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.
“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.