaking way.
Ellen’s father is peak embarrassing dad and I love him.
December 27, 2016
Summary: Valentine’s Day is approaching, as is a Valentine’s Day dance at SVMS. The Unicorns (spurred on by Mandy) are organizing a fundraiser for the local children’s hospital (appropriately named Children’s Hospital) in which students can hire a personal servant for a day or two. Ellen wants to call it Yours for a Day, but the other girls say that’s dumb since the fundraiser takes place over two days. But that’s what the book is called, so I guess Ellen wins in the end. Anyway, for $5 you can hire someone for a day, and for $10 you get someone over two days. The “servants” don’t have to pay, but they also don’t get compensated, so servants are just volunteering out of the kindness of their hearts.
Mandy has a crush on a guy named Peter Jeffries, but she’s too nervous to ask him to the dance. When she calls to talk to him, she just hangs up the phone. Oh, Mandy, we’ve all been there. She also can barely speak to Peter when he comes by the Unicorns’ table to sign up to be a servant. Jessica realizes that if Peter and Mandy (who will be a master) get paired up, she can order him to take her to the dance. How romantic.
At the drawing, Mandy winds up as Jessica’s servant, which Jess is thrilled about. Not only is she paired with a friend (the other girls were worried about being paired with people they don’t like), but she can order Mandy to ask Peter to the dance. The drawback here is that the Unicorns are working as both servants and masters, and Jess winds up as Lloyd Benson’s servant. Lila’s working for Peter, and Janet’s working for Winston. Ha ha!
Lloyd’s annoyed with Jessica for the earthquake stuff in the last book, so he makes her do lots of stuff for him. If Jess were really smart, she would have Mandy do it for her. Instead, she tells Mandy that her only task is to ask Peter to the dance. Mandy manages to pull herself together and do it…but Peter already has a date to the dance. Aw, Mandy. At least he’s nice about having to turn her down.
Still, Mandy feels humiliated and gets mad at Jessica. She gets a little pleasure out of watching Jessica do dumb things on Lloyd’s orders, like eat gross cafeteria food and help him with science experiments. Aaron feels bad for Jess and tries to think of a way to get her switched to him so Lloyd can’t mess with her anymore. Elizabeth correctly guesses that Lloyd won’t agree to a switch since he’s eager to get revenge on Jessica.
Jessica is also hoping to switch, and she even asks Elizabeth to be Lloyd’s servant. Liz balks, but since Jess rigged the drawing for her and Amy (see the B-plot), she eventually agrees. But Lila and Mandy, scheming against Jessica, pull their own switch. Jessica was supposed to work for Belinda, so the girls get Belinda to switch servants with Mandy, making Jessica serve Mandy instead. In the meantime, Aaron convinces Lloyd to switch with him, thinking he’d get Jessica. Now he has Elizabeth as a servant.
The usually-not-vindictive Mandy makes Jessica sing “Feelings” in the cafeteria so she’ll be humiliated like she inadvertently humiliated Mandy. The song makes Grace Oliver cry, but not from horribleness. She and Winston had been going out, or whatever the 12-year-old equivalent of that is, but they had a huge fight and aren’t speaking. Grace asked Peter to the dance, but now she wants to make up with Winston and go with him. Jessica realizes that she has the opportunity to make everyone happy.
She goes to Lloyd, who’s Grace’s master for the day, and gets him to switch servants with Winston. Winston thinks he’s getting Jessica as a servant, but he’s getting Grace. They quickly make up and will be going to the dance together. Half of Jess’ plan is a success, even though the switch means Lloyd will be Janet’s master.
Jessica tries to negotiate with Lila to get her to make Peter, her new servant, ask Mandy to the dance. Lila wants too much in return, so Jess just calls Peter on her own. But it turns out that her work is done, and Mandy and Peter have already decided to go to the dance together. Once Peter learned that Grace was going with Winston, he asked Mandy, the person he’d wanted to go with in the first place. He wasn’t sure Mandy liked him, but once Jessica made her ask him to the dance, he realized she did. So Jess’ meddling helped a couple get together!
The new couple has a great time at the dance, and the master/servant fundraiser makes $800 for the hospital. Jessica’s the only one who’s not happy at the end, since Janet makes Lloyd a certificate entitling him to another day of servitude from Jessica. I guess it’s a small price to pay for a successful fundraiser.
In the B-plot, Elizabeth and Amy are annoyed with Todd and Ken, who are just acting like typical preteen boys. They play a prank on the boys, getting them to eat mayo instead of vanilla pudding. They think this makes them even, especially when the guys send the girls on a scavenger hunt for what the girls think will be invitations to the dance. They get the invitations, but they also get drenched with cold water. The girls decide they need more revenge.
Elizabeth and Amy get Jessica to rig the master/servant drawing so Todd will be Liz’s servant and Ken will be Amy’s. Then they make the guys do things like wear embarrassing ties, walk on their hands in the cafeteria, and give the wrong answers in class. The guys handle things well, and still want to take the girls to the dance. They’re even going to get them corsages. The girls think they’ve learned their lesson and are going to be gentlemen from now on.
On Valentine’s Day, the girls spend most of the dance sneezing. They figure out that the guys got one last revenge by putting sneezing powder in their corsages. The girls get revenge right back by making them sing “Feelings” in front of everyone. I guess this evens things up, as the pranks stop. The girls were definitely winning that war anyway.
Thoughts: Grace is in a lot more books than I remembered. I really didn’t think she was ever mentioned again after The Big Camp Secret.
I can’t believe Amy and Elizabeth didn’t think the guys might try to get them back after everything they had to do as servants. I would expect Elizabeth to be smarter than that.
“Daddy would give more, but he already donated a whole wing to the hospital, and he didn’t want to overdo it.” Oh, of course not. There’s such a thing as helping too many sick children.
October 11, 2016
Summary: Veronica Brooks is settling in at SVMS, and she wants to become a Unicorn. Elizabeth is the only person who thinks Veronica is bad news. This is even after Veronica threatened to get even with Jessica at the end of the last book. The Unicorns haven’t yet invited Veronica to join them, possibly because right now they’re more interested in their newest accessories. Lila just got a Watchman (a watch/TV combo) and Ellen’s been allowed to wear her mother’s expensive hoop earrings to school.
At lunch, Ellen takes off her earrings (they’re heavy) and leaves them at the table while a bunch of the Unicorns go get cookies. Jessica and Veronica hang behind a little. When everyone gets back to the table, the earrings are missing. Then, at Boosters practice (which Veronica hangs around, since Bruce is also in the gym), Janet’s hairbrush and Lila’s newest Teenager magazine disappear. Veronica wonders if the same person took the magazine, hairbrush, and earrings. Jessica thinks the girls are all just bad at keeping track of their stuff.
Some of the girls chat about the disappearances in the bathroom, nicknaming the thief the Sweet Valley Swiper. Jessica admires Mandy’s new hat, which she got from a thrift store. By the way, everyone used to see Mandy’s style as low-class, but now she’s considered quirky and unique. She accidentally leaves the hat in the bathroom, and when she goes back to get it…well, of course it’s gone. The Sweet Valley Swiper strikes again!
Elizabeth fancies herself a detective, so she takes an interest in the case. She figures that since the hat was taken from the girls’ bathroom, the thief is probably a girl. Well, yeah – a guy probably isn’t going to steal earrings and a brush. Next, Mandy’s jacket vanishes. Ellen thinks her deodorant was also stolen, which leads to a lot of jokes about how she smells. There’s a pattern emerging beyond girls having their things taken – they’re all things Jessica has admired. Also, only the Unicorns have been victims of the thefts.
The pattern breaks when Veronica reports her notebook missing. The girls finally tell the principal, Mr. Clark, who promises to get the teachers to keep their eyes out. Elizabeth and Amy apparently solved mysteries together as kids, calling themselves the Snoopers, and they consider getting back together for one last case. How is this situation different from the other times they’ve teamed up to solve mysteries?
Lila gets her Watchman taken away in class, and when she goes to get it back from the teacher, it’s gone. I’m impressed that the thief was able to grab it without the teacher seeing. Later, Lila gets a note telling her she can find the Watchman in Jessica’s locker. Indeed, that’s where it is, though Jess has no idea how it got there. Half the Unicorns turn on her, thinking she’s the swiper. They want to oust her from the Unicorns and replace her with Veronica.
Even Elizabeth isn’t sure about her sister’s innocence. After all, Jessica borrowed her sweatshirt and lost it…or did she steal it? But Elizabeth thinks that Occam’s Razor is bull: The simplest explanation is that Jess is the thief, but that’s too easy. She’s probably being framed. Liz decides to focus on the note Lila got about the Watchman’s location, but she’s already thrown it out. Elizabeth recruits Amy to help her dig through the trash at school, which means Amy is a much better friend to Liz than I could ever be. Too bad they don’t find the note. Right now the only thing going in Jess’ favor is the fact that Aaron doesn’t think she’s the swiper.
Elizabeth sees the Unicorns hanging out with Veronica and thinks she’s cracked the case. She comes up with a multi-step plan to catch the swiper. First, Jessica pretends to be sick so she can stay home from school. Elizabeth goes to school as her twin, saying Liz is the one who’s sick. She chats with Veronica, telling her that Mandy still believes in Jessica’s innocence. The only thing that could make her turn on Jess is if her favorite rhinestone pin disappeared.
Guess what disappears not long after? Like Lila, Mandy gets a note telling her Jess took the pin. But Elizabeth announces that she’s not Jess, and that Jess isn’t even at school today, so there’s no way she could have taken the pin. Mandy calls Alice to confirm that Liz is who she says she is, getting confirmation when Jessica can’t spell “thief.” But even with Jess out of school, the pin is in her locker.
Elizabeth tells Mandy and Lila that she’s figured it out: Veronica is the thief. She framed Jessica to get her kicked out of the Unicorns. While Amy goes to get Mr. Clark, Elizabeth and Mandy stage a fight so Veronica will overhear. Veronica thinks Mandy’s mad at “Jessica” for stealing her pin, but the girls point out that they never mentioned a pin being missing. Mandy even says it’s not gone.
Elizabeth notes that only the thief would know it was missing. Veronica tries to blame Jessica, but Liz tells her that Jess isn’t at school. Mr. Clark checks Veronica’s locker, where all the missing things have been stashed. Jessica’s name is cleared, and Veronica’s suspended. Jess figures out that Veronica got her locker combination from a book she borrowed from Jess. The Unicorns, amazingly, feel horrible about the way they treated Jess, and they bring her ice cream as a peace offering. Also, Jess finds Elizabeth’s missing sweatshirt, proving once and for all that she may be a thoughtless sister, but she’s not a thief.
The B-plot is kind of entertaining. Steven and Joe take tests to see if they qualify for MEGA (the Mentally Gifted Association), the Sweet Valley-verse’s version (say that five times fast) of MENSA. Steven’s mailed results say he’s in the 99th percentile, the “genius intelligence quoshent [sic].” Steven thinks this is awesome, not just because it means he’s super-smart but also because Jess told him she would never tease him again if he got a genius score on the test.
Suddenly Steven has a new hobby: being an intellectual. He gets interested in tort law, chess, opera, and a Jeopardy-style TV show called Q&A. Even the twins are impressed with his ability to answer all the questions correctly. He gets Joe to watch a documentary about the mating habits of porcupines. Everyone finds him insufferable now, since he just wants to talk about high-brow things, and doesn’t even want to play basketball anymore.
On her day home “sick,” Jessica helps clean Steven’s room and does some detective work of her own. She finds a list of answers (or questions, I guess) from the episode of Q&A they watched, and realizes that he cheated – they watched a taped episode that Steven had already seen. Along with some other evidence proving that Steven isn’t, in fact, a genius, Jess is able to bust her brother.
Steven admits that he was playing a joke on Joe; he knew Joe made up the test results. Messing with the twins was just a bonus for Steven. Now he wants the girls to help him get payback. A bunch of the Wakefield kids’ friends come over, and Janet tells Jessica that Joe made up the test results to mess with Steven. Jessica pretends that Steven has no idea. Then Steven announces that his genius IQ makes him too smart for high school, so he’s going to drop out and try to get into Harvard. Joe tries to pretend that the test results were a mistake (there’s a guy out there named Steven Wokefield who doesn’t know he’s a genius), but Steven comes clean. Everyone’s amused by the whole thing.
Thoughts: A watch that you can watch TV on is so ahead of its time.
“When a crime seems too easy to solve, there’s probably a good reason.” And maybe the reason is that the criminal was too dumb to avoid getting caught.
Rick Hunter thought Jessica was too much of a klutz to be a thief. I don’t get that logic. She would have dropped the things she tried to steal? She would have tripped while taking them? Please explain yourself, Rick.
May 31, 2016
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.
March 22, 2016
Summary: Maria Slater is finally here! One of SVT and SVH’s most normal recurring characters has just moved to Sweet Valley from L.A. Jessica’s eager to meet the cool new girl, who she finds a little familiar. The next day, stuck at home with a cold (wimp), Jessica realizes where she’s seen Maria before – in movies and commercials. Maria’s a former child actress who’s found it hard to transition to tween actress. Nowadays she’d have her pick of Nickelodeon and Disney shows, but in the early 1990s, I guess TV and movies weren’t interested in kids who weren’t tiny and cute.
Jessica’s even happier than before to become friends with Maria, who seems more like she would fit in with Elizabeth’s crowed. She’s interested in writing, so Liz assigns her to write about the about-to-be-formed drama club for the Sixers. Jess takes Maria home with her after school, and Maria accidentally leaves her backpack behind. Jessica looks through her notebook for an address or phone number but instead finds something she’s writing about researching a role as a regular 12-year-old. Jess thinks she’s only in town to prepare for a movie role, and wants to do it undercover. (Jess is wrong – Maria was just working on a story.)
The next time Jess talks to Maria, she tries to play up how average and normal she is, so Maria will want to use her in her research. Maria’s pretty smart and figures out that Jess is on to her. When Jessica comes clean, Maria asks her to keep quiet. Of course, Jess can’t do that, and immediately tells the Unicorns that their new classmate is a movie star. This is possibly the best thing to ever happen to the Unicorns. Meanwhile, Maria befriends Mandy Miller, who convinces her to try out for the drama club.
The Unicorns try to latch on to Maria, who unsurprisingly thinks she’s better suited to be friends with Liz’s group. She’s so comfortable with them that she shows them her story about researching a movie role. The Unicorns come up with a plan to reveal to Maria that they know her secret: They’ll have a sleepover and play Truth or Dare. Jess will ask Maria if she’s an actress under penalty of…whatever, and when Maria confirms it, the Unicorns will pretend that this is the first time they’ve heard the news.
This works, somehow, and Maria tells the Unicorns that the movie she’s preparing for will be a star-studded feature. Melody Power and Johnny Buck will star, and Kent Kellerman will make an appearance. Maria agrees to arrange for the Unicorns to meet the stars, because I guess she wants to impress these girls she doesn’t really have an interest in being friends with.
With the news out about her real identity, Maria is suddenly very popular at school. Lila wants to throw a big party for Maria’s co-stars on her father’s yacht. Maria starts to realize that this is getting a little out of hand, but she doesn’t come clean about the fact that there’s no movie. Jessica tells Elizabeth that she found out Maria’s secret by reading her notebook, which makes Liz realize that her “diary” isn’t a diary, and Jess read her story. Maria’s sister Nina confirms this.
Elizabeth confronts Maria (kindly, of course), and Maria admits that there’s no movie. She confides that she can’t get work anymore. She wants to skip the yacht party so she’s not humiliated when no stars show up. But that’s the coward’s way out, and cowards never win in Sweet Valley. Maria goes to the party and tells everyone the truth about not being undercover or being able to find roles anymore. Literally no one cares, and she even gets a slow clap. Ew. I think everyone’s just happy to get to hang out on a yacht.
There isn’t really a B-plot, just Mandy and Maria becoming friends as they prepare for drama-club auditions. They both want to do the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, but they can’t find a Romeo. They eventually decide to switch off, with Mandy playing Juliet to Maria’s Romeo, then Maria playing Juliet to Mandy’s Romeo. They both nail the audition, of course.
Thoughts: I have to say, it’s refreshing that absolutely no one in Sweet Valley cares that Maria isn’t white. Contrast that with the Baby-sitters Club, where people were practically burning crosses on the Ramseys’ lawn. Is it because California isn’t as WASP-y as Connecticut? Or did SVT just not want to introduce racism into the series (though they do take on antisemitism later)?
Tamara: “We’re average!” From what I’ve read in this series, yes, you definitely are.
Lila’s father’s yacth is decorated in apricot and puce. To…gether?
February 23, 2016
Summary: Mandy Miller was briefly introduced in the previous book as a Unicorn hanger-on who desperately wants to be liked. The Unicorns take advantage of her kindness and eagerness by letting her run errands for them. This just makes her think they’ll eventually invite her to join the Unicorns. Little does she know that that’s the last thing Queen Janet Howell would consider. She dresses funny (girl likes the thrift stores) and she’s too goofy for the elite princesses of the club.
The Unicorns are appalled when Mandy wears an all-purple outfit to school one day, complete with purple sneakers. Dude, where can I get a pair of those? Since Jessica’s the one Mandy seems to like the most, Janet orders her to tell Mandy that she will never, ever, ever be a Unicorn. Like, ever. Unlike Lila or Ellen, who would be thrilled to have the chance to shut down a lesser girl, Jessica doesn’t relish the task. She relishes it even less when she learns that Mandy agreed to be her partner for a class project, since no one else wanted to work with Jess, what with her reputation for not taking the class seriously.
The class is studying the 1920s, and Mandy suggests that she and Jess do a project about Vaudeville. Mandy’s grandparents were both performers and left the family a bunch of old costumes. The girls decide to put on their own Vaudeville act, which will be submitted to some state-wide contest run by a museum in Hollywood. (This is supposed to be some super-important project, but the history teacher, Mrs. Arnette, has only heard about it recently, and the students don’t have much time to do their projects. This contest doesn’t sound very fair to Sweet Valley.)
Spending time with Mandy helps Jessica understand her better. For instance, she wears clothes from thrift stores because…well, she’s kind of poor. But she doesn’t want to try to look like the Unicorns anyway; she’d rather keep her own style, even if it means she looks a little weird. Jessica reluctantly tells Mandy that the Unicorns don’t want her, which makes Mandy realize that they were just using her to do stuff for them. But she still seems to want to be friends with Jess.
The girls perfect their Vaudeville act and pick out costumes. As they’re playing tug-of-war over a feather boa, Mandy falls and gets a little banged up. She notices that she has a lump under her arm but doesn’t think it’s anything serious. However, she soon develops what she thinks is the flu and has to miss some school (though she and Jessica are able to perform their act in class). Jessica’s worried and even skips hanging out with the Unicorns to check on her new friend. Though Mandy downplays the seriousness of her illness, she’s not well enough to make a video submission of the Vaudeville act, so Elizabeth fills in.
Mrs. Miller calls Jessica a few days later and asks her to come to the house as soon as she can. Jessica’s supposed to have dinner at Lila’s, but she can tell that something serious is going on. Alice and Elizabeth go with her to the Millers’ house, where Mandy informs Jessica that she has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The lump is a cancerous lymph node and will have to be surgically removed. The good news is that there’s a chance that the cancer hasn’t spread and Mandy will make a full recovery.
Jessica is deeply affected by the news, which is pretty amazing for a girl who often doesn’t care about anyone outside her immediate family (if that). Even though people keep assuring her that Mandy’s illness has been caught early and that her chances are good, Jess is terrified that Mandy will die. And even if she doesn’t, she could have to go through chemo and radiation, and there’s a chance she’ll lose her beloved long hair.
As soon as the Unicorns hear about Mandy’s cancer, they send her flowers. Jessica’s surprised at this move, partly because they don’t like Mandy, and partly because they don’t ask Jessica to chip in or sign the card. After Mandy has surgery and learns that the cancer hasn’t spread (but she’ll need radiation and chemo anyway), Jessica gives her the good news that their project won first place in the competition. (Amy and Elizabeth won second place. No one cares.) Part of their prize is getting to perform the act at the Hollywood museum. Mandy can’t do it, so Elizabeth will fill in again.
The Unicorns start visiting Mandy, which bugs Jessica when she comes over. They’ve made no secret of their disinterest in Mandy, but now all of a sudden they want to hang out with her? Jess questions their motives, and they admit that they didn’t invite her to go in on the flowers because they thought things were chilly between Jess and Mandy. After all, Jess was the one who told Mandy she couldn’t be a Unicorn. They didn’t realize that the girls have become friends through their project.
Mandy is a good little trooper, handling chemo like a champ. She actually thanks Jessica for fighting over the boa with her; if she hadn’t fallen, she wouldn’t have noticed the lump under her arm and gotten it checked out. When Mandy’s hair starts falling out, she tries on some hats. It’s helpful that she has a quirky style already because none of them is really fashionable. Mandy’s mom buys her a wig, but since the family doesn’t have much money, it’s not a very good one. Jess is horrified that Mandy will have to look like Little Orphan Annie for months while her hair grows back.
Never fear, the Unicorns are here! Janet calls a meeting to announce that she thinks Mandy is Unicorn material after all. (Ellen is appalled. Shut up, Ellen.) The girls vote and agree to extend her membership. Jessica tells them that Mandy could really use a wig, and she thinks they should postpone their upcoming party and use the money to get a wig. The other girls agree. (Well, Ellen’s still being stubborn, but everyone just ignores her.)
The Unicorns pick out a nice wig and present it to Mandy along with the invitation to join the club. Mandy loves the wig but isn’t sure about joining. The girls explain that they didn’t think she was Unicorn material, but now that they’ve gotten to know her better, they’ve come to really like her. Plus, Janet wants to make the club more diverse, and what better place to start than a quirky girl who wears a wig? I mean, you’re not going to find much more diversity than that in Sweet Valley. Mandy accepts the invitation, and the Unicorns have their newest member (who, frankly, is too good for them).
Thoughts: Jessica always says the Unicorns are awesome, but she doesn’t get why Mandy wants to join. Shouldn’t she think that every girl in school wants to be in the coolest club around?
You can tell this book is old because Jessica and Mandy’s prize includes a computer for the school. Just one. For all those students.
Amy and Elizabeth win a dictionary. Wow, a whole dictionary?? Amazing!