Sweet Valley Twins #78: Steven the Zombie

steven the zombie
This cover is AMAZING.

Where Are We? The Wakefield home; Sweet Valley Middle School, Mrs. Arnette’s social studies class; a daycare where Elizabeth is volunteering.

When Are We? Whenever their social studies class project on the Antebellum South is going on.

Recap: Jessica and Elizabeth have been studying “the Old South” in social studies class, and everyone has to do a project. Steven teases Jessica, making her feel stupid because she usually doesn’t read books and because she likes parties and clothes. She swears revenge when she finds out he used magic marker to make her Johnny Buck poster look cross-eyed. She’s reading a section called “Voodoo in Creole Society,” which is so fascinating she stays awake until two in the morning reading. So when she discovers her poster’s been ruined she decides her reading might be the means to make Steven sorry. I hate to agree with Steven, because I don’t like him, but poor Jessica’s not exactly a brain trust in this one.

Naturally Jessica cuts up Steven’s lucky shirt and makes a voodoo doll of him, and equally naturally Steven spends the book pretending he can’t help spilling things/standing on his head/writhing around in pain. Plus her social studies class is going to be on voodoo.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Todd are preparing an authentic antebellum meal for the class, because this is completely absolutely a thing that you’d ask two twelve year olds to do for social studies. These books are set in some parallel universe, I swear. Todd volunteered for this, and Elizabeth agreed for complicated reasons that boil down to “she is a doormat who feels responsible for other people’s happiness.”

Lila’s project for the social studies class is throwing an antebellum-themed party. Ha. I love how the Sweet Valley school system doesn’t make even the faintest pretense of fair treatment. Ellen is doing a presentation on the movies stars who acted in Gone With the Wind, so this isn’t exactly a rigorous class I guess.

And now for the part of the book that made me cringe: Benjamin. Benjamin is “the sweetest kid” that Elizabeth met at the daycare centre, who has to walk with a cane and has constant pain in his right leg and no one knows why. That is literally how the book describes him, all in one paragraph, suggesting maybe his “sweetness” can be boiled down to whatever’s wrong with his leg (or perhaps, if we extrapolate using the usual ghastly motifs found in series books of the era, he’s sweet because of how bravely he endures his mystery illness).

Jessica decides to use voodoo to cure him.

Even by the standards of 80s/90s childrens’ book series, that is a really, really strange use for a text to make of a character’s disability.

Todd keeps screwing up their practice meals, so Jessica tells Elizabeth to switch stuff around in the kitchen to compensate for his mistakes–like, if he uses sugar instead of salt, switch the labels. That is a terrible idea and would only work if the person was making the exact same mistakes every time, which Todd isn’t doing. Elizabeth listens to her for some reason and the final meal they serve the class is a disaster. She confesses to Todd and all is forgiven.

Jessica wins “best Scarlett” at Lila’s party by getting Elizabeth to help her fake a dress (using safety pins) with their living room curtains. I bet everyone who watched Gone With the Wind as a child wanted to try that. She also temporarily ruins her hair with dye, but it’s washed out and properly blonde again by the end.

Steven pretends to be really sick, and Jessica spends several days worrying that she’s killing her brother before becoming hysterical and confessing everything to their parents.

Steven and Elizabeth confess to Jessica that Liz told him about the voodoo doll and he faked his reactions. He buys Jessica a new Johnny Buck poster and she buys him a replacement lucky shirt. She also promises her parents to stop messing around with voodoo, but she crosses her fingers.

Quotes:

“Would y’all be kind enough to save some of that meatloaf for little ol’ me?” Jessica Wakefield asked her family in a heavy Southern accent at dinner on Sunday night. (p.1)

That’s the actual opening sentence of this book. I can’t stop picturing Gideon Gleeful.

And the truth was, Todd had gone through a hard time recently. He’d gotten interested in writing, and his father had put a lot of pressure on him to quit the writing class and concentrate on basketball. Things were much better now, but still, Elizabeth didn’t want to make Todd feel bad. (p.7)

That’s horrible of the dad, and it’s a grim look at Todd’s life, but Elizabeth: none of that is a reason for you to agree to do a project you don’t want to do and don’t feel capable of doing.

“Speaking of legs,” Elizabeth continued, trying to change the subject, “I met the sweetest kid today at the day-care center. His name is Benjamin and he has to walk with a cane. Nobody really knows what’s wrong with him. He has terrible pain all the time in his right leg. It’s so sad because he’s only eight and he can’t run around and play with the other kids.” (p.21)

She quickly made a special potion out of rose petals, perfume, crushed vitamin C, milk, and honey. She boiled it all together on the stove, then brought it upstairs in a bowl to her room. She spread the potion all over the doll’s right leg with her lucky rabbits foot. (p.38)

If I had done any of that when I was twelve my parents would have sent me to therapy. I kind of love how girly that potion is though.

ElizaTodd Relationship Status: They know each other well enough that he volunteers them both for the cooking project, and after she confesses to switching ingredients he hugs her, because he’d been feeling responsible for getting them both a bad grade.

Supernatural Jessica: For most of the book she thinks she can do voodoo. Also, we’re never given a reasonable explanation of what healed Benjamin, so there’s nothing to contradict her belief that she did it. He no loner needs a cane, his pain is almost gone, the doctor doesn’t know why, and Jessica is convinced she healed him.

Sweet Valley Twins #102: The Mysterious Dr. Q

mysterious dr qWhere Are We? Sweet Valley Middle School, the Wakefields’ house, and Dr. Q’s office.

When Are We? The book opens on a Tuesday, and Dr. Q visits the school on a Thursday, but otherwise we’re just floating in Sweet Valley timelessness.

Recap: Mr. Bowman (the faculty adviser for the Sweet Valley Sixers) asks Elizabeth what she knows about hypnosis, because Dr. Q, “a hypnosis as well as a psychic,” is going to be speaking at the school assembly. Elizabeth immediately plans to expose her as a fraud and have that be the front-page story of the next issue.

Todd, Ken, and Bruce play basket ball while Bruce expounds on how girls are inferior and dating is a waste of time because they only try to change you. Todd mentions that Elizabeth is one of the smartest kids in school and he wants to get to know her better, and Bruce wants to know why he’s never asked her out then, so Todd is basically pushed into saying he was going to ask her out next weekend. Okay, I am completely confused. Not by Bruce being a jerk and the whole scene being weirdly homosuggestive, although there is that, but: this is book #107. I’m pretty sure Elizabeth and Todd talk, hang out, flirt, and generally think of themselves as almost kind of paired off in previous books. Now he’s suddenly too shy to talk to her and doesn’t know her that well?

He asks her out by leaving a note in her locker. She walks up to him in the cafeteria to tell him “The answer is yes.”

At the assembly Dr. Q invites children up on the stage to be hypnotized. None of this would be allowed at any school I went to: not the psychic hypnotist, not the “sending kids to interview her at her office later,” and definitely not the hypnotizing them on stage.

She picks Jessica (who fervently believes in her powers), Elizabeth (who doesn’t), Bruce, and three kids Jessica claims not to recognize.She gets the twins to swap personalities (foreshadowing! of…something that was written first), and Elizabeth fakes it, but Jessica doesn’t (and insults Elizabeth hilariously by saying things like “Sorry, I have to go feed the poor and homeless” while she’s being her). She also gets Bruce to do something out of character for him, which I guess is why he asks Elizabeth out? Except that’s also foreshadowing, really. (It must have been fun for the ghostwriters of this series to stick in things that related to SVH.)

There’s a boring subplot in which Amy Sutton’s mother gets to do an interview in a helicopter, and Amy’s allowed to go along and interview the pilot’s daughter, but Amy doesn’t want to because she’s scared.

Friday after school Elizabeth goes to interview Dr. Q, and Amy and Jessica tag along. But first, Bruce invites her to an action movie; she says no and he ends up calling Todd Wilkins a wimp. She makes it clear she hates “Arnold Weissenhammer” movies and wouldn’t go out with Bruce if he was the last man on earth, so you can guess what’s going to happen, right?

The interview consists of Elizabeth being confrontational (over possible trickery, then over personal gain, then over why Dr. Q didn’t make Bruce Patman less of a jerk while she had the chance. Ha.), Jessica desperately trying to pick up tips on hypnosis, and Amy timidly trying to find out if hypnosis could rid her of her fear of flying.

So naturally Jessica invites everyone over to try to hypnotize them. And she actually can hypnotize them, except things go wrong. Bruce is listening to a baseball game, and shouts out stuff about “the Twins;” she tries to make Liz love and admire her, but someone shouts out “Bruce Patman!” right before she can say her own name. The only thing that doesn’t get ruined is her plan to make Lila quack whenever she sees the principal.

Janet and Amy think they’re twins, and are unbearably smug about it. Elizabeth thinks she likes Bruce, and goes with him to his stupid movie. That part is actually pretty disturbing. She keeps denying her own feelings of boredom and annoyance, erasing the thoughts by reminding herself how special Bruce is, and it’s like a glimpse into the mind of someone who’s been indoctrinated into an icky cult. Todd drags Jessica along to spy on them, which is oddly touching under the circumstances, but is also a little “they will sneak around behind your back constantly, Liz” hint of things to come.

Lila gets in trouble for repeatedly quacking at the principal in the cafeteria. I feel sorry for her, but ten year old me would have found that scene hilarious.

Jessica now wants Dr. Q to undo her hypnosis, but she can’t find her, so she drags everyone back to her place and tries again. Great, Jess. Steven is blaring a baseball upstairs. She reminds Elizabeth she can’t stand Bruce, and un-ducks Lila. Janet and Amy start mimicking baseball-game stuff, and in frustration Jessica yells that they’ve never even heard of baseball.

When she wakes everyone up they’re fine, and Elizabeth likes Todd again, but none of them remember what baseball is. I would honestly call that good enough, and so does Jessica, but then the doorbell rings and it’s Dr. Q.

She tells off Jessica for treating hypnosis like a toy, and then fixes everything, including Amy’s fear of flying. Elizabeth is left with horrific memories of having gushed over Bruce Patman, and I’m left wondering if post-hypnotic suggestion is to blame for the eventual end of this series.

Quotes:

8:45 Wed., homeroom

Dear Elizabeth,

Hi. This discussion is kind of boring. Don’t you think so?

Well, I was just wondering if you wanted to go to a movie. With me, I mean. Saturday night. We could go see the Eileen Thomas movie if you wanted. Or if you didn’t want to, we could do something else. Like I don’t know what, but maybe we could think of something.

My dad and me can pick you up.

But if you’re really busy I understand.

Yours, Todd

P.S. Wilkins, that is (p. 27)

That is painfully dumb and kind of sweet, but honestly, the sixth graders I’ve known would have thought “maybe we could think of something” was suggestive. Also they would probably have pretended to find “my dad and me can pick you up” suggestive. Either I know peculiarly horrible pre-teens, or this is just another instance of Sweet Valley innocence failing to line up with real life.

“Listen well,” the hypnotist said in a low voice that seemed to rumble across the stage. “Neither of you respects the dangers of the unknown.” She lifted an arm and pointed accusingly at Jessica, then Elizabeth. “The forces of the universe cannot be controlled,” she said. “But they are there all the same.” (p.42)

Lady, please. In this series Jessica is one of the forces of the universe.

After all, she liked Brice, and Bruce liked this kind of movie, so she must like this kind of movie too. Right? (p. 95)

Disturbing. I wish I could say no pre-teen girl ever thinks this way, but sadly, I’ve seen stuff nearly as bad in terms of suddenly adopting some guys taste in music/movies/whatever.

ElizaTodd Relationship Status: Todd likes Elizabeth and wants to get to know her better, so he asks her to a movie. She says yes. He calls her at home to remind her, and he’s so shy he can barely speak to her on the phone.

Supernatural Jessica: Uses Tarot cards to accurately predict Todd’s note (well, an invitation from an admirer); hypnotizes everyone.