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.

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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.”

November 8, 2016

SVT #70, Psychic Sisters: Fakers Gonna Fake, Fake, Fake, Fake, Fake

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

Um...no

Um…no

Summary: The morning after a movie marathon the twins tried to stay up for, Steven finds his sisters asleep on the couch in the den. Alice is on the phone in the kitchen, trying to book a conference room (preferably the George Washington Room) at the Regent Hotel for a black-tie even for 317 people on either the 15th or 28th of the month. Ned tells Steven that he watched part of the marathon (including a movie where Johnny Buck, who must now be both a rock star and an actor, played a hero in the French Revolution) but got annoyed because they kept showing ads for Corny-Os cereal. Coincidentally, Corny-Os is exactly what both twins wake up wanting to eat, even though they haven’t had it for a while. Very strange…

At school, everyone has to pick a topic for a history paper, and the twins both pick the French Revolution. Jessica thinks it’s funny that, for the second time, they’ve had the same idea at the same time. Elizabeth just brushes it off. At lunch, the Unicorns, Elizabeth, and Amy discuss an upcoming talent show. Ellen is doing the spotlight performance, even though she can’t sing and Janet’s worried that her lack of talent will make the Unicorns look bad. Amy thinks the twins should enter with a psychic sister act. Clearly, since they had the same ideas a couple of times, they’re psychic.

Suddenly everyone’s interested in a demonstration of the twins’ abilities. Jessica loves the attention, of course, and Liz decides to go along because she thinks they’ll just quickly disprove the theory and move on. But when the twins are told to write down a number between 1 and 400 hundred, they both pick 317. When told to think of a president, they both think of Washington. Then Liz guesses that Jess is thinking of the number 28. Bruce suggests that they go for something more complicated – they should both think of a color and an item of clothing. Both girls think of a black tie.

Jess takes advantage of her newfound abilities to give people advice. For example, she warns Denny Jacobson to look both ways before he crosses the road. Elizabeth doesn’t like the idea of Jess pretending to be psychic, but she can’t really argue with that kind of suggestion. Jessica thinks they should keep having fun with their new parlor trick, especially if it leads to a role in the documentary Randy Mason’s uncle is making about psychics. Plus, now the talent-show committee wants to make the twins the star performers. Liz tries to decline, but since the show’s proceeds are going to charity, she can’t say no.

At school, Denny tells Jess that a car came the wrong way down his one-way street, so if he hadn’t listened to her and looked both ways before crossing, he would have been hit. Jessica thinks she might really be psychic after all. Randy’s uncle is coming to town soon, but Randy isn’t sure the twins are interesting enough for the documentary. Jess wins him over with a story about knowing Elizabeth was locked in the basement when the twins were younger; it was flooding, and Jessica was able to save her from drowning. Randy thinks this will be enough to make his uncle want to interview the twins. Oh, by the way, the documentary is about phony psychics and how the police hate them because they make real psychics look bad. Yeah, I don’t think that’s why the police hate them. Jessica doesn’t think the twins have anything to worry about, since obviously, they’re really psychic.

Elizabeth disagrees – Jess’ story about saving her never happened. In fact, Jessica knew Liz was in the basement because she locked her down there. Heh. I don’t know why that makes me laugh. There was barely any water down there either. Elizabeth is worried about the whole thing, but Jessica wins her over with her eagerness to practice their act for the talent show. Liz sends Jess the psychic message to smooth her hair, and when Jess does it (after, like, five minutes), Elizabeth thinks there might be something to this psychic business after all.

Before going out of town for a few days, Alice asks Elizabeth to take a check to the Regent Hotel so she can secure the conference room. Liz totally forgets about it and has a nightmare about the whole event falling apart. Everyone in the dream is wearing a black tie – all 317 of them. Dream Alice tells Liz that she went through a lot trying to book either the 15th or the 28th. When Elizabeth wakes up, she realizes why she and Jess had all the same thoughts. They must have unconsciously heard Alice on the phone, talking about the event.

Liz shares her revelation with Jessica, who’s disappointed that they’re not really psychic…but not so disappointed that she’s not going to keep up the act for the talent show. Why be honest when you can keep getting loads of attention? Jess barely even blinks when Randy talks about how horrible fake psychics are, and how his uncle helps the FBI put them in jail. She just decides to approach things from a different angle. She asks Maria, who once did a movie about a fake psychic (how convenient!), to help the twins put together an act that will fool everyone.

At first Elizabeth agrees, thanks in part to Jessica turning on the fake tears, but then she changes her mind. The twins fight, then have dreams about getting busted on stage. This is enough to make Elizabeth change her mind back. When the twins learn that Randy’s uncle is going to come film the talent show for his documentary, Elizabeth almost rechanges her mind, but Jess and Maria help her feel better about communicating on stage without words. They make up hand gestures and facial expressions that correspond to letters so they can silently spell out words. They have to practice a ton to get everything down, and they’re worried that they’ll seem obvious, but at this point, there’s no going back.

On Friday, just before the talent show, Liz takes the check to Mr. Peters, the manager of the Regent Hotel. The hotel is being renovated, and all the workers are off for a few weeks, so it’s basically deserted. Mr. Peters is planning to leave right after he gets the check. After she’s handed it over, Elizabeth starts to take the elevator back down, but it’s slow, so she decides to take the stairs. Unfortunately, the doors are all locked. With Mr. Peters gone, there’s no one in the building to let Liz out. Not only will she miss the talent show, but she’ll be trapped in the stairwell until Monday.

Jessica makes it to school for the show but has no idea what’s keeping her sister, who said she’d be there right after she dropped off the check. Jess worries that Liz’s conscience made her back out of the act. She does feel a little better when Ellen loses her voice just before the show, which means she won’t embarrass the Unicorns. But when show time rolls around, Jessica has to take the stage by herself.

Jess plans to just apologize to the audience and explain that Elizabeth isn’t there, but suddenly she realizes that something must be wrong. No matter how guilty Liz felt about the act, she wouldn’t just ditch Jess without an explanation. Jess figures that something happened at the hotel to keep Elizabeth from making it to school. While Liz tries to psychically communicate with her twin, hoping that there’s some ability there after all, Jess pretends to receive a message from Elizabeth begging for rescue.

Mr. Mason films as Jessica hams it up, then tells her parents that, for real, something’s wrong. They all head over to the hotel and free Elizabeth. There’s a kind of funny bit where Mr. Mason narrates what’s going on (I don’t think his documentary is going to be Oscar-caliber) but gets annoyed when Jessica tries to direct things. Once Elizabeth has been rescued, she admits to Jess that she tried to send a psychic message. Jess is thrilled to play this up for the camera. The story makes it onto the local news broadcast, so even if the twins aren’t featured in the documentary, at least they got to be on TV. They decide their days of being “psychic” are over. I’m sure it won’t be long before Jess comes up with a new wacky scheme to get some more attention.

Thoughts: Jessica: “I’m not sure I have enough clothes to be famous.” Heh.

The fact that Jessica has learned to cry on cue is really scary.

Suddenly Amy’s an excellent gymnast. Who knew?

When Ellen loses her voice, she blames Jessica, accusing her of being a witch. That would have been a much more interesting book.

September 13, 2016

SVT #64, The Charm School Mystery: Don’t You Know By Now That Elizabeth Is Always Right?

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

This isn't suspicious at all

This isn’t suspicious at all

Summary: For some reason, a bunch of girls at SVMS are excited to learn that a charm school is opening in Sweet Valley. I’m not sure I even knew what a charm school was when I was 12. No, wait, I knew about it from A League of Their Own. The school is run by a Ms. Monique Beaumont, who has come all the way to little Sweet Valley from Switzerland. She wants to teach her students about all of Europe’s beautiful things and how to live gracefully, or something. She’s also opening an art gallery. She’s working with her husband, as well as a guy named Richard. They have different accents but supposedly both hail from Switzerland.

While the Unicorns are thrilled about the charm school, Elizabeth, Amy, and Maria don’t see the point. I guess Elizabeth already has enough charm. Maria’s cool with or without it. Amy’s hopeless either way, so why bother? Besides, girls have to be invited in order to attend. And first, their parents are invited to the opening of the art gallery, which will allow the Beaumonts to see what kinds of families live in Sweet Valley. Poorer families like the Millers and McCormicks are overlooked.

Ned and Alice go to the opening with Jessica, while Elizabeth and Amy hang out at home. Elizabeth wants them to put their hair in beehives, the style that was all the rage when Alice was in school. They look at one of Alice’s high school yearbooks and spot a girl named Margaret Rudenthaler who looks an awful lot like Ms. Beaumont. Meanwhile, Jessica realizes that the Beaumonts have only invited rich families to the gallery opening (which makes sense to her, since poorer families aren’t going to buy any art). She gives Ms. Beaumont the names of a couple more girls to invite to charm school. Later, Elizabeth asks Alice about Margaret, but Margaret didn’t spend a lot of time in Sweet Valley, so Alice doesn’t remember her much.

Maria (whose family went to the opening even though she’s not going to charm school) tells Elizabeth that her sister Nina chatted with Ms. Beaumont in French but told Maria that her accent sounded strange. Maria chalks this up to Ms. Beaumont being Swiss, not French. That night, Elizabeth sees a newspaper article about phony art and antiques, and she starts to get the idea that the Beaumonts are conning everyone in Sweet Valley. Keep in mind that at this point she has absolutely no evidence of this. But she, Amy, and Maria are suspicious enough to decide they need to attend charm school and gather more information.

How to do so when they’ve told their parents they’re not interested? Convince their parents that they need some charm. Maria’s on her worst behavior at a dinner with one of her mother’s clients, and her punishment is charm school. Amy acts overly clumsy, which would make me think she had a neurological disorder if she were my daughter, but what do I know? Elizabeth pretends to let Jessica change her mind about going, and somehow, no one’s suspicious.

Charm school is just as awesome as the other girls (read: the Unicorns) hoped. At the end of the classes, someone will get the Mademoiselle Manners/Queen of Charm award, which means wearing a tiara and having bragging rights. Jessica and Janet each think they’re a lock for the award, and they decide to make a bet. Whichever of them doesn’t win has to curtsy to the other for a week. No word on what happens if neither of them wins.

Because Europe is full of beautiful things, and Ms. Beaumont wants the Sweet Valley girls to recognize the beautiful things in their own lives, she tells them to write down all the expensive things in their homes for homework. Sure, that sounds completely unsuspicious. Then the girls work on their posture by walking around with books on their heads. Jessica and Janet bicker, then act overly gracious and polite to each other so they don’t risk losing their chances at the Queen of Charm award.

Jessica and Lila work on their homework assignments together, though Jessica has trouble completing hers, since her family doesn’t have a lot of fancy, expensive stuff. Really, all they have is Alice’s jewelry and some things her ancestors brought over from Sweden. Richard arrives with a painting Mr. Fowler bought from the Beaumonts’ gallery, and Jessica tries to impress him by telling him about all the expensive things the Wakefields have. According to her, they’re about three times richer than the Fowlers. She’s so caught up in her lie that she doesn’t see the cartoon dollar signs in Richard’s eyes.

At the next class, Ms. Beaumont expresses concern over how the Wakefields safeguard all the fabulous things in their home. Jessica has apparently forgotten all her lies already, so she tells Ms. Beaumont that they just keep Alice’s jewelry in an old tennis shoe. The best hiding place I’ve ever heard of is a plastic bag under the liner in a litterbox. No burglar is going to look there. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is goofing off in class, so Ms. Beaumont tells her to stop wasting everyone’s time. She humiliates Liz in front of the rest of the class, causing her to run off in tears.

Really, though, Elizabeth is just taking advantage of the situation to check out the Beaumonts’ office. She doesn’t have much time to look around, but she does overhear Mr. Beaumont on the phone, talking about how Mr. Fowler isn’t suspicious about his new painting. He pretty much confirms that the charm school is just a front so he and “Margaret” can pull some con. So Elizabeth thinks she’s right about Monique being Margaret, and about the Beaumonts selling fake art.

Elizabeth shares the news with Amy and Maria, who agree to help her gather more evidence to take to the police. They sneak back into the office and learn that the antiques Alice bought from the gallery for a design client are fakes. Ouch. Liz tries to warn her mother, but Ned and Alice dismiss her suspicions.

As a plan B, Liz asks her art teacher about authenticating paintings. Then she has Maria call Mr. Beaumont, pretending to be Alice, to ask him to meet her at the Fowlers’ to help her get some ideas for a design client. “Alice” also calls Mr. Fowler to ask if she can come over that weekend, and Alice (as Ms. Beaumont) to get her to show up as well. Everyone shows up at the Fowlers’ as they’re supposed to, and Elizabeth announces that she thinks the Beaumonts are crooks who sold Mr. Fowler a fake painting. Unfortunately, she’s wrong – a museum curator she called comes and authenticates the painting.

Elizabeth, Amy, and Maria are all in trouble with their parents for their stunt, and Elizabeth is even told she can’t read Amanda Howard mysteries for a year, since they’re making her so suspicious. Since Jessica and Lila were present during the accusations at the Fowlers’, they gleefully spread word to the school, and Elizabeth becomes a laughingstock. She still thinks the Beaumonts are up to something, though, and she’s not about to give up her investigation.

Elizabeth sneaks into the office again and overhears the Beaumonts talking…with American accents. They’re thrilled that everything is going as planned. During the big, fancy dinner the charm students are attending with their families to celebrate the end of classes, Mr. Beaumont and Richard will rob their houses. Since the girls so helpfully provided the Beaumonts lists of their expensive belongings, the cons know exactly who has what, and where it is. One house in particular has them very eager to get on with things. The Beaumonts know Elizabeth is suspicious, so Monique is going to give her the Queen of Charm award, which will somehow keep her from interfering with their plans.

Now Elizabeth has more than enough evidence to convince her friends that she was right about the Beaumonts…but they don’t want to listen to her anymore. Jessica’s especially skeptical since Liz says the Beaumonts plan to give her the Mademoiselle Manners award. Elizabeth notes that if they do, Jess will have to believe the rest of her claims, so Jessica agrees to help her out of Liz gets the award. They come up with a plan.

Steven pretends to have a headache so he can stay home while the other Wakefields go to the dinner. I thought this would mean he’d catch the robbers in the act, but it doesn’t really serve a purpose. Elizabeth does, indeed, get the title of Mademoiselle Manners (Ms. Beaumont claims that it’s because she made so much progress in a short amount of time), so Jessica realizes that Liz’s suspicions were right.

The twins enact their plan, with Jessica pretending to be devastated over losing the award. When Elizabeth goes to “comfort” her, Jessica puts on Liz’s clothes and returns to the dinner as Elizabeth, pretending Jess is too upset to see anyone. Elizabeth heads off to the Fowlers’, thinking she’ll be able to catch Mr. Beaumont and Richard in the act there and call the police on them. Jessica brings Amy and Maria in on things, telling them to make sure one of them is by a pay phone in the building every 20 minutes. If Elizabeth doesn’t call, she’s in trouble.

Elizabeth follows Mr. Beaumont and Richard around town, but they don’t stop at any of the houses Liz thinks they will. She can’t figure out which family they think has the most things to steal. Meanwhile, Jessica goes back and forth between being herself and pretending to be Elizabeth so no one wonders where Liz is. Her parents are dumb enough to fall for this.

After this goes on for about an hour, Elizabeth makes a pit stop at the Wakefields’ to call the payphone and give Maria or Amy an update. She catches Steven leaving with a friend and overhears him saying that the same van has driven past a bunch of times. Somehow, Liz doesn’t get that this means Mr. Beaumont and Richard are targeting their house. While she’s calling Maria, the robbers show up and lock Liz in a closet. They decide to take her with them when they head to Mexico (to pull their con again), so she can’t rat them out.

Maria tells Jessica and Amy that something happened while she was on the phone with Liz, and she thinks Elizabeth is in trouble. Jessica figures out that the robbers broke into the Wakefields’ house, thinking they could steal a bunch of nonexistent treasures. Fortunately, Elizabeth has the real treasures (Alice’s jewelry) in her hands. Her sister and friends call the police, who arrive just before Elizabeth can be spirited away to Mexico.

Jessica uses her acceptance speech as Mademoiselle Manners to call out Ms. Beaumont for being a criminal. She also takes the opportunity to boast to Janet that she’s Jess, not Elizabeth, so she wound up with the Queen of Charm crown after all (sort of). The Wakefields are upset that Elizabeth took such a big risk, but they’re proud of her for taking down some criminals. I guess the ban on Amanda Howard books is off?

Thoughts: “We also hope that Sweet Valley will learn to appreciate the art of gracious living.” The what now?

“I have been in countries far, far away where your head would be cut off if you tripped and fell in front of their queen.” Westeros?

If all the mysteries Elizabeth has read turned her into a good detective, then that book I once read about brain surgery should come in REALLY handy.

Imagine coming up with this whole big con and getting outsmarted by some 12-year-olds. Imagine having to live that down in prison.

March 22, 2016

SVT #50, Jessica and the Secret Star: Maria, Jess Just Met a Girl Named Maria

Posted in books tagged , , , at 4:11 pm by Jenn

No 12-year-old would ever wear either of these outfits

No 12-year-old would ever wear either of these outfits

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?

July 31, 2013

SVH Super Edition, Aftershock: Then We Came to the End

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , at 8:27 pm by Jenn

Cue "I Will Remember You"

Cue “I Will Remember You”

Summary: There was an earthquake, Olivia’s dead, and now everyone’s super-sad. The Wakefields’ house was destroyed, so they’re staying at Fowler Crest. Elizabeth is depressed because Olivia’s dead; Jessica’s depressed because she feels guilty for not being able to save Alyssa. Lila’s not depressed, she’s just Lila. A lot of the book involves people driving around town, looking at destruction, and having flashbacks.

Elizabeth can’t remember what happened after the earthquake, so when Enid tells her that she thinks Devon saved them, Liz figures that makes sense and goes along with it. The girls smother Devon with affection, and though it’s obvious to anyone with an IQ above 50 that he did nothing, he keeps the lie going. Enid tells some reporters that Devon saved her life, so now everyone thinks he’s a hero.

Maria Slater is the only one who doubts Devon – she vaguely remembers hearing Elizabeth yell for Devon after the earthquake, and she thinks they were fighting. Liz is so sold on Devon being a hero that she gets into a big fight with Maria for not contributing to the hero narrative. Then they make up and Maria hypnotizes her. Yes, really.

At Olivia’s funeral, Elizabeth sees Dana’s snake bracelet, and it jogs her memory about the snake she encountered after the earthquake. Suddenly she remembers everything, including her fight with Devon and having to save Enid by herself. Later, Ken confirms that some stranger helped Liz and Enid after Elizabeth had already done what she could on her own. Suddenly everyone hates Devon, and they basically run him out of town like an angry mob. Smell ya later, Devon!

Jessica and Ken are both struggling with feelings of survivor guilt and feeling responsible for Alyssa and Olivia’s deaths. Jessica’s depressed enough that she even considers killing herself. Alyssa’s parents aren’t mad at Jessica, since she was selfless enough to try to help a stranger, but Alyssa’s brother Bryan is furious with her. After some yelling, he admits that he’s actually just mad at himself for not being able to save his sister.

Maria Santelli has set up a refugee center for the people whose homes were damaged, and a bunch of families get matched up so they have places to stay. The Santellis are hosting a little boy whose father is in the hospital and not expected to recover. Jessica connects with the boy and spends some time with him, trying to take both their minds off of what happened. Just as she’s feeling at her lowest, the boy’s father wakes up, and she realizes that there are still miracles in the world.

Olivia’s parents want Ken to give the eulogy at her memorial service. He really doesn’t want to, so they ask him to spend some time in Olivia’s room while he thinks about it. Ken looks through Olivia’s paintings and finds one she did of him that captures the person no one else sees him as. Somehow this changes his mind.

Lila and Todd feel some residual attraction to each other after having spent the earthquake together. After Olivia’s funeral, Lila gets emotional, realizing how mean she’s been to people and how her snobbery made her miss out on having a friendship with a nice person. Todd comforts her and they finally kiss…and immediately realize they have no chemistry. Lila even yells at him for having the nerve to kiss her at a funeral. Hee.

Of course, things with Elizabeth and Todd are still an issue. He was already heading for basketball camp for the summer, so they agree to stick to their plan not to keep in touch. Which means Elizabeth is truly guy-less. I’m sure that’ll last.

And…that’s it!

Thoughts: “Bill Jozniak was a famous computer company owner.” Bill Gates + Steve Jobs + Steve Wozniak, I assume?

“Maybe Elizabeth will hate me for it…but my survival always comes first.” And that’s why Devon is single.

What was the city planning to do with all the people who are suddenly homeless if Maria Santelli hadn’t set up a refugee center? Why is a 16-year-old doing all the work?

Elizabeth is way too smart to let a 16-year-old hypnotize her. Though it’s pretty funny when Maria wants to see Liz’s watch, and Liz thinks she’s going to hypnotize her by waving a watch, but Maria just wants to know what time it is.

Before Olivia’s memorial service starts, Elizabeth gets emotional and Maria tells her to “pull it together.” Seriously? HER FRIEND DIED. Shut up, Slater.

Oh, really, Nicholas? You thought of Olivia as a sister? Were you even in the last 20 books?

It’s over! I read the whole series! (Minus the diaries, but I don’t care about those.) It took forever, but I did it! And I can’t even say goodbye to these people because next I’m going to read Sweet Valley University! Ahhhhhhhhhh!

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