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Sweet Valley Twins #24: Jumping to Conclusions

14
Aug 2017
Sweet Valley Twins 24: Jumping to Conclusions by Jamie Suzanne

Sweet Valley Twins 24: Jumping to Conclusions by Jamie Suzanne

Title: Jumping to Conclusions

Tagline: Is Mrs Wakefield hiding something from the twins?

Summary: Elizabeth Wakefield thinks that her twin sister, Jessica, must be wrong: their very own mother in love with a strange man? There’s no way it could be true. But how else can they explain all of Mom’s hushed phone calls and her mysterious trips out? Even their brother, Steven, spotted Mom having a fancy lunch with a very handsome and rich-looking man!

Now, even Elizabeth is beginning to believe the worst. There’s only one way to find out the truth, but they’ll need the help of their friends. Can they round up the pang and put the plan into action before it’s too late?

Initial Thoughts:

So, Alice has apparently been playing away, has she? Can’t say I blame her. Ned is a proper bellend. I’m betting in the Grounds for Divorce section of their Decree Nisi it just says “ithig.” Of course, despite the intrigue in the summary, I’m betting Jess has the wrong end of the Infidelity Stick… the book is called Jumping to Conclusions, so Alice is undoubtedly innocent.

As for the cover, it’s one of the best so far, with Jessica dressing in the trench coat uniform of the private eye. Either that, or she’s a flasher. [Dove: I love this cover. It’s so Jessica.[Wing: I agree, this is the greatest cover we’ve seen. It’s ridiculous and Jessica is adorably over the top.]

Recap:

Dawn breaks on the text, and the twins are in the Party Mood. Their loving parents, Ned and Alice, are celebrating their sixteenth wedding anniversary, and their offshoots are planning a surprise party to celebrate.

Aside:

According to a Random Site Of Weird Bollocks I Found via Google, the sixteenth wedding anniversary is signified thusly:

16th: Silverware.

(Not to be confused with the Fifth Anniversary of Silver, the Twenty-Third Anniversary of Silver Plate, and the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Silver.)

Pretty sure whoever came up with these classifications wasn’t a fucking werewolf.

End aside.

[Wing: Where the hell are the werewolves Dove promised me in the Sweet Valley books? It’s been forever.]

As they set up the usual plethora of bannerage and cakeosity, they spot themselves in the mirror. And lo, they look alike.

“Elizabeth looks like Jessica. Jessica looks like Elizabeth. Stephen looks like Mr Bowman, which Ned finds suspicious.”

“Jess is a party girl. She like boys. Liz is a bookworm. She likes… worms?”

“There once lived a couple of twins,
One saintly, and one full of sins,
Liz wants a fine horse;
Jess buried a corpse
Behind the school gym, by the bins.”

After this bout of publisher-decreed reverie, Jess suggests to her sister that this party will be the first time in quite a while their family has spent time together. Father Ned – not to be confused with this guy – is a hot shot lawyer who’s spending a lot of time in the office thanks to a Big Damn Case, although personally I think he’s in self-imposed exile  through sheer embarrassment over the whole Ithig Debacle. [Wing: You are never, ever going to let that go.] Brother Steven is forever out playing basketball, presumably because the high school has installed courtside sandwich dispensers. But worst of all is Mother Alice, who has been spending a lot of time with her interior design clients.

Elizabeth attempts to be the voice of reason, but it appears that Jessica already longs to jump to the book title’s eponymous conclusions.

“She’s also been dining with strange men,” Jessica added.

Aside:

In the seeding for this book at the end of Claim to Fame, Jessica had spotted her mother eating with a handsome man in a local non-Dairi-Burger restaurant. Being Jessica, she judged her mother by her own standards, and immediately leapt to sordid motel sex.

End aside.

As Elizabeth attempts to convince Jess her imagination is running riot, Stephen enters. He’s brought cake, so actually contributing to the family supplies rather than consuming all before him like a gangly adolescent locust. They set up the cake, adorned with their parents’ original wedding cake toppers from sixteen years earlier. Cute.

Suddenly, a car appears! It’s super effective!

Their parents are home!

The Wakefield Siblings dash the lights and slither behind various furnishings, ready to effervesce from hiding with a cheer and a smile. Their parents enter, unaware, and the SURPRISE portion of the surprise party is nailed. Textbook.

One thing… it seems the Elder Wakefields had both forgotten it was their anniversary.

Hmmm… really?

I realise this one forgetful incident is likely the catalyst for a full-on OTT Jessica Wakefield meltdown (“But how could they forgeeeeet? They don’t looooove each otheeeeer!”), but even so, it seems pretty out of character for Alice and Ned. I guess making it the sixteen anniversary rather than a true milestone number (say, twenty-fifth) makes it more believable. [Dove: Raven, we got married on our existing anniversary, because we couldn’t handle remembering any more dates. Alice is soaked in twice as much gin as you and I have consumed in our combined lifetimes. Give her a break.[Wing: Ostrich and I have no idea when our anniversary is. We just say it’s been decades and leave it at that. I do think it is unlikely that Ned and Alice would forget, because they’ve both come across as people who keep detailed calendars, but since this predates the joy of Google, who knows.]

Ned is apologetic, and Alice pulls on her Trollin’ Pants.

“I guess we’ve been kind of busy,” Mr Wakefield replied, lifting his hands in a helpless gesture.

Mrs Wakefield sighed dramatically. “We knew the romance couldn’t last forever.”

“Don’t say that!” Jessica cried out. “It’s not funny.”

Pretty sure it’s a bit funny. Chill your beans, Jess.

Also, Mr and Mrs Wakefield? Not Ned and Alice? Weak.

Steven chimes in with a Steven comment.

“Does this mean we can’t eat the cake and sandwiches?” Steven asked.

Jessica turned to him, her eyes blazing. “Is your stomach all you can ever think of?”

“Well… sometimes.”

Aside:

It was here I knew I was going to enjoy this book.

The series has a lot of so-called sibling banter between family members, especially Steven and the twins, and usually it’s pretty cringe-worthy. But so far, this stuff has been quite fun. I mean, it’s not Pratchett, but it’s deft, lithe and believable. So go you, Jamie Suzanne!

End aside.

Jessica is mortified by the whole thing. Later that evening, she drops by Elizabeth’s room to confess her concerns. People who are in love don’t forget important dates such as anniversaries, she posits.

Liz, of course, is more pragmatic. Their parents have been busy. It won’t be this way forever. It’s all in Jessica’s head. She convinces her sibling to sleep on it.

Jessica acquiesces. But she’s not convinced. Has the spark disappeared from her parents’ relationship? [Dove: Suddenly flashed to a wholly inappropriate scenario where Jess left porn and sex toy catalogues lying around the house, in an attempt to spice up their sex life.]

Probably not. But it should be fun finding out. So far, so good!

At school the following Monday, Amy Sutton is bemoaning their new Social Studies project, something about Living History. Liz, Amy, and wobbly-hearted Pamela Jacobsen (reccurring peripheral character! Yay!) have been grouped together to produce a Living History report, whatever the fuck that is.

After some more decent interplay between the girls – seriously, the dialogue in this book is close to the best I’ve read – we discover that the report consists of interviewing a Sweet Valley resident on a topic, then researching that topic and era, before pulling it together into a class report.

Actually sounds pretty creative. Not Mrs Arnette’s usual back-of-a-fag-packet lesson plan. “What are we doing today? Pffff, I dunno… helping old people, or some shit?”

After a brief bout of brainstorming, they come up with a cool-sounding idea: interviewing their parents about how they fell in love. All three girls are sold. Sweet Valley Sweethearts! Coupled with a report on romance, with additional romantic poetry. [Wing: Ugh, the cheesiness of this history project.]

Aside:

As a boy, I guess I should view this with a fat “MEH”.

That’s a gender stereotype. Daddy don’t play that shit.

Seriously, it sounds like a great project.

Even so, I’m hoping the boys in the class are going to interview Howard Henkel about ‘Nam. Because they weren’t there. They weren’t there, man!

End aside.

The girls chatter excitedly about their planned report. Elizabeth is happy for another reason: her parents.

This project will be just the thing to put the romance back in their lives. Elizabeth couldn’t wait to get home and tell Jessica her plan.

I even like this bit. Liz, actually going along with Jessica’s overreaction. It seems she thinks there could be merit in Jess’s concerns after all.

After school, Jessica is waiting for Elizabeth at their “thinking seat.” We’ve seen this seat before, but lately it was the domain of Elizabeth alone. Jessica, it seems, holds no truck with “thinking.” Why think when you can be a Unicorn?

Today, however, Jess waits for Liz. She is concerned.

“It’s Mom,” Jessica whispered. “I heard her on the phone, talking to someone.”

Wow. Big fucking news, Jess. Alice made a phone call.

It wasn’t a normal phone call, of course.

“I couldn’t really hear what they were saying because Mom finished the call in the bedroom and shut the door.” Jessica crossed her arms. “But I’ll tell you this – she was sure doing a lot of laughing for a business call.”

And apparently, once the call was over, the man called back five minutes later.

“How did you know it was a man?” (asked Elizabeth)

“I listened on the extension.”

There you are, Jessica. There’s our beautiful wrongun. [Wing: But if she listened in on the extension, why isn’t she telling us what she heard and spinning into her theory?]

Jessica is now being Optimus Jess. Full-on down the rabbit hole. [Wing: You can reference Alice in Wonderland all you want, but when Sweet Valley went full on twisty dream fantasy, you flipped your shit.] She brings out the reasons for her outlandish beliefs.

First, her Mother is largely absent from home.

Second, their parents forgot their anniversary.

And third, she’s flirting with strange men on the phone.

The whole thing screams one thing: AFFAIR.

Can’t fault her logic. Of course, there will be an innocent explanation, but indulging Jessica’s whimsy is exactly why we are here.

Loving the book so far. Literally not a foot wrong.

Jessica paced back and forth on the grass in front of the tree. “She’s going to leave us, I just know it. She’ll run off with some rich Arab. He’ll promise her thi–”

Erm..

Excuse me?

“She’ll run off with some rich Arab.”

Actual double take in the work canteen when I read that.

Moving swiftly on…

Jessica completes her rant by proclaiming that her mother has undoubtedly fallen in love with another man. It must be true, she suggests, because she saw something similar happen in a film.

Elizabeth calls her out for being ridiculous, just as Alice arrives home, flushed with presumably post-coital energy. She’s brought a surprise – Blueberry Cheesecake – and apologises for her absence  of late. Her reasoning? She’s started work on a new account for a man from L.A.

At this point, I can guarantee Dove is hoping Alice gets to decorate a drainage canal in a future book.

Dove’s Happy Place

[Dove: That right there? Why I married you. To those not married to me, I have an absolute love for the drainage canals in L.A. This sprung from Terminator 2, but quickly escalated when I realised how much they feature in movies. Go back and watch some disaster or action movies, and count how many times they’ve saved the day. I’ll wait. Those canals are fucking heroes, man.]

Apparently, this guy was opening an office in Sweet Valley, and Alice was set to decorate it.

Jessica, realising this was fuel for her imaginary fire, quizzes her mother on the Strange New Man. Apparently, he’s wealthy… pretty much a given for Sweet Valley, unless you’re ethnic. He has multiple homes. Limousines, private jets. His name? Frank Howard. Alice is thrilled, and shows them pictures of Frank’s house in a magazine.

Jessica, stomach turning, cuts to the chase.

“What’s he look like, Mom?” Jessica asked in a shaky voice.

Alice is evasive. She informs everyone he’s just a normal looking guy.

The phone rings. It’s Frank! Alice takes the call in another room.

That’s enough for Jessica. Proof. Alice is playing away.

Elizabeth stared at her sister. Jessica’s lower lip was trembling. “Now do you believe me?”

I believe you, Jessica.

Loving it.

It’s now Wednesday. Liz, Amy and Pamela are at Pamela’s house, making progress on Sweet Valley Sweethearts. Amy has a list of interview questions for everyone, and they plan on interviewing Mummy Pam that very day. Amy, jumping the gun, has already interviewed her mother, and shares the story of her parent’s meet-cute.

In a wholly charming exchange, we learn that Mummy Amy and Daddy Amy met as seniors in High School. They were queuing for the Ferris Wheel at a local fair, when fate (and a ride attendant) placed them together in the same seat. Lo and behold, the Wheel got stuck while they crested the top, offering great views of Sweet Valley but scaring the actual shit out of Mummy Amy. Daddy Amy calmed her down, they got talking, one thing led to another, and nine months later Amy was born.

(NB: Exaggeration for comic effect INITIATED. Nevertheless. Here is the gist. I’d like you to get it.) [Dove: I believe this is contradicted in #99 The Beast Must Die. The high school part, not the part Raven made up.[Wing: That’s a shame, because it is an adorable, if sickly sweet, meet-cute.]

After the story, over which the girls cooed romantically, Elizabeth reveals she’s not yet spoken to her parents about their hookup. It becomes clear that she’s taking Jessica’s concerns to heart.

Mummy Pam drops in with healthy snacks, which I’d like to think is a good parenting callback to her daughter’s heart complaint… sugary treats likely being verboten in the house. If so, nice job Ghostie!

Soon, talk turns to the meet cute of the Elder Pams. Daddy Pam was a doctor, whom Mummy Pam visited with a volleyball-induced sprained ankle. After a few wholly appropriate appointments, including a rather more sketchy house call (for a sprained ankle?!), the pair fell in love. And nine months later, Pam was born.

(Badum-tssh.)

This story? A little weaker. And probably against an oath or something. The devil in me presumes knockout gas was used somewhere along the way. [Wing: Yeah, I find this meet-cute less of a meet-cute and more of a meet-stalker.]

Nevertheless, the girls lap it up. So, only the Elder Wakefields’ meet-cute to go! Hopefully, Liz will pull her finger out and ask them soon, although I suspect that won’t happen until this whole Fabio debacle has been resolved.

Elizabeth sat quietly, nibbling a carrot stick. “I hope my parents’ story is half as romantic as yours both are.”

“It will be,” Amy said. “Your parents are the perfect couple. They’re so much in love.”

Elizabeth didn’t respond. Maybe they’re just pretending to be in love, for our sake, she thought. She shook her head to chase the thought away.

“You’re right,” she said, smiling bravely. “They are the perfect couple.”

We cut to Jessica, walking home after school with Unicorn Uberbitch and Bestie Lila Fowler. Lila is prattling on about gossipy shit, and Jess is paying her no heed. Why? Because she’s clocked the huge silver limousine parked outside her house. Out steps Frank…

And what does Frank look like? THIS GUY.

Frank Howard

He’s gorgeous, as Jessica suspected.

[Wing: I am really tempted to fill this post with pictures of hot shirtless men, but I am showing admirable restraint.]

Worse still, once Lila discovers his name, she recognises him. Apparently, Frank Howard the Millionaire is one of the most eligible bachelors on the planet. In fact, he’s famed for never having married.

Fabio climbs back into the limo and heads off. Jessica is distraught. Her mother, she believes, will be powerless to resist his charms. Game over, man. Game over.

That evening, it appears that Alice will not be joining them for dinner. Ned orders pizza, and he and Steven bond by heading off to watch “the game” in “the den”, or something. He seems pretty pleased with his lot that evening, so much so that Elizabeth drinks a little more of the Patent Jessica Wakefield Kool-Aid and starts wondering if he’s actually glad his wife is not there.

Aside:

Totally loving Elizabeth’s slow turn to the dark side in this book.

It makes her much more believable and sympathetic.

And when Jessica drills home the severity of things, all overblown in her amazing fevered mind, Elizabeth’s conversion seems natural.

Yep. Good stuff.

End aside.

As the men feast, Jessica spouts more of her outlandish theories to a wavering Elizabeth. She confirms that Frank is gorgeous, and berates Alice for telling them he was “just a normal looking guy.”

Liz is wavering, but she’s not there yet. Jess presses on.

“Are you just going to stand there while some millionaire breaks up our parents’ marriage and takes Mom off to his mansion?”

“No,” Elizabeth said, marching past her sister on the stairs. “I’m going to talk to Mom tonight.”

“If she comes home,” Jessica called after her.

Legitimately laughed out loud. Alice, doing the Walk of Shame…. No, the Stride of Pride.

Elizabeth is scandalized. She sticks up for her mother, then introduces a new player – Ned. Even if Frank did have designs on his wife, did Jessica think he would stand idly by and let it happen? Ned’s an American. He’ll have a gun.

Jessica, of course, has more answers. If Ned doesn’t know what’s going on, how can he stop it?

The pizza arrives, and everyone bar Jessica retires to the Den. Jess, it seems, is too upset to eat. Elizabeth uses the time to question her father on How He Met Their Mother. Naturally, Ned is too engrossed in the game to give her any time at all. She perseveres in the face of EPIC SPORTSBALL, but it’s no use.

Go Team!

[Wing: That is the greatest thing I’ve seen today.]

As she abandons her interview, her mother returns, fresh from her meeting with Frank [WARNING: LINK NSFW!]. Jessica returns to the group, and Elizabeth tries to quiz Alice on her school project. Like Ned, Alice is in no mood to co-operate, brushing her daughter off with an “I’m tiiiired,” and an “ask me tomorrow, k?”

Alice decides to go to bed, forgetting to say goodnight to her husband until prompted. [Dove: Again, fair. I forget about Ned until prompted. So do the ghostwriters. Oh, shit! The twins have a dad! What shall we do? — Don’t worry, just write that he’s working on a “big case” for work. Lawyers, and shit, y’know.[Wing: *laughs so she won’t weep*]

Jessica, now convinced he mother is planning to leave them with Frank, demands a sibling meeting. After summoning Steven, she and Elizabeth fill him in on what’s “been happening.”

To his credit, Steven doesn’t believe them. At first. But the evidence, as presented, does seem compelling.

Jessica is convinced. She tells Steven about the mansion that Frank owns, full of tennis courts and swimming pools. Steven, disbelieving, asks how they know all this. Liz explains that Alice had shown Liz and Jess a picture of Frank’s home in a magazine.

“Oh, Lizzie!” Jessica suddenly covered her mouth in horror. “Do you think Mom showed us those pictures for a reason?”

“What reason?” Steven was completely confused.

“Maybe she wanted us to see the mansion that we’d be living in.”

“Wait a minute,” Steven cut in. “She didn’t show me the pictures.”

Best joke of the series so far. Another involuntary noise in the canteen at work.

Eventually, Steven capitulates to the screaming juggernaut of Jessica’s imagination. [Wing: GODDAMNIT STEVEN. This will not get you into Jessica’s pants. Hold strong.] The Elder Wakefields are on the verge of a messy divorce. And of course… Something Must Be Done.

Elizabeth is the first to suggest that they needed a plan. Naturally, Jessica leaps on the idea: she’s nothing if not proactive. They devise a way to keep Alice and Frank apart… by scaring him off.

Eagerly, they decide to be loud, rude, obnoxious, insulting. Wearing ugly, dirty clothes. [Dove: I love this plan.]

Steven, naturally, is on board immediately. Elizabeth takes some persuasion, but come around eventually. And lo, Phase One of Drive Away Fabio is in full effect!

That Saturday, fate presents the Wakefield Siblings with a perfect opportunity. Alice needs some designs delivering to Mr Howard, and Jessica offers to bike them over. After a change of clothes, which sees Jess don a striped blouse and plaid shorts, while Liz runs with orange sweatshirt and purple-and-green skirt, and a copious amount of gel applied for that salon stringy look, they head off to Howard Tower.

As luck would have it, Frank is stood at the doors of his building as the twins arrive. And of course, their plan works brilliantly. At first, astounded by their attire, Frank assumes the twins have been doing yard work. They soon disabuse him of that notion, telling him that not only do they always dress this way, but that Alice designs all their outfits.

Mr Howard looked too shocked to reply.

“I bet she’d love to design a suit for you,” Jessica said.

“Oh, that’s all right,” he replied hastily. “I’ve got tailors of my own.”

Aside:

This book is very silly.

The premise is ludicrous, and the schemes that the kids create to confound their mother’s prospective suitor are completely preposterous.

And I love it.

Wacky, madcap hijinks. Jessica using her genius for good rather than evil is wonderful.

THIS is the Jessica Wakefield I love. Not the mewling, bullying, workshy idiot from the first half of Claim to Fame.

Great stuff.

End aside.

As the twins cycle off, confident in a job well done, they proudly proclaim they’ll likely never see Fabio again.

Spoken too soon.

An hour later, having changed their clothes and washed their hair, they are aghast as Frank turns up at their house!

Going into overdrive, Jessica orders Steven to crank his stereo to ten.

Opening the door to Mr Howard, they continue their obnoxious offensive. They introduce Frank to a spasming, headphone-wearing Steven, who’s laying it on as thick as molasses.

Alice arrives just in time, and takes the returned designs from a visibly shaken Frank. He gushes over their quality, and is only too pleased to accept an invitation to lunch at the Wakefield Compound.

Upstairs, the Wakefield Siblings plan their next attacks: kill him with kindness, and spice up his food. Honestly? I’m surprised Jessica didn’t stop with “kill him.”

Aside:

At this point, I’d like to sing the praises of another aspect of this book.

As recappers, we tend to portray Jessica in a somewhat unflattering light. Sure, we think she’s amazing – and rightly so – but we also believe that her scheming ways would see her stop at nothing to get her evil ways. Even murder.

However, that is NOT the Jessica here.

The truly evil, conniving Jessica would be all for Mr Howard. Fuck Ned and his penny-ante law career. EvilJess would be all over Mr Howard, thrusting her mother into his unsuspecting arms, relishing the chance to live at a mansion with a millionaire and not giving a figgy fuck about her father. In fact, EvilJess could even kick her MOTHER to the kerb and try entrapping Frank as her very own, if only to upstage Lila.

This Jessica, however, is much more wholesome. She loves her parents, and wants them to stay together. Although misguided, and jumping to conclusions as the title suggests, she’s coming from a good place.

Go Jess.

End aside.

After shepherding their mother from the kitchen, Jessica prepares the salad dressing. The contents?

“Molasses, garlic, catsup, soy sauce, and my secret ingredient – hot chilli peppers!”

At the table, the twins eye Frank carefully as he takes his first bite…

He chewed carefully for a second. Then his eyes widened and he started coughing.

[Wing: Clearly the first place we went during this scene was The Lost Boys. Clearly.]

Jessica fetches water, and proclaims the salad dressing is her mother’s speciality. Frank rallies, and puts on a polite exterior, as Alice looks on in confusion. Jess offers seconds, and complements her mother’s casserole yet to come. Frank, however, is done. Feigning fullness, he excuses himself and leaves. The twins walk him to the door.

As he is leaving, Jess drops another bombshell:

Jessica’s voice squeaked as she said “it’s too bad you didn’t get a chance to meet the rest of our brothers and sisters.”

“The rest?” Mr Howard looked very confused. “I thought there were only three of you.”

“Living in Sweet Valley,” Jessica explained quickly. “But we’ve got lots of half-sisters and -brothers around California. They’re from Mom’s first two marriages.” Jessica lowered her voice and added, “We’re hoping this one will last.”

HEADSHOT, MO’FOS!

I really like this book. [Dove: This is the best Jessica we’ve ever seen. And, come to think of it, the best Liz and Steven, who are too busy trying to save their family to be a patronising dick/eat everything ever.[Wing: I’m not sure I believe Steven would buy into all this, but if I suspend that disbelief, I love the siblings teaming up to save the day. Even if the day doesn’t need saved. Especially since the day doesn’t need saved.]

Mr Howard, wide eyed and reeling, darts to the limousine and makes his escape. The twins applaud themselves on a job well done, convinced that’s the last they’d see of Fabio.

The following Monday, Liz and Amy head to Pamela’s house in order to continue work on their Sweet Valley Sweethearts project. On the way, Elizabeth is being a sad sack of shit, still concerned about her parents. Amy calls her out on her mopey bullshit, and the floodgates open.

“I’m really afraid my parents are going to break up.” Elizabeth fought hard to hold back her tears.

Amy, being an actual best friend rather than the mere peripheral as she’s so often portrayed, pats her friend on the shoulder and tells her to buck up. She shares that her own parents are busy working too, but they aren’t on the verge of divorce. Elizabeth is cheered by her friend’s soothing comments.

This is actually honest-to-goodness BestFriending, so kudos to Amy for doing it.

They arrive at Pamela’s, and Mummy Pam offers to take them all for ice cream as a reward for their great work on Sweet Valley Sweethearts. Liz eyes her empty notebook guiltily. Amy, bless her peripheral non-wobbly heart, bucks her pal up by reminding her they’ve time to complete their project next week. Off to Casey’s Place they go!

Over ice cream, Amy and Elizabeth spot something that develops the plot further. Outside a fancy furniture store in the mall, they spy the wayward Alice window-shopping with… Frank Howard!

Mummy Pam spies the couple, and asks Elizabeth if the couple are her parents.

“That’s my mother and a client of hers.” Elizabeth tried to sound as calm as possible. “My mom’s a decorator. She often takes her clients shopping.”

Like, why the hell is Liz concerned with this? Her response to Mummy Pam is entirely and precisely correct. Alice IS a decorator. She DOES take her clients shopping. This is LITERALLY NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT.

Jess is worming her way into Liz’s mind… next thing, she’s be wearing purple, dating pensioners and kicking dogs in the face.

Suddenly, the plot thickens! Someone is following Alice and Fabio, sporting a trenchcoat and a large felt hat. Who could it be?

Surely not… it’s JESSICA! [Wing: GREATEST. MOMENT. EVER.]

Aside:

Go on Jess, you wonderful ridiculous beast! [Dove: And once again, check out the cover to see #BestJess in action.]

End aside.

Liz recognises her twin immediately, but the others remain in the dark. Exactly why they didn’t recognise the second half of a set of identical twins when they were sitting with the first half as a perfect frame of reference, I’ll never know.

Making her excuses, Liz darts outside to intercept her furtive twin. She strides past, and relays a clandestine message for a rendezvous in the furniture store some thirty second later.

In the ensuing conference, Elizabeth tries in vain to convince Jessica that all’s well. As she’s pointing out the obvious facts I’ve outlined above, the plot thickens further. Alice and Fabio, done with their window shopping at the furniture store, wander past with a laugh and head into… a jewellery store.

Jessica’s voice was barely a whisper. “Oh, Lizzie, they’re looking at engagement rings!”

Okay, so that threw me. For a few seconds, at least.

I mean, I trust we all know where this story is going, as far as the dramatic reveal is concerned, but this particular fact definitely tossed a spanner in the soup for a second. And it’s more fuel for Jessica’s theory, so it’s another thumbs up from me.

At school, Jess summons Elizabeth to her Dad’s office after classes through the time-honoured medium of note-slipped-in-locker. She Has A Plan. Attagirl, J. We all knew you would.

As she heads to classes in a daze of tears and madcap theories, she’s accosted by Janet Howell, the Eighth Grade president of the Unicorns, who reminds Jess of a prior Unicorn-based engagement that very afternoon. Jessica, of course, has much bigger fish to finger, and leaf-blows Janet to the kerb before dashing off. It seems that Jessica is taking this whole debacle very seriously indeed. [Dove: If this book was a TV show, Janet’s face when Jessica blew her off would definitely be a meme.]

Later that day, Liz and Jess discuss their options. Frank Howard is about to spirit their mother away to his Beverley Hills Sex Mansion, and he must be stopped. They decide it’s time to tell their father, and march into his offices for that express purpose.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Ned’s look of pure joy at seeing his twin daughters makes it impossible for them to break the bad news. Apparently, telling Ned that Alice is obtaining her orgasms from another supplier would be akin to pulling on a steel-toed boot and stamping on a baby hedgehog.

Cuuuuuuute!

Through the tears and hugs and I-Love-You-Dads, which must all be a tad confusing for Ned – although I guess he thinks it’s because they’ve finally forgiven him for Ithig – the twins suggest he take Alice out for a romantic candlelit dinner. He warms to the idea, and suggests a quaint Italian place they hadn’t visited since they were married.

Not been there in sixteen years, huh? I’d at least check it out on TripAdvisor, it may be proper shit these days. One quick Google search should root out any health code violations.

That evening before bed, Jess and Liz discuss their parents’ plans for the weekend. Will it be enough? Liz sure hopes so. Jess, on the other hand, thinks it’s best not to leave such things to chance. Elizabeth sees the warning signs: Jess has her scheme face on. Before they go to bed, Jess reassured her boring double that she won’t do anything untoward.

“Trust me.” Jessica’s voice came out of the darkness. “Good night, Elizabeth.”

Such a great, multi-purpose quote.

“Trust me.” Jessica’s voice came out of the darkness. “You won’t feel a thing.”

Or…

“Trust me.” Jessica’s voice came out of the darkness. “They’re not gonna dig this up for twenty-five years, and by then we’ll be living it large in Acapulco.”

Or…

“Trust me.” Jessica’s voice came out of the darkness. “I won’t tell anyone, Mr Nydick. Now, about my recent grades…”

She’s amazing. [Dove: The quote that launched a thousand fanfics.[Wing: And yet a brief search found nothing based on it. Damn.]

The next day, Friday, Jessica vows to end things once and for all. She cycles to Frank Howard’s office, to tell him in no uncertain terms to fuck right off. To get his filthy hands off Alice, pack his designer luggage, and take his limousine back to Beverley Hills. Thankfully, she does not take her machete with her at this time.

After being into his plush office – which Jessica notices has been decorated immaculately – Frank greets her warmly. But before Jess can cut to the chase and hand over the bomb she’s secreted in her school bag, the phone rings. Frank answers.

“Darling, how are you?” Mr Howard said. “I’ve missed you.”

Jessica pursed her lips. This is worse than I thought. They just saw each other on Monday night and they already miss each other.

“I’ve got the ring, dear,” he went on. “I can’t wait until Saturday night. Then we’ll be together once and for all.”

Jessica.

Loses.

Her.

Shit.

In a panic, she darts from the building. Saturday! That’s tomorrow! There’s no time to lose.

We cut back to Elizabeth. She’s at the final meeting for the Sweet Valley Sweethearts project group, and, as usual for this book, she’s woefully unprepared. It’s a symptom of her obvious concern for her parent’s relationship. Amy and Pam do their very best to buck her out of her funk, but Liz plans to quit.

Jessica bursts into the room, and recounts her meeting at Fabio Plaza. Elizabeth is horrified.

For the next ten minutes, no one says a word. Amy, Pam, Jess, Elizabeth, all frantically brainstorming (internally) a plan of action. Naturally, it’s Jessica who produces the goods. I mean, was it ever going to be anyone else?

For their plan to work, Jessica needs the buy-in of Steven. The girls dash to Sweet Valley High, where Steve is practicing basketball. As the session draws to a close, she gesticulates wildly at her brother, who trots over with a patent smirk.

The girls clue Steven in about the torrid state of affairs. He too is distraught. And Jessica reveals her master plan.

“Mr Howard is coming to our house for dinner tonight – that is, after I invite him.”

“But Mom and Dad are going out.”

“That’s right!” Jessica’s eyes gleamed. “After they leave, Mr Howard will arrive and meet the real Wakefield children – all ten of them.”

“Ten?” Steven cocked his head in confusion.

“That’s right. From all of Mom’s marriages.”

Am-AY-zing!

Jessica has delivered in spades here. Nice work, Jamie Suzanne.

And AltAlice? Ten kids… it’s a uterus, not a clown car.

The plan takes effect immediately. Steven heads to the locker room, and fetches six gangly basketball-playing youths who are ready to get into character. Jessica hunts down a phone, and arranges for Mr Howard to arrive at the Wakefield Compound at 7:15 sharp. With their parents heading to the Sweet Valley Italian Restaurant That Has Definitely Never Been Closed For Serving A Lasagne With A Cockroach In It at 7:00, the NWC (New Wakefield Collective) will have fifteen minutes to put their plans into action.

The crew are despatched with one order – be at the Wakefields’ house at 7:05 sharp, clad in their scruffiest attire.

This promises to be epic.

It’s now a little before seven, and the Elder Wakefields are dawdling. Both Liz and Jess begin harrying their parents to leave, backed up by their quipping elder brother. Jess points out that her mother looks beautiful, and Ned agrees. Their plan, it seems, is working!

Ned and Alice leave as planned. As their car turns out of their street, a gaggle of misfits and waifs emerges from the bushes. They’ve all gone to town on the brief, wearing ripped clothes smothered in grease.

Phase one of the plan requires dressing down the house. All the good furniture is relocated to the garden, while the “old tattered stuff” from the basement takes its place.

Old tattered stuff in the basement? I don’t believe for one second that the Wakefields have tatty crap anywhere near the house. Unless Alice is a secret Monica.

As the final touches to decoration and clothing are nailed on, the doorbell rings. It’s Frank, dressed to the nines. He takes one look at the twins, and vomits immediately.

Figuratively.

Elizabeth ushers him in, claiming that their mother hadn’t told them of his visit.

“Oh, you mustn’t fall for everything Mom does, you know,” Jessica said lightly. “Sometimes, she gets… well, a little confused.”

“She does?” Mr Howard looked nervously back towards the front door. Steven shut it firmly behind them.

“Oh, yes,” Jessica rattled on. “Sometimes she’ll call us down to dinner, when there isn’t even any food ready.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Oh, yes,” Elizabeth chimed in. She lowered her voice and added, “We’re a little worried about Mother. Lately she’s been talking to herself again.”

“Again?” Mr Howard blinked his eyes. “Why would she do that?”

The twins looked at him solemnly and mimed someone drinking from a bottle. Jessica added a little hiccup for extra effect.

OH MY GOD I CAN’T EVEN.

Funny, funny shit. Absolutely wonderful. I’m still laughing at that now, and I read the book weeks ago.

Bloody perfect.

As Frank is deposited in a soiled chair, there is an almighty crash from the hallway. Suddely, the scruffy basketballers carom into the room, dragging a protesting Amy by her arms and legs. Frank is overcome with confusion and worry, and demands to know what the boys are doing. The two tallest answer.

“Nuthin’!” one of them said. “We was jus’ horsin’ around, like usual.”

“Yeah,” the other boy said. “We’re playin’ our favourite game.”

“Drop the Sister,” another one explained. He made a move to grab Jessica.

This book is brilliant. Idiotic, over-the-top, gleeful fun. I can’t praise it enough.

Frank is flabbergasted at the familiar revelations. He asks the actual Wakefield siblings if the other children are their brothers and sisters. Steven steps up to the plate..

“As far as we know,” Steven replied. “Of course, it’s hard to tell.”

Even Steven’s getting in with the gags. Sublime.

The basketballers suggests taking their game of Drop the Sister to the roof (hahahahahahaha!), but Mr Howard puts his foot down. He demands the boys unhand Amy, and asks if she’s okay.

(Amy) nodded, then grinned at him. It looked as if her front teeth were missing.

It seems that this delightful touch is too much, and all the children collapse into laughter. Mr Howard watches in silence as thwe giggling pans out, before declaring the whole “practical joke” a huge insult and storming off.

As he opens the front door, he’s faced with another surprise: the returning Alice and Ned, home early from the meal at the Condemned Italian Nosh Pit.

The game is over. It’s time for explanations. The parents need answers, and Frank is Not Amused.

But before we get there, Karen appears!

Karen? Who the fuck is Karen? Frank seems to know her pretty well…

Frank introduces her… as his fiancée.

The remainder of this wonderful book neatly brings things back to normal. Explanations are made – and to his credit, Frank thinks it’s pretty hilarious. He’ll hear no complaints from me on that score. And both Jessica and Elizabeth are convinced of their parents’ love for each other, and their family – it seems the Elder Wakefields cut short their date so they could spend their anniversary meal with the best part of their marriage: their kids.

Yeah, going off this book now. Schmaltzy crap.

KIDDING!

Also, it seems that Frank does have designs on their mother, in a way… he wants her to relocate to LA to help redesign his main offices. Alice declines, naturally, because Sweet Valley burrows into your spine and pumps so many endorphins into your brain that you physically ejaculate once every fifteen minutes you’re located within the town limits. Who’d want to give that up?

The Wakefields and the Howards go back to The Italian Rat Infested Grief Kitchen for a meal, and we finally hear the story of when Ned and Alice met. As recounted to her friends on the Sweet Valley Sweethearts project:

Alice was a waitress at DeSalvios. Ned was in Law School. One night – Alice’s first night waitressing at DeSalvos – Ned and two buddies were triple-dating there. Alice, full of vim and nerves and energy – spilled a whole silver tray of food over Ned. Mortified, she ran to the kitchen to cry. Ned being Ned saw the funny side, and the pair fell in love over a meal that very evening. Nine months later, Steven was born.

Lovely. [Dove: This is absolutely contradicted in every book that mentions how they meet… uh, they all contradict each other. Alice and Ned tend to revise their meet-cute often.[Wing: Well, it’s hard to explain to the kids about Mummy and Daddy’s porn days. Dominatrix Alice still has a cult following.]

In the final chapter, we discover the Sweet Valley Sweethearts project got a clean A. And that the school’s super-athletic tomboy Billie Layton is having issues. Elizabeth is on the case… tune in next time to see how that pans out!

Final Thoughts:

This book was delightful, from beginning to end. Witty, inventive and well written. Best of the series so far. (Also, I like to believe the Jamie Suzanne that wrote this was also responsible for my other favourite, The Older Boy. Both have similar styles and great dialogue.)

One of the best aspects of this book is that this is the first that has portrayed the twins as actual friends and sisters. Jessica has a wild imagination, and Elizabeth tries to be the voice of reason, but they both act together. They both come across like pre-teens, they both like and support each other, and they are both far less binary than the usual AngelLiz and DevilJess that we’re always presented. Black and white is boring. We all need shades of grey (just not fifty).

The whole thing was glorious, ridiculous fun. Dove assures me the series becomes more and more ludicrous as time passes. Bring it on, I say. I can’t wait.

[Dove: I have to say, this is a major high point for me too. I love their schemes and plans, and the game of “drop the sister” just has me chuckling each time. Love this book. #BestJess]

[Wing: I switched books specifically so Raven could recap this one because he was so enthusiastic. And I have to say, his effervescent joy throughout this recap has me loving the book a lot more than I did when I read it.]

Looking back at things I've enjoyed, and smashing them to pieces with the Snark-Hammer. Lover of games of every stripe and hue. NOT A REAL BIRD.

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