Title: Princess Elizabeth
Tagline: Did Elizabeth break her promise to her new friend? [Wing: It is always Jessica and some sort of twin shenanigans. Why are they even bothering to make it seem like a question?] [Raven: Spoilers!]
Summary: Arthur Castle, an exchange student from a small country called Santa Dora, is coming to Sweet Valley Middle School and the sixth graders can’t wait! They have planned all kinds of welcoming events and parties for him.
Arthur doesn’t want anyone to fuss over him. He wants more than anything to be treated just like any other boy. He also wants to discover what real American kids are like. When Arthur meets Elizabeth Wakefield, his dream comes true. Their friendship grows quickly, and soon he even tells her his deepest secret – that he is actually a prince! The next day his secret is all over the school, and Arthur is furious. He thought he had made a true friend in Elizabeth. How could she betray his trust!
I don’t like this book. I’ve been on a run of books I don’t like, and I’d like to get off.
On reflection, my anti-royal stance has made this book impossible. I should have swapped with Wing. I did come up with a reason – I’ve found Wing will always swap books as long as you come up with a reason. Raven won’t. He knows me too well. [Wing: Well, since I dislike pretty much every book in some way or another, it’s no skin off my nose to recap a specific one (except for things like dogs or adoption or USA politics — oh, wait, that’s in this book. However, Dove was too slow this time, and I’d already written my last recap and couldn’t switch. Actually, now that I know she’s just switching to get away from the books she hates, I’m going to start saying no.]
The Front Cover: Why is Elizabeth getting married? No, really, Elizabeth, why are you getting married? You’re twelve.
We open with Jessica saying to Elizabeth that she thinks it’s fabulous to live in a country that has royalty. It’s not that great. Unless someone important dies, then you get a day off work. Not just any royal, it has to be an actual queen or queen mum.
The reason she’s brought this up is that there’s going to be an exchange student, Arthur Castle, visiting from Santa Dora for two weeks. But more importantly, Santa Dora breeds hot boys, with their “gorgeous dark, curly hair and such beautiful olive skin.” according to a book about Santa Dora, which – thankfully for Jessica – comes with pictures.
The sixth grade is doing a project on Santa Dora, and some people have gone a step further. The Unicorns have baked Santa Doran pastries for everyone. Has there ever been a book where Jessica can cook? Or any Unicorn? I foresee food poisoning. [Wing: Well, they wanted to throw that dinner party, but there are many reasons Alice and Ned shut it down. Food poisoning, probably one of them.]
In case you were wondering where Santa Dora is, it’s “a tiny kingdom on the beautiful Mediterranean seacoast between southern France and northern Spain.”
Elizabeth is doing a report on Santa Dora’s history and making a map. Jessica is doing an oral report on the royal family – and she plans to ask Arthur all about it, rather than read it herself.
The next day, the Unicorns discuss how fabulous it would be to be a princess, because you wouldn’t have to do dishes. Or pay for anything. Or work. But you would make headlines for heroically battling your morning sickness so you can drop your oldest off at school. Because #TheStruggleIsReal.
Sorry, moment of bitterness about the pack of unelected spongers we have as the poster children our country. For all the hatred that exists for “foreigners”, especially those that “come over here and take all our benefits”, nobody seems to mind the Germans who’ve been given multiple castles on their unemployment scheme. When I was unemployed – due to disability, not blue blood – I was not given a castle. In fact, Raven was told to put on his big boy pants and provide for his woman like it was 1939. [Raven: Would do it again in a heartbeat.]
Lila suddenly decides that the current Unicorn welcome – general flirting with aforementioned pastries – is not going to be enough. Jessica feels slighted because she came up with this brilliant plan. But then she has a better idea. They’re going to throw a Santa Doran themed party to welcome Arthur.
Once, when in Florida, Wing insisted on taking Raven and I to the American version of an English bar. Because she is a dick. And yes, she’s well aware we say “pub” not bar. And that the Beatles weren’t from London. Or that we do not wallpaper our pubs with the Union Jack because we already know we’re English. And that we don’t have multiple football teams’ posters up, because honestly, that’s asking for someone to get glassed.
I can only imagine Arthur will feel much as Raven and I did. Bemused. (With an undercurrent of “must kick BFF, because she is a bag of dicks.”) [Wing: I am the best bag of dicks, though. It was GREAT. I’m just sad I couldn’t do the same when we were in California earlier this year. NEXT TIME! A tour of British bars in America.] For the first time ever, Elizabeth and I are on the same page. When Jessica excitedly tells her of the plans to throw a Santa Doran party for the guy who’s come to the USA for a change of pace, Elizabeth points out that he might fancy going to an American party.
The next day, Amy is astounded to find out that the one boy she doesn’t recognise in homeroom is Arthur. Even more gobsmacking, he’s wearing a California Angels t-shirt, and not the traditional dress she’s seen in books. I know you guys love the peripheral characters, but I loathe Amy. @Roseyonaboat is with me on this. [Wing: It’s not like I love all the peripheral characters. I love Nora and Brooke. And Lois. And maybe a handful of others, but generally the “new girl” who shows up, is Elizabeth’s best friend for the duration of the book, and then rarely pops up in the future.] [Raven: Amy was a bit shit in the Ithig book, I recall. Then again, so were ALL THE OTHER WORDS IN THE BOOK.]
Mr Davis introduces Arthur, and the Unicorns do a welcome cheer for him, which embarrasses Arthur and Elizabeth. Then they hand out the pastries, which are foul.
During science, Arthur is baffled by the fact that water boils and freezes at different temperatures in the USA. How is the water so different? Aren’t foreigners funny? [Wing: UGH THIS IS SO TERRIBLE. Clearly Elizabeth knows about F versus C, why the fuck wouldn’t Arthur? Come on, I know us refusing to switch to metric is but one of many ways we are viewed as ridiculous around the world.] Elizabeth sets him straight and they become firm friends and they plan to walk home together. Arthur is staying with “the Richardsons”. We don’t know any Richardsons. Isn’t it a bit mean to assume that the kid who’s only been in town a day or so can find his way home? Richardsons, you suck.
He frowned. “Could you tell me, please,” he said, “why a girl would call herself a Unicorn?”
Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled. “That’s a long story,” she said with a laugh. “Maybe we’d better save it for our walk home.”
No, Elizabeth. It’s not a long story. The answer is: “That’s the name of their club.” I can only imagine that Elizabeth is actually going to recount the previous 31 books. And as someone who does that… well, not a living, but to a schedule, it will take a lot longer than the walk home. [Raven: If that was her plan, she could just give him the link to our website. #Meta #SVTCeption] (Spoilers: on the walk home, she answers his question in two sentences.)
On the way out of school, Arthur is accosted by multiple students asking about Santa Dora, and he is frustrated because he wants to know about America. Dude, you could just answer the question, then follow up with… well, I don’t know, whatever American question you had. You can’t moan that you know nothing about a country when you’ve made no effort to ask.
Also, we had an exchange student once. She was from Australia. We weren’t interested in her country at all. We were interested in Neighbours and Home and Away, because the UK was 18 months behind Australia, so we all got epic spoilers… that largely made no sense, because everyone dropped and picked up new boy/girlfriends every couple of days, so finding out that girl cheated on boy wasn’t really shocking, because boy hadn’t even joined the cast yet.
Elizabeth says she’ll talk to her friends and see what she can do to make sure Arthur gets the American experience. So she meets up with Amy, Julie and Sophia, who suggest they go to the mall, the bookstore, the pet store, and the music store… guys, that’s just the mall, right? That’s one suggestion, expanded on. Thankfully Elizabeth has a good idea, which is to make a scrapbook filled with Americana for Arthur – baseball cards, pages on music and TV, the fourth of July, etc.
At home, Jessica is livid with Elizabeth for “snatching” Arthur, because she and the Unicorns had some question to ask him about Santa Dora. She softens somewhat when Elizabeth says that Arthur had asked about the Unicorns. She plans to force another Santa Doran pastry down his throat because it will remind him of home. Elizabeth tries to convince Jessica that Arthur might enjoy something American instead, but Jessica is certain that someone who lives in such an interesting place couldn’t care less about America. Because that’s why someone gets on a plane for a minimum of ten hours, to feel like you’re at home.
The next day at the mall, Arthur has literally never seen a Frisbee before. Because foreigner. He plans to buy it to experience this wondrous Frisbee thing for himself.
Elizabeth laughed. “Don’t you think you’ve got enough?” she asked, pointing to the two shopping bags full of things Arthur had already bought. There was a football, a baseball bat, a stuffed Texas longhorn steer, a pair of Indian moccasins, a jackknife, a Johnny Buck album, a Confederate Army cap, and two pairs of jeans. In the other bag there were books, mostly American classics: The Wizard of Oz, Little House on the Prairie, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and an illustrated history of the Texas Rangers. He’d even bought a videotape of Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.
Apparently the revolution of denim hasn’t made its way to Santa Dora yet. Also, I feel a little uncomfortable that a Spanish-speaking person of colour has purchased a confederate flag item. And I’m English. [Wing: Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Even if he wouldn’t be considered a person of color here (it’s complicated when it comes to Spaniards, and since his made-up country is basically faux!Spain so the ghost writer isn’t writing about an actual royal family, it’s complicated for him, too). But there is nothing complicated about the bullshit of the confederate flag and what it stands for. I get that this is an older book, but it’s not like it wasn’t about racism back then, either. This and the flag for the scrapbook infuriated me. In short: burn it down.]
At Amy’s house, the girls then ask Arthur their questions about Santa Dora, wanting to know whether he has brothers and sisters, what his parents do – except for Julie, who is under the impression that Arthur is visiting from the 1400s, and asks if they have washing machines and dishwashers in Santa Dora.
Arthur rockets out of there, after a polite excuse, rather than answer the questions, which is noted by all. My personal theory? He needed to leave the room so he could laugh at Julie’s faintly racist question. Oh, you’re from away? Behold our wonderful technological advances. [Wing: Seriously. It would be funny, except I know people, predominantly white people from Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and European countries, still do this to people from other countries.] [Raven: Fair question, I thought. If they don’t have fucking Frisbees then all bets are off. Maybe Julie was just trolling. “Do you have shapes in your country, or is everything just lines?”]
At lunch the next day, the Unicorns have a Santa Doran sing-a-long, which Arthur really isn’t in to. Afterwards, he asks Elizabeth to go to the beach with him. Elizabeth says that she doesn’t want to take up all his time, remembering Jessica’s jealousy, but Arthur clarifies he wants to go with Elizabeth.
After the beach Elizabeth suggests they get a milkshake, and Arthur is baffled by the concept of shaken milk, because, haha, aren’t foreigners funny? Just FYI, idiotic Jamie Suzanne, McDonalds rocked into Spain in 1981 and France in 1972, and McD’s served milkshakes after their first year of business. So the odds are pretty high this kid has had a milkshake before. Even if he is a prince. [Raven: My milkshake bring all the royals to the yard, and they’re like, what the hell is milkshake?]
When buying, Arthur drops some of his Santa Doran money, and Elizabeth picks it up. At this point, she realises that his portrait is on the currency.
(Why? He’s not the ruling monarch. We have the Queen on our notes. Although I will concede that England would lose its shit if we put George on there. Both in the “OMG TEH BABBIEZ! TEH ROYAL BABBIEZ! SO CUUUUUTE!” and the “This is an outrage!” sense. I’d go with the latter because: a) I do not like babies/kids, they’re boring and they all look the same; and b) We have a ruling monarch who’s been on the notes for bloody ages. I’ve no interest in a male usurping her, especially with no reason.) [Wing: Whose face gets to be on money is such a complicated issue here, but you make a really good point as to why his face is on anything.] [Raven: Just spent an interesting stint on Wikipedia reading about banknotes. Apparently, Prince Charles has already sat for portraits to be used on banknotes once the Queen dies (which would lead to 12 days of state mourning and the suspension of all comedy programmes on the BBC). Also, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s banknotes all have poets on them.]
Arthur confides in her that he’s really Arthur Castillo, son of King Armand and Queen Stephanie. [Wing: So his secret name was the English translation of his actual name. HIS SECRET NAME WAS THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF HIS ACTUAL NAME. BE BETTER AT HIDING.] [Raven: Am I the only person who found it funny that the prince’s name is “A Castle”…?] Elizabeth panics because she doesn’t know how to address royalty. Arthur says that he lied because he just wants to be normal. He doesn’t want to go on museum tours and listen to Beethoven, he just wants to go to the beach and goof off. Elizabeth agrees to keep his secret.
The next day, Arthur is running late, and wants to talk to Elizabeth to make sure she’ll keep the secret. Naturally he nabs the wrong twin and blurts out the entirety of his secret instead of hedging his bets, since it’s an identical twin, with a vague, “That thing we talked about yesterday? It’s really important to keep it secret, ok?” [Wing: AND HE KNOWS THERE ARE TWO OF THEM. THAT PART IS NOT A SURPRISE TO HIM. WTF. Arthur, you are not making smart choices right now.]
Jessica manages to keep it secret for the full day, but calls an emergency after-school meeting of the Unicorns for the big reveal. At first they mock her heavily, but then Jessica breaks out a Santa Dora book that has a picture of the royals in. She doesn’t understand why Arthur kept his real identity a secret, so lies and says it’s a security issue.
And this raises a bloody good question. Why on earth is this not a security issue? I could rant for longer on this, but I honestly hate the concept of monarchy, so I don’t care if they get offed by their own stupidity. [Wing: His picture is everywhere. It’s on the goddamn money for some reason. He should have his own contingent of security everywhere he goes.] [Raven: They’d be adults, right? I’m guessing that they are actually lurking in the halls of Sweet Valley Middle School, but whatever virus that has knocked all sense out of the teachers has brought them low too.]
At the same time, Arthur is at Elizabeth’s and helping her with the dishes in exchange for a roller skating lesson. She explains that she wasn’t in science class because of a dentist appointment, and Arthur doesn’t twig that this would make it Jessica he spoke to. Arthur asks her to be his date for the party the Unicorns are throwing.
The next day, the Unicorns are still losing their shit that there’s a real live prince in their town. At this point, they’re trying to make Ellen’s house look exactly like Chateau Royale, they’re going to make him a throne to sit on, and they’re prepping on how to act around royalty, on the assumption that Arthur will be so impressed that he’ll make them “honorary royalty or something.”
Back over on Team Elizabeth, they are compiling their scrapbook. Someone else has given Arthur a Confederate Flag. This one’s from Jimmy Underwood. To be honest, I’d be more worried if it was Charlie Cashman [note to my future self: link the relevant Sweet Valley High book here!] (Raven/Wing: don’t follow the link, it has spoilers), but still, it raises eyebrows. [Wing: BURN IT DOWN.]
The next day at school, the Unicorns go all-out with the curtseying and royal etiquette. Arthur is furious that his BFF has betrayed him by blabbing his secret all over school. The Unicorns suck up and speak formally, and Arthur is just miserable, but has to take it all with a smile, because he must be a credit to his country.
He confronts Elizabeth about it over the phone. She says she didn’t tell anyone, but he doesn’t believe her and hangs up on her. And I kinda feel for her – don’t get used to it, it won’t happen often – but she really didn’t do anything wrong here. Usually she’s miserable because she doesn’t stand up for Jessica, or holds herself to some imagined rule that nobody actually laid out, but this time she did the right thing, for the right reasons, and it still bit her on the bottom. She even told Arthur she was at the dentist, but he didn’t notice because they were having such a jolly old time washing the dishes. [Wing: She didn’t even tell Jessica the secret, which is how it often goes! For once, she kept it a secret even from her “beloved” sister, and still twin shenanigans bite her in the ass.]
Elizabeth mopes in her room, until Jessica bursts in, gushing about the excitement of knowing a real prince. Elizabeth momentarily suspects that Jessica is the one who blabbed, but doesn’t consider a twin-switch situation – but Jessica says she heard about it from the Unicorns. She tells Jessica that Arthur blames her for the gossip, and Jessica even is – internally – sorry that it has backfired on her sister, but she maintains that this kind of secret has to be shared. Elizabeth explains why Arthur wanted to keep his identity secret, but Jessica finds that to be utter scribble. How could anyone get sick of being fawned over all day?
The following day, Arthur won’t talk to Elizabeth, and her idiot friends think the scrapbook is too ordinary for a prince, so let’s scrap that idea. [Wing: NOPE. /punnery] Elizabeth reiterates that it’s what Arthur wants.
The Unicorns take him to museums, the women’s club, and to listen to Beethoven, because this is befitting a prince. Elizabeth continues to work on the scrapbook alone.
Jessica isn’t having much fun either. Apparently it never occurred to her that once she had relayed the news about the prince, paying attention to the prince himself would trump paying attention to the girl who found out he was a prince. Elizabeth is miserable, and the stuff they’re doing for Arthur’s benefit is really fucking boring. The only high point is that Arthur has asked her to be his date to the party, but she suspects he only asked her because she looks like Elizabeth. [Wing: I want this to be explored as they get older, one being asked out because she looks like the other and how that makes them feel.] [Raven: “I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I prefer Jessica. She’s obviously four minutes younger than you.”]
I have to say, even though Jessica’s motives are pretty selfish, this is a better written Jessica – better written book, actually – than the last few I’ve had to recap. It’s just I hate the monarchy, so that’s blocking my enjoyment.
The night of the party, Elizabeth sat in her room, feeling miserable. Jessica and Arthur had already left for the party, and her parents had gone to a meeting. Elizabeth was all alone in the house.
So, the Wakefield adults are in AA. Thank god. Maybe they’ll parent better if they dry out. [Wing: “Meeting” is probably code for “key party”.] [Raven: Yup. Another night in the Sex Dungeon. it’ll take Alice weeks to get the stains out of the Gimp Suit.]
At the party, Jessica isn’t having much fun. First of all, it’s really sad that Elizabeth is at home and miserable. Second of all, Arthur’s a right downer. He’s being pleasant, but not very into her. She had romantic dreams of being told she was beautiful and it would be fabulous, but instead he’s just sitting in silence – not on his throne, he drew the line there – until someone talks to him, then he is courteous.
Jessica asks if it’s her, is she making him miserable, and Arthur explains what he really wanted.
Arthur nodded. “Yes. When I came to Sweet Valley, where nobody knew who I was, I thought it was my big chance. And if Elizabeth hadn’t told, it would’ve come true. I could have gone to a Little League game instead of the symphony, and tried skateboarding at the beach instead of twiddling my thumbs at another old museum.” He looked around despairingly. All the other kids were having fun, dancing and chattering and telling jokes, while they stood apart, watching. “I wanted everybody to treat me like a friend,” Arthur said sadly. “Like a regular kid, instead of like – like a prince!”
Jessica has a face turn as she realises that she has ruined the week for both Arthur and her sister. So she comes clean. Wait, what? Yes, she really does. And I wasn’t lying about Jessica feeling bad and guilty before. This is actually one of the better books that deals with Jessica’s selfishness. I still prefer sociopath-with-a-grand-plan-Jessica, but if I have to deal with ruthlessly-self-serving-Jessica, then this is a better version of her. [Raven: Agreed.]
Once Arthur knows the truth, he rushes over to the Wakefield house to make up with Elizabeth. He asks her to come back to the party with him, but she can’t because she’s still working on the scrapbook. Instead he invites her to the party at the Santa Doran consulate in L.A.
The next day, the entire school acts like complete shits to Arthur, throwing spitballs, and stealing his chair, and stealing his lunch. I hate to sound like Raven, but is this Jamie Suzanne a smart cookie, and realises that every single other new kid has been bullied to the point of suicide, and if Arthur wants a “normal” experience, Jamie Suzanne has unleashed hell on him? Or are all the Jamies so magnificently thick that they actually think this level of twattery is actually normal?
(Also, I like to believe that reality ensues, and some highly stealthy security personnel yell, “Your Royal Highness, get down!” and they dogpile the kids who are throwing things. Suddenly: international incident.)
Arthur, delighted at being bullied, realises that this is Jessica’s apology to him, and invites her to join him and Elizabeth at the consulate party. [Raven: I hated this at first. Jess screws it up for both her sister and Arthur, but still comes up trumps and gets the perfect party invite? I called bullshit… But then I thought about it from Arthur’s point of view. Rocking up to the LA party, a beautiful blonde identical twin on each arm? SWAG. If I were him, I’d make it rain using money with my own face on it every fucking night.]
The twins wear identical dresses (as seen on the cover), except for the illustrator seems to have cut Jessica out. Fair. At this consulate party are: the Governor of California (… Arnie?); [Wing: Psh, not until the 2000s.] Monica Stewart (a movie actress); Kent Kellerman (except for the text calls him “Kirk” – A+ continuity); but Johnny Buck couldn’t make it. Do soap stars and rock stars usually get invited to political events? I’m thinking no. [Wing: In California? Probably yes.]
So, the twins have a fabulous time – I don’t know if I missed it, but I don’t seem to be able to find evidence that Elizabeth actually gave the scrapbook to Arthur.
The following day, Elizabeth and Amy sit with the Unicorns (because… reasons?), and they start badmouthing the new girl, Sandra Ferris and what a fugly skank she is, being all tall and plain with frizzy hair, why won’t that bitch just die?
Even nice people, such as Amy and Mary Giaccio-Robinson-Wallace agree that the fugly bitch needs to fucking die and stop dragging down the whole average attractiveness of the town. [Wing: Goddamnit, Mary, you’re one of the characters I normally like.]
I’m afraid I’m going to have to put some spoilers in here for book #33: Elizabeth’s New Hero, because I realised something that made me angry.
Only two sets of people haven’t been bullied when they joined Sweet Valley Middle. Do you want to know what they had in common? They were boys. (Arthur from this book and the East German Gymnast team from book #33) They were also from Europe, which probably helps, given how much American YA books from the 80s/90s seem to worship Europe. [Wing: Not just YA and not just in the 80s/90s.]
I have to say, I wish I was assigned Jessica’s Bad Idea, instead of Jessica on Stage.
I’m sorry, I just really hate the monarchy, so I really couldn’t get into this book. I can’t buy into this wanting to be a princess thing. I would much rather be a working class hero, than some inbred, unelected wazzock who probably doesn’t know how to boil a kettle of water.
This was a good version of Elizabeth though. She was actually likeable for the first time in this series. Jessica was horrible, but less horrible than usual. I think this Jamie Suzanne took her work a little more seriously. I suspect this is the same one that wrote The Older Boy. Effort was put in.
[Wing: So I don’t actually understand the royal obsession in the USA. WE FOUGHT A WAR TO GET AWAY FROM THEM! But I think it has to do with the fact that we’re so far removed at this point, all we know are the Disney-fied versions of royalty. That and fantasy books where there are always European royalty equivalents, basically. (There are excellent, diverse fantasy books not built on white European royalty and colonization stories. They just aren’t the majority.)]
[Raven: I actually enjoyed this one. As Dove mentioned, Elizabeth was pretty likeable. I appreciated that the Unicorns were pretty much clueless idiots throughout the whole thing… sometimes these books actually buy into the importance of these vapid socialite bigots a little too much. And Arthur was fun, apart from the Frisbee “I shall call it a Magic Flying Demon Circle” codswallop. Seriously, that overused trope needs to get in the fucking sea.]