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.

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Sweet Valley Twins #56: The Wakefields Strike It Rich

The Wakefields Strike It Rich Where Are We? Mostly at the mall, and briefly at a swanky restaurant called Jacqueline’s.

When Are We? Immediately after the weekend when they had to clean the house because of their disastrous party.

Recap: Elizabeth and Jessica go to Casey’s to avoid having to clean the house again, and see Steven staring longingly at some blonde girl named Jill. Janet informs them Steven doesn’t stand a chance with her because Janet’s brother Joe also likes her, and Jessica is displeased. I love Jessica’s insane competitive streak over things that are none of her business.

Jessica has to borrow two dollars from Lila to pay for her food, and when Lila tells her she needs to learn to manage her money Jess argues that if she had money, she’d be more generous to her friends.

Great-Aunt Helen arrives for a visit; she has a broken arm, but is vague about how it happened. She gives Jessica, Elizabeth, and Steven $100 each to spend however they want.Liz wants to put some of hers towards the camera she’s been saving up for.

Jessica also brags that they met Coco, the “best singer in the world” who also happens to be Brooke Dennis’ mom. That makes one mention of Brooke prior to book #55, and one after it, so my guess is we’ll never hear of her again.

Elizabeth and Amy go bookstore shopping. I am still such an Elizabeth at heart. She buys herself the latest detective novel by Amanda Howard, and buys Amy a biography of Johnny Buck.

Jessica, meanwhile, treats her friends to food at Casey’s and then buys them lots of little things (bracelets, posters), basically blowing rapidly but generously through her money. Lila warns her not to, but Jessica’s enjoying herself, and I sympathize. I like spending money on people, too. She’s also consciously not making people pay her back because she wants to be more generous than Lila, so I suspect she’s basking in the unaccustomed sensation of being kinder than someone else.

Steven goes into a jewelry store and after being shown some expensive earrings settles on a pair of simple gold ones for $28. They sound pretty, but that’s still a chunk of money to spend on a girl who barely speaks to you. The salesman snarkily says if he wants anything cheaper he’ll have to go to the five-and-dime (that’s archaic for “dollar store”), and you know, THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SMARTER. Lots of fourteen year old girls love costume jewelry.

Elizabeth invites Aunt Helen to go with her to the bookstore, where Amanda Howard will be appearing in person and autographing books. Aunt Helen declines, and dodges further questions about how she broke her arm.

Jessica tries to make Steven tell her and Elizabeth what he bought for Jill Hale. She also suggests he buy her flowers and take her on a date to a really fancy restaurant.

Elizabeth overhears her father assuring Aunt Helen that if she can’t retain a good lawyer from his list of suggestions hell fly out there and handle her case himself, and that she needs to be protected from “those sharks,” and can’t let them bully her.

Jessica leaves Steven a magazine with an article called “My Dream Date,” along with a note telling him to read it. It’s the same dinner-and-jewelry-and-flowers-and-dancing kind of overblown date she was suggesting earlier, and I honestly can’t think of anything two fourteen year olds would be less likely to enjoy. It would bore me rigid, and I’m ancient.

He asks Jill out, despite her having shown no interest in him whatsoever and she responds, “I guess that would be okay.” Wow. Cancel, Steven, and give the earrings to someone else. Anyone else.

Aunt Helen gets an envelope in the mail but won’t open it in front of everyone. That is not suspicious, Elizabeth, that is fairly reasonable. (Elizabeth does not hear me and would not agree even if she could.)

At the book signing Amanda Howard tells Elizabeth there are mysteries going on “right under our noses,” which is all the additional encouragement Liz needs to decide Aunt Helen is in trouble and she should investigate. Then she catches Aunt Helen crying over an episode of Days of Turmoil, and has trouble believing that’s the whole reason for her tears. So Liz confides in Amy, who in turn decides they have to STEAL AUNT HELEN’S LETTER and find out what is going on.

At the Dairi Burger Jill is more or less ignoring Steven and laughing at Joe’s jokes, while Cathy is being friendly and laughing at Steven’s jokes. Joe buys Jill fries. Steven accidentally squirts ketchup on her. I don’t know why he even likes her, other than that she’s pretty, because she’s downright unfriendly to him most of the time.

Jessica’s down to fifteen dollars. She’s bought stuff for all her friends, even earrings for Lila (and a matching pair for herself, which she doesn’t actually even like).

Elizabeth finds out Aunt Helen is having trouble sleeping. She and Amy elaborately coax her to help her choose an outfit while they go through her purse, and they find a picture of a man they decide looks unfriendly.

Jessica talks Steven into giving her ten dollars, since she helped him plan his date and pick out what to wear. Ha.

Elizabeth and Amy watch an old movie called Don’t Talk and decide Aunt Helen witnessed a crime and that’s what’s going on. They think the “mean man” in the picture broke her arm. Oh, Liz. At what point do you imagine him giving her a photograph? Do you think thugs hand them out to all their victims?

Steven’s date is both boring and awful, and he runs out of money (the cab cost forty dollars because Jill wasn’t even ready when he got there to pick her up) and has to ask her to chip in.

Aunt Helen finally explains to Elizabeth that she broke her arm in a car accident. The insurance company are trying to say she hadn’t paid up on her claim, so she has to hire a lawyer to help her prove that she’d made all her payments. They guy in the picture is her boyfriend, Thomas. Elizabeth offers to give back the seventy dollars she has left, which is sweet. Aunt Helen refuses, of course.

Elizabeth buys her camera. She and Jessica chip in on a gift for Aunt Helen (a card and a picture frame), and Liz agrees to buy Jessica the shirt she likes but now can’t afford (it costs $40) if Jessica will give her a blue sweatshirt she bought when they visited their father’s college.

Quotes:

“Lila, you are not going to believe what happened,” Jessica said when her friend picked up the phone.

“You found some more change on the way home?” Lila said. (p. 16)

I am sensitive about money but that still made me laugh. So did this:

“I could spend a hundred dollars in an hour,” Lila said.

“Yeah, but that’s because you practice,” Jessica replied. (p. 25)

It’s such a perfect 80s/90s portrayal of a rich girl. I love it.

“I’m just trying to give you some good advice,” Lila said. “I know what I’m talking about. No one will remember that you bought them stuff.” (p. 64)

It’s sad that she’s so cynical at such a young age, but she’s not wrong, exactly.

“What about Jill? How did she get home?” Elizabeth asked.

“Her father came and picked her up at the restaurant. After he told me what an irresponsible jerk I was,” Steven said. (p. 120)

Wow, imagine going off on a fourteen year old after he’s spent a bunch of money on your brat of a daughter. No wonder Jill’s such a raging bitch: she learned it at home.

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.