September 19, 2017

SVT Super Edition #8, Jessica’s First Kiss: Are We Out of the Woods Yet?

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

Yeah, this didn’t happen

Summary: In the category of Things That Would Never Happen, the whole middle school is going on a mandatory week-long camping trip. I would fake mono or some sort of horrible injury so I wouldn’t have to go. Lila thinks that since they’re staying at a place with “estate” in the title, they’ll basically be at a spa for a week. Elizabeth tells her and Jessica that they’re wrong. Liz, by the way, is super-excited about spending a week in the great outdoors, especially since she’ll get to spend time with Todd. She writes a really bad poem about it, and Jess and Lila find it and tease her. Siblings are the worst.

On the way to the estate, Elizabeth and her dorky friends pass the long bus ride by singing camp songs. The Unicorns are completely over it. Liz tries to flirt a little with Todd, bringing up the possibility of going on a private nature walk together. Jess tries to do the same with Aaron, but he’s the epitome of a middle-school boy in this book and doesn’t get it. Aaron just keeps talking about bears, so Jessica hopes he gets eaten by one. Spoiler alert: Before long, the reader will have the same hope.

The first night of the trip, Aaron wakes everyone up by yelling that he saw a bear. A new student named Dennis Asher calls him on his prank, kicking off a rivalry between the two of them. Aaron’s the real idiot, though, since Bruce accidentally cuts a hole in their tent while trying to run to safety, and when it rains later in the night, Aaron gets soaked. He deserves it.

The Unicorns are miserable on the trip; they’re not allowed to have any electric beauty products with them, so their hair goes uncurled, and the showers smell of sulfur, so they don’t want to get in them. Aaron tries to pull his bear prank again, this time on Jessica, and she decides she’s through with their near-relationship. When she meets Dennis, she decides she’s ready to move on to a new guy. Too bad her unshowered, unprimped appearance is leaving her looking like a mess.

Though the kids are expected to take classes (such as learning about the history of the estate) or participate in athletic or craft activities during the day, the rest of the experience is a lot like summer camp. They have campfires every night, and at one, Winston tells a story about a pair of twins who were in love with the same man. They flipped a coin to decide who should be with him, but then the twin who lost murdered the twin who won and took her place. Was her name Margo? Aaron annoys everyone by pretending again that he saw a bear. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of adult supervision on this trip, and Aaron doesn’t suffer any consequences for pulling the same trick over and over.

Inspired by Winston’s story and the fact that April Fools’ Day is coming up, Jessica decides to pull her own twin switch in order to win over Dennis. Elizabeth is looking much cleaner and more attractive than her sister, so Jess wants to make Dennis fall for her, thinking she’s Jess and the dirty twin is Liz. Then when they get back to civilization, Jess will pretend she was the clean one all along. She signs up for the same activity as Dennis, pretending to be Liz, and chats with him a little. She warns him that her sister likes to play tricks, so if he addresses her as Jessica, she’ll say she’s really Elizabeth.

Indeed, Dennis sees Liz elsewhere and calls her Jess, confusing her. Jessica, pretending to be Elizabeth, encourages him to get to know her better, then makes sure Todd is off somewhere else so he can’t interfere. She also tells Dennis, who’s noticed “Jessica” with Todd, that Todd isn’t anyone to worry about. Jess convinces Dennis that “Jessica” likes him, but then Liz starts to put everything together. She tells Todd, and they decide to mess with Jessica for pulling a twin switch.

Liz flirts with Dennis, then gives him half of a maple leaf; if he’s ever uncertain which twin he’s talking to, he can just ask if she has the other half. She starts laying it on thick, saying she wants to spend tons of time together. Jessica gets sick and is sent home early, but Aaron doesn’t know; every time he sees Elizabeth with Dennis, he thinks she’s Jess. He’s jealous and mad that she’s spending time with a guy he doesn’t like. Aaron confronts Dennis, who tells him that Jessica should be allowed to choose which guy she wants to be with. What a concept!

Jessica’s better by Saturday, when everyone comes home from camp (which also happens to be April Fools’ Day). She gets all glammed up and goes to school to welcome everyone home. Dennis now thinks Jessica is Elizabeth, and since it’s April Fool’s Day, he doesn’t believe Jess when she claims it’s really her. He asks for her half of the maple leaf, and when she doesn’t produce it, he goes to Liz. Liz doesn’t produce it either, so Dennis decides he’s done with Wakefields. Smart boy.

Aaron comes to the Wakefields’ house and apologizes to Jessica for not being nicer to her on the trip. Jess realizes that Liz inadvertently did her a favor by hanging out with Dennis, since it made Aaron jealous. Aaron kisses Jessica, giving her the first kiss in the book’s title. I hope she was still contagious.

The Unicorns spend the whole book complaining about camping. Eventually Lila decides to call her father to send a limo and retrieve all the Unicorns. The camp director, Mrs. Sanchez, doesn’t care who she is or who her father is; she can’t use the phone unless there’s an emergency. The girls decide to fake an illness so they’ll be sent home, but when they can’t get their stories straight about their symptoms, the camp nurse again rebuffs them. Next they try to use ESP to contact their parents. Then they stage a fight so they’ll get kicked out. Instead, they’re forced to clean a grease trap in the kitchen.

The Unicorns decide to just leave camp and try to hitchhike back to civilization. They plan to leave after a campfire one night, but Aaron and Winston pull the bear trick again (sigh), telling a story about a ghost bear, which Aaron pretends to be. The girls are too spooked to venture off in the woods alone. When they attempt to leave the next day, Aaron spots them, follows them, and sees a real bear. He has to climb a tree to get away from it. The Unicorns get spooked and head back to camp, forced to suffer through the rest of the week. Aaron spends the night in the tree because no one believed he was really in danger from a bear. Ha!

Thoughts: I didn’t realize Jessica hadn’t had her first kiss yet. This means, amazingly, Elizabeth has surpassed her in this area.

If my friends started singing “Old MacDonald” on a bus full of middle-shoolers, I would just assume I’d died and this was my personal Hell.

Janet: “If you don’t mind, Jessica, some of us are trying to send ESP messages to our parents?” Snort.

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September 12, 2017

SVT #105, Jessica’s Lucky Millions: Jessica Is Officially a Golddigger

Posted in books tagged , , , at 4:58 pm by Jenn

Uh, guys? The rainbow’s over there

Summary: After watching a movie about people winning big in Vegas, Jessica becomes interested in the idea of becoming rich without having to, like, work. Dare to dream, Jess. She considers playing the lottery, but since she’s only 12, that’s probably a long shot. She then thinks about learning some casino games, and she asks Steven to help her out, but he throws her dice out the window, which cracked me up.

The twins have been studying Irish folklore and history, and when Jessica gets caught daydreaming in class (now she wants to win money in a sweepstakes), she’s assigned to write an essay about the legend of the pot of gold. Jessica spends more time whining about this and the fact that it’ll keep her from hanging out with her new crush, Rick Hunter, than it would take her to actually write the essay. But then she realizes that if the legend is true, and she can find a pot of gold, she’ll become super-rich. She gets Lila interested, since Lila’s father has just denied her request for an expensive leather jacket – if Lila has gold, she can buy whatever she wants.

Steven overhears the girls plotting and tells them he found an old map inside a book. He gives just enough detail to make Jessica think that the map will lead to a pot of gold. She steals the map and tells Liz that she plans to use it to find her fortune. Elizabeth points out that since it’s Steven’s map, he should be involved, but since he’s been a jerk lately, he doesn’t deserve it.

During the unit on Irish history and stories, Elizabeth has found her new favorite writer, Maggie Sullivan. She wants to turn one of Maggie’s stories into a play. It’s called Fool’s Paradise, and it’s about a couple who move from Ireland to America together, then get separated and realize they’ve lost everything. Cheery! Liz learns that Maggie moved to Southern California, so she puts in a request with some writers’ association for Maggie to call her. Steven pretends to be Maggie and gets Liz’s hopes up that the writer wants to meet her. For once in her life, Elizabeth wants revenge.

Jessica and Lila determine that the gold is buried at Sunset Beach (wasn’t that a soap in the ’90s?). Yes, it just so happens to be in Sweet Valley. When Liz and Amy look at the map, Liz realizes that Steven made it and is just messing with Jess. Jess and Lila are in denial, and the subsequent fight makes Elizabeth want revenge on another sibling. She and Amy bury some stuff at the beach to mess with Jessica and Lila, then amuse themselves by watching the girls dig up what they don’t realize is nothing special.

Jess and Lila dig up Liz’s key and a rock she’s labeled the Blarney stone. Cut to Lila making out with a rock. After they have to go home for the night, Liz tells Steven where he can find the treasure. When Jessica and Lila go back to finish their dig, Steven shows up as well. The dig continues, and Elizabeth is stunned when Jessica finds a purple bag. The bag contains a gold necklace inscribed with a love note from Patrick to Maggie, and a card with Maggie Sullivan’s address.

Steven, Jessica, and Lila go to Maggie’s house the next day to give her back her necklace. She tells them she lost it years ago and thought she’d never see it again). Jessica and Steven didn’t want Liz to come along, since they’re mad at her, but when she shows up, having followed them, they want her to meet the writer she admires so much. Maggie gives them each a gold coin, which she says will bring the kids good luck. They do, but it’s little stuff like a date with Rick, so I’m not sure we can credit that to the coins.

Thoughts: “Did they have malls in Paris? Jessica wondered.” I don’t think Lila would go there if they didn’t.

Speaking of Lily, I really doubt she has Doc Martens.

If Maggie’s so famous (there are pictures of her with celebrities in her house), how did no one know she lived in Sweet Valley? Why do so many famous people end up there anyway?

August 15, 2017

SVT #101, Twins in Love: Putting the “Dude” in Dude Ranch

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

Purple jeans, everyone. Purple. Jeans

Summary: The Wakefields are going on vacation to a dude ranch. Has anyone ever been to a dude ranch in real life? All my knowledge of them comes from books and Hey Dude. Hilariously, the ranch is called the Triple Z, but no one ever makes the obvious comment that that means ZZZ, as in snoring. The owners should have run that by a marketing team. Anyway, Elizabeth is excited to ride horses, while Jessica is excited to…I was going to say ride boys, but this is Sweet Valley. She wants to find a cute guy and get a peck on the cheek.

When the Wakefields arrive at the ranch, everyone makes a big deal out of the fact that the girls are twins. I can imagine that that gets old really fast for identical twins. The family gets right to horseback-riding, and Jessica gets right to boy-watching. Elizabeth is, surprisingly, the twin who meets a cute guy first, but Jess follows shortly after. They soon realize that they’ve fallen for the same guy. They fight about it, then decide to let the guy pick which one of them he likes more. (Please note that at this point, neither of them even knows the guy’s name.)

The twins both run into their dream guy, Nick, and basically have a shoving match right in front of him. Nick does not immediately peace out and avoid them for the rest of his vacation. Instead, he introduces them to his brother Chris. His identical twin brother. In fact, the girls didn’t even fall for the same guy at the same time – Jess fell for Chris and Liz fell for Nick.

The two sets of twins go riding together, and both pairs hit it off. We learn that the boys always wear different brands of shoes, and Chris is right-handed while Nick is left-handed. The new lovebirds all have dinner together. Elizabeth tells them that she and Jess can be told apart by different hairstyles and the fact that Liz wears a watch while Jess doesn’t. Jess snarks that, in addition, she has fashion sense while Liz doesn’t. (This reminds me of The Parent Trap: “I have class and you don’t.”)

As dinner progresses, the girls start to think they’ve fallen for the wrong guys. For instance, Nick keeps doing a Jim Carrey impression. Liz, I feel your pain. The girls separately wonder if they should swap guys. The next day, when Jessica encounters Nick, she tells him she’s Elizabeth. Liz does the same with Chris, then flips out when she learns that Jess impersonated her. Then the girls realize the situation is actually kind of funny, and they agree to pull a twin switch with the guys.

On the kids’ next double date, the girls aren’t any more interested in their new guys than they were in their old ones. Liz sees Chris – or the guy she thinks is Chris – waving with his left hand and thinks that the boys also pulled a twin switch. The girls switch back to themselves, but the guys seem to also switch back as well. The girls keep running to the bathroom to switch outfits, eventually ending up wearing the wrong shoes, though the guys don’t seem to notice.

For their next double date, Jess suggests that she and Liz dress the same to make switching easier. This works well enough to fool Alice, which doesn’t surprise me at all. A problem arises when the girls go on a ride and are given each other’s horses. Liz’s horse isn’t a big Jessica fan and ends up throwing her off. The guys figure out that the girls lied to them and huff off, claiming they never pulled a switch. Which I guess just means that neither guy is that interesting and the girls shouldn’t be with them.

Before the Wakefields leave the ranch, the guys come to make up with the girls…and reveal that they did, in fact, switch. So their anger at the girls is unfounded, since they pulled the same stunt. But it turns out that the twins pulled one last swap for their final meeting. Too bad they’ve wound up with the guys they don’t like, so they didn’t really accomplish anything.

The B-plot is boring and dumb, though I guess that’s not much different from the rest of the book. Steven wants to win a horse race at the end of the week, so he asks to spend the week riding a horse named Rocket that used to compete in derbies. He realizes too late that Rocket hasn’t competed in a long time and is nowhere near as fast as she used to be. Steven decides not to bother with the race, but then Rocket gets stung by a bee and takes off, accidentally winning the race. The prize is a hat. Yeehaw.

Thoughts: The ghostwriter severely overestimates any preteen girl’s interest in any plotline involving Steven.

Chris slices his Jell-o into 16ths and eats it with a fork. I think that’s a sign that he’s a future serial killer.

Jessica’s favorite color is pink, not purple. What would Janet say??

Speaking of purple, I don’t buy that Elizabeth has purple jeans. Maybe I’m just in denial that purple jeans exist.

July 4, 2017

SVT #96, Elizabeth the Spy: Elizabeth Commits Perjury, But It’s for a Good Cause, So It’s Okay

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:06 pm by Jenn

Did he stop to pose while he was fleeing the scene of the crime?

Summary: The SVMS girls’ favorite employee at Casey’s is Joe Carrey, a college student who gives them extra ice cream and treats them like regular people instead of little kids. He also likes to give them brainteasers, though Elizabeth might be the only girl who’s actually interested in them. He’s definitely nicer than Jeff Casey, nephew of the owner, who doesn’t care about good customer service and thinks Joe is a nuisance. He’s probably happy when Elizabeth accidentally kicks Joe in the shin, though Joe insists that he’s fine.

That night, Elizabeth is trying to enjoy the latest Amanda Howard mystery when Jessica comes to her, frantic because she’s just started her period and there are no pads in the house. Jess throws on one of Liz’s sweaters and insists that her twin accompany her to the drugstore. She’s embarrassed to have to buy pads (12-year-old me can relate), and I guess she thinks she’ll be less embarrassed if Elizabeth is with her. Or she just plans to make Liz get them and be embarrassed on her own.

While waiting in line to pay, the twins encounter a clown. Jess accidentally kicks him in the shin (what’s with the twins kicking people?), and he throws a fit. He then proceeds to pull out a gun and rob the cashier. After he runs off, the police are called, and the twins give their statements. Jessica is horrified that they were buying pads, and she tries to avoid telling the police why they were at the drugstore.

Joe is arrested for the robbery, since the clown suit was his (he has a side gig performing at parties and daycare centers). Jeff is pleased not to have to work with a criminal anymore, but Elizabeth thinks there was a mistake. No way is a nice guy like Joe actually a criminal. Lila thinks that if he was arrested, he must be guilty. If Lila keeps up that attitude until she’s an adult (and let’s face it, she will), she’ll never have to serve jury duty.

Inspired by her Amanda Howard book, Elizabeth calls the SVPD to try to talk to an officer about Joe’s case. I guess she plans to try to talk him into releasing Joe because he’s too nice to rob anyone. No one wants to talk to a 12-year-old, though, so she doesn’t actually talk to anyone. After talking to Mr. Casey, the owner of the ice cream parlor, who always liked Joe, Liz decides to learn more about the accused criminal. She goes to SVU and chats with a student named Wendy who has known Joe for a few years. She tells Liz that Joe used to run track, but he disappeared for a while, and when he came back, he left the team.

Liz makes Jessica go with her to visit Joe in lockup, because apparently 12-year-olds are allowed to do that in Sweet Valley. Joe doesn’t give Elizabeth anything that can help, so she turns her attention to Jeff, thinking he’s connected to the crime. She stalks him, but he doesn’t do anything suspicious. She goes back to Casey’s with Amy, and Amy accidentally knocks over her ice cream, so Liz goes to get a mop. She sees a set of Joe’s apartment keys there and steals them. Now who’s the criminal, Liz?

Elizabeth goes to Joe’s apartment and has to hide in a closet when a couple of police officers show up. She finds something in the closet that she thinks is a robot leg. The police find the gun from the robbery in Joe’s freezer (which makes me think of this exchange from Veronica Mars), so things are looking pretty bleak for poor Joe. But Liz is still convinced that he’s innocent, and if there’s one thing Elizabeth can do, it’s obsess about something until everyone does the right thing.

Thanks to all the brainteasers she’s been doing and all the Amanda Howard mysteries she’s read, Liz’s brain has started working a little differently. A brainteaser about a woman having a tooth pulled somehow directs her toward what Joe’s been hiding – the “robot leg” in his closet is really a prosthetic leg. She and Wendy do some digging in the library’s newspaper archives and discover that he was injured in a car accident and must have had his leg amputated. This explains why he left the track team, and why he didn’t even blink when Liz kicked him. This means the clown, who did react when Jess kicked him, couldn’t have been Joe.

Elizabeth shares all this with Jessica, but Jess is more worried about public humiliation than an innocent man’s freedom, and she refuses to testify. No way is she going to tell people that she was buying pads! Elizabeth decides to take her place in an after-the-fact twin switch – Jess was wearing her sweater, and no one can tell from surveillance footage which of them is which anyway. So Liz gets on the stand and testifies, pretending to be Jess, which means saintly Elizabeth Wakefield has now committed an actual crime.

But never mind that – Liz’s plan works, and when the jury finds out that Joe has a prosthetic leg and couldn’t have been the clown, they find him not guilty. Sometime later, Jeff is arrested for robbery, having framed Joe to get him out of the way so Mr. Casey wouldn’t leave him the ice cream parlor upon his retirement. Elizabeth tells Jessica that the maxi-pad company wants her to be their spokesperson because she inadvertently gave them such good publicity. I thought she was teasing Jess, but apparently this is for real. Jess could have been on TV if she hadn’t been so worried about embarrassing herself. Ha ha! Also, I hope Liz gives some of the money she gets from the company to Joe.

Thoughts: This book is basically that episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob frames Krusty for robbery. In other words, The Simpsons already did it.

I guess the police in Sweet Valley aren’t familiar with DNA testing, or they would have figured out that a second person’s DNA was on Joe’s clown costume.

Elizabeth: “I wonder who they arrested.” Jessica: “I hope it’s somebody we hate.” Okay, that was funny.

Sweet Valley has a daycare center called the Cute Little Kids Day-Care Center. Way to be creative, ghostwriter.

But it has to be a robot foot, Elizabeth thought. I mean, they don’t make metal chickens nowadays – do they?Actually…

June 6, 2017

SVT #93, The Incredible Madame Jessica: Uh-Oh, Jessica’s Cosplaying as Miss Cleo

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

Please close your mouths, everyone. She’s 12 years old. She’s not going to predict lottery numbers

Summary: Jessica has recently become interested in psychic phenomena again, and she tries out her supposed psychic powers on her family. She predicts that Steven will eat nine pancakes at breakfast, which is a lot even for him. This prediction turns out to be accurate, though Steven grabs a tenth pancake just to tick Jessica off. I don’t know, I’d still count it – she said nine, not nine and no more.

There’s a fair coming up at SVMS, taking place over three consecutive weekends, and the proceeds will be going to the school library. Despite the dorky cause, the Unicorns want to have a booth. Jessica wants to tell fortunes, but the other girls think that’s dumb. Instead, they’ll do a twist on a dunking booth, filling it with grape Jell-O instead of water. That’s actually pretty creative. Elizabeth will be running a table where people can turn in overdue library books without having to pay a fine. (More on that later.)

Jessica tries to shows off her abilities again at a party at Bruce’s house, but no one’s interested in hearing their futures. She finally convinces Patrick Morris to get his fortune told, but he’s disappointed when she predicts that he and Sophia Rizzo, his sort-of girlfriend, will fight and break up. Jessica also foresees Liz failing a test, which everyone finds ridiculous, since perfect Liz would never fail anything. But then Sophia and Patrick get in a fight because he forgot her birthday, and suddenly one of Jess’ predictions has come true. Then Elizabeth fails a history test because she didn’t see the final page of questions.

Now everyone thinks Jessica really is psychic, so they start asking her to tell them their futures. She uses this as publicity for her booth at the fair. She wants to charge $5 per customer, but the librarian, Ms. Luster, makes her charge 50 cents instead. Except there’s a huge line of customers waiting, and if they were willing to pay $5 each, why ask for less? This is why Ms. Luster is a librarian and not a businesswoman.

Among Jessica’s predictions:

  • Aaron will be suspended from the basketball team
  • Bruce will sprain his ankle
  • Sarah Thomas will get her braces tightened (that one’s kind of a gimme, though)
  • Anna Reynolds will lose her new jacket

On Monday morning, Bruce shows up to school on crutches, having torn ligaments in his ankle. Anna misplaces her jacket, fulfilling another of Jessica’s predictions. She thinks this could win her a Nobel Peace Prize. Sure thing, Jess. Aaron then gets suspended from the basketball team for poor grades, so Jess is 3 for 3. Unfortunately, since she’s only been predicting bad things, no one wants to have their fortunes told anymore – in fact, no one wants to talk to Jessica at all.

Jess decides to only tell good fortunes, predicting that Cammi Adams will win a prize and Randy Mason will get to leave class early. This backfires, as Randy leaves early because he has an asthma attack, and Cammi makes a fool of herself in gym class, prompting Belinda Layton to say that she should get a booby prize. Janet thinks that instead of telling fortunes, Jessica’s cursing people.

At the second fair weekend, Jessica has no customers. She’s inspired by a fortune cookie to start giving people vague advice, which doesn’t go over well. Meanwhile, the Unicorns, who got off to a rough start the first weekend, now have a very popular booth, as teachers are volunteering to get dunked. (The Jell-O never quite sets, so they’re getting dropping into purpleish water, but the dunkers don’t care.)

While all of this has been going on, Elizabeth has slowly been making herself more and more unlikable. She’s become obsessed with people turning in overdue library books, and making sure people know that keeping them past the due date is, like a mortal sin or something. Her booth at the fair offers a free pizza to the person who turns in a book that’s the most overdue, and it’s made her disgusted with people who keep books for years without realizing it. Aaron’s grandmother is the worst offender, returning a book she checked out in 1962.

In what’s known as an ironic twist, Elizabeth finds a copy of Black Beauty that fell behind her dresser four years ago. Doesn’t the library send out late notices? She tries to return the book to her own booth without anyone noticing, but Ms. Luster is always around, so Liz can’t sneak it in with the others.

The twins’ plotlines start coming together when Elizabeth thinks that she can help reverse one of Jessica’s “curses” by helping Sophia and Patrick get back together. Her sage advice is for Patrick to apologize to Sophia and give her something nice, like flowers. Wow, look at Ann Landers over here! Spoiler alert: It works.

Steven notices that the twins are cranky and casually suggests that they switch problems. Jessica decides that she’ll pose as Liz to turn in her overdue book while Liz poses as her, makes predictions that don’t come true (since she’s not really psychic), and pretends she’s lost her psychic powers. Elizabeth isn’t thrilled to have to be a phony psychic at the third fair weekend, but she’ll do it to get out of facing the shame of turning in an overdue book.

The twins switch, and Jess’ part of the deal is over quickly: Ms. Luster couldn’t care less that Elizabeth had an overdue book. While Liz gets ready to play the Incredible Madame Jessica, Janet hides in her booth, not wanting to take a turn in the Unicorns’ dunk tank. Mr. Clark, the principal, volunteered to be dunked, but he never shows up, so the Unicorns are forced to take turns. Janet is wearing a brand-new white blouse and is determined to keep it clean. “Jessica” predicts that she’ll get a stain on it.

The real Jess learns of her sister’s prediction and freaks out – if Janet’s shirt gets stained, people will still see her as cursing them. The twins stalk Janet, trying to keep her from getting dirty, and barely avoid a disaster with some paint. Janet’s shirt comes out spotless, and everyone decides that Jessica’s cursed predictions are done. Also, Anna found her jacket and Sophia and Patrick got back together, so two more predictions were reversed. (Except…Anna DID lose her jacket, and Sophia and Patrick DID break up, so those should still be accurate. Jess never said the jacket would stay lost forever or that Sophia and Patrick would never get back together. Eh, whatever.)

Janet can’t avoid getting dunked, so everyone gets some satisfaction out of watching that. The Unicorns’ dunking booth raises a ton of money, Jessica’s booth raises the second highest amount, and Aaron’s grandmother wins the pizza. Not shown: Mr. Fowler having an aneurysm after checking his credit card bill and seeing how much Jell-O the Unicorns bought.

Thoughts: Luster is a weird name.

“When you check out a library book, you have a moral obligation to return it on time. I think we need to think of ways to get people to live up to their responsibilities.” Elizabeth, you’re a child. Please chill out.

“I mean, who cares whether you’ve had a book since second grade? Nobody’s going to stop talking to you over it.” Maybe we should. Everyone, stop talking to Elizabeth right now.

May 16, 2017

SVT Super Chiller #9, Evil Elizabeth: Can’t Fight the Moonlight

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

So no one finds it weird that Elizabeth is just walking around with this on her face all the time? Really?

Summary: Elizabeth is really excited about Halloween, and wants to do a paired costume with her twin. Jessica thinks that’s immature, when everyone knows Halloween is the chance to dress up fancy and be really sophisticated. Whatever you say, Jess. Fortunately for Liz, Amy and Maria are up for figuring out a three-part costume. Jessica decides to go as a figure skater but has to reconsider when Lila announces that as her costume – and she’s even going to wear an outfit worn by an actual famous skater.

On the way to the Wakefields’ for a big sleepover, the twins and some of their friends pass a rundown house everyone calls the “Luna place.” Jess makes up a story about a witch who lives there, which annoys Liz. She sees a full moon over the house and points it out to her friends, but Amy and Maria don’t see it as full.

The girls have a séance at their sleepover, and Mandy seems to channel someone who speaks through her. The channeled voice warns the “sisters” (and Liz and Jess are the only sisters present) to “watch the rising of the moon, and watch your sister.” If they’re not careful, someone tragic will happen. Jessica sees the shape of a full moon in a candle flame, but no one else notices it.

Liz learns that “luna” means moon, and that there will be a full moon on Halloween. Those two things combined with the full moon she thought she saw make her a little creeped out. She comes across a black dog with an orange face carrying a grotesque mask in its mouth. When Liz takes the mask, she sees another moon. She puts on the mask and starts taunting Jessica. Jess tries to brush off her nastiness, thinking Elizabeth is just messing with her.

Elizabeth starts wearing the mask more and more often, acting meaner and meaner every time, both to Jessica and to Amy and Maria. When she’s not wearing the mask, she claims not to have any idea that she acted out of character. Jess is worried that the warning from the séance is the real deal, and that something horrible is happening. When she and Steven both see the moon turn red one night, Jess gets even more spooked.

Jessica tries to get Elizabeth interested in sisterly bonding by carving pumpkins together. Liz is back in the mask, though, and thinks carving pumpkins is immature. Later, maskless, Elizabeth is really hurt that Jess carved a pumpkin without her. Jess realizes that the mask is causing Liz’s strange behavior, so she steals it, but Liz easily finds it again and puts it back on.

Jess runs into the dog Liz got the mask from and follows it to the Luna place. There, she meets Corinna Black, the alleged witch who lives there. Jess tells her about the mask, which Corinna says was buried for decades. I guess the dog dug it up? She warns that the mask will make Elizabeth worse the more she wears it, and eventually Liz will be a horrible person even without it. Jess needs to make sure Liz doesn’t wear it when the moon rises, or the process will speed up.

Jessica tries to steal the mask again, but Elizabeth is obsessed with it and won’t let it go. She has a nightmare about feeling like everything is changing. Is this all just a metaphor for puberty? I guess it’s possible. Liz’s behavior keeps getting worse, and she’s reached the point where she doesn’t have to wear the mask to be awful. She starts hanging out with the SVH series’ reformed bad girl Betsy Martin, and everyone at school wonders why she’s suddenly changed so much.

When Jess tries to go back to the Luna place to talk to Corinna, there’s no door to the house. Jess doesn’t seem as freaked out by this as she should be. Elizabeth and Betsy get ready for Halloween mischief by egging houses, including the Luna place. Ned and Alice are their usual clueless selves about Elizabeth’s sudden shift – they think she’s just moody, and they don’t see anything wrong with her hanging out with different people.

Steven asks his astronomy teacher if the moon could appear red, but she says no. Again, mass hallucinations should be freaking these people out. Jess finally reconnects with Corinna, who insists that she make Elizabeth destroy the mask during the lunar eclipse that is conveniently happening on Halloween. Corinna reveals that the last person who wore the mask burned down her house, killing her entire family…except Corinna. So…maybe she should have done a better job of getting rid of the mask, eh?

Once Jess has filled Steven in on everything going on, the two of them come up with a plan. They know they need to stick close to Elizabeth on Halloween, but they also know she’s not going to let them. So Jessica dresses as Liz and tells Betsy that they should crash a Halloween party on Courage Mountain. She leaves Liz a note about the party, pretending it’s from Betsy. They plan to meet up with Liz on the mountain and force her to destroy the mask.

Jess goes out trick-or-treating with the Unicorns (she ran out of time to come up with a costume, so she goes with the classic sheet-ghost look) while Elizabeth and Betsy terrorize little kids by stealing their candy. An hour before midnight, Jessica pretends to go to bed while Steven tells their parents he’s going to a party. Jess sneaks out and the two ride their bikes up Courage Mountain. Jessica has a vision of the moon on fire, dropping flames onto the Wakefields’ house.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth and Betsy aren’t on their way up the mountain – they’re at the Wakefields’, where Betsy wants Liz to smash the pumpkin Jessica carved. Liz hesitates, because even in her possessed state, she doesn’t want to hurt Jess. But she gives in to peer pressure and chucks the pumpkin on the ground, accidentally lighting some leaves on fire with the candle inside.

As the eclipse begins, Jessica has a bad feeling and tells Steven she needs to go back home. Elizabeth is unable to break her trance as she watches the leaves catch fire, putting the house at risk. Jess arrives pretty quickly and starts to put on the fire before anyone even notices it. Liz throws the mask in, finally destroying it. The twins are extremely grateful to Corinna for helping them out, though Jess can’t help but wonder if Corinna was an innocent victim when someone else was cursed by the mask, or if she was the one who burned down her own house and killed her family. That’s…messed up for a book for preteens.

Thoughts: Clearly, the ghostwriter saw The Mask and wanted to adapt it for middle-schoolers.

I actually feel bad for Jessica in this book. No one wants a mean sibling.

Looks like Jess learned nothing from the Nora situation about not assuming people are witches. Why am I not surprised?

Ned, parent of the year, re: Elizabeth’s behavioral changes and horrible new friends: “She’s just going through a phase. It’s nothing to worry about.” Again, why am I not surprised?

What DOES surprise me is that Janet and Lila don’t consider themselves too told to go trick-or-treating.

March 14, 2017

SVT #84, Romeo and 2 Juliets: Two Wakefields, Both Alike in Indignity

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

I guess Todd was too out of it to notice that anything weird was going on

Summary: Apparently no one at SVMS is familiar with Romeo and Juliet, arguably Shakespeare’s most famous play, so Mr. Bowman is going to change that. Only instead of just reading the play in class, the students will be acting out some of the scenes. After some confusion where Mr. Bowman says that Shakespeare’s language is musical, and Jess thinks the play is a musical, everyone’s excited about doing something new. Jessica and Lila both want to play Juliet, and they make a bet where whichever of them doesn’t get the part has to wear fake warts (meant to be for whoever plays Juliet’s nurse) for a week. Sadly, this does not lead to a scene where neither girl gets the role and both have to wear the warts.

Jess prepares for her audition by reading Juliet’s scenes over and over at home, until everyone in the house has memorized all the lines. But then Jessica comes down with the cold/flu (the ghostwriter seems to think these are interchangeable) that’s been spreading through the school, and the day of the first auditions, she can barely speak. Alice deems Jessica too sick to go to school, and she misses all of the audition days. Desperate for the part, and especially desperate to keep Lila from getting it, Jessica talks Liz into auditioning as her.

At first Elizabeth isn’t that excited about the scheme, but when she realizes that she can’t let Lila win, she really gets into it. Her audition is great, and everyone responds like she just gave a Tony-worthy performance. Liz quickly remembers that Jessica is technically the star here, as everyone thinks that’s who she is. Elizabeth wants the part for herself, though, and Jessica refuses to give it to her.

Instead of going to Mr. Bowman to say there was a mix-up and she’s the rightful Juliet, Elizabeth just pretends to be Jessica at rehearsals and takes her role. The girls fight over the part, and Jessica wins the first round by locking Liz in a bathroom. Diabolical! Jessica gets her back by blowing pepper at her during dinner so Ned and Alice will think she caught Jess’ cold and keep her home from school. This doesn’t work, and just makes Elizabeth madder and more vicious. Like, she dresses like Jess, then rips Jessica’s shirt so she can’t go on stage to rehearse.

Lila figures things out and agrees to let Jessica out of their wart bet (which I guess is back in play because technically Jessica didn’t win the role) if Jess gives her a chance, as Jess’ understudy, to appear on stage during the big performance. In exchange, Lila will help Jessica ensure that Elizabeth can’t take her place. She has two costumes from a professional production, and she’ll make sure both are kept under lock and key so Liz can’t steal one. Jess isn’t happy about having to give Lila a chance to shine on stage, but it’s worth it to keep her role, not to mention keep herself from having to wear warts.

The night of the performance, Jessica schemes to keep Liz out of the way by dosing her with cold medicine before the show, so she’ll be too drowsy to perform. Meanwhile, Elizabeth works with Amy and Maria to create a diversion and get Jessica out of the way so Liz can take her place backstage. Even Lila is fooled, easily handing over one of the costumes. When Jess finds out that Liz has already gotten her hands on a dress, she gives Mandy (the stage manager) a soda with cold medicine in it. Mandy gives it to Amy, who ends up giving it to Todd (who’s playing Romeo), since he needs something to soothe a tickle in his throat.

Jessica manages to be the first Juliet to make it onstage, but Elizabeth lies in wait by the balcony to beat her up there for the next scene. The two start trying to physically pull each other off the set. The audience doesn’t seem to catch on that something weird is going on, and they definitely don’t notice that Juliet is being played by two girls.

When it’s time for the big death scene, which Elizabeth is in place for, Todd falls asleep while playing dead. His understudy is out sick, so Amy gets Jessica to play Romeo for the final scene. It goes great, but the twins are immediately busted after the show, and Mr. Bowman is TICKED. He threatens to give them both Fs for the week, but ultimately agrees to punish them by making them wear the fake warts for a day. Somehow, Elizabeth gets away with not having to undergo a psych evaluation for her out-of-character behavior through the book.

Thoughts: Everyone at SVMS seems awfully excited about a performance that’s just for one class. Though Janet’s involved, so I’m not sure what’s going on here.

How do the Wakefield kids ever make it to school when Alice considers keeping them home every time they sneeze?

No girls want to play the nurse, because of the warts, so Dennis Cookman takes the role. Beautiful.

October 11, 2016

SVT #67, Jessica the Thief: American Swiper

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:54 pm by Jenn

I probably would have worn Jessica's skirt when I was her age

I probably would have worn Jessica’s skirt when I was her age

Summary: Veronica Brooks is settling in at SVMS, and she wants to become a Unicorn. Elizabeth is the only person who thinks Veronica is bad news. This is even after Veronica threatened to get even with Jessica at the end of the last book. The Unicorns haven’t yet invited Veronica to join them, possibly because right now they’re more interested in their newest accessories. Lila just got a Watchman (a watch/TV combo) and Ellen’s been allowed to wear her mother’s expensive hoop earrings to school.

At lunch, Ellen takes off her earrings (they’re heavy) and leaves them at the table while a bunch of the Unicorns go get cookies. Jessica and Veronica hang behind a little. When everyone gets back to the table, the earrings are missing. Then, at Boosters practice (which Veronica hangs around, since Bruce is also in the gym), Janet’s hairbrush and Lila’s newest Teenager magazine disappear. Veronica wonders if the same person took the magazine, hairbrush, and earrings. Jessica thinks the girls are all just bad at keeping track of their stuff.

Some of the girls chat about the disappearances in the bathroom, nicknaming the thief the Sweet Valley Swiper. Jessica admires Mandy’s new hat, which she got from a thrift store. By the way, everyone used to see Mandy’s style as low-class, but now she’s considered quirky and unique. She accidentally leaves the hat in the bathroom, and when she goes back to get it…well, of course it’s gone. The Sweet Valley Swiper strikes again!

Elizabeth fancies herself a detective, so she takes an interest in the case. She figures that since the hat was taken from the girls’ bathroom, the thief is probably a girl. Well, yeah – a guy probably isn’t going to steal earrings and a brush. Next, Mandy’s jacket vanishes. Ellen thinks her deodorant was also stolen, which leads to a lot of jokes about how she smells. There’s a pattern emerging beyond girls having their things taken – they’re all things Jessica has admired. Also, only the Unicorns have been victims of the thefts.

The pattern breaks when Veronica reports her notebook missing. The girls finally tell the principal, Mr. Clark, who promises to get the teachers to keep their eyes out. Elizabeth and Amy apparently solved mysteries together as kids, calling themselves the Snoopers, and they consider getting back together for one last case. How is this situation different from the other times they’ve teamed up to solve mysteries?

Lila gets her Watchman taken away in class, and when she goes to get it back from the teacher, it’s gone. I’m impressed that the thief was able to grab it without the teacher seeing. Later, Lila gets a note telling her she can find the Watchman in Jessica’s locker. Indeed, that’s where it is, though Jess has no idea how it got there. Half the Unicorns turn on her, thinking she’s the swiper. They want to oust her from the Unicorns and replace her with Veronica.

Even Elizabeth isn’t sure about her sister’s innocence. After all, Jessica borrowed her sweatshirt and lost it…or did she steal it? But Elizabeth thinks that Occam’s Razor is bull: The simplest explanation is that Jess is the thief, but that’s too easy. She’s probably being framed. Liz decides to focus on the note Lila got about the Watchman’s location, but she’s already thrown it out. Elizabeth recruits Amy to help her dig through the trash at school, which means Amy is a much better friend to Liz than I could ever be. Too bad they don’t find the note. Right now the only thing going in Jess’ favor is the fact that Aaron doesn’t think she’s the swiper.

Elizabeth sees the Unicorns hanging out with Veronica and thinks she’s cracked the case. She comes up with a multi-step plan to catch the swiper. First, Jessica pretends to be sick so she can stay home from school. Elizabeth goes to school as her twin, saying Liz is the one who’s sick. She chats with Veronica, telling her that Mandy still believes in Jessica’s innocence. The only thing that could make her turn on Jess is if her favorite rhinestone pin disappeared.

Guess what disappears not long after? Like Lila, Mandy gets a note telling her Jess took the pin. But Elizabeth announces that she’s not Jess, and that Jess isn’t even at school today, so there’s no way she could have taken the pin. Mandy calls Alice to confirm that Liz is who she says she is, getting confirmation when Jessica can’t spell “thief.” But even with Jess out of school, the pin is in her locker.

Elizabeth tells Mandy and Lila that she’s figured it out: Veronica is the thief. She framed Jessica to get her kicked out of the Unicorns. While Amy goes to get Mr. Clark, Elizabeth and Mandy stage a fight so Veronica will overhear. Veronica thinks Mandy’s mad at “Jessica” for stealing her pin, but the girls point out that they never mentioned a pin being missing. Mandy even says it’s not gone.

Elizabeth notes that only the thief would know it was missing. Veronica tries to blame Jessica, but Liz tells her that Jess isn’t at school. Mr. Clark checks Veronica’s locker, where all the missing things have been stashed. Jessica’s name is cleared, and Veronica’s suspended. Jess figures out that Veronica got her locker combination from a book she borrowed from Jess. The Unicorns, amazingly, feel horrible about the way they treated Jess, and they bring her ice cream as a peace offering. Also, Jess finds Elizabeth’s missing sweatshirt, proving once and for all that she may be a thoughtless sister, but she’s not a thief.

The B-plot is kind of entertaining. Steven and Joe take tests to see if they qualify for MEGA (the Mentally Gifted Association), the Sweet Valley-verse’s version (say that five times fast) of MENSA. Steven’s mailed results say he’s in the 99th percentile, the “genius intelligence quoshent [sic].” Steven thinks this is awesome, not just because it means he’s super-smart but also because Jess told him she would never tease him again if he got a genius score on the test.

Suddenly Steven has a new hobby: being an intellectual. He gets interested in tort law, chess, opera, and a Jeopardy-style TV show called Q&A. Even the twins are impressed with his ability to answer all the questions correctly. He gets Joe to watch a documentary about the mating habits of porcupines. Everyone finds him insufferable now, since he just wants to talk about high-brow things, and doesn’t even want to play basketball anymore.

On her day home “sick,” Jessica helps clean Steven’s room and does some detective work of her own. She finds a list of answers (or questions, I guess) from the episode of Q&A they watched, and realizes that he cheated – they watched a taped episode that Steven had already seen. Along with some other evidence proving that Steven isn’t, in fact, a genius, Jess is able to bust her brother.

Steven admits that he was playing a joke on Joe; he knew Joe made up the test results. Messing with the twins was just a bonus for Steven. Now he wants the girls to help him get payback. A bunch of the Wakefield kids’ friends come over, and Janet tells Jessica that Joe made up the test results to mess with Steven. Jessica pretends that Steven has no idea. Then Steven announces that his genius IQ makes him too smart for high school, so he’s going to drop out and try to get into Harvard. Joe tries to pretend that the test results were a mistake (there’s a guy out there named Steven Wokefield who doesn’t know he’s a genius), but Steven comes clean. Everyone’s amused by the whole thing.

Thoughts: A watch that you can watch TV on is so ahead of its time.

“When a crime seems too easy to solve, there’s probably a good reason.” And maybe the reason is that the criminal was too dumb to avoid getting caught.

Rick Hunter thought Jessica was too much of a klutz to be a thief. I don’t get that logic. She would have dropped the things she tried to steal? She would have tripped while taking them? Please explain yourself, Rick.

October 4, 2016

SVT #66, The Great Boyfriend Switch: Middle-School Relationship Drama Is the Worst

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

Everyone looks fine except Amy (what else is new?)

Everyone looks fine except Amy (what else is new?)

Summary: Believe it or not, but even though it seemed like there was a dance in every SVH book, the SVT crew has yet to have one. Their first is coming up, and the girls are worried that the boys will be their usual annoying, immature selves. New girl Veronica Brooks would be especially disappointed if that happened. You see, at Veronica’s old school, the boys were all charming and intelligent and clearly alien life forms because there’s no such thing as a mature 12-year-old boy.

Todd asks Elizabeth to the dance, and Veronica’s totally jealous. Amy hopes Ken will ask her, since they’re basically dating, but Ken is an idiot in this book and doesn’t get that his sort-of girlfriend might want to do something girlfriend-y with him. When the Unicorns graciously hold an “open meeting,” which is basically a crash course on style, Amy attends so she can get some pointers on making herself girlier so Ken will want to take her to the dance. The Unicorns happily take on Amy as a project. I don’t know why they care whether a girl they don’t even like has a date with a guy they don’t like, but okay.

Amy wears some eye makeup to school, and I guess it’s a pretty bad application because Ken thinks she was in a fight. So did Amy try to do her own makeup, or did the Unicorns overdo it on purpose? Discuss. Either way, later Ken does ask her to the dance, but he’s really casual about it and doesn’t want it to seem like a date. Amy will take it. Meanwhile, Veronica’s mad that Elizabeth keeps outscoring her on tests, because at her old school, Veronica was the best student (and, I imagine, also the most popular and the prettiest and the best athlete and the best singer and…). Also, she likes Todd.

The night of the dance, a bunch of girls get ready together at the Wakefields’. Remember middle-school dances, you guys? My friends and I got ready together, too. Then when high school came around, we skipped all the dances except homecoming and prom because we realized how boring they were. Anyway, everyone has a date, and the guys all come by the house to pick up their girls, which is cute. Todd gives Elizabeth a heart-shaped locket with their pictures inside.

Even though Aaron is Jessica’s date to the dance, she accepts a dance with Bruce. One dance turns into many dances, and Aaron is effectively ditched. Then Veronica steals Todd away from Elizabeth, so Liz and Aaron are stuck on the sidelines, watching their dates with other people. Jessica and Bruce even kiss on the dance floor! Elizabeth tries to comfort Aaron by dancing with him, and they end up kissing, too. They’re outside, so at least they’re not giving the whole school a show…but Caroline Pearce sees them, so that event isn’t going to stay secret for long.

Indeed, by Monday morning, rumors are flying that Elizabeth and Aaron kissed. Todd confronts Elizabeth, who blasts him for spending so much of the dance with Veronica. He argues that he was just trying to be nice, like, one dance with her is nice enough, Todd. They end up having a big fight, as do Jessica and Aaron. Then Jess confronts her sister, and the two of them fight about Jess treating Aaron badly, and how Liz kissed her sister’s guy. No one comes off looking great.

Elizabeth and Aaron have lunch together, as do Todd and Veronica. It’s clear that they’re all trying to make each other jealous. Amy thinks everyone’s nuts. Jess starts hanging out with Bruce, who’s at his Bruceiest in this book. We always hear about how self-centered he is, and it’s really apparent here. He expects Jess to laugh at all his jokes, and for everyone to talk about how awesome he is. Ohhhhhh. Bruce is Donald Trump. I get it.

That night, Aaron calls the Wakefields’ house, and there’s a fun moment where Ned offers the phone to Jessica and is shocked when Aaron wants to talk to Elizabeth. He’s not much of a conversationalist on the phone, as most middle-school girls can confirm about their middle-school boyfriends. Bruce also calls Jessica, but again, he just wants to talk about himself, so she’s not as thrilled anymore about having a popular seventh-grader interested in her.

Jessica wants revenge on Elizabeth, and who better to help her than Liz’s new #1 enemy, Veronica? Veronica changes a bunch of answers on Elizabeth’s math homework so her grade will be lower than Veronica’s. She wants to read Liz’s diary, too, but Jessica doesn’t want to go that far. Instead, Veronica steals something from Elizabeth’s room, though Jess doesn’t see what it is. The next day, Elizabeth is shocked to learn that she failed her math homework. Veronica changed a lot more answers than Jessica expected, and Jess isn’t happy.

Also not happy: Amy, who’s trying a new look to attract Ken. The Unicorns give her a makeover, styling and dressing her like a hippie. Ken thinks she’s sticking it to Valentine’s Day (which is coming up) by acting like it’s Halloween instead. He still wants to go to Ellen’s Valentine’s Day party with her, though. Jess will be going with Bruce, and Liz is going with Aaron. But the twins have realized they want to get each other back together with their original boyfriends, and they’ve separately decided that the party is the place to do it. Neither twin realizes it, but they’ve both decided to pull a classic twin switch.

Liz also wants to make up with Todd, and thinks wearing her locket is a good way to indicate that, but she can’t find it. Then Veronica shows up to the party wearing one just like it. Amy sees her first and thinks this means Todd is moving on from Elizabeth. Jessica, meanwhile, is at the end of her rope with Bruce. He can’t believe she didn’t notice that he parted his hair on the left instead of the right! Bruce in this scene reminds me of Joey from 10 Things I Hate About You. Through all this, Amy and Ken are fighting because he thinks Valentine’s Day is dumb, and she doesn’t want to admit that she likes all the heart-shaped stuff at the party.

The twins quickly get to work on their switch, though they still have no idea that they’re both up to the same plot. “Jessica” makes up with Aaron pretty easily, but “Elizabeth” takes longer with Todd. He gets really awkward and clumsy when he sees “Elizabeth,” making Jessica think that he still likes her. Also, the only thing she can think of to talk to him about is books.

Amy tells “Elizabeth” that Todd gave Veronica a locket just like Liz’s, and Jessica realizes that it’s really Liz’s locket – that’s what Veronica stole from her room. “Elizabeth” calls Veronica out, and they end up in a little shoving match. Once it’s over, the twins switch back and make up with their boyfriends. (Also, they catch Amy and Ken making out.) Veronica, however, is angry (even though she ends up with Bruce), and she tells Jessica she’s going to get revenge. Hell hath no fury like a 12-year-old girl scorned.

Thoughts: Veronica: “At my old school, I was one of the in crowd. We were really wild. We didn’t just have geeky school dances – we had real kissing parties.” Wow. Wild.

The local drugstore has a soda fountain. What year is this?

“[The Unicorns are] all obsessed with this romance stuff. It’s like they’re always trying to get guys to say mushy things. That’s why I like hanging out with you, Amy. You never do stuff like that. It’s almost like being with another guy.” KEN. STOP TALKING.

“You still love to read. I love to read. We both love to read. That’s why we have so much in common.” You stop talking, too, Jessica.

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.

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