February 14, 2017
Summary: Having not learned her lesson from the last time she decided to trade in Denny for a better model, Janet has her eye on an SVH freshman named Doug. The other Unicorns decide to go to the next SVH JV basketball practice to check him out and let her know whether they approve. (I doubt any of them would say no. It’s not like Janet’s looking for an honest opinion here.)
Speaking of basketball players, Steven has recently been switched from starting center to guard in favor of a new kid named Ben Oliver. Steven hates Ben, even though he seems like a perfectly nice guy. But Steven isn’t going to be overshadowed by a kid who always knows the answer in class and probably thinks he’s smarter than everyone just because he’s a year younger than the other freshmen, having skipped seventh grade. To make matters worse, Ben is running against Steven for class treasurer.
Steven’s campaign goes negative against Ben, though Cathy objects, insisting that Ben is a great guy. Steven’s furious that she would find even one good thing about his arch-nemesis. He thinks he’s a shoo-in for treasurer. The Unicorns attend the next basketball practice, and Jessica immediately develops a crush on Ben. She has no idea that he’s her brother’s enemy, and he has no idea that getting involved with her would make Steven mad.
The vote for treasurer is too close to call, so the freshmen vote again. This time, Ben wins. Steven acts like a jerk about it even though Ben is gracious. His day gets worse when he comes home to find Ben there, about to take Jessica to Casey’s for ice cream. Steven goes all overprotective brother, refusing to let Jess leave with Ben. I can’t believe he thinks that’ll work. Jessica ignores him and goes off with Ben. Then Cathy and Joe are friendly toward Ben at school, just making Steven madder.
Jessica and Ben plan a double date with Janet and Doug, which Steven tries to get Ned and Alice to cancel. Even though their 12-year-old daughter will be going out with a high-schooler, Ned and Alice are fine with the situation (I think they made Ben 13 so the age gap wouldn’t be so big. But still, a sixth-grader and a ninth-grader?). Steven practically threatens to get violent with Ben, which gets him sent to his room. Hey, an attempt at effective Wakefield parenting for once!
Elizabeth has already started to suspect that Jess is only with Ben to bug Steven, and after the double date, it seems like Jess might only stick with the relationship for that reason. Ben and Doug are both kind of annoying, and Jessica and Janet are starting to realize that dating a high-schooler isn’t as glamorous as they’d expected. Still, Jess isn’t going to pass up the chance to talk up the date so Steven gets even madder. She plays it off like they’re just friends, so Ned and Alice can’t really object. After Steven overhears the Unicorns talking about Veronica, he decides to handle the Jess/Ben situation (JessBen is an awful couple name; let’s hope that, say, Jessica Chastain and Ben Affleck never get together) on his own.
Steven asks Veronica out, I guess not worrying about what Cathy will say if she finds out. Jess is as furious as Steven is every time he sees her with Ben. Though he’s pleased with his plan, Steven gets upset again when he hears a rumor that Cathy voted for Ben in the election. He immediately believes this, which is dumb, but that’s par for the course for Steven in this book. However, Cathy then confirms this, claiming she has a good reason. Steven’s too angry to listen to her.
Now at the side of a high-schooler, Veronica is suddenly popular. Even the Unicorns want to spend time with her, despite the tricks she’s pulled on Jessica in the past. Steven is happy with his revenge plot, but clearly still wants to be with Cathy, as he gets jealous when he hears that she’s been spending time with a guy named Howie. Later, Steven hears Ben telling Doug that Howie lost a bunch of the class’ money for a class trip while he was serving as treasurer. Ben has to do a lot of work to make it back. He knows Cathy voted for him, but only because she didn’t want Steven to have to be stuck with the debt (which she found out about while tutoring Howie in math). Okay, but couldn’t she have told him that?
Steven suddenly gets that Ben isn’t a bad guy after all, and his jealousy comes from…well, nowhere, really. He tries to make up with Cathy, but she’s understandably tired of dealing with him. Steven takes Veronica to Casey’s, and Cathy shows up with Howie. Jessica spots Steven and flings a cherry at him. Steven fires back, innocents are dragged into the fight, and the whole restaurant gets trashed in a food fight. Mr. Casey kicks everyone out, surprisingly not banning them all for life.
The tension has been cut, and all the people who have been fighting make up. Ben and Veronica end up together, because why not? Then Ben has to quit basketball because being treasurer requires too much work, so Steven gets his position back. Everything is awesome again! At least until Steven dumps Cathy for a dumb reason and this whole thing starts over again!
The B-plot is really just setting up a future book: Amy’s suspicious of her parents, who keep having secret conversations and arguing. She thinks they’re going to split up, possibly because of a woman named Jane, as Mr. Sutton wrote a letter to her but hasn’t sent it yet. Liz finds a picture of Mr. Sutton with his arm around a woman, and the words “love, Jane” on the back.
She keeps this from Amy for a while, and when she finally tells her what she saw, Amy blows up at her. She accuses Liz of not wanting Amy to have a family as perfect as the Wakefields. What? Okay, Amy. They make up later, but things between Mr. and Mrs. Sutton don’t get any better. We get a cliffhanger when Jane calls the house and the Suttons ask Elizabeth to leave so they can discuss something in private. If you know the title of book #83, you can guess what the discussion’s about.
There’s also a teeny C-plot where Elizabeth learns that Bruce is going to release a pig in Mrs. Arnette’s class, so she publishes a story about it in the Sixers ahead of time. She and her friends are amused by how angry Bruce gets. I wish they’d done more with this plot; I thought it was funny.
Thoughts: Normally I would call Elizabeth a killjoy for ruining someone’s prank, but doing it to mess with Bruce makes me root for her.
Jessica considers wearing leggings with an Oxford shirt. Ick.
If the freshmen elected someone who’s bad at math to be their treasurer, they kind of deserve whatever happens.
January 24, 2017
Summary: Once again, it’s spring break in Sweet Valley, so the twins, Steven, and a couple friends are spending time at the beach. The twins decide to go snorkeling, and Jessica suggests that they explore a part of the beach they’re supposed to stay away from. Elizabeth comes across what looks like a shipwreck and takes a couple of keepsakes from the bottom of the ocean. Back on land, they run into a man who’s staring out at the water and generally being a little creepy.
The twins want to keep up their ocean exploration, so they decide to take scuba lessons. They find a teacher and get Steven, Joe, Amy, Lila, and Janet interested in his class. The teacher happens to be the man the twins saw on the beach, Joshua Farrell. He’s Scottish and talks like a stereotypical Scotsman (“aye,” “lass,” etc.). Some of the kids who signed up for lessons are unsure about hanging out with Joshua, but Steven thinks his experience will give them a better…well, experience.
Liz throws away something she got from the ocean, unable to tell what it is, since it’s covered in barnacles. The next day, the twins get chain letters talking about a curse from someone named Carlotta. If they don’t forward letters to six people, they’ll be punished for taking half of something that’s not theirs. Any reader over the age of five can figure out what that means, but Liz doesn’t put 2 and 2 together that the thing she took from the ocean and then threw away is the “half of something.” Jess quickly writes the letters, but Elizabeth dismisses the threat of a “curse.”
Lila receives one of Jessica’s letters, but she can’t forward her own because her dad’s secretary is out of town, and she does all of Lila’s correspondence for her. Lila doesn’t even write her own thank-you notes. So Elizabeth and Lila are both facing a curse. Liz is rewarded with a nightmare about being on a pirate ship during a storm. Two men swordfight, and she realizes one of them looks like Joshua.
The kids head to the beach to meet Joshua for their first scuba lesson. At first they can’t find him, and Liz gets spooked by an empty wetsuit that seems to be moving on its own. But the lesson starts and everything goes fine, except for Lila, who loses a watch. Her day gets worse as she falls down the stairs at home, rips her robe, and breaks a nail. She figures she’s suffering from the curse and needs to get her letters written right away. She uses her father’s computer without his permission, but she’s so unfamiliar with modern (well, modern in the ’90s) technology that she basically breaks it.
At the next scuba lesson, it’s Elizabeth’s turn to have a bad day. When she looks at Joshua underwater, it seems like there’s no face behind his diving mask. Liz is so stunned that she passes out and almost drowns. Everyone tells Liz (very nicely) that she doesn’t have to continue the lessons if she doesn’t want to, and no one will think any less of her. Liz, to her credit, wants to keep going with them.
Lila’s still having a rough week, as she accidentally emailed her chain letter to everyone at her father’s company. I’m impressed that they all have email. On the bright side, she’s sent more than her requisite six letters, so she’s no longer in danger of being cursed. Liz, however, still is. She has another dream about the ship, this time featuring Joshua’s swordfighting opponent, a man with a red beard. He seems to be in love with a woman on the ship. Joshua’s supposed to be manning a post on deck, but he leaves it.
A scorpion winds up in Elizabeth’s lunch bag one day, so everyone thinks she’s cursed. She still won’t write the letters, because she’s Elizabeth. One of Lila’s letters was received by a man named John Filber, who tracks down the twins (totally not cool, guy), having gotten their address from the Fowlers’ cook (TOTALLY not cool, cook). He wants them to come to the beach with him so he can show them something. Surprisingly, Jessica’s the one who immediately says no, but the twins do agree to meet him there the next day.
John shows them something shiny caught in some coral under a pier, and tells them his father brought him to see it as a child. He was warned to never touch it or he’d be a victim of Carlotta’s curse. He’s had dreams just like the ones Liz has been having, where he’s on a sinking ship and sees a couple being separated. Okay, fine, but why are you getting 12-year-olds involved in your problems?
The scuba students have a cookout on the beach, and Joshua tells them a story about a pirate named Red Beard. He was in love with a woman named Carlotta, and they were going to travel to America together. Her uncle, a governor, gave them a gold heart-shaped locket, and they split it in half. Their ship wrecked, thanks to the bosun, who left his post to look for a treasure map Red Beard supposedly had. Joshua tells the kids that the bosun’s ghost is restless because he’s never been able to find the pieces of the heart and get the couple back together.
Elizabeth finally realizes that she might have half of the locket, but she can’t find it. She gets another chain letter, which offers her a reward. She just has to deposit $100,000 in a bank account so Carlotta can pay for her child’s medical treatments. It’s totally not a scam at all. Steven finds the thing Liz threw away, and yes, of course, it’s half of the locket. It has part of a treasure map on the back, which means the bosun wouldn’t have found it in Red Beard’s quarters, and he caused a shipwreck for nothing.
The twins and Steven figure out that the thing Filber showed them at the pier has to be the other half of the heart. Before they go confirm this, Liz does some library research and finds out that the bosun was…dun dun DUN…Joshua. That’s right, the kids have been taking scuba lessons from a ghost. She thinks Filber is one of his descendants. Liz soon has another dream, this one of Carlotta confirming that the bosun is still around – in fact, he sent the chain letter. Liz knows she needs to get the other half of the heart and put the pieces together to end the curse.
Steven accompanies the twins back to the beach, and they get the second half of the heart. Then Filber shows up, demanding the pieces so he can follow the treasure map. Liz puts the pieces together to end the curse, then hands the reunited locket over to Filber, not wanting to put herself or her siblings in danger over a piece of jewelry. Then, awesomely, Filber drops the locket in the water as he’s running off. Joshua’s watching from nearby, and Elizabeth sees him disappear. Way to get a 12-year-old to do all the work so you can be at peace, dude.
Elizabeth tells Jessica and Steven that Joshua was the bosun, and he sent the chain letter so Elizabeth would get the second half of the heart. Since they believe in curses but not ghosts, Jess and Steven decide that Elizabeth was behind the whole thing and doesn’t want to admit that she sent the letters. Liz just lets it go. That night, she dreams of Red Beard and Carlotta being reunited. Aww, some dead people got a happy ending. How sweet.
Thoughts: The story of Carlotta is supposed to be well-known, but none of the kids has heard it. And how has no one ever noticed the remains of the ship or searched them?
Why would Lila’s driver take the girls to a bus stop so they can catch a bus to the beach? He can’t just drive them to the beach? Because – and I know I’ve said this before – no way would Lila take public transportation if she didn’t have to.
The librarian at Sweet Valley’s public library is probably the only person in town who can tell the twins apart without thinking about it. Jessica’s probably never even been there.
Sweet Valley has no benches downtown. What’s up with that, S.V.?
Of course Elizabeth took a calligraphy course last summer. That’s one of the least surprising things I’ve ever read.
January 10, 2017
Summary: The kids at SVMS are studying the Civil War-era south in Social Studies, and they each have to do some sort of project. Lila’s somehow allowed to throw a party and call it a project. Everyone will dress up in period costume and eat food from the era. Jessica’s stuck for an idea until she reads about voodoo and decides to try it out on Steven. He’s been bugging her more than usual lately, and messing with her Johnny Buck poster (using a marker to make him cross-eyed) is the last straw. She decides to make a Steven voodoo doll and torture it, getting revenge on him while also completing her project.
Jess turns an old G.I. Joe into a mini-Steven, using pieces of her brother’s lucky shirt as clothes. She tells Elizabeth what she’s up to and swears her to secrecy. She starts doing things like poking and tickling the doll, and is surprised when she gets a reaction out of the real Steven. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has befriended a kid named Benjamin from the homeless shelter. He has some mysterious pain in his leg that doctors can’t figure out. Jessica wonders if she can use voodoo to heal as well as harm. She makes a doll for Benjamin and mixes up some ingredients that she thinks will be healing.
Steven isn’t feeling well, and Jessica gives herself the credit. She’s convinced that her voodoo doll is working. She makes him twitch around while he’s with Joe, who mentions to Jess that her brother has been acting strange lately, kind of zombie-like. Later, Jessica makes Steven randomly do a headstand in front of Cathy. He starts being really nice to Jess, which makes her wonder exactly what’s going on with the voodoo.
The night of Lila’s party, Jessica is ready to wow with her costume. Most of the girls are going as Scarlett O’Hara, and Janet has decided that whoever has the best costume gets to be acting president for a week when she goes on vacation. Lila has told all the guys coming that whoever has the best Rhett Butler costume gets to dance with her. Jess schemes to get Janet to announce that the best Rhett gets to dance with the best Scarlett, hoping that she and Aaron will win.
Since she didn’t have time to get a good costume, Jess (with a hint from Amy) decides to make a dress out of the family’s curtains. She also uses temporary brown hair dye, but her hair turns out orange. She briefly wonders if she’s somehow brought on a punishment for using voodoo. Elizabeth saves the day with a hat and encourages Jess to be confident that she can pull off her costume. It works, and Jessica is named the best Scarlett, with Aaron as her Rhett. She manages to get the curtains back home and her hair back to blond before Ned and Alice notice anything.
In other Jess success, Benjamin’s leg is doing better for no apparent reason. She’s sure that her voodoo is working on both him and Steven. Elizabeth is skeptical. Steven gets weirder and weirder, being especially nice to Jessica even while he doesn’t feel well. He also keeps twitching after she stops using the doll on him. Jess starts worrying that she’s gone too far. She even has a nightmare that Steven drowns trying to save her from drowning.
She decides to try to heal Steven the way she (allegedly) healed Benjamin. She plays easy-listening music for the doll and makes sure it’s comfortable. She gets spooked when she later hears Steven humming a song she played for the doll. He’s still sick, and Jess is afraid that she didn’t stop her voodoo in time. She wakes up from another nightmare and discovers that the doll is lying in some water. She runs to Steven’s room to make sure he’s okay, but she can’t wake him up.
Jessica freaks out and wakes up the rest of the house. In response, Steven cracks up and reveals that he was faking. Later, the truth comes out: Elizabeth told him what Jessica was up to, so he made sure he could always see what she was doing with the doll, then acted it out to mess with her. None of the voodoo actually worked. Steven really is sick, but it’s just the flu. (Of course, this doesn’t explain how Benjamin miraculously got better…)
Jessica still has a project to complete, so she gets Steven to agree to come to her class and demonstrate how the “voodoo” works. The two of them and Elizabeth work out a system of coughs so Liz can signal to a blindfolded Steven what Jess is doing to the doll. The demonstration goes perfectly, though Mrs. Arnette doesn’t like the implications. She gives Jess a C+ and tells her never to talk about or practice voodoo again. Jess caps off the experience by buying Steven a replacement for his lucky shirt and asking him to stop being so nice to her, since it’s weird.
In the B-plot, Todd volunteers himself and Elizabeth to cook a southern meal for their class. Todd is a horrible cook and can’t even follow directions properly, so every practice meal they cook turns out terrible. Todd apparently never bothers to taste what he’s cooked, so he thinks everything’s great. He’s even thinking about becoming a chef someday. Instead of telling him that he’s screwing up and needs to pay attention, since they’re doing this for a grade, Liz just pretends everything’s fine.
Jessica suggests that Elizabeth change markings on measuring cups and labels on measuring spoons so Todd’s mistakes will actually be the right steps. Elizabeth does, but the meal still turns out awful. People in the class even get sick, including Mrs. Arnette. Everyone thinks Liz and Todd just pulled a prank, which I don’t get, because there’s no way Liz would do something like that, especially with a grade on the line.
Elizabeth confesses her actions to Todd, who isn’t upset. He’s just glad that he didn’t screw things up, and still has a future as a chef. Later, in exchange for helping Jess with her project, Liz makes her tell Todd that she had the idea to sabotage everything, so Liz is off the hook. Todd doesn’t care. That was pretty pointless.
Thoughts: So has everyone at SVMS seen Gone With the Wind? Seems unlikely.
Jessica knows what the Spanish Inquisition is but not who Patrick Henry is. Sure, okay.
Dear ghostwriter, no 14-year-old boy says “blouse.”
Jessica: “Mom! Dad! Wake up! I’ve killed Steven! Come quick!” Ned: “What time is it?” Priorities, Ned.
“I thought it was working, so in theory, it did kind of work.” With logic like that, Jessica has a future as a politician.
December 20, 2016
Summary: Jessica wakes up in the middle of the night during what she later finds out is an earthquake. It’s minor – only a 3.2 – but it’s Sweet Valley’s first in 20 years, so it’s kind of a big deal. It becomes an even bigger deal for Jessica when she learns that she was the only person at school who woke up. I don’t know why anyone cares, but they do. Jessica uses her overactive imagination to spice up the story a little. She tells people that she woke up before the earthquake, and must have sensed that it was coming. Super-nerd Lloyd Benson is intrigued and starts following her around, wanting her help with a project on earthquakes.
With news of an aftershock possibly coming, Lila and Janet, who are sick of Jessica’s embellishments, decide to get some revenge. They urge her to predict when the aftershock will come, then plan a big part at the Fowlers’ so everyone can experience it together. At first Jess loves all the attention, but when Lila and Janet try to call her bluff, she gets worried. If she predicts an earthquake and nothing happens, she’ll be humiliated. She’s already humiliated enough by Lloyd’s sudden obsession with her.
Everyone is really excited about the possibility of Jessica proving her earthquake-sensing powers. A ton of people are invited to Lila’s party, and Bruce even has souvenir T-shirts made. Since the date of the party is on them, Jessica’s prediction better be right or no one will want a shirt, and she’ll have to deal with Bruce’s anger on top of everything else. Jess tries to put a stop to the party, but everyone wants earthcake, a cake Lila and Janet will decorate to look like Sweet Valley, then cut in half like it’s been split by an earthquake. I have to admit, that’s pretty clever.
Desperate for her prediction to come true, Jessica does an earthquake dance (a variation on a rain dance) before the party. This involves her hopping around her room, chanting, “Earthquake, earthquake, please come soon. If you don’t come, I’ll be ruined.” I have a feeling that if Lila and Janet saw this, they’d be satisfied with their revenge. Elizabeth sees Jess dancing and tries to cheer her up, noting that there’s a chance the aftershock will come just when she said.
At the party, Jessica frets that she’s going to be embarrassed in front of everyone. People are making a huge deal out of the aftershock – Aaron is even taking bets from people on what time it will occur. Jessica says it’ll happen at 8:30, so everyone spends the party checking the time. Bruce warns that if the aftershock doesn’t happen that night, Jess will have to pay for all his unsold shirts. Hey, Bruce, no one asked you to make shirts. That’s your own problem.
8:30 rolls around, and guess what? No earthquake. Jessica pretends that the vibes she was getting before were just off a little, but everyone’s lost interest. Jessica sulks off somewhere in the basement and takes a nap. As Lila brings the earthquake down to the party, the aftershock hits. Lila takes a header into the cake. Oh, sweet justice for Jess. Too bad she slept through the whole thing. (Fortunately, Amy takes a picture.)
In the B-plot, Steven’s new favorite band, the Katybugs, comes out with a video about animal cruelty and why people should be vegetarians. Steven’s so disturbed by the images and ideas that he reacts like Lisa in that Simpsons episode where she can’t eat lamb chops after seeing a lamb at a petting zoo. He gets very Dawn Schafer about the whole thing, annoying his family and friends with his self-righteousness.
In what I think might be an attempt to shove him out of his new habits by overloading him, Ned and Alice have the whole family adopt Steven’s new diet. The twins aren’t happy, though Elizabeth at least puts forth an effort. Steven quickly grows tired of his new self-imposed restrictions (the boy loves a bacon cheeseburger), but he knows he can’t back down, because his family and friends will call him out for being a hypocrite. Cathy tells him she understands his convictions, and she does what she can, but she’s not going to change her whole lifestyle just because some animals are cute.
Steven finally breaks down and decides to have some spaghetti and meatballs. But the earthquake hits and he drops the jar holding the sauce, ruining the last bit of non-healthy food in the house. The twins figure out what happened and follow him to Hughie’s Burger Shack (competition for the Dairi Burger? Oh, no!) after school. They catch him about to eat a burger and tease him about it. At this point he doesn’t really care anymore, and he agrees to stop trying to push his beliefs on other people if it means he can eat some meat.
The C-plot is connected to the A-plot: Elizabeth and Amy think they can only be true reporters if they experience something themselves, so they decide to stay up all night for a few nights in case the aftershock comes. That way, at least one of them will be able to write about it from first-hand experience. This leads to the girls falling asleep in school and even struggling to stay awake at Lila’s party. Of course, they’re awake for the aftershock, so they end up able to write their article without learning a lesson about responsible journalist procedures, or something.
Thoughts: These kids act like they’ve never experienced an earthquake before, but even if there hasn’t been one in Sweet Valley in 20 years, they can’t all have lived in S.V. their whole lives. None of them has ever been to L.A.? San Francisco? Any other freaking place in Southern California?
Alice has nothing to say about Elizabeth and Amy trying to stay up all night multiple nights in a row. I mean, of course.
Lloyd talks about “the magical terror of earthquakes.” Please get a life, Lloyd.
December 6, 2016
Summary: It’s another perfect day in Sweet Valley, and Elizabeth, Amy, and Maria are hanging out at the beach, collecting seashells. Suddenly, things go horribly wrong! Denny Jacobson, the object of Janet’s affection, is knocked out while surfing in rough water. His brother Sam is nearby but doesn’t notice anything wrong. The girls try to get his attention, but he doesn’t hear them yelling that his brother’s unconscious. So Elizabeth puts to use the lifeguard skills she’ll display in SVU and saves Denny from drowning.
Suddenly Liz is a local hero. The Jacobsons are forever in her debt. (By the way, even though it was established a long time ago that Pamela with the bad heart is one of these Jacobsons, she’s never mentioned in this book. In fact, there’s a completely different Pam.) The rescue gets media coverage, though Denny exaggerates what happened, saying the waves were twice as high as they really were, and that Liz risked being struck by lightning to save him. He goes from never noticing Elizabeth to suddenly being her biggest fan.
Liz, however, doesn’t want a biggest fan. She’s humble about what happened and doesn’t appreciate Denny making a big deal out of it. I’m not sure she gets what a big deal it is – she actually saved someone’s life. He would be dead without her. But then again, Denny gets really annoying really fast. He wants to walk her to school and carry her backpack every day. He tells everyone they run into how she saved him. He talks the school into giving her a medal (then complains that it’s too small). Liz is miserable. She’s lizerable.
Also lizerable: Janet, who resents that Denny is giving Elizabeth so much attention. She orders Jessica to fix it, threatening to take away her chances to be hostess at the upcoming Teen Health Fair. Janet’s representing SVMS and giving a speech about orthodontia, which I guess means she’s not so embarrassed about her new night gear that she won’t use it to get something she wants. As representative, she gets to pick hosts and hostesses, and for some reason, this is an honor and all the Unicorns want in.
No way is Jessica going to pass up the chance to do whatever it is a Teen Health Fair hostess does, so she comes up with an idea to get Denny to back off: Elizabeth will pretend she’s drowning at the pool, and Denny will save her. Amazingly, this doesn’t go as planned. Denny eats too much and falls asleep, so when Liz pretends she needs help, he doesn’t hear her. Amy tries to save her instead. Good old Amy. Then when Denny goes swimming, he really does need help, and Elizabeth has to save him again. Maybe Denny should just stay away from water.
Now Denny’s even more obsessed with Liz. He serenades her outside her window and needs to know where she is at all times. Alice won’t let Liz tell him off; she thinks Liz should just let him feel grateful for a while. Alice, he’s stalking her. Shhh. Steven agrees to help the twins fix things, and Joe Howell happily joins in, since Janet’s being horrible and he wants to make that stop. He’ll pretend to mug Liz and Denny, and when Denny gets rid of him, he’ll be Elizabeth’s hero. Wouldn’t that just make him think he needs to spend even more time with Liz, to protect her?
Anyway, the fake mugging occurs, but Denny attacks Joe, and Joe has to fight back. Elizabeth grabs Joe’s arm and forces him to leave, which just makes Denny think she’s saved him yet again. Janet’s so angry that she accuses Liz of stealing her boyfriend. Elizabeth almost has her convinced that she hates the situation as much as Janet does, but Bruce ruins it by saying that Liz should take Janet’s place as the Teen Health Fair representative. Janet takes out her anger on Jess, taking her out of the running for hostess. She even forbids Jess from wearing purple! THE HORROR!
Even with the backfire, Joe’s still on board to help the twins and Steven (as is Denny’s brother Sam, who should really feel more embarrassed about not noticing that his brother was dying). They realize that they need to get Janet to do something heroic so Denny will focus his hero-worshipping on her instead of Elizabeth. They come up with a complicated plan involving skates and a big papier-mâché tooth Mandy and Mary made for the health fair. Liz has to get Denny to a spot in a strip mall at a certain time so the guys can skate toward him in the tooth. Jessica will get Janet there, and Janet will push Denny out of the way.
Somehow, despite a few hiccups, this goes almost exactly as planned. Janet panics as the tooth approaches, and Maria has to knock into Amy to get her to collide with Liz and domino into Jess and Janet to get her to save Denny. But Denny’s dumb enough to think Janet saved him, and suddenly he’s all into her instead of Liz. Everyone’s happy now. Denny should maybe have a chaperone with him everywhere, though, since he keeps getting into dangerous situations.
In the B-plot, Steven and Cathy are fighting because she’s sick of him bragging about how good he is at basketball. Instead of being sad or changing his attitude, Steven decides to go after another girl, Pam Martin. Joe encourages him to talk to her, but when he pushes Steven into her path, she trips over him and immediately thinks he’s a doofus. Well, he is, but not usually like this. Joe also likes Pam, and he wants to make Steven look bad in front of her so she’ll like Joe instead. What a nice friend.
After Joe pretends to mug Elizabeth and Denny, Steven gets him to pretend to mug him and Pam, too (though he tells Joe he’ll be with Cathy). Joe doesn’t fulfill his end of the bargain, so Steven ends up chasing him down the street like an idiot. Steven spends the whole book crushing on a girl who’d be happy never seeing him again. But he finally realizes that Cathy’s great and he needs to stop being an idiot so she’ll want him back. They fix things in, like, five seconds, though I don’t know why Cathy would even want to be with Steven after he spent the whole book being a dork.
Thoughts: Way to stand around, doing nothing, while Elizabeth saves someone’s life, Amy and Maria.
Hospital admissions calls the newspaper to tell them about Elizabeth’s heroics, which has to be some kind of HIPAA violation.
Hey, Ned, why is it okay if Steven asks for six pancakes but not if Jessica does?
Joe: “Ever since this thing with Elizabeth and Denny started, Janet’s been a nightmare to live with.” She wasn’t already?
Fun with out-of-context quotes: “It’s my tooth! And it’s out of control!”
November 22, 2016
Summary: SVMS throws an annual carnival with the proceeds going to charity, and every year the Unicorns find time in their busy schedule of flirting and practicing new hairstyles to run a booth. This year, the group who raises the most money will get a prize. That’s great and all, but it’s not the biggest news in town: Johnny Buck is going to give a concert in Sweet Valley. Instead of selling tickets, they’re being given away raffle-style, and people can only win them by sending an entry in to the Sweet Valley Tribune. This requires filling out a form only found in the paper, which means if you want to send in multiple entries, you have to buy multiple copies of the paper.
As if that weren’t enough for the Unicorns to be anxious about, they’re worried about Mary’s new hanger-on, Peter Burns. Peter’s a nerd (he’s good at science! Ew!), and his obvious crush on Mary makes the girls worry that their reputation will be tainted. They (well, mostly Janet) urge Mary to be rude to Peter so he’ll go away, but Mary’s an actual nice person and doesn’t want to do that. When he walks home with her one afternoon, she mentions how much she’d like to go to the Johnny Buck concert. He tries to be encouraging, even though the odds of her winning a ticket are pretty slim.
The Unicorns have been trying to come up with an idea for their booth, and Jess thinks up one that everyone agrees on: selling a love potion. They’ll mix up some drink and sell it for a dollar a bottle, promising that whoever drinks it will soon become the object of someone else’s affection. At least it’s a creative idea.
Peter gives Mary a magazine with info about Johnny, which worries the Unicorns. They decide she should be taken off the market so Peter will back off. Mary used to have a crush on an eighth-grader named Tim, so the girls do some matchmaking and let him know that Mary’s interested. He invites her to a big picnic at Secca Lake the day after the carnival, and though she’s not that excited about going with him, she agrees because she doesn’t want to tick off the Unicorns.
Peter helps out with the Sixers and chats with Elizabeth, admitting that he entered the concert raffle even though he doesn’t like Johnny Buck that much. She figures out that he wants to win tickets for Mary. Over the weekend, the ticket winners receive their prizes (more on this in the B-plot section), but Peter and Mary are both out of luck. But everyone has one more chance: Mr. Bowman bought tickets for his niece but is now going to raffle them off at the carnival. This time, people can only enter once, which puts everyone back on equal footing.
Even without the tickets, Peter gets up the courage to ask Mary out. Just before he can, Tim arrives, and Peter learns that he and Mary are going to the picnic together. Peter realizes he’s lost his chance with the girl he’s in love with. Poor guy. The Unicorns are happy, though, since Mary now has a respectable boyfriend. Mary herself isn’t so happy – Tim is full of himself and more interested in talking about what he likes than finding out anything about Mary. Also, he doesn’t like Johnny Buck.
The girls mix up their love potion, which is really pineapple punch with purple food coloring. (It actually sounds kind of good.) They make a ton of sales, either to people who really want to fall in love or to people who are just thirsty. Tim buys three bottles to make himself look like a bigshot. Mary is, unsurprisingly, not impressed. Everyone buys raffle tickets, including Peter, who’s still holding on to hope that he can win Mary over.
Mary runs into Peter, who’s back to hoping that things will work out for them. He tells her that he bought a raffle ticket but is hopeful about things even if he doesn’t end up winning. She tries to get him to explain that, but he clams up. Now she thinks he’s being cold to her, which confuses her, since he was so nice before. Maybe he didn’t like her as much as she’d thought. Yeah, or maybe he’s upset that you’re dating a jerk instead of him. Wake up, Mary.
Jessica’s sick of Peter and decides to sell him a love potion. This one is special – it contains a bunch of ingredients Jessica finds around the carnival, including salsa and root beer. Peter first says he doesn’t believe in love potions, but he figures it can’t hurt to try. The poor guy drinks the whole thing while the Unicorns giggle about him. Joke’s on you, girls – he’s going to grow up to find a cure for cancer or something, while you have three kids you don’t even like and spend your lives trying to recapture the magic of your senior year of high school.
Mr. Bowman lets Elizabeth and Amy hang around while he draws the winner of the concert tickets. Unsurprisingly, it’s Peter. He swears the girls to secrecy, since he won’t announce the winner until the next day. But Jessica tricks Elizabeth into telling her, pretending she’s going to read her mind, then getting her to write the winner’s name on a napkin, which Jess just grabs. She wishes Mary had gone out with Peter instead of Tim, since this would ensure her a ticket to the concert. Then Jess realizes that she can secure a ticket by buttering Peter up. She also tells Lila that he won.
Mary finally realizes that Peter is a nice guy and she hasn’t treated him well. She decides to make up with him at the picnic. She’s still going with Tim, but she was zero interest in him. The next day, Mary has a horrible time getting to the picnic. Tim’s father was supposed to drive them, but he can’t make it, so they have to ride bikes. Mary rides Tim’s mom’s bike but gets a flat tire. Tim says she must have done something wrong, then ditches her. When Mary finally gets to Secca Lake, she yells at Tim in front of all his friends, which is awesome.
Mary then apologizes to Peter, who now has a bunch of girls being nice to him. He doesn’t know he won the tickets, so he doesn’t get that they’re trying to kiss up to him. Well, except for Mary, who genuinely feels bad about how she treated him. Peter figures the love potion actually worked. Sorry, buddy, Mary just realized she was being a jerk and stopped letting her friends peer-pressure her into staying away from you.
The Unicorns get a plaque for making the most money at the carnival. Lila is unimpressed. Peter learns that he won the tickets and gives them to Mary and Jessica, even though he knows that Jessica gave him a gross love potion on purpose. Once again, Jessica’s bad behavior is rewarded and she suffers no consequences. Sigh.
The B-plot is about how much the Wakefield kids want to go to the concert. Steven wants to win tickets so he can take Cathy, and he sends in 30 entries. Jessica can only get her hands on six copies of the paper, and Elizabeth just sends in one entry. Apparently the paper receives 25,000 entries all together, which has to be, like, 2.5 times the number of subscribers, so the Tribune is going to have a great Christmas party this year. Jess and Steven get competitive, agreeing that whoever doesn’t get to go to the concert has to do the other’s chores for a month.
Thanks to his 30 entries, Steven wins tickets while Jessica doesn’t. (Elizabeth doesn’t either, but Amy does, so Liz gets a ticket anyway.) Then Steven misplaces his tickets, so Jess makes another deal with him: If she finds them, she gets one. Steven ends up cleaning the entire house while looking for the tickets, but he can’t find them. He even accuses Jessica of stealing them, which is kind of dumb, because how would she get away with going to the concert without him finding out?
Eventually Steven finds the tickets in his geometry book. His parents aren’t happy with the realization that he didn’t find them earlier because he hasn’t used his geometry book in days. Jessica isn’t happy with the fact that, since Steven found them without her help, he doesn’t have to give her one. Just before the concert, Steven misplaces the tickets AGAIN, this time in his Spanish book. Maybe Steven should focus more on schoolwork and less on buying 30 copies of a newspaper. Anyway, all three Wakefield kids get to go to the concert, so yay.
Thoughts: “How about a booth selling special paper?” This is why you’re never allowed to do anything in this series, Kimberly.
Jessica mentions that she has good luck with pineapple recipes, which is a nice bit of continuity.
Mary: “I think he cares more about himself than anyone else.” Lila: “What’s wrong with that?” As if Lila would waste two seconds on a guy who cared more about himself than he did about her.
October 25, 2016
Summary: Big news at SVMS: There’s a new student named Anna Reynolds, and she’s deaf! (She’s also Asian, but that only gets mentioned briefly, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure hers is the only Asian family in Sweet Valley, at least until Jade’s family turns up in SVH.) Since there are no other deaf students at SVMS, Elizabeth wants to do a profile on Anna for the Sixers. She asks Cammi Adams, a quiet nerd who’s apparently a really good writer, to do the article. Cammi immediately panics.
Jessica’s shocked to see that Anna looks like a normal person. I’d like to know what Jessica thinks deaf people look like. This will be Anna’s first time in a mainstream school, and she’ll still take a few classes at a special school for the hard-of-hearing, but for the most part she’ll be immersed with her hearing classmates. All of her bases are covered: She uses sign language, she reads lips, and she can speak, so other than not being able to hear, she’s not that different from other girls her age.
Anna’s also really nice, makes friends quickly, and is totally fine answering questions about her deafness. She is immediately ten times more awesome than almost any other girl in the series. And her classmates don’t treat her any differently because of her deafness, which is refreshing. They have to remind themselves to make sure she’s looking when they speak to her, or make sure their words are clear so she can understand them, but other than that, carrying on a conversation with her is mostly like talking to anyone else. Everyone’s happy to have Anna at SVMS.
But Cammi thinks this new arrangement will crash and burn. As soon as the novelty of having a deaf friend wears off, the SVMS kids will ditch Anna, realizing it’s too much work to communicate with her. Why does Cammi think this? Because her own parents are deaf. Cammi’s kept this a secret from everyone, though her seven-year-old sister, Cara, doesn’t think it’s a big deal. Cammi’s seen the way her parents are treated by people who can’t understand them or who think they’re weird, and she’s sure that Anna will be treated the same.
Elizabeth introduces Anna to the Unicorns, who in many ways are her people – Anna’s fashionable, boy-crazy, and likes to dance. In fact, she wants to be an aerobics instructor when she’s older, and she’d like to start an aerobics club at school. She has to explain to the girls that while she can’t hear music, she can feel the beat through the floor. The Unicorns like Anna and agree to join her club.
Cammi tries to keep her distance from Anna, though it seems she’s pretty good at keeping her distance from everyone – she doesn’t appear to have any friends. Elizabeth invites her to a party (more on that in the B-plot), but Cammi needs to be home to help her parents talk to a repairman, so she says she has to babysit her sister. Her parents are concerned about her skipping out on socializing so she can help them. She shouldn’t put her life on hold for them.
Cammi reluctantly goes to Anna’s house to interview her for the Sixers profile. Anna explains all the technology in the house, like the TDD, a phone that relays text instead of spoken words (the hard-of-hearing were way ahead of the rest of us in the texting game). Cammi pretends she’s unfamiliar with all of it. Anna tells her how she’s adjusting to SVMS, skipping the part about how her grades aren’t so great.
Elizabeth tries to find out why Cammi’s acting weird, and why her article about Anna doesn’t go very in-depth. She goes to Cammi’s house, which for Cammi is a nightmare. What if Elizabeth meets her parents and makes fun of them for the way they speak? It’s as if Cammi has never met Elizabeth and doesn’t know that she’s on her best behavior all the time. When Cammi’s mother comes home, she invites Elizabeth to stay for dinner. Elizabeth easily accepts and has a great time, never saying one word about how Cammi never mentioned that her parents are deaf. It’s probably because she’s smart enough to know it makes Cammi uncomfortable, and also because Liz is a polite person who treats people with respect.
At school, Elizabeth and Amy learn that Anna’s having a hard time in her classes. Since the teachers often talk while they’re facing the chalkboard, she can’t always read their lips. The principal, Mr. Clark, thinks they might have made a mistake letting Anna come to SVMS. Hey, Mr. Clark? Get her an interpreter, or tell the teachers to make sure their lips are visible, or get Anna a tutor, or SOMETHING. ANYTHING. If she’s doing poorly in class, it’s not her fault. The ADA is going to be all over you.
Anna, unfortunately, also thinks she made a mistake coming to SVMS. She shouldn’t have thought she would be able to keep up in a hearing world. Word spreads that she might be asked to leave SVMS. Yet when she has trouble in English class (even beloved Mr. Bowman is no saint and doesn’t realize that, to make sure a girl who reads lips can understand him, she has to actually be able to READ HIS LIPS), no one does anything. This is where Elizabeth really should have rallied everyone in the grade and told them to alert the teachers whenever Anna can’t follow the lesson.
Cara brings home a friend who knows all about their parents’ deafness, and they chat about how Cammi’s brave. The younger girls want to teach the family dog, Ludwig, to bark – he’s never had to before, since his owners can’t hear him, but Cara thinks he can be just like other dogs. Cammi’s mother finds out what’s going on and says she thinks Cammi’s brave, too. After all, she’s had to do some grownup things to help her parents.
Somehow, this inspires Cammi, who starts using sign language with Anna the next time she falls behind in class. After class, she’s brave enough to reveal to everyone that her parents are deaf. No one makes fun of her or even seems that phased by the news. They’re excited that Cammi can now help Anna in class, which means Anna doesn’t have to leave SVMS. I still think the school should get her an interpreter so Cammi can focus on her own work, but whatever. At least Cammi has a friend now.
In the B-plot, Steven and Cathy are throwing a party at one of her relatives’ houses on the beach. Jessica invites a bunch of her friends, and the party’s a huge success. But while Jess is taking a walk on the beach, she sees Cathy kissing someone she thinks is Jake Hamilton, Lila’s guy. Jessica wants to tell Steven, but Elizabeth thinks they should mind their own business. Instead, Jess tells the Unicorns, swearing them to secrecy.
Of course, the Unicorns can’t keep a secret, and each tells one or two other people, who also can’t keep a secret. (Hilariously, Mandy’s the only one who doesn’t spill, but it’s only because everyone she tried to tell already knew.) Word spreads that Cathy’s cheating on Steven with a younger guy, and Lila’s ticked that her man is stepping out on her. Jess confronts Jake, who’s amused by the rumor but doesn’t know who everyone’s been linking him to.
Jessica finally tells Steven about Cathy kissing Jake. Steven decides the best course of action is to beat Jake up. When the guys confront each other, Cathy warns Jess that it’s going to be a one-sided fight – Jake has a black belt in karate. Jess panics and tries to talk the guys down. They agree to sit down and talk things through, as long as Jess buys their milkshakes (and anything else they want to eat). Soon they confess that the whole thing was a joke. Jess saw Jake and Cathy walking to the beach other, but the guy Cathy kissed was Steven. When Steven found out about Jess’s suspicions, he got Cathy and Jake to agree to play a trick on her. So the B-plot was pointless, but kind of funny at the same time.
Thoughts: This was always one of my favorite SVT books. It’s still good.
Sweet Valley seems to be a town where everyone knows everyone, so how does no one know that Cammi’s parents are deaf? The school administrators would definitely know, and I can’t imagine they could all keep that completely secret. Plus, Cara’s friends know, which means their parents probably know. Don’t any of them have students at SVMS who would spread the word?
“‘Cammi, maybe it’s none of my business,’ Elizabeth began.” Liz, I’m going to stop you right there. It’s not.
Jessica, re: Jake: “He can kill with his bare hands.” Lila: “Well, that’s no fun. I was planning to rush to his side when he was lying crushed in the dirt.” She’s disappointed that her boyfriend isn’t going to get beaten up!
October 11, 2016
Summary: Veronica Brooks is settling in at SVMS, and she wants to become a Unicorn. Elizabeth is the only person who thinks Veronica is bad news. This is even after Veronica threatened to get even with Jessica at the end of the last book. The Unicorns haven’t yet invited Veronica to join them, possibly because right now they’re more interested in their newest accessories. Lila just got a Watchman (a watch/TV combo) and Ellen’s been allowed to wear her mother’s expensive hoop earrings to school.
At lunch, Ellen takes off her earrings (they’re heavy) and leaves them at the table while a bunch of the Unicorns go get cookies. Jessica and Veronica hang behind a little. When everyone gets back to the table, the earrings are missing. Then, at Boosters practice (which Veronica hangs around, since Bruce is also in the gym), Janet’s hairbrush and Lila’s newest Teenager magazine disappear. Veronica wonders if the same person took the magazine, hairbrush, and earrings. Jessica thinks the girls are all just bad at keeping track of their stuff.
Some of the girls chat about the disappearances in the bathroom, nicknaming the thief the Sweet Valley Swiper. Jessica admires Mandy’s new hat, which she got from a thrift store. By the way, everyone used to see Mandy’s style as low-class, but now she’s considered quirky and unique. She accidentally leaves the hat in the bathroom, and when she goes back to get it…well, of course it’s gone. The Sweet Valley Swiper strikes again!
Elizabeth fancies herself a detective, so she takes an interest in the case. She figures that since the hat was taken from the girls’ bathroom, the thief is probably a girl. Well, yeah – a guy probably isn’t going to steal earrings and a brush. Next, Mandy’s jacket vanishes. Ellen thinks her deodorant was also stolen, which leads to a lot of jokes about how she smells. There’s a pattern emerging beyond girls having their things taken – they’re all things Jessica has admired. Also, only the Unicorns have been victims of the thefts.
The pattern breaks when Veronica reports her notebook missing. The girls finally tell the principal, Mr. Clark, who promises to get the teachers to keep their eyes out. Elizabeth and Amy apparently solved mysteries together as kids, calling themselves the Snoopers, and they consider getting back together for one last case. How is this situation different from the other times they’ve teamed up to solve mysteries?
Lila gets her Watchman taken away in class, and when she goes to get it back from the teacher, it’s gone. I’m impressed that the thief was able to grab it without the teacher seeing. Later, Lila gets a note telling her she can find the Watchman in Jessica’s locker. Indeed, that’s where it is, though Jess has no idea how it got there. Half the Unicorns turn on her, thinking she’s the swiper. They want to oust her from the Unicorns and replace her with Veronica.
Even Elizabeth isn’t sure about her sister’s innocence. After all, Jessica borrowed her sweatshirt and lost it…or did she steal it? But Elizabeth thinks that Occam’s Razor is bull: The simplest explanation is that Jess is the thief, but that’s too easy. She’s probably being framed. Liz decides to focus on the note Lila got about the Watchman’s location, but she’s already thrown it out. Elizabeth recruits Amy to help her dig through the trash at school, which means Amy is a much better friend to Liz than I could ever be. Too bad they don’t find the note. Right now the only thing going in Jess’ favor is the fact that Aaron doesn’t think she’s the swiper.
Elizabeth sees the Unicorns hanging out with Veronica and thinks she’s cracked the case. She comes up with a multi-step plan to catch the swiper. First, Jessica pretends to be sick so she can stay home from school. Elizabeth goes to school as her twin, saying Liz is the one who’s sick. She chats with Veronica, telling her that Mandy still believes in Jessica’s innocence. The only thing that could make her turn on Jess is if her favorite rhinestone pin disappeared.
Guess what disappears not long after? Like Lila, Mandy gets a note telling her Jess took the pin. But Elizabeth announces that she’s not Jess, and that Jess isn’t even at school today, so there’s no way she could have taken the pin. Mandy calls Alice to confirm that Liz is who she says she is, getting confirmation when Jessica can’t spell “thief.” But even with Jess out of school, the pin is in her locker.
Elizabeth tells Mandy and Lila that she’s figured it out: Veronica is the thief. She framed Jessica to get her kicked out of the Unicorns. While Amy goes to get Mr. Clark, Elizabeth and Mandy stage a fight so Veronica will overhear. Veronica thinks Mandy’s mad at “Jessica” for stealing her pin, but the girls point out that they never mentioned a pin being missing. Mandy even says it’s not gone.
Elizabeth notes that only the thief would know it was missing. Veronica tries to blame Jessica, but Liz tells her that Jess isn’t at school. Mr. Clark checks Veronica’s locker, where all the missing things have been stashed. Jessica’s name is cleared, and Veronica’s suspended. Jess figures out that Veronica got her locker combination from a book she borrowed from Jess. The Unicorns, amazingly, feel horrible about the way they treated Jess, and they bring her ice cream as a peace offering. Also, Jess finds Elizabeth’s missing sweatshirt, proving once and for all that she may be a thoughtless sister, but she’s not a thief.
The B-plot is kind of entertaining. Steven and Joe take tests to see if they qualify for MEGA (the Mentally Gifted Association), the Sweet Valley-verse’s version (say that five times fast) of MENSA. Steven’s mailed results say he’s in the 99th percentile, the “genius intelligence quoshent [sic].” Steven thinks this is awesome, not just because it means he’s super-smart but also because Jess told him she would never tease him again if he got a genius score on the test.
Suddenly Steven has a new hobby: being an intellectual. He gets interested in tort law, chess, opera, and a Jeopardy-style TV show called Q&A. Even the twins are impressed with his ability to answer all the questions correctly. He gets Joe to watch a documentary about the mating habits of porcupines. Everyone finds him insufferable now, since he just wants to talk about high-brow things, and doesn’t even want to play basketball anymore.
On her day home “sick,” Jessica helps clean Steven’s room and does some detective work of her own. She finds a list of answers (or questions, I guess) from the episode of Q&A they watched, and realizes that he cheated – they watched a taped episode that Steven had already seen. Along with some other evidence proving that Steven isn’t, in fact, a genius, Jess is able to bust her brother.
Steven admits that he was playing a joke on Joe; he knew Joe made up the test results. Messing with the twins was just a bonus for Steven. Now he wants the girls to help him get payback. A bunch of the Wakefield kids’ friends come over, and Janet tells Jessica that Joe made up the test results to mess with Steven. Jessica pretends that Steven has no idea. Then Steven announces that his genius IQ makes him too smart for high school, so he’s going to drop out and try to get into Harvard. Joe tries to pretend that the test results were a mistake (there’s a guy out there named Steven Wokefield who doesn’t know he’s a genius), but Steven comes clean. Everyone’s amused by the whole thing.
Thoughts: A watch that you can watch TV on is so ahead of its time.
“When a crime seems too easy to solve, there’s probably a good reason.” And maybe the reason is that the criminal was too dumb to avoid getting caught.
Rick Hunter thought Jessica was too much of a klutz to be a thief. I don’t get that logic. She would have dropped the things she tried to steal? She would have tripped while taking them? Please explain yourself, Rick.
August 23, 2016
Summary: A new program called SOAR! (Science Offers Awesome Rewards) is coming to SVMS to offer some students two weeks of science, science, and more science, AKA my worst nightmare. The students all take an aptitude test to determine who gets to miss regular classes for all the science-y goodness (i.e., the smart kids) and who has to miss out on beakers and microscopes and frog dissections (i.e., the losers). Jessica has no interest in this and figures only the nerds will get into SOAR!.
She’s wrong. Yes, all the known SVMS nerds score high enough to get in, but Jessica does as well. She’s shocked – though the questions on the aptitude test were more like puzzles than test questions, she hates science. Amy is also shocked, and upset that she didn’t get in, since she loves science. Janet’s crush, Denny Jacobson, gets in but Janet doesn’t consider him a nerd. Only girls who like science are nerds. Well, and nerdy guys. Janet has very strict qualifications for who is and who isn’t a nerd.
The Unicorns vow to help Jessica get out of the program, but their ideas are all dumb, and Jess has to go to the first SOAR! class. The teacher, Mr. Baker, is like Bill Nye and David Tennant’s Doctor rolled into one. He teaches through fun experiments like finding out which of two water balloons (one small, one big) will fall on the twins’ heads first. Jessica’s surprised to find herself enjoying it, even with all the school’s nerds around. Of course, she won’t admit that to the Unicorns.
Janet can’t believe that Aaron doesn’t think Jessica’s a nerd for scoring well on the test. She thinks Jess should downplay her basketball knowledge because guys don’t like it when girls know more about something than they do. $5 says Janet was a Rules girl in the ’90s. Mary clarifies that Janet thinks Jessica should dumb herself down so a guy will like her. Well, of course.
As things in SOAR! get more fun, and Jessica gets recognition for saying smart things, the Unicorns get more and more annoyed. She’s spending so much time with the nerds that she misses Unicorn meetings and Boosters practices. How dare she talk about life on Venus when she could be watching music videos and painting her nails! Amy’s also getting more and more upset, since all the nerds are having such a good time without her.
The Unicorns come up with a plan to get Jessica out of SOAR!: They start a rumor that she cheated on the aptitude test. Jessica is horrified when the principal accuses her of cheating, and even offers to retake the test. He backs off and doesn’t bring it up again, so it’s kind of a waste of a plot. The Unicorns can’t believe that Jessica didn’t take advantage of her chance to get out of SOAR! Then Janet gets even madder when Denny strikes up a conversation with Jessica. She announces that Jessica has to choose between SOAR! and the Unicorns. (Never mind that SOAR! is mandatory, or that it’ll be over in just a few more days.)
Jessica confides in Elizabeth that she’s been enjoying SOAR! and has realized the nerds aren’t so bad after all. In fact, she has some things in common with them. She’s worried that she really is a nerd. After Jessica misses a basketball game because she’s planting a tree with the class, she tells Mr. Baker all about her problems. He helps her come up with some ideas for how to win over the Unicorns.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth, Sophia, and Maria (all of whom are in SOAR!) decide to have a sleepover so Amy will know they still want to be friends with her. Amy ditches them because she’s a whiny baby. You couldn’t pay me to go back to the drama of middle-school friendships. They’re probably better off without Amy pouting all over their sleepover.
Jessica tries to make up with the Unicorns by pointing out how much they use science, especially electricity. Mandy even chimes in, noting that medical science saved her life when she had the world’s shortest battle with cancer. The Unicorns are sold, but Janet remains stubborn. Since Jessica won’t give up science, she’s out of the club. This is a fate worse than death, of course.
But Mandy comes by the Wakefields’ to tell Jessica that Janet’s just upset because she thinks Denny likes Jess. She thinks that if Janet knew that Jess doesn’t like Denny, things will go back to normal. Jessica takes it upon herself to approach Denny, who makes it clear that he doesn’t want to date Jess. But he was thinking about asking out Janet, so he’s happy to hear from Jessica that Janet likes him, too.
Just when it looks like Janet will get a boyfriend and basically be forced to back down from Jessica, Janet does an actual mature thing. She tells Jessica that a recent struggle with the family VCR made her realize that boys aren’t the only people good at science. Her father and brother told her not to try to fix the VCR since girls aren’t science-y (Joe? Sexist? No!), but then they couldn’t fix it either. Now Janet knows that your gender doesn’t determine your scientific aptitude.
So Jessica’s allowed back in the club. She gets a little revenge on Janet with some makeup that turns to mud, but since Janet ends up with Denny, I don’t think she’s too mad about it. Amy randomly gets over her issues by performing an awesome baton routine. I’m not sure what the connection is, but she stops moping, so I’ll take it.
In the B-plot, Steven is a huge sexist. He thinks guys are better than girls at science and sports, especially ping pong. The Wakefields have just gotten a ping pong table, and Steven’s obsessed. He gets upset when Cathy beats him, because girls aren’t supposed to be good at stuff like that. They have a rematch, and when Steven wins, he becomes unsufferable. Cathy secretly tells the twins that she let him win so he’d stop moping. But the bragging is worse than the pouting, and Jess ends up telling Steven the truth. After another rematch, which Cathy wins, Steven calms down. Yay, sexism is over!
Thoughts: This book isn’t exactly the best way to let girls know it’s okay to like science, but it’s a start.
“I wish I’d never taken that test. I could have gone my whole life without knowing I was smart.” Jessica Wakefield, ladies and gentlemen.
Ellen once tried to get out of doing a project on fruit flies by saying she was allergic to bananas. Sounds about right.
“You are smart. I mean, it’s only natural. You’re my twin, after all.” I wish Elizabeth were smart enough to shut up.
August 9, 2016
Summary: The Wakefield kids are home for the evening and watching a horror movie with Joe Howell. (Sidebar: I think Joe is a fun character, and I feel bad that he wound up with a disaster of a sister like Janet.) During the movie, the kids hear moaning in the house and Jessica thinks there’s a ghost or something in there with them. Elizabeth is too logical to go down that route and explains how Steven and Joe set up a prank. This establishes a thread that runs through the book: Elizabeth is too logical to believe in things like ghosts.
Aunt Helen is back, and she’s inherited a run-down inn somewhere in California. She wants to hold a big family reunion there, but first, she’d like the twins, Steven, and their cousins Robin and Stacey (Robin’s younger sister) to help her spruce it up. (Lest you think Aunt Helen is taking advantage of child labor to get all the work done, she’s also hired actual professionals. She really wants the kids to spend their summer vacation in a new environment.) The kids accept the invitation, and Steven’s allowed to bring Joe so he’s not outnumbered by girls.
Before they head out, Steven plays another prank on Jess, this one involving a fake bloody hand. Liz, of course, easily figures out that Steven didn’t put a real severed human hand in his sister’s suitcase. Ned and Alice do some actual parenting for once, asking Steven and Joe not to pull pranks at the inn, since Aunt Helen has heart problems and already has enough to deal with.
Everyone gathers at the Lakeview Inn, which has a bell tower, for some reason. That’s kind of the only thing it has going for it; everything else is shabby and needs a lot of work. Aunt Helen would like the girls to clear out the attic so they can access the bell tower. Oh, and by the way, there’s supposedly a ghost up there. Sleep tight! I assume Helen doesn’t believe in ghosts or she’d never invite a bunch of kids to spend the summer in her haunted inn.
Robin and Stacey show up in the twins’ room in the middle of the night, claiming their room is freezing, even though the radiator is on (no one bothers to ask why they were using a radiator in the middle of the summer). Jessica decides there’s a ghost around. I guess Jess has been watching Supernatural, I see. The girls can’t figure out why the room is so cold, so they all just go to bed in the twins’ room.
In the morning, the girls get started on the attic while Steven and Joe work on a boathouse. They tell the girls they found a cave but have claimed it as a secret spot for themselves. Then why say anything at all? Elizabeth finds Alexandra’s diary and learns that she was smitten with a guy named William Cliff when she was younger. She’s surprised to see that a portrait of Alexandra’s father, Phineas, has disappeared from her and Jess’ bedroom and has been replaced with another painting. When she brings Jess in to show her, the painting of Phineas is there again.
That afternoon, Jessica encounters a worker named Bill who tells her about a secret passageway between the twins’ room and Robin and Stacey’s room. There’s a huge mirror in the twins’ room that Bill reveals is a two-way mirror – when the right lights are on, you can see between the two rooms. That night, Liz locks the bedroom door and sleeps with the key under her pillow. She notes the next morning that nothing weird happened, intimating that she thinks humans are responsible for the weird stuff going on, and couldn’t pull any pranks without access to the twins’ room.
But things are still weird: Elizabeth put a fresh bouquet of flowers in the bedroom before going to sleep, and now they’re all dry and dead. Aunt Helen mentions that she can smell flowers in the kitchen, though Liz can’t smell them in the hallway nearby. She starts to get an idea. The twins and Robin go into town to do some shopping, and on their way home, they come across what they think is the guys’ cave. They go inside, only to be met with screaming and what looks like a ghost running at them. As the girls are fleeing, Elizabeth drops her notebook so she has an excuse to go back on her own. As the girls return to the inn, Liz says that she’s sure Steven was just playing another joke on them. But Steven’s been at the inn with Aunt Helen all afternoon. Hmmm, very curious.
The twins wake up in the middle of the night to see light shining behind the two-way mirror. A message shows up, seemingly written in blood, threatening to come after Elizabeth. Liz is freaked out but notices that Jessica isn’t. Curiouser and curiouser! The girls see a grotesque face in the mirror and declares that the ghost is targeting them. Elizabeth suggests that they’re both still asleep and having the same exact dream. Sure, Liz. Suuuuuuure.
The next day, Elizabeth sneaks out and returns to the cave, where she finds two sets of footprints leaving it. She takes some measurements, and when she’s back at the inn, she compares them to Steven and Joe’s shoes. One set matches Joe’s, but the others are a lot smaller – more like the size of Stacey’s shoes. She also discovers a bookcase that swings out to lead to a secret passageway (the same one behind her and Jessica’s mirror).
Liz has now figured out everything that’s happened, but she doesn’t want to confront her sister and cousins yet. Instead, she turns to Joe and Steven for help getting some revenge on the girls. They’ll make a raft, put a fake ghost on it, and have Joe pull it behind a boat on the lake. Hopefully, in the dark and from far enough away, it’ll look like a ghost and fool the girls. Bill pops in to suggest a lighting trick to make sure the girls can really see it. The plan goes off great, and Elizabeth is impressed that the guys were able to use some pyrotechnics to spice things up. The guys, however, tell her they didn’t have anything to do with that.
Jessica takes a nap in the attic and is spooked by some creaking sounds. Then she sees a white figure approaching her. She’s so scared that she tries to escape through the window. Elizabeth realizes she’s gone too far with her revenge and comes clean with the girls about how she figured everything out. She knows Steven stayed home with Aunt Helen so he could have an alibi while Joe and Stacey pulled the prank in the cave. Robin and Stacey made the room cold by opening the windows, then used blue eyeshadow to make their lips look blue (ew). Jessica switched the paintings and cooked Liz’s flowers in the oven, which is why Helen smelled flowers in the kitchen. And Robin used lipstick she bought in town to write the message the twins saw in the mirror.
The only thing Elizabeth can’t figure out is who provided the mask that she and Jess thought was a face in the mirror. Robin says that there was no mask in their plan. Elizabeth, in turn, denies leaving Jessica in the dark attic or sending anyone in to scare her. The girls think Steven must be adding some embellishments to their pranks.
Because this is suddenly a Baby-sitters Club book, the girls find old clothes and dress up for something called Gold Rush Day. Elizabeth grabs a few minutes with a historian who tells her more about the Lakeview Inn ghost: Legend has it that it’s the ghost of a man who died of a broken heart when the woman he loved married someone else. Supposedly the ghost can be banished by ringing the bell.
More wackiness at the inn! Jessica’s doing laundry when bedding starts disappearing and reappearing in the washer and dryer. She thinks Elizabeth is pulling another joke. Liz is the next target of weirdness when she finds that her nice, hot bath has turned ice-cold. She confronts Jessica, who denies any involvement. When Liz goes back to the tub, the water is hot again. The twins decide that Steven and Joe are at it again. But the next morning, they wake up to discover that their beds have been swapped – and there’s no way two 14-year-old boys could have dragged their heavy beds across the room without waking the twins up.
Through all of this, Liz has been reading Alexandra’s diary, and she finally realizes why her picture of William looks so familiar – he looks just like Bill. Just as she figures out this connection, a strong wind comes into the room and almost makes the picture fly away. Then a message appears on the wall telling everyone to get out of the inn. Later, maggots appear, then disappear from muffins Aunt Helen is baking. Suddenly the girls can no longer use logic to explain what’s going on at the inn. They decide Bill is the ghost in the bell tower.
Remembering the lore about banishing the ghost by ringing the bell, the girls focus on getting to the tower. They try to move things around in the attic to get to the door, but the stuff slides back into place behind them, preventing them from going back the way they came. Then the power goes out, so the girls can only see when lightning flashes (because of course there’s a storm outside). Clothes start flying around the attic, which is pretty weak as far as ghost tricks go. Stacey fights back with a bayonet. Stacey’s pretty cool.
The girls head to the tower, though apparently only the twins are there because Robin and Stacey aren’t mentioned for the rest of the scene. The girls find Bill, who’s suddenly glowing. Yes, boys and girls, we’re dealing with an actual ghost. He threatens to kill the kids, but Elizabeth calls his bluff, noting that any time things have started to get dangerous, he’s backed off. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone; he’s just sad.
Bill confirms that he was in love with Alexandra but she was going to marry someone else. Elizabeth has learned from her diary that Alexandra’s father was forcing her to marry a doctor, but Alexandra was going to stand up to him and call off the wedding to be with Will/Bill. Bill died, of course, and Alexandra never married. Bill realizes that, with Alexandra dead, there’s no reason to hang out at the inn anymore, so he lets the girls ring the bell. ‘Bye, Bill!
The kids spend the rest of their time at the inn cleaning, and eventually the place is ready for guests. Steven and Joe try to pull one last prank by dropping a fake spider on Jessica from a tree, but she’s seen so much actual scary stuff that it doesn’t faze her. Then the girls see two ghosts walking on the other side of the lake, which means Bill and Alexandra have finally found their way back to each other. Liz is like, “Well, true love is logical, so this makes perfect sense!” Eh.
Thoughts: Elizabeth: “I’m sure he’s stuck in that dark mine shaft. You know how ghosts are.” Yes, of course.
Actually, Elizabeth’s pretty enjoyable in this book, until she starts thinking there’s really a ghost.
“Nice ghost. Nice little ghost. You don’t want to hurt me.” Hee. I like Robin.