Sweet Valley Twins #72: The Love Potion

I will probably never again succeed in doing two of these in order, so I think we should all pause for a moment to celebrate.

Where are we? Sweet Valley Middle School’s annual charity carnival

When are we? Whenever they hold the damned charity carnival.love potion

Recap: The ghostwriter either noticed that there’s no way the Unicorns could “always have the coolest booth” if they’re in sixth grade, or this is a different, more logical, ghostwriter. Because the book starts out by pointing out that now that they’re in sixth grade the Unicorns finally get to participate in the school carnival, which raises money for charity. If this is a school thing, I don’t get why the Unicorns even get to have a booth. They’re hardly a school club or anything.

Anyway, while they’re trying to come up with an idea, Mary shows up late to the meeting with exciting news: Johnny Buck is coming to Sweet Valley. Everyone wants to go, but especially Mary and Jessica because they’re huge fans.

Also going on in the background: someone named Peter Burns has a huge crush on Mary. She likes him as a friend, but because he’s a “geek” and won second place in the science fair the Unicorns make fun of him, and try to convince Mary to be mean to him so he’ll stop talking to her.

It turns out there will be only two thousand tickets for the Johnny Buck concert, so the Tribune is holding a contest. One thousand randomly selected (I presume) winners will get two tickets each. Every entry has to include a form from the paper, so Steven Wakefield buys thirty copies, and Jessica buys six (all she can afford). Elizabeth was awake first, so she just sent in the one entry from the Wakefields’ copy of the paper. (Mary, it turns out, bought seventy-five copies.) Steven and the twins make a bet that whoever doesn’t get to go has to do the others’ Sunday chores for a month.

Jessica starts sucking up to all the other Unicorns so that if one of them wins she’ll get invited along. Nice.

Steven wins two tickets, and plans to take his girlfriend, Cathy Connors. Neither Elizabeth nor Jessica win, but Amy does, and she invites Elizabeth along.

Steven is a dork, so he loses his tickets. After making Jessica swear (in front of their parents) that she didn’t hide them, he agrees to her deal: if she helps him find the tickets, she gets to go with Cathy. I don’t even know who Cathy is, but she’d probably have more fun dating Jess than Steven. No, wait: that’s not what Jessica meant. She just wants to go, and convinces Steven that Cathy will only be even more impressed with him for giving his ticket to his kid sister. Uh, whatever.

Meanwhile Jessica has come up with the perfect idea for the Unicorns’ booth: they can concoct a purple drink and sell tiny bottles of “love potion.” That is actually cute. Nowadays some idiot would sue them because it didn’t work, or the city would shut them down for not having a food service license. Lila’s father pays for four hundred glass bottles to sell the stuff in, and Mary finds a recipe for pineapple punch (they use food colouring to make it purple).

The Unicorns have also convinced Mary to go out with a basketball player named Tim Davis, because he’s cute and on the basketball team. Janet tells Tim that Mary likes him, so he calls Mary and invites her to a picnic, and she agrees. The closer they get to the date the less she likes him, because all he talks about is how well he plays basketball. He’s a conceited blowhard, but she convinces herself he’s just made a bad first impression and deserves a chance, so she still agrees to go to the picnic (the day after the carnival) with him.

Peter, meanwhile, has been being adorable: helping with the stupid special edition of the Sixers (that’s what the Sixers‘ booth is going to do, sell an edition that profiles all the charities that will benefit from the carnival), bringing Mary a not-yet-on-the-shelves edition of a magazine his uncle works at because Johnny Buck is on the cover, and just generally being thoughtful. I am entirely Team Peter.

Steven finds his tickets inside his geometry book, which he hasn’t looked at for a week. So he gets to take Cathy to the concert, but otherwise he’s grounded.

Mr.  Bowman, the English teacher, was one of the ticket winners, but in order to raise money for the carnival he holds a raffle. Everyone can only enter once, for fifty cents.

At the carnival Jessica attempts to poison Peter by convincing him to buy a bottle of love potion, only because they’d sold all four hundred bottles of the punch she makes up something hideous with hot sauce and sugar and other crap. He turns pale and then green, and the Unicorns all laugh merrily over what a sucker he is.

Elizabeth, Amy, and Mr. Bowman go into the school alone. Elizabeth draws the ticket stub, and I guess Amy is there as a witness or chaperone or something, and it turns out Peter has won Mr. Bowman’s tickets. This is supposed to be kept secret until the picnic. Liz is an idiot, so when Jessica tries to “read her mind” she actually agrees to write the winner’s name on a napkin to help Jessica “visualize.” Jessica steals the napkin and promptly tells all the Unicorns that Peter won, except she can’t reach Mary because Mary has already left her house to go to that picnic with Tim.

Mary’s date with Tim is a disaster. His father is too selfish to pick her up, so she gets dropped at Tim’s house only to find out they don’t have a ride to the picnic after all. They have to ride bikes, and Tim lends her his mother’s, which is so big Mary has to stand up to ride it. Then it gets a flat tire, and ruins her dress, and she ends up walking. When she gets to the picnic she dumps Tim and apologizes to Peter.

I was actually worried that Peter would have guessed (from the way the Unicorns were fawning over him) that he’d won and people knew, and that he’d reject Mary out of suspicion she was after a ticket. But strangely, even though he shares a town with the sociopathic Jessica and her manipulative friends, he’s a nice, non-suspicious boy. He tells her he was willing to try anything, even the horrible love potion. Then Mr. Bowman announces that Peter has won the tickets, and he walks back to Mary and hands her one and gives the other to Jessica.

I took a bunch of deep breaths at this point, and managed to remind myself to view Jessica as an Id-fulfillment fantasy rather than as a “character” in the normal sense. Because she never learns anything for longer than a chapter, and never grows or changes or develops, yet she gets absolutely everything she wants all the time.

Quotes:

Janet was Lila’s cousin, and an eighth-grader. She was also president of the Unicorn Club, which made her just about the most important person in the middle school. (pp. 2-3)

The Sociopath at Home:

If Steven won the contest and she didn’t…well, there was really only one solution. She’d have to kill him and take the tickets. He left her no other choice. (p. 16)

“Do you still think that?” Jessica asked. “Steven, I’m not that dumb. If I had stolen them, I’d be keeping both of them, not turning one over to you.” (p. 73)

It Runs in the Family:

He knitted his eyebrows thoughtfully. “I guess I could search Cathy’s room when she’s not looking.” (p. 89)

That last bit is Steven. He doesn’t want to call his girlfriend and ask if he left the tickets at her house, because that will make him look dumb, but he’s willing to search her room without permission.

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Sweet Valley Twins #71: Jessica Saves the Trees

Where are we? Sweet Valley Middle School: soccer field

When are we? Hell if I know. It’s during the school year, and the boys’ soccer team has just made Division A because they were undefeated last year, and Aaron Dallas makes the team after the scrimmage in chapter one. So…whenever that happens?

Look closely: Jessica is CHAINED to a TREE.
Look closely: Jessica is CHAINED to a TREE.

Recap: Soccer is happening, and the boys get to “dedicate” their goals; Aaron scores three and dedicates them all to Jessica. He also becomes the first sixth grader to make the school team, apparently.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, gets chewed out by Mr. Bowman for not being impartial when she reported only one side of a story: Dennis and Alex told her they were unfairly kicked out of a candy shop, and she reported their side without checking with the shop owner, who has shown up at the school to complain. Wow.

Elizabeth corrects her story to include the shop owner’s side, but it still isn’t right, because it turns out the “food fight” that precipitated the whole fuss was two other boys from an entirely different school. Also, a rough draft gets printed by accident, and it includes Amy’s description of Dennis and Alex as “a pair of low-down, lying, slimy, food-fighting finks.” So this time it’s a parent who complains, and Liz gets hauled in and scolded again. They take the middle school paper REALLY seriously in Sweet Valley, apparently.

Some actress called Lois Lattimer appears on television to extol the virtues of activism, and since Jessica admires her she decides she needs a cause. Luckily for Jess, the boys’ soccer team might lose out on playing A Division games, whatever the crap those are, because their soccer field is slightly too small. Really? This is a thing in middle school sports? Anyway, she throws herself into fund-raising so the field can be expanded.

Led by Jess, the students raise $1767. Unluckily for Jess, Lila steals her spotlight by getting her father to donate the rest of the needed $5000. Jessica goes off to sit under the trees and cry, and feels a moment of kinship with a small brown bird.

Elizabeth drags Jessica along with her to interview the engineer who’ll be enlarging the field, and the girls learn that some of the trees are going to be bulldozed. At dinner Mr. Wakefield blithers on about old trees, and Elizabeth decides they need to find out how old the trees around the school are, so Mrs. Wakefield suggests she try the Nature Society.

The guy at the Nature Society tells them that some trees in the area are four hundred years old. He DOESN’T say that the trees around their school are that old, but since that’s what they ASKED him, I can’t entirely blame them for thinking that’s what he meant.

Naturally Jessica starts up a “Save the Trees” movement, and somehow the entire student body cares enough about this issue that they are all polarized, with the Soccer people and the Tree people flinging insults at each other. Janet throws a bitchfit and says anyone on the Save the Trees side can’t be a Unicorn. It’s a good thing Jessica, as a baby sociopath, is well capable of looking after herself.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, is agonizing over her efforts to stay neutral and report both sides fairly, which gets her precisely ZERO praise since everyone, even the teachers, has taken a side. People are coming up to her in the halls and telling her the newspaper needs to make a stand, and it’s cowardice not to, and other insane stuff that would maybe be understandable if they were debating war crimes but is completely nuts when applied to adding/not adding three yards to a childrens’ play space.

On the morning the demolition is scheduled to happen Jessica and her supporters bolt out of the school and chain themselves to the trees. Classic.

In the end Elizabeth borrows a stack of books from the Nature Society and stays up all night looking for that one crucial piece of information that will sway everyone to one side or the other. This is Sweet Valley, so she finds it: a picture of trees infested with bugs. The trees around their school have the same spongy patches at the base, so Elizabeth makes the Nature Society guy come out and look. He confirms that the trees will have to come down or else all the trees in Sweet Valley will end up infected, and also informs them that the school trees are only sixty years old. Oops.

So Jessica looks like an idiot, and it also looks like the school will have to spend the soccer-field-expansion money on cutting down ALL the trees. But then overnight Jessica realizes that, since the school is doing that to save the town’s trees, surely the school shouldn’t have to foot the bill. The city council agrees with her, and she gets acknowledged at a school assembly.

Also the Unicorns make up and start planning the next event: the annual school charity carnival, at which they “always” have the coolest booth, which makes precisely no sense because they are in sixth grade so surely they have only been at middle school for, like, less than a year.

Quotes:

Elizabeth on journalism:

“No, its not,” Elizabeth said with a frown. “That’s not being objective. That’s being emotional. We have to write the facts and let people decide for themselves that Dennis and Alex are a pair of low-down, lying, slimy, food-fighting finks.” (p.13)

The inside of Jessica’s head is an unhealthy place:

Two eighth-grade girls walked by with players from the soccer team. They were holding on to the guys’ arms, and it looked incredibly cool in a retro, nineteen-fifties kind of way. (p.21)

A Sociopath is Born:

“I’m through with causes that help people,” Jessica shouted back. “People are mean and selfish. But trees and animals are helpless and nice.” (p.65)

That is perfect 12-year-old philosophy, but I can’t make too much fun of it because some days I still feel that way myself.

reading: Sweet Valley Twins “Frightening Four”

I have stumbled across the most amazing of all the Sweet Valley things: this mini-series. It actually has a name (“The Frightening Four”) and consists of four titles: too scared to sleep

Too Scared to Sleep

The Beast is Watching You

The Beast Must Die

If I Die Before I Wake

The best part about this (well, aside from the only-vaguely-related-to-the-story Beast titles) is that somehow Francine Pascal pulled off the never before attempted feat of capitalizing on the popularity of Goosebumps and The Babysitters Club simultaneously. It’s glorious. Also probably dangerous; I’m amazed the fabric of the universe withstood this, to be honest.

A new family move to Sweet Valley. Mrs. Riccoli has five children, and her husband won’t be joining them for a few months, so she needs babysitters. Elizabeth, Jessica, Winston, Todd and Amy decide they can take turns sitting for her and split the money, and maybe put up signs around town advertising their services. (No mention is made of whose phone will be used on the posters. Alas.)

But the Riccolis’ new house is “the old Sullivan House,” which is apparently “creepy” and which causes Alice to act weird and bolt when she drops in to give decorating advice. All through these books its increasingly obvious that Alice knows somethe beast is watching youthing about the house, and eventually it unfolds that each member of the babysitting group has one parent who knows what happened at the house.

Sweet Valley is nobody’s idea of the go-to place to learn parenting skills, but this is a new low. Five teens were involved in a child’s death, and when their own offspring start babysitting at the house none of them mention this, or notice their kids are having nightmares, or…anything. Hasn’t anyone in Sweet Valley ever watched a horror movie?

Continuing the actual Babysitters Club tradition of twelve-year-olds somehow knowing more about childcare than I do, we get this wonderful scene of Winston babysitting a set of twins:

Actually, it wasn’t the first time he’d changed diapers in his life. He had done some babysitting before, and he had seen lots of diaper commercials on TV. It didn’t take him long to whisk the twins into new diapers. In fact, as he fastened the tabs, pulling them tightly so there’d be no gaps, he thought he’d done an even better job than the Karstens themselves. (TSTS, p. 73)

That conveys…precisely none of what it’s like to change diapers, particularly for two children at once. Maybe I didn’t watch enough commercials as a child, but my learning curve was a bit steeper than Winston’s.the beast must die

Anyway, so the gang continue to sit in pairs for the Riccoli children, who are having nightmares and sleepwalking and generally telegraphing as clearly as possible that we’re in horror-movie territory. When any of the babysitters fall asleep in the house they have the same nightmares, with a scary “faceless” girl wearing only one slipper and clutching an old teddy bear. This culminates in the entire group of babysitters staying there at the same time, trying to stay awake all night, because I guess the Nightmare on Elm Street movies also looked ripe for borrowing.

The best bits are, as always, the Jessica bits.

But whatever Steven was up to, it couldn’t be half as interesting as what was going on in Granville, the setting for The Guilty and the Glamorous. Jessica had been so busy baby-sitting, she’d missed an entire two weeks of her new favorite TV soap opera, which came on right after her old favorite, Days of Turmoil, which was extremely convenient.

Fortunately the plot hadn’t changed much in the two weeks since she’d last seen it. Everyone was still at the same fancy ball they’d been at the last time she watched. Only they seemed to be leaving the giant, fancy party, or at least starting to think about leaving. Coats were being discussed, anyway. (TBMD, p.41)

There is a ridiculous subplot in which Steven tries to earn money by mowing lawns with the Wakefields’ new ride-on mower. I’m sure it was meant to be page-filling hilarity, but it annoyed me so much I can barely even summarize it. If I had had a series of expensive accidents (shredding in-line skates and other people’s hedges and so forth), no one in my family would have just kept giving me further chances to cost them money. We couldn’t have afforded to have me playing around with the lawn mower, basically, and I kept wanting to reach into the book and shake Steven for being careless and Mr. Wakefield for continually enabling him.

I know: applying any kind of real life standard to Sweet Valley is pointless. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief high enough to get passed Steven failing to read the instructions (more than once) and still being allowed to drive the mower.

Yet I had no problem whatsoever with a vengeful ghost showing up in people’s dreams and then turning out to be (spoilers ahead) Continue reading

#TBRChallenge: Kiss of the Beast

August Suggested Theme: Impulse Read

Does this fit the theme? I guess so, if we count evil impulses. A year ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about an old category romance I’d read ages ago. But I also couldn’t remember the title, author, or which line it had belonged to. Helpful! Luckily the internet (in the form of SBTB) provided the answers, whereupon I basically did what I always do: bought it, put it on the virtual TBR shelf, and happily forgot it.
UNTIL NOW.KISSBEAST

Continue reading