June 14, 2016

SVT #55, Brooke and Her Rock-Star Mom: Madonna Never Tried to Pull This Crap

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

Same, Brooke. Same

Same, Brooke. Same

Summary: The twins are both friends with Brooke Dennis now, so they’re more than happy to try to help her come up with an idea for a Sixers article about a celebrity. She’s not feeling inspired, and she feels like all the “good” ones are taken. On the radio they hear the awesome new song “Chocolate Kisses for My Baby” by awesome new rock star Coco, who’s just about to hit it big in the U.S. Brooke decides to write her article about Coco, who, coincidentally, lives in France (though she’s American), as does Brooke’s mother (also American).

Everyone at SVMS has become a Coco fan, including a boy named Colin Harmon, who Brooke has a crush on. He seems to feel the same way about her. Jessica, Lila, and Ellen decide to start a Coco fan club, and when Jessica calls Coco’s record company to get information, she learns that the club would be the first in the U.S. This entitles Jessica to free stuff like shirts, and possibly a newspaper feature in the future. She also gets a signed photo of Coco, the first picture anyone’s seen of her in the States.

Though Brooke is excited about the fan club and Coco’s upcoming stateside music video debut, she’s more excited about the fact that her mother, stepfather, and half sister are coming to visit. Her mom, Constance, has some big news. For one, she, her husband Bobby, and one-year-old Sonya are moving to California, so now Brooke will get to see them all the time. She feels like her life couldn’t get any better. But wait! There’s more! Guess why Constance’s career is bringing her back to the States? Because she’s Coco!

Before Brooke can pinch herself to see if she’s really dreaming all these wonderful things, Constance’s agent, Bernice, tells her she can’t let anyone know Coco’s her mother. They want Coco to seem mysterious, so word can’t get out that she’s married and has kids. Yeah, no one ever liked a rock star who had kids. I really don’t think anyone cares about the family lives of their favorite singers unless they’re married to other celebrities and involved in scandals. I guess boy band members try to keep that stuff quiet, because it ruins the possibility that one will hook up with a fan if you know he’s in a relationship, but whatever. The point is that Brooke can’t even tell her friends that her mom is a rock star.

This is where Brooke’s happy new reality starts coming apart. She tries to spend time with her mom, but Constance keeps getting called away for photo shoots and interviews. The family can’t go out and do stuff together because Constance might be recognized. Brook ends up spending a lot of time with Bobby and Sonya, but barely any with her mom. Bernice is a controlling monster, and Constance doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to her and remind Bernice that she works for Constance, not the other way around.

Things don’t get any better at school. Everyone’s still all about the Coco fan club, but Brooke wants to distance herself from all the hype. Lila announces that she’s throwing a big viewing party for Coco’s debut video on a channel that’s supposed to be MTV. Brooke begs off and watches the video alone at her own pity party. She also begs off going with the rest of the fan club to a record store where Coco will be signing autographs. Elizabeth hangs out with her, trying to figure out why she’s suddenly so glum. When she notices that Brooke and Coco look a lot alike, Brooke spills her secret.

Constance hangs out with Jessica at her signing and gives her two front-row tickets to her first stateside concert. Jessica’s determined to find out more about her new idol, so she stalks Constance to her hotel (yes, really) and spots her with Bobby and Sonya. Brooke passes Jess on her way to see her mom, but doesn’t find it strange that a 12-year-old would be hanging out alone at a fancy hotel. Brooke learns about the concert and throws a fit over how much Constance is working instead of spending time with her family, and how hard it’s been to keep quiet about her mother’s identity.

Jessica decides to tell Elizabeth that she learned about Constance’s marriage and child. But as she’s starting to share the news, Elizabeth thinks she’s discovered that Constance is Brooke’s mother, and accidentally gives Jess that info. Jessica promises to keep quiet, and for once, she actually does. But it doesn’t matter – as revenge on her mother and Bernice, Brooke calls a newspaper and reveals that Coco is married and has two children.

Bernice figures out who leaked the info and tears into Brooke for jeopardizing Constance’s career. On top of that, Brooke has had to turn down a date with Colin – her very first date ever – because he wants to take her to Coco’s concert. She tells him she doesn’t think her mom would let her go, which is kind of funny. Brooke’s whole life has gone pear-shaped, so it’s not that surprising when Mr. Dennis goes to the Wakefields’ house to ask if they’ve seen Brooke. She’s disappeared.

Constance calls later, telling Elizabeth she feels horrible about everything Brooke has had to go through. Then why did you put her through it? It’s Bernice’s fault! Fire her! Constance is too distraught to sing, so she cancels her concert, which was scheduled for the next night. Jessica’s upset – who cares if their friend is missing if it means Jess can’t use her front-row tickets? Well, actually, she’s upset because there’s no reason for the concert to be cancelled. She ran into Brooke and invited her to hide out in the Wakefields’ basement instead of running away out of town.

Brooke quickly calls her mother, and the two of them easily make up. If I were Constance, I’d probably be a little ticked that Brooke disobeyed me instead of talking through her issues, but okay. Now the concert can go on! And Constance is going to fire Bernice and find an agent who actually respects the fact that she has a family! And Brooke doesn’t have to lie anymore! Also, she can probably get to first base with Colin at some point!

The B-plot is about how Ned and Alice keep finding debris from the kids’ big party around the house. They find empty chip bags and wonder what happened to all their pickles and mayo. The twins and Steven tell them that May ate all their food, though that doesn’t explain the slice of lunch meat found in one of Alice’s shoes. If I were her and Ned, I’d worry that I’d left my children in the care of a woman with an eating disorder and possible early dementia. Though if I were Ned or Alice, I would have a lot other problems to deal with.

The kids worry that Caroline’s mom is going to rat them out for the party, so they decide to come clean with their parents. They downplay how out-of-control things got, and don’t admit that they tricked May to get her out of the house (they say she was out running errands during the party). Ned and Alice don’t know anything about the party – Caroline’s mom wanted to talk to them about something else – but they’re impressed with their children for being honest. Yeah, three weeks later! Because of their integrity, or whatever, the kids don’t get punished, but they do have to clean the whole house (again) because their Aunt Helen is coming to visit. So basically, if the kids’ guilt hadn’t gotten the better of them, Ned and Alice never would have known about the party. They would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those pesky consciences!

Thoughts: If Coco’s a rock star, why does she dress like a country singer? Also, Ted Mosby approves of her red cowboy boots.

If my mother gave me a signed picture of herself like Coco does with Brooke, I’d ask her if she had a stroke.

Hmm, I wonder what real-life magazine Rolling Rocks is based on?

January 26, 2016

SVT #46, Mademoiselle Jessica: Pardon My French

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , at 5:17 pm by Jenn

Yeah, sure. I bet this happened

Yeah, sure. I bet this happened

Summary: We all know Lila Fowler can be a snobby little braggart, but she’s been worse than usual recently. She got to spend the weekend in Hawaii, and she won’t shut up about it. (A weekend? That seems like a waste.) She also has skybox tickets to see Dynamo, a band everyone loves. Jessica’s fed up with Lila’s boasting, but she doesn’t have anything she can brag about to one-up her.

While reading Teenager Magazine, Jessica learns about a contest for “French-oriented” families. Entrants write about their families for a chance to win a week in France. Jessica starts writing about her family, though she includes more fiction than fact. For instance, the Wakefields like to speak French at home. Alice is a ballet dancer who cooks gourmet French meals. Ned is a painter and restores furniture in his spare time. Steven plays trombone in a jazz ensemble. (In actuality, Steven has begun taking trombone lessons but is awful.) Elizabeth’s so awesome that she doesn’t need any embellishment.

Jessica can’t read the fine print on the entry form – it’s too small – but even she knows the family isn’t really eligible for the contest. She decides filling out the form is just for fun, and she won’t send it in. But Alice sees the form and asks Elizabeth to mail it, thinking Jessica was going to but forgot. When Jess learns that Liz sent in the entry, she decides her odds of winning are slim anyway, so it’s not a big deal.

Of course, Jessica becomes a finalist in the contest, and a woman from the magazine, Ms. Harris, sets up a meeting with the Wakefields. For once in her life, Jessica tells the truth, confessing to her family that she accidentally entered the competition. She figures they can just play the parts she wrote for them and try to fool Ms. Harris. Plus, they still have a shot at the trip to France. No harm, no foul.

Ned is reluctant, but Alice gets excited about the possibility of going to France, so she tells Jessica they’re in. As soon as Jess leaves the room, Alice tells the rest of the family that she wants to teach Jessica a lesson about exaggeration. They’ll play along but really ham it up at dinner with Ms. Harris. Then I guess Jessica will never tell a lie again. Brilliant plan!

Through the book, Brooke is being courted by the Unicorns, and she’s too nice to tell them she’s not interested in joining. They want to give her an induction task, and Jessica decides to have her pose as a French maid during the big dinner with Ms. Harris. Brooke agrees to participate because she knows Jess needs help (and also because Liz tells her what’s really going on and she thinks it’ll be fun).

With Brooke’s knowledge of France, from spending time there with her mother, the Wakefields are on their way to seeming like they know what they’re doing. Brooke gives them clothes to wear, pretending they’re the hottest fashions in Paris. She makes Jessica wear magenta, orange, and green together. Jessica’s so excited about the dinner that she cleans the whole house.

Now for the sabotage. Alice gets Steven to undo all of Jessica’s tidying so Ms. Harris walks into a pigsty. Dinner is nouilles au fromage, which is just French for macaroni and cheese. Steven is a bratty teen all through the meal, then plays his trombone horribly upstairs. Ned shows off his latest painting, which is just a bunch of paint splotches. Dessert is supposed to be a flambé, but Alice just sets jelly donuts on fire. Brooke, using the name Brookette, helps serve, then gets to enjoy the festivities. Lucky girl.

Jessica finally calls a halt to everything when Alice announces she’s going to perform a dance for Ms. Harris. She comes clean about everything and learns that her family turned things around on her to teach her a lesson. Fortunately, Ms. Harris was warned ahead of time, so she doesn’t think the family’s insane. She lectures Jessica on reading the fine print before entering a contest; if she had, she would have realized that she needed to be enrolled in a French class to enter. This makes Alice wonder if Jess needs glasses, since she says the print was too small.

So Jessica doesn’t win the trip to France (she gets the consolation prize, French-language tapes – ha!), but she does get the last laugh. Lila and Ellen were supposed to show up during dinner to make sure Brooke was completing her task, but they never made it, so no one knows about Jessica’s embarrassment. Alice has been working on a project for the lead singer of Dynamo, and she’s given front-row seats to a concert. She gets Courteney Coxed and brought on stage (as if). Lila’s skybox seats suck, so Jessica finally has something better than her best friend.

Thoughts: I’m going to need an explanation of what a “French-oriented family” is. “Oriented” is so vague.

Lila’s getting a sauna. What does a 12-year-old need with a sauna?

We know that Alice and the twins do the bulk of the cooking in the Wakefield house, and Ned says in this book that he and Steven will do the after-dinner clean-up “for a change.” So Ned and Steve don’t cook or do dishes? This is the ’90s, not the ’50s, right?

December 8, 2015

SVU #47, You’re Not My Sister: Elizabeth Has No Time for Your Psychological Breakdown

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 5:21 pm by Jenn

At no time in this book is Jessica ever this put-together

At no time in this book is Jessica ever this put-together

Summary: Liz has FINALLY filled her parents in on Jessica’s condition, and they’ve taken her home to get her some help. Ned, Alice, and Steven wonder why Elizabeth didn’t notice sooner that Jess was such a wreck. Instead of admitting that she did notice, and just tried a bunch of ineffective things to snap her out of it, Elizabeth whines that she has a life and can’t be with her twin 24 hours a day. Never mind that she WAS with Jessica 24 hours a day, or that everything Elizabeth was doing that wasn’t about Jess was dumb. Liz has a hissy fit and goes back to school.

Jessica sees someone outside her window and thinks it’s her guardian angel. She spends most of the book on this topic, making people think she’s either seeing things or that she has a stalker. Steven actually has a smart idea, wanting to call the police, an especially good move since we know Nick was killed by a guy with some pretty dangerous connections, and it would be reasonable to fear that they would come after Jessica, too. Also, we know she’s being watched, since we keep getting sections from her stalkers point of view. He’s trying to find a moment when he can get her alone.

When Elizabeth gets back to school, she goes to see Mike, because why should Jessica’s mental health be more important than Liz’s barely-first-base action? They make out a little, but Liz balks at going any further. Partly it’s because Mike slept with her sister, which is, admittedly, weird. But she’d still rather hang out with Mike than answer any of Jessica’s messages.

Ned and Alice’s big solution for Jessica’s problems is to bring over a psychiatrist and give Jess the sedatives he prescribes. Amazingly, Jess doesn’t get better! She gets a little crazier every day, mainly because Elizabeth won’t talk to her. Jess worries that something bad happened to her like it happened to Nick.

Liz is sent to L.A. to cover a story about an extreme-sports TV network, which is hosting some sort of competition. (This will come up in the next book.) Mike tracks her down there and they come very, very close to hooking up. Elizabeth wants to, since everyone sees her as a prude, and she wants to prove that she can have a purely physical relationship. Yes, Liz, this is a perfectly mature response to people being mean to you. Elizabeth panics over buying condoms and realizes she’s not ready for sex. Especially sex with her sister’s ex-husband.

Back in Sweet Valley, Jessica is worse than ever – she thought Elizabeth was coming for a family dinner, but Liz doesn’t show up. Jess tries to call her at her hotel, but Mike has asked the receptionist not to put through any calls. This just makes Jess even more worried that something bad has happened to her twin. She sees her guardian angel again, but now her family thinks the sedatives are making her hallucinate. So…maybe have her stop taking them? No? You’re not going to do that? Okay.

The guardian angel leaves Elizabeth a note letting her know that Jessica needs her. Thanks for your help, angel! This sends Liz back home, where the sisters make up. Then Jess gets really clingy, which is unsettling. She tells Elizabeth all about her angel, leading Liz to tell her she needs to get over Nick’s death already. Thanks for helping, Liz! She continues that she has a life and can’t waste her time dealing with Jessica’s stupid problems, like depression and possible psychosis because her boyfriend was murdered. I mean, Jess is such a drama queen, right? Like, move on already!

Somehow, Jessica doesn’t punch her sister in the face. Instead, she says Elizabeth is right, and she appreciates what Liz has done for her. You mean how she abandoned you? I know, that was great of her, right? I think this is all supposed to seem like Elizabeth was using tough love on her sister, but it’s more like she’s selfish and didn’t want to have to deal with Jess, so she ignored her until Jess came to her senses.

Then Elizabeth starts to do something useful: She wants to get Jess’ expulsion from SVU revoked. She and Nina (who has temporarily moved into the twins’ dorm room because Liz is lonely, and because Nina needs something to do) decide to use the angle that Jess is suffering from a mental-health disorder and should be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school should have noticed that something was wrong and done more to help her. Never mind that ELIZABETH didn’t do more to help Jess. Also, they didn’t give her a fair expulsion hearing, which is the only part of this I will go along with.

Liz and Tom once did a story about the ADA, so she goes to him to get their notes. While they’re working together, and actually getting along again, Lila calls (more on that later). Elizabeth thinks Tom is getting ready for a super-special date with a super-special lady, which sets off her poor-me-I’m-so-neglected siren. You broke up, Liz. You were two seconds from having sex with Mike. Chill out.

Armed with what must be pretty flimsy information on the ADA, Elizabeth and Steven come up with a plan. She approaches the dean and threatens to sue the school if Jessica’s situation isn’t reviewed. There’s no resolution in this book, but I think we can all expect Jess to be reinstated at SVU, though hopefully they’ll have her go through an extensive psychological evaluation first.

Meanwhile, Jessica decides that her sedatives are messing with her head, so she stops taking them. Then she decides that since she stopped seeing the angel when she quit the pills, there must be a connection, so she starts taking them again. Then she decides to just take a bunch and take care of the whole situation altogether. She leaves Elizabeth a goodbye message and then starts having weird dreams or visions or something. Elizabeth gets the message and heads back to Sweet Valley.

The angel finds Jessica outside the house, and Jess finally realizes it’s Nick. Yes, friends, Nick faked his death to save his own life, but didn’t tell Jessica because he knew she’d never let him go, and the truth would put her in danger. Somehow this is better for her? Whatever, Nick. He tells her he’s okay, and that he’ll always love her. Fortunately, Elizabeth finds Jessica before the pills kill her, and I assume she’s okay even after overdosing on sedatives. At least now she knows her dead boyfriend isn’t really dead. Hooray, she’s cured!

Danny’s having a really tough time with Isabella gone. He’s getting drunk every night to try to forget her, but it still doesn’t take his mind off of the fact that he might never see her again. Tom thinks he would feel better if he were allowed to talk to Isabella, so he sets out to find out which clinic her parents took her to. He makes some calls, but can’t get any answers, not least because he doesn’t speak German or French. Finally he realizes that Lila might know where Isabella is. But Lila won’t give up the information without a catch: Tom has to come on a double date with her, Bruce, and a prospective student named Chloe Murphy.

Tom reluctantly goes on the date, thinking Chloe will be just like Lila. But Chloe’s not like other girls! She reads the New York Times! She’s interested in things other than clothes and country clubs! Tom really hopes she decides to come to SVU when she finishes high school. Keep it in your pants, Tom.

As for Danny, he calls the clinic, but Isabella’s father won’t let her talk to him, even when Isabella says she wants to. Mr. Ricci thinks everyone at SVU is on drugs, and that Danny’s a bad influence on his daughter. Danny wishes he’d never made the call in the first place. He goes back to drinking, and is offered drugs by a guy at a bar. Even though drugs are what took Isabella away from him in the first place, he contemplates taking some.

Dana starts out the book thinking that she wants to take things slowly with Todd. That doesn’t last long. After a run-in with Elizabeth, who tells Todd that Dana’s a bad choice in girlfriends, Dana throws out her plans, and she and Todd start going at it like bunnies. Then she starts talking about marriage and makes him panic. Oops!

Thoughts: For the record, Prince Albert is still alive.

“It’s macho jerks like Patman who make it harder for the rest of us.” Tom, sweetie, you’re a macho jerk, too.

“That way we can get on with our relationship, and you can get on with being lonely and bitter…or whatever it is you do when you and Tom Watts aren’t busy with your tedious little on-again, off-again love-hate drama.” I have newfound respect for Dana.

Chloe’s taking a feminist-law class, which means she really shouldn’t spend any more time with Tom.

November 3, 2015

SVT #41, The Twins Get Caught: “I’m Twelve Years Old, and They Can’t Tell Me What to Do!”

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:32 pm by Jenn

I kind of like Jessica's sweater. I'll see myself out

I kind of like Jessica’s sweater. I’ll see myself out

Summary: Alice’s parents are coming to visit the Wakefields for ten days. The twins will have to share a room so their grandparents can have Jessica’s, which sounds dumb to me, since we know Jessica’s room is a mess, so why not give them Elizabeth’s? Unless this is Ned and Alice’s way of forcing Jess to clean her room. Except I don’t think they deserve that kind of credit. Anyway, Elizabeth thinks her grandparents are super-old and will have trouble doing things like walking and eating regular food. For the record, Grandma and Grandpa Robertson are in their 60s. Shut up, Elizabeth.

There’s a new teen club called the Hangout (which I don’t remember ever being mentioned after this book), and Steven comes home from a night there with a black eye. He explains that some Big Mesa students showed up and started a fight because they were mad about losing a basketball game to Sweet Valley. Steven wasn’t even a target; he was trying to help a kid the Big Mesa guys went after. Ned and Alice decide their kids aren’t allowed to go to the Hangout anymore.

Jessica’s still upset that she’s not allowed to get her ears pierced, but she cheers up when she chats with Todd (making his first appearance of this series), who seems interested in her. She cheers up even more when she finds out that Aaron’s throwing a big party, where Dave Carlquist will be DJing. But oh, no! The party’s at the Hangout! Ned and Alice forbid the twins from going.

Jessica’s outraged: Every sixth-grader at SVMS is going to the party, as are several seventh-graders. This is the party of the year, and she’s not allowed to go. Lighten up, Jess – Lila will have 18 more parties in the next month. Steven tries to help the twins out, telling Ned and Alice that there were plenty of chaperones at the Hangout, and he thinks the fight was a one-time thing. But Ned and Alice are afraid for their precious babies and won’t change their minds.

More furious than ever, Jess has had it. She’s 12 years old, which means she’s practically an adult! She should be able to go where she wants, when she wants! She complains to her grandmother about how she’s not allowed to get her ears pierced. Grandma Robertson says that she herself got her ears pierced at Jessica’s age, and she doesn’t see why Alice is so stubborn about letting Jess do the same. Jess decides that since she’s old enough in her mind to do what she wants, she’ll defy her parents.

A now pierced Jessica is immediately punished…until Grandma Robertson says it’s really her fault that Jess went against her parents’ wishes. She feels like she might have given Jess the idea that she had permission. Yeah, no, that’s not what happened. Jessica was just a brat. But anyway, Ned and Alice decide she doesn’t need to be punished because she didn’t know she was breaking a rule. Once again, horrible parenting by the Wakefields, but I don’t think anyone’s surprised.

Since Jessica got away with breaking one rule, she thinks she can get away with another. Off of a suggestion from Lila, she decides that she and Elizabeth will just sneak out to the party while their parents are out for the evening. Amazingly, Elizabeth goes along with this plan. But the dumb girls don’t use their inside voices, and Grandpa Robertson overhears them plotting to break the rules. He and Grandma Robertson make the twins confess their plans to their parents.

Then Grandma and Grandpa tell Ned and Alice that they’re demonstrating bad parenting, and that the girls should be allowed to go to the party. Ned and Alice decide they’re right, so the twins can go. And no, they’re not punished for planning to sneak out. No one faces any consequences. Jessica gets pierced ears and both twins get to go to the party, where Jess hangs out with Todd. It’s so wonderful to be a Wakefield!

Thoughts: Today in out-of-context amusement: “But all the other Unicorns are getting their ears pierced!”

“Todd didn’t seem to be interested in girls.” YOU GUYS.

“I’m twelve years old, and they can’t tell me what to do!” is, of course, spoken by Jessica. I’ve never heard a more 12-year-old thing come out of her mouth.

Every time Todd talks to Jessica, he mentions Elizabeth. Like, he asks her if they’re at the mall together. He asks if they’re both going to Aaron’s party. I was sure that at the end of the book, Jessica would realize that Todd’s actually interested in Elizabeth. But at the party, he wants to dance with Jess. Weird.

October 20, 2015

SVT #40, Danny Means Trouble: Why Help When You Can…Not Help?

Posted in books tagged , , at 6:18 pm by Jenn

Why does Danny look like he's eight?

Why does Danny look like he’s eight?

Summary: New book, new random classmate for Elizabeth to help. This time it’s Danny, a fairly new student at SVMS who’s quickly become a track star. He’s also developed a reputation as a troublemaker. For instance, he cuts off some of Julie’s hair in class. Amazingly, he doesn’t get suspended for that. But he does get a warning from the principal, Mr. Clark: If he doesn’t shape up, he’ll be off the track team.

As Danny’s schedule gets rearranged and he’s suddenly in a bunch of the twins’ classes, everyone watches him closely to make sure he doesn’t in trouble. There’s a big track meet coming up, and without Danny, SVMS doesn’t stand a chance. Even though Danny loves track and knows Mr. Clark is serious about his threat, Danny’s behavior doesn’t improve. He acts up in social studies and fights with Ken in science. With his spot on the team up in the air, Danny still manages to set a school record for the 800-meter race.

Elizabeth interviews Danny for the Sixers and learns that his parents aren’t that interested in his extracurricular activities. They’re both scientists and would prefer it if their son got good grades. Elizabeth is confused – Danny’s clearly smart, as he’s able to answer questions in class, but when it’s time to read, he causes trouble. At this point it’s pretty obvious to the reader what’s going on, but no one in the book has paid enough attention to Danny to figure it out.

On parents’ evening, Danny’s folks talk to Mr. Bowman about his work. They want him to quit the track team so he has more time to study. Mr. Bowman disagrees, not wanting Danny to drop an activity he loves so much. Danny barely manages to keep his parents from talking to Mr. Clark, since they might find out that he forged their signatures on a letter Mr. Clark sent home.

Elizabeth talks to Danny again about her article, and realizes that he’s having trouble reading it. She becomes the first person in the book to realize that he might have a learning disability. Danny flips out about having his secret discovered and trashes a room in the library. As a result, he’s officially off the track team. Elizabeth tries to downplay everything and even take responsibility, but Mr. Clark won’t budge.

Elizabeth tries to talk things over with Jessica, which is a horrible idea, even after Liz gets her to promise in writing that she won’t tell anyone about Danny. Jess is surprised that Danny’s teachers have never noticed his problems, not realizing that many students get passed to the next grade just so their teachers don’t have to deal with them anymore, and because the teachers don’t see how severe their problems are. Next, Liz talks to Ned, which is a disaster, since he thinks it’s Danny’s problem to work out on his own.

While cleaning up her room (after guilting Elizabeth into helping), Jessica finds a magazine article about an Olympic runner named Greg Voynow. Greg was unable to read until he was 19, thanks to an undiagnosed learning disability. He asked for help and has overcome his problems. The twins think that Danny will be able to connect with Greg, so Elizabeth writes him a letter and asks him to pay a visit. Greg agrees to drop by SVMS, pretending he read about Danny’s awesomeness in track and wanted to meet him.

Elizabeth has to miss the meeting, so Jessica greets Greg (who’s hot) and points Danny out to him. Greg and Danny chat about running before Greg brings up his own struggles with reading. Danny admits that he has trouble and causes distractions so no one will notice. Greg urges him to talk to someone so he can get help. Danny easily agrees, and the next day he talks to Mr. Bowman. He quickly starts receiving extra help with reading, and is allowed back on the track team.

After a few days working with a tutor, Danny asks Mr. Bowman to tell the class what’s been going on. We get a PSA about dyslexia, which is probably good for kids to see, though I don’t think a lot of kids with dyslexia were reading SVT books. Danny wins a big track meet for the school, and there’s an assembly in the team’s honor, with a special appearance by Greg. He gives a nice speech about how you should ask for help if you have a problem. But really, most of the kids are only listening because he’s hot. Danny apologizes to Elizabeth for his tantrum, which is nice, and he thanks her for helping him out. Take that, Ned!

The B plot tries to give us a lesson on positive body image, but it doesn’t work. Jessica’s jealous of the attention guys like Bruce and Jake Hamilton (Janet’s future boyfriend, I believe) give other girls, and she thinks it’s because she’s not thin enough. After all, a magazine told her she was “half fit, half fat.” Jessica starts working out, even though she hates it. It doesn’t give her any extra attention from guys, either – in fact, Jake only pays attention to her when she gets a blister and needs a ride home. Jess discovers that, after all that work, she’s actually gained weight, so she decides to quit working out. I’m not going to even begin to mention all the problems with including this storyline in a book aimed at preteen girls, because I’ll be here all day.

There’s also a lot of talk about how Jessica wants to get her ears pierced, because Lila’s getting hers done. Ned and Alice decide that the twins can’t get their ears pierced until they’re 14. Lila keeps bugging Jessica about it, so Jess says her parents said she could do it “soon.” Eventually she admits that she has to wait until she’s in high school, which she gets teased about. I’m not sure why this was a plot.

Thoughts: I actually don’t get making girls wait until they’re a certain age before they get their ears pierced. What makes less sense to me is piercing a baby’s ears.

Elizabeth tells Ned that Danny has trouble reading and she thinks his teachers should know. Ned tells her not to do anything, since she told Danny she wouldn’t. Sooner or later, Danny will make a move on his own. So she shouldn’t even tell his parents or a guidance counselor or anyone in a position to help. Ned also says that Danny will eventually confide in someone he trusts, and that person will help. So to summarize: Elizabeth told her father that she wants to help someone with a problem, and he told her to do nothing and let someone else deal with it. A+ parenting, Mr. Wakefield.

Greg introduces himself to Danny and then takes him out for ice cream. Um, excuse me? Stranger danger! Celebrities are not immune!

September 22, 2015

SVT #39, Jessica and the Money Mix-Up: Making a Racket

Posted in books tagged , at 6:16 pm by Jenn

How could someone not notice a big stack of cash in this thing?

How could someone not notice a big stack of cash in this thing?

Summary: With Alice out of town on business, Ned is relying on the kids to help out more around the house. Jessica is, as expected, not on board. She gets a lecture about being more responsible, which makes her feel bad that her father doesn’t have faith in her. Ned gives her the chance to prove herself by asking her to deliver an envelope containing $500 to someone named Mr. Hopper. She’ll need to do it soon because Mr. Hopper is about to leave his house.

Jessica heads out on her errand, but she’s delayed by Caroline, who has some supposedly juicy gossip. It’s not that juicy. By the time Jess remembers what she’s supposed to be doing, Mr. Hopper has already left. His neighbor was asked to keep an eye out for Jessica and let her know that Mr. Hopper will be back late, but Jess can come by in the morning. You know, if Mr. Hopper had just asked the neighbor to take the envelope from Jessica, we would have been spared the rest of this book. But that would be too easy.

Even though the next day is Saturday and Mr. Hopper is leaving really early in the morning for a week out of town, Jessica sucks it up and plans to go see him then. She stashes the money in the cover of a tennis racket she finds in a closet at the Wakefields’ house. But in the morning, the racket’s gone. Steven tells her that it actually belonged to his friend Peter Moore. Ned was annoyed when he opened the closet the night before and the racket fell on his head, so Steven took it back to Peter.

After recruiting Elizabeth to help her, Jessica rushes over to Peter’s house, where she learns that his father is off playing tennis. The twins pretend they just wanted to borrow the racket, not mentioning that there’s a fat wad of money inside. Peter loans them his mother’s racket, probably wondering why his friend has such weird sisters. After searching a few tennis courts (apparently there are a bunch in Sweet Valley), Elizabeth sees that Mrs. Moore’s racket is from the Sweet Valley Country Club, so that’s probably where Mr. Moore is.

She’s right, and the twins stalk him to the club’s restaurant. Jessica pretends to be a busgirl while she tries to get her hand in the racket cover. Mr. Moore catches her, so the twins do an actual smart thing: They tell him exactly what’s going on. Mr. Moore apologetically tells them that the envelope isn’t there.

Jessica now has a week to figure out what to do about the money before Mr. Hopper comes back. She decides that they’ll just need to earn $500 and pretend it was never missing. (And I say “they” because she easily guilts Elizabeth into helping her.) The girls create an odd-job service calling Helping Hands, planning to make $500 in seven days by washing cars and mowing lawns. All while going to school, doing homework, attending Unicorn meetings and Booster practice (Jess), and working on the newspaper (Liz). Sure.

Of course, Jess doesn’t like doing manual labor, so Elizabeth gets stuck with the brunt of the tasks. Not that it really matters, since there’s no way they can make that much money that quickly. The twins’ last chance to earn back the money is a radio contest Jessica enters. If she’s called, she’ll play Name That Tune with five Johnny Buck songs for a chance to win $1,000.

Amazingly, Jessica gets picked. Ned’s on the phone when Jess is supposed to call the station back, so Elizabeth pretends she has to make an important phone call, I guess because Ned wouldn’t give in if Jess asked. Jessica gets four of the five songs right, but she’s so focused on the prize that she calls the last song “A Thousand Bucks” instead of “A Dozen Bucks.” No money for Jess.

Jessica decides that it’s time to come clean. As she’s about to tell Ned that she lost the money, she sees him leaving the house, accidentally dropping something on the floor. It’s the envelope, and all the money is still inside. She figures that he found the envelope and either forgot to tell her or held on to it to teach her a lesson. Elizabeth is disappointed that her detectiving turned up the wrong answer (she thought Steven took the money from the racket and lost it somewhere in his room).

Jess admits to Ned that she lost the money, so he starts to tell her that he had it all along, only now he can’t find the envelope. She lets him know that she found it. Apparently he forgot to talk to her about it all week. Then he tells her that she should always come to her parents when she screws up so they can help her fix it. Yeah, right! They’ll lecture her about it and punish her. The real lesson here is never give Jessica any responsibilities.

Thoughts: To make $500 in seven days, the girls would have to make just over $70. Neither seems to think this is unreasonable.

Ellen tried to get the Unicorns to change their official color from purple to red. And she didn’t get chased out of town by a mob with torches and pitchforks?

It’s 1990 and Jessica’s still listening to records. NO.

March 10, 2015

SVT #27, Teamwork: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Backyard

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 8:08 pm by Jenn

Puppyyyyyy!

Puppyyyyyy!

Summary: The twins are bored and want to do something exciting. Elizabeth finds some fun recipes, so the girls decide they want to throw a fancy dinner party for their friends. But Ned and Alice think they’re too young for something like that and tell them to have a cookout instead. Boring! Next the twins decide they’d like to visit their Great-Aunt Helen on an upcoming long weekend. This means taking the bus to Sandy Harbor, wherever that is, all by themselves. Again, their parents think they’re too young, but the twins manage to negotiate with them. Ned and Alice agree to let them go if they can earn the money to pay for the trip.

Next comes a brainstorming session. Elizabeth makes really good cakes, so she decides that they can sell them to raise the money. Alice squashes that idea pretty quickly by noting how expensive that would be. The next idea is walking dogs – if they charge $2 per dog per day, they just have to walk [insert math here] for [more math] days. (Yeah, I don’t do math. We’ll just say that the twins think they can get by with minimum work for the minimum amount of money they need.)

But to provide a service, you first have to advertise that service, and that costs money. The twins borrow $5 from Steven to copy some fliers, which means they’ll have to make back that $5 on top of the $80 they need for bus tickets. Oh, and Steven charges them 50% interest on the loan, so they really need to pay him back $7.50. The idea of Steven charging his sisters 50% interest makes me laugh. Though he might consider the fact that they’ll be gone for a long weekend enough of a reward for loaning them the money.

The girls pass out their fliers, and Jessica starts to realize that having a job actually requires work. Part of me is surprised that she went along with this plan in the first place, since she doesn’t like dogs or any job that might result in her getting dirty, but the rest of me thinks she didn’t actually think this through. She thought about making money and getting what she wanted, but her brain skipped the part about what she’d have to do to make money. Anyway, Elizabeth runs into Ken Matthews, who loves the idea of hanging out with dogs every afternoon. See, Ken is smart. Playing with dogs + money = good times.

Apparently there’s a big need for dog walkers in Sweet Valley, because the twins quickly get some clients. Of course, Jessica isn’t really on board with this whole thing, especially when it means having to miss out on Unicorn hangouts and Booster practices. Ken offers to fill in for her and even refuses to take any money. Hanging out with dogs is enough of a reward. I get it, Ken. Plus, he really wants a dog but his parents don’t think he’s ready for the responsibility, so this is his chance to play with puppies.

One of the clients asks if the twins can keep a couple of dogs at their house over the weekend, and though Ned and Alice aren’t thrilled with the idea, the twins work out arrangements (the dogs will stay in the backyard) and demonstrate that they’re serious about being responsible. Elizabeth has plans to go roller-skating with some friends (ahh, the ’80s), so Jessica’s left looking after the dogs one afternoon. Lila comes by with plans for something much more interesting. Ken comes by to visit and offers to watch the dogs while Jessica’s gone. Elizabeth isn’t happy, but at least the dogs are looked after.

Then a guy named Mr. Quincy shows up. He has a dog named Joe and needs someone to watch him for a week while he’s out of town. He’ll pay them $20 and another $20 at the end of the week, which is the rest of the money the twins need. As soon as Mr. Quincy leaves, Ken realizes that something’s wrong with Joe. He doesn’t like being touched, and he gets scared when he’s approached. Ken discovers that the dog has cuts and bruises all over him. He and the twins realize that someone – most likely Mr. Quincy – has been abusing the dog.

The kids quickly show Joe some compassion, bathing him and fixing up his injuries. They’re just not sure what to do about Mr. Quincy. They don’t want to tell their parents, because Ned and Alice said they didn’t want to hear any complaining about their work. (Bad parenting alert!) As Joe gets better and becomes more and more friendly, the kids worry about having to give him back to his abusive owner. They think about telling the police, but now that Joe’s cuts and bruises have healed, they don’t think the police will accept their story without evidence.

Their next thought is to take Joe to a shelter and tell Mr. Quincy that he ran away. Of course, if Mr. Quincy went around to shelters looking for a runaway dog, he would recognize Joe right away. So the kids decide to cut and dye his fur to make him unrecognizable. They’re 12 and have no idea what they’re doing, so the dog ends up looking kind of strange, but at least he looks different now.

Ken tries to talk his parents into letting him keep Joe (pretending he’s a stray), but they still don’t think he’s responsible enough. Ken tells the twins that his cousin Fred lives a few miles away on a ranch and already has some dogs – maybe Fred would take Joe. The kids go visit Fred, who happily accepts Joe. Problem solved! Except now they have to tell Mr. Quincy that Joe ran away. Mr. Quincy is furious and threatens to sue, which I don’t think he can do, but whatever. Also, the twins can forget about their second $20.

Then Joe really does run away – he disappears from Fred’s ranch. He ends up at the Wakefields’ after walking ten miles in the rain, which washes away the dye. Ned calls Mr. Quincy, wanting the guy off his back. When he arrives, Ken and the twins admit what they did and accuse Mr. Quincy of abusing Joe. Ned, to his credit, believes them and refuses to let Mr. Quincy take the dog. Mr. Quincy decides he doesn’t need the hassle and tells them to do whatever he wants with Joe. Ned warns that if he ever sees Mr. Quincy with another dog, he’ll report him. Yay, Ned!

Ken’s parents come by, having heard from Fred that Joe ran away, and Ken tells them how he’s been helping take care of a dog. They realize that he’s responsible after all and decide to let him keep Joe. The Wakefields are a little ticked that the kids didn’t tell them what was going on, but they’re also proud that the kids did something so good. They reward them with the rest of the money they need for their trip (including the money they need to pay Steven back). Everyone’s happy, but probably not as happy as Joe is.

Thoughts: Ned and Alice are no fun. If I had preteens, I’d let them throw a fancy dinner party. What’s the problem?

Between them, the twins only have $3 before they start walking dogs. How is that possible? I don’t believe for a second that Elizabeth doesn’t have any savings. How does she pay for her Amanda Howard mysteries and horse figurines?

Jessica, confused as to why a dog ran away from her: “I told her to stay.” This reminds me of Hildi from Trading Spaces. She was once advised not to use straw in a design, not just because it was stupid but because the kids in the house would pull it off the walls. Her response was, “Well, tell them not to.”

January 13, 2015

SVT #24, Jumping to Conclusions: How I Met Your Mother, Whether It’s Canonically Correct or Not

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 7:59 pm by Jenn

This might be the cover I remember most clearly from my childhood reading

This might be the cover I remember most clearly from my childhood reading

Summary: Happy anniversary to Ned and Alice, who have been married for 16 years! Unfortunately, their kids are the only ones who remember the anniversary. Their parents have been so busy recently that they haven’t been spending much time together. In fact, Alice has been spending a lot of time with a client named Frank Howard, a millionaire from Beverly Hills. The twins are distressed because Mr. Howard is hot and has a nice mansion and is a million times better than Ned, so he could easily tempt Alice into leaving her husband.

The sixth-graders have to do a group project for a history class, and Elizabeth, Amy, and Pamela decide to find out how their parents met and write about that. What does that have to do with history? They should at least talk about how the time period and events affected the relationships. This is all just a contrivance for Elizabeth to need to find out how Alice and Ned met.

The twins start getting nervous that their parents are no longer in love. They tell Steven, who first thinks they have nothing to worry about, but then starts drinking the Kool-Aid and thinks they’re on to something. They decide that they need to make Mr. Howard believe that getting involved with Alice would be a huge mistake because her children are monsters. The twins offer to run an errand for Alice, delivering something to Mr. Howard, so they dress in ridiculous outfits and make it look like they never bathe. Mr. Howard just thinks they’re weird.

Then Mr. Howard shows up at the Wakefields’ house unexpectedly. The twins have already changed clothes, so they tell Steven to blast his music. Mr. Howard barely notices, and clearly wasn’t influenced by the twins’ previous scheming, because he still wants to work with Alice. Alice invites him to stay for lunch, so Jessica gives him super-spicy salad dressing, which manages to get him to flee. Out of Alice’s earshot, she tells Mr. Howard that maybe later he can meet Alice’s other children – from her first two marriages.

Elizabeth, Amy, and Pamela go out for ice cream at Casey’s (of course it’s Casey’s), and Liz spots her mother shopping with Mr. Howard. Pamela’s mother notices that it looks like there’s someone following them. Jessica has put on a trench coat and hat to stalk her mom. She would do that, wouldn’t she? Jess reports to Elizabeth that the adults have been shopping for china, and are now looking at rings.

Jessica’s next move is to tell Ned what’s going on. But Ned’s in such a good mood about a case he’s winning that the kids don’t want to ruin it. Then Jess decides to confront Mr. Howard directly and tell him to back off. While she’s at his office, she overhears him on the phone, telling someone that they’ll soon be together. Jessica thinks Alice and Mr. Howard are going to elope.

Time for a new plan: When Alice and Ned go out to finally celebrate their anniversary, the Wakefield kids will invite Mr. Howard over to dinner. A bunch of their friends will be there to pose as their siblings. They’ll all be dirty, loud, and obnoxious. The kids enlist Amy, Pamela, and a bunch of Steven’s basketball buddies. They all act like hillbillies and are extremely helpful with the twins’ plan, especially Amy, who makes it look like she’s missing teeth. If I were Mr. Howard and thought I’d be marrying into a family that insane, I’d be out of there in a second.

But one thing the Wakefield kids didn’t expect was Ned and Alice returning to the house. They’re quickly joined by someone else: Mr. Howard’s fiancée, Karen. Alice was helping Mr. Howard shop for wedding china and rings for another woman. Fortunately, Mr. Howard thinks the twins’ scheming is funny. The Wakefields are just grateful that their kids want their family to stick together. They came back to get them so the whole family could celebrate Ned and Alice’s anniversary together.

Now that everyone’s all together and happy, Elizabeth finally finds out how Alice and Ned met. It’s some story about how Alice was waiting tables at a restaurant where Ned went on a group date, and she spilled food on him and was embarrassed, but they started talking and fell in love. Except that didn’t happen, but whatever. Everyone’s happy, so no one cares about made-up history.

Thoughts: I can’t believe none of these kids know how their parents met. Parents love to talk about that stuff. I mean, one guy talked about it for nine straight years.

“I think your father is really handsome.” Amy, just…shh, okay?

Someone please explain to the Wakefield children that you can’t elope with someone if you’re married to someone else.

Alice tells Mr. Howard that “raising three children is definitely a full-time job.” Uh, Alice, spending five minutes a week with your kids is not “full-time.”

December 2, 2014

SVT #21, Left Behind: Home Alone

Posted in books tagged , , , , , at 6:38 pm by Jenn

She's supposed to be 12, not eight, cover artist

She’s supposed to be 12, not eight, cover artist

Summary: The Rapture happens, but only Elizabeth gets to go to Heaven, because she’s the only truly pure person in Sweet Valley. Wait, wrong Left Behind.

In this Left Behind, Elizabeth’s friend Sarah is neglected by her father, who’s always either working or spending time with his fiancée, Annie. Annie’s young and useless and most likely a golddigger. She wants nothing to do with a 12-year-old future stepdaughter, and only pays attention to Sarah when her father’s around. Mr. Thomas is totally clueless about everything, including the fact that his daughter just wants to spend time with him. (Sarah is Lila if Lila had manners and no confidence.)

Mr. Thomas has to go out of town for a week for work, and leaves Annie in charge of Sarah. The next day, Annie tells Sarah that her younger sister is sick, and Annie’s the only person available to take care of her. She’ll have to leave Sarah by herself in Sweet Valley while she goes off to wherever for a few nights. She basically bullies Sarah into agreeing by pointing out that she’s 12, not a little kid.

Sarah keeps quiet about her living situation, not wanting her father to find out. When Mr. Thomas calls, Sarah pretends that Annie’s in the shower. And when her Aunt Lillian calls to chat, Sarah pretends that her whole life is totally fine, and she doesn’t hate the idea of her father marrying Annie. I don’t get why she doesn’t rat out Annie, since that would likely lead to Mr. Thomas dumping her, but Sarah’s pretty meek.

The poor girl has a hard time sleeping because she’s afraid of all the noises in the house. Who hasn’t been there, even as a teenager? Heck, even in my 20s, I got a little nervous spending the night in the house by myself. Elizabeth suggests that Sarah go see the school nurse, and Sarah’s tempted to go just so she can lie down for a while, but she’s worried that the school will call her father.

Annie doesn’t come home when she’s supposed to, telling Sarah that her sister still needs her, and Sarah can handle a few more nights alone. Annie says that when she was Sarah’s age, she was taking care of all her younger siblings on her own, so Sarah can suck it up. What is this, Dicey’s Song? Who’s letting a 12-year-old raise a family? Mr. Thomas and Aunt Lillian remain in the dark, though Lillian can tell that something’s not right with Sarah.

Elizabeth invites Amy and Sarah to spend the night at her house the day before Annie’s supposed to come back. Sarah’s thrilled – she’ll finally get a good night’s sleep. But the afternoon of the sleepover, Sarah falls down the stairs at her house, hitting her head and injuring her foot. She can’t walk to get the phone and call for help, and obviously there are no adults around to find her. She ends up blacking out.

Ned, Elizabeth, and Amy to the rescue! They arrive at Sarah’s house to pick her up for the sleepover, and Elizabeth sees Sarah unconscious. Ned breaks a window so they can get inside the house and call 911. They all go to the hospital with Sarah, and in some very sweet scenes, Elizabeth and Amy ask to stay so Sarah won’t be surrounded by strangers when she regains consciousness.

When Mr. Thomas makes it back to town, he’s stunned to learn that Annie ditched Sarah, and that his 12-year-old daughter spent a whole week fending for herself. When he calls around to find Annie, he learns that she doesn’t even have a younger sister. Annie arrives, and Mr. Thomas tells her she’s too immature for him. Annie’s tries to call his bluff, all, “I guess I’ll just leave then!” Mr. Thomas basically tells her not to let the door hit her on the way out.

Then Lillian arrives to lecture Mr. Thomas about being a bad parent. She wants to have Sarah come live with her. Sarah confides in Elizabeth that she wants to stay with her dad but doesn’t want to hurt Lillian’s feelings. Elizabeth has to tell her to actually say what she feels, because Sarah is mature enough to take care of herself for a week but not emotionally mature enough to express her opinions. But it doesn’t matter, because everything just ends anticlimactically, with Lillian calming down and Mr. Thomas realizing that he’s been a pretty crappy father. And then I don’t think we hear about any of them again until book 62.

In the B-plot, Jessica wants to show queen bee Janet that she’s much more mature than other sixth-graders. Janet wants to throw a big Unicorn party, and she asks Jessica for ideas. Jess thinks they should throw a luau, and Janet thinks it should be held at Jessica’s house, especially if Steven will be there. Hey, is Steven there right now? Can Janet come over and hang out with Jessica, but only if Steven’s there? Has Steven ever said anything about her? What is Steven wearing right now? What is Steven doing right now? What is Steven thinking right now? Janet’s like the overly attached girlfriend meme, except without actually being someone’s girlfriend.

Jessica doesn’t catch on to Janet’s real interest; she’s just happy to be spending so much time with such a popular person. Lila’s ticked, though, since Jessica doesn’t pay attention to her anymore. I actually feel kind of sorry for Lila – I’ve been in the position of being ignored in favor of a new friend, and it sucks. But I don’t get why the three of them don’t hang out together. Lila and Janet are cousins, after all; it’s not like they hate each other or anything.

Jessica goes to Janet’s house to talk about the party, but Janet says there are painters over and talks her way into a visit to the Wakefields’. Steven’s there, and Janet flirts with him (badly), but he’s definitely not interested. Janet tells Jessica that hanging out with her is a waste of time. Now Jessica has two friends mad at her. Plus, she’s afraid Janet will kick her out of the Unicorns. But things get all anti-climactic again, with Jessica making up with both Janet and Lila. Plus, the Unicorns all like her luau idea. Jessica may not be queen bee, but she’s definitely in the running for princess.

Thoughts: How does Annie not get arrested for neglect or child endangerment? Shouldn’t Ned the lawyer do something about that?

Also, what’s with people named Annie being horrible to children? The woman who kidnapped Mary was also named Annie.

Janet doesn’t like popcorn. What kind of person doesn’t like popcorn?? Oh, right, an evil one.

I have to laugh at Jessica and Janet making up so easily, and Janet wanting to use Jessica’s ideas for the party. In real life, Janet would make the other Unicorns shun Jessica, who would wind up with an eating disorder.

July 15, 2014

SVT #12, Keeping Secrets: Thithigis Bithigook IthigIs Stithigupithigd

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 8:17 pm by Jenn

Should have been called "Everyone Makes a Big Deal Over Nothing"

Should have been called “Everyone Makes a Big Deal Over Nothing”

Summary: Just so you know, I hate everyone in this book except Elizabeth.

Ned takes the twins out to dinner to tell them some super-big secret they’re not allowed to tell anyone. By the way, if you’re a kid and anyone ever says something like that to you, get a grown-up. Anyway, the super-big secret is also super-stupid: It’s a made-up language Ned and his best friend spoke as kids, and he wants to teach it to the twins so the three of them can speak it together and exclude Alice and Steven for no good reason. If I were Steven, I’d be ticked.

The language, Ithig, basically involves inserting Ithig into every syllable of a word, or in front of the word if it’s short. The problem is that no one sticks to those actual rules, and it’s incredibly difficult to read in the book, so it just bugs me. Also, why is it such a big secret? Why does Ned place so much importance on it? Why can’t Steven learn it, too? Why does Ned have to be so exclusionary? I could write pages and pages of everything wrong with this book, but I don’t have the energy or the interest, so we’ll move on.

The twins pick up Ithig quickly, and are thrilled to have something just they and their father share. Caroline Pearce overhears them speaking Ithig and gets overly interested in what they’re doing. The Wakefields give her the brush-off. This is bad. Caroline quickly tells everyone at school that the twins have a secret language, and for some reason, everyone cares. Amy and the Unicorns are especially mad that the twins have something that’s only between them and won’t share it with their friends. I…don’t get that. Like, they’re already sisters and already have a special bond because they’re twins, but THIS is what ticks everyone off?

Everyone turns on the twins, since they refuse to break their promise to Ned and teach anyone their language. Lila and Amy do that whole “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing and are suddenly BFFs. Lila’s allowed to bring a bunch of friends to a party her father’s throwing, which will feature a benefit match with a famous tennis player, and she invites pretty much everyone she knows except Jessica. She agrees to invite Jessica if Jessica teaches her Ithig. Jess has no willpower, so she caves.

This makes Amy even madder, I guess since Jessica was a good enough friend to Lila to break her promise, but Elizabeth wasn’t a good enough friend to Amy to do the same. Then things get worse, because Lila teaches everyone else in school Ithig. Amy soon gets over it, but a new problem crops up. The twins’ music teacher goes out on paternity leave, and when the sub, Ms. McDonald, arrives, the kids pull that middle-schooler magic only preteens can, and act like jerks in her class. They only speak Ithig, they don’t listen, and they misbehave so much that they drive her to tears.

Elizabeth feels bad, because she’s the only person in this book with any humanity. She learns that when the district supervisor comes to visit the class, the kids plan to only speak Ithig so they’ll drive Ms. McDonald crazy and she won’t be invited to keep teaching. Elizabeth warns Ms. McDonald, but the teacher is no dummy: Thanks to language immersion, she’s learned Ithig on her own. When Lila pulls the Ithig trick in class, Ms. McDonald speaks it back to her, telling the supervisor that it’s a secret language the sixth graders use with each other.

Lila is furious, which is hilarious, because she needed to be taken down about ten notches in this book. She and a couple other students try to tell the supervisor that they don’t like Ms. McDonald, but he’s like, “Maybe worry about your grades and not being little punks?” I love that their scheme totally backfired. Probably the best part is that they’re too dumb to figure out that Elizabeth talked to Ms. McDonald, or that she might have learned Ithig on her own. Stupid punk kids. Get off my lawn!

Thoughts: I was thinking that Amy and Lila were being unreasonable about the twins keeping secrets from them, but then I remembered that they’re 12-year-old girls, so they’re unreasonable about everything.

12-year-old girls also aren’t that interested in pro tennis players. Sorry, ghostwriter.

Elizabeth: “How did Ms. McDonald ever learn to speak Ithig?” Well, if Jessica could learn it, anyone can.

“Maybe Ms. McDonald wasn’t such a bad teacher after all.” She never was a bad teacher! Her students were just jerks! That’s not her fault!

Oh, and they’re idiots, too. How can they not figure out that Elizabeth was the squealer? I mean, who else would try to rain on their parade like that?

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