September 19, 2017

SVT Super Edition #8, Jessica’s First Kiss: Are We Out of the Woods Yet?

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

Yeah, this didn’t happen

Summary: In the category of Things That Would Never Happen, the whole middle school is going on a mandatory week-long camping trip. I would fake mono or some sort of horrible injury so I wouldn’t have to go. Lila thinks that since they’re staying at a place with “estate” in the title, they’ll basically be at a spa for a week. Elizabeth tells her and Jessica that they’re wrong. Liz, by the way, is super-excited about spending a week in the great outdoors, especially since she’ll get to spend time with Todd. She writes a really bad poem about it, and Jess and Lila find it and tease her. Siblings are the worst.

On the way to the estate, Elizabeth and her dorky friends pass the long bus ride by singing camp songs. The Unicorns are completely over it. Liz tries to flirt a little with Todd, bringing up the possibility of going on a private nature walk together. Jess tries to do the same with Aaron, but he’s the epitome of a middle-school boy in this book and doesn’t get it. Aaron just keeps talking about bears, so Jessica hopes he gets eaten by one. Spoiler alert: Before long, the reader will have the same hope.

The first night of the trip, Aaron wakes everyone up by yelling that he saw a bear. A new student named Dennis Asher calls him on his prank, kicking off a rivalry between the two of them. Aaron’s the real idiot, though, since Bruce accidentally cuts a hole in their tent while trying to run to safety, and when it rains later in the night, Aaron gets soaked. He deserves it.

The Unicorns are miserable on the trip; they’re not allowed to have any electric beauty products with them, so their hair goes uncurled, and the showers smell of sulfur, so they don’t want to get in them. Aaron tries to pull his bear prank again, this time on Jessica, and she decides she’s through with their near-relationship. When she meets Dennis, she decides she’s ready to move on to a new guy. Too bad her unshowered, unprimped appearance is leaving her looking like a mess.

Though the kids are expected to take classes (such as learning about the history of the estate) or participate in athletic or craft activities during the day, the rest of the experience is a lot like summer camp. They have campfires every night, and at one, Winston tells a story about a pair of twins who were in love with the same man. They flipped a coin to decide who should be with him, but then the twin who lost murdered the twin who won and took her place. Was her name Margo? Aaron annoys everyone by pretending again that he saw a bear. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of adult supervision on this trip, and Aaron doesn’t suffer any consequences for pulling the same trick over and over.

Inspired by Winston’s story and the fact that April Fools’ Day is coming up, Jessica decides to pull her own twin switch in order to win over Dennis. Elizabeth is looking much cleaner and more attractive than her sister, so Jess wants to make Dennis fall for her, thinking she’s Jess and the dirty twin is Liz. Then when they get back to civilization, Jess will pretend she was the clean one all along. She signs up for the same activity as Dennis, pretending to be Liz, and chats with him a little. She warns him that her sister likes to play tricks, so if he addresses her as Jessica, she’ll say she’s really Elizabeth.

Indeed, Dennis sees Liz elsewhere and calls her Jess, confusing her. Jessica, pretending to be Elizabeth, encourages him to get to know her better, then makes sure Todd is off somewhere else so he can’t interfere. She also tells Dennis, who’s noticed “Jessica” with Todd, that Todd isn’t anyone to worry about. Jess convinces Dennis that “Jessica” likes him, but then Liz starts to put everything together. She tells Todd, and they decide to mess with Jessica for pulling a twin switch.

Liz flirts with Dennis, then gives him half of a maple leaf; if he’s ever uncertain which twin he’s talking to, he can just ask if she has the other half. She starts laying it on thick, saying she wants to spend tons of time together. Jessica gets sick and is sent home early, but Aaron doesn’t know; every time he sees Elizabeth with Dennis, he thinks she’s Jess. He’s jealous and mad that she’s spending time with a guy he doesn’t like. Aaron confronts Dennis, who tells him that Jessica should be allowed to choose which guy she wants to be with. What a concept!

Jessica’s better by Saturday, when everyone comes home from camp (which also happens to be April Fools’ Day). She gets all glammed up and goes to school to welcome everyone home. Dennis now thinks Jessica is Elizabeth, and since it’s April Fool’s Day, he doesn’t believe Jess when she claims it’s really her. He asks for her half of the maple leaf, and when she doesn’t produce it, he goes to Liz. Liz doesn’t produce it either, so Dennis decides he’s done with Wakefields. Smart boy.

Aaron comes to the Wakefields’ house and apologizes to Jessica for not being nicer to her on the trip. Jess realizes that Liz inadvertently did her a favor by hanging out with Dennis, since it made Aaron jealous. Aaron kisses Jessica, giving her the first kiss in the book’s title. I hope she was still contagious.

The Unicorns spend the whole book complaining about camping. Eventually Lila decides to call her father to send a limo and retrieve all the Unicorns. The camp director, Mrs. Sanchez, doesn’t care who she is or who her father is; she can’t use the phone unless there’s an emergency. The girls decide to fake an illness so they’ll be sent home, but when they can’t get their stories straight about their symptoms, the camp nurse again rebuffs them. Next they try to use ESP to contact their parents. Then they stage a fight so they’ll get kicked out. Instead, they’re forced to clean a grease trap in the kitchen.

The Unicorns decide to just leave camp and try to hitchhike back to civilization. They plan to leave after a campfire one night, but Aaron and Winston pull the bear trick again (sigh), telling a story about a ghost bear, which Aaron pretends to be. The girls are too spooked to venture off in the woods alone. When they attempt to leave the next day, Aaron spots them, follows them, and sees a real bear. He has to climb a tree to get away from it. The Unicorns get spooked and head back to camp, forced to suffer through the rest of the week. Aaron spends the night in the tree because no one believed he was really in danger from a bear. Ha!

Thoughts: I didn’t realize Jessica hadn’t had her first kiss yet. This means, amazingly, Elizabeth has surpassed her in this area.

If my friends started singing “Old MacDonald” on a bus full of middle-shoolers, I would just assume I’d died and this was my personal Hell.

Janet: “If you don’t mind, Jessica, some of us are trying to send ESP messages to our parents?” Snort.

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June 6, 2017

SVT #93, The Incredible Madame Jessica: Uh-Oh, Jessica’s Cosplaying as Miss Cleo

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

Please close your mouths, everyone. She’s 12 years old. She’s not going to predict lottery numbers

Summary: Jessica has recently become interested in psychic phenomena again, and she tries out her supposed psychic powers on her family. She predicts that Steven will eat nine pancakes at breakfast, which is a lot even for him. This prediction turns out to be accurate, though Steven grabs a tenth pancake just to tick Jessica off. I don’t know, I’d still count it – she said nine, not nine and no more.

There’s a fair coming up at SVMS, taking place over three consecutive weekends, and the proceeds will be going to the school library. Despite the dorky cause, the Unicorns want to have a booth. Jessica wants to tell fortunes, but the other girls think that’s dumb. Instead, they’ll do a twist on a dunking booth, filling it with grape Jell-O instead of water. That’s actually pretty creative. Elizabeth will be running a table where people can turn in overdue library books without having to pay a fine. (More on that later.)

Jessica tries to shows off her abilities again at a party at Bruce’s house, but no one’s interested in hearing their futures. She finally convinces Patrick Morris to get his fortune told, but he’s disappointed when she predicts that he and Sophia Rizzo, his sort-of girlfriend, will fight and break up. Jessica also foresees Liz failing a test, which everyone finds ridiculous, since perfect Liz would never fail anything. But then Sophia and Patrick get in a fight because he forgot her birthday, and suddenly one of Jess’ predictions has come true. Then Elizabeth fails a history test because she didn’t see the final page of questions.

Now everyone thinks Jessica really is psychic, so they start asking her to tell them their futures. She uses this as publicity for her booth at the fair. She wants to charge $5 per customer, but the librarian, Ms. Luster, makes her charge 50 cents instead. Except there’s a huge line of customers waiting, and if they were willing to pay $5 each, why ask for less? This is why Ms. Luster is a librarian and not a businesswoman.

Among Jessica’s predictions:

  • Aaron will be suspended from the basketball team
  • Bruce will sprain his ankle
  • Sarah Thomas will get her braces tightened (that one’s kind of a gimme, though)
  • Anna Reynolds will lose her new jacket

On Monday morning, Bruce shows up to school on crutches, having torn ligaments in his ankle. Anna misplaces her jacket, fulfilling another of Jessica’s predictions. She thinks this could win her a Nobel Peace Prize. Sure thing, Jess. Aaron then gets suspended from the basketball team for poor grades, so Jess is 3 for 3. Unfortunately, since she’s only been predicting bad things, no one wants to have their fortunes told anymore – in fact, no one wants to talk to Jessica at all.

Jess decides to only tell good fortunes, predicting that Cammi Adams will win a prize and Randy Mason will get to leave class early. This backfires, as Randy leaves early because he has an asthma attack, and Cammi makes a fool of herself in gym class, prompting Belinda Layton to say that she should get a booby prize. Janet thinks that instead of telling fortunes, Jessica’s cursing people.

At the second fair weekend, Jessica has no customers. She’s inspired by a fortune cookie to start giving people vague advice, which doesn’t go over well. Meanwhile, the Unicorns, who got off to a rough start the first weekend, now have a very popular booth, as teachers are volunteering to get dunked. (The Jell-O never quite sets, so they’re getting dropping into purpleish water, but the dunkers don’t care.)

While all of this has been going on, Elizabeth has slowly been making herself more and more unlikable. She’s become obsessed with people turning in overdue library books, and making sure people know that keeping them past the due date is, like a mortal sin or something. Her booth at the fair offers a free pizza to the person who turns in a book that’s the most overdue, and it’s made her disgusted with people who keep books for years without realizing it. Aaron’s grandmother is the worst offender, returning a book she checked out in 1962.

In what’s known as an ironic twist, Elizabeth finds a copy of Black Beauty that fell behind her dresser four years ago. Doesn’t the library send out late notices? She tries to return the book to her own booth without anyone noticing, but Ms. Luster is always around, so Liz can’t sneak it in with the others.

The twins’ plotlines start coming together when Elizabeth thinks that she can help reverse one of Jessica’s “curses” by helping Sophia and Patrick get back together. Her sage advice is for Patrick to apologize to Sophia and give her something nice, like flowers. Wow, look at Ann Landers over here! Spoiler alert: It works.

Steven notices that the twins are cranky and casually suggests that they switch problems. Jessica decides that she’ll pose as Liz to turn in her overdue book while Liz poses as her, makes predictions that don’t come true (since she’s not really psychic), and pretends she’s lost her psychic powers. Elizabeth isn’t thrilled to have to be a phony psychic at the third fair weekend, but she’ll do it to get out of facing the shame of turning in an overdue book.

The twins switch, and Jess’ part of the deal is over quickly: Ms. Luster couldn’t care less that Elizabeth had an overdue book. While Liz gets ready to play the Incredible Madame Jessica, Janet hides in her booth, not wanting to take a turn in the Unicorns’ dunk tank. Mr. Clark, the principal, volunteered to be dunked, but he never shows up, so the Unicorns are forced to take turns. Janet is wearing a brand-new white blouse and is determined to keep it clean. “Jessica” predicts that she’ll get a stain on it.

The real Jess learns of her sister’s prediction and freaks out – if Janet’s shirt gets stained, people will still see her as cursing them. The twins stalk Janet, trying to keep her from getting dirty, and barely avoid a disaster with some paint. Janet’s shirt comes out spotless, and everyone decides that Jessica’s cursed predictions are done. Also, Anna found her jacket and Sophia and Patrick got back together, so two more predictions were reversed. (Except…Anna DID lose her jacket, and Sophia and Patrick DID break up, so those should still be accurate. Jess never said the jacket would stay lost forever or that Sophia and Patrick would never get back together. Eh, whatever.)

Janet can’t avoid getting dunked, so everyone gets some satisfaction out of watching that. The Unicorns’ dunking booth raises a ton of money, Jessica’s booth raises the second highest amount, and Aaron’s grandmother wins the pizza. Not shown: Mr. Fowler having an aneurysm after checking his credit card bill and seeing how much Jell-O the Unicorns bought.

Thoughts: Luster is a weird name.

“When you check out a library book, you have a moral obligation to return it on time. I think we need to think of ways to get people to live up to their responsibilities.” Elizabeth, you’re a child. Please chill out.

“I mean, who cares whether you’ve had a book since second grade? Nobody’s going to stop talking to you over it.” Maybe we should. Everyone, stop talking to Elizabeth right now.

May 2, 2017

SVT #89, Jessica’s Cookie Disaster: Sweet Misery

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

If that blonde is supposed to be Jessica, the artist drew her wrong

Summary: Thanks to a recent unexpected A on a test, Jessica is close to making the honor roll. She suddenly starts caring about her grades and being smart. She gets the chance to earn some extra credit in home ec, which will give her a needed boost – all she has to do is make the best cookies in the class. But a fight with Elizabeth leaves Jess baking on her own, and she barely has enough time to finish her cookies (and make them properly). She basically throws a bunch of stuff together and hopes for the best. She fights with Liz again and, distracted, spills some flavors into her batter, making Jess think she’s sunk. She adds some purple food coloring to try to salvage the day.

Surprisingly, the cookies turn out terrific, and Jessica easily gets the extra-credit points. Her teacher, Mrs. Gerhart, knows someone who works on a cooking show, and she wants to send her Jessica’s cookies to see if she’ll get booked as a guest. Jess is ecstatic because the show, Lifestyles of the French and Famous, is her new obsession, and a few simple minutes of work could land her in the spotlight. The twins make up, but when Ned and Alice reward Jessica for her good grades, Liz starts to get a little jealous.

Mrs. Gerhart’s friend books Jessica on Lifestyles of the French and Famous, asking her to bring 400 cookies for the audience. Jess enlists the Unicorns to help her bake, agreeing to call the treats Unicookies, even though this will take away some of her spotlight. The girls seem to think that having a signature cookie will make them even more popular.

The problem is that Jessica doesn’t remember all the ingredients that went into her batter. She makes herself out to be a genius in a Sixers interview with Liz, though she secretly had nothing to do with how well the cookies turned out. The Unicorns keep asking for her “secret ingredient,” and Jessica keeps playing up the “secret” angle, like she doesn’t want to share what made the first batch such a success.

Eventually, she has to confess, so the Unicorns decide to try a bunch of different things to figure out the secret ingredient. When this goes poorly, Lila comes up with the idea to hypnotize Jessica into remembering her baking process from class. This also fails, though Tamara accidentally gets hypnotized instead of Jess. It’s the most interesting thing Tamara has ever done or will ever do in this series.

In one last attempt at replicating the cookies, the Unicorns use the home-ec room in hopes that being in the same location as her triumph will help Jessica recreate it. This soon devolves into a big food fight, and the girls all get in trouble. They have to clean up the room and each write a two-page essay explaining why their behavior was inappropriate. The best essay will be published in the Sixers as an example to the rest of the school (and to embarrass the writer).

The Unicorns are done baking cookies and won’t be putting their name on Jessica’s failures anymore. She’s on her own to come up with 400 cookies for the show. Lila secretly orders some cookies from a Swiss bakery, hoping to swoop in and save the day, plus steal the spotlight from Jessica. I can’t wait until Mr. Fowler gets that credit card bill and wonders why his daughter placed a rush order for 400 cookies.

Elizabeth has been working overtime to try to make the principal’s list (the honor roll for straight-A-plus students, AKA super-nerds), wanting to regain some of the glory she feels she’s lost to Jess. She eventually puts her brains to good use, setting up the Wakefields’ kitchen with the same supplies and circumstances as the setting of Jessica’s success. She even picks a fight to make Jess mad so she’ll spill her flavors again. Of course, this works perfectly, and the girls determine that the secret ingredients are almond powder, almond extract, and extra vanilla.

With one problem solved, the girls face a much more daunting one: They still have to bake 400 cookies for the show. Fortunately, Ned, Alice, and a reluctant Steven are available to help. The family stays up half the night working together to produce 400 delicious cookies (which none of them wants to taste, since they’re sick of baking). Jessica dubs them JEM cookies; the J and E are for the twins, and the M is because Jess thought JEM sounded good. (Maybe it’s for her musical alter-ego. Also, if she’d called them JEW cookies for Jessica-Elizabeth-Wakefield, Brian couldn’t eat them.)

Since the Unicorns abandoned her at her time of need, Jessica lets them think she’s going to make a fool of herself by showing up to Lifestyles of the French and Famous without any cookies. Lila believes she’s still going to be the one to save the day. Instead, the twins make a splash on the show, while Lila drops all of her boxes of expensive Swiss cookies on the way to the studio and ruins her outfit. Womp womp. Sadly, despite making the best cookies people have ever tasted, Jessica gets a D+ on another home-ec assignment and loses her shot at the honor roll. Double womp womp.

Thoughts: This book is basically that Friends episode where Monica tries to recreate Phoebe’s grandmother’s cookie recipe, only that episode had a punchline.

I find it hard to believe that out of all the people who tried the cookies, not one person recognized the almond flavor.

Jessica combines pineapple and licorice flavors. The thought of that makes me feel like I need to lie down.

The punishment of possibly having your essay on your bad behavior published for everyone to read is clever, but what’s to stop you from just writing bad essay to avoid having yours chosen?

Elizabeth: “Just an A. Not an A+. Dang.” Urge to kill, rising…

February 28, 2017

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

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

The rare ugly-outfit trifecta

The rare ugly-outfit trifecta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 21, 2017

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

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

Yeah, that skeleton sure looks scary

Yeah, that skeleton sure looks scary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 31, 2017

SVT #80, The Gossip War: Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Member of the Unicorn Club?

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

No, I don't know why Ellen's using a pay phone

No, I don’t know why Ellen’s using a pay phone

Summary: Janet’s birthday is coming up, and for the Unicorns, that’s basically on the same level as a national holiday. Ellen is determined to throw her birthday party and organize the planning and purchasing of her gift. Jessica’s mad because she wants that honor (not to mention the awesome hostess gift Janet will give her in return), but since Steven has been hogging the phone so much to talk to Cathy, it’s hard for her to call the other Unicorns or be let in on their plans. Ellen thinks they should get Janet a gift certificate for a psychic reading. Janet, Betsy, and Kimberly have recently become beatniks, so the girls’ usual ideas for gifts for Janet are things she’s no longer interested in.

Ellen gets right to the party planning by calling a bunch of the Unicorns and asking them to support her plan to have the party at her house. She’s very invested in this and works on it harder than probably anything else she’s ever worked on. Jessica tries to stage a coup and get the Unicorns to agree to have the party at her house instead, but even the Wakefields’ pool doesn’t sway them.

Jess sees an ad for three-way calling and gets excited about the possibility of having mini-conference calls with her friends. Ned won’t pay for it, so Jess recruits Elizabeth to help her stage a chaotic situation that would be eased with three-way calling. The girls are working on group projects for history, and they make Ned keep calling the houses where they’re working so he can arrange their rides home. After very little work, Ned cracks and gets the three-way calling. I don’t know why Jessica doesn’t ask for her own phone line instead. Then she wouldn’t have to deal with Steven hogging the phone all the time.

Ellen scores another win when Janet asks her to host and run a Unicorn meeting she can’t attend. I’m surprised they have meetings when Janet can’t come. Janet strikes me as the type who doesn’t want people hanging out without her. Jessica has to miss the meeting as well, which thrills Ellen, since they’re going to vote on where Janet’s party will be held. The meeting doesn’t go great, not least because Ellen’s father crashes it, wearing a hat with an octopus on it, and embarrasses his daughter. But the Unicorns vote to have the party at Ellen’s, so she’s happy.

Mandy calls Jessica that night to tell her about the vote. She admits that she wanted to have the party at the Wakefields’, since Ellen’s father will be grilling at Janet’s party, and he’s not great with barbecuing. The last time he did, Mandy almost choked on a dry hot dog. Since the three-way calling is up and running, Jess brings Ellen into the conversation to find out what to bring to the party. Ellen’s suddenly become disorganized again and can’t remember what Jess was supposed to be in charge of. The two of them fight and Mandy hangs up, not wanting to deal with their drama.

Jessica calls Lila, and once she’s clarified things, Jess hangs up on Ellen and complains to Lila about how annoying Ellen is, and how Mr. Riteman almost gave Mandy food poisoning. Except she’s still getting the hang of three-way calling and doesn’t hang up on Ellen properly, so Ellen hears her. Lila hangs up for real, so Jess and Ellen can fight in peace, but they easily make up. Lila doesn’t know this, though, and she tells Belinda about Jessica’s accusation about Mr. Riteman. The two of them wonder if they should still have Janet’s party at Ellen’s house.

Belinda then tells Grace that Mandy had food poisoning, and Grace tells Tamara that Ellen’s father poisoned Mandy. The whole thing turns into a big game of Telephone, with Mandy’s condition slowly growing worse. Kimberly mentions her aunt, a teacher, having food poisoning once, and Betsy misunderstands and tells Mary that Mr. Riteman poisoned a teacher. The tale gets back to Belinda, who now thinks Mr. Riteman poisoned both Mandy and the teacher. They tell Lila that Mr. Riteman was in jail for attempted murder.

Jessica’s oblivious to the whole thing until Kimberly and Betsy tell her. She realizes the rumor stems from her fight with Ellen, and she confronts Lila, who says she only told one person about it. Jess is ready to set the record straight when the other Unicorns decide to revote on the location of Janet’s party. They want it at the Wakefields’ instead. Jess thinks this is more important than clearing up a rumor, so she doesn’t say anything. Kimberly gives Ellen the news that the party is no longer at her house because of what her father did. Ellen thinks she means wearing the dorky octopus hat.

Janet’s the first person to mention to Ellen that everyone thinks her father’s a murderer (the rumor has now expanded so that Mr. Riteman is a serial killer). Ellen’s shocked at the accusation; her father has never even gotten a speeding ticket. She even calls her dad to get him to tell Janet that he’s not a killer. Janet realizes that someone has started a vicious rumor about Ellen, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.

The school projects the kids have been working on are about the Cold War era, and Elizabeth has been teamed with Lila and not-yet-dead Olivia. They get the idea to talk to Mrs. Harrington about her experiences in Hollywood during blacklisting. Liz realizes how much damage was done to people’s careers simply because others spread rumors about them. Jessica’s like, “Yeah, I get it, I get it.”

Janet believes that Mandy started the rumor about Mr. Riteman, so she kicks her out of the Unicorns. Poor Mandy. She just wanted an edible hot dog, that’s all! Grace, Mary, and Belinda are appalled at Janet’s actions and side with Mandy. The other Unicorns shun Mandy for being a traitor. Jessica tries to make peace between the two groups, but each side accuses her of being a spy for the other.

Elizabeth helps Jessica come up with a plan to work everything out. No, it doesn’t involve just confessing that she accidentally started a rumor. They use three-way calling to let Lila overhear Elizabeth telling Olivia that Johnny Buck is going to make a surprise appearance at Janet’s party. Then Jess has Mandy overhear the same thing. The rumor spreads through both groups, picking up more and more exaggerations as it moves. Eventually one side thinks Johnny Buck is going to play Janet a special song at the party, and the other thinks he’s moving to Sweet Valley.

Everyone shows up to the party excited for Johnny Buck but trying to act like they don’t know he’s coming, since it’s supposed to be a surprise. Jessica breaks the news that it was all a rumor they let get out of control. Everyone realizes how ridiculous they’ve been, and they all make up. (I guess Mandy’s let back in the club, too.) Jessica actually feels bad for Ellen and gives her Janet’s hostess gift, which is a book of poems neither of them wants anyway. Lila uses the experience in her, Liz, and Olivia’s presentation on McCarthyism and how rumors can ruin lives. I’m sure these girls will never gossip again…

There’s also a pointless not-even-good-enough-to-be-considered-a-B-plot where Alice has a difficult client. No one cares.

Thoughts: Ellen is more pathetic than she usually comes across. She’s desperate to be liked and prove her worth. I’d feel sorrier for her if she weren’t so annoying.

All of the Unicorns decided to wear gold and white to school one day (in honor of Johnny Buck’s new album, Gold Heart), but Jessica didn’t get the message. She wore purple as usual, so the other girls made her sit at the end of their lunch table “so she wouldn’t wreck the color scheme.” That is some Mean Girls craziness right there.

Janet: “When you think of the ocean, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” Jessica: “Um, food?” Janet: “Food.” Jessica: “Yeah, everything makes me think of food.” I guess Jess and I aren’t so different after all.

The SVMS spring musical CANNOT be Hair. There’s no freaking way.

Ellen’s father is peak embarrassing dad and I love him.

December 13, 2016

SVT Magna Edition #2, A Christmas Without Elizabeth: When You Wish Upon an Angel With the Munchies

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:07 pm by Jenn

"What if Elizabeth had never been born?" Well, for one thing, my life would be a lot better

“What if Elizabeth had never been born?” Well, for one thing, my life would be a lot better

Summary: It wouldn’t be a special occasion in Sweet Valley without a party (really, it wouldn’t be a Tuesday in Sweet Valley without a party), and for some reason, Jessica’s in charge of this one. Apparently she was chosen at random to pick the middle school’s holiday party theme and organize everything. That seems like a dangerous thing to leave up to chance. Liz is in charge of the money for the party, which is a much better choice, especially since the class has raised $386 to pay for everything.

Liz doesn’t have much Christmas spirit right now, though – she’s been volunteering at a homeless shelter a lot, which has hurt her schoolwork a little. Instead of studying, she goes back to the shelter with some Christmas decorations. She’s befriended two sisters, Al and Suzannah Glass, who are staying at the shelter with their mom while their father looks for work in the vague region called “up north.” The Glass family’s situation makes Liz realize that her problems aren’t so big. She may have gotten a B- and a pimple, but at least she has a roof over her head.

While Jessica works on petty issues like picking a theme for the party, Elizabeth and Amy volunteer at the shelter. Suzannah tells them that her father is going to send money so the family can get an apartment in Sweet Valley. They’ve already picked one out, and Al’s excited because there’s a swingset on the property. Suzannah’s just looking forward to having a quiet place to read, since there are too many people and too much noise at the shelter. But the money doesn’t come through, and the landlord can’t keep holding the apartment for the family, so they’ll have to stay at the shelter through Christmas.

Somehow, the Glasses only need $375, and Elizabeth has $386, which gives her an idea. Mr. Glass is supposed to come to Sweet Valley on Tuesday with the money the family needs (no, I don’t know where this money is coming from. Maybe his last paycheck from a job he recently lost?). She can loan the Glasses the $386, plus some money she’ll add from her own savings, so they can get the apartment they want. Then Mr. Glass will repay her on Tuesday, and she’ll have the money for the party later in the week. This won’t give the party committee much time to buy what they need, but Liz will just delay them when they come asking for the money.

Liz knows this isn’t a great idea, since people would be mad about her giving away their money if they found out. But she desperately wants the Glasses to have a home for Christmas, and since she has the ability to help, she really wants to do it. Mrs. Glass refuses at first, but she eventually gives in, promising Elizabeth that she’ll get her money back on Tuesday. What could possibly go wrong?

Lots, of course. First, the Unicorns want the party money so they can start spending it. Elizabeth delays them, then tells them she had Ned put it in the bank so it wouldn’t get lost or stolen. She encourages Jessica to take her time deciding on a theme. Then the Glasses’ new landlord pressures them for the rest of their rent money, worrying that he made a mistake by letting them move in without all of it. This is while they’re decorating a tree Elizabeth got them (for free, because some nice Christmas tree salesman in Sweet Valley has a lot more holiday spirit than some people).

Because Elizabeth has been so distracted with schoolwork and volunteering and giving away her classmates’ money without telling them, her relationship (or whatever you want to call it) with Todd suffers. She forgets to meet him at the mall, and he no longer wants to go to the Christmas party with her. Since when does middle school-era Todd have such a hard time accepting an apology?

The Sixers also suffers from Elizabeth’s lack of attention. Caroline writes an article about Lila’s new bedroom redecoration, and Elizabeth doesn’t catch a couple of typos – specifically “broom” instead of “room” and “wich” instead of “rich.” Lila thinks the paper is trying to paint her as a witch, and she threatens to sue. She also has the Unicorns throw away every issue they can find.

Jess asks Elizabeth for the party money, so Liz says she won’t be able to get it until tomorrow (Tuesday), since it’s in the bank and the bank will be closed by the time school lets out. Jess still hasn’t picked a theme, so I’m not sure what she plans to buy anyway. After school, Elizabeth goes to the Glasses’, since they’re throwing a little party for Mr. Glass’s return home. Except he never makes it. There’s snow in this mythical “up north” region, and Mrs. Glass figures that her husband can’t make the drive. They don’t have a phone, so they’re not able to find out for sure.

The landlord comes by, and since Mr. Glass hasn’t arrived with the money (and the landlord is grinchier than the actual Grinch himself), he doesn’t want the family to stay in the apartment. It’s almost Christmas Eve, but the landlord doesn’t care – he’s kicking them out by 10 the next morning. Despite Liz’s best efforts, the family will be spending the holidays in a shelter.

Elizabeth considers telling her parents what happened and asking them to loan the Glasses the money they need. But she realizes that would mean coming clean about giving them money, which could get Mrs. Glass in trouble, somehow. I guess because Mrs. Glass accepted money that came from kids who didn’t know it was going to her? But she didn’t know that, so I don’t know how she could get in trouble. Liz’s logic is weird. Anyway, the Wakefields spent a lot of money on Christmas presents this year, and Elizabeth decides not to bother them for more.

Mr. Glass still hasn’t arrived in Sweet Valley by the next morning, so the Glasses sadly move out of their new home. I hope the landlord gets visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. Most people get a few days’ leeway to pay their rent, you Grinch. Then the Unicorns demand their money, and Liz has to tell them she doesn’t have it. She lies that she lost it and will try to make it back. Everyone’s understandably furious.

Elizabeth goes to the mall, for some reason, crying about how she’s screwed up everyone’s Christmas. She wishes she’d never been born – everyone would be better off without her. Suddenly an angel mannequin comes to life (just go with it) and comes over to her. She’s Laura, Elizabeth’s guardian angel, and she’s here to show Liz what everyone’s life would be like without her.

It takes Liz, like, 100 pages to realize that Laura’s for real, and Liz no longer exists. They’re able to observe people but they can’t interact with them. (For some reason, Laura can eat, and if she does something to affect their surroundings, people will notice, but the logistics of this are never explained. Also, Laura’s super-hungry, but I’m sure it’s not because she’s from the ’60s and spent most of her time then indulging in a certain plant.)

Laura and Liz’s first stop is, for some reason, Sophia Rizzo’s house. Since Elizabeth wasn’t around to become her friend, Sophia is still a loner. Tony’s in reform school, and Mrs. Rizzo never met and married Mr. Thomas. This is partly because Sarah’s dead. The night she fell down the stairs, Elizabeth wasn’t around to find her and get her to the hospital. She died, Mr. Thomas became a hermit, and everyone is sad. Also dead: Denny, since Liz didn’t save him from drowning.

Next Laura takes Elizabeth to the Christmas party Jessica was supposed to organize. The first indication that things are different is that Brooke has no friends. The Unicorns aren’t the Unicorns – they’re the Sharks, wannabe tough girls. Mary still lives with her foster parents because Liz didn’t get her and her mother back together (though I assume Mary’s mother would have tracked her down eventually without Elizabeth’s help, but whatever). Patrick ran away. Amy and Maria are basically the same, which is kind of funny. Todd’s just kind of there.

So where’s Jessica? At home, apparently, and not a part of the Sharks. They decide they want to make her do something that will let her join them as an associate Shark. It’s not clear what “associate” means; all we know is that Ellen is one, and she’s dumber than ever. As Liz and Laura follow the Sharks to the Wakefields’, they pass a bar, and Liz sees her father drinking inside. He’s depressed and no longer married to Alice. The Wakefields’ house is rundown, and everyone who lives there is miserable.

Laura explains to Elizabeth that Ned and Alice divorced after the rumor spread that Alice was having an affair. In other words, Elizabeth was the only reason the two of them stayed together. Okay, not really, but that’s how it sounds. They have no money, thanks to a costly custody battle for Jessica and Steven. Steven is a thug who could go to juvenile detention if he gets in any more trouble. Alice is as ineffectual a parent as ever.

But it’s Jessica who’s changed the most. She no longer cares about her appearance, she doesn’t have any friends, and she’s clearly just not happy with her life at all. She perks up when the Sharks come over, saying they want her to go caroling with them. Alternative Universe Jessica is pretty naïve. The Sharks convince her that they want to be friends with her, give her a makeover, and tell her they’re going to let her perform an initiation ritual to be allowed to hang out with them: She has to climb to the roof of City Hall and steal a star decoration. She doesn’t get a ladder, which means she’ll have to climb a nearby tree.

Jessica’s so desperate for friends that she does it, even though it’s dangerous. Elizabeth freaks out the whole time, realizing that without her around to keep Jess in line, her twin is doomed. Somewhere in here, Laura tells Liz her life story, which involved running away and dying in a fire while trying to save a stray cat. She wishes she’d had someone like Elizabeth in her life to keep her in line. Yeah, yeah, she’s a saint.

As Jessica’s about to fall from the tree, probably to her death, Elizabeth wishes that things would go back to the way they were. Laura sends her back, and everything’s normal again. Plus, Jessica has learned what happened to the party money and feels bad for getting mad at Elizabeth. Mr. Glass has finally made it back to Sweet Valley, money in hand, so the party can go on as planned. The Glasses easily get a new apartment, and hopefully one of them gets a job, since that apartment isn’t going to be of much use if they can’t keep paying the rent. Elizabeth is forgiven and lauded at the party, the theme of which seems to be Elizabeth Is Awesome. I mean, of course.

Thoughts: This book is 250 pages about how Elizabeth is awesome. GAG.

For people without a place to live, the Glasses sure are willing to spend extra money for three bedrooms instead of getting a two-bedroom apartment for cheaper and just having the two girls share a room.

Some of the “without Liz, XYZ” stuff makes no sense, but Jessica being a friendless loser doesn’t. I think she’d at least be friends with Amy and Maria. And why aren’t the Unicorns still the Unicorns? They have nothing to do with Elizabeth.

November 22, 2016

SVT #72, The Love Potion: The Unicorns Will Make It Up Right Here in the Sink

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

I can't figure out who the girl in the middle reminds me of and it's driving me crazy

I can’t figure out who the girl in the middle reminds me of and it’s driving me crazy

Summary: SVMS throws an annual carnival with the proceeds going to charity, and every year the Unicorns find time in their busy schedule of flirting and practicing new hairstyles to run a booth. This year, the group who raises the most money will get a prize. That’s great and all, but it’s not the biggest news in town: Johnny Buck is going to give a concert in Sweet Valley. Instead of selling tickets, they’re being given away raffle-style, and people can only win them by sending an entry in to the Sweet Valley Tribune. This requires filling out a form only found in the paper, which means if you want to send in multiple entries, you have to buy multiple copies of the paper.

As if that weren’t enough for the Unicorns to be anxious about, they’re worried about Mary’s new hanger-on, Peter Burns. Peter’s a nerd (he’s good at science! Ew!), and his obvious crush on Mary makes the girls worry that their reputation will be tainted. They (well, mostly Janet) urge Mary to be rude to Peter so he’ll go away, but Mary’s an actual nice person and doesn’t want to do that. When he walks home with her one afternoon, she mentions how much she’d like to go to the Johnny Buck concert. He tries to be encouraging, even though the odds of her winning a ticket are pretty slim.

The Unicorns have been trying to come up with an idea for their booth, and Jess thinks up one that everyone agrees on: selling a love potion. They’ll mix up some drink and sell it for a dollar a bottle, promising that whoever drinks it will soon become the object of someone else’s affection. At least it’s a creative idea.

Peter gives Mary a magazine with info about Johnny, which worries the Unicorns. They decide she should be taken off the market so Peter will back off. Mary used to have a crush on an eighth-grader named Tim, so the girls do some matchmaking and let him know that Mary’s interested. He invites her to a big picnic at Secca Lake the day after the carnival, and though she’s not that excited about going with him, she agrees because she doesn’t want to tick off the Unicorns.

Peter helps out with the Sixers and chats with Elizabeth, admitting that he entered the concert raffle even though he doesn’t like Johnny Buck that much. She figures out that he wants to win tickets for Mary. Over the weekend, the ticket winners receive their prizes (more on this in the B-plot section), but Peter and Mary are both out of luck. But everyone has one more chance: Mr. Bowman bought tickets for his niece but is now going to raffle them off at the carnival. This time, people can only enter once, which puts everyone back on equal footing.

Even without the tickets, Peter gets up the courage to ask Mary out. Just before he can, Tim arrives, and Peter learns that he and Mary are going to the picnic together. Peter realizes he’s lost his chance with the girl he’s in love with. Poor guy. The Unicorns are happy, though, since Mary now has a respectable boyfriend. Mary herself isn’t so happy – Tim is full of himself and more interested in talking about what he likes than finding out anything about Mary. Also, he doesn’t like Johnny Buck.

The girls mix up their love potion, which is really pineapple punch with purple food coloring. (It actually sounds kind of good.) They make a ton of sales, either to people who really want to fall in love or to people who are just thirsty. Tim buys three bottles to make himself look like a bigshot. Mary is, unsurprisingly, not impressed. Everyone buys raffle tickets, including Peter, who’s still holding on to hope that he can win Mary over.

Mary runs into Peter, who’s back to hoping that things will work out for them. He tells her that he bought a raffle ticket but is hopeful about things even if he doesn’t end up winning. She tries to get him to explain that, but he clams up. Now she thinks he’s being cold to her, which confuses her, since he was so nice before. Maybe he didn’t like her as much as she’d thought. Yeah, or maybe he’s upset that you’re dating a jerk instead of him. Wake up, Mary.

Jessica’s sick of Peter and decides to sell him a love potion. This one is special – it contains a bunch of ingredients Jessica finds around the carnival, including salsa and root beer. Peter first says he doesn’t believe in love potions, but he figures it can’t hurt to try. The poor guy drinks the whole thing while the Unicorns giggle about him. Joke’s on you, girls – he’s going to grow up to find a cure for cancer or something, while you have three kids you don’t even like and spend your lives trying to recapture the magic of your senior year of high school.

Mr. Bowman lets Elizabeth and Amy hang around while he draws the winner of the concert tickets. Unsurprisingly, it’s Peter. He swears the girls to secrecy, since he won’t announce the winner until the next day. But Jessica tricks Elizabeth into telling her, pretending she’s going to read her mind, then getting her to write the winner’s name on a napkin, which Jess just grabs. She wishes Mary had gone out with Peter instead of Tim, since this would ensure her a ticket to the concert. Then Jess realizes that she can secure a ticket by buttering Peter up. She also tells Lila that he won.

Mary finally realizes that Peter is a nice guy and she hasn’t treated him well. She decides to make up with him at the picnic. She’s still going with Tim, but she was zero interest in him. The next day, Mary has a horrible time getting to the picnic. Tim’s father was supposed to drive them, but he can’t make it, so they have to ride bikes. Mary rides Tim’s mom’s bike but gets a flat tire. Tim says she must have done something wrong, then ditches her. When Mary finally gets to Secca Lake, she yells at Tim in front of all his friends, which is awesome.

Mary then apologizes to Peter, who now has a bunch of girls being nice to him. He doesn’t know he won the tickets, so he doesn’t get that they’re trying to kiss up to him. Well, except for Mary, who genuinely feels bad about how she treated him. Peter figures the love potion actually worked. Sorry, buddy, Mary just realized she was being a jerk and stopped letting her friends peer-pressure her into staying away from you.

The Unicorns get a plaque for making the most money at the carnival. Lila is unimpressed. Peter learns that he won the tickets and gives them to Mary and Jessica, even though he knows that Jessica gave him a gross love potion on purpose. Once again, Jessica’s bad behavior is rewarded and she suffers no consequences. Sigh.

The B-plot is about how much the Wakefield kids want to go to the concert. Steven wants to win tickets so he can take Cathy, and he sends in 30 entries.  Jessica can only get her hands on six copies of the paper, and Elizabeth just sends in one entry. Apparently the paper receives 25,000 entries all together, which has to be, like, 2.5 times the number of subscribers, so the Tribune is going to have a great Christmas party this year. Jess and Steven get competitive, agreeing that whoever doesn’t get to go to the concert has to do the other’s chores for a month.

Thanks to his 30 entries, Steven wins tickets while Jessica doesn’t. (Elizabeth doesn’t either, but Amy does, so Liz gets a ticket anyway.) Then Steven misplaces his tickets, so Jess makes another deal with him: If she finds them, she gets one. Steven ends up cleaning the entire house while looking for the tickets, but he can’t find them. He even accuses Jessica of stealing them, which is kind of dumb, because how would she get away with going to the concert without him finding out?

Eventually Steven finds the tickets in his geometry book. His parents aren’t happy with the realization that he didn’t find them earlier because he hasn’t used his geometry book in days. Jessica isn’t happy with the fact that, since Steven found them without her help, he doesn’t have to give her one. Just before the concert, Steven misplaces the tickets AGAIN, this time in his Spanish book. Maybe Steven should focus more on schoolwork and less on buying 30 copies of a newspaper. Anyway, all three Wakefield kids get to go to the concert, so yay.

Thoughts: “How about a booth selling special paper?” This is why you’re never allowed to do anything in this series, Kimberly.

Jessica mentions that she has good luck with pineapple recipes, which is a nice bit of continuity.

Mary: “I think he cares more about himself than anyone else.” Lila: “What’s wrong with that?” As if Lila would waste two seconds on a guy who cared more about himself than he did about her.

October 11, 2016

SVT #67, Jessica the Thief: American Swiper

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

I probably would have worn Jessica's skirt when I was her age

I probably would have worn Jessica’s skirt when I was her age

Summary: Veronica Brooks is settling in at SVMS, and she wants to become a Unicorn. Elizabeth is the only person who thinks Veronica is bad news. This is even after Veronica threatened to get even with Jessica at the end of the last book. The Unicorns haven’t yet invited Veronica to join them, possibly because right now they’re more interested in their newest accessories. Lila just got a Watchman (a watch/TV combo) and Ellen’s been allowed to wear her mother’s expensive hoop earrings to school.

At lunch, Ellen takes off her earrings (they’re heavy) and leaves them at the table while a bunch of the Unicorns go get cookies. Jessica and Veronica hang behind a little. When everyone gets back to the table, the earrings are missing. Then, at Boosters practice (which Veronica hangs around, since Bruce is also in the gym), Janet’s hairbrush and Lila’s newest Teenager magazine disappear. Veronica wonders if the same person took the magazine, hairbrush, and earrings. Jessica thinks the girls are all just bad at keeping track of their stuff.

Some of the girls chat about the disappearances in the bathroom, nicknaming the thief the Sweet Valley Swiper. Jessica admires Mandy’s new hat, which she got from a thrift store. By the way, everyone used to see Mandy’s style as low-class, but now she’s considered quirky and unique. She accidentally leaves the hat in the bathroom, and when she goes back to get it…well, of course it’s gone. The Sweet Valley Swiper strikes again!

Elizabeth fancies herself a detective, so she takes an interest in the case. She figures that since the hat was taken from the girls’ bathroom, the thief is probably a girl. Well, yeah – a guy probably isn’t going to steal earrings and a brush. Next, Mandy’s jacket vanishes. Ellen thinks her deodorant was also stolen, which leads to a lot of jokes about how she smells. There’s a pattern emerging beyond girls having their things taken – they’re all things Jessica has admired. Also, only the Unicorns have been victims of the thefts.

The pattern breaks when Veronica reports her notebook missing. The girls finally tell the principal, Mr. Clark, who promises to get the teachers to keep their eyes out. Elizabeth and Amy apparently solved mysteries together as kids, calling themselves the Snoopers, and they consider getting back together for one last case. How is this situation different from the other times they’ve teamed up to solve mysteries?

Lila gets her Watchman taken away in class, and when she goes to get it back from the teacher, it’s gone. I’m impressed that the thief was able to grab it without the teacher seeing. Later, Lila gets a note telling her she can find the Watchman in Jessica’s locker. Indeed, that’s where it is, though Jess has no idea how it got there. Half the Unicorns turn on her, thinking she’s the swiper. They want to oust her from the Unicorns and replace her with Veronica.

Even Elizabeth isn’t sure about her sister’s innocence. After all, Jessica borrowed her sweatshirt and lost it…or did she steal it? But Elizabeth thinks that Occam’s Razor is bull: The simplest explanation is that Jess is the thief, but that’s too easy. She’s probably being framed. Liz decides to focus on the note Lila got about the Watchman’s location, but she’s already thrown it out. Elizabeth recruits Amy to help her dig through the trash at school, which means Amy is a much better friend to Liz than I could ever be. Too bad they don’t find the note. Right now the only thing going in Jess’ favor is the fact that Aaron doesn’t think she’s the swiper.

Elizabeth sees the Unicorns hanging out with Veronica and thinks she’s cracked the case. She comes up with a multi-step plan to catch the swiper. First, Jessica pretends to be sick so she can stay home from school. Elizabeth goes to school as her twin, saying Liz is the one who’s sick. She chats with Veronica, telling her that Mandy still believes in Jessica’s innocence. The only thing that could make her turn on Jess is if her favorite rhinestone pin disappeared.

Guess what disappears not long after? Like Lila, Mandy gets a note telling her Jess took the pin. But Elizabeth announces that she’s not Jess, and that Jess isn’t even at school today, so there’s no way she could have taken the pin. Mandy calls Alice to confirm that Liz is who she says she is, getting confirmation when Jessica can’t spell “thief.” But even with Jess out of school, the pin is in her locker.

Elizabeth tells Mandy and Lila that she’s figured it out: Veronica is the thief. She framed Jessica to get her kicked out of the Unicorns. While Amy goes to get Mr. Clark, Elizabeth and Mandy stage a fight so Veronica will overhear. Veronica thinks Mandy’s mad at “Jessica” for stealing her pin, but the girls point out that they never mentioned a pin being missing. Mandy even says it’s not gone.

Elizabeth notes that only the thief would know it was missing. Veronica tries to blame Jessica, but Liz tells her that Jess isn’t at school. Mr. Clark checks Veronica’s locker, where all the missing things have been stashed. Jessica’s name is cleared, and Veronica’s suspended. Jess figures out that Veronica got her locker combination from a book she borrowed from Jess. The Unicorns, amazingly, feel horrible about the way they treated Jess, and they bring her ice cream as a peace offering. Also, Jess finds Elizabeth’s missing sweatshirt, proving once and for all that she may be a thoughtless sister, but she’s not a thief.

The B-plot is kind of entertaining. Steven and Joe take tests to see if they qualify for MEGA (the Mentally Gifted Association), the Sweet Valley-verse’s version (say that five times fast) of MENSA. Steven’s mailed results say he’s in the 99th percentile, the “genius intelligence quoshent [sic].” Steven thinks this is awesome, not just because it means he’s super-smart but also because Jess told him she would never tease him again if he got a genius score on the test.

Suddenly Steven has a new hobby: being an intellectual. He gets interested in tort law, chess, opera, and a Jeopardy-style TV show called Q&A. Even the twins are impressed with his ability to answer all the questions correctly. He gets Joe to watch a documentary about the mating habits of porcupines. Everyone finds him insufferable now, since he just wants to talk about high-brow things, and doesn’t even want to play basketball anymore.

On her day home “sick,” Jessica helps clean Steven’s room and does some detective work of her own. She finds a list of answers (or questions, I guess) from the episode of Q&A they watched, and realizes that he cheated – they watched a taped episode that Steven had already seen. Along with some other evidence proving that Steven isn’t, in fact, a genius, Jess is able to bust her brother.

Steven admits that he was playing a joke on Joe; he knew Joe made up the test results. Messing with the twins was just a bonus for Steven. Now he wants the girls to help him get payback. A bunch of the Wakefield kids’ friends come over, and Janet tells Jessica that Joe made up the test results to mess with Steven. Jessica pretends that Steven has no idea. Then Steven announces that his genius IQ makes him too smart for high school, so he’s going to drop out and try to get into Harvard. Joe tries to pretend that the test results were a mistake (there’s a guy out there named Steven Wokefield who doesn’t know he’s a genius), but Steven comes clean. Everyone’s amused by the whole thing.

Thoughts: A watch that you can watch TV on is so ahead of its time.

“When a crime seems too easy to solve, there’s probably a good reason.” And maybe the reason is that the criminal was too dumb to avoid getting caught.

Rick Hunter thought Jessica was too much of a klutz to be a thief. I don’t get that logic. She would have dropped the things she tried to steal? She would have tripped while taking them? Please explain yourself, Rick.

September 6, 2016

SVT #63, Poor Lila!: Riches to Rags

Posted in books tagged , , at 4:37 pm by Jenn

It's embarrassing to admit, but we really did dress like this in the '90s

It’s embarrassing to admit, but we really did dress like this in the ’90s

Summary: Lila’s planning a huge bash called the Unicorn Founding Fling, to celebrate the anniversary of…well, the founding of the Unicorns. It’s such a big deal that even non-Unicorns are invited. Lila even sent the mayor an invitation, for some reason. (If I were the mayor, I’d totally go. Make some kids happy + free food = good times.) Lila is going way overboard with caterers, souvenir T-shirts, and, she hopes, a purple hot-air balloon. I don’t think her father knows anything about this.

While shopping, Lila’s credit card gets declined, something that’s never happened to her before. I feel horrible for the clerk who has to deal with this diva 12-year-old’s tantrum over not being able to spend Daddy’s money on a sweater she’ll probably only wear once. Lila tries to tell herself that it was a tech error and the credit card is fine. But when she gets home, she learns that her chauffeur is being fired. The housekeeper doing the firing says it “has to do with the money.”

When Mr. Fowler says no to the hot-air balloon at the party, Lila starts worrying that they’re having money problems. Why else would her card get declined and her father have to make cutbacks like getting rid of the driver and not paying for ridiculous expenses? Lila tries to distract herself with a good deed, donating some of her old clothes to a local homeless shelter where Elizabeth and Melissa have been volunteering. Lila thinks Melissa, the only poor person she knows, should claim some clothes for herself. Melissa doesn’t exactly appreciate the charity.

Lila hears her father on the phone, talking about losing a fortune on a business deal, and her worst fears are realized: The Fowlers are no longer stinking rich. This is a fate worse than death for Lila. It doesn’t help that she now has to walk home from school (life is hard for a girl with no chauffeur). Melissa and Andy run into her on one of those walks and offer to give her a ride home. When they learn that she’d be eating dinner alone, they invite her to their place. Lila enjoys spending some time with a happy (though poor) family.

Jessica can’t believe Lila would voluntarily spend time with Melissa. Lila worries that, without all her money, her friends won’t have a reason to spend time with her anymore. Instead of realizing that she could ensure her friendships by actually being friendly, Lila decides to learn how to be poor so she’s ready when the time comes. Melissa can be her Yoda and teach her the ways of the lower-middle-class. Melissa may be a saint.

Melissa’s also doing good deeds over at the shelter, volunteering with Elizabeth to spend time with the kids in the shelter’s daycare. They take interest in a boy named David who keeps sneaking an extra sandwich at snack time, even when they tell him he can eat as much as he wants. They learn that he’s taking the food for his dog, Charlie, which he and his father had to give up when Mr. Lowell lost his job, then their house. They were supposed to give the dog up, but David tied him up somewhere in hopes of getting him back once he has a house again. Elizabeth offers up the Wakefields as a doggy foster family until then.

Despite promising to keep Lila’s financial crisis secret, Melissa confides to Jessica that the Fowlers are soon to be dirt-poor. Jessica assures Melissa that the Unicorns will still want to be friends with Lila no matter how much money she has. Of course, she can’t come up with any reasons WHY they would want to stay friends with a self-centered, snobby princess. But still, good news for Lila. Jess tells the other Unicorns, and they decide that since Lila has to cancel all the fancy stuff for the Founding Fling, they’ll organize the rest of it themselves and surprise her.

Since the girls keep their plans to themselves, Lila isn’t sure what’s going on when they suddenly start acting weird. She turns to Melissa for friendship, and the two of them come up with bargain ideas for the Founding Fling. Melissa’s only repayment is getting Lila to volunteer at the shelter. She almost enjoys herself, even though she has to do normal-people things like clean. Lila starts to think the other Unicorns are acting weird because they’re throwing a Founding Fling that she won’t be invited to. She decides to invite the kids from the shelter to her party so she’ll still have some guests. Plus, she actually feels bad that they can’t afford things like hot-air balloons and personal drivers.

Mr. Fowler finds Lila baking cupcakes for the Founding Fling and comments on how weird it is to find her making food instead of letting the housekeeper cater to her. Lila tells him that she knows about their money troubles and is prepared to make adjustments so she can handle being poor. Mr. Fowler’s very confused. They’re not poor at all – the credit card is fine, the chauffeur was fired for stealing (and sucking at his job), and though Mr. Fowler did lose some money on a deal, he turned around and made a bunch on another deal. In fact, the Fowlers are probably richer than ever. Oh, happy day!

The pared-down version of the Founding Fling goes forward, and the kids from the shelter have a great time. Melissa admits that she told Jessica about Lila’s soon-to-be-poorness, and Jess must have told the others. Lila realizes that she’s better off without friends who only liked her for her money. Even though she didn’t enjoy thinking she’d become poor, at least the situation taught her who her real friends are (you know, the girl she’s only spoken to once and would have never given the time of day if she didn’t think they’d have to slum it together).

But then the Unicorns arrive with their own food and decorations, and let Lila know that they like her no matter how much money she has. Lila’s thrilled to be both rich and surrounded by friends. Things get even better when David’s father proves to be a great mechanic, and Mr. Fowler hires him as a mechanic/chauffeur. This means the Lowells can get a new house and take their dog back. Jessica pretends to be upset about this, since the dog has become obsessed with her. The mayor even comes to the party, which is kind of cool. And Mr. Fowler surprises Lila by renting the hot-air balloon.

The end of the book is a tiny bit heartwarming, especially by Sweet Valley standards and super-especially by Lila Fowler standards. She and Mr. Fowler donate the leftovers from the party to the shelter. Then Lila buys a bunch of sweaters and donates them as well. Maybe she’s finally decided to use her riches for good? Yeah, probably not.

Thoughts: Lila doesn’t know how to use a microwave. I am sad.

Why did the Unicorns invite so many non-Unicorns to the party? I can’t believe they’re willing to lower themselves to spend time with the unwashed masses.

Pin the Tail on the Unicorn? Lila would never suggest that even ironically. And she comes up with this idea before she even invites the kids from the shelter, so she was going to have preteens and teens play it. Whatever.

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