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
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 something 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.
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