January 10, 2017

SVT #78, Steven the Zombie: Steven Voodoo Dolls, Now from Mattel!

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

Calm down, Jess

Calm down, Jess

Summary: The kids at SVMS are studying the Civil War-era south in Social Studies, and they each have to do some sort of project. Lila’s somehow allowed to throw a party and call it a project. Everyone will dress up in period costume and eat food from the era. Jessica’s stuck for an idea until she reads about voodoo and decides to try it out on Steven. He’s been bugging her more than usual lately, and messing with her Johnny Buck poster (using a marker to make him cross-eyed) is the last straw. She decides to make a Steven voodoo doll and torture it, getting revenge on him while also completing her project.

Jess turns an old G.I. Joe into a mini-Steven, using pieces of her brother’s lucky shirt as clothes. She tells Elizabeth what she’s up to and swears her to secrecy. She starts doing things like poking and tickling the doll, and is surprised when she gets a reaction out of the real Steven. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has befriended a kid named Benjamin from the homeless shelter. He has some mysterious pain in his leg that doctors can’t figure out. Jessica wonders if she can use voodoo to heal as well as harm. She makes a doll for Benjamin and mixes up some ingredients that she thinks will be healing.

Steven isn’t feeling well, and Jessica gives herself the credit. She’s convinced that her voodoo doll is working. She makes him twitch around while he’s with Joe, who mentions to Jess that her brother has been acting strange lately, kind of zombie-like. Later, Jessica makes Steven randomly do a headstand in front of Cathy. He starts being really nice to Jess, which makes her wonder exactly what’s going on with the voodoo.

The night of Lila’s party, Jessica is ready to wow with her costume. Most of the girls are going as Scarlett O’Hara, and Janet has decided that whoever has the best costume gets to be acting president for a week when she goes on vacation. Lila has told all the guys coming that whoever has the best Rhett Butler costume gets to dance with her. Jess schemes to get Janet to announce that the best Rhett gets to dance with the best Scarlett, hoping that she and Aaron will win.

Since she didn’t have time to get a good costume, Jess (with a hint from Amy) decides to make a dress out of the family’s curtains. She also uses temporary brown hair dye, but her hair turns out orange. She briefly wonders if she’s somehow brought on a punishment for using voodoo. Elizabeth saves the day with a hat and encourages Jess to be confident that she can pull off her costume. It works, and Jessica is named the best Scarlett, with Aaron as her Rhett. She manages to get the curtains back home and her hair back to blond before Ned and Alice notice anything.

In other Jess success, Benjamin’s leg is doing better for no apparent reason. She’s sure that her voodoo is working on both him and Steven. Elizabeth is skeptical. Steven gets weirder and weirder, being especially nice to Jessica even while he doesn’t feel well. He also keeps twitching after she stops using the doll on him. Jess starts worrying that she’s gone too far. She even has a nightmare that Steven drowns trying to save her from drowning.

She decides to try to heal Steven the way she (allegedly) healed Benjamin. She plays easy-listening music for the doll and makes sure it’s comfortable. She gets spooked when she later hears Steven humming a song she played for the doll. He’s still sick, and Jess is afraid that she didn’t stop her voodoo in time. She wakes up from another nightmare and discovers that the doll is lying in some water. She runs to Steven’s room to make sure he’s okay, but she can’t wake him up.

Jessica freaks out and wakes up the rest of the house. In response, Steven cracks up and reveals that he was faking. Later, the truth comes out: Elizabeth told him what Jessica was up to, so he made sure he could always see what she was doing with the doll, then acted it out to mess with her. None of the voodoo actually worked. Steven really is sick, but it’s just the flu. (Of course, this doesn’t explain how Benjamin miraculously got better…)

Jessica still has a project to complete, so she gets Steven to agree to come to her class and demonstrate how the “voodoo” works. The two of them and Elizabeth work out a system of coughs so Liz can signal to a blindfolded Steven what Jess is doing to the doll. The demonstration goes perfectly, though Mrs. Arnette doesn’t like the implications. She gives Jess a C+ and tells her never to talk about or practice voodoo again. Jess caps off the experience by buying Steven a replacement for his lucky shirt and asking him to stop being so nice to her, since it’s weird.

In the B-plot, Todd volunteers himself and Elizabeth to cook a southern meal for their class. Todd is a horrible cook and can’t even follow directions properly, so every practice meal they cook turns out terrible. Todd apparently never bothers to taste what he’s cooked, so he thinks everything’s great. He’s even thinking about becoming a chef someday. Instead of telling him that he’s screwing up and needs to pay attention, since they’re doing this for a grade, Liz just pretends everything’s fine.

Jessica suggests that Elizabeth change markings on measuring cups and labels on measuring spoons so Todd’s mistakes will actually be the right steps. Elizabeth does, but the meal still turns out awful. People in the class even get sick, including Mrs. Arnette. Everyone thinks Liz and Todd just pulled a prank, which I don’t get, because there’s no way Liz would do something like that, especially with a grade on the line.

Elizabeth confesses her actions to Todd, who isn’t upset. He’s just glad that he didn’t screw things up, and still has a future as a chef. Later, in exchange for helping Jess with her project, Liz makes her tell Todd that she had the idea to sabotage everything, so Liz is off the hook. Todd doesn’t care. That was pretty pointless.

Thoughts: So has everyone at SVMS seen Gone With the Wind? Seems unlikely.

Jessica knows what the Spanish Inquisition is but not who Patrick Henry is. Sure, okay.

Dear ghostwriter, no 14-year-old boy says “blouse.”

Jessica: “Mom! Dad! Wake up! I’ve killed Steven! Come quick!” Ned: “What time is it?” Priorities, Ned.

I thought it was working, so in theory, it did kind of work.” With logic like that, Jessica has a future as a politician.

January 3, 2017

SVT #77, Todd Runs Away: Put the Ball in the Hoop and Stop Trying to Get Good Grades

Posted in books tagged , at 4:49 pm by Jenn

Back in 1994, I would have wanted Elizabeth's jacket

Back in 1994, I would have wanted Elizabeth’s jacket

Summary: Todd is the new star of SVMS’s basketball team, which is in the middle of a winning streak thanks to him. Everyone at school loves him, including the Unicorns. His dad is especially proud because he wanted to be a pro basketball player but had to give up his dream because of knee problems. So now he lives vicariously through his son, though he won’t admit it.

SVMS is offering a new creative writing class that Mr. Bowman gets to pick students to participate in for a few weeks. Apparently the students who are chosen can’t opt out, which is dumb, since it’s an after-school thing. Todd is worried that he’ll be chosen, since he has basketball practice right after the class is supposed to take place. Plus, he thinks there will be a lot of extra work. Of course, he does get chosen, and Mr. Bowman won’t let him back out. He thinks Todd shows a lot of potential as a writer and wants him to develop his skills.

The class is taught by a guy named Mark Ramirez who’s brought in from outside the school. He’s every cliché you’ve seen in the young, hip teacher who wants to connect with his students. They can call him Mark! Todd is immediately interested in writing and puts in a lot of work on a story about making a difficult decision. He even skips out on shooting hoops with his father. Mr. Wilkins is concerned that Mark is assigning too much work. The thing is that he really isn’t – he tells the kids to write a story that’s three pages long or so, and Todd just chooses to do a lot of work on it.

It pays off, as Mark thinks Todd wrote the best story in the class. But all that writing took time away from practice, so Todd doesn’t play as well as usual in the next basketball game. Mr. Wilkins is ticked. How dare Todd enjoy writing as much as he enjoys basketball! How dare he want to do well in a class if it’ll conflict with a sport! How dare he want to go see a play with his class when he should be practicing! He’s also mad that Mark doesn’t use textbooks to teach. Shut up, Mr. Wilkins.

Todd’s father says he can make his own choice about going to the play; of course Mr. Wilkins wants him to choose to go to practice instead. He doesn’t, and in the next game, Todd misses the winning shot. The team’s winning streak is over. What’s nice is that the coach doesn’t hold it against him, because the coach is a better parent toward Todd than his own father is. Now Mr. Wilkins wants Todd to drop out of the writing class, since it’s taking too much time away from basketball.

Todd talks to Mark, who gets him to realize that he likes writing and doesn’t necessarily want to choose basketball over the class. Todd gains some courage and tells his dad he’s not dropping the class. Mr. Wilkins is furious and decides to go after Mark. He goes to the principal, Mr. Clark, and complains that Mark gives his students too much work. Mrs. Wilkins, by the way, is useless in this book. Apparently she’s totally okay with her husband basically bullying their child.

Some of Todd’s friends see his father going in to talk to Mr. Clark and wonder what’s going on. Todd worries that his dad is going to get Mark fired. Mr. Wilkins says nothing happened in the meeting, but then Todd overhears him calling Alice in an attempt to rally all the parents against Mark. His classmates think he complained to his dad about Mark, and now Mark’s going to get in trouble. Instead of explaining what’s really going on, Todd ditches school to avoid everyone.

Mr. Clark suspends Todd from the basketball team for skipping school, so Todd’s life is just getting worse. He ditches school again, this time planning to run away. Now that he can’t play basketball, his father’s mad at him, and his friends have all turned on him, he doesn’t see a reason to stay in town. The kid thinks $50 and a can-do attitude will help him get by in San Diego. Good luck renting an apartment, buddy. Apparently he’s learned nothing from the assignment about making difficult decisions. He’s just giving up and not making any decisions.

Mr. Clark changes his mind about Todd’s punishment, letting him back on the team as long as he serves a few detentions. Todd, however, is already on his way to the bus station when the news gets out. Todd’s friends find out about the new punishment, and Elizabeth tracks Todd down and lets him know about it. He doesn’t care and continues his plan to run away. But Liz knows something’s up and follows him to the bus station. When he falls asleep waiting for his bus, Liz calls his parents.

Now that he’s realized how distraught Todd has become, Mr. Wilkins finally feels bad. He comes to the station and reveals that he actually talked to Mark and learned he’s a good guy. Todd will be allowed to come to practice a little bit late, and he won’t have to do as much work in the class. Which…he didn’t have to do that much work in the first place. He wanted to. But why would Mr. Wilkins want to encourage Todd in an activity he likes when he can push him to be successful at a sport he has a 2% chance of playing professionally someday? What’s Mr. Wilkins’ damage?

In the B-plot, the twins have realized separately that it’s time for them to start wearing bras. They’re too nervous to actually talk to each other about it (and Alice is too useless a parent for them to talk to her), so Jessica leaves a magazine ad for bras in Elizabeth’s closet in hopes of starting a conversation. Liz finds it and hides it in Jessica’s room. Eventually they “find” the ad together and agree to go bra shopping together.

There’s a pep rally on Wednesday, so the girls decide to go to Kendall’s then, since everyone at school will be occupied. But they spot Rick Hunter’s mother at the store and worry that she’ll say something to Rick about seeing them there. The next time they go, they see Caroline Pearce and run away before she can see what they’re shopping for. Panicking about Mrs. Hunter was an overreaction, but I have to say, leaving before Caroline could see them was a good move.

The twins go back to Kendall’s a third time, but they can’t just sneak in and out with their purchases: They’re customers 1,000,001 and 1,000,002, and Kendall’s wants to use them in their ads for the next year. Plus, they get 10% off anything they buy for the year. Wow, 10%. Way to be generous, Kendall’s. The girls panic and run again.

On their fourth attempt, right before a big basketball game, the girls encounter a super-loud employee who doesn’t get that 12-year-old girls buying their first bras might want a little discretion. They finally manage to get their bras, but on the way home, the bag breaks and the bras fall out in front of some of their guy friends. Womp womp. It’s probably more embarrassing for the guys than for the girls. The twins decide to buy from a mail-order catalog next time. Wait until the Internet comes around – they’ll be ecstatic.

Thoughts: Continuity alert: Pamela Jacobson exists again.

First description of Mark: “Instead of a suit and tie, he was wearing faded jeans and high-top sneakers.” That means he’s fun, guys! He’s not like a regular teacher, he’s a cool teacher!

“I already know what I want to write about: a girl who has to choose between being a mystery writer and a journalist.” Now I have to choose between telling Elizabeth to shut up and telling her to stuff it.

“That class is going to ruin your chance to make something of yourself.” Is this the first time a parent has argued AGAINST school being vital to a child’s future?

December 27, 2016

SVT #76, Yours for a Day: Indentured Servitude Has Never Been So Romantic

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

I can't believe the Unicorns let Mandy wear this outfit in public

I can’t believe the Unicorns let Mandy wear this outfit in public

Summary: Valentine’s Day is approaching, as is a Valentine’s Day dance at SVMS. The Unicorns (spurred on by Mandy) are organizing a fundraiser for the local children’s hospital (appropriately named Children’s Hospital) in which students can hire a personal servant for a day or two. Ellen wants to call it Yours for a Day, but the other girls say that’s dumb since the fundraiser takes place over two days. But that’s what the book is called, so I guess Ellen wins in the end. Anyway, for $5 you can hire someone for a day, and for $10 you get someone over two days. The “servants” don’t have to pay, but they also don’t get compensated, so servants are just volunteering out of the kindness of their hearts.

Mandy has a crush on a guy named Peter Jeffries, but she’s too nervous to ask him to the dance. When she calls to talk to him, she just hangs up the phone. Oh, Mandy, we’ve all been there. She also can barely speak to Peter when he comes by the Unicorns’ table to sign up to be a servant. Jessica realizes that if Peter and Mandy (who will be a master) get paired up, she can order him to take her to the dance. How romantic.

At the drawing, Mandy winds up as Jessica’s servant, which Jess is thrilled about. Not only is she paired with a friend (the other girls were worried about being paired with people they don’t like), but she can order Mandy to ask Peter to the dance. The drawback here is that the Unicorns are working as both servants and masters, and Jess winds up as Lloyd Benson’s servant. Lila’s working for Peter, and Janet’s working for Winston. Ha ha!

Lloyd’s annoyed with Jessica for the earthquake stuff in the last book, so he makes her do lots of stuff for him. If Jess were really smart, she would have Mandy do it for her. Instead, she tells Mandy that her only task is to ask Peter to the dance. Mandy manages to pull herself together and do it…but Peter already has a date to the dance. Aw, Mandy. At least he’s nice about having to turn her down.

Still, Mandy feels humiliated and gets mad at Jessica. She gets a little pleasure out of watching Jessica do dumb things on Lloyd’s orders, like eat gross cafeteria food and help him with science experiments. Aaron feels bad for Jess and tries to think of a way to get her switched to him so Lloyd can’t mess with her anymore. Elizabeth correctly guesses that Lloyd won’t agree to a switch since he’s eager to get revenge on Jessica.

Jessica is also hoping to switch, and she even asks Elizabeth to be Lloyd’s servant. Liz balks, but since Jess rigged the drawing for her and Amy (see the B-plot), she eventually agrees. But Lila and Mandy, scheming against Jessica, pull their own switch. Jessica was supposed to work for Belinda, so the girls get Belinda to switch servants with Mandy, making Jessica serve Mandy instead. In the meantime, Aaron convinces Lloyd to switch with him, thinking he’d get Jessica. Now he has Elizabeth as a servant.

The usually-not-vindictive Mandy makes Jessica sing “Feelings” in the cafeteria so she’ll be humiliated like she inadvertently humiliated Mandy. The song makes Grace Oliver cry, but not from horribleness. She and Winston had been going out, or whatever the 12-year-old equivalent of that is, but they had a huge fight and aren’t speaking. Grace asked Peter to the dance, but now she wants to make up with Winston and go with him. Jessica realizes that she has the opportunity to make everyone happy.

She goes to Lloyd, who’s Grace’s master for the day, and gets him to switch servants with Winston. Winston thinks he’s getting Jessica as a servant, but he’s getting Grace. They quickly make up and will be going to the dance together. Half of Jess’ plan is a success, even though the switch means Lloyd will be Janet’s master.

Jessica tries to negotiate with Lila to get her to make Peter, her new servant, ask Mandy to the dance. Lila wants too much in return, so Jess just calls Peter on her own. But it turns out that her work is done, and Mandy and Peter have already decided to go to the dance together. Once Peter learned that Grace was going with Winston, he asked Mandy, the person he’d wanted to go with in the first place. He wasn’t sure Mandy liked him, but once Jessica made her ask him to the dance, he realized she did. So Jess’ meddling helped a couple get together!

The new couple has a great time at the dance, and the master/servant fundraiser makes $800 for the hospital. Jessica’s the only one who’s not happy at the end, since Janet makes Lloyd a certificate entitling him to another day of servitude from Jessica. I guess it’s a small price to pay for a successful fundraiser.

In the B-plot, Elizabeth and Amy are annoyed with Todd and Ken, who are just acting like typical preteen boys. They play a prank on the boys, getting them to eat mayo instead of vanilla pudding. They think this makes them even, especially when the guys send the girls on a scavenger hunt for what the girls think will be invitations to the dance. They get the invitations, but they also get drenched with cold water. The girls decide they need more revenge.

Elizabeth and Amy get Jessica to rig the master/servant drawing so Todd will be Liz’s servant and Ken will be Amy’s. Then they make the guys do things like wear embarrassing ties, walk on their hands in the cafeteria, and give the wrong answers in class. The guys handle things well, and still want to take the girls to the dance. They’re even going to get them corsages. The girls think they’ve learned their lesson and are going to be gentlemen from now on.

On Valentine’s Day, the girls spend most of the dance sneezing. They figure out that the guys got one last revenge by putting sneezing powder in their corsages. The girls get revenge right back by making them sing “Feelings” in front of everyone. I guess this evens things up, as the pranks stop. The girls were definitely winning that war anyway.

Thoughts: Grace is in a lot more books than I remembered. I really didn’t think she was ever mentioned again after The Big Camp Secret.

I can’t believe Amy and Elizabeth didn’t think the guys might try to get them back after everything they had to do as servants. I would expect Elizabeth to be smarter than that.

“Daddy would give more, but he already donated a whole wing to the hospital, and he didn’t want to overdo it.” Oh, of course not. There’s such a thing as helping too many sick children.

November 15, 2016

SVT #71, Jessica Saves the Trees: Soccer? I Hardly Even Know Her!

Posted in books tagged , , , at 4:59 pm by Jenn

Untuck your shirts, you nerds

Untuck your shirts, you nerds

Summary: Soccer has become a big deal at SVMS, especially since the boys have just qualified for division A. (Apparently this means they’re really good.) As boys try out for the team, they dedicate their goals to the girls they like. I had no idea this was a thing. Jessica’s excited that Aaron might make a goal and dedicate it to her. Considering how low-scoring soccer games can be, she may have to wait a while.

Elizabeth isn’t having such a great day – she wrote an article for the Sixers about two boys being kicked out of a new sweet shop, and the shop owner, Mrs. Simmons, is upset that she wasn’t interviewed. The article said that the boys were turned away because Mrs. Simmons doesn’t like kids, but she claims it’s because they started a food fight the last time they were there. Elizabeth is embarrassed, and Mr. Bowman is unhappy with her failure to get both sides of the story.

At the scrimmage that serves as tryouts for the soccer team, Aaron dedicates two goals to Jessica. The Unicorns fawn all over her, except Lila, who’s jealous. Janet thinks Denny Jacobson is going to dedicate a goal to her, but he gives a shout-out to his English teacher instead, since he failed a test last week. Heh. Jess thinks Elizabeth should write an article about Aaron and the goals, though of course it should focus on Jess rather than Aaron’s accomplishments. Liz knows better than to write something stupid just to boost her sister’s ego, but at least she can hide behind the excuse of journalistic integrity.

Jess watches an interview with her favorite actress, Lois Latimer, who’s really into activism. She encourages kids to get involved in good causes because doing so makes people beautiful. Jess realizes how many protests her parents were involved in back in college, and starts to think that activism really does make you more attractive. You know, like how all the people who marched for Civil Rights woke up the next morning with magically clearer skin.

Liz writes a correction piece to retract what she reported about the boys at the sweet shop. But she’s in for another embarrassment, as she accidentally publishes a version where Amy added a line about the boys being jerks for lying to Liz about the reason for their banishment. Liz is in trouble with Mr. Bowman again. Doesn’t he read the paper before it’s published? Later, it turns out that Mrs. Simmons mistook the two boys for two other troublemakers, so their banishment was based on mistaken identity. Maybe she should just require all kids in her shop to be chaperoned. Anyway, the whole thing is a mess, and everyone’s upset with Elizabeth for not covering all the angles of the story.

The students receive some bad news: The school’s soccer field is a few yards too short for regulation size, which means they can’t compete in division A after all. No other fields nearby are available, and expanding the field would cost $5,000, so the season is effectively cancelled. Can’t they just compete in division B instead? Whatever. The kids take a shot at fundraising, but since they only have a week to make the money (for some reason), they only get $1,767. Lila gets her father to make up the difference, so she gets all the credit for the fundraising, even though Jessica gave an impassioned motivational speech. The boys on the team decide to dedicate all of that season’s goals to Lila.

Jess gets depressed about the turn of events – the students got what they wanted, but they’re not paying attention to her. Sadly, Lois Latimer doesn’t show up to tell Jess to suck it up because activism isn’t about getting praise. Jess just spends the afternoon in the woods by the soccer field, crying to a bird that she thinks is sympathetic but that’s probably just waiting for Jess to feed it.

Elizabeth takes Jess with her to an interview with an engineer who will be working on the enlargement of the soccer field. She tells them that some trees will have to be bulldozed to make room. Jessica then goes with Liz to the Nature Society to learn more about the trees. (Elizabeth is obsessed with covering every single angle of the story. She’ll probably interview the birds about how they feel about their trees being taken away.) A man named Bill tells the twins that knocking down trees isn’t the greatest idea. Some trees in the area are 400 years old, and should be put ahead of expanding a soccer field.

Jess, feeling lonely and unappreciated, grabs a hold of this idea. She thinks the enlargement of the field should be stopped so the trees aren’t disturbed. She tells Elizabeth to say so in her article, but Elizabeth wants to just present facts and let the readers decide for themselves what they want. So Jessica starts recruiting her own little band of environmentalists and starts a movement to stop the expansion of the field. They only have a week to get out the word, so they get right to work.

Aaron is surprised that Jess is suddenly against the soccer field. After all, there are plenty of other trees around; cutting a few down isn’t going to hurt anything. He takes it personally that Jess wants to keep him from playing soccer. The Unicorns are also unhappy with Jess (and Mandy, to a lesser extent, since she’s on Jess’ side); they want to keep watching cute guys play soccer. Janet tells Jessica and Mandy to pick the Unicorns or the trees. The girls pick the trees, even picking up another supporter when Mary decides to join their cause.

By this point, pretty much everyone at SVMS has chosen a side except Elizabeth and Todd. Elizabeth is refraining from making a decision on the issue so she can continue to remain objective in her articles. Todd just hasn’t made up his mind yet. Both sides are getting ugly, calling each other “tree killers” and “tree huggers.” They protest on school property and get threatened with suspension for not being civil to each other. Jessica almost gets in trouble for announcing that they refuse to negotiate.

Aaron tries to make up with Jessica, but it’s really so she’ll back down and let the field expansion go forward. She’s so sure she’s on the right side that she refuses to compromise or admit that she’s done anything wrong. Aaron thinks she’s acting out because Lila got all the glory for the fundraising. Jessica insists that she really does want to save the trees. They’re at a stalemate.

Elizabeth interviews some students and teachers for her article on the whole fiasco. Randy Mason helped with the fundraising for the field, but now that he knows the trees are 400 years old, he thinks they should be protected. Rick Hunter points out that 400 years isn’t very long when you consider how old the world is, so they can sacrifice some trees to enlarge the field. A teacher tells Elizabeth she’s for saving the trees because she likes nature, and somehow Liz interprets this as her wanting to side with her friends, which she and Todd had agreed was a bad idea.

The only thing everyone can agree on at this point is that Elizabeth should be on their side. They want her to write articles supporting their opinions rather than just presenting the issue in a straightforward manner. Mr. Bowman finally tells Liz that she needs to put stories in the paper that express people’s passion over the situation. She gets Jessica and Aaron to write editorials and publishes them next to each other. Everyone’s mad about that, too, since Liz still hasn’t backed one side over the other.

There’s a protest outside Casey’s, I guess because the kids got in trouble for protesting at school, and it ends with yelling and everyone getting kicked out. Todd gets booted, even though he wasn’t involved in the protest, and he tells Liz he’s now against both sides. I can’t believe Todd makes it through this book without getting beaten up.

After chats with Bill and Ned, Elizabeth decides to do some research on the trees themselves. This research leads her to a surprising turn of events. She tries to tell Jessica what she found out, but Jess is too focused on her cause to listen. Just as the trees are about to be bulldozed, Jessica and her supporters leave their classrooms and run outside to chain themselves to the trees with bike locks.

Elizabeth brings Bill to the school to confirm what her research has revealed: The trees that would be knocked down for the field are diseased and actually NEED to be removed. What’s more, their disease could spread to other trees, so the whole wooded area needs to be bulldozed so the trees don’t die. People object, since the trees are 400 years old. Bill says that he told Jess some of the trees in Sweet Valley are that old, but he didn’t specify that they were the ones she wanted to protect. Those trees are actually only about 60 years old. (Not that it should matter – if they’re dying and going to kill other trees, their age isn’t really an issue.)

Jessica is embarrassed that she went full force on the protests without having all the information, and with faulty facts. Steven thinks she should look on the bright side: Without her protests, no one would have paid attention to the trees in the first place, and the disease might not have been discovered until it was too late. Not that Jess cares about that right now. The trees still have to go, and getting rid of the whole wooded area will cost so much that the school won’t be able to afford the field expansion after all.

Finally, though, Jessica’s desire to be an activist leads to something good. Since the trees are part of the town, not just the school, the community should contribute to the cost of removing them. The City Council agrees and will pitch in, which means SVMS can still expand their field. The students finally stop fighting and organize a fundraiser so they can plant new trees. Jessica even gets rewarded with a letter from Lois Latimer telling her to keep up the good work. Well, crap, now Jess is only going to do good things so she can get praise.

Thoughts: Jessica: “I’m not just trying to get attention for myself.” So you admit you ARE trying to get attention, at last partly.

Of course Todd is neutral. When has he ever been passionate about anything?

If Mr. Bowman doesn’t read the paper before it goes to press, and he never taught Elizabeth about interviewing both sides of a matter, what, exactly, does he do as the Sixers‘ advisor?

October 18, 2016

SVT #68, The Middle School Gets Married: You Mean Young Love Doesn’t Always Work Out?

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

Not a bad cover, actually

Not a bad cover, actually

Summary: I guess some of the teachers at SVMS don’t want to have to teach for a little while, so science teacher Mr. Seigel is heading up a project where all the middle-schoolers get fake-married to each other and learn what being an adult is all about. The project combines math (because they have to make budgets), social studies, and science, somehow. The “couples” have to work together on every aspect of the project. A lot of the students are excited about getting “married,” even though the couples will be chosen randomly.

Jessica’s paired with Rick Hunter, a hot seventh-grader, and though she knows she should be happy about this, she’s not. Rick is the epitome of a seventh-grade boy, and most of his interactions with Jess involve teasing her. They fight most of the time. When the couples get eggs they have to pretend are babies, Jessica keeps breaking hers and Rick’s (which they hilariously name Steven Fido). Normally Jess would just grit her teeth and wait things out, but she needs a good grade on the project, so she actually does some work. Rick is horrible with making a budget, but Jess ends up being good at it.

One of the tasks during the project is to shop for, cook, and eat a meal together. Jess and Rick both screw everything up and get in yet another fight. But then, in something right out of a movie, Rick kisses Jessica in the middle of the fight. Suddenly they’re happy together and getting along for the first time. Except it quickly becomes clear that they only thing interesting they had going for them was their rivalry. Now they have nothing to talk about. Womp womp.

Elizabeth is paired with Bruce, who really couldn’t care less about the project. Then when he comes to the Wakefields’ house to work with Liz and sees what an involved parent Ned is, he gets really intense about the whole thing. They have to spend quality time with their egg, he lectures Elizabeth with information from a guide they’ve been given for the project, and he basically treats her like she’s his child. Elizabeth gets mad and accidentally breaks their egg, but replaces it and pretends nothing happened. Bruce doesn’t find out until he realizes their “baby” is hard-boiled.

The only people generally happy at the beginning of the project are Sophia Rizzo and Patrick Morris, since they got along well before being partnered up. Unfortunately, being with Patrick brings out the worst in Sophia. She’s afraid to eat too much in front of him because she might not seem girly. She won’t give her opinion or make any decisions because she’s afraid she’ll come across as bossy, like Janet. Since Patrick is nice and wants to make sure he and Sophia are making all their decisions together, this leads to a lot of stalemates. They can’t make up their minds on anything because neither wants to hurt the other’s feelings.

After things finally boil over and Sophia and Patrick have a big fight, Sophia learns that her mother and Sarah’s father are getting married. (And in only two weeks!) Sophia hates this idea, even though the adults are happy together right now – marriage is stupid, and they’re just going to end up hating each other.

All of the students are in study hall together, working on the finishing touches of their final projects, when Rick and Jessica get in their last big fight. The tension between all the other couples finally reaches its peak, and everyone starts fighting. Eggs are even thrown. The students all agree that it’s impossible to get a good grade on the project because marriage itself is impossible to succeed at. But this is exactly what Mr. Seigel wanted to hear. He wanted the kids to realize that marrying someone without discussing what you want from the partnership won’t work out. For recognizing this, everyone gets an A.

With the madness over, Jess and Rick sort of become friends. Just the kind of friends who mock each other all the time. Bruce calms down, but I don’t think Elizabeth wants to spend any more time with him. Lila, who was paired with Todd (though we don’t hear much about them, other than that Lila has expensive tastes and Todd is a little too obsessed with neatness), decides he’s a nice guy. Sophia realizes that her mom and Sarah’s dad know what they’re doing, so there’s no reason to think their marriage won’t work out. And then I think no one who participated in the project ever eats an egg again.

Thoughts: I’m not sure the lesson taught here was the right one. What are the odds that these middle-schoolers will grow up to get married without discussing the details of marriage? Probably lower than the odds of them getting married young because they think it’s romantic (which is how a lot of them feel before the project begins). I wonder what would have happened if they’d been allowed to pick their partners, and kids with crushes on each other had been forced to face every aspect of each other’s personalities and find out if they’re really compatible. I mean, obviously the project was harder for people who didn’t get along. Pairing everyone up randomly basically stacked the deck against them.

I don’t think Mr. Seigel has the patience to teach middle-schoolers. He should probably go into a different line of work.

Lila and Todd were late turning in their budget because he couldn’t find a folder that looked neat enough. This is why Todd and Elizabeth are perfect for each other.

October 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 5, 2016

SVU #59, Elizabeth in Love: Be Yourself, Even If You’re Chloe

Posted in books tagged , , , , , at 4:41 pm by Jenn

I used to have a hat like that. I can't believe I'm admitting it

I used to have a hat like that. I can’t believe I’m admitting it

Summary: We’re one book from the end of the series and Sam and Elizabeth have finally worked things out. Elizabeth: “Yay, we’re dating!” Sam: “…I guess?” It’s like that episode of Scrubs where, after wanting Elliot back for months, J.D. finally gets together with her and then realizes he doesn’t want to be with her. Sam’s been pining after Elizabeth for a dozen books but now decides he doesn’t want a relationship. Commitment is bad! He’ll have to be nice to her now! She might make him (ugh) talk about his feelings and feel vulnerable.

Liz, however, is super-happy and even wants to make herself look prettier than usual by wearing makeup and stuff. Sam thinks she’s dressing and acting like Jessica. They go out for breakfast and talk about how he never told her about his family and their money. She seems to be over it. Really, she’s just thrilled that Sam is finally acting like a normal human being.

Sam manages to tear himself away from the love of his life, to her dismay. She goes to talk to Nina, who thinks Sam should be working overtime to make Liz happy after making her miserable all year. Thanks for your input, Nina! Elizabeth decides to make a fancy dinner for Sam, which includes spending almost $80 on stuff that a typical college student wouldn’t like. She also considers finally losing her virginity.

Sam, for his part, spends almost $40 on flowers for his new girlfriend. He’s not appropriately grateful to her for cooking him such a nice dinner, thinking they’re moving too fast. Dude, you’ve known each other almost a year and have just now finally stopped fighting. All you’ve done so far is eat a meal together. Chill. Sam protests all the fancy stuff, which hurts Liz’s feelings a little, since she worked so hard on something she herself enjoys. I get it – they’re different people! He likes casual stuff and she likes a little glamour! Men are from Mars and women are from Venus!

Elizabeth and Sam talk about his family again. He tells her how his older brother was a great guy until their parents molded him into someone more like them. Sam cut off his family so they can’t change him, too. But he’s still rich, since his grandfather left him money. Poor little rich boy. He says that Elizabeth has changed him, which Liz interprets as a good thing. The conversation turns to sex, and Sam says he’s willing to wait until Liz is ready. I’m sure it’s not just because it means they get to move slowly and he won’t freak out.

Guys, this is the last book Chloe appears in! Let’s celebrate! First, let’s mock her because she thinks she’s a loser for not having a boyfriend by the end of her freshman year. She also really wants cool friends, which…she’s in a sorority. Isn’t she surrounded by supposedly cool people? Really, Chloe is just socially awkward and can’t carry on a normal conversation for more than ten seconds, so no one wants to hang out with her. If she would stop trying so hard, she’d be fine. Alternately, if she would stop thinking Val and Martin are nerds, she’d actually enjoy their friendship more.

Anyway, Chloe has glommed on to Nina, so she asks for some advice on attracting guys. Chloe thinks she needs to dress sexier so guys will want her. Nina actually says some smart stuff throughout the book, like how Chloe should only dress sexy if she wants to. Chloe doesn’t listen – she goes on a big shopping spree and starts wearing clothes that, trust me, college students aren’t wearing around campus, especially not when they should be studying for finals.

Finally, Chloe gets a guy’s attention, but the fact that he immediately seems like a jerk makes me think this won’t turn out the way Chloe wants. She goes out with the guy, James, but he clearly couldn’t care less about her as a person. She’s clueless enough to think he would still make a good date to an upcoming semiformal (which, fortunately, we don’t have to witness). They go to James’ apartment and make out a little, but James wants more. Chloe objects, and of course, James ignores her. Things are about to get really illegal when Chloe manages to make her escape.

She runs straight to Nina, who again says some really smart things: Chloe did nothing wrong, even by wearing sexy clothes, and they need to report James for almost assaulting her. Chloe says no, since he didn’t actually do anything to her. I wish Nina had pressed her a little here, since James shouldn’t get a pass just because his pants didn’t come off, and saying nothing might leave James free to go after another girl. But I guess that’s not the point the writer wants to make here.

Nina encourages Chloe to stop trying so hard and be herself. But Nina, Chloe’s horrible! If she’s herself, she’ll be even less popular than she already is! Chloe actually listens, though – she starts wearing the clothes she actually likes and stops trying to attract guys everywhere she goes. Then she goes to a party and immediately meets a guy. Of course! Also, Nina goes to a study group instead of the party and almost meets a guy. So at least we leave Nina in a good place.

Todd has finally realized that the dream life he wanted isn’t so dreamy after all. He wants a summer internship, but no one wants to hire a guy who dropped out of college. Also, he thinks he has some genius business plan that all sorts of companies will want to snap up, because he’s 19 and has no idea how the world works. He can’t believe that CEOs aren’t falling all over themselves to give him a corner office.

Todd starts having dreams about turning into a loser because he dropped out of school and spends the rest of his life working at Frankie’s. He’s not getting the independence he thought he would, and quitting school has closed him off to a lot of opportunities. So his solution is to go back to school. Well, that was easy. He quickly enrolls for the summer so he can try to get back on track by the fall. Yay, I guess.

Neil has been struggling to stay sane in the duplex, what with Elizabeth and Sam fighting all the time up until now. He decides to move out, and makes arrangements without telling anyone, even Jessica. She finds out when one of Neil’s new roommates calls to tell him the room in her house isn’t available anymore. Jess is furious, but Neil has already changed his mind about moving, since Sam and Liz have calmed down and things are better. Basically, this is a non-plot that just serves to give Neil something to do in his last appearance.

At least he has more to do than Jessica, who spends the whole book mad that Elizabeth wants to be with Sam after he’s been such a jerk to her. The sisters fight a lot, and Jess mopes over how they’re kind of growing apart. She spends way more time thinking about this than she does about her finals. Not that I’m surprised. Then Jess decides to try to get a summer internship at an art gallery, and she rents some movies, and she announces a big party at the duplex without telling her roommates. And then nothing else happens.

Thoughts: Nina has red pony-hair boots. Wh – I – what?

“Being with her was like listening to a song and needing to go out and buy the album right then.” I actually like that line, but the fact that it’s about Elizabeth makes me gag.

Apparently Elizabeth has a crush on Rupert Everett and Neil has one on Matt Dillon. It would make more sense the other way around.

June 21, 2016

SVU #58, The Dreaded Ex: If No One Wants to Be Friends With You, Maybe You’re the Problem?

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

Girl on the left, you are a style disaster

Girl on the left, you are a style disaster

Summary: Did you know that Sam and Elizabeth are fighting? In case you’ve forgotten, we get to read about more of their issues with each other. Liz talks things over with Nina and says that she thinks they can work things out, but Nina reminds her that Sam’s not exactly a catch, and Liz can do a lot better. Eventually things in the duplex get so bad that Elizabeth tells Sam to move out, though she quickly realizes that Jessica and Neil might be mad since they’ll have to cover his rent or find a replacement roommate. Then Nina changes her mind and basically tells Liz to be with Sam if that’s what she wants. You’re not helping, Nina.

Neil thinks things will calm down Liz and Sam them if they start dating other people. Yeah, as if that won’t lead to more problems, like jealousy. You’re not helping either, Neil. Elizabeth considers a writing contest that would give her a chance to spend a semester at the University of Boston, because why work things out with your potential next boyfriend when you can just move across the country and hope to never see him again? She tells Jessica and Neil that Sam’s supposed to move out, but they override her decision and tell Sam he can stay.

Nina tries a new tack: make Elizabeth realize she’s in love with Sam. Liz will only admit that she has “strong feelings” for him. Sam comes in and Elizabeth worries that he overheard her. Jessica tells her sister to chill out for a while and things with Sam will blow over. Then suddenly Sam decides to just apologize to Liz and make up with her. She sees that he’s wearing the hat she gave him, which is some sort of magical move that makes her suddenly forgive him, I guess. They kiss. I really don’t care.

Todd wants to read up on business strategies for his bar, so he buys a couple of books at SVU’s bookstore. Because campus bookstores are known for affordable reading material? He meets an SVU senior named Terese and lets her believe that he still attends SVU. Todd’s co-workers, Cathy and Ryan, call him on not being completely honest with Terese. They think he’s ashamed because he dropped out and works in a bar, and if she dumps him because of those things, she’s a snob.

On Todd and Terese’s first date, he pretends he’s still in school and in a frat. They hit it off because she has no idea that half the things he says are lies. When she wants to hang out again, he meets her on campus, making it look like he’s coming out of a class. They run into Nina, who mentions that Todd dropped out. He lies that he only considered it, and tells Terese that Nina likes to exaggerate. Later, Todd and Terese run into a former classmate of hers who dropped out and now works as a waitress. Terese is judgmental, so Todd thinks he’s right not to tell her he dropped out, too.

For their next date, Terese wants to pick Todd up at the frat house where she thinks he lives. She also wants to take him to the Hot Dog Festival people talk about for half the book. He thinks he’s talked her out of going to the frat house, but she shows up anyway and is told that he doesn’t live there. As he’s trying to come up with a lie she’ll buy, they run into a professor who mentions that Todd dropped out. Once the whole story comes out, Terese tells Todd that she doesn’t care why he dropped out or that he works in a bar, but she can’t trust him anymore, so they’re done. Cathy and Ryan remind him that there are other people out there to date. I assume Todd just ends up with Cathy?

In the plot that lets us know how pathetic Chloe is, she’s trying way too hard to get people to like her. She buys bagels for her sorority sisters and is upset that they’re not as grateful as she’d like them to be. She keeps joining their conversations, then pouting because no one invites her to hang out. Chloe also tries to avoid her nerdy sort-of boyfriend, Martin, so people won’t think she’s a nerd by association. Then she realizes she would have more fun with Martin than with her sorority sisters who don’t want to spend time with her anyway. She decides to give Martin a makeover so she’s no longer embarrassed to be seen with him in public.

Chloe chats with a couple of Theta sisters, trashing Martin by calling him a nerd. Then she makes him get a haircut and tries to buy him new clothes. He’s on to her and calls her on trying to change him. He also wonders why she wants to spend so much time with him after saying she just wants to be friends. Chloe actually has a crush on him but is in denial, and doesn’t want to date a nerd. She blows him off, then gets blown off by some Thetas. Looks good on ya, Chloe. Later, she tries to act like nothing happened and everything’s fine between her and Martin, who’s understandably cold to her.

Chloe talks to her BFF Val about Martin, but doesn’t bother to mention that she’s in love with him. Val asks if she can ask out Martin, since Chloe supposedly just wants to be friends with him. Chloe says yes, thinking Martin will turn Val down. She’s wrong, so ha, Chloe. She finally decides to be honest with Martin about her feelings, but she realizes he’s still mad and wants to move on. She runs into Nina and finally asks if she can tag along to the Hot Dog Festival instead of just waiting for an invitation from various people like she’s been doing the whole book. I guess we’re supposed to feel sorry for Chloe because no one likes her and she’s too pathetic to make new friends or extend an invitation, but I can see why no one wants to hang out with her.

Thoughts: This book came with a Bowling for Soup poster and free cassette offer. Score!

These are the facts, Sam: Buy your own groceries. Leave mine alone.” Those aren’t facts, Elizabeth. As a journalist, you should really know what the word “fact” means.

For college students, these people sure get up early, especially on the weekends.

I’m not 100% what the Hot Dog Festival is all about, but I think people just eat hot dogs for three days. I’m not sure that qualifies as a festival.

May 10, 2016

SVU #56, Dropping Out: Todd Is Sooooooo Grown Up Now

Posted in books tagged , , , , , at 5:28 pm by Jenn

Why is there hay? There's no hay in this book!

Why is there hay? There’s no hay in this book!

Summary: Todd is living the glamorous life in Sweet Valley, doing such grown-up things as working part-time at a bar and paying rent. He thinks that since he’s an adult, he should stop taking his parents’ money and pay his own way. I guarantee he’ll regret that when he’s 25 and living on ramen. Note to Todd: You’re 19. It’s okay to let your parents pay for stuff while you get your degree. It’s even recommended. But no, Todd wants to be a big boy and navigate his own way in the world. Too bad he sucks at it and can barely make it to class on time. Even when he does make it to class, his grades aren’t very good. And on top of that, his car needs repairs.

After making a date with a classmate named Jodi, Todd gets a ride home from Elizabeth. He confides that he’s thinking of taking the rest of the semester off, and possibly the next one, so he can just work at the bar and enjoy being a grown-up. Elizabeth tells him he’s crazy. They get into a fight and he ends up walking home because he doesn’t want to have to listen to her anymore. I feel you, Todd.

Things start looking up for our boy when his boss offers him a promotion – he’ll become an assistant manager and make $10.50 an hour. Todd’s eyes are briefly replaced with dollar signs. He thinks $10.50 an hour is a huge amount. Doesn’t he drive a BMW? $10.50 should be nothing to him. Todd wants the promotion, but the drawback is that it’s a full-time position. He’ll have to bite the bullet and drop out for the semester. After some consideration, mostly about all the stuff he’ll be able to buy with his new riches, Todd accepts the job. He immediately realizes that a couple of his co-workers aren’t happy for him, but he doesn’t know why.

Todd drops his classes but doesn’t bother telling his parents (which is ridiculous, because THEY PAID HIS TUITION). When they find out, they’re furious. His father orders him to reenroll at SVU, and when Todd doesn’t, they close his bank account and take back his car. So Todd is finally doing what he’s been wanting – paying his own way. It’s just bad timing, since Todd will have to take the bus to meet Jodi for their date. But hey, he’s a rich man now, so he might as well wine and dine her.

After dinner, Todd takes Jodi by his bar to show her where he works. She hates it. She also hates that he’s no longer taking classes and is just a bartender. When she agreed to a date, she thought she was dating a student. Todd’s bummed, but when he runs into Sam later, and Sam talks up how awesome it is being single, Todd decides he’s better off.

Soon, Todd discovers that his new work responsibilities come with a lot of…well, responsibilities. He doesn’t get to just do the fun stuff anymore. He has to be in charge and make sure things are running smoothly. This is especially difficult when some of his co-workers are still cold to him. He finally learns that it’s because bartender named Cathy was hoping to be made assistant manager. She thinks she can handle the new tasks, and she would have liked the raise in pay. I was waiting for her to mention that Todd doesn’t need a higher-paying job since he has rich parents.

Todd suggests that he and Cathy split the job and work different shifts as assistant manager. They’ll work together one night a week to make sure they’re on the same page. It’s a good idea on paper, but in practice, it doesn’t go well. Cathy ends up ditching the promotion and going back to being just a bartender. And though Todd is getting a whole $10.50 an hour now, he realizes that it’s expensive to be a grown-up, especially without his nest egg to fall back on. He manages to get a little money selling back his textbooks, but it’s going to be a struggle.

He runs into Lila and Alex, who think he’s cool for dropping out, but clearly they don’t get what it’s like to have to work for a living and support yourself and do mature things like pay for utilities and car repairs. They just think he’s cool because he doesn’t have to worry about midterms. Fortunately, Todd’s attitude has started to change, as he realizes he should worry about getting a new car instead of the motorcycle he’s been wanting. Unfortunately, he’s still a friendless college dropout working in a bar, making his parents mad.

In SVU plots involving people who actually still attend SVU, Elizabeth is trying to deal with her break-up. She runs into Finn, who’s a jerk to her, and ends up fleeing a coffee shop in tears. Sam sees her and lays into Finn. He buys Liz a journal and a Bugs Bunny pencil to cheer her up, and she realizes he’s not the total clod she thought he was. When Finn accuses Liz of sending Sam after him, she stands up to him, pretty much calling him a slut and saying he sleeps around because he feels inadequate. Go, Liz!

To thank him for his presents, Elizabeth gets Sam a baseball cap (apparently he collects them). At home, they’re awkward around each other, and she misses an opportunity to give him the hat. When she goes to his room later, she hears him talking to a girl and chickens out. Sam has been wrestling with his feelings for Liz, but he doesn’t want to date her because he knows he’ll end up letting her down.

Elizabeth tries to stalk Sam in his room, I guess to see if he has another girl over again. At the end of another awkward chat, she goes to kiss him on the cheek but accidentally kisses his lips instead. Suddenly Liz is in love with Sam and can’t stop thinking about him. She leaves his present in his room, but never hears back from him about it. That’s because Sam starts avoiding the duplex, thinking he won’t be able to control himself around Liz. Buddy, I don’t think she wants you to control yourself. They spend the rest of the book apart.

After all of her late-night partying, Nina’s realized that her grades are suffering. But she can’t resist spending time with her new guy Xavier. She wants to know if they’re a couple, but he tells her he doesn’t like labels. Pssst, Nina: That means he’s just fooling around with you until he finds someone hotter. Get out now. She tries to have an actual conversation with him, but he clearly isn’t interested. He just wants to make out and flirt.

Nina isn’t the only one Xavier’s making out with, and when she goes to visit him one day, she finds him with another girl. Later, he goes to see her and tries to get her to come out with him. Nina just closes the door in his face. Unfortunately, her backbone is only there temporarily, as she decides to go see him again and give him the chance to explain himself and apologize. Instead, she finds him with yet another girl.

Nina finally realizes that Xavier is the wrong guy for her. She’s much more suited to a guy named Josh, who she meets in the library. She decides it’s time to stop partying so much, get her grades back up, and go back to her old self. Nina and Josh go on a date and start getting closer, though she’s worried that he’ll turn out to be just like Xavier. I’d say she has a good chance of ending up happy, though, since Josh seems to be genuinely interested in her, and not just in making out.

There’s a teeny side plot with Jessica and Neil that doesn’t really go anywhere, and mostly happens off-screen, so to speak. They both met a guy named Jason, and Neil asked him to study together. He thinks it’s a date, but Jessica thinks Jason is straight and actually wants to study. In fact, she thinks Jason doesn’t know Neil is gay, and was really flirting with her. Neil points out that a) everyone at SVU knows he’s gay, thanks to his ultimately unsuccessful run for president, and b) Jason got Neil’s phone number, not Jessica’s, so he must not like her.

Neil hits it off with Jason, though he’s still not sure if Jason wants to be more than friends. Jessica tries to settle things by asking Jason out, wanting to prove he’s straight. Neil gets angry, since, straight or not, Jessica shouldn’t be moving in on a guy her best friend likes. Fair enough. Elizabeth suggests that the two of them actually ask Jason his preferences, but they don’t want to listen to her logic. Neil’s upset that Jessica has betrayed him. I’m upset that this plot is almost exactly like an episode of Will and Grace.

Thoughts: Elizabeth says “dammit.” I AM SCANDALIZED.

Xavier: “We’re communicating on a metaphysical plane where no words are truly needed.” Translating: “We’re just going to band until I get tired of you.” Seriously, Nina, get out of there now.

“If it were physically possible for a person’s head to burst free from his neck, Sam would have been decapitated by a wave of disgust.” Beautiful.

Neil, re: Jessica: “How, in the name of all that is good and holy, have you lived with that girl for nineteen years?” Elizabeth: “I have an incredibly high tolerance for shrieks and pouting.” Hee.

April 26, 2016

SVU #55, The First Time: Finn-timacy Issues

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

This is so "Beverly Hills, 90210"

This is so “Beverly Hills, 90210”

Summary: Sam is out at Todd’s bar, Frankie’s, when he spots Elizabeth’s boyfriend Finn with a woman who is definitely not Elizabeth. And let’s just say the woman can’t be mistaken for Finn’s sister or cousin or some other woman he’s not romantically involved with. Elizabeth actually has a date with Finn planned for later and has no idea that her man currently has another blonde draped all over him. Sam lets her know, but she doesn’t believe him, and not just because Finn would never go to Frankie’s, or any other townie bar. Apparently SVU students are very against mingling with non-SVU students.

On their date, Finn professes his undying affection for Elizabeth and asks to date exclusively. When she says yes, he decides it’s time for the sex to happen. Elizabeth has been thinking about this lot – though, for Elizabeth, even ten seconds of thinking about sex is a lot – and is edging closer to being ready to lose her virginity. She gets turned off, though, when Finn wants to get it on in his car in the parking lot. Fair enough. Finn invites her over to watch movies, though he can’t find any when they get to his place. SUSPICIOUS. They’re about to get horizontal when Elizabeth finds High Noon. Finn gets blocked by Gary Cooper.

Eventually Finn tries to undress Liz again, but she finally tells him she’s a virgin and wants to take things slowly. He assures her that they’ll move at her pace…as long as her pace leads them to the bedroom in the next five minutes. Elizabeth admits that she’s scared about her first time, which Finn says is very high school of her. What a compassionate, caring guy you’ve chosen here, Liz! She ends up running home, crying. Yeah, you’re not ready for this Liz.

On campus, Elizabeth sees Finn talking to another undergrad and thinks he’s getting her phone number. She realizes she doesn’t want to lose him to another girl. Yeah, that would be such a horrible loss. Finn thinks they should work through their sex anxiety by visualizing everything going well. Finn, if you want to picture your girlfriend naked, it’s not like she can stop you. They agree to finally do the deed on Saturday, after a party at the duplex.

Liz is still nervous but not backing out. She gets birth-control pills (a HUGE step for our girl), then wonders if they should also use a condom. Considering Finn’s popularity with the ladies, YES. She calls Finn to chat, but he’s busy with a supposed study group, which sounds suspiciously like just one woman. Poor, naïve Liz.

At the duplex party, Sam tries again to get Elizabeth to see that her boyfriend is a jerk. He brings up seeing Finn at Frankie’s, even getting Todd to confirm that he was there with another girl. Finn just calmly pleads innocent, and of course, Liz buys it. After spending some time at the party, they go to his place for their big night together. Only this time Elizabeth finally realizes for sure that she’s not ready.

Finn, of course, doesn’t react well. He calls Liz out for being a tease, and tells her she’s lucky he chose her since he can have any girl he wants. Then he calls up one of his other conquests and invites her over while Elizabeth is still standing right there. Liz tries to call Jessica to come get her, but she reaches Sam instead. He brings her home and manages to not say “I told you so” about what a jerk Finn turned out to be.

Sam, by the way, has spent the book being an idiot. He wants to show Elizabeth how much of a jerk he is so she’ll see how bad Finn is, too. I don’t get his logic. Anyway, he enlists an ex named Anna to pretend they’re hooking up just so he can toss her out the next morning and make Elizabeth think that guys are dogs, I guess. Since Elizabeth is dumb, it works. I don’t know how it’s going to make Liz want Sam, though.

In the last book, Chloe and her new friend Val were accepted as Theta pledges, and now they’re facing some hazing. A couple of Theta mean girls make the pledges do humiliating things like kiss sorority guys on command and give the sisters massages. In the cafeteria one day, Val is ordered to fat-shame her roommate, Deena. Val has started to grow tired of the Thetas’ shenanigans, and this is the last straw for her. She doesn’t want to be a part of a group that’s so mean to other people. She announces that she’s dropping out.

Chloe is given the task next, and she seriously considers doing it. After all, being a Theta is all she’s ever wanted (for the last two books). But she realizes that Val and Deena have become good friends of hers, and she’d rather spend time with them than with the Theta snobs. She ditches the task as well and quits the pledge process.

But! Denise and Jessica learn about the hazing and reprimand the sisters behind it for being so cruel. They don’t want Theta participating in demeaning activities, and they hope the pledges don’t hold the hazing against the rest of the sisters. They’ve decided that anyone who dropped out of the pledging can be reinstated. Val doesn’t really care, but Chloe’s thrilled. After spending some more time with Val and Deena, she goes to the party at the duplex and hangs out with a semi-nerd named Martin. She judges him harshly at first, then decides to take pity on him because he’s not as bad as she thought. Martin, run away!

Todd spends the whole book working and becoming more and more of a townie, because it makes him feel grown-up. He’s determined not to live off of his parents’ money, though he doesn’t mention to them that he’s dropped a few classes and therefore doesn’t need as much for tuition as they’ve been paying. Todd is annoying so I really don’t care about him anymore.

Nina’s been going out more, and has a crush on Xavier, a singer with a band called Wired. He seems really into her, but then he doesn’t call her after he says he would, and he brushes her off the next time they see each other. Nina’s fooled herself into thinking they’re dating, despite the fact that they’ve talked, like, twice and he would rather flirt with groupies. At the duplex party, guys keep talking to Nina, who’s suddenly a hot commodity. She only has eyes for Xavier, though, and by the end of the book, they’re about to head to bed together. P.S. It’s Elizabeth’s bed. So at least that piece of furniture is going to see some action.

Thoughts: For a med student, Finn sure has a lot of free time to go on dates, and a lot of money to spend at expensive restaurants.

“‘Girls like that don’t have one-night stands. So a guy’s gotta put on a little show. It’s not like I’m the only one who does it. All guys do.’ Not all guys, she corrected mentally.” You know, Liz, it’s usually the guy who says “not all men.”

The ghostwriter needs to NEVER write another sex scene. I want a promise in writing.

The ghostwriter also needs to stop thinking that college students call each other “darling.”

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