Sweet Valley Twins #76: Yours for a Day

Where are we? Sweet Valley Middle School, where the Unicorns are apparently allowed to do whatever the hell they want without the teachers supervising, or even being aware of what’s happening right there in the school.

yours for a day
This is the most perfectly pastel cover. Also, check out those clothes. Peter’s wearing enough shirt fabric to clothe several people.

When are we? The big Valentine’s dance.

Recap: The Unicorns (at Mandy’s urging) want to raise money for the Children’s Hospital, so they settle on the fantastically awful idea of a “servant for a day” event. Students can sign up to be someone’s servant, or for five dollars they can GET a servant (or ten dollars for two days). The servants have to do what their “employers” tell them. How the hell is this allowed in a school? The potential for disaster seems huge.

Elizabeth and Amy get into some stupid pranking war with Todd and Ken. The initial prank (swapping mayonnaise for vanilla pudding, ugh) is gross, and the whole thing is annoying. It culminates in Todd and Ken pretending to call a truce, and not only asking the girls to the dance but checking to see what colour their dresses are so they can buy corsages. Naturally they lace the corsages with sneezing powder.

This all ties into the main plot, though, because Elizabeth gets Jessica to CHEAT for her, and instead of randomly assigned servants she and Amy end up with Todd and Ken. They humiliate them by making them wear ugly ties and walk on their hands in the cafeteria (…what?), and then get them to do stuff like raise their hands to answer every question in class (but they have to give wrong answers).

That was kind of amusing to read, but I couldn’t help thinking about how irritating it would be for their teachers. I did get an answer to HOW THE HELL ARE THE TEACHERS LETTING THIS GO ON? though. They’re letting it go on because apparently they don’t know it’s happening. Mrs. Arnette comments that she doesn’t know what’s gotten into everyone this week, but they’re all acting very strange.

The thing with Mandy wanting to go to the dance with Peter, and Jessica (as her “employer”) making her ask him, made me wince. He tells her he can’t because he’s going with someone else, and that turns into a whole big thing of Mandy being mad at Jessica and seeking revenge, and on the other hand Jessica feeling guilty and going to enormous lengths to get Mandy and Peter together. This involves a lot of swapping around of servants, and I lost all track of who was supposed to be ordering who around.

But ultimately, Mandy’s revenge consists of Jessica having to sing “Feelings” to everyone in the cafeteria. Jessica’s solution, meanwhile, involves getting Winston and Grace to be friends again so Grace will go to the dance with him, dropping Peter, who she’d asked to make Winston jealous. Peter actually likes Mandy (conveniently), but he’d already said yes to Grace, so he had to turn her down initially. Was junior high dating really this convoluted? I didn’t have a boyfriend when I was twelve, and neither did anyone I hung around with; we just had crushes, and went to dances with our friends, not with actual corsage-bearing dates.

Quotes:

“You know, Peter is my servant, after all. If I wanted to, I could order him to take you to the Valentine’s dance,” Lila said to Mandy.

It was Thursday afternoon, and she and Mandy were walking over to Lila’s house for a swim in the Fowler’s huge deluxe pool.

Mandy’s eyes grew big and round. “No way!” she protested. “Whatever you do, don’t do that.”

“Why not?” Lila asked. “I mean, what good is having power if you can’t use it to get what you want?” (p. 61)

I won’t lie: I love Lila.

ElizaTodd Relationship Status: They pull a bunch of pranks on each other; Elizabeth rigs it so that Todd is her slave for the two days of the fundraiser; she expects him to ask her to the dance, which he does.

Supernatural Jessica: She thinks of herself as Cupid, but only in the metaphorical sense. There’s reference to a few weeks ago when she thought she could predict earthquakes, but whatever that was obviously happened in some other book.

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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 #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 #54: The Big Party Weekend

big party weekendWhere Are We? The Wakefields’ house, mostly.

When Are We? A five-day period when the Wakefield parents are in Mexico without their children. At the end of The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley they were discussing maybe having a party while their parents were away, so yay, continuity!

Recap: Jessica thinks they’re going to have five days of freedom, so at school she starts inviting people to a party on the weekend. Steven is doing the same thing, so they agree to combine parties.

Elizabeth asks if their parents have any chores for them to tackle while they’re gone. They suggest the kids clean out the garage and have a yard sale, which they agree to because they need money for party supplies.

They night before they leave the Wakefield parents reveal that someone called Mrs. Brown will be staying with the kids.

I don’t object to having someone stay in the house while the parents are out of the country, but Mrs. Brown is so awful I could barely finish this book. I don’t know, maybe target-age readers are able to enjoy wallowing in the fantasy of being sorely mistreated by an adult, but reading this AS an adult was horrible. How could they leave without setting ground rules like, “Do not make up a bunch of house rules that aren’t ordinarily in place, and here are the usual things we eat”?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Jessica makes Liz promise not to tell everyone at school that they aren’t having a parent-free bash after all, because she’s embarrassed.

At home, May (Mrs. Brown, the babysitter) has set a new bedtime, a new limit on time spent watching television, and won’t allow after-school snacks. Because that is a totally reasonable way to approach a babysitting job: change all the house rules, and then yell at the kids for “having no manners” when they object.

Jessica puts purple dye in May’s shampoo, and I don’t actually blame her. I mean, it’s horrible, but so is cooking stuff people hate and forcing them to eat it. Bodily integrity: it’s a thing. She’s also waking them up at 5:30. I’d run her over with a truck.

Elizabeth sets May’s clock radio for 3:30, and tunes it to “the station that played the loudest and most obnoxious heavy metal music.” I can’t believe this ghostwriter has written an adult so awful I’m siding with the kids on this. Well done, ghostwriter. Or Francine, if this was in an outline that she wrote.

Steven makes her coffee undrinkable by adding garlic powder and stuff. May won’t let them use the phone.

On Thursday afternoon they have their garage sale, and they earn a lot of money but Jessica accidentally sells a carved wooden rose that belonged to their mother’s great-great-grandmother, so Elizabeth starts trying to track it down through antique dealers.

Meanwhile in the background of all this, Amy has been warping her personality out of shape over some guy she likes named Rob.

Jessica has a plan for getting rid of May on the night of their party, and Steven goes along with it. At dinner Elizabeth is confused that her siblings are trying to be polite and agreeable.

Elizabeth has a “setting up the next book” conversation with someone named Brooke who has divorced parents; her mother might be coming to visit, all the way from Paris.

Amy talks Elizabeth into bringing Todd along to Casey’s so he can meet Rob. They do, and he’s obnoxious.

Elizabeth talks to a man named Martin Hannaford at Valley Antiques; he hasn’t seen the wooden rose, but offers to call her if it turns up. She has to tell him not to call until after Sunday (because she’s not allowed to answer the phone in her own house while May’s in charge). Later she has a conversation in which May obviously doesn’t believe she stayed after school to work on the newspaper; it’s patently obvious to the reader that May has seen her at the antique shop. She sends Elizabeth to her room, and Elizabeth tells Steven and Jessica that she wants in on whatever plan they have for getting rid of May.

The night of the party Steven takes a backpack and pretends to run away, and a few hours later calls, saying that he’s at a convenience store near a friend’s house in Palilla Canyon. May leaves to pick him up, and apparently this will keep her away from the house for long enough to have a party.

The party is a disaster: people they don’t even know show up, there are food fights, the house and pool get trashed, Rob is obnoxious and tries to steal CDs, and May shows up before it’s over.

She’s so mad at the kids she packs to leave, which is a completely sane adult reaction! No, I’m kidding: it’s nuts and wildly irresponsible, and she could probably be charged with something (child abandonment?) for walking out of a house before the parents have returned from another country.

They apologize, she blows her whistle and drives all the horrible party guests out of the house, and then she has a heart-to-heart with the Wakefields and confesses  she’s never looked after older kids before so she thought she had to “keep them on their toes” right from the start. Because “make the children hate you” shows up in so many guides to childcare, I guess.

May offers to help them clean the house, but the children insist on doing it themselves. Well, Elizabeth insists, but the others agree.

The next day after they’ve cleaned May shows up with the antique wooden rose. The guy from Valley Antiques called, having seen the rose at an auction, and after he told her the whole story May drove up and bought it back for fifty dollars (Jessica had originally sold it for seventy-five). I think we’re supposed to applaud her “toughness” now that it’s being used for good, but honestly I haven’t forgiven her yet for being the least responsible, self-controlled adult I’ve yet encountered in Sweet Valley. And that’s saying something, I know.

Quotes:

Jessica threw up her hands. “Those rules are unbelievable! Why did Mom and Dad pick this woman for us? Do you think they’re mad at us about something?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I’m sure they didn’t know she was like this. When they met her, she was probably nice. She just forgot to tell them that she hates kids!” (p. 31)

Super adulting from both the Wakefields and this woman, there.

May frowned. “Honestly, I don’t know why you have to look so much alike.” (p. 55)

Idk, genetics?

“That depends. What music do you like?” Elizabeth asked.

“Everything except the Emerald Girls, or whatever they’re called,” Rob said, naming one of Amy’s favorite groups.

Any giggled. “Oh, I hate them, too.” (p. 59)

Sigh.

“It worked on ‘Days of Turmoil,'” Jessica said. (p. 70)

Words to live by.

Sweet Valley Twins #113: The Boyfriend Game

Where are we? Sweet Valley Middle School; the set of Young Love

When are we? The lead up to Valentine’s Day.

boyfriend game

Recap: Elizabeth and other people involved with The Sixers are bemoaning the boring edition they’re about to put out, when they get exciting news. While in detention, Jessica eavesdropped on the vice principal, Mr. Edwards, and found out the school might get to be on Young Love, a teen dating show.

Mr. Bowman, the faculty advisor for The Sixers, shows up and confirms the rumour. Actually he amplifies it, providing additional details: the school will have to submit an essay explaining why they should be chosen, the winning couple will get a “dream date” at Dizzy Planet (an amusement park), and the show will throw a Valentine’s Day dance for the entire school.

Janet decides that the Unicorns should write the essay, because they’re known for their literacy. Ha, no, I made that up. She just thinks that no one else can make the school sound as unique and interesting. Having a private club that gets to act like an official school organization is pretty damned unique, all right; no actual school I’ve ever heard of would allow it.

The Science Club and the school athletes are also going to contribute essays. Elizabeth, meanwhile, offers to take the photograph of the entire student body that the Young Love people have requested. Jessica and Lila spoil the first two attempts, and Janet has to separate them in the third photo to get them to behave. Irritating.

Sophia Rizzo meets Patrick Morris for ice cream, and hatches a plot to win if they’re chosen as two of the contestants (who ask a series of inane question) and candidates (who answer the questions; the contestant then picks one of three candidates as their date). We don’t actually get to hear her plan the first time it’s introduced, because I guess the page count needs dragging out.

Elizabeth, Cammi Adams, Denny Jacobson, Mandy, and Tom McKay have to read all the student-submitted essays and choose which one represents their school. As well as the jocks, Unicorns, and science club, there are entries from the Foreign Exchange Students Association, the chess club, and the drama club. In the end Elizabeth constructs a poster from the school photo, with all the essays surrounding it.

So of course Sweet Valley Middle School is selected. Elizabeth gets a letter informing her she’s a contestant, and Jessica gets one saying she’s a candidate, and no one is allowed to talk about getting selected on pain of death or something (okay, on pain of having the dance cancelled). But Elizabeth works out that Jessica must be a candidate because she was looking for tips on how to lie about being honest and sincere. Ha. So Elizabeth suggests a twin switch.

Now we have two sets of cheaters, because aside from the twins lying about their identities, Sophia has come up with a pre-planned question-and-answer that will allow her and Patrick to pick each other.

Only on the night of the actual show, Patrick fumbles his question and doesn’t recognize Sophia’s answer, so he picks Maria as his dream date. Jessica-as-Elizabeth gets dazzled and manages to sound like an idiot, and then picks Todd as her dream date; Elizabeth-as-Jessica comes across as even stupider, hoping Aaron (whom Jessica likes) won’t pick her. He doesn’t–he picks Amy–and too late, Elizabeth realizes that if she’d gotten him to pick her, she and Jessica could have switched back on the day of their dates. Oops.

So at the end of the book everyone’s mad at everyone else, and they have horrible dates to look forward to, which is presumably what the next book is about.

Quotations:

She noticed that Todd was listening to the conversation from his desk nearby. He gave her a sympathetic smile. Elizabeth smiled back, relieved that someone else seemed to be avoiding taking sides on the issue. It reminded her once again of how wonderful Todd really was. She certainly didn’t need a TV show to tell her who her dream guy was! (p. 19)

Jessica shrugged. “He only makes fun of the losers,” she said. “As long as you’re cool and witty enough, he treats you just fine. And he’s such a total babe that he makes even the cute guys who come on the show look like dorks.” (p. 54)

“…so I guess if I could only do one thing to make the world a cooler place, I would donate all the makeup I never use to people who don’t have any.” Ellen Riteman smiled and tossed her head. “Then the world would at least look a lot better.

Elizabeth did her best not to groan. It wasn’t easy to sound less interesting than Ellen. (p. 115)

Sweet Valley Twins #68: The Middle School Gets Married

Where are we? Sweet Valley Middle School: multidisciplinary project

When are we? It starts with a Monday morning assembly. I have no idea what time of year it is. middle school gets married

Recap: Mr. Seigel, science teacher, has called a special assembly to announce that the entire middle school will be doing a multidisciplinary project (math, home economics, social studies, and science, apparently) that involves him choosing pairs of names out of a hat, and then those students will be “married” for the duration of the project. Jessica and Lila think it’s “totally romantic.” Elizabeth and Todd exchange meaningful smiles and she drops her pencil from the sheer intensity of it all. Sophia, someone I’ve never heard of, thinks couples fight all the time and hopes she gets paired with Patrick Morris, the only boy she gets along with.

Sophia does get paired with Patrick, except they’re too busy being polite and accommodating toward each other to make any decisions. Elizabeth gets paired with Bruce, who initially is inclined to ignore the whole thing and let her do the work. Todd gets Lila, and Jessica gets Rick Hunter, an older boy she bickers with constantly.

Lila thinks it’s ridiculous she has to work on a budget, since she’s never going to have to live on a budget, because she has a trust fund. Ha.

At the next assembly each couple has to go on stage, where they’re given a name and instantly asked a question for points. Jessica and Rick get asked what they’ll name the egg, fight over it, and Jessica breaks their egg. She names the second egg Steven Fido the second (Steven was her choice, and Fido was Rick’s). Sophia and Patrick are asked where their egg-daughter should go to nursery school. They do the “what do you think? I don’t know, what do you think?” thing for so long they run out of time and lose points on their project.

eggs2

While working on their budget Jessica gets exasperated with Rick, because he wants to be a rock star and is goading her constantly, so she takes a swing at him and breaks their second egg (it was in his pocket).

Elizabeth invites Bruce over to work on their project. He shows up for dinner, and is dazzled by Mr. Wakefield’s ability (and willingness) to cook dinner and help them with their schoolwork. Bruce immediately develops a sort of man-crush and throws himself over-enthusiastically into being a better father and husband than his own. It’s amusingly written but also unexpectedly touching. Aww, Bruce. You idiot. Elizabeth starts to feel crowded out of her own project, and resents him for implying she can’t take care of their egg.

Jessica sits on, and breaks, their third egg. Meanwhile Sophia doubles down on her efforts never to express her own opinions, because she doesn’t want to sound bossy like Janet Howell.

Elizabeth points out to Jessica that what Jess is experiencing (having to be the responsible one because Rick won’t take anything seriously) is exactly what Elizabeth goes through with Jessica all the time. When Bruce is out of the room Elizabeth accidentally breaks their egg, and substitutes one from a bowl in the fridge. (Later he will discover it’s hardboiled and get mad at her.)

Sophia and Patrick go grocery shopping and are completely unable to decide what they should cook (each couple has to prepare dinner). Jessica and Rick go shopping, fight, and break another egg-child, and Bruce’s over-parenting is starting to drive Elizabeth to slam groceries around in irritation.

On their third unsuccessful trip to the grocery store Patrick and Sophia have an enormous fight. Jessica and Rick get told off for wasting time during their cooking session, break another egg, fight, and then Rick kisses her. Elizabeth has a tantrum and throws her plate on the floor because Bruce wouldn’t listen to her about hating spinach, and he responds by calmly telling her perhaps she hasn’t been getting enough sleep. She silently vows never to get married.

Sophia finds out her mother is getting remarried to the man she’s been dating (Sarah’s father–Sarah and Sophia are friends), and she tells them marriage ruins everything. Based on, you know, her extensive experience pretending to be married to Patrick.

Rick is now being polite and friendly to Jessica, instead of telling her to lay off the pasta or she’ll get fat, or telling her she has no brains. So now she starts to lose interest in him. Jessica is like a case study of bad romantic choices.

In the end the students (all of them, not just the ones getting page time) rebel during assembly, yelling that the project is impossible. Mr. Seigel is pleased, because apparently the point of the project was to demonstrate that marriage isn’t just romantic, and it can’t work unless both partners know each other well and are clear about what they expect to get out of the relationship. Wow, that is both manipulative and futile, since you just know Elizabeth (for instance) will walk away thinking the whole thing would have worked perfectly if only she’d been paired with Todd…

The tragic outcome when you get your sex education from Sweet Valley Middle School.
The tragic outcome when you get your sex education from Sweet Valley Middle School.

Quotations:

Bruce shook his head regretfully. “I’m going to make a copy of that article on spinach for Mr. Seigel. Maybe he doesn’t know how hard it is to get enough iron. You know what else? The manual said most people don’t get enough calcium, either.”

He chewed thoughtfully and swallowed. “Come to think of it, Elizabeth, I haven’t seen you drink any milk lately. But don’t worry. I’m going to start reminding you to drink some every day at lunch.” (p. 89)

I’m sorry, that is adorable.

“So listen,” Bruce said, trying hard to keep his voice casual. “This husband and fatherhood thing was cool and all, but I’m afraid its time to go back to my bachelor ways.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth said agreeably.

He studied her for a moment. “But, uh, even though we’re not married anymore, remember what I said. OK?”

“About what?”

“Calcium and iron,” he answered. (p. 130)

Sweet Valley Twins #53: The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley

Where Are We? Sweet Valley Middle School: Mr. Bowman’s English class

When Are We? Some indeterminate point during the school year. This book starts on the Monday after a “big social studies project” and a “big science project.”

Recap: Jessica tells Mr. Bowman that they’ve been doing too much reading and slimewriting in English class and they should do something fun. Instead of laughing uproariously or turning to drink he entertains suggestions from the class, and shy Leslie Forsythe suggests they make a movie. Elizabeth suggests they use a camcorder and the VCR from the school library.

After school Elizabeth, Leslie, Amy, Brooke and Sophia go to Sweet Valley Video to talk to the manager, Leslie’s friend Deirdre, who studied acting at UCLA. Nice to see that career choice worked out for her. They look at movies to get an idea what kind they want to make.

Ultimately Elizabeth talks the class into combining “a love story and a horror story in a comedy.” Okay then. They’re having auditions, and naturally both Jessica and Lila want the lead. Elizabeth wants to be the scriptwriter. Leslie secretly wants to audition as well, but is nervous.

Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield reveal that sometime soon (but not until after the movie) they’re going to Mexico without the children. Steven thinks he’s old enough to look after Elizabeth and Jessica without help. I wouldn’t agree to look after Jessica without a stun gun, even now that I’m an adult.

Pete has been playing pranks in English class. He made a cricket noise one day, and on the day the students are all listing their three job choices (for the movie) in order of preference, he uses a string to make an easel fall over.

Amy suggests the title while she and Elizabeth are brainstorming on the phone. They both agree it’s perfect because the Unicorns will hate it.

Jessica and Lila both volunteer their parents’ camcorders because Mr. Bowman says the school library one is old and doesn’t record sound very well. Mr. Bowman has the class watch Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so they can discuss camera techniques. Pete makes the VCR turn itself off and on again several times. Afterwards the students brainstorm ideas for their slime movie. Mr. Bowman suggests he and the principal take part as victims of the slime monster.

At the auditions Lila is wooden, Jessica and Randy are great, and Dierdre is too shy to try out (plus she secretly really likes Randy) so she sneaks away and cries. Awww. Poor kid. I was that shy once too.

Jessica feels so confident after the audition that she goes home and makes a salad without being asked. Then she peels potatoes. Maybe this is why everyone always gives her whatever she wants. Which happens again: at school the next day Mr. Bowman announces Jessica is playing the female lead.

But all is not perfect. Randy Mason gets the male lead, even though Jessica thinks he’s a “first-class nerd.” Lila gets offered the part of the Slime Monster, but turns it down (boo, hiss: a real diva would have run with that role, Lila), so Winston Egbert gets it. So Jessica gets to act with two boys she can’t stand.

Elizabeth, Amy, Leslie and Maria are the scriptwriters. Lila is in charge of clean-up. Bet that Slime Monster’s looking pretty good now, huh? But she refuses, saying she’s going to operate her father’s camcorder. WHY is she allowed to get away with that? She’s still stuck on the clean-up crew as well, though, just not in charge of it.

When Jessica’s in the lunch line on Friday Janet Howell comes over and pompously congratulates her, telling her she’s sure Jessica will make the Unicorns proud. On Saturday Lila drags the camcorder around everywhere, filming her friends at awkward moments in the name of “practice.”

Elizabeth, Amy, Maria and Leslie work on the script. Elizabeth and Amy are determined to solve the “mystery” of why Leslie didn’t audition, since she loves movies and all. Shyness must be so rare in Sweet Valley that they literally cannot identify it.

By Monday everyone is sick of Lila filming them in embarrassing situations. Also, the script is finished. Elizabeth lets Jessica read it that night, and Jessica freaks out because she discovers she’ll have to kiss Randy and Winston.

Later she confides to Mandy that part of the reason she’s so upset is that she’ll have to have her first kisses on-camera. Although in the middle of that explanation she also says she was kissed by a high school freshman,  but that doesn’t count somehow because she didn’t kiss him back.

At rehearsal she deliberately keeps interrupting with stupid requests for water and to have the lights turned down, and they don’t make it all the way to the kiss scene. At the second rehearsal she fakes a coughing fit. Mr. Bowman (probably guessing what’s going on) says they’ll just rehearse the lines, not the action, for the kissing scenes.

Lila pretends to be nice, and gets Jessica to come over to her house and practice fake-kissing a pillow. Which Lila films. And then she offers to keep the film at her house so Steven can’t see it. Oh, Jessica. How can you not know this is a set-up?

Leslie stops by the video store, and admits to Dierdre that she was too scared to audition. Dierdre explains to her that she gave up acting because she was too afraid to audition, and has regretted it ever since.

The four scriptwriters get together to watch what there is of the movie so far, and also a real movie, which Leslie recites big pieces of, making them all realize she can really act. She admits to the others that she was there during auditions but got scared and left, and also tells them about her crush on Randy. Maria (who has actual acting experience) tells her that even real actresses lose their cool when they get near somebody they like a lot. They all bemoan the fact that it’s too late for Leslie to try out.

Lila invites everyone over to her house and shows off her videos of everyone’s embarrassing moments, including Jessica’s kissing practice with the pillow. Jessica is so humiliated that on Monday she quits the movie (and ends up being assigned to work on the costumes). That afternoon Leslie tries out and gets the part. She also enlists Pete’s help to get back at Lila.

That weekend the Unicorns have a sleepover to celebrate the end of filming, and everyone talks about how special it is to be in front of the camera until they’ve convinced Lila she needs to try it. So she does the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, passionately, using a dust mop as Romeo.

On the night of the screening of The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley, which the entire school attends, Pete has made the video of Lila into a “coming soon” ad at the start of the film.

Quotes:

The Unicorns seriously over-estimate their importance to other people:

Leslie giggled. “Did you know that Lila and Jessica tried to bribe me not to sign Winston’s petition? They promised they’d wave at me when they saw me in the hallway if I didn’t.” (p. 9)

Elizabeth seriously over-estimates the abilities of a sixth-grade English class:

“Hey, I’ve got the perfect solution to the argument,” Elizabeth said. “We’ll make a comic spoof of a horror-story plot with a love-story ending!” (p. 17)

I sort of love Jessica, though:

As Jessica started out the door, Lila caught up with her. “Did you hear?” she asked, smiling sweetly. There’ll be bit parts, as well as the lead. I’m sure you’ll get some kind of role, Jessica.”

“Yes,” Jessica said coolly. “I’m sure I’ll get the lead role. And I hope you’ll enjoy your bit part, Lila.” (p. 28)

Way harsh, Mr. Bowman:

“How do you audition for the part of a Slime victim?” Caroline asked.

“Just be yourself, Caroline,” Mr. Bowman said as the bell rang.

I’m side-eyeing Elizabeth so hard right now:

“Brian kisses Sherri?” Jessica shrieked. “You mean, I’ve got to kiss Randy Mason, on top of Winston Egbert?”

“Not on top of Winston, exactly,” Elizabeth said, this time not able to control her grin. “More like beside him.” (p. 87)