April 25, 2017

SVT #88, Steven Gets Even: Pranks a Lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is Aaron still hanging out with Brian?

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

April 18, 2017

SVT Super Chiller #8, The Secret of the Magic Pen: Ghostwriter

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

Oh, come on, this didn’t happen

Summary: You’d think that after so many summers, the twins would have found a number of ways to entertain themselves, but no, they’re already bored. Fortunately, their parents don’t want to have to put up with them, so they’re being sent to Camp Faraway for two weeks. Come on, Ned and Alice, shell out for the whole summer! Imagine how quiet the house will be! Elizabeth has decided that this is the summer she’ll write a novel, and she thinks that Faraway, which offers writing classes, will be the perfect setting. Someone needs to talk to Liz about her writing process, though, since she wants to write a mystery but has no actual plot in mind and no idea what she’s doing.

Other than Mandy Miller, the twins don’t know anyone at camp. Of course, since they’re such wonderful people, they immediately make friends. Jessica hits it off with a girl named Miranda, who’ also an actress, and Liz connects with Starr, who is obsessed with Shakespeare and gets on my nerves within two pages of her introduction. There’s also an annoying girl named Priscilla who I think is supposed to be a southern belle, but she’s a southern belle as written by a ghostwriter who doesn’t know anyone about southern belles. I guess she’s the antagonist of the book, but she’s not very good at it.

The camp owner, Gunnie (…what is that even a nickname for?), tells everyone that some famous people were campers there as kids. One is Roland Barge, who gained fame writing thrillers before he disappeared. Also, there were murders on the property decades ago. Raise your hand if you would send your daughter to camp at a place where people were once murdered. Now go sit in the corner and think about your parenting decisions, you monsters.

The girls’ awesome counselor, Heather, takes them to Hangman’s Cave for a little expedition. Yes, sign me right up for a trip to Hangman’s Cave on the property of Camp Murder. Elizabeth finds a glowing pen stuck near the wall and decides to use it to write her book. I’m sure one pen – which is very old, so the ink has probably dried up – is all she’ll need for an entire manuscript. She figures she’ll get some inspiration from the research she does while writing an article about Barge.

While Jessica gets into her acting classes (and dreads having to go up against Priscilla in an audition for a play called The Royal Switch), Elizabeth starts working on her article. Only she finds herself writing a story, unclear on where the idea or words came from. Her handwriting even looks different. The story is about a servant named Amelia Champlain who works at a manor 70 years ago. She wants to be a writer, but a fellow servant named Richard Bittle thinks she should keep that to herself, since servants aren’t allowed to have dreams or aspirations. Amelia writes a story, but after she has Richard read it, she sees the title page in the fireplace. She figures the wind blew the whole manuscript into the fire. There goes Amelia’s dream!

Jessica gets her script for The Royal Switch, but when she gets up from the table where she’s reading, it disappears. She finds the title page in the fireplace, just like Amelia did in Elizabeth’s story. This combined with Elizabeth’s story that came out of nowhere make Liz think something eerie is going on. Jessica thinks she’s nuts for believing there could be something supernatural going on with the pen. Strange, since Liz is usually the skeptic, while Jess once thought she was psychic and could predict earthquakes.

Elizabeth does more research on Barge, learning that his earlier novels were well-liked, but his last one was a critical disaster. Meanwhile, Jessica lands the lead in the play, of course. Priscilla gives a horrible audition and then basically disappears from the story. Even with the dumbness of the main plot (I mean, a supernatural pen?), it’s still more interesting than Priscilla, the weakest “villain” this series has ever produced.

Liz’s article gets pushed aside when more of the story comes to her. Richard asks Amelia to meet him on the lake, but when she goes out in a boat, it sinks and she almost drowns. The fisherman who saves her tells her that someone stabbed holes in the boat to make it sink. In the present, Jessica goes out on the lake in a boat and also almost drowns. Elizabeth saves her and freaks out about Jess’s life paralleling Amelia’s.

Gunnie provides some information on Barge, whose real name was…drumroll…Richard Bittle. He was in love with a servant named Amelia, who disappeared one day, leaving behind a note saying she’d run off with another man. Elizabeth finds this suspicious, though not as suspicious as the fact that she’s been writing about things that actually happened. For once in her life, Elizabeth makes a smart decision: She tells Jess they need to call their parents and get the frick away from Camp Murder. Jessica refuses, because she needs to have her big stage debut. The show must go on, even if your life is in danger.

Elizabeth backs down and goes back to her article on Barge. She reads his first novel, Death of a Hangman, which takes place in Hangman’s Cave and involves a murderer being killed by the ghosts of his victims. She continues writing her story, which features Richard luring Amelia to Hangman’s Cave and strangling her. Scared that Jessica will face the same fate, Elizabeth grabs Gunnie and takes her to the cave, where they find Jess about to be strangled by…a ghost, I guess.

Elizabeth writes the rest of the story on the wall of the cave, and it’s now clear that Amelia has been telling her story through the pen and Liz. Richard strangled Amelia and drowned her in a pool in the cave so he could steal all the books she somehow had time to write. The one she had him read wasn’t burned after all; Richard just got rid of the title page to fool her. They find the rest of Amelia’s manuscripts under the stables, along with Richard’s last novel. He wrote that one himself because he had no more of Amelia’s to publish under his own name.

Gunnie and the twins then find Richard’s journal, in which he confesses his crimes. He regrets murdering the woman he loved just so he could get a little fame. Everyone wondered where he disappeared to after his disastrous last novel was published, but the journal gives the explanation: He killed himself. How cheery in a book for preteens.

Elizabeth writes a big article about Barge, which gets published both in the camp newspaper and in a local paper. Everyone thinks it’s quality work and Liz has a great career ahead of her. Jessica also gets rave reviews for the play. I’m so sure a paper is reviewing a camp performance. Liz’s story being published outside of the camp paper at least makes sense, since Barge was a famous writer. But I wonder if she included the part about the magic pen channeling a woman who’s been dead for 70 years.

Thoughts: “There’s nothing else to do this summer. I might as well accomplish something.” That’s probably not as funny as I thought it was.

Jessica’s “always dreamed about going away to camp,” so I guess The Big Camp Secret never happened.

The Unicorns have really screwed with Jessica. When Miranda gives her a compliment after an acting exercise, Jess is “a little surprised. Whenever she competed with Lila or the other Unicorns, they never admitted that she’d done a good job. Is it because Miranda’s super confident?” Oh, sweetie, no. It’s because she’s a nice person, unlike your so-called friends.

Miranda calls Jessica’s purple walking shorts “dramatic.” Okay, Miranda.

Starr: “‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ That’s from Hamlet.” Me: “Shut up, Starr. That’s from me.”

April 11, 2017

SVT #87, The Mother-Daughter Switch: Freaky Friday (and Saturday and Sunday)

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:04 pm by Jenn

I just realized that I’m almost as old as Alice, and now I have to go lie down

Summary: Jessica’s getting ready for a rollerblading fundraiser (creatively called the Rollerblade-a-thon) when she almost flattens a neighbor’s flowers and gets yelled at for being irresponsible. I imagine that the neighbor, Mrs. Wolsky, screams at kids to get off her lawn no fewer than six times a day. Jessica’s offended at the implication that she’s irresponsible… then proceeds to prove how irresponsible she is by throwing together a barbecue with Liz in 20 minutes because neither did what she was supposed to do to get ready.

Alice is also irresponsible, though, as she hasn’t done her part. She blames all the time she’s spent working on a design for Mrs. Wolsky’s sunporch. They’re supposed to be hosting a mother-daughter event for friends, but neither mother nor daughters has bought anything. Instead of hamburgers, they serve bologna and tomato sandwiches with weak lemonade. They couldn’t at least order a bunch of pizzas?

After the disastrous event, Alice blasts the twins for thinking they’re busier than her when all they have to deal with is school and homework, while she works full-time and parents three kids. Ha ha, like Alice actually does any parenting. Jessica thinks being a preteen is way harder than being an adult. She suggests that she and Elizabeth switch places with Alice for the weekend. Alice will do Elizabeth’s project for her media class (reviewing some TV shows – what kind of easy homework is that?) and collect Jessica’s pledges for the Rollerblade-a-thon. In exchange, the twins will decorate Mrs. Wolsky’s sunporch.

Alice immediately slips into lazy-and-flighty-kid mode, while the twins relish getting to boss around both their mother and their brother. Really, at this point, Alice has already won this little experiment – as a working mom, she basically has two jobs, so she’s automatically busier than the twins. Alice gets to eat junk food and lounge around while the twins have to do grown-up things like cook dinner and clean.

Alice does struggle to get sponsors for the Rollerblade-a-thon (and she ends up just giving the money herself), but that’s nothing compared to her normal life. She also has trouble getting the VCR to work, because it’s supposed to be funny when people over the age of 18 have trouble with modern electronic devices, though in this case, either Alice has some actual cognitive problems or the VCR is needlessly complicated. She tries to get Steven to help her figure it out, but the twins get him to agree not to.

The twins get to work on Mrs. Wolsky’s sunporch but immediately hit a snag when they discover how much furniture costs. They also never talk to her about what she wants. It’s a good thing the twins are still kids because they wouldn’t last five minutes as adults (despite their experiences in BIG for Christmas). They spend a few minutes back as their kid selves by helping Steven, who’s now a budding filmmaker, create fake blood by microwaving tomatoes. The kid in me thinks that sounds awesome. The adult in me just cries, “Who’s going to clean that up?”

Alice solves her VCR problem by reviewing episodes of Days of Turmoil that Jessica had already taped. She’s having fun with the switch again, so when the twins come to her admitting defeat and asking to switch back, she says no. After all, when you’re an adult, you can’t just…stop being an adult. Okay, but a) when you’re an adult and you’re struggling to do something, you can ask for help, and b) if Alice had agreed to stop the experiment, she would have proven that being an adult is harder than being a kid. I think she just wants to have an excuse to keep sleeping in and eating donuts.

The twins have to cook dinner again, even though we know Alice doesn’t usually cook every night, so they shouldn’t have to do it this much. They try to pass off Dairi Burgers as their own, but Steven busts them. Whatever – the family got fed, so who cares? The twins then go back to their design job, and Jessica comes up with the “brilliant” idea of just moving the Wakefields’ sunporch furniture over to Mrs. Wolsky’s house. They don’t think anyone will notice that their own furniture is missing for a few days. No word on what they plan to do to replace it.

Apparently Alice is now participating in the Rollerblade-a-thon instead of Jessica, but she’s never rollerbladed before, and it soon becomes clear that she’s horrible at it. Steven tries to help her, but she doesn’t have much time to learn. Now she wants to end the switch, but the twins are doing well and say no. While Alice is off making a fool of herself on rollerblades, the twins sneak the sunporch furniture over to Mrs. Wolsky’s house. Steven promises to keep quiet if they dress up as burglars and let him film it.

The twins find a collage Alice made them all about how awesome they are and how much she loves having them as daughters. She was going to give it to them after the barbecue, but everyone ended up mad at each other, so she must have forgotten about it. The twins hurry to the Rollerblade-a-thon and see how hard she’s trying to finish. They realize that being a working mom is a lot harder than being a kid, and that Alice now sees how they sometimes have it rough, too.

Alice comes home from the Rollerblade-a-thon to find a redo of the mother-daughter barbecue (this time with food and napkins and stuff). Everyone’s happy and they all sympathize with each other now. Even Mrs. Wolsky is happy and thinks the twins are responsible after all. Alice lets them know that she had a backup plan in place – she bought furniture on the sly and was ready to swap it in for whatever monstrosities the twins put in Mrs. Wolsky’s sunporch. Since Mrs. Wolsky is so happy with what the twins did (she must not realize it’s all used furniture), the Wakefields will keep the new stuff. I hope Mrs. Wolsky also got a discount for letting 12-year-olds make decisions about her décor.

Thoughts: How do you “accidentally put all the cheese on one side of the pizza”?

But wait, that’s not the dumbest thing Elizabeth does in this book. She has no idea how interior decorators work. She and Jess think they have to pay for all the furniture themselves. How do they think their mother makes money, anyway?

When the girls come up with a plan to serve the family burgers from Dairi Burger and pretend they cooked, they hope no one finds all the hamburger patties in the freezer that they’re going to pretend they made. So why didn’t they…cook the burgers in the freezer? We know they know how to cook. They’re just so incredibly dumb in this book.

April 4, 2017

SVT #86, It Can’t Happen Here: There Are at Least Two Jewish Families in Sweet Valley and They’re Probably Pretty Ticked Right Now

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

No stripes in Brian’s regime!

Summary: Aaron Dallas’ grandfather is visiting for a few weeks while recovering from heart surgery, and he wants Aaron to get in touch with his Jewish roots. Aaron clearly knows nothing about his family’s religion, and has no interest in learning more. He’d much rather hang out with his friends, and with the super-cool new kid, Brian Boyd. He’s from L.A.! He’s automatically awesome! Besides, Aaron doesn’t see what’s so important about his family’s past, or why he needs to dwell on things that happened to Jews decades ago.

When Aaron tries to go off and hang out with his friends, Grandpa invites himself along. Aaron thinks he would get laughed out of the mall if he showed up with his grandfather, even when said grandfather wants to buy him and all his friends ice cream. He pretends he doesn’t feel well and skips being with the cool kids. Meanwhile, Jessica and Lila get to hang out with Brian, who everyone thinks is awesome. Spoiler alert: He is not.

Grandpa tries again to connect with Aaron, showing him old family photos. Aaron’s like, “Oh, your sisters died? In the 1940s? In Europe? And we’re Jewish? Why is this important?” He just wants to watch basketball. Aaron is why the older generations hate kids. He’s trying to give you some foreshadowing for the rest of the book, Aaron! Pay attention!

The twins’ social studies class has a new teacher named Mr. Levin, who will be spending a few weeks with them while they study World War II. The kids are intrigued because instead of lecturing or doing any other traditional teaching, Mr. Levin has a game for them. For now, all they have to do is wear a white shirt to the next class. Those who don’t will get a lower grade. If you see someone not wearing a white shirt, you can rat him or her out for extra credit.

Everyone completes Mr. Levin’s assignment, still not understanding why it was so important for them to wear white shirts. Mr. Levin then splits the class into two groups, one led by Brooke Dennis and the other by Brian. Each group is now a club, and the leaders get to make rules for the members to follow. Brian picks all the seemingly cool kids and tells them to wear black shirts the next day. Oh, Brian. Just tell them to wear brown and drive this metaphor all the way home. He also enlists Aaron as his right-hand man.

When Janet hears about Brian’s new Club of Coolness, she wants in. Keep in mind that the “club” serves no purpose, does no special activities, has no theme, etc. It’s just a bunch of people who want to hang out together. I guess it’s no different from the Unicorns, though. Grandpa learns about the club and has a healthy amount of skepticism about it, since he’s not convinced Brian is a good guy. Aaron doesn’t see any reason to be concerned.

Brian names the group IN and suggests that they all wear something to identify who’s in the club and who isn’t. Jessica comes up with armbands. Armbands are okay under the Unicorns’ rules of fashion? Amazingly, Brian doesn’t suggest that they make people who aren’t IN members wear some other accessory to differentiate themselves, like yellow stars.

Randy Mason wants to join IN, but Aaron knows a nerd like him would never make the cut. Randy doesn’t get the restrictions and thinks that since Aaron’s his friend, he’ll make a good argument for his acceptance. It turns out Randy is also Jewish, and his mother’s family, like Grandpa’s, is from Austria. Grandpa would probably like to trade his unappreciative grandson for Randy, who’s genuinely interested in his stories.

Brian approves of Bruce’s acceptance into IN, but he clearly doesn’t want someone like Randy associating with the cool kids. Elizabeth is growing disenchanted with this elitist club that does nothing, and she actually dares to eat lunch with her friends instead of the club members. BANISH HER! Brian used to go to school with Amy’s cousin Emily, who’s told Amy some stories that make her realize Brian isn’t as great as people think.

Aaron goes home with Brian after school one day, amazed by how incredibly rich the Boyds are. They start solidifying the club roster, nixing Randy and Amy (cut for being ugly, the poor girl). While Brooke has turned her group into an environmental club, Brian is focused on making his group as elite as possible. Anyone who doesn’t follow his rules will be punished. Jess worries that Elizabeth will be kicked out for not falling in line.

Randy and Winston are both hurt that they’ve been excluded from IN after being so nice to Brian. This just makes Elizabeth surer that Brian is bad news and she should avoid him. Proving her right, Brian has IN litter in the parking lot of Casey’s, which Brooke’s club is on their way over to clean up. Aaron knows this is bad, but he’s not about to say anything to get himself singled out – especially when Brian’s about to throw a huge party for all his cool friends.

Brian notices that Elizabeth isn’t at the meeting and asks Jess about it. Jess covers for her sister, desperate not to let her get kicked out of IN. Brian tells her to make sure Liz comes to his party. When Jess goes to tell her sister how important it is that she come to some jerk’s party so she can keep hanging out with other jerks, Elizabeth is busy reading The Diary of Anne Frank. Jess is genuinely upset over the events of the time period and realizes it’s more important than making sure Liz goes to a party.

Brian cuts Melissa McCormick (poor) and Anna Reynolds (deaf) from the guest list, making Aaron disinvite them. Liz is so ticked at the way Brian’s treating the “lesser” people that she decides to have her own party the same night as his. Aaron feels bad that some people are being excluded, but obviously he’s not going to say anything to his new BFF, lest he be seen as uncool. When Brian shoplifts some CDs from the mall (which…you’re rich, dude. Just buy them), Aaron sees clearly that his new friend is a horrible person, but he’s still not willing to give up his spot in the popular crowd.

Jessica can’t talk Elizabeth into going to Brian’s party, and when Brian almost gets violent with Liz while trying to order her to go, Liz just becomes surer than ever that this is not a guy to spend time with. Meanwhile, Aaron lies about having to work on a school project about the Holocaust so he can go to the party instead of spending time with Grandpa. Brian puts Aaron to work at the party, but Aaron STILL thinks this is a better arrangement than being disinvited altogether. He also thinks Elizabeth should apologize for being rude to Brian and refusing to attend. Freaking A, Aaron.

At school the Monday after the party, Elizabeth officially breaks ranks with IN, wearing her regular clothes instead of a black shirt. Jess is mad that Liz would make her look bad like this. Of course this is all about Jess. When Elizabeth tries to tell her sister that Brian is horrible, he overhears and says she’s paranoid. He ignores her when she straight-out calls him a bigot. (For the record, Maria is never invited to join IN, but Brian never gives a reason. I guess the ghostwriter didn’t want to actually call him a racist.)

Brian wants to punish Elizabeth for her resistance, so he gets Aaron to ask her to meet him after school. When she arrives, Brian and Kimberly Haver try to shove her into her locker. Aaron is horrified but doesn’t do anything to stop them. Jessica comes across the scene and saves her sister while Aaron runs off, finally realizing that he and the club have been acting like Nazis. I mean, not really, but that’s the point of the book. Brian is Hitler. Aaron is Goebbels, I guess.

Aaron goes straight home and breaks down, telling Grandpa that he gets what’s been going on and why it’s so awful. He feels horrible that he let Brian charm him into following all his orders, even though Aaron knew they weren’t doing the right things. Grandpa confirms that he’s a Holocaust survivor, and lost his whole family at a concentration camp when he was Aaron’s age.

Aaron brings Grandpa to class so he can tell everyone his experiences. Aaron compares the Holocaust to the events at SVMS over the past couple of weeks, and everyone turns on Brian. Brian doesn’t think he did anything wrong – Mr. Levin gave him an assignment, and he completed it. So…you were just following orders, Brian? Is that what you’re saying? Mr. Levin is surprised that his “game” got so out of hand, which makes me think that he hasn’t spent much time with middle-schoolers, since they can be pretty vicious.

Brian’s parents will need to come in for a meeting with his teachers, so they can be told that they’re raising a fascist bigot, I guess. I can’t see him having any friends after this, but I guess that’s not Mr. Levin’s problem. And all the students at SVMS learned their lesson about conformity and following the orders of power-crazy 12-year-olds, and they were never mean to anyone ever again.

Thoughts: Jessica, re: IN: “It’s just like the Unicorns, only bigger! And including guys!” Confirmation that the Unicorns is a fascist organization.

Since when do the Howells live in a mansion next door to the Fowlers?

Either the ghostwriter has Melissa confused with Mandy or Melissa’s mom is back from the dead.

I’m floored that this book acknowledges that gay people were also targeted during the Holocaust. People always ignore that. I also guarantee that this is the only SVT book the use the word “homosexuals.”

March 27, 2017

SVT #85, Elizabeth the Seventh-Grader: What a Difference a Year Makes

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 8:03 pm by Jenn

Same, Liz

Summary: Ned and Alice are called to school on a Monday night to discuss Elizabeth. Yes, Elizabeth, not Jessica, the twin you would expect to have a parent-teacher conference called for. Liz is terrified that she’s done something wrong, and normally I’d make fun of her, because when has she ever done anything wrong, but this is a totally normal reaction. It’s like when you drive by a police car and start worrying that you’ve broken the law. Anyway, the conference is for something completely unexpected: Elizabeth’s teachers think she’s not being challenged enough at school, and she should skip ahead to the seventh grade.

Elizabeth thinks this is a great idea, even if it might be hard for her socially. Jessica is less than thrilled, since being in different classes will mean that the sisters won’t get to spend as much time together or have as much in common. Steven tells Jess that he doesn’t think Liz will be able to handle hanging out with the older kids. For the first in what will be dozens of instances through the book, I roll my eyes, because there is not that much difference between sixth-graders and seventh-graders, but whatever. Jessica and Steven decide to try to convince Liz not to move up to seventh grade.

Liz doesn’t think much will change – she’ll keep her friends and will still see them a bunch. But she soon realizes that she’ll no longer be able to write for The Sixers. Amy takes over as editor-in-chief, and Elizabeth becomes the lowest person on the totem pole at the 7&8 Gazette. (Sidebar: Maybe people wouldn’t see the sixth-graders as so different from the other middle-schoolers if they were allowed to do things with them, like work on the same dang newspaper.)

I’m not sure Jessica and Steven fully understand reverse psychology, but that’s what they plan to use on Liz to get her to change her mind about switching grades. Jess will join The Sixers and hang out with Liz’s friends to make her realize what she’ll be missing. If they make the sixth grade seem super-fun, Elizabeth won’t want to leave it. You know, because Liz always chooses what’s fun over what seems to be the best fit for her, especially when it comes to academics.

Elizabeth gets a B+ on the very first quiz she takes as a seventh-grader, and she realizes she’ll have to work harder to maintain her grades. Maybe they shouldn’t have moved her ahead in the middle of the school year? Liz tries to befriend some seventh-graders, but they seem to view her as a child. Again, there’s only a year’s difference in their ages, and one of the girls is Kerry Glenn, who’s never had a problem being friends with sixth-grader Jessica, so there shouldn’t be an issue here.

Elizabeth is invited to a party Tom McKay is throwing (no sixth-graders allowed!), so now Jess has something to be jealous about. She and Steven tell Ned and Alice that seventh- and eighth-grade parties are wild, and Elizabeth is in for some eye-opening stuff. Ned and Alice are really only strict when it comes to parties, and they tell Elizabeth she can’t go. Liz’s new friends point out that the party will be a great way for her to socialize with her new classmates, so she decides she needs to find a way to go. She’s going to pull a trick from Jessica’s book and sneak out.

Jessica gives Elizabeth a mini-makeover so she won’t look like a baby in front of the “older” kids. Secretly, Jess and Steven plan to alert Ned and Alice (who are going to a dinner party) once Elizabeth leaves, so they’ll bust her and demote her to the sixth grade. But Steven realizes that Ned and Alice are so proud of Elizabeth that they’ll just punish her and let her stay in the seventh grade. He thinks that the better idea is to let Liz go to the party and find out for herself how unready she is for the seventh grade.

While Jessica hangs out with Elizabeth’s friends, who are planning the sixth grade’s class camping trip, Elizabeth goes to the party with Mary. The kids play Spin the Bottle, and Liz’s spin lands on Bruce. Liz negs him and runs off to cry in the bathroom. When she rejoins the party, everyone’s playing Truth or Dare. Mary realizes that Liz is going to be dared to do something horrible, so she pretends they have to leave right away. Janet announces that since Liz is going to miss her dare, Janet will think of something for her to do at school. Elizabeth is so desperate to leave that she agrees, not thinking about what Janet might make her do.

Alice and Ned catch Elizabeth coming back from the party, and though they’re upset that she disobeyed their orders, they’re fine with her desire to fit in with her new classmates. Liz realizes that she has to make it work in her new grade so her parents won’t be disappointed. She tells Jessica the party was great but won’t give her any details, since she’s not a seventh-grader and therefore not cool enough to find out.

Jess finds out what really happened at the party from Janet, and realizes she can use the upcoming dare to show Elizabeth that she’s not ready for the seventh grade. She gets Janet to dare Elizabeth to kiss Bruce in the cafeteria, in front of the whole middle school. Amy and Maria tell Liz to just not do it (really, what can Janet do if she doesn’t?), but Liz is suddenly big on peer pressure and worried that she’ll be ostracized if she doesn’t follow through. Someone please tell Elizabeth that she doesn’t have to make everyone like her.

Jessica is supposed to write a couple of articles for The Sixers, but she gets Liz to write one for her. Jess says that Amy can’t handle being editor-in-chief, so Liz needs to help out so the paper goes out on time and Amy won’t be embarrassed. Jess will probably keep this in her back pocket and use it as an excuse again in the future. On top of trying to make Elizabeth think that The Sixers is struggling without her, Jess hints that Todd is upset because he thinks his girlfriend is going to kiss Bruce in front of the whole school. Elizabeth is miserable in the seventh grade now, and she decides to tell her parents she wants to go back to the sixth grade. But they’re so proud of her that she realizes she can’t break their hearts.

Jess and Steven tease Liz about kissing Bruce, thinking they’ll get her to back out. Jessica brings up Todd again, saying that he might dump Elizabeth if she goes through with the kiss. Amy and Maria still think Liz should stand up to Janet and refuse to do it. Instead, Elizabeth goes for the kiss…and then balks at the last minute, announcing that she’s not going to do it. Instead of looking like a baby, though, Elizabeth looks like a boss for dissing the coolest guy in school.

Elizabeth decides to forget about making seventh-grade friends and just hang out with the sixth-graders. They all go on their camping trip, which Liz is now unable to go on, but Alice surprises her by taking her to join them. She tells her that she and Ned realized that, while Liz was doing well in her classes, she was clearly unhappy in every other aspect of the seventh grade, so she needs to go back to sixth. So Elizabeth’s two weeks in the seventh grade are over, and I guess she’ll go back to being unchallenged in her classes.

Thoughts: Saint Elizabeth is so pure and innocent that she’s never heard of Spin the Bottle.

Steven: “One time, a bunch of eighth-grade guys got together and…” Alice: “What?” Steven: “Maybe I shouldn’t say.” I know it’s Sweet Valley, so it couldn’t have been anything you wouldn’t see in a G-rated movie, but all I can think of is dirty stuff.

Elizabeth has green jeans. I feel sick.

While people are teasing Elizabeth about her upcoming kiss, Tom McKay says, “Bruce! Bruce! Kiss me! Kiss me!” So I guess the signs were there all along.

March 21, 2017

SVT Super Edition #5, Lila’s Secret Valentine: Pretty Little Liar

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

Ugh, bunny ears. 12-year-old boys are exhausting

Summary: The Boosters want to raise money to hire a professional photographer for an upcoming Valentine’s Day dance, so they sell personalized cheers. For $2, they’ll give a shout-out to your crush or significant other in a cheer. For $4, they’ll create a brand-new cheer all about that person. Admittedly, this is pretty creative. But the Boosters aren’t going to spend so much time on this project that it takes away from their mission to find dates to the dance.

Lila is sure that Jake Hamilton, who’s practically her boyfriend, will ask her, so she’s crushed when he buys a cheer for Brooke Dennis. To save face, she tells her friends that she dumped Jake last week, so she’s not bothered. Besides, she’s already seeing a new guy, eighth-grader Gray Williams, who goes to a private school. Lila is so convincing when she describes him that no one catches on that he’s completely made up.

Lila figures she’ll just “break up” with Gray in a few days and her friends will never know the truth. But when the Unicorns come over and see some freshly cut flowers, they guess that they’re from Gray, and Lila plays along. She loves the attention too much to tell the truth now. Plus, she doesn’t want to admit that she’s single and Jake isn’t interested.

The ending of the book becomes clear early on, when Lila meets the Fowlers’ gardener’s grandson, Justin. She’s a jerk to him, but he’s hot for her. Justin, get some self-respect, man. Anyone over the age of five can figure out that Justin will eventually pretend to be Gray. But Lila hasn’t thought that far ahead, and is focused on having a hot date for the dance. She meets a guy at Casey’s, but the Unicorns chase him away, telling him that Lila’s spoken for.

Lila decides to fake a break-up, using an onion to make herself cry when she tells her friends that she and Gray had a huge fight after she forgot his birthday. The Unicorns secretly get him a cake and plan to take it to his school and tell him how sorry Lila is. To keep them from discovering that Gray doesn’t exist, Lila pretends that he called her at school and they’ve already made up. The Unicorns are gullible enough to buy this.

Just as Lila’s about to suck it up and come clean, Janet reveals that Sarah Thomas has been lying about her boyfriend. She said she was dating a ninth-grader, but she’s really seeing a seventh-grader. Now Lila can’t risk confessing her lies and being mocked by her friends. She confides in Justin, who quickly comes up with a solution but doesn’t get the chance to share it with Lila.

Lila’s next plan is to fake appendicitis (inspired by a teacher who just had it) so she has an excuse not to go to the dance. Most girls would just fake a cold or the flu, but not our Lila. She has to go all-out. She’s about to collapse at school when attention shifts to Jessica (more on that in the C-plot), so she misses her chance. Lila then tries to convince her housekeeper that she’s too sick to go to the dance, but she makes the classic fake-illness mistake of keeping the thermometer on the lightbulb too long, so her supposed super-high fever isn’t believable. Plus, Mr. Fowler is going to be one of the chaperones at the dance, and Lila knows she’d disappoint him by missing it. (By the way, Mr. Fowler is pretty awesome in this book, and clearly loves Lila a lot, despite never spending time with her.)

At the dance, Lila makes various excuses for why Gray isn’t with her – he’s running late, he’s getting refreshments, he’s talking to a friend across the room, etc. The Unicorns want to celebrate the new relationship by giving Lila and Gray a spotlight dance. When the spotlight falls on Lila and Gray is nowhere in sight, the Unicorns start to figure out that she was lying about him the whole time. But then! Justin arrives, pretending to be Gray, and saves Lila’s reputation. I would find it sweet, but Justin’s affection for a girl who treats him like dirt is just sad.

In the B-plot, Elizabeth and her fellow Sixers staff are publishing “lovegrams” to make some money. For a little extra, you can hire one of them to write a special Valentine’s message to your crush/significant other. Elizabeth gets really into it, going along the lines of “I burn, I pine, I perish!” On a roll, she decides to write Todd a passionate poem for Valentine’s Day. She thinks it’s more romantic to leave it unsigned, and she’s sure Todd will know it’s from her.

Todd, however, is a dolt and thinks he has a secret admirer. He becomes obsessed with finding out who wrote him a love poem. He’s so sure it wasn’t Liz that he breaks up with her. She turns her sadness and rage into super-passionate lovegrams, which disturb the buyers a little bit. Like, they want to tell girls they like hanging out with them, not pledge their undying love. Mandy Miller’s like, “I want this guy to think I’m nice, not that I want to elope.” It takes a little while, but Liz does get the hint.

Todd starts thinking that any girl who’s ever been nice to him could be his secret admirer. Brooke asked to borrow some money, so she must be in love with him! Maria smiled at him, so she must be hot for him! I fear for Todd’s ability to read signals when he’s older. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has become an object of affection for many guys at SVMS, now that she’s back on the market, and even Bruce wants to take her to the dance. Todd’s upset about this, and eventually realizes that any girl who might want him can’t be nearly as awesome as Elizabeth. He needs to make up with her and get back together.

At the dance, Todd tries to apologize with flowers and candy, but Liz is slow to warm up to him. I don’t blame her. When it comes out that she wrote the poem, she has to laugh at his failure to realize who it was from. I guess it’s a little funny that he dumped her for the poet, who turned out to be her all along, but it was also a jerk move.

The C-plot is that Jessica wants Aaron to ask her to the dance, but he keeps hanging out with and talking to Elizabeth. Jess decides to call him out in the cafeteria, while the Boosters are performing their Valentine’s cheers. But just as she’s about to call him a snake in front of everyone, the Boosters perform a special cheer Aaron commissioned for Jess. (You have to read it – see below.) All is forgiven when Aaron explains that he was only talking to Elizabeth to get help with the cheer. Jess is definitely his preferred twin.

Thoughts: This is almost exactly the plot of Love Letters, just for the middle-school set.

Amy thinks Elizabeth should get Todd a stuffed animal for Valentine’s Day. Amy, stop helping.

Lila: “[Gray] threatened to do something drastic if I didn’t immediately break up with Jake and go out with him instead.” Tamara: “Oh, Lila, how romantic.” OH, GIRLS, NO.

Lila’s outfit for the dance: “The top was a sophisticated black velvet bodysuit. Displayed with it were long hiphuggers with huge bells at the bottom.” OH, GIRL, NO.

Here’s Aaron’s cheer, in all its…well, glory certainly isn’t the right word:

“Oh Jessica, oh Jessica,
You make my heart beat fast.
You’ve always been the twin for me,
From first until the last.
I love the way you chew your gum,
Right in our science class.
Around you I am never glum,
Not even when you sass.
Your long blond hair is like the sun,
Your eyes are like the sky.
With you I have terrific fun,
I’ll never make you cry.
You take a joke just like a boy,
You look just like a girl.
I’d follow you to Illinois,
Or all around the world.
I can’t compete with Johnny Buck,
He sure gives me a blister.
And now I find, with just my luck,
You think I like your sister.
But Jessica, you must believe,
There is no other one.
I’d like to take you out tonight,
In order to have fun.
Please say you’ll be my date tonight,
I’ll bring you one red rose.
There’s no way I’ll be late tonight,
Or step upon your toes.
Be my Valentine, Jessica! Love Aaron! Yay!”

March 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 7, 2017

SVT Magna Edition #3, BIG for Christmas: Don’t Grow Up! They Make You Do Stuff!

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:04 pm by Jenn

I’m not sure what they’re looking at. Santa?

Summary: Christmas is approaching, and since it wouldn’t be an SVT book without a party, the Howells want to throw one. Joe has agreed to let Janet invite a bunch of middle-schoolers to his high school party, which is A Big Deal. Janet warns all of the Unicorns to dress appropriately, since there will be older boys in attendance. Jessica is singled out as a fashion don’t. Ouch. Jess vows to find a killer outfit, and to make sure Elizabeth doesn’t embarrass her.

The Christmas carnival is back, and amazingly, Janet doesn’t think the Unicorns are too old to go to it. Steven, a mature high-schooler, also doesn’t find it too babyish. The Wakefield siblings run into each other, and the twins embarrass their brother. I have a feeling that there isn’t a lot about the twins that doesn’t embarrass Steven. This just sets up a slow burn through the book for Steven, who’s annoyed by how immature his sisters are.

Jessica has a hard time finding a party outfit, since everything in the juniors section is too small (really?), everything in the children’s section is too childish, and everything in the adult section is too mature. It doesn’t help that the department-store employees just see Jess as a kid. Elizabeth has similar problems when she tries to buy a book for Amy – everything the clerk recommends is too young, and the horse book she picks out is too expensive. She’s treated like a child as well, so both twins are annoyed that, at the ripe old age of 12, they’re not seen as adults.

Jess tags along on a shipping trip to L.A. with Lila and ends up hitting the jackpot – a woman was having a garage sale and getting rid of a bunch of clothes she’s made over the years. They’re perfect for Jess, and just in her price range. But then Ned finds out that the party at the Howells’ will feature high school boys. Apparently he thought Joe was just bringing some friends over to help set up, and then they would leave. Okay, Ned. Steven plays up this angle, trying to get his sisters banned from the party so they can’t embarrass him. This, plus Alice’s disdain for the twins’ party outfits, leads to the twins being told they can’t go.

The twins try to sneak out, pretending they’re going to the carnival, but Ned and Alice invite themselves along, so they have to go to the carnival for real. The twins are miserable. They head to a wishing well, run by a guy dressed like an elf, and both girls make the same wish: to be grown-ups. If you think this sounds like Big or 13 Going on 30, you’re right.

The next morning, Liz wakes up and realizes her nightgown is too small. At first she thinks she had a sudden overnight growth spurt, but she soon discovers that things are way weirder than that: She’s now an adult. Jessica finds her freaking out in the bathroom, and when they see each other, they both freak out some more. They realize they made the same wish, and both came true.

The twins decide they need to avoid their parents, so they steal some clothes from Alice, as their own clothes are now too small. Jessica runs into Steven, who can’t figure out why there’s a strange woman in his house who somehow knows his name. Ned and Alice start panicking about an intruder while the twins run off to figure out how to get themselves back to normal. Ha ha, no, they don’t. They want to start new lives for themselves as adults.

Jessica’s hungry, so she suggests that they go get donuts, even though they don’t have money. A delivery guy has skipped out on work, so Jess offers herself and Liz as replacement drivers. Never mind that they don’t have driver’s licenses, work experience, or any idea how to drive. Jessica flirts her way to the job and a free breakfast, saying that the twins need to be familiar with the product they’ll be delivering. They both eat a bunch of donuts, because being a grown-up means you need more food. Jess drives the truck, which is a disaster, and when she hits a car, she and Liz flee the scene of the accident, the little criminals.

Having discovered that the twins are missing, Ned and Alice call the police and try to convince them that the girls were kidnapped by the woman Steven saw. The police are unconcerned, figuring the twins just ran away after the fight with their parents about the party. Steven feels bad, since he got the twins banned from the party and then realized it was the wrong move.

He sets out to find his sisters, and accidentally runs into them as they’re dodging the police. It takes some convincing before he believes they’ve grown up overnight. Fortunately, he has some money on him, so the twins get him to hand it over. Steven also offers to make arrangements for them to sleep in the Wakefields’ garage without Ned and Alice finding out. This involves getting Joe to ring the doorbell and run, distracting Ned and Alice long enough for Steven to move things like sleeping bags to the garage.

The twins need money so they can find their own place to live, so they go to a temp agency to get jobs. Again, they have no work experience, no diplomas, and no IDs. Apparently it’s super-easy to get a job in Sweet Valley. Jess gets placed at a fashion company, and on her way to work on the bus, she tells a guy she’s a supermodel. The guy turns out to be a photographer at the fashion company, so Jess is pretty embarrassed when she’s outed as a temp. But probably not as embarrassed as the guy would be if he knew he was checking out a 12-year-old.

The twins both have horrible days – Elizabeth can’t juggle all the phone calls at the publishing house where she’s working as a receptionist, and Jess has no idea how to tackle her company’s filing system. Also, everyone is mean to them, which I find hard to believe. It’s all just to show that being an adult is hard, and you have to, like, work and stuff.

Jessica gets banished to a conference room to put together binders for a meeting. She starts sketching party clothes instead, and the photographer from the bus is impressed. The company has been trying to sell clothes to tween girls, but they can’t figure out what they want. I guess it would be too much work to…ask them? Anyway, Jess is immediately promoted and brought on board to consult for the line.

Elsewhere in town, Elizabeth is supposed to take minutes for a meeting about a book series for tween girls. My favorite part of this is when someone suggests a series about horses, and Elizabeth thinks to herself that since she loves the horse series she already reads, she wouldn’t want to read any other. That’s so ridiculous. Liz decides to contribute to the meeting by saying that the company should do a series about 12-year-old twin girls. This is seen as a genius idea, and, like Jess, Liz is asked to work on the series – which will be called Sweet Valley Twins. Please kill me.

The twins meet up for dinner and celebrate the great days they both had. When Steven joins them later, he tries to hide his disappointment – he wanted to convince them to go to the carnival and make a wish to go back to being themselves, but since they’re enjoying adulthood, he knows they won’t do it. Steven heads home, where Ned has decided to cancel a big meeting because he can’t focus on work when his daughters are missing. Steven realizes that this means he could lose money, which means Steven’s allowance could get cut, and he wouldn’t be able to help the twins. He tells Ned not to cancel the meeting, but won’t say why. Alice and Ned ground him for helping his sisters stay hidden.

Steven sneaks out of the house to meet up with the twins, not realizing that now Elizabeth is struggling to adjust to being an adult. They run into a bunch of middle-schoolers out caroling, and Liz is hurt when Amy doesn’t recognize her. Jessica is now also missing her old life, but it takes a while for the twins to admit to each other that being an adult is hard. And it only took two days!

The girls decide to go back to the carnival with Steven and make another wish. But alas! The carnival has closed and left town! They grab a bus and head to the next location, begging the man at the wishing well to let them in after-hours so they can make their wishes. The man’s wife is with him, and Jessica recognizes her as the woman she bought all the party clothes from. The three siblings make the wish together, and the man disappears in a flash of light. However, the twins haven’t turned back into 12-year-olds yet.

The Wakefields take the bus home, and the twins fall asleep. Steven wonders how he’s going to explain things to his parents. But it’s a moot point – when the bus reaches Sweet Valley, the twins are back to normal. Ned and Alice are so happy to see them that they don’t really care what happened, and the girls’ only punishment is doing a bunch of stuff with the family for Christmas. Well, I guess they don’t get paychecks or proper credit for their single day of work, so that’s punishment, too. And now they have a newfound appreciation for how much easier it is to be 12 than it is to be an adult.

Thoughts: I can’t wait until I’m old enough to be called ‘Ms.,’ she thought.” You’ll change your mind when you’re older, Jess. I hate being called “Ms.”

“[Jessica] stepped into a sleeveless black sheath dress with a giant tiger head stitched onto the front. It was the coolest dress she had ever seen.” WHAT.

You know what will help convince your parents that you’re mature, Elizabeth? Storming out of an argument in tears.

February 28, 2017

SVT #83, Amy’s Secret Sister: Everything’s Coming Up Ashley

Posted in books tagged , , , at 5:04 pm by Jenn

The rare ugly-outfit trifecta

The rare ugly-outfit trifecta

Summary: We pick up right where Steven’s Enemy left off, with Amy’s parents about to tell her what they’ve been keeping from her. Amy’s been worried that they’re getting divorced, but she’s hit with something completely unexpected: Mr. Sutton has another daughter. The story is that Mr. Sutton got married right out of high school, they split up when he moved overseas for work, and his never bothered to tell him when she got pregnant. Over the next nine months (since Amy’s sister is only 18 months older than she is), Mr. Sutton met Mrs. Sutton, fell in love, got married, and conceived Amy. (…Yeah.)

Mr. Sutton learned about his other daughter when she was around six, and he and Mrs. Sutton never told Amy. But now the elder Sutton girl, Ashley, is coming to visit her father, stepmother, and half sister for two weeks. Wow, that’ll totally make up for 13 years of nothing. Amy’s parents weren’t fighting because they’re unhappy in their marriage; they’ve been trying to convince Ashley’s mother to let her come visit in the middle of the school year. Part of me thinks Ashley’s mom has a point, but the rest of me thinks she can bite me for not telling her father she existed for six years and not letting her see her father at all for 13.

Amy is thrilled to have a sister, even though most people in her situation would be in shock, and probably mad at their parents for never saying anything. Seriously, there’s “Amy’s only five so it would be confusing to tell her she has a sister we never knew about,” and there’s “let’s see how long we can keep this a secret.” Amy does feel a little weird when Ashley calls their father “Dad” right away, but Ashley is so awesome that Amy immediately feels a connection with her, and she’s too happy about having a sister to let anything else bother her.

Elsewhere in the Sweet Valley-verse, the Unicorns have decided they need some new blood, but not permanent new blood. Just entertain-us-for-a-while-and-then-get-out blood. I’m going to stop saying “blood” now. They decide to let someone join the club temporarily. Amy confides in Elizabeth that she’s interested, which is partly in line with Amy’s character, as she seems to need validation a lot, but also ridiculous because she never shows any interest in the things the Unicorns like.

Since Ashley is now in town and is, as established, awesome, the Unicorns want her to hang out with them until she goes home. Ashley has experience with this sort of elitism, as she’s in a similar club back home, the Butterflies. (Yes, really.) Though the Butterflies do some volunteer work, so they’re at least more respectable than the Unicorns. Ashley would rather hang out with Amy than the prettiest, most popular girls in school, but Amy’s starting to feel a little overshadows by her sister and all the attention she’s getting. It gets worse when Ashley decides the subject of a school essay about someone you admire will be Mr. Sutton. Amy decides to do the same.

Janet asks Amy for her phone number, making Amy think the Unicorns are going to invite her into the club. Wrong! The want her sister. On top of attention from the Unicorns and lots of boys, Ashley is asked to fill in for a sick dancer in Jessica’s ballet class, dancing the lead in Sleeping Beauty. Everything’s coming up Ashley!

Showing that she is, in fact, pretty awesome, Ashley’s more concerned about Amy’s feelings than she is about being popular and adored. She doesn’t want to take her sister’s spot in the Unicorns (not that it was ever going to be Amy’s spot anyway). When she’s invited to a gathering at Lila’s, she asks if Amy and Elizabeth can come along, too. Amy thinks the Unicorns came up with the idea, so she’s happy again. The sleepover is a disaster for Amy, though, since everyone fawns over Ashley and treats Amy like a redheaded stepchild.

The one thing Ashley isn’t good at is writing, so Amy helps her work on an article for the Sixers about the differences between Sweet Valley and New York. Amy’s pleased that she’s better at something than her sister. Her happiness doesn’t last long, though, as Ashley is still the preferred Sutton at school. Amy is basically a six-year-old in this book, with the jealousy and the inability to be happy about anything for her sister.

The day of Ashley’s big recital, the location is changed at the last minute. Ashley leaves a note for Amy and Mr. Sutton, then calls to make sure Amy saw it. Mr. Sutton isn’t home, and Amy gets so frustrated answering calls from others about the recital that she throws away the note, then takes an angry nap (TM Arrested Development). When she wakes up, she goes looking for a sweater she thinks Ashley borrowed and instead finds Ashley’s “person I most admire” essay. It’s not about Mr. Sutton, it’s about Amy. Ashley thinks Amy is amazing and loves her to pieces.

Amy finally realizes that her jealousy over Ashley is ridiculous, and she needs to be a better sister. She goes to tell her father about the location change, but he’s already left. She rides her bike all over town, looking for him, then goes to Elizabeth for help. Liz sends Amy to the recital and continues the search, managing to get Mr. Sutton to the recital on time. He learns about the note but doesn’t say anything until later, apologizing for not making sure Amy was really okay with everything that was going on. Whatever, he’s still a better parent than either of the Wakefields. Amy and Ashley make up, and the Suttons are all happy.

In the B-plot, Jessica tries a bunch of new hairstyles. No, really, that’s it.

Thoughts: The ghostwriter clearly wanted to give Amy a sister close to her age without a scandal, so they gloss over the details, but…it’s just not normal. None of this is normal. It would have been one thing if Mr. Sutton had never told his wife about Ashley, but to have both of them lie to Amy? No.

I bet the other girls in the ballet class really appreciated having some random girl come in and take a role one of them could have had.

I don’t get why Amy doesn’t just look for her father at the place where the recital was originally going to be. Did she think he was going to run errands beforehand?

February 21, 2017

SVT Super Chiller #7, The Haunted Burial Ground: The “Old Ones” Probably Don’t Approve of This Book Either

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

Yeah, that skeleton sure looks scary

Yeah, that skeleton sure looks scary

Summary: It’s almost Halloween, and Steven decides to pull a little prank on Jessica by making her think she’s being followed by a tall, headless man. Apparently there’s a local myth about two skeletons, one without a head, being seen on Sleepy Hollow Road. Jessica’s relieved that this one is actually Steven and his friend Scott, who managed to ride a bike with one on the other’s shoulders. Impressive! Jessica quickly forgets about the prank since she’s so excited to talk to Scott – he’s in a band called the Skeletons, and he’s hot. Scott thinks Jessica’s 13, which is apparently super-mature compared to 12.

Elizabeth also has a new friend, Kala, who’s only in town for about a month before her family moves somewhere else. She’s Native American, and her time at Sweet Valley Middle School gets off to a rough start when Bruce, Aaron, and Jake Hamilton pull a prank of their own. They use fake blood and a rubber axe to make Kala think Jake has been attacked.

Elizabeth rescues Kala from the ridiculous boys and tries to assure her that the boys didn’t target her for any personal reasons. She invites Kala to come with her to work with Houses for the Homeless, Sweet Valley’s versions of Habitat for Humanity. At the worksite, Liz introduces Kala to Jack Whitefeather, a project chairman who cheers Kala up partly just by being another Native American in a town that doesn’t have many.

Jessica runs into Scott again (with Steven and Joe), and they start talking about music. He’s learning “Monster Ball,” a new duet from Johnny Buck and Melody Powers. Jessica’s thrilled, as she loves the song, and she tries to get Scott to invite her to sing it with him. He humors her, but he’s not that interested in singing with a kid. Jess decides that the Unicorns should throw a Halloween party and invite the Skeletons to play – maybe then Scott will bring her on stage to sing with him. Not only would she get attention and sing with a hot guy, but all the Unicorns would be jealous.

Unfortunately for Jess, the Unicorns don’t want to throw a party, for possibly the first time ever. They think a Halloween party would be childish. Jess talks them into it by pointing out that they can dress up as celebrities instead of ghosts or witches. The girls want to have the party someplace distinctly Halloween-y, and they settle on an old house Lila’s father’s company is about to tear down. He vetoes the idea as too dangerous, but approves of a shack on Sleepy Hollow Road, as long as the girls fix it up (using their Houses for the Homeless skills) so it’s safe. They also have to be respectful of an elderly couple living next door.

The Unicorns celebrate with a sleepover at Jessica’s, the same night Elizabeth has invited Kala over. The girls try to use a Ouija board to find out of the shack is haunted, but Ellen messes up the session by making the board warn the girls to stay away. She doesn’t want to have the party at the shack because they’ll have to do so much work to get it ready. Fair enough. Elizabeth thinks they can donate the shack to the homeless shelter’s Nature Club Scouts after the party, which makes their work more worthy.

Since no one wants to bother with the Ouija board if Ellen’s just going to screw with them, the girls decide to have a séance. Jessica bumps the table to mess with everyone, leading to a fight. In the middle of everything, Kala seems to fall asleep. As the girls try to channel a spirit to ask about ghosts on Sleepy Hollow Road, Kala starts talking in a weird voice, telling the girls, “Do not disturb the old ones.” Alice interrupts the séance to send everyone to bed before the girls can figure out what’s going on. Kala wakes up but doesn’t remember the séance.

The girls see skeletons outside the house as they’re going to bed, but the ever-logical Liz quickly figures out that skeletons don’t wear sneakers. She busts them as Bruce and Jake. The girls invite them in, and as everyone’s chatting, Kala comes downstairs to tell them that the “old ones” are resting and shouldn’t be disturbed. The girls think she means Alice and Ned. Kala seems to be sleepwalking, though Janet, who already dislikes Kala because she had the nerve to talk to Denny Jacobson at school, thinks she’s faking. The next morning, Kala says she doesn’t remember much of what happened at the sleepover.

Jessica stalks Scott, Steven, and Joe so she can invite the Skeletons to play at the party, but she can’t get Scott alone. The Unicorns are starting to sour on the party, since it’ll require so much, so Jess gets them interested again by telling them the Skeletons are playing. Elizabeth and Kala check out the shack, and Kala mentions a dream she had about a bat telling her that they need to leave it alone. Minutes later, the Unicorns arrive, and Jessica stumbles into a cave and is swarmed by bats. One swoops down on Janet, which disturbs Kala, since she imagined that exact thing happening after her dream.

The girls start the clean-up process, but Elizabeth’s mood darkens when a man from Fowler Construction tells them the shack is scheduled to be demolished right after the party. I hope the Nature Scouts can afford the rent on a place in an office park, instead of the clubhouse Liz wanted for them.

The girls clean up a bunch of trash, which they bag up for a special pick-up by trash collectors. But Jake, Bruce, and Aaron pull yet another prank, hiding themselves in garbage bags to scare the girls. Jake gets busted and tells the girls that Bruce and Aaron are in other bags – bags the trash collectors have just picked up. The kids run after the garbagemen and rip open their bags, but the boys aren’t inside. When they return to the shack, there are two bags there, containing the boys. They say that someone moved them, telling them to let the “old ones” rest.

Elizabeth finds an arrowhead on the property, because every children’s book that has anything to do with Native Americans includes someone finding an arrowhead. Kala talks more about her dreams, which featured a bear and an eagle. As Jess continues trying to get Scott alone to ask him about the party, the other Unicorns work on reinforcing the shack so it’s safe. The girls ignore Mr. Fowler’s instructions to respect the elderly couple nearby, dumping trash bags in their yard so they don’t have to take them to the dump (since the trash collectors are mad at them and won’t come back). Despite the Unicorns’ attitudes, Liz still wants the party to go ahead, for Jess’s sake, so she tries to keep the peace.

Ellen thinks she sees a bear in the woods, and Elizabeth sees a bird she thinks is an eagle. She tells Kala, who’s had another dream about all those animals; they want her to tell the others again not to disturbed the “old ones.” Then Ellen finds a skull in a creek, which the Unicorns decide to turn into PR for the party.

Liz helps Jess get Steven away from Scott so Jess can finally ask him about playing at the party. She basically dares him to play in a creepy shack. Scott agrees, as long as Jessica sings with him…and as long as she spends a night in the shack before the party, to ensure no ghosts will come after him. Jessica easily agrees and enlists the Unicorns, Elizabeth, Amy, and Maria to spend the night as well. Kala can’t make it, since she hasn’t been feeling well. I guess channeling ancient Native American spirits or whatever takes a lot out of you. But Kala shows up in the middle of the night, warns the girls that the “old ones” don’t like having their rest disturbed, then leaves.

Liz goes to see Kala in the morning, but Kala doesn’t remember going to the shack. They go back to the property and find more arrowheads, as well as a vase depicting an eagle, a bat, and a bear. Elizabeth thinks this means the property is a Native American burial ground. Kala must be channeling the spirits of people buried there, who don’t want their resting place disturbed so an office park can be built. Sure.

The girls go to Fowler Construction to beg the crew to stop the construction, which goes over as well as you would expect. It turns out that people paid to do a job won’t listen to two 12-year-olds who want them to stop working because dead people said to. The girls then go to Mr. Fowler’s office to talk to the man in charge, but he doesn’t consider their argument strong enough to stop the construction.

On Halloween, everyone gathers for the party, which Kala decides to skip, since the “old ones” are so against any disturbances there. But she gives Elizabeth some Native American clothing in the hope that the “old ones” will see it as a peace offering. Everything at the party goes fine until it’s time for Jessica’s duet with Scott. Things get really loud, and the shack begins to shake. The vase Elizabeth found gets smashed. That can’t be good.

There’s so much noise and so many people dancing that the shack collapses. Somehow, no one’s hurt, despite beams falling all over the place. Everyone sees a couple of skeletons, one of them headless, leaving the debris. The headless one retrieves its head – the skull Ellen found – and the two of them head off together. Everyone thinks someone’s playing another prank, but all the usual suspects are present and accounted for.

Jack Whitefeather confirms that the shack is on a Native American burial ground, so Mr. Fowler wisely decides not to tear it up for an office park. His company is also going to build the Nature Scouts a clubhouse. Mr. Fowler is actually a pretty good guy. Kala thinks this will please the “old ones,” and the sighting of an eagle seems to confirm this. Okay, well, thanks for stopping by, Kala. No one will ever mention you again.

Thoughts: Kala: “It was my grandmother’s name. She was Native American.” Elizabeth: “Wow. That means you’re part Native American.” What would we do without Liz?

Ghostwriter, please do your homework. It’s Melody Powers, not Melodie.

Lila knows what “macabre” means. I’m impressed.

When Elizabeth and Kala are meeting with the jerky foreman: “He gave her braid a friendly tug.” I hope Kala gave his shin a friendly kick.

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