Where Are We? Sweet Valley Middle School: Mr. Bowman’s English class
When Are We? Some indeterminate point during the school year. This book starts on the Monday after a “big social studies project” and a “big science project.”
Recap: Jessica tells Mr. Bowman that they’ve been doing too much reading and writing in English class and they should do something fun. Instead of laughing uproariously or turning to drink he entertains suggestions from the class, and shy Leslie Forsythe suggests they make a movie. Elizabeth suggests they use a camcorder and the VCR from the school library.
After school Elizabeth, Leslie, Amy, Brooke and Sophia go to Sweet Valley Video to talk to the manager, Leslie’s friend Deirdre, who studied acting at UCLA. Nice to see that career choice worked out for her. They look at movies to get an idea what kind they want to make.
Ultimately Elizabeth talks the class into combining “a love story and a horror story in a comedy.” Okay then. They’re having auditions, and naturally both Jessica and Lila want the lead. Elizabeth wants to be the scriptwriter. Leslie secretly wants to audition as well, but is nervous.
Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield reveal that sometime soon (but not until after the movie) they’re going to Mexico without the children. Steven thinks he’s old enough to look after Elizabeth and Jessica without help. I wouldn’t agree to look after Jessica without a stun gun, even now that I’m an adult.
Pete has been playing pranks in English class. He made a cricket noise one day, and on the day the students are all listing their three job choices (for the movie) in order of preference, he uses a string to make an easel fall over.
Amy suggests the title while she and Elizabeth are brainstorming on the phone. They both agree it’s perfect because the Unicorns will hate it.
Jessica and Lila both volunteer their parents’ camcorders because Mr. Bowman says the school library one is old and doesn’t record sound very well. Mr. Bowman has the class watch Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so they can discuss camera techniques. Pete makes the VCR turn itself off and on again several times. Afterwards the students brainstorm ideas for their slime movie. Mr. Bowman suggests he and the principal take part as victims of the slime monster.
At the auditions Lila is wooden, Jessica and Randy are great, and Dierdre is too shy to try out (plus she secretly really likes Randy) so she sneaks away and cries. Awww. Poor kid. I was that shy once too.
Jessica feels so confident after the audition that she goes home and makes a salad without being asked. Then she peels potatoes. Maybe this is why everyone always gives her whatever she wants. Which happens again: at school the next day Mr. Bowman announces Jessica is playing the female lead.
But all is not perfect. Randy Mason gets the male lead, even though Jessica thinks he’s a “first-class nerd.” Lila gets offered the part of the Slime Monster, but turns it down (boo, hiss: a real diva would have run with that role, Lila), so Winston Egbert gets it. So Jessica gets to act with two boys she can’t stand.
Elizabeth, Amy, Leslie and Maria are the scriptwriters. Lila is in charge of clean-up. Bet that Slime Monster’s looking pretty good now, huh? But she refuses, saying she’s going to operate her father’s camcorder. WHY is she allowed to get away with that? She’s still stuck on the clean-up crew as well, though, just not in charge of it.
When Jessica’s in the lunch line on Friday Janet Howell comes over and pompously congratulates her, telling her she’s sure Jessica will make the Unicorns proud. On Saturday Lila drags the camcorder around everywhere, filming her friends at awkward moments in the name of “practice.”
Elizabeth, Amy, Maria and Leslie work on the script. Elizabeth and Amy are determined to solve the “mystery” of why Leslie didn’t audition, since she loves movies and all. Shyness must be so rare in Sweet Valley that they literally cannot identify it.
By Monday everyone is sick of Lila filming them in embarrassing situations. Also, the script is finished. Elizabeth lets Jessica read it that night, and Jessica freaks out because she discovers she’ll have to kiss Randy and Winston.
Later she confides to Mandy that part of the reason she’s so upset is that she’ll have to have her first kisses on-camera. Although in the middle of that explanation she also says she was kissed by a high school freshman, but that doesn’t count somehow because she didn’t kiss him back.
At rehearsal she deliberately keeps interrupting with stupid requests for water and to have the lights turned down, and they don’t make it all the way to the kiss scene. At the second rehearsal she fakes a coughing fit. Mr. Bowman (probably guessing what’s going on) says they’ll just rehearse the lines, not the action, for the kissing scenes.
Lila pretends to be nice, and gets Jessica to come over to her house and practice fake-kissing a pillow. Which Lila films. And then she offers to keep the film at her house so Steven can’t see it. Oh, Jessica. How can you not know this is a set-up?
Leslie stops by the video store, and admits to Dierdre that she was too scared to audition. Dierdre explains to her that she gave up acting because she was too afraid to audition, and has regretted it ever since.
The four scriptwriters get together to watch what there is of the movie so far, and also a real movie, which Leslie recites big pieces of, making them all realize she can really act. She admits to the others that she was there during auditions but got scared and left, and also tells them about her crush on Randy. Maria (who has actual acting experience) tells her that even real actresses lose their cool when they get near somebody they like a lot. They all bemoan the fact that it’s too late for Leslie to try out.
Lila invites everyone over to her house and shows off her videos of everyone’s embarrassing moments, including Jessica’s kissing practice with the pillow. Jessica is so humiliated that on Monday she quits the movie (and ends up being assigned to work on the costumes). That afternoon Leslie tries out and gets the part. She also enlists Pete’s help to get back at Lila.
That weekend the Unicorns have a sleepover to celebrate the end of filming, and everyone talks about how special it is to be in front of the camera until they’ve convinced Lila she needs to try it. So she does the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, passionately, using a dust mop as Romeo.
On the night of the screening of The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley, which the entire school attends, Pete has made the video of Lila into a “coming soon” ad at the start of the film.
The Unicorns seriously over-estimate their importance to other people:
Leslie giggled. “Did you know that Lila and Jessica tried to bribe me not to sign Winston’s petition? They promised they’d wave at me when they saw me in the hallway if I didn’t.” (p. 9)
Elizabeth seriously over-estimates the abilities of a sixth-grade English class:
“Hey, I’ve got the perfect solution to the argument,” Elizabeth said. “We’ll make a comic spoof of a horror-story plot with a love-story ending!” (p. 17)
I sort of love Jessica, though:
As Jessica started out the door, Lila caught up with her. “Did you hear?” she asked, smiling sweetly. There’ll be bit parts, as well as the lead. I’m sure you’ll get some kind of role, Jessica.”
“Yes,” Jessica said coolly. “I’m sure I’ll get the lead role. And I hope you’ll enjoy your bit part, Lila.” (p. 28)
Way harsh, Mr. Bowman:
“How do you audition for the part of a Slime victim?” Caroline asked.
“Just be yourself, Caroline,” Mr. Bowman said as the bell rang.
I’m side-eyeing Elizabeth so hard right now:
“Brian kisses Sherri?” Jessica shrieked. “You mean, I’ve got to kiss Randy Mason, on top of Winston Egbert?”
“Not on top of Winston, exactly,” Elizabeth said, this time not able to control her grin. “More like beside him.” (p. 87)