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

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Sweet Valley Twins Super Chillers, OMG

Wow, February was pretty much a total write-off for me. All I did was shovel snow and read children’s books. For a variety of reasons I won’t bore you with (they boil down to stress and busyness) I couldn’t concentrate on anything any more demanding than Sweet Valley Twins.

They are SO CUTE. Okay, I never actually read any of these before now, but I recently binge-purchased a whole stack of them, and February being what it was (dreariness and suckage, though also thankfulness for my family and my neighbours) I finally tackled them. So far I’ve read five Super Chillers. (Eventually I will track down the four I’m missing, but right now I’m sticking to reading the stuff I own already.)

ghost in the graveyard

In The Ghost in the Graveyard a second set of twins–separated as babies–are haunted by the ghost of their grandfather, and eventually they prove their ownership of a huge old house. I’m making that sound boring, I know, but that’s because it was. The actual haunting all happened to Sam and David, not to the Wakefields, so though it was a comfortable “let’s escape reality for an afternoon” read it wasn’t terribly compelling.

sweet_valley_twins_chiller_04_the_ghost_in_the_bell_tower

The Ghost in the Bell Tower was much more fun, possibly because it felt like such a classic “children and ghosts and summer vacation” kind of story. I would have loved this to bits when I was a kid. I kind of still did.

The Curse of the Ruby Necklace was actually the one I read first, because even when I have five clearly-numbered paperbacks in my hand I can somehow manage to read them out of order. Oops. It featured the twins acting in a movie, a thing I feel like I have read a thousand times. The movie is based on an old murder curse of the ruby necklaceso of course the Wakefields solve it, finding the true killer with the help of a ruby necklace that Jessica finds on the beach, because if you’re a perfect, perfect Wakefield twin haunted jewellery just washes up out of the ocean for you.

sweet_valley_twins_chiller_07_the_haunted_burial_ground

The Haunted Burial Ground annoyed me at first, with its conveniently-visiting Native American girl who gets befriended by Elizabeth just in time to be part of events surrounding an obviously-this-will-turn-out-to-be-a-Native-burial-site. But it was as respectful as it could be, given the time and the age range of the intended readers, and Mr. Fowler gets a chance to be unexpectedly awesome.

Evil Elizabeth was like Dear Sister, only instead of a head injury there’s an evil sweet_valley_twins_chiller_09_evil_elizabethmask, and instead of glomming onto rapetastic Bruce Patman she starts hanging out with Betsy Martin. Jessica gets to look on in horror as her twin turns into a living embodiment of her own worst impulses. I guess this was kind of a practice session for later.

Which brings me to a very important question: why don’t the Wakefields remember any of this stuff? I mean, why don’t they ever reflect on how, when they were kids, they encountered ghosts? How come they never discuss that time Liz was evil? (Okay, I know the Doylist explanation is “because the SVH books were written first, so the ghostwriters had no way of knowing what would be in the spin-off series that didn’t even exist yet,” but what’s the Watsonian answer?)

Jessica Wakefield Changed my Life: Rereading Sweet Valley High

So, I’ve started rereading SVH as part of my desperate effort not to buy new books this year. It is definitely distracting, I’ll say that for it. The books are both better (more hilarious, more deliciously dramatic, more wholeheartedly ridiculous) and worse (more rape-y, creepy attitudes) than I remembered.

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A few thoughts, now that I’m on book seven.

1. The books are as big a tease as Jessica is supposed to be. I mean, come on: “Double Love”? “All Night Long”? Those titles definitely give the impression that more goes on in these books than is ever actually the case. But nothing ever happens to justify those titles.

doublelove1

2. The first seven books have more of an over-arching plot than I’d expected. Elizabeth starts out annoying, with no evidence of a backbone or any will of her own. She reaches Peak Doormat in book five (All Night Long), setting her up to be martyred in book six (Dangerous Love) and then to give Jessica a taste of her own selfish, sociopathic behaviour in Dear Sister. It’s…surprisingly satisfying, when you sit down and read them all in a row.

3. I had the most dreadful, melodramatic taste back when I first read these.

4. I think I still do.

5. Jessica Wakefield did more to shape my teenage-and-early-adult life than you’d think a two-dimensional series’ character could. But it’s true. Let’s face it: I was a total Elizabeth, bookish, chronically “nice,” and well-trained to think “selflessness” was the ultimate ideal (for girls). Then I read a metric tonne of these books, and started to think selflessness wasn’t always a great or healthy option, and selfishness (at least, enough selfishness to admit you HAVE wants and to pursue them) could be rewarding. And you know, I think I ended up happier than I would have otherwise.

This ALSO comes up when searching for
This ALSO comes up when searching for “double love.” Yum.

rereading: Sweet Valley High Super Edition: Special Christmas

I promised myself that in 2015 I was going to reread the Sweet Valley books heaped on a top shelf in our library, and then I got overexcited and couldn’t wait for the start of the new year. So I semi-cheated: I read one of the Christmas special editions, since it’s Christmas.

It has such a pretty cover.

It's a little creepy how excited they both are by that gift.
It’s a little creepy how excited they both are by that gift.

It’s really different reading this book as an adult. When I read it as a teenager, I HATED that Todd ended up with the evil Suzanne Devlin. It felt like she “won.”

On rereading…Todd isn’t such a prize. The part where he accuses Elizabeth of starting an argument (for trying to find out why he’s acting so weird around Suzanne) instead of just telling her the truth made me want to reach right into the book and slap him.

Also, Elizabeth sounds so trapped by her long-distance relationship with Todd that it comes as a relief to see her escape it.

Still, it had been a long time since she had been on her own–really on her own, without Todd to think about. She wondered now how it would feel to get excited about seeing some guy in the hall, to spend hours getting ready to go out…

That’s just really depressing, coming from a sixteen-year-old girl.

Also, Elizabeth is too damned nice. Charged with phoning Suzanne to let her know that they don’t want her to visit, she instead waffles on about how Suzanne will be bored in Sweet Valley. She’s the first to feel sorry for her, the first to forgive her, and hands over the gently used Toddster at the end like a saint–no tears or anger or sarcasm to make anybody else feel guilty or uncomfortable. And it just strikes me as really unhealthy.

I’ve seen people remark on how this series does a lot of fat-shaming and body policing (which it does, though less obtrusively in this book), but I think it’s also worth noting that it presents “constant niceness and selflessness” as unexamined Good Things for girls, which isn’t great either. The ideal teenage girl as modeled in this book looks beautiful and acts so accommodating, she might as well not be there at all. It’s creepy, and I wanted therapy for poor Liz.

I loved Jessica in this, though. I mean, she was wrong in thinking Elizabeth would be devasted-unto-death by losing Todd, but it wasn’t an entirely stupid thing to think, given how invested everyone is in Liz-and-Todd as a couple. And at least she didn’t roll over immediately in response to “niceness.” Sometimes “nice”-seeming people really are awful, but Jessica is the only one who takes that possibility seriously.

Things I would not have been allowed to have when I was sixteen:

  • a bottle of champagne, especially when my parents weren’t in the house
  • a Secret Santa exchange that took place over the Christmas break–there’s no way that would have worked. People would have forgotten it, or blown it off, or used it as an excuse to be horrible since it wasn’t happening under school supervision.
  • a school dance that took place at one person’s home, for similar reasons.
  • a week-long Christmas visit from an out-of-town boyfriend.

Now you need to go read this post at Cliquey Pizza I just found.