January 16, 2018

SVT Super Edition #12, Good-bye, Middle School!: What’s a Better Twist Than Ghosts? Twin Ghosts!

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

Why does the twin in pink look two years younger than the other one?

Summary: Okay, this is confusing, so bear with me. There was a Unicorn Club series that took place during the twins’ seventh-grade year, and this book, while considered an SVT book, takes place after that series. So the twins are about to start eighth grade, which means we’re more than a year in the future after No Escape! Amy has moved away, and there’s a new Unicorn named Rachel, but pretty much everything else is the same.

There are too many students at SVMS, so the district is opening a new school. No one’s sure who will be going to which school yet, so some of the kids are worried about being separated from their friends. At the same time, Elizabeth has been accepted into a program she applied for that will have her building houses in Costa Rica for a month during the summer. Jessica is upset that they’ll be apart that long, because they’re still co-dependent. Then she hallucinates a Native American woman’s face at the bottom of Lila’s pool, so I guess the Unicorns have started doing drugs.

The Unicorns decide to have a big end-of-summer cookout at Secca Lake. Jessica starts worrying that she’ll be separated from them at school and won’t have any friends. She decides to invite the whole grade to the cookout, so they’ll see how cool she is and want to be friends with her. It’s not the best motive, but her desire to want to make more friends is pretty admirable. Winston is worried about hanging out near the haunted burial ground, which makes Liz a little nervous, too, but no way are they going to miss the big bash. Then Liz hallucinates a Native American mask with a scar. So maybe she’s on drugs, too.

Alice tells the girls that there’s a rumor that the new middle school will use an accelerated curriculum. Elizabeth loves that idea, but Jess doesn’t want to do any more studying than she has to. She thinks they might not end up at the same school. They fight, and this kicks off all sorts of angst about how they’re not as close as people think they are. Like it would be a fate worse than death for them to go to different schools and not spend 24 hours a day together. Girls, you’d still live together. Chill.

Jessica’s next hallucination is a voice at Secca Lake telling her to listen. There’s more fighting between the twins, and more angst about growing apart. They shut up long enough to plan the cookout with some of the other kids. Elizabeth, Randy, and Cammi go to the Bread Basket Bakery to buy dessert for the party, and the owner, known as Bakery Lady, mentions eerie stories she’s heard about Secca Lake. Later, Jess stops by the baker and meets the Bakery Lady’s sister. She repeats what the voice at the lake told Jess, warning her to listen.

Everyone has a great time at the party…except the twins, who keep moping about their bickering. The kids have all agreed to play Truth or Dare because there are some secrets being kept that others want out in the open. Each twin is asked why she’s moping, but neither wants to talk about it. They accept dares instead, and are sent off to creepy places alone. Jess has to go to a place called Echo Ledge and yell, “Listen!” so the other kids can hear her. Liz has to go to the burial ground and bring back a flower.

Both twins complete their dares but realize they’re not alone. The Bakery Lady has followed Liz and wants to tell her a story. Meanwhile, her twin, the Basket Lady, has a story for Jessica. The older twins reveals to the younger ones that they ran the bakery together until the Basket Lady decided she wanted to make baskets instead. They fought, and the Basket Lady left. She went to Secca Lake to gather reeds to make a basket, but she got sick and later died. The twins never spoke again and were never able to make up.

Jess and Liz realize that they need to reunite immediately, before one of them dies. Liz falls in a hole, and Jess starts to worry. The other kids note that she can just use her psychic abilities to find her sister. Apparently it hasn’t come out in the past year and a half that that was all a scam. Also, for some reason, no one’s worried that Liz is in danger. Jess has to guilt them into helping her look for her twin by reminding them of all the nice things Elizabeth has done for them.

Elizabeth hallucinates the Bakery Lady and Basket Lady’s fight, then wakes up and hears Jessica searching for her. She finds Liz, not because she’s psychic but because she knows her sister so well. It’s really because Jessica remembered what she kept hearing about listening, and heard Elizabeth in the dark. Also, I’m not sure how knowing Liz well would make Jess figure out that she was in a hole.

The next day, the twins go to the bakery to see the older sisters, but they’re told that they’re the real owner’s great-grandmother and great-aunt. Ghosts! Of course! Sigh. Also, their names were Bessie and Jessie. Double sigh. And yes, they were Native American, which just makes the whole thing feel offensive. But I guess if it makes Jessica and Elizabeth get along again, we’re supposed to be grateful.

Thoughts: Steven: “Ever convince kids a place is haunted? No? You really should.” Heh.

Lila likes chicken wings? Not a chance.

Randy wants Lois to teach him how to do the twist. IT IS 1998. I won’t miss this kind of ridiculousness from the ghostwriters.

So…that’s it for Sweet Valley Twins. And, at least for now, that’s it for me with books. I’ll be adding a new TV series to the lineup, so stay tuned…

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January 9, 2018

SVT #118, No Escape!: Well, a Landslide Brought Them Down

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , at 5:10 pm by Jenn

I hope Terry gets workers’ comp

Summary: SVMS thinks 12-year-olds enjoy caving, so they’ve arranged a field trip for the sixth-graders to explore some caves. Jessica couldn’t care less about the trip itself, but she’s interested in hanging out with Aaron. Lila suddenly has a crush on him, too, so Jess isn’t thrilled to have to compete for Aaron’s attention. Aaron is a big fan of cave exploration, so the girls try to pretend they’re excited.

A cool new store called Metro is opening at the mall, and there will be a bunch of giveaways and sales. Jess and Lila are dying to go, but all the kids going on the field trip are supposed to attend a mandatory safety lecture at the same time. Eyeshadow is more important than safety, so the girls recruit Unicorns Tamara and Kimberly, here being more useful than they’ve been in the entire series, to attend the lecture for them and take the safety quiz at the end. (Anyone who doesn’t pass the quiz can’t go on the trip.) Since the seminar is run by a group outside of SVMS, the people in charge won’t know that Tamara and Kimberly aren’t Lila and Jess.

Elizabeth, of course, takes the lecture super-seriously, writing down everything they’re supposed to bring along, like garbage bags and three sources of light. Meanwhile, Jess and Lila buy phosphorescent nail polish and eyeshadow. Apparently neon is still hip in Sweet Valley in 1998, so the Unicorns are excited about the makeup. Lila and Jess give some to Kimberly and Tamara to thank them for attending the lecture for them. They don’t bother listening when Kimberly and Tamara want to tell them what they should know for the trip.

Liz packs everything essential for the trip, knowing that this is a situation that needs to be taken seriously. Jess is like, “I have gum and eyeshadow; I’m good to go.” The kids are split into smaller groups to explore different caves, and the twins wind up with each other’s bags. Elizabeth isn’t worried, though, since she’s sure Jessica packed everything she was supposed to. Oh, Liz. She’s in a group with Aaron, Lila, Winston, and Maria – in other words, three people who take the trip seriously, one who would rather be anywhere else, and Winston. Lila entertains herself by drawing on the cave walls with her glowing makeup.

There’s an earthquake and a landslide, and Elizabeth’s group gets trapped. Their guide, Terry, breaks his leg and hits his head, causing him to keep losing consciousness. A bunch of the kids’ bags get swept away by an icy river, which Liz falls into. While her bag (well, Jessica’s bag) is saved, it doesn’t have any of the supplies Liz hoped it would. She has to settle for putting on leggings and plastic bags to warm herself up.

Thanks to the earthquake, the river gets dammed up, and the water level in the cave starts to rise. The kids realize that they’re in danger, but the only way out is a small passageway. It also comes out that Aaron and Winston both cheated off of Liz on the safety quiz, so they’re clueless about what to do. (Even Aaron, the self-proclaimed cave expert.) Elizabeth agrees to crawl through the passageway and get help. She manages to take three light sources with her, but her flashlight breaks, and she doesn’t have many matches. She’s able to mark her path with glowing eyeshadow, though.

The other groups were less affected by the earthquake, if at all, so they’re all outside, waiting for Liz’s group. The kids are worried about their friends, but the group that runs the cave tours has a policy of waiting three hours to go looking for anyone missing. This is a horrible policy, especially with children involved. They keep insisting that Terry’s a good guide, so he’ll save the kids if anything bad happens. Yeah, unless Terry’s dead. I doubt this was all spelled out on the permission slip these kids’ parents had to sign. Wait, this is Sweet Valley. Their parents probably don’t even know where they are.

Jessica desperately wants to go find her sister; she feels horrible that Elizabeth doesn’t have anything that could actually help her. She, Amy, and Todd sneak off to go on a rescue mission. They find the marks Lila made on the walls and are able to find Elizabeth’s group and send help to them. Liz, however, has no idea where she’s going and has run out of matches. She can hear a rescue team searching for her, but they can’t hear her yelling for help. She searches her things and finds a camera Jessica threw in her bag. Liz uses the flash to get the rescuers’ attention and is found.

Liz is pretty ticked at Jessica for not packing right, but it’s hard to hold a grudge when Jessica is apologetic and so happy that Liz is okay. They use the last photo on the camera to commemorate their field trip. Somehow, the book doesn’t end with the kids’ families filing a class-action lawsuit against the tour group.

Thoughts: I don’t buy Lila wanting to go on the trip just because everyone else is going. She should have gotten Tamara to fail the quiz for her.

I’ll never cheat on a quiz again, she thought. On second thought, maybe that was a bit drastic.” That’s our Jess.

Lila: “What kind of cave is this? I’m going to see if Daddy can sue them.” Winston: “Lila…you can’t sue a ground tremor.” She’ll probably try, though.

January 2, 2018

SVT #117, Down With Queen Janet!: No, Seriously, Why Is This Girl So Popular?

Posted in books tagged , at 4:48 pm by Jenn

Horrible girl, cute necklace

Summary: The school year is, miraculously, coming to an end. For real. Janet will soon be moving on to high school, and she’s been asked to give a speech at the eighth-graders’ graduation ceremony. I have a feeling that the students were asked to vote for the speaker they wanted, and they all voted for Janet out of fear for their lives. Janet’s excited about the speech, and about the huge party her parents are letting her throw to celebrate the end of the school year.

She enlists Jessica to “help” with the party planning, which really means that Janet comes up with ideas and makes Jessica write them down and do all the work. The food will be from a local barbecue joint, which seems very unglamorous for Janet, but what do I know? Again, everyone’s so scared of Janet that I’m sure they’ll gush about how wonderful the party was, even if they all wind up with food poisoning.

Janet has been meaner than usual (which I didn’t think was possible), and when Lois Waller spills her lunch on Janet in the cafeteria, she ends up humiliated in front of a bunch of people. Elizabeth stands up for Lois, which just makes Janet turn on her, as well as Sophia. Jess thinks Janet has gone too far, but she’s not about to say anything and become Janet’s next victim.

Elizabeth suddenly wants to befriend Lois, despite never paying much attention to her before. Lois confides that she and Janet were best friends when they were kids, but when Janet started middle school, she was suddenly too cool for Lois. Liz is furious that Janet could treat a former friend so badly, and she wants Janet to be punished. She convinces a very reluctant Lois to throw her own party the same night as Janet’s.

Liz is even more sure of her decision when Janet goes on a rampage of meanness and uninvites various people from her party for dumb reasons. Everyone Janet turns on gets invited to Lois’ party instead. Janet just mocks them all, since they’re a bunch of losers she wouldn’t want to hang out with anyway. Elizabeth tries to drum up support for Lois’ party, but no one wants to get on Janet’s bad side, so they’re still going. They don’t seem to care that Janet’s such a horrible person. I mean, she’s going to have a cool band! It’ll be worth possibly being ripped to shreds in front of the whole school!

Things come close to boiling over when Elizabeth tells Jess she should come to Lois’ party. After all, Janet has been mean to Elizabeth, and Jessica needs to stand up for her sister. Jess thinks that Liz is just trying to be noble, and hasn’t realized that having the party at Lois’ isn’t the way to confront the problem. If no one comes to Lois’ party, she’ll just feel worse than she already does. Liz is the only one who will feel better. This is exactly right, but Liz doesn’t see it. She tells Jess that if she doesn’t come to Lois’ party instead of Janet’s, Liz might never forgive her.

On party night, it looks like Jessica’s prediction might come true, as no one shows up to Lois’ house. But no one comes to Janet’s party either. People start arriving at Lois’, and the party turns into a pretty happening affair. Joe even wants to go, even though he’d implied that some high schoolers might come to Janet’s party. Eventually, Lois’ house is packed, while Janet’s is empty.

Jessica spends the early part of the evening trying to decide what to do. She knows Elizabeth is right, and she should stand up for her sister. But she also doesn’t want to endanger her friendship with Janet. She finally goes to Janet’s…but only to tell her that she’s going to Lois’ party. She’s chosen her sister over her so-called friend. It’s the right choice. I mean, Elizabeth may be boring, but at least she doesn’t criticize Jessica’s clothing.

But Lois feels bad for Janet. She still wants Janet to be happy, despite their ruined friendship and Janet’s behavior toward her. Lois goes to Janet’s house and tells her that if she wants to remain popular, she needs to be nicer to people. Janet admits to being scared about becoming a small fish in the big pond of Sweet Valley High School. Yeah, like that’s an excuse for being horrible to people. Lois invites Janet to her place, and they take the food and band over to Lois’ house to have a joint party.

Jessica writes Janet’s speech for graduation, but Janet ditches it and talks about how she’s only recently realized how important her friends are to her. I guess they all forgive her, possibly because she’s leaving the school soon and they won’t have to deal with her anymore. They probably also go back to ignoring Lois, at least until she throws another party. Middle schoolers are jerks.

Thoughts: Janet’s so obsessed with her party being perfect that Jessica thinks she’s acting like it’s her wedding. Ugh, imagine what a grade-A bridezilla Janet would be.

“There are two parties tonight? I didn’t realize that.” Alice Wakefield, mother of the year. Your daughters have only been fighting about this for a week.

Lois: “All you have to do is start treating them the way you want them to treat you.” Janet: “How do I do that?” Never mind, Lois. She’s too dumb to help.

“[Jessica] had wanted Janet to apologize, and she was glad Lois and Janet had found a way to work things out. But she didn’t want her to go through a major personality change!” Um, why not? She’s awful!

December 27, 2017

SVT #116, Jessica Takes Charge: Even When These Kids Try to Do Nice Things, Disaster Follows

Posted in books tagged , at 4:14 pm by Jenn

This is exactly what working with children is like

Summary: For two weeks, all the sixth-graders at SVMS have to do volunteer work. (Yes, someone does mention that forced volunteer work probably doesn’t really count as volunteering.) Jobs vary from working at a soup kitchen to helping out at the mayor’s office. The tasks are assigned randomly, but no one seems to care if the kids swap with each other. Liz wants to work at the soup kitchen, since she likes actually helping people. Jess and Lila want the job at the mayor’s office, thinking it’ll be glamorous.

When the kids draw their assignments, Jessica gets one at the health trailer, which means she’ll be teaching little kids about health. Lila draws the soup kitchen, while Liz draws the mayor’s office. Lila and Jessica try to get Elizabeth to trade with them, upping the ante until Lila buys the job with $200 in cash and a ride in her limo. Elizabeth doesn’t feel great about taking money for the assignment, but Lila points out that she can donate it to the soup kitchen.

On Elizabeth’s first day of volunteering, she immediately sees what an impact the soup kitchen has on the people it serves. Almost 300 people eat there every day, and the staff is desperate for funds to keep up their work. They’re so busy that Liz forgets to give Andre, the man in charge, Lila’s “anonymous donation,” AKA the $200 she paid for the gig at the mayor’s office.

Jessica has a horrible time at the health trailer, mostly because her supervisor, Nurse Jennings, is awful. Jess has to put together a model of the human heart and lungs, but she has no idea what she’s doing. Nurse Jennings yells at her for snacking on a candy bar, since it’s not healthy. Jess’ partner is Winston, who just makes wisecracks the whole afternoon. She hates every minute of it.

Lila isn’t having a much better time. The office manager, Ashlee, doesn’t want a preteen volunteer, and she definitely doesn’t want one who thinks she should have the red carpet rolled out for her just for showing up. She makes Lila fold brochures all afternoon, like some sort of pauper. Lila doesn’t even get to meet the mayor! The only good thing that happens is the arrival of a cute high-school intern named Paul. Lila quickly falls in luuuuuuv with him and bores Jessica by gushing about him whenever she can.

The next day, a camera crew shows up at the health trailer, and Jessica learns that the mayor will be stopping by for a photo op. She hears the crew talking about the volunteer program; the one for the middle-schoolers is too new for anyone to know if it’s worth it yet, but the one for the high-schoolers is going really well. Specifically, Paul is thriving after being placed in the program as punishment for vandalism and shoplifting. Jess is thrilled to hear that Lila’s new crush is a juvenile delinquent.

Over at the soup kitchen, Liz finally remembers to give Andre the $200. They’re putting on a rummage sale for an Outreach Fair (part of the outreach program that’s arranged all the volunteer work), and things are hectic enough even without Jeff, the young grandson of a worker named Mrs. Tooney, getting in everyone’s way. Mrs. Tooney admires a red cookie jar just like one she owns. Her grandmother used to store money in it during the Depression, and Mrs. Tooney picked up the habit and keeps her money in the same jar now.

A group from the daycare where Mandy’s volunteering comes to the health trailer for the mayor’s photo op. Andre, Paul, and Lila also come over; Paul’s hoping to find some information on nutrition for his grandfather, who’s been having stomach problems. Even though Jess has only been working at the trailer for about a day, she’s expected to give a presentation to the kids. All she has to help her is a pamphlet about the digestive system, but it happens to be in Spanish, so that’s no good.

The presentation goes horribly, to no one’s surprise. Jessica gives a valiant effort, but she keeps forgetting what she’s talking about, and the kids end up thinking that you use both your lungs and your stomach to breathe. Also, the ghostwriter has never spoken with children and has no idea how they talk. The big finale involves a bunch of pamphlets getting knocked over and raining down on Jessica. Thanks to the news crew there for the mayor, the whole disaster ends up on the local news.

That’s not the worse disaster to come out of the presentation, though – in all the chaos, Andre misplaces Lila’s $200. Everyone searches the pamphlets, but they can’t find it. Jessica remembers Paul picking up a pamphlet and looking surprised, so she guesses that Andre tucked the money inside one, and Paul stole it. In Sweet Valley, you’re guilty until proven innocent, so Paul loses the internship that helped turn his life around.

Lila refuses to believe that her crush could do something so horrible, so she goes to his house to get his side of the story. She meets Paul’s grandfather, who only speaks Spanish. Paul swears he’s innocent, and he won’t take any money from Lila to repay the missing $200 and make everything go away. After all, it would just make him look guilty. Lila takes out her anger on Jessica, which is fair, since Jess is the reason Paul became a suspect.

At the Outreach Fair, Jeff tries to argue with his grandmother that your lungs are in your stomach, one of the things Jessica accidentally said in her presentation. He also mentions that he has money in a cookie jar. Elizabeth puts together that Jeff found the $200 and stashed it in the red rummage-sale cookie jar. Liz goes to get the jar from the sale, but someone just bought it.

Elsewhere at the fair, a glimpse of a Spanish brochure about colon health makes Lila piece together what happened with Paul. He wasn’t surprised because he found money in a pamphlet; he was surprised because he found one in Spanish, which means he could give it to his grandfather. Lila and Liz run into each other and go in search of the cookie jar.

The girls finally find the antiques dealer who bought the jar, but he won’t let them take it back. Instead of just telling the man that she needs to look inside (she doesn’t think just having the money turn up will exonerate Paul), Lila tries to buy the jar. The bidding goes up to $600 before the mayor happens to walk by and wonder what’s going on. Finally, Lila explains everything and is allowed to retrieve the money from the jar.

The mayor makes a public apology to Paul and offers him his internship back. Paul gives a shout-out to the outreach program, which ends up getting the funding it needs to continue. The mayor gives Paul some money so he can take Lila and some friends out for ice cream. She picks Mandy and Elizabeth, then extends an olive branch to Jessica. The fair is a big success, Paul’s reputation is restored, and the soup kitchen gets its $200. Happy ending!

Thoughts: Elizabeth mentions a boy at the soup kitchen who asks for a tuna sandwich for his stuffed tiger. 10 begrudging cool points to the ghostwriter for the Calvin and Hobbes reference.

Paul was caught spray-painting “Jazz rules!” Um, what?

“Rich as a toad”? Shut up, Ashlee.

“I’d been looking all over for something in Spanish to give him.” You live in Southern California, Paul. Look harder next time.

December 19, 2017

SVT #115, Happy Mother’s Day, Lila: Pygmomlion

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:05 pm by Jenn

Lila would never wear jeans that hideous

Summary: It’s almost Mother’s Day, but who cares about moms when there’s going to be a fashion show? There are only 20 slots, and they all get taken before Jessica even learns about the show. All the Unicorns are in, so Jess feels left out. But then she learns that it’s a mother/daughter fashion show, and motherless Lila took a slot that could have gone to Jessica and Alice. Lila lies that her mother will be in town for the show. Jess is legitimately happy for her, which may be a first. Elizabeth isn’t sure Lila’s telling the truth. It would seem pretty coincidental to me if I didn’t know she was lying.

Lila tries to call her mother, who apparently moves around Europe a lot and doesn’t tell her daughter how to reach her. This is still more contact than I always assumed; I thought Grace didn’t keep in touch with Lila at all. From what we learn of her in SVH, she would be desperate for any contact she could get with Lila. Lila tries to talk to her father about her mother, but he’s on his way out of town for business, as usual. Poor, practically orphaned Lila.

Jessica wants to make a poster for Alice for Mother’s Day (how…thoughtful?), and she asks Tamara to help her. Tamara is more into fashion than art, and she doesn’t have much of an attention span, so it doesn’t go well. The girls end up splashing water at each other and get in trouble with the art teacher. As punishment, he sends them to deliver some things to the women’s shelter that will receive the proceeds from the fashion show. Jessica doesn’t want to spend too much time with homeless, jobless, sad women, but at least the trip gives her the chance to ask Marcella, an employee in charge of the show, if she and Alice can be alternates in case another mother/daughter pair can’t make the show.

The shelter gives Lila some inspiration for how to solve her problem: She’ll just pay a woman staying there to pretend to be her mother. Then she’ll have her father give the woman a job in Mexico so she’ll have to leave town and no one will spot her later and wonder why she’s still in Sweet Valley. That Lila, she’s a real do-gooder. She checks out her prospects and settles on a woman named Kate who bears enough resemblance to her that people will believe she’s Grace.

Just as Kate arrives at Lila’s house for a discussion of the deal, Jessica shows up. Lila pretends that “Grace” is out of it from a stampede during a safari that left her with some amnesia. This is also supposed to explain why she’s not wearing designer clothing. Jess finds Kate familiar but can’t place her. Lila glams Kate up and goes all <i>My Fair Lady </i>on her to teach her how to be a sophisticated world-traveler instead of some grimy, down-on-her-luck single mom. Kate doesn’t seem that interested; she appreciates the money, but her sophistication lessons mean she can’t be with her real daughter.

Jessica’s coming over for lunch with Lila and “Grace,” which will be Kate’s first real test to see if she can pass for an upper-class lady. There are a couple snafus over the stories Lila has told Jessica about her mother’s travels, so after lunch, Jess decides to follow Kate. She trails her to the women’s shelter, realizes that’s where she first saw Kate, and asks the workers there who she is. Just as Kate and Lila are connecting on a human level, and Lila’s realizing that poor people aren’t icky, Jessica announces that she’s on to Lila’s scheme. Kate blasts Jess for being a bad friend and just wanting her slot in the fashion show.

Lila’s miserable now and knows she can’t get away with her plan. To her credit, Jessica takes Kate’s words to heart and realizes how lucky she is to have a stable, loving family. She keeps quiet about Lila’s lies and comes up with a plan to cheer up her friend. She tells Lila to keep her slot in the fashion show; Jessica will make sure her modeling partner shows up. Then Jess gets a break when Tamara gets the flu and has to drop out of the show. Jess and Alice get her and her mother’s spots.

The girls and their mothers go to a fitting for the show, and Lila is stunned to learn that her new partner is…her father. Jessica told him everything, and he wanted to be there for his daughter. Unfortunately, the day of the show, Mr. Fowler doesn’t show up. Lila gets to do commentary, since she doesn’t have someone to model with. After the show, Alice relays a message that Mr. Fowler was in a car accident and is in the hospital. He was rushing to get to the show on time, but it was raining and he crashed. He’s not badly hurt, and Lila’s touched that he really cared enough to want to do something fun with her.

On Mother’s Day, Lila makes her father breakfast in bed. It’s not great, but it’s the thought that counts. They spend a bunch of time together, probably the most they’ve ever spent with each other. They decide to take flowers to the women at the shelter. Meanwhile, Alice tells Jessica that her kindness toward Lila was a wonderful Mother’s Day present. Yeah, I wouldn’t get used to it.

Thoughts: I hope the people who work at the shelter don’t give away personal information about the women staying there to just anyone, like they do with Jessica. Many of those women are most likely trying to escape domestic violence. I mean, obviously Jessica isn’t going to attack Kate, but it’s a bad policy.

Also, for a town that’s supposed to be perfect, Sweet Valley sure has a lot of homeless people.

Lila wants to wear a straw boater hat in the fashion show. Lila SUGGESTS wearing a straw boater hat. Lila should be checked for a head injury.

I’m surprised the book doesn’t end with Mr. Fowler and Kate meeting and falling in love.

December 12, 2017

SVT Super Edition #11, Jessica’s No Angel: Truth and Consequences

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:12 pm by Jenn

This makes you think the book is very different from how it really is

Summary: Janet Howell is mad. (Janet seems to spend most of her life mad, yeah?) She was supposed to hang out with her boyfriend Denny, but he had to bail because he was studying for a science test. Then Janet caught him playing basketball with some friends. She wants to start a petition banning lying from SVMS. Anyone who lies has to wear an ugly shirt that reads “I am a liar.” All the Unicorns are offended on Janet’s behalf and quickly sign the petition.

The school year is winding down, and the kids will soon be rewarded with a school-wide picnic. For some reason, everyone thinks this is the sort of event they should attend with dates. Everyone quickly pairs up (including Elizabeth and Todd, of course), but Jessica, Lila, and Janet are the only Unicorns who don’t get invited. Lila wants to go with Bruce, despite never having expressed interest in him before. Jess wants to go with Aaron, and Janet has no potential suitors since she just broke up with Denny.

Janet tells Jess and Lila that the three of them can just go to the picnic together. Jess and Lila hate this idea, knowing how high-maintenance Janet is. They don’t want to spend the whole day consoling her or listening to her complain about how boys are scum. They make a deal that whoever gets a date to the picnic first gets to bow out of babysitting duty; the other girl will have to look after Janet.

Even without a date, Jessica wants a new outfit for the picnic. Her math grade has been falling, so Ned and Alice, in a rare moment of being actual parents, tell her that she’ll need to get at least a B on her next test in order to earn a reward. Suddenly, Lila shows up at the Wakefields’ house with a shocking surprise: She got a perm. It looks horrible, but Jessica doesn’t want to hurt her feelings (that must be a first), so she lies that it looks great. She secretly hopes that this will help keep boys away from Lila, which will give Jess a better chance of getting a date first.

Everyone at school makes fun of Lila, though Jess keeps up the charade that her new hairstyle looks awesome. She learns that she only got a C on her math test, so now she has bigger problems to deal with. Her math teacher, Mr. Glennon, offers her extra credit: If she walks his dog while doing some measurements (the test was on converting to the metric system), she’ll earn a B. Even Jessica, who canonically hates dogs, can’t say no to that deal.

Jessica walks the dog, Sparky, downtown, running into Denny at the bakery where he was supposed to meet Janet the day he supposedly lied about his activities. He confides that he really did have a science test to study for, but his tutor canceled the session. He tried to call Janet to meet up, but he couldn’t reach her, so he went to hang out with his friends instead. Jess encourages him to tell Janet what happened so they can make up, but Denny’s stubborn and mad that Janet thought he lied, so he doesn’t feel like making the first move.

Jess has earned her B, so Ned and Alice give her money for a new outfit. She goes to Casey’s to celebrate and runs into Bruce. As Jess hoped, Bruce thinks Lila’s hair is hideous and doesn’t want to take her to the picnic. Instead, he wants to go with Jess. Even though she still wants to go with Aaron, she doesn’t want that as badly as she doesn’t want to spend the day with Janet, so she accepts. Minutes later, Aaron asks Jessica to the picnic. She accepts that date as well, planning to set up two different blankets and go back and forth between the guys without telling them.

But Lila has also accepted a date, and hers was arranged earlier in the day, so Jess still has to hang out with Janet. Jess goes from two dates to zero in a matter of minutes. She realizes that she just has to get Janet and Denny back together so Janet will be off her hands. She tells both of them some lies about the situation, expecting them to make up without going into too many details. Elizabeth lectures her sister about lying, ticking her off so much that Jessica wishes on a shooting star that Liz will learn a lesson about why being 100% honest all the time isn’t as great as it sounds.

The results start manifesting almost immediately. Elizabeth tells Mr. Bowman that she didn’t write an essay for some competition because the topic is boring. She tells Lila that her hair looks awful and everyone has been making fun of her behind her back. She adds that even Jess thinks it’s horrible and has been lying to her about it. Liz then overhears Bruce telling Aaron that, like Jessica, he has two dates to the picnic and is even going to do the same back-and-forth thing she’d planned. Liz tells Aaron that Jessica had the same idea.

Jessica confronts Elizabeth for her overeager truth-telling just as Liz is on her way to tell Janet and Denny about how Jess lied to get them back together. Jess is able to stop her, but Elizabeth then tells Bruce that Jessica has two dates to the picnic. Bruce dumps Jess, and Aaron was already ticked at her, so she’s back to having no date to the picnic. Also, Denny and Janet have broken up again, since a simple conversation about their reunion makes them realize that Jess lied to both of them.

Elizabeth further ruins her sister’s life by telling their parents that she only got a B on her test after she did extra credit. I’m not sure why this matters, since the deal didn’t say anything about how or when the B had to be earned, and at least Jessica did the work, unlike Cher, who just talked her way into higher grades. Anyway, Ned and Alice are mad that Jess misled them about her grade, and they ground her. Jessica tries to undo her earlier wish by wishing on another shooting star that Elizabeth will stop being so honest.

This means that Liz starts lying all the time. She uses the “my dog ate my homework” story on Mr. Bowman. She tells Aaron that Jessica actually turned down Bruce’s invitation to the picnic, but he pretended she’d accepted. She tells Janet that Jess only lied because she wanted to get her and Denny back together. Suddenly everyone’s happy, and Aaron even asks Jess to the picnic again.

Lila tells Liz that she wants payback, but it’ll only work if Jessica is ungrounded. Elizabeth helps out by smoothing things over with Ned and Alice. Lila takes Jess to a salon for a makeover, secretly making sure she gets a perm so she looks as hideous as Lila does. Well, as Lila did – she gets her hair straightened at the same time, so now Jess is the only one with the outdated hairstyle.

That night, Jessica spots Sparky outside her house during a big thunderstorm. She goes to rescue him, in the process getting in a big fight with Liz about how Liz’s recent actions have affected her. Jess just wishes that things would go back to normal. She trails Sparky to Denny’s house, where the poor dog hides from the storm under a car in the garage. Jess and Denny need a way to coax the dog out, so they go to the bakery to get a piece of the cake Sparky liked the last time Jess took him there.

Janet’s at the bakery, buying the last piece of the same cake Jess needs. At first Janet thinks the two of them are dating now, but Denny explains what’s going on. They convince Janet to hand over the cake, then realize that she was buying it as a peace offering for Denny. Jess and Denny successfully get the dog out of hiding and return him to Mr. Glennon. Unfortunately, Ned and Alice are furious when Jess gets home and has a seemingly dumb explanation for why she was running around in a thunderstorm.

The good news is that getting rained on all night has ruined Jessica’s perm (a lesson we all learned from Legally Blonde), so her hair is back to normal. Jess explains to Aaron why she accepted Bruce’s invitation to the picnic, even though she didn’t want to go with him. Janet and Denny have made up, which means Jess can go to the picnic with Aaron. Or at least she could, if Ned and Alice hadn’t told her she can’t go.

Mr. Glennon to the rescue! He calls them in for a parent-teacher conference and tells them how grateful he is that Jessica saved Sparky. He then reveals that he graded her test wrong; she had a B even before the extra credit. In fact, her grade is improving, and she’s on track to get an A in the class. Ned and Alice reward Jess by allowing her to go to the picnic. Elizabeth uses the experience to write an essay for the competition about truth and consequences. She doesn’t know what happened to make her behave so strangely, but it seems to be over. P.S. No one picked up the “I am a liar” shirts Janet ordered, so the store put them on clearance, and Mr. Clark bought one. It’s orange with pink lettering. Oh, Mr. Clark. Why?

Thoughts: It’s 1998 and only one computer in the middle school’s lab is connected to the Internet. Aww.

Also, it’s 1998 and people are still getting perms. Though, according to Legally Blonde, they were still getting them through at least 2001.

“So now that you look good again, and I’m free, I was thinking this works out sort of perfectly.” Even if I didn’t tell you Bruce was the one who said this, you would know it was him, wouldn’t you?

December 5, 2017

SVT #114, The Boyfriend Mess: You’re 12! Stop Worrying About Love!

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , at 4:57 pm by Jenn

Scrunchie sighting!

Summary: The couples from Young Love have gathered for their prize trip to Dizzy Planet. No one’s happy (except for totally-in-the-dark Todd, who thinks he’s going with Elizabeth, and Maria, who doesn’t mind spending the day with Patrick), since no one has matched with the person they wanted to be with. But if they want their Valentine’s Day dance, they have to fulfill their contractual obligations. No one seems to remember that they’ve all been wanting to go to Dizzy Planet, so hanging out with people they may not like is a small price to pay.

Jessica wants to get Todd carsick so she can ditch him and hang out with Byron. The plan backfires, and instead Byron ends up carsick. Byron’s cousin Marshall (well, he says he’s Byron’s cousin, but he sounds kind of uncertain) is tagging along, and he and Maria hit it off right away. Now she’s not quite as thrilled about having to spend the day with Patrick when she could be spending it with Marshall.

Sophia learns that the show is trying to catch “cheaters,” and she worries that she and Patrick will get busted for trying to rig their match. She takes a bus to Dizzy Planet but can’t afford the entrance fee. She manages to sneak in with a group of kids from a daycare by pretending to be a chaperone. Elizabeth also learns about the hunt for cheaters and accidentally stumbles into a way to enter the park without paying – Byron mistakes her for Jessica and brings her in. He also gives her a shirt from the show, so now the twins are accidentally dressed alike.

While the girls search the park for Patrick and Jessica, Maria tries to get some alone time with Marshall. For some reason, these 12-year-olds are willing to admit that they want to ride a carousel. Todd wants to win Elizabeth (really Jessica) a teddy bear by playing some sort of bowling game, but the bear costs 100 tickets and Todd isn’t very good at the game. Jessica’s getting more and more bored by the second.

Liz finds her sister and asks to undo their twin switch so she can hang out with Todd. Jessica jumps at the chance to go find Byron and spend the day with him instead. But she also has to make sure he doesn’t see Todd with Elizabeth and bust the twins for their scheme. The twins and their guys end up on the same water ride, and Jess has to fall overboard to distract Byron from seeing Liz and Todd together. Meanwhile, Liz herself is so distracted by the scheme that Todd thinks she’s lost interest in him and takes off alone.

Sophia finds Patrick and shares her theory that Marshall was sent to spy on him. She thinks Patrick can fool him by pretending he really wants to be with Maria. Patrick takes it too far, though, and Maria blasts him for showering her with affection right in front of Sophia. Good for Maria for being all sisters before misters here. Patrick explains what’s going on to Maria, but now she thinks Marshall was just being nice to her because he was sent to spy on her. Her and Sophia’s day have been ruined.

When it’s time for everyone to leave the park, Maria doesn’t get on the van with everyone else. Apparently this is a violation of the contract, and if she doesn’t come home with everyone else, they have to forfeit the dance. The people there with the show find this amusing, apparently forgetting that they’ll have to tell Maria’s parents that they lost her.

Amy tracks down Maria, who’s moping because she thinks everyone in Sweet Valley is awful. Amy reminds her that she has friends, then encourages her to get in the van because if she loses the dance for everyone, they’ll be even more awful to her. So Maria secures the dance for her classmates, but then Byron, who says he’s suspected the twin switch all day, tricks “Elizabeth” into outing herself as Jessica. He doesn’t care, though, since the same twin who came in the morning is going home with the group. And at least now Todd knows why “Elizabeth” was acting so weird all day.

Everyone goes to the dance, where Byron reveals that he’s been filming them all day for a new show about the negative side of dating. They were only looking for “cheaters” so they could feature them on the new show. Byron waxes poetic about love, and how it can be tough, and blah blah blah, they’re 12, dude. They’re all going to break up next week for stupid reasons.

Elizabeth and Sophia are busted for their scheming, but they don’t get in trouble, so it doesn’t matter. Everyone ends up with his or her preferred partner, including Maria, who learns that Marshall, while not a spy, is really Byron’s nephew. (His sister is a lot older and had a child just a few years after Byron was born. They find it easier to say they’re cousins than to explain their real relationship. No one cares.)

In other news, Janet and Donald wound up having a great day together and are now practically BFFs. Who knew?

Thoughts: The kids seem to think that enjoying their time together is part of the deal for the party, but there’s no way that’s enforceable. Plus, the odds are pretty low that all those couples who were paired off because one of them liked three answers the other gave to random questions would be 100% compatible.

One of the women from the show, when Maria doesn’t show up to the van: “You don’t like it, blame her. Tear her apart Monday morning when she gets to school. Or poison her milk.” LADY. You should not be allowed around children.

Maria is suddenly insecure about what people think of her. It’s really out of character for her.

Marshall calls the SVMS kids “the losingest bunch of stuck-up dorks I’ve ever met.” He’s not wrong.

November 28, 2017

SVT #113, The Boyfriend Game: Let’s Make a Date

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

The guy on the far left is very, very ’90s. Like, every guy in my school dressed like that

Summary: The hottest show in Sweet Valley right now is Young Love, a dating show where middle-schoolers get to question three unseen potential suitors and then go out with them. Ahh, yes, the ever-elusive preteen-matchmaking market has finally been targeted. The show is holding a contest for local schools who want to send students on the show; all couples matched on the show get a trip to Dizzy Planet, a new theme park everyone wants to go to. To enter the running to be chosen, SVMS has to submit a group photo and an essay on why they should be considered.

A bunch of different clubs write essays, and Elizabeth is one of the students put in charge of choosing which should be submitted to the show. Since each essay does such a good job of highlighting a portion of the student body, Liz decides that all the essays should be submitted so the show’s producers can see how eclectic the school is. They have to take the group photo multiple times, since the Unicorns keep ruining it, but ultimately, SVMS sends in their essays and photo, and they’re chosen to be on Young Love.

Now the kids at SVMS get to sign up to be contestants or candidates (the potential dates the contestants can choose from). They’re sworn to secrecy so no one can make any arrangements to choose/be chosen by someone they want to go out with. Liz is chosen as a contestant, while Jess is picked to be a candidate, though she’d rather just go out with the show’s host, Byron Miller. Sophia Rizzo is also a candidate, and her boyfriend Patrick is a contestant, which they tell each other even under threat of disqualification for violating the secrecy agreement. They want to come up with a way to ensure they end up together.

Jess watches the show to figure out which candidates are more likely to be chosen for dates. She realizes that honesty and sincerity are big pluses, but being Jess, she has no idea how to be either of those things, so she goes to Liz for help. Liz is like, “Tell…the truth? Maybe?” Jess: “That sounds difficult, but maybe I can fake it.” Also, this is ironic considering what Liz pulls next.

Elizabeth isn’t that familiar with the show, so she’s worried when she learns from Amy that Byron sometimes teases the contestants. (They’re children, Byron. Take it easy.) Liz doesn’t want to be embarrassed on TV, but she still wants to go to Dizzy Planet, so she asks Jess to pull a twin switch with her. So much for honesty. Jessica doesn’t really care how she gets to Dizzy Planet, so she easily agrees to pretend to be Liz.

Patrick and Sophia start sneaking around to try to meet up to discuss how they’re going to rig the show. Guys, you’re dating. No one would find it suspicious if you were seen hanging out. They’ve heard about the game-show scandals of the ’50s and are worried that they’ll get busted and investigated by the FBI. Patrick’s really paranoid and barely listens when Sophia tries to tell him what their secret signal will be. Contestants get to pick the questions they ask the candidates, so Patrick will need to ask his three potential dates about their favorite foods. Sophia will answer, “Poetry, for woman does not live by bread alone.”

The twins pull their switch the day of the taping, and no one notices. Jessica is up first, and her three potential suitors are Todd, Bruce, and Winston (though she doesn’t know this, as they’re separated by a divider and the guys are using voice-changing mics). Even though Jess makes a fool of herself in front of Byron, she accidentally makes Liz and Todd look like they’re meant to be, or something, by picking Todd as her date. She’s disappointed that she won’t get to go to Dizzy Planet as Bruce’s date, but at least she won’t have to hang out with Winston.

Liz’s fellow candidates are Amy and Ellen, and their contestant is Aaron. Liz realizes that if she and Jess hadn’t pulled their switch, they could have a chance at being with their preferred guys. But Aaron ends up picking Amy, since Liz was too preoccupied by the switch to give good answers, and Ellen probably doesn’t even know where she is. Now the twins can’t even undo their switch and go to Dizzy Planet with the guys they like.

After Janet takes her turn as a contestant and unwittingly picks nerdy Donald Zwerdling as her date, Patrick is up. His choices are Sophia, Maria, and some other girl who’s not important. Patrick forgets the signal question and instead asks what the girls think of poetry. Each gives an answer that includes the word “bread,” so Patrick has no idea which one is Sophia. He accidentally chooses Maria as his date. Sophia’s so annoyed with him that Patrick is probably glad he gets to spend the trip to Dizzy Planet with someone other than her.

Everyone’s upset with the way things turned out, but they learn that they have to go on their dates to Dizzy Planet or the show won’t put on the Valentine’s Day dance that serves as part of their prize. The ones who pulled twin switches or rigged the game also can’t say anything, for fear of having the whole school punished. Basically, the only person who’s happy at the end of the book is Maria, who has no idea why everyone else is mad at each other. This will, I’m sure, all get worked out in the next book.

Thoughts: “Honest and sincere. Jessica thought about that for a moment. It was definitely an approach she wouldn’t have come up with on her own.” Yeah, that’s a shocker.

When asked which Johnny Buck song best describes what he’s looking for in romance, Bruce picks “Forever Fever,” “because that’s what any girl gets when she’s with me.” From an STD, right?

Todd wants to be a dolphin, because “they’re so beautiful and smart.” Oh, Todd. You’re beautiful on the inside.

I’m so disappointed that we barely get to witness the moment Janet discovers she matched with Donald. I bet you could hear her scream from two counties away.

Aaron’s a jerk. Jessica can do better.

November 21, 2017

SVT #112, If Looks Could Kill: No TV and No Fighting Make the Wakefields…Something Something

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , at 5:01 pm by Jenn

No, I don’t know why it’s called “If Looks Could Kill”

Summary: It’s New Year’s Eve, and of course there’s a party. This one will be at Lila’s house. The twins go shopping and pick out matching makeup bags. Jessica’s the only one who wants to actually use hers for makeup; Elizabeth has recently gotten into rock-collecting and thinks the bag will be perfect to store her collection. Jess hates the idea of having the same bag as her dorky sister with her dorky new hobby, so she ditches the bag. Liz does, too, since it’s expensive. So that whole part of the book was pointless, and only sets up a new fight between the twins.

The girls run into a new classmate, Eric, and Jess invites him to Lila’s party. She already has a crush on him, but Eric seems to have more in common with Liz, as he also likes rocks. Meanwhile, Joe Howell spots Eric’s sister, Patty, and tries to flirt with her. She’s nice to him but doesn’t seem that interested. Steven has a much easier time talking to Patty, though she doesn’t show much interest in him either.

The Wakefield kids all go home, where the twins get into a fight over Eric. Alice tells them that their aunt and uncle have invited them to go skiing during their next school break, but the twins’ constant bickering makes her think they’re not mature enough to go away without their parents. Alice, you’re looking at this all wrong: If they go away on a trip, they’re out of the house and you don’t have to deal with them. But no, Alice decides that Steven can go on the trip, but the twins have to earn it.

The twins really want to go skiing, so they quickly come up with an idea: Their New Year’s resolution will be to stop fighting for a whole week. Steven hates the idea of his little sisters tagging along on the ski trip, and he complains to his mother that she wasn’t hard enough on them. Alice ignores this and instead notes that Steven has been watching a lot of TV lately. Steven volunteers to stop watching TV, movies, and videotapes for a week, though at this point he’s not getting anything out of the deal.

At Lila’s party, Janet becomes smitten with Eric and basically calls dibs on him. Then Janet starts hassling Elizabeth, telling Jessica to let her know how dumb her rock collection is. If Jess doesn’t, she may be kicked out of the Unicorns. Remembering her resolution, Jessica defends her twin. Then she has to tell her friends about her resolution, so they don’t think she actually likes her sister.

Some of the other girls decide to make resolutions as well. Lila thinks they should compete – anyone who breaks her resolution has to wear a cloth diaper to the party Janet’s having in a week. For some reason, they all agree to this. The winner gets nothing other than the satisfaction of not wearing a diaper. Weak. Anyway, the resolutions:

  • Amy has been late for school a lot recently, so she resolves to be on time.
  • Maria wants to stop being vain, and will give up looking at herself in the mirror.
  • Lila will stop bragging for a week.
  • Janet will give up all sweets.

Steven and Joe somehow get roped into the competition as well; Steven will make his TV ban official, and Joe will avoid going to Casey’s for a week. The kids seem to be on the honor system for the competition, and the threat of having to wear a diaper in front of their classmates is enough to keep them on their best behavior.

On top of the competition, Steven still wants to get the twins banned from the ski trip, so he tries to come up with ways to get them to fight. Nothing works. Meanwhile, everyone else in the competition gets really serious about it. Amy even makes up scorecards with “kill” columns so they can check off when someone breaks a resolution. Everyone wants to make Janet break, but Lila’s the one who cracks first. It makes sense, since bragging is so much a part of who she is.

Janet proves to be a master manipulator, taking down both Amy and Maria even as the others try to get her to break her resolution. Maria’s easy to crack, since it only takes one glance in a mirror to make that kill. Amy’s tougher, but Janet turns her own manipulation against her. Amy takes Janet to a bunch of places to try to tempt her with sweets, but makes the mistake of eating them all herself. Janet just sits back and lets Amy stuff herself until she’s sick, thereby ensuring that she doesn’t make it to school on time the next day.

Steven is now desperate to get the twins to fight, and he turns to Janet for help. In exchange, Steven will get Janet a date with Eric. They’re not very good at this, though; their plan is to have the Unicorns run into Elizabeth at a rock and mineral show, and make Liz think that Jess brought her friends to mock her, but the twins just pretend everything is great. However, Elizabeth is starting to crack, and when the kids go to Casey’s, and Jess orders the same shake Liz wanted, Liz throws a tantrum.

Because the answering machine had started to pick up when Steven called Janet to present his plan, Joe is able to hear their conversation and learn that they’re plotting against the twins. He doesn’t want Janet to win the competition, so he runs to Casey’s to warn the twins that she’s trying to take them down. Unfortunately, this means he’s broken his own resolution, so he’s out. Then the twins eliminate Steven by talking up some awesome action movie and getting him to watch it in secret. It’s actually an episode of Jess’ soap, Days of Turmoil, so Steven didn’t even get eliminated for something cool.

The twins and Janet are the only people left in the competition, so the twins bring in the big guns: Eric. They get him to bake cookies for Janet’s party, then pretend to be disappointed when she declines to try one. Since Janet doesn’t want her new crush to think she’s a loser, she has to eat a cookie, thereby removing herself from the competition. This means the twins win the competition and are the only participants who don’t have to wear diapers to the party,

But Steven gets one last swing in by telling each twin that the other is going to buy the diapers, leading to a fight when neither has them. This should mean they can’t go on the ski trip, but now Ned and Alice have been invited along, so the whole family is going. Sorry, Steven. The twins make up, Eric dances with both of them at the party, and no one wears diapers. So what was described as a book where the twins fight over a guy turned out to be something completely different (and actually kind of fun to read).

Thoughts: Alice should have offered Steven something in exchange for his week without TV. He had no incentive to try it.

TV shows in the Sweet Valley universe: Celebrity Ping-Pong (which I’m surprised hasn’t become a real thing yet) and The Extra-Late Show hosted by Daniel Betterman. Sigh.

Quotable Liz, when the twins are listing things Steven might like about the fake movie: “And the babes. They were so, like, um, pretty.”

November 14, 2017

SVT Super Edition #10, The Year Without Christmas: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…Again

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

Oh, if only this had happened

Summary: The twins are having a Christmas Eve party for their friends, and everyone has gathered to choose names for a Secret Santa gift exchange. Jessica hopes she draws cute new guy Mike, though really, why would you want to buy a present for someone you barely know? Jess isn’t as thrilled as she should be to draw her own twin’s name, even though Liz should be the easiest person to shop for. She’s gracious enough to at least pretend to like anything you give her.

The twins haven’t yet finalized their plans for the party (which is only two days away), and haven’t even agreed on the theme. Jess wants to do something sophisticated, though I’m not sure Jess would know what sophistication is if it were the pair of elbow-length gloves she probably plans to wear with her evening gown. Liz would prefer a traditional Christmas party with caroling and tree-trimming. When I was 12, I would have thought both of these ideas were dumb. Just feed your friends pizza and cookies, exchange gifts, and let me go home and dream of the presents I’ll open the next day.

Elizabeth has drawn Lila for Secret Santa, and she has no clue what to buy the girl who already has at least one of everything. She eventually decides to make a scrapbook with pictures of Lila and all of her friends. It makes sense: Give the girl with the giant ego a big book of pictures of herself. However, Liz is going to put a lot more work into this present than she needs to, considering the amount of praise Lila is likely to give her in return.

Jess goes to the mall to get Liz’s gift and runs into Mike. He’s looking at hats for his Secret Santa recipient and asks Jessica her opinion on one for a basketball team called the Utah Unicorns. I cry foul (a little bit of basketball humor there, folks) that there would be a professional team with that name. Mike claims the hat is for his sister, Miranda, but it’s obvious he’s lying even before Jessica asks around and learns that Mike doesn’t have a sister. Jess thinks the hat is really for her.

She moves on to look at earrings for her sister and finds a pair shaped like little typewriters. They’re $8.99, easily under the $10 cap for the gift exchange, so Jess is really pleased. But then, like a raccoon, she gets distracted by something shiny. She sees some $10 earrings shaped like Christmas decorations and decides they would be perfect to wear to the party. But she doesn’t have enough money with her to buy both pairs of earrings, and the clerk tells her the ones she wants will probably sell out quickly. Jess convinces herself that the typewriter earrings are dorky anyway, so she buys earrings for herself and decides to come back to the mall the next day to get something for Liz, as well as a new dress for herself.

The twins discuss their party theme again, which means that, the day before this big bash, they have yet to do any baking, shopping, planning, etc. Sounds about right. Jess’s “sophistication” idea is officially shot down. Also, Steven is assigned to be a waiter/host for the party, and will even be paid for it. I would have guessed that this is so Ned and Alice can have someone keep an eye on the party without having to pay any attention themselves, but they end up attending, so this is just a contrivance to keep Steven there.

Jessica wakes up Christmas Eve morning to hear her parents discussing whether or not to give the kids cards from their Uncle Bob then or later. They decide on then, and each kid gets $50. I don’t know who Uncle Bob is, but he’s either very generous or feels very guilty about never paying his nieces and nephew any attention (which could be why we’ve never heard of him before). Jess now has more than enough for her new dress and Liz’s present. Liz, however, plans to donate her money along with the clothes she’s giving to charity. For anyone else, this would be a last-ditch effort to get on Santa’s nice list, but we all know Elizabeth has always been there.

Jessica goes back to the mall and buys a red dress she thinks is perfect for the party. As she’s leaving, she runs into Janet, Ellen, and Mandy. Janet makes fun of the red dress, saying that Jess will look like Mrs. Claus. Jessica returns the dress and buys a silver lame one that any 12-year-old, even one as dense as Jess, would know her parents would never let her wear. Indeed, Alice vetoes the outfit, and Jess has to find something in her closet to wear at the last minute. The horror!

Even worse than a wardrobe disaster is Jessica’s realization that she never bought Elizabeth a Secret Santa gift. For some reason (oh, right, because she’s a sociopath), Jess swaps out the tag on Elizabeth’s present for Lila so that it looks like Jess made the scrapbook. She’s mad at Liz for taking control of the party, and she figures this works well as revenge. Jess has probably struggled to get on the nice list in the past, but this is one year she’s not going to make it.

Instant karma smacks Jess around all night. Janet shows up to the party in the dress Jessica returned, and Jess is chastised for mocking her. Her sometimes excellent/sometimes awful singing voice is awful here, and she embarrasses herself while singing carols. She’s chastised for trying to get food before anyone else, and her friends are too greedy to save her any lasagna. She accidentally breaks Elizabeth’s favorite ornament. Ned embarrasses everyone by playing the harmonica while Winston plays the accordion. Steven tricks everyone with garlic-flavored candy, since he was left in charge of buying party favors.

Mike is late to the party, but just after he arrives, the kids start trimming the tree. Jessica accidentally knocks it over, almost crushing Lila. Jess laughs off Lila’s overblown traumatic reaction, but Mike says that people can easily be killed by trees – his grandfather was. And he doesn’t appreciate Jessica’s attitude when one of her friends was almost hurt.

The kids exchange gifts, and Jessica is secretly humiliated when the hat Mike bought turns out to be for Ellen. Jess is further humiliated when her gift from Winston is three accordion lessons. Lila gushes over Liz’s present, but thinks it’s from Jessica. For some reason, Elizabeth doesn’t correct her. But then Amy arrives late, having been held up by helping her mother make gingerbread houses for charity, and reveals that she knows Liz, not Jess, made the scrapbook. Everyone turns on Jess, who flees the party crying.

The next morning, things unfold exactly as they did the day before. It takes Jessica a little while (I guess she hasn’t seen Groundhog Day), but she eventually realizes that it’s Christmas Eve again, and she gets to relive the whole day. Most people would be happy that they get the chance to make all the wrongs of the previous day right, but…you know, sociopath. (She also doesn’t question how it’s possible for the day to repeat itself, but Jess isn’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.)

As far as Jessica’s concerned, Elizabeth still deserves revenge, and Amy is the key to getting it. After buying the red dress again, and keeping it this time, Jessica calls in a fake order for more gingerbread houses, hoping that Amy will be so busy that she can’t come to the party. As the party progresses, Jess does everything right this time, but Amy still shows up and outs Elizabeth as the real scrapbooker. After all that work, Jess ends up in the same place she was the night before.

But the next morning, it’s Christmas Eve again. This time Jessica slashes Amy’s bike tires, because I guess Jess has never heard of cars. Of course, Amy can still get to the party, and Jess still ends the day in tears. On the fourth go-round, Jessica fakes illness and stays in bed all day. But even though she didn’t put her name on Lila’s present, she gets busted for not getting Elizabeth a present, as Liz is the only person in the gift exchange without one.

Take 5: Jessica buys Amy and Mrs. Sutton tickets to some ice show the night of the party. But Amy would rather be with her friends, so that doesn’t work. Jessica gets credit for the scrapbook, but this time, Elizabeth just pretends that Jess made it. She’s all noble about making Lila happy and letting Jessica feel proud by getting the credit. Jess finally feels horrible for how badly she’s treated her sister. She figures that since she’s finally gotten things right, the repeating Christmas Eves are over, and she feels bad that she won’t get to make things up to Elizabeth.

But surprise, surprise: The next day is Christmas Eve again. Jessica wants everything to be perfect, so she basically acts like Elizabeth. She donates her check from Uncle Bob to charity, she buys Elizabeth the typewriter earrings, she compliments Janet’s new red dress, and she pretends she loves Winston’s gift. Everyone is thrilled with Jessica’s attitude – especially Mike, who wants to take her to a Utah Unicorns game. And the next day is Christmas, which means Jess finally did things right and learned her lesson. I mean, until the next time she has to choose between being a good person and being selfish, which will most likely be sooner rather than later.

Thoughts: If I had Lila for Secret Santa, I would just give her a $10 bill. Though she would probably say, “They make them this small?”

“And everyone knows, red is the color to wear to holiday parties this year.” And every year. Because it’s a Christmas color. Go away, Sweet Valley Fashions store clerk Danielle.

“You know, Mr. Wakefield, I always wanted to play the harmonica.” How does Ken become popular in high school?

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