Tara Calaby

writer & editor

Tag: ya fiction (page 1 of 11)

Recap: (SVH19) Showdown – Francine Pascal

Showdown coverThis basically has to be amazing. It’s about Lila and Jess and how they’re the original (and best) frenemies. The only way it could’ve been better is if Bruce were somehow fighting for Jack’s affections as well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Toward the end of Head Over Heels Lila meets Jack, a construction worker on a site near her father’s office. He seems far too attractive to really be working class, so she decides he must have a mysterious story behind his manual labouring job. Because no one smart or good looking ever has to worry about making rent, amiright?

Anyway, by the time Showdown begins, Lila’s completely enamoured of the Jack she’s created in her own mind. Jack doesn’t exactly help, fuelling her fantasies with talk of a privileged former life that seems to meet even Lila’s lofty standards. Is this Lila’s happily ever after?

You’re kidding, right? This is Sweet Valley.

You see, Jessica thinks Jack is pretty hot too. She and Cara have a pact not to go after the same boys, but this is Lila, which basically makes Jack even more attractive to Jess. She flirts outrageously with him, hands him her number, and is gleeful when he calls.

From this point on, Jack plays the two-timing cad role perfectly. He spends the weekends with Lila, and sees Jess mid-week. Jess’s relationship with him is a secret, which means she’s left to fume when Lila boasts about her perfect dates with Jack, only being appeased when Jack tells her that Lila has completely the wrong idea and that he only sees her as a friend.

Meanwhile, Jack tells Lila that he wants her to be his wife one day and she decides that means they’re engaged. (I want to roll my eyes at all this, but I remember what I was like at sixteen and I’m pretty sure I would have been just as gullible and ridiculous as Lila is in this book.) It’s a secret engagement, though, on Jack’s say-so. Wouldn’t want his other girlfriend finding out!

With all this build-up, you’d assume that the climax would involve Lila walking in on Jess and Jack. You’d be wrong. You’d be right if you assumed that Nicholas Morrow’s school friend would recognise Jack from back when they were all at Prep school together and Jack was a complete psychopath who flipped out on his girlfriend because he’s been unstable ever since he lost his entire family. You’d also be right if you assumed that Jessica would find a regular pharmacy of illegal drugs in Jack’s bathroom while visiting his hovel and would be stupid enough to confront him about them. You’d continue to be right if you assumed that everything would end with a knife fight and Jessica disarming Jack with a perfectly executed cheerleading kick.

Don’t let anyone tell you that cheerleading is a waste of time.

The subplot in this one is ~thematically linked~ to the main plot, which is quite surprising for Sweet Valley. Liz receives a group of photos to publish in the Oracle and it turns out that one of them shows her beloved Enid’s boyfriend cheating on her with Robin. Who used to be fat. When confronted, George and Robin say that it just happened and that they didn’t mean to cheat on Enid, or Robin’s boyfriend, Allen. Apparently they just fell and accidentally snogged for half an hour or something. It happens.

This is a thoroughly fun book, and not just because it’s Lila-centric. The plot is pleasantly tropey without being too predictable and Jack the Ripper Labourer is a great villain from the daytime soap mould.

Moral of the Story? Everyone cheats.

Recap: (SVH18) Head Over Heels – Francine Pascal

Head Over Heels coverBruce Patman is actually in love—with someone other than himself! He’s fallen for Regina Morrow, the rich, beautiful new girl, who is a recent cover model and the most inspirational of all the inspirationally disabled girls. (In case you’ve forgotten, she’s deaf, but can read lips and speak perfectly. A nice, non-confronting disability that doesn’t inconvenience anyone but her.) Now that he and Regina are together, Bruce has changed. He’s opening car doors for Regina and buying her expensive jewellery and even inviting her to the Patman mansion for dinner. (He still wears a teeny-tiny bathing suit, though, so it’s not like everything has changed.)

Regina’s in love too. She’s never so much as kissed a boy before Bruce, and now she’s head-over-heels. But just as she gets her first boyfriend and starts to really feel like she’s a part of the Sweet Valley crowd, her family drops an amazing bombshell on her: there’s a doctor in Switzerland who should be able to give her the ability to hear. The downside is that she’ll have to move there for an entire year, leaving behind Bruce and the first time she’s felt like a ~normal~ teenager.

Regina, being a teenage girl, decides that staying with Bruce is more important than being able to hear. Her family try to convince her otherwise, even bringing a former patient of the doctor to stay with them to show Regina what she’ll be missing out on (and to enable a brief mistaken identity side plot in which Todd, yet again, suspects Liz of cheating on him and no one thinks that perhaps it could be an identical twin sister situation).

Meanwhile, Jess is trying to break Regina and Bruce up, because she has a term paper bet going with Lila that they’ll be over before the charity carnival the SVH students are putting on. She just happens to let it slip that Ken thinks that Bruce is only dating Regina to boost his popularity in order to become president of the centenary committee. Now that is a dedicated campaign tactic.

It’s Sweet Valley, so of course Bruce and Regina have a massive bust-up due to their complete failure to communicate. Regina decides to go to Switzerland for treatment after all and it’s left to Liz to explain to Bruce why Regina was so upset with him. The new Bruce is loving and selfless, so of course he puts Regina’s health before his own selfish desire to be with her, and ensures that she goes abroad anyway.

It’s all so sugary, I have a toothache.

As much as I prefer the real Bruce to the lovestruck changeling he was replaced by as soon as Regina walked into his life, this is actually one of the better-written books, I think. The inspirationally disabled trope gets really old really quickly when it comes to Regina (especially when she manages to read lips that she can’t even see), but she and Bruce are actually a likeable pairing and I do appreciate the fact that Regina’s health and future are shown to be more important than her brand-new high school romance.

Moral of the Story? Love turns cheating players into crying pussycats.

Recap: (SVH17) Love Letters – Francine Pascal

Love Letters coverNo one likes Caroline Pearce. She’s prim and prissy and spreads malicious gossip like it’s the latest superflu. For some reason, she’s in Pi Beta Alpha despite this. One can only assume that the members were too scared to blackball her for fear that she’d be passing on nasty rumours about them for the rest of their high school life.

Somehow, Caroline comes up with the perfect plan to garner a little more attention, both from the kids at school and from her sister, Anita, at home: she’ll invent a fake boyfriend, ‘Adam’. She’s not completely stupid, so she pretends he’s from a town some distance away. She’s almost completely stupid, though, because she decides that the best way to make her faux beau seem realistic is to plagiarise the love letters that Robert Browning wrote to Elizabeth Barrett. Everyone knows that teenage boys write just like nineteenth century poets.

Amazingly, Caroline’s plan works. The Pi Beta Alpha girls are all over her letters from ‘Adam’ and Anita arranges for her to have a complete makeover. Not only does she have a hair cut, but she also begins to wear clothing that doesn’t cover every inch of her body. For a while, she gets to bask in her new-found popularity… but then she discovers that Elizabeth is writing a play about Browning for an upcoming play competition. And guess who’s spotted the similarity between Caroline’s letters and the letters quoted in Liz’s piece: Jessica.

Jess and Lila, extremely suspicious that Adam doesn’t exist, decide to throw a party for him, and make sure that all potential ways out for Caroline are completely blocked off, even going so far as to buy him a ticket to Sweet Valley. Realising she’s cornered, Caroline confesses to Saint Elizabeth. For some reason, Liz decides to do all she can to save Caroline from facing up to her own shoddy, lying behaviour, instead enlisting Todd to find a boy to pretend to be Adam for the party.

Meanwhile, Liz’s play wins the competition, because Liz is perfect and doesn’t ever need to be taught a lesson about how sometimes you can’t get everything you want, or be the absolute best. Unlike Jess, who is forced to learn this lesson painfully once every couple of books.

This is a particularly moralistic story, but at least the moral is quite a decent one for a change, instead of being all about telling pre-teens to go on unhealthy diets in order to be popular. It suffers greatly from being so Caroline-centric, however. Let’s see just how long her vow to not gossip any more lasts…

Moral of the Story? If you want people to like you, invent a fake boyfriend don’t spread malicious gossip about them.

Recap: (SVH16) Rags to Riches – Francine Pascal

Rags to Riches coverThe most important part of this book is the Wakefields getting their first ever VCR. They got one almost a decade before my family did. Ripped off.

Anyway, this book is mostly just a slightly re-jigged version of Racing Hearts, which, in turn, was an awful lot like Heart Breaker. This time it’s Jessica who’s after Roger, though, instead of Lila. The reason? Roger’s mother has just died and he’s found out that he’s actually a Patman—and the richest boy in Sweet Valley. Ever the gold-digger, Jess thinks she’d rather like to be the girl on Roger’s arm when his new-found aunt and uncle present him to society their friends at a big party at the Sweet Valley country club. Whether Jessica is actually genuinely interested in Roger is a question we’ll probably never learn the answer to. She’s genuinely interested in the Patman mansion, and that’s the important thing.

Roger’s still dating Olivia Davidson, but she doesn’t really fit in with the Patmans’ swanky décor. Jessica selflessly (ha!) offers to help her out. Given that Jess has never shown the slightest bit of interest in Olivia before, you kind of end up feeling that Olivia deserves everything she gets if she’s stupid enough to think that Jess would do anything without an ulterior motive.

Under Jess’s careful guidance (cheered on by Roger’s new aunt and Bruce’s mother, Maria Patman), Olivia just ends up embarrassing herself further, eventually leading to a big fight between her and Roger, who’s starting to act a little Patman by this point. Of course, in the end Elizabeth works out what’s going on and makes sure that it’s Olivia, not Jessica, that gets to accompany Roger to the party. Jess cares for about five minutes.

The subplot in this one is that Regina Morrow has been missing school and has been spotted with a much older man. Lila’s totally jealous that there’s another extremely rich and extremely pretty girl in Sweet Valley now, so she’s careful to spread the rumours as far as possible through the usual method of telling Caroline “Town Crier” Pearce. One day she decides to follow Regina, and discovers that she’s actually been rushing off to modelling shoots, because she’s going to be on the cover of Ingenue magazine. Lila being Lila, she figures that she can steal the cover from Regina, just as soon as the talent scout sees her. So she turns up in over-sprayed hair, a circus-worth of make-up and is told that her face is too flat for modelling. Poor darling :(

Also, Todd flips out at Liz for refusing to tell him Regina’s secret. Lovely boy that he is.

Despite this basically being the third time this general plotline has been rolled out in the mere sixteen books that constitute the series so far, it’s done quite well and the different story lines keep it interesting. It’s not one of my absolute favourites, but it’s definitely a solid offering.

Incidentally, normally I’m a Lila/Bruce shipper, but I actually ship him and Jess a bit in this book. They’re perfectly devious together. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Patman could get behind the ship as well, given how much she adores Jessica.

Moral of the Story? Devious schemes are doomed to fail.

Recap: (SVH15) Promises – Francine Pascal

Promises coverTricia Martin, Steven Wakefield’s first and only love is dead of leukaemia. Steve’s devastated, Elizabeth and their parents are sad, and even Jess manages to squeeze out a tear. On her deathbed, she makes Steven promise to look after her sister Betsy. Seems fine, right? There’s just one problem: Betsy’s the wildest girl in town.

People who know Sweet Valley are probably already beginning to cringe at this point. After all, the books aren’t usually very sensitive when it comes to girls who drink, do drugs or mess around with boys. Surprisingly, Promises manages to depict Betsy as a three dimensional character, complete with very solid (and pretty tragic) reasons for why she does the things she chooses to do. She’s had a drunkard for a father ever since her mother died of cancer and there’s a great exchange with Jason Stone towards the end of the book that shows just how many times men have lied to take advantage of her.

While Betsy drinks, does drugs, and sleeps around, she’s also a highly talented artist. And, after missing Tricia’s final hours while out on a bender, she’s ready to turn over a new leaf.

The trouble is, Jessica’s having none of that. Her parents have taken Betsy into their home, and now Jess is dealing with the extreme embarrassment of having the girl with the worst reputation in town living in the Wakefields’ study. Worse still, Betsy’s hanging all over Steven and everyone’s beginning to talk. Jess decides that the easiest way to get rid of Betsy is to prove that she’s still taking drugs. The trouble is, it’s not that easy, because Betsy’s staying sober.

Meanwhile, Steve and his friend Jason have decided that they know better than Betsy (ah, the men in these books) and have submitted her art to a prestigious college scholarship. But before they can tell Betsy the exciting news that she’s won, Jess tells her that Steven’s only been paying attention to her because Tricia made him promise to do so.

Tricia leaves and tries to go right back to her old ways. Will Steven and niceguy Jason save her before she does anything really stupid?

It’s Sweet Valley. Of course they will.

This actually has surprising depth for the Sweet Valley series and consequently it’s one of my most liked books. Betsy is an interesting and likeable character and her journey feels unusually realistic.


Moral of the Story? People really can change.

Recap: (SVH14) Deceptions – Francine Pascal

Deceptions coverWhen I was first reading these books, many moons ago, I used to think that Nicholas Morrow was pretty dishy. Perhaps it was because he’s one of the few Sweet Valley Boys who actually looks pretty handsome on the book covers; perhaps I was just taught to lower my expectations by Todd Wilkins. Either way, I was all about the Nicholas, so it made perfect sense to me that Liz would agree to go on a date with him, despite being in an exclusive relationship with Todd.

Of course, as an adult, I look at things very differently. Let’s see what really happens in this book:

* Nicholas apparently falls in love with Elizabeth at first sight, despite her looking exactly like her sister, whom he managed not to fall in love with, even when he was talking to her for hours.

* Nicholas pressures Liz into a date, not listening to her repeated attempts to fend him off and basically telling her that she’s too young to make her own dating decisions… so he’ll make them for her! (Nice boy, right? Give me Bruce’s overt sleaze over Nicholas’s nice guy tactics any day.)

* Liz knows that Jess is desperately head-over-heels for Nicholas. She’s also blatantly aware of her own relationship with Todd. She’s in love with Todd, remember. (It’s not like we’re told at least once per book.) She still decides to go on a date with Nicholas.

* Liz then proceeds to lie to Jessica and Todd about the date.

* Jess continues to pursue Nicholas. Liz doesn’t bother to tell her that she’s wasting her time because Nicholas is love with someone else—her.

* Liz heads off to her date with Nicholas, making sure to put way more effort than normal into her appearance. But she’s not interested in him at all, guys! Really she’s not!

* Oh no! Todd’s out for dinner with his parents at the exact same restaurant that his girlfriend’s on a date with another boy! Who could’ve seen that coming!

* Understandably, he’s more than a little put out by bumping into Liz and Nicholas. Instead of trying to explain to Todd, Liz pretends to be Jessica, because what’s a little more deception by this point in time?

* Todd heads to the Wakefield house to apologise to Liz for thinking ill of her. Jess answers the door in a towel, Todd smooches her, Jess corrects his misconception (after complementing his snogging skills) and The Truth Outs.

* Jess stays mad at Liz for about five minutes, because she’s finally realised just how boring Nicholas is, but Todd resolves to break up with Liz and starts giving her the silent treatment.

* Liz mopes around the school and Todd almost blows the basketball championship because he’s so upset about his girlfriend cheating on him.

* It all works out okay, though, because Nicholas goes in to talk to Todd at half time. Todd doesn’t punch him (WHAT?) and actually listens to what Nicholas has to say. Once a boy tells him not to worry about the date and that Liz’s purity remains intact, Todd perks up immediately and heads right out to win the championship single-handed. Nicholas has apologised for borrowing Todd’s property, so that’s what matters.

* Liz gets off completely scot-free.

Side plot: Jess flirts with Randy Mason and eventually convinces his Jess-struck self to change her math mark on the school’s new computer. He has a near-immediate crisis of conscience and decides to confess to Chrome Dome Cooper. Liz discovers what’s happened and forces Jess to face the music with him, because it’s important that people admit their mistakes, apologise and make restitution.


Honestly, the way that Jess is punished heavily for everything she does, while Liz gets away with murder, is one of the hardest things to digest when it comes to these books.

Oh, and Nicholas Morrow is a paternalistic creep.


Moral of the Story? Elizabeth Wakefield can do no wrong. Especially when she does.

Recap: (SVH13) Kidnapped! – Francine Pascal

Kidnapped! coverWhen Love Dies finished on a cliffhanger almost big enough to rival the one at the end of Dear Sister. Elizabeth has been kidnapped by Creepy Carl, an orderly at Fowler Memorial Hospital. That’ll teach her not to volunteer as a candy striper or be nice to weirdos.

Creepy Carl will go down in history as the first of the many creepers, psychopaths and werewolves that the twins encounter over the various Sweet Valley series. He’s one of the most boring, as well, given that there’s nothing very dramatic about Elizabeth sitting on a couch reading books about farm animals. Really, it has to be one of the most innocuous kidnappings in fiction history. He’s desperately in love with Liz (of course), but at no point is there any suggestion that he might try to do anything untoward to her. She’s faced much more rapey behaviour at the hands of Bruce Patman. Instead, he buys her books and cardigans and lovingly feeds her cold fast food. What a charmer.

Meanwhile, Jess is off at the home of Sweet Valley newcomers Regina and Nicholas Morrow. The Morrows are filthy rich, so of course our resident gold-digger Jessica falls in love with Nicholas before she’s so much as laid eyes on him. Luckily, he turns out to be handsome as well as loaded. He’s also way too serious and responsible for Jessica, but it’s hard to see clearly when you have dollar signs in your eyes. Jess is so busy throwing herself at Nicholas that she doesn’t notice how late Liz is to the party, instead lying to Todd when he questions her about Liz’s whereabouts. Eventually, she can drag herself away from Nicholas’s conversation about computers for long enough to realise that hey, maybe something bad might have happened to perfectly punctual Liz, and she flees the party with Todd, clad in nothing but a bikini.

Insert montage of searching, worrying and Liz remaining kidnapped.

Before the kidnapping, Liz had planned to meet Max Dellon to tutor him in English, and he immediately becomes suspect number one, because he’s a guitarist (and thus a rebel who can’t be trusted) and also foolish enough to search her car when he finds it abandoned at the hospital, instead of calling the police like an upstanding non-guitarist would have done. This leads to Todd punching him without provocation at school the next day, because hitting people is pretty much all Todd’s good for. Despite that, he seems to be convinced that “fighting [is] not his style”. By this point in the books, Todd has punched Rick Andover, Bruce Patman (knocking him unconscious) and Max Dellon, and has also threatened to punch Bruce on another occasion. He’s basically the poster boy for anger management issues. I hate to think what he’d be like if fighting were his style.

Anyway, in the end, Jess, Todd and Max team up and manage to catch Creepy Carl purely by accident and the miraculous power of mistaken identity. Elizabeth is found, Creepy Carl is arrested, and the Wakefield twins throw a party to celebrate Liz’s safe return. At which Nicholas Morrow catches sight of Elizabeth and falls immediately head-over-heels in love. Jess is not going to be happy.

For a book about a kidnapping, this isn’t one of the most exciting Sweet Valley High books. The parts of the book that centre around Liz are about as dull as her time spent locked in Carl’s house must have been. The most enjoyable bit is Jess and Todd teaming up. I always like the books where this happens.

Moral of the Story? Don’t be nice to creepy men.

Recap: (SVH12) When Love Dies – Francine Pascal

When Love Dies coverMuch to Jessica’s dislike, Steven and Tricia are still happily in love… or are they?

The truth is, Tricia’s been cancelling dates and refusing to take Steven’s calls. He’s completely devastated—especially when rumours start going around about Tricia dating other men. Eventually he confronts her and accuses her of heading off on a dirty weekend with a new beau (remember, guys, Tricia’s still in high school) and they break up. But we soon discover that Tricia’s not cheating at all but instead harbouring a Very Big Secret. She’s dying of leukaemia, and wants to spare Steve the misery of watching her fade away. Because thinking your first love is cheating on you and then later finding out she’s dead is obviously a bed of roses.

Meanwhile, Jess has heard that one of her favourite celebrities is currently stuck in Fowler Memorial Hospital with a broken leg, so she persuades Liz to join her as a candy striper so she can meet him and he can fall madly in love with her jailbait self. Liz somehow doesn’t see right through Jess’s claim that she wants to give back to the community, despite knowing her scheming twin for over sixteen years. It soon becomes obvious what Jess is really after, though, when she starts harassing the poor man every chance she gets.

Cara’s always been hot for Steve, so with Tricia out of the way, Jess decides to throw her bestie and her brother together. Initially, Steve stays true to the memory of his ex, but before long he’s snogging Cara and taking her to college parties, despite still thinking she’s shallow and annoying. As you can see, using people runs in the Wakefield family.

Liz finds out Tricia’s secret when she runs into her at the hospital, but Tricia makes Liz promise not to tell anyone. Here’s one of the few times where the Sweet Valley books actually teach their junior readers a valid lesson, because it’s made very obvious that some promises are damaging and shouldn’t be kept. Liz angsts about it for a few chapters, pausing occasionally to scheme with Jeremy Frank about frightening Jessica into getting over him by proposing.

She says yes, but it’s a very short-lived engagement.

Eventually Liz decides to tell Steven the truth about Tricia’s strange behaviour and the two crazy kids are reunited, pausing only for Steven to thoroughly criticise Cara, never once thinking that perhaps his own rebound behaviour could be called into question.

Everything ends happily! Except for Cara, who’s been dumped by the guy she’s been crushing on forever. And for Tricia, who’s still dying. Oh, and for Elizabeth, who’s just been kidnapped by Creepy Carl the hospital orderly she was stupid enough to be nice to once.

Cliffhanger time!

This is one of the best early books in the series. There’s a light-hearted Jessica plot to counter all the doom and gloom of Steven and Tricia’s star-crossed love, and Cara gets to have her first featured role. As is often the case in Sweet Valley, everything could have been sorted out in a tenth of the time if people actually communicated honestly with each other… but where would be the story in that?

Moral of the Story? Don’t accuse your girlfriend of cheating. She could just be dying and then how would you feel?

Recap: (SVH11) Too Good to be True – Francine Pascal

Too Good to be True coverThis is the first occasion where the twins are separated for any great period of time. Jessica heads off to New York City to stay with Ned’s old college friend, while the friend’s daughter, Suzanne Devlin, heads to Sweet Valley to take Jessica’s place.

At first, everyone thinks that Suzanne’s the best thing to arrive in Sweet Valley since the Vanderhorns. She’s stunningly beautiful, super sophisticated, and she has a vaguely European accent. Even Lila, who usually does her best to dispose of any girls she considers a threat, is all over her. The boys can’t get enough of Suzanne—except, of course, for Todd, who has eyes only for Liz—and Winston even takes to serenading her outside the Wakefields’ split-level home.

This is Sweet Valley High, though, so obviously something’s not right. It turns out that Suzanne’s even more two-faced than Jessica when she’s on her latest quest to destroy some poor girl. You know she’s pure evil, because she steals Elizabeth’s lavalier—and everyone knows that if the twins go too long without those around their necks, their heads fall off. (Or is that another story…)

Despite (or perhaps because of) Winston’s attempt at wooing her, Suzanne isn’t interested in any of the usual Sweet Valley boys. She likes her man-meat a little older, and preferably in the form of a younger Robert Redford. She throws herself at Mr. Collins, pulling out all the usual stops, like pretending to drown and holding her own personal wet t-shirt contest in poor Roger’s back yard. With Teddy Collins looking on. (No wonder Master Teddy wanted her to babysit.)

Mr. Collins, being the good, upstanding man he is, rejects all of Suzanne’s advances. (If, by ‘upstanding’, you mean ‘prefers to cuddle Elizabeth alone in his office’. He may not have been guilty this time around, but the man was not very well acquainted with proper teacher-student boundaries, was he?)

Suzanne doesn’t mess around. She tears her blouse (did she learn her tricks from Jessica?) and accuses Mr. Collins of attempted rape. Sweet Valley is big on false accusations of assault. It’s one of the many dodgy ways the series presents sexuality: girls lying about attempted rape is almost as common as boys attempting to rape them. (Reminder: these books are read by pre-teens.)

The town is divided in to pro-and-anti-Roger camps, Roger himself grows some stubble, and eventually Suzanne is shown to be the devious lass she is, when Liz finds her precious lavalier in Suzanne’s suitcase.

Meanwhile, Jess is off in New York chasing after Suzanne’s boyfriend, Pete. Remember what I said about attempted rape being a big part of Sweet Valley life? Pete attempts to force himself on Jess and then, when he doesn’t get what he wants, pulls out the usual victim blaming about her having led him on and of course he was going to expect sex when she (gasp!) had hinted that she would like to kiss him and blah blah blah. So he and Suzanne are basically a perfect match.

This is a thoroughly entertaining instalment in the series, but it definitely loses marks for the way it plays around with sexual assault and false accusations. These books normalise things they really shouldn’t be normalising.

Moral of the Story? Don’t go to New York.

Recap: (SVH10) Wrong Kind of Girl – Francine Pascal

Wrong Kind of Girl coverIt’s time for cheerleading try-outs at Sweet Valley High. Funny, it seems like only yesterday that they were last holding trials. Book four, to be precise. Apparently they go through a lot. If you remember Lila being a cheerleader in book four, scratch that from your memory because since then, she and Cara have been thrown off the team for nefarious behaviour. By Lila? Who’d have thought.

Lila’s not interested in getting back on the team, but Cara is, and Jess is determined that she’ll be picked. The second girl on Jess’s list is Sandra Bacon, who has the tastiest surname in all of Sweet Valley. Not on the list in the slightest? Annie Whitman.

Everyone’s heard of Annie Whitman. Easy Annie, as they call her. She has a new boyfriend every week, and the talk is that she does a lot more than give them all a quick peck on the cheek to say goodnight. Annie’s only a sophomore, but she’s well known to the juniors for her escapades, and Jess is absolutely, definitely, 137% not going to let the cheerleaders’ reputation be sullied by letting her type onto the team.

The trouble is, Annie’s good. Really good. But that’s not going to stop Jessica from getting her way.

In the end, Cara and Sandra get on the team (surprise surprise), Annie finds out just what everyone’s been saying about her all the time, and we learn just how bad an influence the Sweet Valley books are on malleable young minds when she manages to score that coveted position on the team after all, simply by attempting to kill herself.

(At this point, it’s good to remember that the original audience for these books was a bunch of impressionable 10-to-12-year-olds.)

The way that the Sweet Valley novels present female sexuality is a really fascinating thing. Annie is presented as thoroughly scandalous for her dating behaviour, but Jessica is always represented as a perfectly normal and healthy teen. In the book, we hear about Annie with five boys. By this point of the series, Jess has been interested in nine, and we know that she was a big fan of Danny Stauffer’s reclining car seats. There’s always the hint that Jess is into more than just the chaste kind of kissing that Liz and Todd get up to—and she’s into it with a good number of boys.

I feel we’re supposed to think that Annie really is having sex with the boys she dates and that’s the big difference. And, when you examine the glimpses we have of Annie’s home life—Annie’s drunken, irresponsible mother and her lecherous boyfriend—there’s no wonder that Annie might be seeking positive attention in the only way she’s been shown it. She still has to be redeemed, though, because this is Sweet Valley, and sweet girls don’t have sex, and certainly don’t enjoy it.

You really have to wonder what Ricky Capaldo thinks about the new, chaste Annie. As a 16-year-old boy full of hormones, it must be a little sucky hooking up with the girl with the reputation, just as she turns over a new leaf.

Anyway, this is classic Sweet Valley fare. Not one of my favourites, though, due to the representation of female sexuality and the awful, awful message it gives to teenage and preteen girls.

Moral of the Story? Attempt suicide to get your way.

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