Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ms. Ayala if you're nasty.

#35, Secret Admirer

Tagline: "Who is Penny's secret love?" At first, when I read that, I thought it said "secret lover." And I was all, "OH SNAP! There's going to be boob-touching in this book!" But there is not. Alas.

So I think Penny Ayala might be the most well-adjusted and genuinely coolest person at SVH. Evidence?
  • If you ignore the pleated pants, ugly watch, man's belt, and shitty red headband, she actually looks all right on the cover. What I mean to say is that I like her shirt. It's an Oxford that appears to have Dolman sleeves, and I am intrigued.
  • Instead of sitting around weeping about the fact that she doesn't have a boyfriend, Penny actually *gasp* does something about it. I mean, in this case it's running a personal ad in the Oracle which pretty much guarantees you'll be dating some tertiary character like Aaron Dallas or Tad Johnson. And it's also kind of like issuing an engraved invitation to Elizabeth Wakefield that says Penny Ayala cordially requests the honor of the presence of your nose in her business. Still, points for proactivity!
  • "I know I turn boys off," says Penny. "They just don't like serious students, I guess. And frankly, I can't see pretending to be something I'm not just to snag one." Jessica Wakefield, walking past the Oracle office at that exact moment fell down in a dead faint, hearing those words.
  • The ad Penny writes for herself reads thusly: "The ideal candidate will have a doctorate in Australian theology, love caves, and speak Urdu. If you're looking for a girl who giggles, don't bother to respond. I'm strictly the guffaw type." Aw. The ghostwriter is trying his hand at irony, and it is working. I want to rescue poor Penny, spirit her away to Brooklyn, dress her in Urban Outfitters, and pierce her nose. FREE PENNY!
So because Penny is smart and thinks for herself, the SVH kids must destroy her, a la Claire Middleton. In this case, a group of guys make up a fictitious dude named Jamie and have him answer Penny's letter. The culprits are Kirk Anderson, Michael Harris, Chad Ticknor and Ron Reese. Um, who are the last two? Do they even go to SVH? Will we ever hear of them again? No. So no matter. Oh, and Neil Freemount is involved, too; you remember Neil, right? He punched his black friend in the stomach because Charlie Cashman told him to? Yeah, Neil's a catch. And he's the one Penny gets, in the end. Penny falls in love with Jamie through his letters, and is utterly destroyed and vulnerable when "he" stands her up. But it's OK. Because in the process of cruelly bullying her, Neil falls in love with Penny, and whatever, every smart girl needs to date one asshole in her life. When Penny's a film studies major at NYU she can make a short film about this experience.

In B-plot news, Lila and Jessica have officially dated every boy at SVH and so they run personal ads to find fresh meat. They compete to find the awesomest date to bring to the upcoming Spring Fling dance.

Here's Lila's ad:

Glamorous, sophisticated, mature high school girl looking for someone with the right stuff. I like fast cars, caviar, and the Caribbean. Don't talk to me about committment--I'm looking for excitement, not a bridge partner. If you can keep up with me, I want you. Kids need not apply.

And here's Jessica's. With extra annotation. I love footnotes.

Are you devastatingly handsome?[1] Are you romantic and wild?[2] Do you like girls who aren't afraid of danger?[3] Are you the type of guy who goes for what he wants?[4] Are you in college?[5] If you answered YES to ALL the questions, drop me a line.

[1] Meaning, do you look like this? Or this? Or this?

[2] "Extra points if you are a stalker."

[3] Because there's going to be plenty of it.

[4] It's like she wants to attract a date rapist.

[5] Seriously? You're running this ad in a HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER.

Anyway, Jessica and Lila end up dating the same guy, who's name is John Karger, which sounds to me like a serious serial-killer name. But John turns out to be totally awesome. He's only dating both of them because he is writing a paper on personal ads for his sociology class. He asks Jess and Li both to meet him at the beach and breaks the news to them. They're also wearing matching leopard-print bikinis when this happens.

The leopard print bikini is actually Jessica's second bikini of the book. Her other one is white. And it's a string bikini, of course. Honestly, I think if you went through Jessica's closet and tallied up what fabrics her wardrobe was made of, it would look like this, in the end:

Friday, February 19, 2010

The one where we learn that eating disorders can make you popular.

#4, Power Play

Tagline: "The Wakefield twins have taken sides--against each other!" What I would pay to see that cage match.

Dear Wakefield twins,

Help! A fat girl wants to join the prestigious, snobby sorority at my HIGH SCHOOL. What should I do?


Dear Ew!,

I think it's pretty obvio what you have to do, here. You pretty much have to tell the Fattie that you'll vote for her, if you want her to keep running errands and doing your homework for you. Then, when it comes time to vote, blackball her. You can't have fatties in your sorority. People will think you're fat, too! Don't worry about lying and being mean and stuff. Remember: you're pretty!

And just a word to the wise: if, by some chance, Robin Wilson--er, I mean, "the fat girl," gets all skinny in the course of two weeks and then tries to join your cheerleading squad, you have to do all you can to keep her off of it, too. She might be skinny now, but she was fat once. And now she's hungry, so she might eat you. And then beat you out for the prestigious title of Miss Sweet Valley High, which we will never, ever, after this episode discuss again, because apparently it's not THAT prestigious.

Luv & kisses!

PS: Remember the time Lila Fowler was a shoplifter because her parents don't love her, but everybody thought I was, because she foisted all of her stolen loot on me? Yeah. I do, too. Good times!

(PPS: Cara, is that you???)

Dear Ew!,

Please don't listen to anything my sister says. You must do everything I tell you, instead, because I am perfect, and always right.

Even if you know your sister is going to blackball the fat girl from the sorority, don't tell her about it. If it comes as a shock to her she'll be too crushed to eat, get skinny, and then she will be popular. Problem solved! I'm a genius, right? Mr. Collins thinks so.

Remember: when all else fails, a sympathetic shoulder pat or two can go a long way to healing a bereft soul.

With fondest regards,
Elizabeth Wakefield.

What they wore:

So Robin Wilson is fat and has to wear a lot of tent dresses. We don't get a lot of information about how they look, but I think we can imply that they are shabby, since one Robin wears early on is described as drab. Also, because of the fact that everybody knows fat people don't get to wear nice clothes. So these tent dresses of Robin's, they're ugly. She even wears one to the school dance. Because apparently when you're overweight the fat goes to your brain and clogs up your neural synapses, so that you can't judge the appropriate formality of occasions. When Robin gets skinny, Pascal's ghostwriter allows her to graduate up to designer jeans, a rainbow top, and a new hairstyle. So I guess all's well that end's well. As a sign of Robin's newfound popularity, the Chemistry Club names it's new formula the Robin Reaction. Which would have been the kiss of death for you, forever, at my school.

So as part of the Pi Beta hazing, Jessica the Evil Whorebitch makes the fat girl wear a bikini to the beach. "Do you have a bikini, Robin?"Elizabeth asks gently. "Well, it's a two-piece that's too small, so it looks like a bikini." Oh, Robin.

Here are the things Lila Fowlers shoplifts for Jessica: a sapphire-blue silk scarf, a pair of "carefully detailed" butterfly earrings dangling on a delicate gold chains, a gold bracelet, and a gold ring "magnificently crafted, with an Egyptian pharoah's head carved on it." As opposed to, you know, a German pharoah. #1, that's a lot of gold, and #2, below is a picture of what Lila would have looked like wearing all her flashy loot:

Elizabeth the Ace Reporter finally figures out that Lila is shoplifting because she notices her dressing more and more wildly, wearing elaborate jewelry and extremely flashy clothes. One such outfit includes "bright green skintight pants and a loose striped blouse that looked as though it could accomodate two people." Which doesn't really sound so telling to me. I mean, by that same logic, Dana Larsen of the Droids is a cat burglar and Claudia Kishi, a child murderer. Watch out Stoneybrook! There's a killer in your midst!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jessica Alba shows up to the Valentines Day premiere--and ruins a gorgeous Proenza Schouler dress--with Enid Rollins hair:

At least Enid's is brushed.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The one with the silver ski suit.

Super Special: Winter Carnival

"A winter wonderland..." My hometown is currently buried under two feet of snow, so I get this. I love the snow! It's so pretty and spangly and clean looking, and I don't have to go to school tomorrow! I am in love with the snow, even though I know it will soon turn black with car exhaust. My only stipulation is that it had better not knock my power out. If that happens, the snow will go from being my beloved friend to my ENEMY. The snow will become my Amy Sutton.

Speaking of Amy Sutton, she's in this book because we're zooming ahead in honor of the snow. I was going to save this super edition until next winter so it would be topical, and chronologically placed, but with all the global warming going on who knows if this will happen again?

Anyway, Amy is back in the SV but she's Jessica's friend now and likes boys and makeup. Todd has moved to Vermont, so Liz is dating Jeffrey French. One of these days I am going to post a head to head: Todd v. Jeffrey, and we can debate the pros and cons of the Elizabeth Wakefield Boyfriend Struggle. Oh, and Jessica is still a total bitch. Now you have all the backstory you need!

Jessica's bitchitude, in this book, takes the form of her stealing Elizabeth's slot on a new teen trivia show in order to meet hot dudes. Elizabeth feels put out because of that, and also because this essay she wrote about being a twin only got an honorable mention. Also, she makes dinner and does the dishes a lot in this book because Jess is out with her hot trivia boyfriend, David.

There's a winter carnival coming up, and Jeffrey plans to spend it doing lots of intense hand-holding with Liz, but Todd is coming home for a sports banquet for the Sweet Valley equivalent of the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program and he wants Liz to be his date, for old times' sake. This causes some strain to Jeff and Liz's relationship, and increases Elizabeth's depression. And then she is driven to the point of suicide by the fact that her mother buys Jessica a silver ski suit to wear at the carnival. Elizabeth realizes, yet again, that she is boring and not a silver ski suit kind of person, and hates it. She has to make do with a navy blue parka.

So things are already bad, and then Jessica goes and fucks everything up even more. Liz is supposed to meet Jeffrey at La Palma canyon so they can discuss their shitty relationship, but Jessica takes the Fiat and Liz is stranded at home. The subtitle of this book should really be, I Can't Wait Until Cell-Phones Are Invented. Because then Liz could just call Jeffrey and tell him she's going to be late. But since she can't, he assumes she doesn't want to be his girlfriend anymore and instead of going and explaining, Elizabeth screams at her sister and then cries a lot.

Jessica, bless her heart, wants to make everything better so she arranges this total cockamamie scheme where forges a note from Liz asking Jeffrey to meet her at the Winter Carnival, so they can hold hands and gaze into each other's eyes, like they planned. But then Jessica doesn't get a chance to tell Elizabeth about the note before they leave, separately, for the carnival at Mont Blanc. Again, a cell, even a Zac Morris style behemoth, could solve all their problems. When Jess arrives at the carnival she runs to Jeffrey and pretends to be Liz, and tells him she's sorry. But Liz sees them and gets the idea that Jessica is into Jeffrey. And again, instead of going and figuring things out, she cries, and gets on the first bus back to Sweet Valley. "I wish I never had a sister," she says, and then she falls asleep.

Cue the Wayne's World sound effects: doodly doo, doodly doo, doodly do0.

The phone rings and Elizabeth wakes up. It's the Sweet Valley police, calling to tell her that Jessica was in an accident on her way back down from Mont Blanc, presumably to catch up with Liz and plead her case. And Jessica is DEAD! The Wakefields are all crying and wailing. "I don't know how any of us is going to survive," Mrs. Wakefield sobs. "We just aren't a family without Jessica!" I wouldn't be able to survive without her, because they are all boring except for Jess, but it's interesting that Mrs. Wakefield hasn't been prepared for this eventuality with all the comas and shipwrecks and kidnappings and various-shady-murder-involved dealings with her daughters prior to this moment. Also surprising? That she remembers she has kids at all, for all the involvement she has with them.

Elizabeth meets up with her friends, who are trying to make her feel better, and Todd and Jeffrey get in a fight over her. And we know this is a dream sequence, right? That's supposed to teach Elizabeth a lesson about how much she loves her sister. But I love how her subconscious just had to throw that scene, of two men fighting over her, in there.

Then Enid walks in in Jessica's silver ski suit to break up the fight, and Elizabeth wakes up. And Jessica is there, in her room! Not dead! Steven has driven her home. Elizabeth explains her dream to them, and Steven asks what might have caused it, and Jessica responds that the twins have been having "a number of misunderstandings lately, most of which are [Jessica's] fault." A few seconds ago Elizabeth was so glad to see her sister, and now she's like, "Most of them?" all bitchy. How quickly we forget.

The twins go back to the winter carnival, and build snowmen, and go to a dance (of course). Liz and Jeffrey get back together and dance at the Snow Ball to a Droids song called "Snow Girl," with lyrics that go,

You took my heart girl, which was made of ice
One look at you and I'm on fire
So let's just listen to our hearts, girl.
Lift up our hearts even higher

And Elizabeth promises herself, the very last line in the book, that she'll "never, ever regret having a twin again." Until the next time.

What they wore: Since this book has as a major plot point the dichotomy between Todd and Jeffrey as Elizabeth's boyfriends, I thought I would point out what Jeffrey is wearing in one scene: he is casually preppy in old faded khaki pants and soft pastel sweaters that looked comfortable and sturdy at the same time. In another scene, he is wearing madras shorts with a sweater tied over his shoulder. Jeffrey sounds like J.Crew catalog circa 1989, doesn't he?

Jessica borrows a mulberry sweater from Elizabeth without asking, and Elizabeth retorts that Enid bought her that sweater for Christmas. Who knew Eeny Rollins had such good taste in sweaters? Mulberry, and all the purples, tend to look better on brunettes, I think, but that could just be my own bias showing because I'm a brunette. But wouldn't it be funny if Enid bought Elizabeth that sweater knowing it would wash her out? All "Hee hee hee, there goes your perfect tan, you biatch!" Enid is oppressed.

We also have the Elizabeth Clothing Paradox explained: "Since her own taste was conservative, it amazed Elizabeth that Jessica borrowed so many of her things. But then, Elizabeth thought, Jessica always liked to appear in new clothes." Thank you, ghostwriter. Although that does sounds a little OCD to me, this habit of Jessica's, of wearing things she doesn't like in order to not wear the same outfit twice. Doesn't it?

I love it when the clothes are actual plot points. In this book, it's the silver ski suit that Mrs. Wakefield buys Jess. It is made of Lycra and spangly and the silver material would fit Jessica like a glove. Amy Sutton gets a matching one in gold, and Cara Walker tells them that they're going to look like robots, and now I have a picture of C-3PO on skis. Anyway, Elizabeth covets this ski suit, and Mrs. Wakefield tells her that she knew you wouldn't go for something like this. Twist the knife! When Jessica offers to loan it to her sister, Elizabeth sighs and says she's fine with her navy blue down ski suit: You're you, and I'm me, and wherever we go people are going to expect me to be on time and to wear navy-blue and they're not going to expect you to do either.Jessica stared at her sister. She couldn't imagine a fate worse than the one Elizabeth was describing for herself. Dammit, people! There is nothing wrong with navy! It is a nice alternative to black!

The height of the B-plot in this book is that Jessica goes on a date with Trivia David to a sushi restaurant and embarasses herself by eating the wasabi whole. She is very eager to look good on the date and impress David's nineteen year old sister Barbara, because their mother owns Bibi's, at the mall! Here is what Jess wears: tight black stirrup pants and an oversize black men's vest over a bright-pink long-sleeved t-shirt, with black ballet flats. Add a bunch of skinny scarves and some coke bloat to the mix, and Jessica will look just like Lindsay Lohan. Barbara's boyfriend Mitch would totally be a douchebag hipster if he were alive today, because he is wearing, to the double date, an oversize Hawaiian shirt with a jewelled pin, and strangely cut linen pants that made him look emaciated. Welcome to the skinny cut on boys era, folks! Also, Mitch is wearing kelly green glasses. I have twenty five pair of glasses, he tells Jessica. I change them to go with what I'm wearing.

When Jessica tries to food Jeffrey into thinking she's Liz, she's wearing a hot pink sweater and white leather boots. And Jeffrey doesn't even notice. Todd never would have fallen for those shenanigans.

For the snow ball, Elizabeth has bought a whole new outfit that's going to be a surprise, and I thought for a minute that Liz might indugle herself, for once, and buy something slinky and Jessica-y. But at the moment of the big reveal, we find Liz is wearing a silver silk dress, with slightly puffy sleeves ending at the elbow, a round neck, and a soft full skirt. The fabric shimmered like ice. This could be cool, and 80's-riffic, although I am leery of the round neck. I love puffed sleeves, though. Anne of Green Gables has brainwashed me in favor of them, forever. But instead of throwing on a black shrug or adding some tights and big jewelry, Elizabeth accessorizes with a small strand of pearls around her neck and tiny silver and pearl earrings. Oh, Liz. Boring is as boring does, you know. Le sigh.

Things I Would Buy if I Were Elizabeth Wakefield:

From top left: J.Crew wool schoolboy blazer; Torero cross-button shirt, Free People; Kimchi Blue Swiss-dot oxfords; Game Point Chinos, Anthropologie; J.Crew party bow elastic.

Just the thing to make Todd swoon at the next pep rally! There is a way to do clean and preppy without looking like your mom.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The one where Todd gets a motorcycle.

#6, Dangerous Love

Tagline: "Are Elizabeth and Todd heading for disaster?" Well--some might call it that. Let's ask Cousin Rexy what he thinks.

So Todd got a motorcycle. For his thirty-fifth birthday. You still look good, Todd! You've got all your hair, and stuff. And your all teeth, presumably.

But despite this, all is not well in Todd's world. You see, his girlfriend Elizabeth isn't allowed to ride his hog (ha!) because her cousin, Rexy, died in a motorcycle accident recently. I love how the ghostwriter feels the need to justify Ned and Alice's parenting decision beyond "You just can't because it is dangerous, and we say so." Who is cousin Rexy? It doesn't matter. We don't ever hear about him again, or get to find out which of Jessica and Elizabeth's collateral relatives were awesome enough to name their child "Rex." And foolish enough to put the -y on the end, so people would forever think he's a girl.

Anyway, Todd Just Doesn't Understand, and he's all pissed, and he even got Elizabeth a pink helmet to wear, but she just won't disobey her parents, what a bitch! Jessica thinks that this rift in the most perfect high school relationship ever should spur Elizabeth to find somebody else. But Elizabeth doesn't want anybody else, so she throws her efforts into helping Enid plan her My Super-Dull Sixteen party and the re-opening of the Dairi Burger, which has been renovated and spiffed up.

Todd paid good money for that pink helmet, though, and it's not going to go to waste, dammit. If Elizabeth won't ride his hog (I can't resist, sorry) there are plenty of girls who will, and he takes them all out, and Elizabeth now is both sad and jealous. Also, have I mentioned that Todd's bike gives him magical powers? Behold: Crunch MacAllister, resident bully, is going to beat up some poor kid who scratched his van, when Todd offers Crunch a ride on his hog (LOLOL) to distract him. "You saved my life," says the kid who was about to get beat up, and to reward Todd's bravery, and motorcycle-owning status, and magical powers, the owner of the Dairi Burger offers to give his girlfriend "a free hot clam special," which cracked me up, because it sounds so dirty. What is wrong with me today? (But that really does sound dirty, right?) Only--oops! He thinks Todd's girlfriend is some girl named Mandy, who was riding on Todd's bike with him. Elizabeth is sad and jealous and hungry.

Strife between Liz and Enid ensues when Enid rides Todd's hog! (I'm going to stop, I promise. Soon.) But Elizabeth still shows up for her birthday party. Jessica goes, too, because she wants to be introduced to Enid's hot cousin, Brian. You know who else has come to this sixteen year old girl's party? Mr. Collins. Their teacher. I swear to God, he is a lawsuit waiting to happen. And then you know when it does he's going to be all, "WHAT? They're my pals." After the first half of the party, which is held at the Sweet Valley Country Club, Scoob and the gang are going to head down to the Caravan, for dancing. Jessica was supposed to give Liz a ride to the club, but Jess has disappeared with the hot cousin, and Liz is stranded...until Todd rolls up on his bike.

At first Liz is like, WTF? How many times do I have to tell you no? But then Todd makes this speech about how he's selling the bike because it has come between him and Liz. Then he sort of suggests that they go for one last ride on it together, and Elizabeth figures that once couldn't hurt, because she has never read a book in this series before. Once is enough. One line of coke? DEAD. Why should one ride on a motorcycle DEATH MACHINE be any different? She gets on the bike, and somewhere the specter of Rexy Wakefield's starts rattling its chains and moaning. Because Liz and Todd crash, of course. Or rather, Crunch MacAllister crashes into them. With his van.

Jessica is making out with the hot cousin when she remembers Liz, and she and Brian go back to get her from the Country Club where Jess left her. But before they can get there, they come across the scene of the crash, and "it doesn't look good" for Todd. Then Jessica sees Elizabeth, and wigs, and you'd think at that moment in her life she learns a lesson about punctuality and reliability, wouldn't you? Yeah. You would.

Jess and her family are at the hospital with Liz, who's in a coma. The Wakefield pere and mere are awesome, here. "She's alive, no thanks to you!" shouts Ned. "You broke your word to us, Todd," says Alice. I would be screaming: YOU LITTLE FUCKING SACK OF SHIT! I NEVER SHOULD HAVE LET MY DAUGHTER DATE A THIRTY-FIVE YEAR OLD! while I strangled the life from his body. But from Ned and Alice, this is pretty rough treatment. Todd feels even worse. Mr. Collins cruises home from Enid's birthday, checks the Tivo, sees there's nothing on, and then moseys on down to the hospital to see what's up. He arrives just in time to hear Steven Wakefield cry out that Liz has taken a turn for the worse! They don't think she's going to make it!

What they wore
: At the start of this book, Elizabeth shows up for school with her hair tied back with a blue ribbon, dressed in jeans, blue oxford shirt, and dark blue blazer. Todd is a loser, and he's not too bright, because does that sound like the type of girl who's going to be super-excited about her boyfriend getting a motorcycle? Also, Liz--that's a lot of blue. There are other colors, you know. Anyway, altogether, it's not a bad outfit. It is much better than the Detective Sipowicz shirt she's wearing on the cover, that makes her look like a linebacker.

Mr. Collins's typical school-day outfit is detailed for us: a blue crewneck sweater, worn with jeans and a tweed jacket. That's not bad, but doesn't it just scream to you that Mr. Collins is the type of dude who tells his students to call him by his first name, and considers himself their friend? I always hated that kind of teacher. My friends don't give me homework, dude.

Now for the party! We don't know what Enid, the birthday girl, is wearing, but we get a paragraph about Jessica's black-and-white satin jumpsuit held in place by two tiny spaghetti straps (noooo!). Her hair is piled atop her head and long black and white earrings [dangle] from her lobes. Jessica looked stunning. Or you know, like newsprint. A pop of color never harmed anybody. By the end of the night, Jess's makeup was streaked, and her satin jumpsuit was heavily wrinkled from the night of sitting by her sister's bedside. And I don't want to sound cruel, but maybe someone could get her something from home to change into? Because satin is really hard to iron. It scorches easily.

And Elizabeth is wearing a hospital gown, because she's in a coma! Uh-oh, uh-oh, it's seeeerious.

This is Courtney Love, out in public. Yeah, I know, I'm trying to forget she exists, too. I'm sorry. But there is a very important question I want to ask Ms. Love. No, not whether or not she is wearing a nightgown under that coat. Or why she suddenly looks a lot like Britney Spears, circa Extra-Crazy. A more important question even than that, which is: Does Olivia Davidson know she's missing a pair of socks? Because I think those were the ones she was wearing that time she used an actual vinyl record as a ponytail holder.

The one where Jessica almost has sex.

#5, All Night Long*

"Is Jessica as grown-up as she thinks she is?" Answer: no, definitively.

This book is a Sweet Valley classic for many reasons. First, you have the cover, with Jessica looking all whorey and "Scott Daniels" looking like a total porn star, and also, thirty-eight years old, at least. And then you have the fact that this book features booze, drug use, cursing ("Damn!" but still) and very explicit almost-sex, and I just want to remind you of the fact that on the title page, it says very clearly, RL 6, IL age 12 and up. 12! I read this when I was about twelve and I remember thinking, "Wow, I am really too young to be reading this." If I recall correctly, the librarian refused to check it out to me because she thought I was too young, but my mom got all FREEDOM OF SPEECH on her ass, and so I got it anyway. Did I mention my mom's name is Alice? And she's an interior designer and a perfect size six?

The book opens with Jessica sneaking out on a school night, no less, to go to a beach party at Secca Lake with Scott Daniels, who is "eighteen, but Elizabeth suspected [Jessica] had conveniently shaved a year or two from his real age in order to convince their parents he wasn't too old for her." I want you to tear your eyes from this fascinating, wittily-written sentence and look up again at the picture of "Scott Daniels" on the cover. Yeah. Jessica shaved a decade or two off, or something. Because no way in hell is that dude 18. He's not even Hollywood 18, which is usually like 25. Anyway, besides a glorious porn moustache, Scott has a tomato red Firebird, and he has a reputation for holding "grown-up pajama parties...with everyone wearing nightshirts and nightgowns and the floor strewn with mattresses." Now Scott sounds like Hugh Hefner. Elizabeth is concerned that Jessica is going out with this dude, as she should be, and tries to make her promise to be back by curfew. What's that I hear? Oh, that's just Jessica laughing as she zooms off into the night with her geriatric porn-star boyfriend.

But the joke is on Jessica, because Scott turns out to be a total tool and also sort rapey, to boot. They swim for a while, and then someone lights a joint and they're all drinking beer, and Scott takes Jessica to an abandoned shack in the woods, where he tries to have sex with her. He, and I quote, "slipped a hand down the back of [Jessica's] bikini bottom." He is touching her bare ass, you guys. That is the closest anybody in these books comes to sex, EVER, even the married people like Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield (not that I want to read about that). Jessica freaks out and demands that Scott give her the car keys, because it's late, and she doesn't want to have sex, and she needs to get home. Scott tells her no, that he's going to keep her out ALL NIGHT LONG and then passes out because he's drunk, and here is our first inkling that Elizabeth got the brains in the family (including, like, the ones that were supposed to go to her parents) because Jessica just cries that she is stranded, instead of stealing the unconscious guy's keys and driving herself home.

Elizabeth wakes up the next morning to find Jessica still out and instead of going to her parents and telling them that Jess has probably been raped or murdered by a 55-year-old with a suspicious moustache, she decides that the most important thing is that her parents think Jess is upstairs sleeping as usual, so that Jessica doesn't get grounded and get mad at her. So she goes downstairs and pretends to leave for school, then sneaks back upstairs and dresses in a miniskirt, and pretends to be Jessica. She makes conversation with her mother, as Jessica, and Alice is pretty easily fooled, and offers the most hilarious line in the book. Alice mentions that she hopes her daughter will never have twins, and Elizabeth says, "I don't plan on it," like, does she mean that she will get an abortion if she ever gets pregnant with them? It would be just one more SCANDAL to rock this book. But then Alice gives a weary sigh and says, "Neither did I, Jessica. Neither did I." Ha! Alice is a beaten woman.

The big deal that day at school is that the twins are supposed to take their driver's ed tests to get their licenses, even though they have been driving everywhere alone since this series started, like, on their permits? Whatever. Elizabeth takes her test and then she decides she'll have to take the test for Jessica, who hasn't shown up yet. Todd reminds her that that's cheating, and Elizabeth gets mad at him, and then they break up, and when she goes in to take the test as Jessica, she's upset and she bombs it. When Jessica finally shows up at school she finds she's failed and she is mad at Elizabeth. Instead of telling her to FUCK HERSELF, Elizabeth apologizes, and then writes in her journal about what a horrible twin she is, and how Jessica hates her now. But the teacher agrees to let Jess retake the test since she was so "sick" and upset when she took it the first time and all is well.

Elizabeth goes to the beach to cover a surfing championship for The Oracle, where her classmate Bill Chase, who would totally have smoked weed if he went to my high school, is competing. He wins, and Enid suggests a title for Elizabeth's article on his victory: "Rocky of the Deep." Instead of telling her that's stupid, Elizabeth says she's already got the perfect title: Chase is One. They're both stupid, but I like Enid's for the sheer incoherentness and the outdated pop-culture reference. Todd shows up and apologizes for calling Elizabeth a cheater, even though she was one, and they're back together, and again, I think Jessica learned a very important lesson about not almost having sex with senior citizens, and staying out ALL NIGHT LONG. Except not really, at all.

What they wore:
"This would look really sexy with my red shorts," Jessica said, holding up a scrap of lacy white cloth as she smiled sweetly at her twin. "You don't mind, do you Lizzie?" What is Elizabeth Wakefield doing with a lacy white anything, unless it's a nightgown that comes down to her ankles, Little House on the Prairie-style? GHOSTWRITERS! SHE IS THE BORING ONE! Also, I wish that these girls would not wear shorts so much. I am firmly of the belief that your shorts time is over once you hit puberty. I know these girls are perfect size sixes, but that does not preclude cellulite, as I have discerned from many hours of viewing Real Housewives of Orange County. It's safer just to stay away from them, unless you are ten and on your way to Camp Minnehaha for the first time. But Jessica has bigger problems than shorts in this book so I won't dwell.

Because here is what she wears to her lake-date with Scott "Grandpa" Daniels, under the shorts and lacy white halter: She wears a red string bikini. I am not of the school of thought that tries to imply that sluttily-dressed women deserve to be raped, but all the same, I can sort of see where Scott got the idea that she'd be into sex, wearing that and acting the way she does. Another girl at the party is wearing a chamois bikini. I am not convinced. Also, Ms. Chamois has cornrowed blond hair and is a dead ringer for Bo Derek. I am just not sure about her all around.

We have a twin switch this episode, so we get a nice compare-and-contrast of outfits that the twins would normally wear to school. When she goes down to have breakfast with her parents as herself, Elizabeth wears old jeans worn to a velvety softness and yanked a long-sleeved T-shirt over her head. Quickly she combed her wet hair and secured it with a tortoiseshell clip on either side. She [jammed] her feet into a pair of moccasins. I have a hard time blasting on this outfit, because I own every piece of it, myself, down to the moccasins which are soft and beaded and worn to the shape of my foot, and in which I can move soundlessly, like a Native American stalking a deer. They are great shoes for snooping. I even have toirtoiseshell clips, but I do NOT wear one on either side of my head, like I did when I was in second grade, so I'll rip on Liz for that. LIZ WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?

As Jessica she wears a short, bias-cut skirt and matching striped top that was one of Jessica's favorite outfits. A bias-cut skirt that is extremely short sounds dangerous to me. The way it hangs, when you sit down, it sounds like people could see your underwear pretty easily. And what is up with Jessica's love of stripes? In my mind, stripes are only appropriate if you are 1) wearing your pajamas, 2) a charming French girl with a beret and a baguette tucked under your arm, or 3) an inmate in a federal prison. I have a feeling, an innate feeling, too, that these stripes are horizontal, and that makes everything bigger, and once again, not even the size sixes are safe.

Dana Larsen, lead singer of the Droids, is all we get for wild and crazy outfits until Olivia Davidson fully comes into her hippy-artyness. In this book, Olivia's brown curls [are] peeping out from underneath a vibrant purple scarf, which isn't much, but is at least a step in the right direction. Dana, however, is wearing one of her usual outrageous get ups: an oversize T-shirt over a red-striped miniskirt; purple tights; and black suede ankle boots. An enormous gold loop dangled from one pierced earlobe; the other sported a tiny silver star. Well, how Claudia Kishi of her! Ann M. Martin is writing a strongly worded letter as we speak.

*Again, #4, Power Play, has been loaned out but is on its way back to me. Woo! Review is forthcoming.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The one where Jessica lets Bruce Patman slip through her fingers.

#3, Playing with Fire.*

Tagline: "Can Jessica play Bruce Patman's game and win?" No. She can't. WAY TO WASTE YOUR CHANCE, JESS.

The book opens with a dance, even though we just had a dance in the last book. I swear, SVH must have a massive party-planning budget; it must be one long, perpetual bake sale. They probably have a permanent kiosk set up for it. Anyway, this is the "Fifth Annual Rockin' Dance Party Contest," and Jessica and Winston Egbert, as Queen and King, are supposed to dance together. But instead Jessica spends all her time dancing with Bruce Patman, and who can blame her? He's rich, and beautiful, and a total asshole, and he drives a Porsche with the license plate 1Bruce1. He's the coolest boy around. Basically, Bruce Patman is Don Draper, but younger, and like, toooootally '80s, man.

Jess has liked Bruce for a long time, and is determined to get him to be her boyfriend. But Bruce is sharp, and won't be trapped easily, so Jessica has to change her entire personality to get him to stay interested in her. She becomes--well, she becomes Elizabeth, I guess, which is to say a total wet-blanket who goes along with everything her boyfriend says. The only time she stands up to him at all is when he tries to have sex with her at a beach party, and I'm just saying, but you have to lose your virginity sometime, and it probably won't be pretty, so why not a Patman? You'll have a large group of similarly-situated individuals with which to share you woes after he forgets to call you. Oh, well. The important thing here is Bruce touches Jessica's boob.

Elizabeth tries to talk Jess out of her love for Bruce, but then Mr. Wakefield comes in and congratulates his daughter for snaring a rich boyfriend. "'The Patman boy, eh,'" he noted approvingly. And now with this parental go-ahead, Jessica's crush is set in stone. She goes off with Bruce to play tennis at his mansion, and lets him win, so that he'll like her more. And he does. And then he tries to make her quit cheerleading, and Jessica does, and that's really uncool of him because she loves it, but again: he's BRUCE PATMAN. I would have quit eating, entirely, if he'd gone to my school and shown an iota of interest in me.

The school rock band, The Droids, are going big time, and have a record label interested in them, so Elizabeth, unable to meddle in her sister's life, sticks her nose into their business, instead, under the guise of writing a series of articles about them for The Oracle. The Droids are so busy practicing to be famous that they start doing poorly in school. Emily Mayer, the drummer, is supposed to tutor Jessica in chemistry, but she skips a tutoring session to practice with the band, and Jessica is going to fail, until Bruce comes along and tells her where Mr. Russo keeps his tests. Jessica has the fat girl, Robin Wilson, steal the tests for her, and then she's feeling generous, so she gives poor Emily a copy, too.

Of course Russo uses a new test and both girls fail, and are called to the principal's office. Emily comes clean about the cheating, but Jessica doesn't. This is the second test in a row she's failed, and she's in danger of getting an F for the entire term. This would be a wakeup call to most other girls, even most other Jessicas, but this particular Jess is too busy getting ready for Bruce's birthday party at the country club to bother with things like school. She buys a new outfit and a stack of presents, that is so sad, and desperate of her. Oh, honey. Bruce ignores her, though, and Jessica is crushed. Then he dips out of his own party, making excuses about a sick grandma, but really to meet another girl. Elizabeth and Todd know what's going on, and they arrange to drive Jess home. But then Elizabeth "remembers" she left her keys at the party, and they drive back to get them, and see Bruce, who has returned, making out with "an attractive redhead." It's always those damnable ginges! Jessica freaks out on Bruce, and throws a pizza onto his face. The bitch is back!

Oh, the theme of this book must be "blowing people off" because the Droids arrange a big gig but their shady manager never shows. They are all sad, and then they are relieved, because being famous is hard, and they're only kids, and they just love music, and that is its own reward! The end!

What they wore: At the dance where Jessica makes her move on Bruce she is wearing a bright blue, skin-hugging minidress and matching tights. And "monochromatic" must have been the theme of the Rockin' Dance Party, because Elizabeth has come in stylish but more casual wheat-colored pants and a tan striped shirt. To a dance? I mean, at my school people wore jeans to the homecoming dance, but they were usually paired with a cute top, and cute shoes and about a hundred thousand of those tiny sparkly butterfly clips that only hold about two hairs. You know Elizabeth has topped her ensemble with some barrettes and finished it off with some sensible shoes. What a fail.

More dance fashion: The Droids' record label guy has shown up to observe them in red leather pants and a matching skinny tie knotted over a white shirt, and to me that sounds like just exactly what a McDonald's employee would wear in the location that opens inside an S&M dungeon. And Robin Wilson compliments Jessica on her dress, and asks her where she got it, but Jessica won't tell her, because she doesn't want to be seen wearing the same outfit as the fat girl. Why? It seems to me if you want to make sure you look awesome in something and everybody knows it, you should give the same exact outfit to the fat girl and have her wear it to the same place as you.

Hey! Look at that! Somebody shops at a place that isn't Lisette's! After she's been dating Bruce for a few days, Jessica visits The Boston Shop and comes home with a bunch of new, Patman-appropriate clothes. A brown wool blazer and matching skirt...two Oxford shirts (in beige and pink)...the look was tasteful, classic, and rich. Elizabeth, trying to jolt Jessica out of her Stepford-preppy haze, asks to borrow Jessica's black and white miniskirt to wear on a date with Todd. Jessica tells her she can keep it forever, and then offers to loan Liz the black body suit to go with it. Nice try, Jess. You know she's wearing that miniskirt with a polo and some Keds.

Just so you know how fat and loserish poor Robin Wilson is, the ghostwriter is sure to point out that the outfit she chose to wear to Bruce's party (Query: why is she even invited?) is a pink-and-white striped dress--horizontal stripes, no less--because apparently only skinny girls get a pass to wear them--that make her look like a poster girl for the cotton-candy company. Because SHE'S FAT, GEDDIT?

Everybody makes a big deal about telling Jessica how nice she looks at the party, but we don't know what it is, exactly, that she's wearing. DAMN YOU, GHOSTWRITER! The clothes are the best part! I would gladly sacrifice some of Elizabeth's shitty journaling for a sparkling silver tutu with a purple jumpsuit underneath it. Blast!

*I have loaned #2, Secrets, to a friend and will post that entry when I get it back, which will be soon.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Welcome to the SV, bitch!

Tagline: "Share the continuing story of the Wakefield twins and their friends--their laughter, heartaches, and dreams." And cocaine overdoses. And brushes with death. And all around-shenanigans! Can't wait!

I love the Sweet Valley High series so much, y'all. You remember when that book came out, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Well, everything I need to know I learned from Sweet Valley. If you're shipwrecked? You can use your fourteen-karat bracelet to signal a plane! Also I learned that fat girls can be popular if they just become anorexics and lose a lot of weight. And if someone has a scar, they are probably a murderer. Are you taking notes? You should be writing this down. Because it will all come in handy in your life, trust me.

Before we get started, you need to meet Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, who will be our guides on this important journey, like Beatrice was for Dante. Liz and Jess are sixteen-year-old girls who live in Sweet Valley, California, and they are identical twins! They have "the same shoulder-length, sun-streaked blond hair, the same sparkling blue-green eyes, the same perfect skin. Even the tiny dimple in Elizabeth's left cheek was duplicated in her younger sister's--younger by four minutes. Both girls were five feet six on the button and generously blessed with spectacular, All-American good looks. Both wore exactly the same size clothes, but they refused to dress alike, except for the exquisite identical lavelieres they wore on gold chains around their necks." How will you ever learn to tell them apart, you ask? Don't worry! Elizabeth wants to be a writer, so she is always off doing boring writerly things. She's also very nosy, and wears a wristwatch. Jessica is an evil, boyfriend-stealing ho, and behaves accordingly. There's very little overlap between the two. (If you're trying to judge by the cover, Elizabeth is the prissy-looking one in white; Jessica is the one with the crazy eyes and Donald Trump bangs.)

Do you know how people say there are only seven original plots in the world? Well, in Sweet Valley, there are more like five. This very first book in the series is a variation on the most recurrent one: Elizabeth realizes she is boring and put upon, and rebels in some quiet way, before going back to her old boring habits. In this case she's blue because has a secret crush on Todd Wilkins, but Jessica likes him too, oh no! Elizabeth tries to make a move, but before she can, Jessica does, and she's more interesting and doesn't part her bangs down the middle and Liz has missed her chance. The whole school is talking about how the captain of the basketball team and the co-captain of the cheerleading squad are an item!

But Jessica isn't a one-man kind of woman, and before you know it, she's allowed bad-boy Rick Andover (who is a dropout, OMG) to take her to Kelly's roadhouse for a beer. I love the early books in this series, because they are all for ages twelve and up, and all contain mention of booze, drugs, and sex. Rick acts like a total creep to Jessica, and she ends up getting busted by a cop, who drives her home, and mistakenly calls her Elizabeth as he drops her off. Caroline Pearce, the school gossip, hears this and the next day at school everybody thinks it was Elizabeth who was out drinking with Rick. Elizabeth is upset by this, not because her teachers and her friends and her parents might hear and get mad at her, but because now Todd might think she's a floozy. Which he does. Jessica tries to clear up the mixup but Todd thinks she's trying to take the blame for her wayward sister, and asks her to the upcoming school dance, and makes out with her, just as Liz comes out and sees. She has a meltdown: "Liz Wakefield is supposed to be good, sweet, kind, you know what that adds up to? Boring, boring, boring!" And...I can't argue with her, there. Neither can her mother, who just tells Liz that she "understands." Good work, Mom.

B and C plot time! The twins' older brother Steven Wakefield is behaving oddly and Jessica knows he's in love, but she's appalled when she finds out that his new girlfriend is Betsy Martin, who "has been doing drugs for years" and "sleeps around." The twins are crushed. It will "ruin" the Wakefields, Jessica wails, to be associated with a family like the Martins. Which is a bit rich coming from an underage girl who was at Kelly's with Rick Andover less than 24 hours before. I'm just saying, it's not such a huge leap. And then the twins realize that their father, an attorney, has been working late and talking a lot about his colleague, Marianna West, lately. This could just mean he's, you know, busy, but the twins jump to the conclusion that he must be having an affair.

Time for the dance! Jess is going with Todd, and Elizabeth is going with Winston Egbert, whose name should tell you all you need to know about him. Jessica notices, at the dance, that Todd can't take his eyes off of Elizabeth, and she's pissed, so when she gets home, she tells Elizabeth that it's over with Todd, because he tried to molest her, which is a pretty serious accusation, and could ruin Todd's life. Elizabeth is duly appalled. When Todd calls to try to say he likes her, she shuts him down because she thinks he's a perv.

It turns out that Steven wasn't actually dating Betsy Martin--he was dating Betsy's sister, Tricia. Dating because apparently rampant snobbery runs in families. He was kind of critical of Tricia's family and she called him out on it and dumped him. Steven is upset, but his parents and his sisters counsel him to go and tell Tricia that he loves her. He drives over to her "saggy-roofed ranch house,"--that's how you know the Martins are really bad, because they don't have enough money to keep their house up nice, like GOD--and Tricia takes him back, but if it were me? I'd still be pissed he was a dick about my family.

There's some bullshit rigmarole with a court case involving the school football field--Lila Fowler's rich dad wants to build a factory on it--but it's really just contrivance so that Liz and Jess can go downtown and see their father at trial with Marianna West. They are chagrined--CHAGRINED--to see Ned "being so attentive [to Marianna], leaning over with his head next to hers, whispering heaven knows what into her ear!" LIKE THINGS ABOUT THE CASE? Have these girls never seen a courtroom drama? Do they think that he is propositioning her, there, in the courtroom? After they win the court case, Mr. Wakefield invites Marianna home for dinner, and reveals that the reason he's been working late is because he was trying to help her get a promotion. And I wasn't before, but now I'm suspicious, because that sounds like the lamest, most half-assed excuse ever. If my husband said something like that to me, I'd start smashing his shit with his golf clubs, Elin-Woods style, but the twins--and their mother--just toast Marianna on her new job!

The next day, Liz and Jess are driving home from school, and nasty Rick Andover is chasing their Fiat in a stolen car. They stop at a light and he totally carjacks them, and drives them to Kelly's. Todd Wilkins sees them go by and catches sight of Elizabeth's terrified face, and it's Todd to the rescue! He saves them, and Elizabeth and Todd have a moment, and Elizabeth confesses that she's liked Todd all along, and Todd confesses that he didn't try to rape Jessica. The tone in their conversation is all laughy like, "That Jessica and her antics!" but if I were Todd I'd be really, really angry and probably not willing to get involved with the sister of a girl who tried to get me sent to federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison for twenty-five and change. Todd and Liz just laugh it off, and decide that Jessica needs to be put in her place. Again, if it were me, I'd try to push her into therapy, but they decide on something else.

Which is this: you see, Liz has been writing the Eyes and Ears gossip column for the SVH newspaper, The Oracle, and it's been a secret, but it's all going to be revealed at a pool party in a few days time. Liz decides that she will pull a twin switch, and loans Jessica some clothes, so that people will think Jess is Liz and throw Jess into the pool! Which will certainly teach her an important lesson about falsely accusing people of sexual assault. All's well that ends well!

What they wore: I just pressed my best jeans today and my blue button down shirt that you've been dying to borrow, Elizabeth tells Jessica, and LOL, she irons her jeans, but also here we are confronted for the first time with the Sweet Valley High Paradox, which is that if Elizabeth is so boring, and you can tell she's boring from the clothes she wears, why would Jessica want to borrow them all the time? And that is a particularly dull Elizabeth outfit. At the beginning of the series, Francine Pascal hadn't so much set in stone that Elizabeth's uniform consists solely of Bermuda shorts and polo shirts and barettes, but there's still no explanation as to why Liz would own a "tuxedo shirt...and the pants...and the little bow tie" to go along with it. Because that is a snazzy outfit, and besides one or two of Olivia Davidson's craziest ensembles, probably the best outfit that occurs in this series, ever.

Jessica, on the other hand, is full of fashion fail in this book. For her date with Rick Andover at Kelly's, she took the trouble to curl her hair and put on her sexiest red blouse. So far, so good. As a natural curly-haired person, I will never understand why anybody with straight hair would want to inflict that on themselves, but the red shirt was a good choice. But then Jess borrowed her sister's (there we go again!) brand-new black sandal heels to go with her black silk jersey skirt. I am a big fan of silk jersey, because it can be dressed up, or down, but do you know what it is never appropriate for? Underage binge-drinking at a sleazy roadhouse. Nice, Jess. You're going to look like a hooker for sure.

For the dance, Elizabeth's dress actually sounds kind of pretty: the white strapless dress was perfect with her tanned skin and blond hair. Jessica's dress is blue and slinky, with a handkerchief hemline, spaghetti straps, and a neckline so low Todd will be panting! Now I like blue. As a brown-eyed brunette, probably not as much as the next person. And I like low necklines, because I am a big-boobed girl, myself, and I believe in smoking if you got 'em. A handkerchief hemline I am willing to give a pass on, because it's 1984, here, but spaghetti straps? They're gross. They're so skinny and...there. Like string over your shoulders. And it's hard to wear a regular bra with them, but that could just be me, because of the boobs, and now you all know far too much about my chest area so I'll stop talking about it. But do you know who wears spaghetti straps? That girl from your high school who was in Crossroads and was "modest" and wore a promise ring, and was a "virgin" because she didn't sleep with guys, but she did absolutely everything else. People are afraid to go strapless because they think it's trashy, but it can be tasteful, and it's better than spaghetti straps! I promise!!

My point? I just want to point out that it is rare when I covet anything belonging to Elizabeth over Jessica. And I also want to point out that Steven Wakefield comes in while Jess is describing the plunging neckline that will "make Todd pant" and instead of saying "Jesus God, gross me out," he says, "As a man, I feel sorry for the intended victim." Which is really creepy, and not the last time Steven makes a vaguely sexual comment like that to his sisters.

Ugh. I need to get this awful taste out of my mouth. OK. That wicked homewrecker Marianna West is "looking positively radiant in an ice-blue suit." I cannot condone an ice-blue suit because I am a law student, and I know that suits come in black and gray and navy and THAT IS ALL, but I am positively shocked that the ghostwriter refrained from having Ms. West show up in court with ripped fishnets, red high heels, and a cigarette in a long ivory holder, that she smokes while stroking her Dalmation-pelt fur coat and cackling, "I'll have you, Ned Wakefield! WHERE ARE THOSE PUPPIES?" I'm just saying, points for restraint.