December 5, 2017

SVT #114, The Boyfriend Mess: You’re 12! Stop Worrying About Love!

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , at 4:57 pm by Jenn

Scrunchie sighting!

Summary: The couples from Young Love have gathered for their prize trip to Dizzy Planet. No one’s happy (except for totally-in-the-dark Todd, who thinks he’s going with Elizabeth, and Maria, who doesn’t mind spending the day with Patrick), since no one has matched with the person they wanted to be with. But if they want their Valentine’s Day dance, they have to fulfill their contractual obligations. No one seems to remember that they’ve all been wanting to go to Dizzy Planet, so hanging out with people they may not like is a small price to pay.

Jessica wants to get Todd carsick so she can ditch him and hang out with Byron. The plan backfires, and instead Byron ends up carsick. Byron’s cousin Marshall (well, he says he’s Byron’s cousin, but he sounds kind of uncertain) is tagging along, and he and Maria hit it off right away. Now she’s not quite as thrilled about having to spend the day with Patrick when she could be spending it with Marshall.

Sophia learns that the show is trying to catch “cheaters,” and she worries that she and Patrick will get busted for trying to rig their match. She takes a bus to Dizzy Planet but can’t afford the entrance fee. She manages to sneak in with a group of kids from a daycare by pretending to be a chaperone. Elizabeth also learns about the hunt for cheaters and accidentally stumbles into a way to enter the park without paying – Byron mistakes her for Jessica and brings her in. He also gives her a shirt from the show, so now the twins are accidentally dressed alike.

While the girls search the park for Patrick and Jessica, Maria tries to get some alone time with Marshall. For some reason, these 12-year-olds are willing to admit that they want to ride a carousel. Todd wants to win Elizabeth (really Jessica) a teddy bear by playing some sort of bowling game, but the bear costs 100 tickets and Todd isn’t very good at the game. Jessica’s getting more and more bored by the second.

Liz finds her sister and asks to undo their twin switch so she can hang out with Todd. Jessica jumps at the chance to go find Byron and spend the day with him instead. But she also has to make sure he doesn’t see Todd with Elizabeth and bust the twins for their scheme. The twins and their guys end up on the same water ride, and Jess has to fall overboard to distract Byron from seeing Liz and Todd together. Meanwhile, Liz herself is so distracted by the scheme that Todd thinks she’s lost interest in him and takes off alone.

Sophia finds Patrick and shares her theory that Marshall was sent to spy on him. She thinks Patrick can fool him by pretending he really wants to be with Maria. Patrick takes it too far, though, and Maria blasts him for showering her with affection right in front of Sophia. Good for Maria for being all sisters before misters here. Patrick explains what’s going on to Maria, but now she thinks Marshall was just being nice to her because he was sent to spy on her. Her and Sophia’s day have been ruined.

When it’s time for everyone to leave the park, Maria doesn’t get on the van with everyone else. Apparently this is a violation of the contract, and if she doesn’t come home with everyone else, they have to forfeit the dance. The people there with the show find this amusing, apparently forgetting that they’ll have to tell Maria’s parents that they lost her.

Amy tracks down Maria, who’s moping because she thinks everyone in Sweet Valley is awful. Amy reminds her that she has friends, then encourages her to get in the van because if she loses the dance for everyone, they’ll be even more awful to her. So Maria secures the dance for her classmates, but then Byron, who says he’s suspected the twin switch all day, tricks “Elizabeth” into outing herself as Jessica. He doesn’t care, though, since the same twin who came in the morning is going home with the group. And at least now Todd knows why “Elizabeth” was acting so weird all day.

Everyone goes to the dance, where Byron reveals that he’s been filming them all day for a new show about the negative side of dating. They were only looking for “cheaters” so they could feature them on the new show. Byron waxes poetic about love, and how it can be tough, and blah blah blah, they’re 12, dude. They’re all going to break up next week for stupid reasons.

Elizabeth and Sophia are busted for their scheming, but they don’t get in trouble, so it doesn’t matter. Everyone ends up with his or her preferred partner, including Maria, who learns that Marshall, while not a spy, is really Byron’s nephew. (His sister is a lot older and had a child just a few years after Byron was born. They find it easier to say they’re cousins than to explain their real relationship. No one cares.)

In other news, Janet and Donald wound up having a great day together and are now practically BFFs. Who knew?

Thoughts: The kids seem to think that enjoying their time together is part of the deal for the party, but there’s no way that’s enforceable. Plus, the odds are pretty low that all those couples who were paired off because one of them liked three answers the other gave to random questions would be 100% compatible.

One of the women from the show, when Maria doesn’t show up to the van: “You don’t like it, blame her. Tear her apart Monday morning when she gets to school. Or poison her milk.” LADY. You should not be allowed around children.

Maria is suddenly insecure about what people think of her. It’s really out of character for her.

Marshall calls the SVMS kids “the losingest bunch of stuck-up dorks I’ve ever met.” He’s not wrong.

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November 28, 2017

SVT #113, The Boyfriend Game: Let’s Make a Date

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

The guy on the far left is very, very ’90s. Like, every guy in my school dressed like that

Summary: The hottest show in Sweet Valley right now is Young Love, a dating show where middle-schoolers get to question three unseen potential suitors and then go out with them. Ahh, yes, the ever-elusive preteen-matchmaking market has finally been targeted. The show is holding a contest for local schools who want to send students on the show; all couples matched on the show get a trip to Dizzy Planet, a new theme park everyone wants to go to. To enter the running to be chosen, SVMS has to submit a group photo and an essay on why they should be considered.

A bunch of different clubs write essays, and Elizabeth is one of the students put in charge of choosing which should be submitted to the show. Since each essay does such a good job of highlighting a portion of the student body, Liz decides that all the essays should be submitted so the show’s producers can see how eclectic the school is. They have to take the group photo multiple times, since the Unicorns keep ruining it, but ultimately, SVMS sends in their essays and photo, and they’re chosen to be on Young Love.

Now the kids at SVMS get to sign up to be contestants or candidates (the potential dates the contestants can choose from). They’re sworn to secrecy so no one can make any arrangements to choose/be chosen by someone they want to go out with. Liz is chosen as a contestant, while Jess is picked to be a candidate, though she’d rather just go out with the show’s host, Byron Miller. Sophia Rizzo is also a candidate, and her boyfriend Patrick is a contestant, which they tell each other even under threat of disqualification for violating the secrecy agreement. They want to come up with a way to ensure they end up together.

Jess watches the show to figure out which candidates are more likely to be chosen for dates. She realizes that honesty and sincerity are big pluses, but being Jess, she has no idea how to be either of those things, so she goes to Liz for help. Liz is like, “Tell…the truth? Maybe?” Jess: “That sounds difficult, but maybe I can fake it.” Also, this is ironic considering what Liz pulls next.

Elizabeth isn’t that familiar with the show, so she’s worried when she learns from Amy that Byron sometimes teases the contestants. (They’re children, Byron. Take it easy.) Liz doesn’t want to be embarrassed on TV, but she still wants to go to Dizzy Planet, so she asks Jess to pull a twin switch with her. So much for honesty. Jessica doesn’t really care how she gets to Dizzy Planet, so she easily agrees to pretend to be Liz.

Patrick and Sophia start sneaking around to try to meet up to discuss how they’re going to rig the show. Guys, you’re dating. No one would find it suspicious if you were seen hanging out. They’ve heard about the game-show scandals of the ’50s and are worried that they’ll get busted and investigated by the FBI. Patrick’s really paranoid and barely listens when Sophia tries to tell him what their secret signal will be. Contestants get to pick the questions they ask the candidates, so Patrick will need to ask his three potential dates about their favorite foods. Sophia will answer, “Poetry, for woman does not live by bread alone.”

The twins pull their switch the day of the taping, and no one notices. Jessica is up first, and her three potential suitors are Todd, Bruce, and Winston (though she doesn’t know this, as they’re separated by a divider and the guys are using voice-changing mics). Even though Jess makes a fool of herself in front of Byron, she accidentally makes Liz and Todd look like they’re meant to be, or something, by picking Todd as her date. She’s disappointed that she won’t get to go to Dizzy Planet as Bruce’s date, but at least she won’t have to hang out with Winston.

Liz’s fellow candidates are Amy and Ellen, and their contestant is Aaron. Liz realizes that if she and Jess hadn’t pulled their switch, they could have a chance at being with their preferred guys. But Aaron ends up picking Amy, since Liz was too preoccupied by the switch to give good answers, and Ellen probably doesn’t even know where she is. Now the twins can’t even undo their switch and go to Dizzy Planet with the guys they like.

After Janet takes her turn as a contestant and unwittingly picks nerdy Donald Zwerdling as her date, Patrick is up. His choices are Sophia, Maria, and some other girl who’s not important. Patrick forgets the signal question and instead asks what the girls think of poetry. Each gives an answer that includes the word “bread,” so Patrick has no idea which one is Sophia. He accidentally chooses Maria as his date. Sophia’s so annoyed with him that Patrick is probably glad he gets to spend the trip to Dizzy Planet with someone other than her.

Everyone’s upset with the way things turned out, but they learn that they have to go on their dates to Dizzy Planet or the show won’t put on the Valentine’s Day dance that serves as part of their prize. The ones who pulled twin switches or rigged the game also can’t say anything, for fear of having the whole school punished. Basically, the only person who’s happy at the end of the book is Maria, who has no idea why everyone else is mad at each other. This will, I’m sure, all get worked out in the next book.

Thoughts: “Honest and sincere. Jessica thought about that for a moment. It was definitely an approach she wouldn’t have come up with on her own.” Yeah, that’s a shocker.

When asked which Johnny Buck song best describes what he’s looking for in romance, Bruce picks “Forever Fever,” “because that’s what any girl gets when she’s with me.” From an STD, right?

Todd wants to be a dolphin, because “they’re so beautiful and smart.” Oh, Todd. You’re beautiful on the inside.

I’m so disappointed that we barely get to witness the moment Janet discovers she matched with Donald. I bet you could hear her scream from two counties away.

Aaron’s a jerk. Jessica can do better.

November 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 24, 2017

SVT #109, Don’t Go in the Basement: The Principal of the Matter

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

Yeah, they never actually went in the basement, but nice try, cover artist

Summary: As periodically happens in this series, the twins want money. Elizabeth wants an Amanda Howard computer game, and Jessica wants a $75 blouse. For $75, that blouse better also paint my garage and cook me dinner. (In this scenario, in which I can afford a $75 blouse, I also have a house with a garage that needs painting.) The girls know their parents won’t give them a raise in their allowance, so they’ll need to find a way to earn money. Their past experiences with babysitting and dog-walking don’t sound appealing, but they figure house-sitting might be both easy and lucrative.

Wakefield and Wakefield post fliers advertising their new “company,” but no one seems to need their services. They’re losing hope when their principal, Mr. Clark, tells Elizabeth that he has to leave town for a little while and needs the twins to feed his fish and collect his mail while he’s gone. He’s nervous about leaving Jessica in charge of such important tasks, but I think with Liz around, he can rest easy. Mr. Clark is in a rush to leave town and doesn’t have many options anyway. He gives Liz a key to the house and a few instructions, including the order not to go in the basement.

When the twins go over to take care of the house the first time, a neighbor tells them that Mrs. Clark has been gone for three weeks. Then, when the girls are looking for a net to rescue the fish after they accidentally break the fishbowl, they find a knife with some blood on it. They try to convince themselves that it’s a fishing knife, and the blood isn’t human. But then they find a few drops of blood on the floor and some hair in a door hinge right near the basement. Jessica’s conclusion: Mrs. Clark was murdered.

The next day, Elizabeth learns from Mr. Clark’s secretary that he didn’t leave a number where he could be reached. No one knows where he went or when he’ll be back. The secretary later tells Maria Slater that Mrs. Clark hasn’t been to her job in three weeks, ever since Mr. Clark called to say that she would be taking a leave of absence. The twins encounter the Clarks’ paperboy, who tells them he heard yelling the last time he was at the house, just about three weeks ago.

Jessica thinks her murder theory is just gathering more and more evidence. She snoops through the Clarks’ things, surprised to see that Mr. Clark’s side of the closet is empty, while all of his wife’s clothes are still there. She suspects that he doesn’t plan to come back from wherever he is. Then a guy named Hank calls to announce that he’s coming over later in the week to do some work Mr. Clark needed done in the basement.

Jessica’s more convinced than ever that Mr. Clark killed his wife, and the proof is in the basement. She tells all her friends her suspicions, and word gets around school. However, Jess can’t find a basement key, so she can’t go down and confirm her theory. Elizabeth tells her to leave it alone and stop spreading rumors, but she can’t help thinking that Jess might be right. She goes to Maria’s house in the middle of the night and convinces her to go to the Clarks’ house with her to see if Jessica’s right.

The girls check out the whole house, finding a room where sheets have been placed over the furniture. For some reason, they think this is an indication that no one’s coming back to the house. They’re spooked when they realize someone else is in the house with them, but it turns out to be Jessica and Mandy Miller, who are there on the same mission to find clues about the possible murder. They learn from an answering-machine message that Mr. Clark is in China, so if he did kill his wife and flee the country, he went pretty far away.

With no other way to get into the basement, the girls agree that they need to take the door off its hinges. Since it’s dark out and they don’t want to turn on any lights, they decide they’ll need to come back during the daytime. Elizabeth has convinced herself that they may find Mrs. Clark’s body in the basement. If she was killed three weeks ago, I’m guessing they would be able to tell there was a rotting corpse in the basement without even having to go down there, but okay.

At school the next day, Jessica invites the Unicorns to come to the Clarks’ for a door-removal party. The other girls are too freaked out to want to be a part of the investigation. It’s just the twins, Maria, and Mandy back at the house when Harry shows up. He has a key to the basement but tells the girls not to follow him down. They wait around while he does something for a few hours, then leaves with a large metal box, telling them t won’t be safe to go downstairs for 24 hours.

The girls follow Harry to see what he does with what they think is Mrs. Clark’s body. It’s about here that I realize this is really twisted for a book aimed at preteens. Harry goes to a hazardous-waste dump, then calls out the girls for stalking him. They worry that he’s going to hurt them, so they split up and run away. They head to the police station and report a murder.

The police accompany the girls back to the house, where they’re surprised to see that Mr. Clark has come home. They’re even more surprised to see Mrs. Clark there, alive and well. She also has a little girl with her. The girls pretend that they called the police because they thought Harry was robbing the house. The Clarks are a little confused but not that worried. They’re probably jetlagged and distracted anyway, since they just got back from China with the little girl they were there adopting.

The story: The Clarks have been trying to adopt for years, and they finally heard about an organization that could help them get a slightly older child from China. When they called to say there was a child available, Mrs. Clark had to fly over immediately. She was there for three weeks before the adoption became a sure thing and she summoned Mr. Clark to join her. They decided not to tell anyone what was going on in case the adoption fell through, like one they hoped for a few years ago.

As for the basement and other weird stuff in the house, there’s lead paint downstairs, and Mr. Clark hired Harry to remove it. Mr. Clark’s clothes were missing from the closet because he and his wife are moving to a different bedroom to give their new daughter their old room. The blood on the knife was from a fish, and the blood on the floor was Mrs. Clark’s, but only because she accidentally cut herself with a pair of scissors. Her hair got caught in the door frame when she excitedly ran to tell Mr. Clark about the phone call from China (which I guess was the yelling the paperboy heard).

Jessica thinks the girls are in the clear for their crazy theory, but Elizabeth reminds her that everyone at school still thinks Mr. Clark killed his wife. They manage to distract everyone from mentioning the accusations, then divert everyone’s attention entirely by coming up with the idea to throw a shower/welcome to America party for little Janelle. So at least something nice comes out of it what could have been a disastrous situation. I assume Mr. Clark never finds out that so many of his students – including logical Elizabeth Wakefield – were willing to believe that he’s capable of murder.

Thoughts: Someone please teach these girls about Occam’s Razor.

Mandy at the police station, accusing Mr. Clark of murder: “We have proof.” Unseen narrator Ron Howard: “They did not have proof.”

Since the girls only tell the Clarks that they thought they’d been robbed, it’s pretty nice of the police not to mention that they came out to investigate a possible murder.

Lila: “I like kids! As long as they keep their dirty fingers off me.” Amen to that.

So the lesson here is, if you have to admit to your friends that you were wrong about something, just distract them with a party.

August 29, 2017

SVT #103, Elizabeth Solves It All: When You Ask a 12-Year-Old for Advice, You Get What You Pay For

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

Am I crazy or does Liz look like Taylor Swift here?

Summary: Because Elizabeth is so smart and so intuitive and so caring and so helpful and so awesome, she’s going to be writing an advice column for The Sixers. At first, no one cares. Amy and Maria are disappointed, because having an advice column would allow them to enter some magazine contest that could win them desktop publishing software. They write letters to Dear Elizabeth (such an original name!) asking for some minor advice – Amy wants to know what to get her grandmother for her birthday, and Maria wants to know what to wear to a party with some old Hollywood friends.

Knowing exactly who she’s responding to, despite their aliases, Liz tells Amy to buy scrapbooking supplies so she and Grandma Sutton can organize photo albums. She tells Maria to wear her favorite outfit so she’ll feel confident and comfortable. There’s also a third letter from someone who wants to know how to tell his parents he’s responsible enough to get a dog. Elizabeth doesn’t know who this person is.

Liz’s advice to Amy and Maria leads to a successful birthday present and a successful party, respectively. The third letter writer is Denny, who was able to use her advice to convince his parents to let him get a dog. He names the dog Woolly Booger, which would make me change my mind about Denny’s level of responsibility and maturity if he were my kid. Janet mocks Liz for being perfect enough to give others advice, so Maria lies that Liz’s advice to her helped her land a part in a movie, and the advice to Amy made her grandmother so happy that she’s taking her family to Hawaii.

Elizabeth tries her hand at unsolicited advice next, telling Jessica to stop copying Mandy, who’s getting annoyed by it. Jess doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this sincerest form of flattery, so she tells Elizabeth to stuff it. However, everyone else at SVMS is hungry for Dear Elizabeth’s advice. She’s inundated with letters and becomes obsessed with helping to solve everyone’s problems. She misses classes, forgets her chores and dates with Todd, and can’t think about anything but writing responses to her eager advice-seekers.

Things start to go south. Someone writes in asking how to deal with a friend who’s neglecting her in favor of another friend. Liz advises the writer to make friends with the new friend so all three can hang out together. The writer turns out to be Janet, who’s jealous of all the time Denny spends with his dog. She offers to look after the dog for a while, but Denny’s not as responsible as he led on, and he never comes to get his dog back. Janet eventually takes it to a shelter, where it’s adopted by a family who I desperately hope changes its name.

Mandy’s having a sleepover but can’t invite all the Unicorns because there isn’t enough space in her house. Since Jessica has been bugging her, Mandy’s considering cutting her from the guest list. Dear Elizabeth advises her to only invite who she wants to invite, since it’s her party. This results in Jess losing out on an invitation. Randy writes in asking how he can get money for something or other, and Liz suggests that he start a business venture. Randy bakes cookies, but he doesn’t taste the batch before he tries to sell them, and they’re horrible.

Then Elizabeth’s advice starts affecting those closest to her. Amy can’t get her to talk in person, so she writes for advice about her grandmother (more on that in the B-plot). It goes over badly, and Amy gets mad. Jessica’s even madder when Liz is so preoccupied by her advice-giving that she forgets to tell Jess about a rescheduled test. Jess is upset that her own sister doesn’t have time to talk to her about her problems. Maria finds Elizabeth crying in the bathroom and tries to help her, but the girl who has advice for everyone doesn’t want anyone else’s advice or help.

Everyone’s mad at Liz for giving advice that has ruined their lives. Amy comes to school one morning to find Liz barricaded in the Sixers office, trying to avoid the angry kids outside. Amy tells them all that Elizabeth’s advice was fine; they just made dumb decisions, then blamed her when things went badly. For example, Denny used Liz’s advice to convince his parents he was responsible enough for a dog, but his actions didn’t prove that. Mandy used the advice to trim her guest list, then got mad that Jessica was upset about being cut. (Amy’s very smart here – she points out that you can’t exclude someone and then get mad when that person feels excluded.)

Amy literally tells everyone to grow up, which is awesome, then writes Liz one last letter with her own advice: Ask for help when you need it. Liz takes the advice, and Jessica, Amy, Maria, and Mandy help her get caught up on all the things she hasn’t been doing because she’s been so busy writing letters. Then she ends her advice column, so her classmates will have to go back to making dumb decisions on their own.

In the B-plot, Amy’s grandmother has just moved to Sweet Valley, and she’s a little cranky about it. To be fair, Amy’s parents treat her like a child or like someone who’s incapable of taking care of herself. Amy starts worrying when her grandmother doesn’t buy groceries and forgets to get her medicine from the pharmacy. She thinks Grandma Sutton might not be able to take care of herself after all.

Dear Elizabeth’s advice to Amy is to talk to her grandmother about seeing a psychiatrist. Amy brings up the topic, but Grandma Sutton is offended. Amy’s parents are dismayed when they hear about the conversation – Amy should have come to them instead of suggesting that her grandmother is having mental problems. Eventually Amy tells her grandmother that she’s concerned about her behavior, and Grandma Sutton admits that she just didn’t go to the store or pharmacy because she didn’t know how to get around Sweet Valley, and she didn’t want to ask for help. Sigh. Has she never heard of a cab?

Thoughts: I’m with Amy – Elizabeth didn’t do anything wrong. Her advice was fine, if a little naïve at times. Her job is to give it; she’s not responsible for what happens as a result.

Maria’s outfit for the party may be the most ’90s of any outfit in any series I’ve covered: a sunflower-print dress, a denim vest, and sandals with rope soles. I hop there’s a Blossom-type hat that goes with it.

Sadly, Denny’s dog probably ends up dead, since Janet feeds it a chocolate chip cookie.

June 20, 2017

SVT #94, Don’t Talk to Brian: This Is Really Taking Victim-Blaming Too Far

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

This looks nothing like how I pictured Brian. Also, I don’t think he’d eat anything pink

Summary: Brian Boyd is still causing trouble at SVMS, only things have gotten worse as he’s now disrupting classes and generally being a tiresome jerk. He comes to school with a black eye and says he got in a fight with some other kid, a story no one doubts because that’s exactly the sort of thing that would happen to him. Mr. Bowman tells the twins’ English class that they’ll be studying families, and everyone will need to write an essay about parenting. The person with the best essay gets to read it at a reception for everyone’s parents. Brian finds this assignment ridiculous and heckles everyone throughout the class. He lands in detention for his behavior.

When Brian gets home, we learn why his attitude is so bad: His mother is an alcoholic and his father is abusive. Elizabeth hears him crying after his father hits him – apparently the Wakefields’ and the Boyds’ houses share an alley – and Liz tries to show Brian some compassion. He brushes her off, so she decides he got in another fight and doesn’t deserve her sympathy.

Mr. Bowman picks Liz, Brian, and Maria to do some role-playing in class; Liz is Brian and Maria’s daughter, and she’s just been caught sneaking in after curfew. Brian laughs off the assignment, then gives Liz a harsh punishment. Mr. Bowman should probably just not call on Brian anymore. On the way home from school, Elizabeth sees police cars outside Brian’s house and guesses that he’s finally gotten in trouble for fighting. Later, she reads an article in the local paper about a 12-year-old boy being removed from his home by Child Protective Services while they investigate possible abuse. She realizes it’s Brian and accidentally alerts Jessica to what’s going on with him.

Jess, of course, can’t keep her mouth shut, and she tells Lila and Janet that Brian has had to move out of his house (though she doesn’t tell them about the abuse). By Monday morning, the news is all over SVMS. Everyone thinks Brian got kicked out for fighting, and Maria, among others, has no sympathy. (I can’t really blame her, considering how he treated her in It Can’t Happen Here.) Some kids, however, try to be nicer to Brian – Ken, Todd, and Aaron invite him to play video games with them. When Todd says that everyone knows what’s happening with Brian, Brian takes off, accidentally flipping over a table Real Housewives-style. This lands him on Principal Clark’s radar.

The news about Brian spreads to people’s parents, and Elizabeth overhears some of them complaining to Mr. Clark about their kids having to attend school with a bully. We learn that Brian’s family life was fine until just the past few years, when Mr. Boyd’s problems at work made him mean and violent. His mother dealt with it by drinking and didn’t bother trying to protect her son. Brian’s staying in a group home until a foster family is found, but he doesn’t think anyone will want him. He also thinks Mr. Bowman knew he was being abused and did nothing, which is a whole other issue that never gets addressed.)

Brian’s situation starts to really affect Liz, who has a nightmare about being the next target of abuse. She and Maria attend a PTA meeting as student representatives, and learn that a number of parents want Brian to leave Sweet Valley. Apparently a kid who comes from an unstable home is too much for their delicate angels to handle. They have no sympathy for Brian and want to see him punished when he’s done nothing wrong. Liz is shocked that Maria agrees – she hates Brian and wants him out of the school.

Mr. Clark tells everyone that Brian will be placed with a foster family in Big Mesa, but since he’s going through so much upheaval, they’d like to keep him at SVMS. He has a petition for parents to sign to allow Brian to stay. The parents are completely divided, and to Elizabeth’s surprise (and dismay), Ned and Alice want him to go. She wonders who will look out for Brian if so many adults are going to just turn their backs on him.

SVMS has a special assembly addressing child abuse and how the victim is never to blame. The students learn that Brian is being sent to Big Mesa Middle School, and Maria still doesn’t care. Mr. Bowman reads Brian’s family essay in class; it’s about how his life started out great and then slowly fell apart, and he didn’t know how to stop it. He started to lose hope that his life would ever get better. Jessica feels horrible because she’s spent the whole book complaining about her parents and how they won’t increase her allowance or let her go to a sleepover on a school night. She’d much rather have love and security than money and popularity.

Liz wants to fight to let Brian stay at SVMS, so she takes a page out of Mr. Clark’s book and writes a petition. She reads it at the family reception and asks the parents to help Brian instead of letting him be sent away for someone else to deal with his problems. She emphasizes the fact that Brian isn’t to blame for the abuse, so he shouldn’t be punished. The parents change their minds and help Brian find a foster family in Sweet Valley. Brian is grateful, and suddenly a much more pleasant person. Even Maria makes an effort to be friendly to him. Yay, all his problems are solved! Sweet Valley is such a magical place that he probably won’t suffer any psychological damage or have any problems in the future!

Thoughts: Brian’s family is supposed to be rich, but considering their house is next to an alley that’s also next to the Wakefields’ house, I don’t know.

Fun fact: In the Sweet Valley-verse, there’s a TV show called Snob Hill 90214.

I assume Brian has a 180-degree personality change after this, because if he’s ever mean again, someone can just say, “Remember when we didn’t get you kicked out of our school? We can undo that.”

May 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 23, 2017

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

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

This dude looks like a deranged monk with jaundice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 25, 2017

SVT #88, Steven Gets Even: Pranks a Lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is Aaron still hanging out with Brian?

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

February 7, 2017

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

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

Elizabeth looks...weird

Elizabeth looks…weird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth has black velvet leggings. WHAT?

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

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