February 14, 2017

SVT #82, Steven’s Enemy: Oh, Brother

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

With his stance and the vibe he's giving off, it looks like Steven's upset because he wants Ben for himself

With his stance and the vibe he’s giving off, it looks like Steven’s upset because he wants Ben for himself

Summary: Having not learned her lesson from the last time she decided to trade in Denny for a better model, Janet has her eye on an SVH freshman named Doug. The other Unicorns decide to go to the next SVH JV basketball practice to check him out and let her know whether they approve. (I doubt any of them would say no. It’s not like Janet’s looking for an honest opinion here.)

Speaking of basketball players, Steven has recently been switched from starting center to guard in favor of a new kid named Ben Oliver. Steven hates Ben, even though he seems like a perfectly nice guy. But Steven isn’t going to be overshadowed by a kid who always knows the answer in class and probably thinks he’s smarter than everyone just because he’s a year younger than the other freshmen, having skipped seventh grade. To make matters worse, Ben is running against Steven for class treasurer.

Steven’s campaign goes negative against Ben, though Cathy objects, insisting that Ben is a great guy. Steven’s furious that she would find even one good thing about his arch-nemesis. He thinks he’s a shoo-in for treasurer. The Unicorns attend the next basketball practice, and Jessica immediately develops a crush on Ben. She has no idea that he’s her brother’s enemy, and he has no idea that getting involved with her would make Steven mad.

The vote for treasurer is too close to call, so the freshmen vote again. This time, Ben wins. Steven acts like a jerk about it even though Ben is gracious. His day gets worse when he comes home to find Ben there, about to take Jessica to Casey’s for ice cream. Steven goes all overprotective brother, refusing to let Jess leave with Ben. I can’t believe he thinks that’ll work. Jessica ignores him and goes off with Ben. Then Cathy and Joe are friendly toward Ben at school, just making Steven madder.

Jessica and Ben plan a double date with Janet and Doug, which Steven tries to get Ned and Alice to cancel. Even though their 12-year-old daughter will be going out with a high-schooler, Ned and Alice are fine with the situation (I think they made Ben 13 so the age gap wouldn’t be so big. But still, a sixth-grader and a ninth-grader?). Steven practically threatens to get violent with Ben, which gets him sent to his room. Hey, an attempt at effective Wakefield parenting for once!

Elizabeth has already started to suspect that Jess is only with Ben to bug Steven, and after the double date, it seems like Jess might only stick with the relationship for that reason. Ben and Doug are both kind of annoying, and Jessica and Janet are starting to realize that dating a high-schooler isn’t as glamorous as they’d expected. Still, Jess isn’t going to pass up the chance to talk up the date so Steven gets even madder. She plays it off like they’re just friends, so Ned and Alice can’t really object. After Steven overhears the Unicorns talking about Veronica, he decides to handle the Jess/Ben situation (JessBen is an awful couple name; let’s hope that, say, Jessica Chastain and Ben Affleck never get together) on his own.

Steven asks Veronica out, I guess not worrying about what Cathy will say if she finds out. Jess is as furious as Steven is every time he sees her with Ben. Though he’s pleased with his plan, Steven gets upset again when he hears a rumor that Cathy voted for Ben in the election. He immediately believes this, which is dumb, but that’s par for the course for Steven in this book. However, Cathy then confirms this, claiming she has a good reason. Steven’s too angry to listen to her.

Now at the side of a high-schooler, Veronica is suddenly popular. Even the Unicorns want to spend time with her, despite the tricks she’s pulled on Jessica in the past. Steven is happy with his revenge plot, but clearly still wants to be with Cathy, as he gets jealous when he hears that she’s been spending time with a guy named Howie. Later, Steven hears Ben telling Doug that Howie lost a bunch of the class’ money for a class trip while he was serving as treasurer. Ben has to do a lot of work to make it back. He knows Cathy voted for him, but only because she didn’t want Steven to have to be stuck with the debt (which she found out about while tutoring Howie in math). Okay, but couldn’t she have told him that?

Steven suddenly gets that Ben isn’t a bad guy after all, and his jealousy comes from…well, nowhere, really. He tries to make up with Cathy, but she’s understandably tired of dealing with him. Steven takes Veronica to Casey’s, and Cathy shows up with Howie. Jessica spots Steven and flings a cherry at him. Steven fires back, innocents are dragged into the fight, and the whole restaurant gets trashed in a food fight. Mr. Casey kicks everyone out, surprisingly not banning them all for life.

The tension has been cut, and all the people who have been fighting make up. Ben and Veronica end up together, because why not? Then Ben has to quit basketball because being treasurer requires too much work, so Steven gets his position back. Everything is awesome again! At least until Steven dumps Cathy for a dumb reason and this whole thing starts over again!

The B-plot is really just setting up a future book: Amy’s suspicious of her parents, who keep having secret conversations and arguing. She thinks they’re going to split up, possibly because of a woman named Jane, as Mr. Sutton wrote a letter to her but hasn’t sent it yet. Liz finds a picture of Mr. Sutton with his arm around a woman, and the words “love, Jane” on the back.

She keeps this from Amy for a while, and when she finally tells her what she saw, Amy blows up at her. She accuses Liz of not wanting Amy to have a family as perfect as the Wakefields. What? Okay, Amy. They make up later, but things between Mr. and Mrs. Sutton don’t get any better. We get a cliffhanger when Jane calls the house and the Suttons ask Elizabeth to leave so they can discuss something in private. If you know the title of book #83, you can guess what the discussion’s about.

There’s also a teeny C-plot where Elizabeth learns that Bruce is going to release a pig in Mrs. Arnette’s class, so she publishes a story about it in the Sixers ahead of time. She and her friends are amused by how angry Bruce gets. I wish they’d done more with this plot; I thought it was funny.

Thoughts: Normally I would call Elizabeth a killjoy for ruining someone’s prank, but doing it to mess with Bruce makes me root for her.

Jessica considers wearing leggings with an Oxford shirt. Ick.

If the freshmen elected someone who’s bad at math to be their treasurer, they kind of deserve whatever happens.

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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.

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.