Sweet Valley Online

Evil triplets snarkily recap Sweet Valley Twins, High, University, Confidential & Sweet Life

Sweet Valley Twins #77: Todd Runs Away

26
Mar 2019
Sweet Valley Twins #77: Todd Runs Away by Jamie Suzanne

Sweet Valley Twins #77: Todd Runs Away by Jamie Suzanne

Title: Todd Runs Away

Tagline: It’s not the answer… [Wing: Yes it is. Get out of Sweet Valley. Get out.]

Summary: There’s only one way out… [Dove: ALL RIGHT! TODD’S GOING TO JIM JONES THIS THING!] [Raven: I went to Kurt Cobain, myself.]

Todd Wilkins is a great basketball player. His dad thinks that nothing is more important. But when Todd joins a creative-writing class taught by an exciting new teacher named Mark Ramirez, Todd discovers he has other talents, too.

The more time Todd spends on his writing, the less time he spends on basketball—and Mr. Wilkins isn’t happy. But he doesn’t blame Todd. Instead, he wants the school to fire Mr. Ramirez.

Todd doesn’t want to let either his father or his teacher down, but he can’t find a solution to his problems. So Todd plans to run away. Can Elizabeth Wakefield convince him not to go?

Initial Thoughts

For some inexplicable reason, every time I thought about recapping this book, I thought it was about Steven running away. Wishful thinking, I guess! Also, recapping two books in a row is a recipe for me hating the second book. I’ll try to be fair to this one, but between that and the Elizabeth to the Rescue setup, well … I’m ready to hate it.

[Wing: Note from the future. Holy. Shit.] [Dove: I’m very frightened that this means that Wing liked it. I’m getting very alarmed that we’ve finally worn her down.]

Recap

Friday afternoon, the Sweet Valley Middle School boys’ basketball team, the Gladiators, win their fifth straight game. The Gladiators? Did we know this before? Because I don’t remember knowing this. Are the Gladiators the Sweet Valley mascot? Is there any continuity with SVH? If it’s not the school district mascot, why the fuck does the SVMS basketball team have its own mascot? [Dove: I’ve invested decades of my life in this series and I can’t even work out what’s going on with the sports teams, their names, their schedules, while every 20 books or so, we act as if nobody in Sweet Valley has ever played this sport before, etc.] [Raven: THE GLADIATORS!]

Rick Hunter and Tim Davis both compliment Todd on his game and winning shot, and Todd tries to be casual over being complimented by the team’s star player (Tim), but he’s the only sixth grader on the varsity team and that compliment is a big deal. Okay, Todd is kind of adorable so far.

Bruce Patman tries to take some credit away from Todd by talking about how he assisted Todd on that last shot then waving away the three times Todd assisted him when Tim points it out.

Todd’s response has cemented my love for him: He knew better than to pay too much attention to Bruce. Just because the Patmans owned half of Sweet Valley, Bruce thought that made him king of the school.

Yeah, okay, he’s pretty great.

Peter Jeffries (which one are you again?) reminds Todd of his knee braces when he nearly forgets them; his dad makes him wear them because Mr Wilkins’ story is that he would have played pro ball except for a bad knee injury.

Outside the locker room, Todd is “nearly crushed” by the people waiting to congratulate him: Ken Matthews (a friend, and I guess he’s on junior varsity?), Winston Egbert (says the team is lucky to have him and he was hot — Todd immediately gives the Boosters credit for working up the crowd, which is delightful), and the Unicorn chapter of the Todd Wilkins Fan Club (Jessica Wakefield, Lila Fowler, Ellen Riteman, and Janet Howell — ooh, Janet’s slumming with a younger man here). [Raven: What the hell is all this “varsity” nonsense about? Yeah, I could Google it. Not gonna.]

The girls praise Todd and the game, and Ellen tells him that they were talking about making him an honorary Unicorn because it was so cool. Todd’s response is DELIGHTFUL. He gently teases Ellen that purple isn’t really his colour.

Janet takes this seriously and agrees. He looks better in blue, you see, and he’s lucky the team uniforms are blue, because if they were yellow, he’d be in trouble. Legit laugh out loud, Janet. [Raven: Yellow is a trustworthy colour.]

Ellen still wants the school color to be purple; Lila shoots her down because they’ve talked about it too much already, and Jessica points out that if every loser on a school sports team wore purple it wouldn’t be as special. She rushes to add that none of the basketball players are losers. Really? Not even Ken (in your mind)?

Ellen pouts because she still thinks purple uniforms are cool, and I am charmed by her. Someone get this girl a purple uniform, stat.

Todd looks around for Elizabeth and, no lie, it is at this point I realise that this is her boyfriend. How I didn’t get that from, oh, his fucking name, I have no idea, but he’s thinking about how he almost lost their friendship during that prank war he and Ken had on Elizabeth and Amy Sutton and I seriously had to stop reading because oh shit, right, this guy I’m finding charming is fucking Todd Wilson what the fuck no.

Get your shit together, Wing. [Dove: Seriously, Wing. Fandom doesn’t like Todd very much. Conform before they throw you out.]

Just as Todd finds her, Mr Wilkins interrupts to tell him that he’s been talking to Coach Cassels about how far Todd’s come and how Todd is even better than Mr Wilkins was at his age. Mr Wilkins has been coaching him forever and comes to as many games as his work scheduled permits. Do we know what he does? Because I don’t think I know what he does. Then again, thirty seconds ago I didn’t realise Todd was Elizabeth’s Todd. Clearly I am not firing on all cylinders.

Todd quickly goes to talk to Elizabeth and admits how nervous he was; she understands him better than anyone, he thinks, and she’s never mushy over him the way some girls get over guys. Are you — are you sure about that? [Dove: Did Elizabeth just claim she was ~not like other girls~?]

Jessica invites the two of them to the Dairi Burger to celebrate and Todd gives us the look alike act different thing. Nothing new.

Todd can’t go, Mr Wilkins is taking him out to dinner, but when he sees how disappointed Elizabeth is, he invites her out for a sundae at Casey’s the next afternoon. Adorable. And ugh, how can I think they’re adorable? [Dove: Because a) you’re secretly made out of sunshine, rainbows and shiny things; and b) you really like ice cream. Cold Stone.]

Mr Wilkins and Coach Cassels have been talking and Mr Wilkins tells Todd that Coach thinks he’s one of the best players on the team, in large part because he’s a hard worker and whenever he’s on the court, basketball is his top priority. Those are pretty good reasons to be considered one of the best players, I have to say. Mr Wilkins gives him a tip about foul shots, which Todd says is his weak spot (and was Mr W’s, too; the tip is to shoot for the back of the rim. I have zero idea of that actually works, but it sounds like it should, because I see a lot of foul shots fall short, so aiming farther back might help — also follow through is apparently very important, finishing the movement even after the ball leaves your hands. And that, dear readers, is pretty much the extent of my basketball “knowledge.”); Todd’s glad for it, but even more he’s looking forward to all the food he can eat. [Raven: Steven, is that you?]

I actually really like Todd and Mr W’s interaction here. A lot of the time in a story like this, where the dreams of the parent are overshadowing what the child really wants, the parent comes across as just flat out terrible and uncaring, but they seem to have a good relationship despite the pressure Mr W puts on him.

Over at the Dairi Burger, Elizabeth and Amy talk about who will write the story about the basketball game in the Sixers. Umm, shouldn’t that have been decided already? I thought you were trying to run that like a real newspaper, and if so, you’d have a regular sports reporter.

Wait, why am I expecting logic, especially from this paper which has shown itself to be completely irresponsible?

Anyway, Amy offers to write it because she doesn’t have a boyfriend on the basketball team. …don’t you? Have I completely misremembered the fact that Ken is on the basketball team (even if JV)? What has happened to the JV team for that matter?

Elizabeth does want her to write it, because she’s thinking about writing a story for that new creative writing class. Ah, yes, I remember that from the end of the last book. Still no word on who has been selected for it, but Amy is certain Elizabeth will because she’s the best writer in the class. Really? There’s at least one or two other people who might argue with that.

An outburst of laughter draws their attention to the Unicorn table, where Jessica is describing something with big hand gestures; in the middle of it, she blushes and lowers her arms to cover her chest. Elizabeth’s been doing that same thing lately, and she wonders if they should start wearing bras. Is our sideplot about the Wakefield twins getting their first bras? Oh, this could be adorable.

Elizabeth is too uncomfortable to bring it up with Amy, especially because Amy doesn’t look like she’ll need one soon. Oh, Elizabeth, not everyone can develop as perfectly as the Wakefields. [Dove: Usually Amy’s lifeless and flat hair gets mentioned. Now it’s her flat chest.]

Elizabeth changes the subject back to the short story class; she heard that the new teacher is someone just out of graduate school. This could be cringe-inducing indeed.

The next morning, Steven teases Jessica that her shirt is lumpy and maybe she should iron it. While looking at her chest. Goddamn, dude, control yourself. She’s embarrassed, of course, especially because she only recently noticed that her breasts are starting to grow and she didn’t think it was obvious to anyone else yet.

Jessica goes upstairs to check herself out in the mirror. She thinks it might be time for a bra; it seems like Ellen is the only sixth grade Unicorn to have one, and she bought her first one a couple months ago. No mention of any of the other sixth graders having one. I’m surprised Lila doesn’t just so she can be worldly and knowledgeable. Then again, maybe she’s too uncomfortable to mention it to the staff or her absent father. [Dove: Personal headcannon? She’d go with Mrs Pervis, the housekeeper. She’s known her all her life, and occasionally we get the odd paragraph that show them to be comfortable around each other. But yeah, I can imagine Lila buying all the best bras even before she needed them, because why not?]

Jessica wonders if Elizabeth has been noticing it, too, and remembers that they didn’t get their periods at the same time and how humiliated she felt when Elizabeth got hers first. Jessica doesn’t want to do anything to make Elizabeth feel as bad as she had felt then. UGH JESSICA YOU ARE SO GREAT SOMETIMES.

She flips through a new issue of Smash! and in it, sees an ad for Dreamline bras. She decides that is the best way to broach the subject with Elizabeth, tears out the ad, puts it under a pair of sneakers in Elizabeth’s closet where she’s sure to see it, and then hopes for the best. Oh god you are too adorable.

When Elizabeth comes upstairs to change for her date with Todd, she’s still thinking about bras, too, and how in this case, being friends with the Unicorns might be useful because they must talk about bras all the time. Elizabeth goes to talk to Jess, but she’s in the shower, and then Elizabeth has second thoughts about mentioning it, because she, too, is thinking about the period debacle.

When she gets dressed, her beloved new pale-blue sweater fits too tight and she thinks it makes her look like she has mosquito bites on her chest. Finally she changes into an old, bulky green sweater which is both too hot for the weather and not what she’d wear on a date, but it hides her chest. Ugh, kid, my heart goes out to you.

She sees the ad for Dreamline bras and it gives her a great idea; she hides the ad in Jessica’s room under the latest issue of Smash! Oh, god, this is ridiculous and yet I am weirdly charmed by it. I’m sure the shine will wear off if it goes on too long (as stories like this tend to do in SVT), but for now, adorable.

Todd and Elizabeth have just ordered (two scoops of chocolate peanut butter cup with hot fudge for Elizabeth and the Casey’s Special for Todd, which is four scoops of ice cream on top of a chocolate brownie that is then smothered in chocolate sauce); Tim Davis, Jim Sturbridge, and Belinda Layton show up, and the boys join Elizabeth and Todd in their booth, but Belinda remains standing.

The boys want to go shoot hoops at the high school later, but Todd has to practice with his dad. Jim and Tim (oh lord) grumble about their own dads doing the same thing, but are impressed when Todd says his dad probably could have gone pro if he hadn’t wrecked his knees. Now, is this a real thing or is it something Mr Wilkins says to make himself feel better, try to relive his glory days? [Dove: Honestly? Knowing Sweet Valley, of course he could have gone pro.]

The boys get ready to order ice cream, and Elizabeth is a little annoyed that they’ve crashed her date; Belinda suggests they move over to a booth on the other side of the room because the one they’re at is too small. She and Elizabeth have a little bonding moment that is a delight. I love it when girls support girls.

Elizabeth and Todd talk about the new creative writing class; Todd is worried that if he gets chosen, he’ll have to spend all his free time writing novels. It’s a six-week middle school course, Todd. I think you’re fine. [Raven: So you just get “chosen” for this course, do you? You don’t get a say in it? Weak. Also… another Sweet Valley book about how important and great Writing is. What a joy. *eyeroll*]

This does bring up a good point, though. It would be a lot of extra work for kids who already have after-school activities, sports and clubs, etc. Is the school choosing kids and forcing them to do it whether they want to or not? Because that seems like a shitty way to handle it. (And therefore par for the course at SVMS.) [Dove: Of course that’s how they’re running it. How else would you run it in Sweet Valley?]

Todd says that he doubts he’ll get in because he doesn’t know how to write; she says that’s the point, if he already knew how to write, he wouldn’t need to learn it in the class. Elizabeth. Elizabeth. Elizabeth. Do you realise what you’ve just said about yourself? Especially since Mr Bowman is choosing the students?

Monday morning, Jessica “subtly” tries to get Elizabeth to find the ad she hid, not realising that she already has. It reminds Elizabeth of the ad she hid in Jessica’s room, but not enough for her to realise that’s what Jessica is looking for. Okay, we’re already on the borderline of ridiculous, but I’ll give it a few more paragraphs.

Okay, good, it is resolved shortly after, and they start talking about why they’re wearing baggy clothes. Neither of them have talked Alice yet because she’s been so busy with redecorating a luxury hotel [Dove: The one from Psychic Sisters? Are we witnessing continuity?], and also they wanted to talk to each other first. They decide to go look at some bras at Kendall’s and then talk to Alice about it after. Now, this could be a sign of Alice neglecting her parental duties, but (a) she is working and (b) the girls choose not to tell her. For all their excuses, I think they just want to do this together, only the two of them — and then Elizabeth flat out thinks that it’s a relief they don’t have to bring Alice in, because she’s not ready for anyone, even her mother, to know just how much she’s growing up. Aww, this is sweet. [Raven: I actually felt a bit sorry for Alice about this. I presumed she might like to help the girls shop for their first bra, as a sort of mother-daughter bonding ritual. I guess that’s not a thing?]

Elizabeth suggests they go Wednesday after school, because there’s a pep rally then and none of their classmates will be at Kendall’s. Surely not everyone goes to the pep rallies and also, shouldn’t you both be there considering Boosters and Todd and all.

The list has been posted! Amy, Pamela Jacobson [Dove: SHE’S ALIVE! SHE DIDN’T DIE FROM A HEART EXPLOSION!], Elizabeth, Maria Slater (YAY!), Nora Mercandy (YAY!), Sophia Rizzo (YAY!), Patrick Morris, Randy Mason, Mandy Miller (YAY!), Julie Porter, Cammi Adams, and Todd.

Shocking.

Todd is not as happy as the others, because he’s worried about having time to take the class and still make it to basketball practice. Elizabeth points out the class ends at 3:30 and practice doesn’t start until 3:45. That is a weird time to have practice.

When he worries about the extra work, Amy tells him it’s too late to quit. UMM. No.

When he runs into Patrick later, Patrick says he heard it wasn’t option. Are you fucking kidding me?! It’s a class outside of school hours. It’s as optional as it fucking gets you motherfucking horrific administration.

Mr Bowman tells him that he has to give it a week and then he will consider letting him drop the class. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK IS WRONG WITH THIS GODDAMN SCHOOL I WANT TO BURN IT TO THE GROUND. [Dove: Also, what about all the students that want to be the class. I know I’d be pissed off if I didn’t make the cut, but a jock who couldn’t care less got in. (She says bitterly, after her school refused to let her take A-levels, despite having well above the required grades to take the classes.)] [Raven: This fucking school.]

What about kids who can’t get home if they don’t take their bus right after school? Are you running later busses? What about kids who have to get home to take care of younger siblings because their parent(s) work? Do you do the same thing in high school? If so, what about kids who work after school jobs? And we’re already seeing how it could impact sports kids. WHAT. THE. EVER. LOVING. FUCK.

The new teacher is Mark Ramirez. He tells the students to call him Mark, because of course he does. (Is he actually hispanic? Because that is quite a turn for Sweet Valley.) He’s wearing faded jeans and high-top sneakers. I’d say he’s trying too hard to be cool, but I think that’s just the awkwardness of the teachers in these books. He’s probably meant to be effortless cool because he’s young and teaches creative writing.

He makes them put away all their pens and papers and backpacks, has them sit in a circle and then makes them all introduce themselves. YUP. This is going to be one of those hip, weird classes that show up as writing classes in media all the time. (This is not necessarily a bad thing.) [Raven:

They’re going to create a story together. The theme is choices they make in their lives, and in order to make it interesting, the hero has to make a choice between two difficult things because otherwise it’s not much of a choice. Which is true; it’s a more compelling story if the choice is difficult and has real consequences and also I see what you did there, ghostie.

Mark starts the story: Angela played the guitar. She was very good at it and wanted to become a professional musician someday. On Saturday nights, she sometimes played at a small dance club near her home. It was during one of those times that she met David.

Mandy: David was tall, dark, and handsome. Soon Angela and David fell in love. They thought someday they might even want to get married.

Patrick: David was the star quarterback on the high school football team. He liked football better than anything.

Mandy: Except Angela.

Mark asks Sophia what kind of choice Angela and David have to make. I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, GHOSTIE.

Sophia: Angela needs to practice her guitar on Saturday afternoon for the club, but David wants her to come see him play football.

Mark has her think about whether David would understand that Angela needs to practice, and when she says he would, she doesn’t have any other ideas about where to go with it. But Todd. Todd has an idea.

Todd: How about if David breaks his leg the day of the championship game? Everyone’s at the game, and there’s no one to visit David in the hospital. He’s really upset. It’s the championships and he can’t be there. He’s going crazy, all alone in the hospital. Angela has to make the choice of going to the club and leaving David alone, or staying with him at the hospital.

Mark points out that Angela isn’t giving up that much, because it’s just one night at the club, she’ll just play the next week. Todd thinks about that and then suggests that there’s going to be a big record agent at the club that one night only, and if Angela plays, she might get discovered.

Mark grinned. “That’s it!” he said. “Now we have a difficult choice. Do you leave someone you love alone and hurting so you can do something you’ve always wanted to do? Or is love more important than anything else? The choice isn’t an easy one, and that’s what makes a good story.”

This is actually some decent teaching and a good point about writing, especially for that age range. I like Mark so far. That means we’ll either never see him again or SVMS will eat him alive. Cooooool. [Raven: I do like Mark. I guess. But the first lesson lasts all of five minutes! Talk about dialing it in.]

He assigns them a short story to write before next Tuesday’s class (I guess it meets twice a week then, because he’ll also see them on Thursday. That’s not nearly as bad as I was picturing earlier). It has to be at least three pages, which he says isn’t long at all, but if you’re just starting writing, that’s fairly long, especially if you’re writing it by hand. They can write about anything, but they have to make sure their story has a hard choice in it.

Elizabeth does the ending: I think Angela stayed with David in the hospital. There would be other chances to make records, but not to show David how much she loved him.

Patrick is grossed out by the mushiness (see, Todd, Elizabeth can be mushy too), and says he wants to write a story about a solo astronaut, no girls. Maria shoots him down because that astronaut could be a girl. One of the many reasons I love you, Maria!

Elizabeth and Todd talk about what they’re going to write. Elizabeth is going to write about a girl who has to choose between being a mystery writer and a journalist. SHOCKING. (Though realistic.) Also: why not both? [Dove: This is exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned Elizabeth has no creativity. As the creative one, she immediately pulls from her own likes, her life ambitions. Admittedly, almost every writer does it, but she doesn’t even bother to push herself a little out of her comfort zone.] Todd isn’t sure but might write something about basketball. Also shocking and realistic.

Todd’s late to practice because he stayed talking to Elizabeth so long, and Coach yells at him over it. Todd’s pretty pleased with himself despite all that, because he liked the class, school is great, basketball is great, and life is pretty good.

So here’s the high before the fall.

Bra time! Jessica told Janet that she couldn’t go to the pep rally because she had to give a friend some support. /dying

The girls find the bras and are nervous and awkward enough they keep joking around, which is also realistic and adorable. Finally they calm down and they pick out a couple of different white training bras in various sizes so they can try them on.

Before they can, though, they see Rick Hunter’s mother, so they have to flee. Oh, girls. You adorable ridiculous things.

I honestly don’t remember much about my first bra experience. My problem was as I got older (and even today), my cup size is very small compared to my band size, and fat women just aren’t supposed to wear a small cup size, apparently, so I have a hard time finding bras at all. Mostly I wear sports bras or none. [Dove: It’s funny, I was recently talking about this with Tiny and Twinkle (my local bffs), and we all had the same story. We awkwardly told our mums we wanted bras, and every mum came home with a non-wired 32A bra. In the past six months, all three of us got measured for the first time. We’ve all been wearing two cup sizes smaller than we should have. That’s about six decades of bad bra sizing between us.] [Raven: Are you looking at my bra?]

Skip to the next Monday, Mr Wilkins wants to practice basketball after dinner, but Todd has homework to do. Todd also can’t load the dishwasher even though it’s his turn because he has too much homework. Okay, kid, no. You make it work and that includes getting your chores done as well as your homework.

Todd admits to his dad that the story is taking a lot longer than he thought. Mr Wilkins wants to go talk to Mr Bowman about getting him out of the class. Last week, Todd would have loved that (and why didn’t you go to your dad then?), but now he wants to stay in, because it’s great. Aww, kid, you’re pretty great yourself right now.

Todd also admits he has no one to blame for the extra work but himself, because he’s already hit 10 pages. Oh, kid. You’re adorable.

To reassure his father, he agrees to go shoot some hoops. Mr Wilkins is reluctant now because he doesn’t want Todd to neglect his studies, but Todd promises him it’s nearly done and he just has one more sentence to write. Liar. Also, what about the dishes, huh?

Of course, at 11 p.m., he’s still up writing (and did no dishes at all); he lost track of time again, he was having so much fun writing. But he has a huge basketball game the next day (…after his writing class?), and he needs to be well rested.

As soon as he hears his father go to bed, Todd’s back to writing, and stays up until nearly 3 a.m. trying to get it just right. Oh my god, kid, I adore the hell out of you right now. (It’s about a basketball player trying to please his father and help a friend and all the pressures that come with it, which is expected and realistic but the snippets we see are actually fairly interesting, so kudos to the ghostie, too.) [Dove: Todd’s character is called Tom.]

Elizabeth, Todd, and Maria talk about how nervous they were to turn in their stories, and Maria is surprised to learn that Todd stayed up half the night finishing his. She’s kind of judgmental about it, too, because she finished hers Sunday since she knew what she wanted to write about from the very first class and believes the sooner something is done the better. Which is a valid way to work, but Todd started writing immediately, too, but he struggled to figure out the most important choice. He worked his ass off on this, and I am charmed by all three of them, really.

Mark tells them that all their stories were excellent and then starts talking them through it:

Cammi: wrote about a girl whose parents are deaf. You know, like her parents. Mark reassures her that it’s fine to write about what you know and what is important to you. Her writing was smooth and vivid, the details of the parents’ lifestyles were excellent, and she set a good scene. But she struggled, as did a lot of the other students, in giving them a difficult choice. The hero in her story had to choose between staying home to help her parents deal with the plumber or going to spend the night at a friend’s house.

Maria thinks that is a hard choice, but Nora argues that an easy solution is to have the friend stay at the hero’s house so everyone wins.

What actually happens is that the hero learns her aunt is coming to visit and she doesn’t need to stay to help. Which, Mark explains, isn’t really making a choice at all because one of the options is taken away. Cammi admits that is exactly what happened, though, and here is where it can become difficult when writing so tightly from real life. A story has to be more compelling and logical than real life; coincidences like that happen in real life, but make for a flat story with too easy a solution.

Mark goes on to talk about more good things in her story, including that she gave him insight into how deaf people live and things that hearing people take for granted, and that he learned a lot, which is terrific. And it is. This doesn’t touch on the complicated part of that, of course, which is that if a hearing person’s writing is the only writing people read, that starts to become the last word on the deaf experience when instead, deaf people should also be able to share their stories. This is a simplistic look at why #ownvoices is so important.

We don’t see much about the other students, though Nora wrote a funny story about a boy trying to become a magician but his tricks keep backfiring. Her story and Randy’s and Pamela’s all struggle with showing a real difficult choice, though.

Patrick wrote about a male astronaut, of course because fuck him, who was torn between becoming a general and taking an office job or staying a colonel and continuing as an astronaut, which could have been a great difficult choice — but at the very beginning, the character flat out said he didn’t care about being a general and hated being stuck inside, so there actually wasn’t a difficult choice at all.

Julie: A young musician has the chance to attend a national music competition, and as a senior, it’s her last chance to qualify. The competition is the same night as her senior prom, though, and she has a date with the boy of her dreams. The girl decides that her career is more important than prom, goes to the competition, and wins. Love it, Julie. LOVE. IT. It’s not completely a happy ending, as Mandy calls it, though, because the boy of her dreams goes to prom with another girl and they end up going steady. This leads to a conversation about how not all stories can have happy endings and Julie’s story was stronger because she showed that tough choices don’t always turn out all good in the end, which is part of what makes them tough. [Dove: That paragraph was more character development than Julie’s had in the past 80 books. And just think, she’s Liz’s second best friend (when she’s not doing her fling of the week, anyway).]

Fucking hell, Mark, you need to get the fuck out of Sweet Valley before SVMS destroys you, because are pretty goddamn amazing as a teacher. [Raven: Yep, this lesson was really good. Although Mark is no Mr Baker.]

Elizabeth: Writer’s eye for detail and writes characters that feel real, but the choice is not big enough or strong enough, and in some ways isn’t a choice at all, because, as I said earlier, why not both.

Todd: They’re running five minutes past the end of class so they will have to discuss his next time. Oh, Todd, you poor kid, that sucks. Mark wants to talk to him after class, though, which makes Todd even more nervous than he already is. (Also: basketball game, will he be late oh the drama).

Mark tells him that his story is one of the very best and gives him great feedback on how he wrote the choice (sink the winning shot and become a hero or let Jim do it, when Jim wants to win for his sick father) was compelling and suspenseful. He tells Todd that he could become an excellent writer if he keeps at it.

Awww, I like this Todd a lot. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate him later in the universe, so this is both a nice moment and also disappointing because I don’t want to like him now and hate him later.

Jessica and Elizabeth are off to Kendall’s again even though Jessica is missing a Unicorn meeting for it. As many meetings as she’s been missing lately, I’m surprised she hasn’t actually been kicked out. (Well, I mean, in-universe surprised. Meta level, no way, Wakefields Must Win. Also: No Unicorn wants to end up in the Mercandy backyard.)

Oooooh, turns out Mrs Hunter works at Kendall’s, but Elizabeth called and made sure she wouldn’t be there that day. Okay, that’s kind of adorable.

The girls go into dressing room stalls to try on their bras, but alas, Jessica hears voices she recognises: Caroline and Anita Pearce. Caroline is SVMS’s “biggest — and least accurate — gossip.” Oh, boy, those poor girls.

They’re gossiping about the game (and how Bruce made the winning shot off an assist from Todd, which makes Jessica roll her eyes because the truth was the opposite thing happened). Elizabeth calls out for Jess from the other dressing stall, and Jessica is terrified that Caroline will find out they’re buying bras and spread it around the school. Or worse, that they’re buying girdles and see-through nightgowns.

The girls flee, terrified (but not before they hear Caroline tell Anita that she heard Jessica got into the writing workshop, which oh my god, and also why would Anita care about that?!

The boys barely beat JFK, and Todd even missed the last shot, though Tim got the rebound for the win. The boys are actually pretty chill when they talk to Todd about what happened; I was expecting a lot more asshattery, but these guys make decent friends. Nicely done, ghostie.

Even Coach Cassels is chill, telling him not to let a bad game weigh on him and suggesting he get more sleep because he looks so exhausted. He does tell him that one bad game is fine but don’t let another happen, but that’s still not nearly as horrid as I expect from adults in this series. [Raven: He’s not that chill.]

Elizabeth and Todd briefly talk about how he let the team down because he was working so hard on the story and he may have to drop the class. Oooooooor, you could not give in to that unhealthy desire to frantically write for hours at a time to the detriment of the rest of your life. I’m not judging, I do that too, still, even as an adult, but it is super unhealthy (and, for me, generally marks a manic phase that can be dangerous, too, if I’m not careful).

He’s worried about the Big Mesa game on Friday and really wants to practice hard on Thursday, but apparently the writing class is going to see Ryan Stern (Todd’s favourite actor) in a play, and he really doesn’t want to miss that or drop the class.

Mr Wilkins and Todd have a difficult conversation on the way home, about his missed shot and how his shooting was off and how he is letting other things interfere with his practice and it’s beginning to show.

Todd’s realising that he doesn’t like basketball as much as he thought he did now that he knows how much he loves writing, and he’s snappy at his dad for picking on him. Except Mr Wilkins really isn’t picking on him, to my happy surprise. He’s being very chill about it and understandably concerned that his son is undermining his hard work on something he supposedly loves. Todd really needs to talk to Mr W about how he’s feeling if he’s ready to give up basketball, or even cut back on it. [Raven: Again, he’s not that chill. The SVT adults are simply easing into their SVT Adult asshattery.]

(…okay, ghostie, I see what you did there, too. Have you been listening to us from the past and heard all the times we’ve shouted that someone needs to go talk to a fucking adult about the situation?) [Dove: Maybe this Jamie was a fed up reader?]

Instead of talking about how he’s feeling, though, Todd is determined to figure out a way to be good at both. On his own. Without messing up again. Oh, kid, you are in so far over your head.

On Tuesday, Todd still hasn’t talked to his dad about missing practice on Thursday for the play. He doesn’t think telling Mr W is the best way to go about it. As opposed to what? Lying to him? Not telling him and asking forgiveness later? Making up some Jessica-style complicated scheme? (Okay, I might love that.)

Todd’s super distracted at dinner, in ways that have made both his parents on edge a little, which is of course when he decides to talk about the writing class and the play. On the one hand, good for you, talking about what’s happening. On the other hand, you’ve really set yourself up for failure here.

His father isn’t too thrilled that Mark doesn’t use books and thinks that you can learn even more outside school than inside it. Oh, god, here we go. Todd finally mentions the class field trip; Mrs W is down for Todd going, but Mr W doesn’t like how she calls it just one practice. It’s one practice that could make all the difference in whether he wins or loses the game. Umm, dude, there are other players on the team, it’s not Todd winning or losing all on his own, you remember that, right? [Dove: I found that Mr W acted like the Daily Mail in this conversation. He cut Todd off, and picked and chose which words he listened to, so he could act offended that Mark “doesn’t believe in books”. We went from Todd saying that Mark doesn’t teach from books in this one optional class to “Did you hear that? This Ramirez character is teaching the children that school is worthless!” (verbatim quote).] [Raven: I don’t like Mr Wilkins. I don’t like Mr Wilkins at all.]

Mr W won’t stop Todd from going to the play and tells him it’s his choice. But Mr W is coming back early from a business trip in Sacramento to see the Big Mesa game and he doesn’t want Todd to mess up again.

Wait, is this all on the same day? I guess it is, but wow, that transition earlier made it seem like another day.

Todd is grumpy that his dad has brought up the bad game again and swears he’ll be ready, but Mr W flat out says he won’t if he goes to the play.

This still isn’t as bad as I was expecting from Mr W (and Coach), but it’s getting closer.

Todd goes to the play, of course, and is now thinking about writing plays for himself. Mark thinks that’s a great idea, and took them to the play because he wanted them to see there are all kinds of way to tell a story. Ugh, I kind of love him, run far away from Sweet Valley, dude.

When Elizabeth mentions that Brooke Dennis’s father writes scripts and asks if that’s kind of the same as writing a play, Mark suggests that Maria could maybe answer it better. Turns out, he likes horror movies and loved her in Mansion of Blood. UGH THIS GUY IS SO GREAT. He didn’t make a big deal of it when he recognised her, he’s teaching them good things, he’s clever in how he talks to them — shit, SVMS is going to destroy him.

They talk a little about the differences in screenwriting and playwriting (and Maria wants to try screenwriting out herself someday), Elizabeth wants to write a mystery novel [Dove: Thank god she solves so many mysteries, otherwise she’d have no material at all. She has no imagination.], Amy still wants to be a newspaper reporter, and Todd wants to write short stories. UGH TODD KID OH GOD.

I am having feelings all over this book. I don’t like it. The having feelings part. I’m (sadly) liking the book a lot.

Elizabeth is shocked that he wants to be a professional writer now since he loves basketball so much that, as Amy points out, he wanted to play that professionally someday. He’s annoyed by this (understandably considering what’s going on with his dad, but still not fair to them) because it’s not like he wants to be a writer for a living, he just wants to write short stories (valid choice) and he can write and play basketball both.

Except he’s not so sure about that himself.

UGH TODD STOP MAKING ME LIKE YOU.

Mark assigns them story rewrites for next Tuesday, and Todd wonders if he should rewrite his because Mark didn’t give him any suggestions to improve it. God, I hope he wants more work done to it, because it being perfect on the first try is damn near impossible.

Mark hasn’t really thought about that, which is the first sign that SVMS is getting to him. Run now, sir, before you become a shit teacher and adult like the rest of them. He tells Todd to write a new story, instead; then, when Todd is horrified because he won’t have time for that, Mark suggests a new ending for the story instead, to look at it from another angle. Just give the kid some damn edits to do, goddamn.

Big Mesa time! Coach Cassels has just called the final time-out, stopping the clock at 10 seconds; SVMS is down by one point. Coach wants Todd and Tim take the ball down the court and reminds them that if they miss the shot, their winning streak is gone.

There’s some basketball playing that is realistic enough for someone who knows pretty much nothing about the game (though it’s March Madness in the USA, which is a huge part of college basketball, and my team has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, which is pretty great. #goblue), passing the ball back and forth. At 3 seconds, Todd is open for the final shot. At 2 seconds, he takes the shot.

Aaaaaand it tips outside the rim. No basket. No win.

Todd feels like it’s all his fault, despite, again, there being an entire goddamn team playing, and I brace myself for how terrible this is going to become.

Sure enough, the team starts blaming the loss on him missing practice for the play. The coach ignores Todd completely, but looks at the rest of the team to tell them they should have had better defense around Todd and Tim; defense let Big Mesa came at them too hard. Which is probably a true statement, and also makes my point that there is an entire goddamn team on the court. [Dove: Raven and I have just watched the Buffy season 1 episode where the kid gets beaten up by his coach for “losing the game” and he has the empowering moment of “there were x other guys on the team” at the end. You keep reminding me of that.]

When Peter flat out blames Todd, Coach tells him that they don’t talk about their teammates like that, but Todd notes that he doesn’t say Peter’s wrong. And he is very cold when he tells Todd to be at the next practice.

This is such an interesting thing to me, because on the one hand, yes, I think he should have gone to practice rather than the play. He made the commitment to basketball first, and they are a team. If one of them backs out, it impacts all of them. But bigger picture, I think the school is in part to blame for this, because of how they forced people into the class no matter what their other responsibilities and should be the ones making sure the class doesn’t impact those things. He shouldn’t have to choose between writing and basketball, but in this specific situation, when he’d already dedicated so much time to the season and made promises to the team, that practice should have come first.

They’ve put him in a shitty, shitty situation that could have completely been avoided.

Tim and Rick are super great with Todd, though, because mistakes happen and people lose sometimes. Some of the rest of the team backs them, though don’t all seem to mean it. I am loving the friendship between Todd, Tim, and Rick right now.

Mr Wilkins is, of course, upset as hell over the loss and Todd’s missed shot. Todd’s getting sick of everyone blaming the loss on him, though, and snaps back at his father that even if he’d been at practice, he still would have been nervous on the court because the coach basically put the entire game on Todd and Tim. Which is true.

Mr W blames Mark for giving him too much work and won’t let Todd explain that it’s not Mark giving too much work, it’s that Todd really likes writing and is doing it on his own, too.

Mr W again says that Todd should consider dropping the class. I’m still surprised he hasn’t flat out demanded it, so he’s doing better than I expect (and not just for a Sweet Valley parent), but he has fallen into that thing where he won’t actually listen to what his kid wants, which is a very common thing with parents, especially parents pushing their kids toward a dream the parent used to have.

My parents did not do this to me. They were very careful, my mom especially, to make me believe I could do anything I wanted to do and they would support whatever choices I made. And they have.

I still have so many damn feelings over this. [Dove: I also have feelings, but they are irritation and snappiness. I had a childhood more like the bit that Todd is experiencing. I was never expected to fulfil my parents’ dream(s), because as far as I can tell, they didn’t have any. I had to walk the very precise line of being smart enough not to embarass my mother (she was very offended when I ranked at level 4 in maths aged 11, which was the highest mark, but she assumed it was 4 out of 10, so less than average), but not so smart that she would be offended by my cleverness (for example, noticing spelling mistakes on letters to teachers). I think this is why I couldn’t enjoy the book. And why I’m glad I didn’t have to recap it.] [Raven: My parents only took a vague interest in my academic life. I believe I was one of the first members of Clan Raven to learn how shoelaces worked, so I had very little to go up against to exceed expectations.]

Todd finally decides that he needs to talk to Mark first thing in the morning (…ummmmm. Tomorrow is Saturday, how exactly are you going to pull that off — but talking to him is a good idea) — to quit the class. So much for talking things out. /headdesk

There’s a pretty big storm Saturday morning, and Elizabeth is grumpy over it at first but then realises it means the mall will probably be empty, too. I would think that meant the mall would be busier than ever. (Also, it opens at 930 a.m. on a Saturday, which is really freaking late.)

Kendall’s is even having a huge half-price sale that day to celebrate their one millionth and one sale. That … seems like a weird number, but okay.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA OH THAT’S WHY. All the sales people are trying to get them to buy something because they are the one millionth and one customer(s). They will have a 10% discount on all their purchases for the next year and their pictures will be used in every single ad, too.

UMMMM. NOOOOOOO THEY WON’T THESE ARE UNDERAGE KIDS AND NOT ONLY THAT IN THE LINGERIE DEPARTMENT. Where the fuck is Ned the Super Lawyer when you need him? [Dove: I was similarly confused by the assumption that they could just randomly hijack a customer and be like “You’re the face of Kendalls now!” Also, what if I was the special customer? Nobody wants to see an overweight disabled girl with terrible eczema all over her face model anything… other than maybe beekeeping suits, at a push.] [Raven: This is where the bra subplot lost me completely. I realise it’s not really for me, and I appreciate the old Rowan-Atkinson-Shop-Assistant-Angel Love Actually schtick, but the whole “you’re our millionth cutsomer” thing is so trite. Also, it’s Sweet Valley’s biggest lingerie section, I understand.]

Jess is excited about it, until Elizabeth drags her out of the store and reminds her that they’ll be seen purchasing bras. This has turned into a nightmare for them, Elizabeth says, and Jessica laughs and says maybe they should have talked to Alice after all. I mean, at this point, yeah, probably.

On Monday morning, Todd goes to see Mark first thing (see? You couldn’t have done it the very next morning). Todd is there to talk about having to drop the class. Mark is shocked, but Todd hurries to tell him that even though he enjoys writing, it’s taking up too much of his time and interfering with basketball practices.

And then Todd apologises and says he has no choice to quit. Oh, Todd, wrong choice (heh) of words. [Dove: All the time I was thinking this was a rip-off of Dangerous Minds — with all that emphasis on choice — but it turns out that that movie came out a year after this book (though it was based on a book that came out before this one).]

Mark tells him that of course he made a choice, that’s one of the things Mark’s been trying to teach them is that everyone has to make tough choices all the time. He had to choose between basketball and writing and basketball won. Todd’s adamant that it’s not what he wanted to do at all, he wanted to do both, but he was letting too many people down. Which is true and awful for him, but he’s still making a choice. The consequences of that choice don’t tie to what he wanted from the situation, they tie to the choice he actually made.

Mark even offers to talk to Coach Cassels, but Todd won’t let him because Coach C is being pretty cool about the whole thing (…sort of) and Mr W is the one who wants him to quit writing.

They talk about how their parents want certain sports dreams for them and how Mark’s dad was disappointed that he didn’t become a football player and became a teacher instead. Todd is shocked, because he’s a great teacher (…mostly), and Mark turns that on him and says he’s a great writer. Todd is pleased by this, but can’t ignore what his father wants.

Mark says that Mr W only wants what’s best for Todd, but thinks that his way is the way that’s best without listening to Todd, just like Mark’s father wanted what was best for Mark when he wanted him to go to a college with a good football program instead of a good English program. Okay, look, there are colleges with both, Mark, so this isn’t a good example of making an actual tough choice. If you’d turned down a scholarship for football at a top football school for a scholarship for writing at a top writing school, that’d be something else.

Mark asks if when Todd’s writing, would he rather be practicing basketball, and Todd says not really, but he does want to be his best on the court. Ugh, kid, my heaaaaaart. I, too, want to be good (if not the best) at all the things I love. That is impossible.

Elizabeth runs into Todd right after the conversation and they talk a little about what happened and what Todd’s feeling. Elizabeth uses the example of how badly Jessica wanted Elizabeth to be a part of the Unicorns. Not really the same thing, considering Todd wants both of these things, so why are you trying to make it all about you? [Dove: Also, the story Liz tells is such bullshit. She says that Jess desperately wanted her to join and couldn’t enjoy the Unicorns without her, but Liz only did it because Jessica wanted them to be together. Rather than the truth which was: Jess joined the Unicorns without a second thought for her sister. Elizabeth sulked and cried and pouted and moaned until Jessica was forced to push her sister at the Unicorns, despite knowing it was a bad fit.]

Todd writes a new story, or at least modifies the previous story to fit this situation better: Tom is now torn between wanting to sink the winning shot so the team can go on to the championships and wanting the shot to miss so he could enter a photography contest. He hasn’t yet told his father about it. He makes the shot after it circles and circles the rim and finally goes in. While he stares at it, though, he realises he was waiting for the ball to make the decision rather than making it himself, and that is a cop-out because he has to make the decision himself. The team deserves to go to the championship and the Tom deserves to see if he’s good enough to be a photographer. He’ll enter the contest and the team will go without him.

Now, ignoring the idea that one contest is enough to tell if he’d be good enough to be a photographer, I love the fact that Todd is working out his thoughts and feelings through writing like this. Oh, kid, you’re such a delight in this book.

Todd goes down to dinner as soon as he finishes this ending and tells Mr W that he talked to Mark and decided not to quit the class. Mrs W steps in and makes Mr W listen to Todd’s story. Todd flat out tells Mr W that he doesn’t want to quit the class, he was only quitting because Mr W wanted him to. And he’s not trying to disobey Mr W, but he has to start making his own decisions and he doesn’t want to quit the class.

Of course, Mr W immediately decides that Mark is influencing him too much and encouraging him to disobey his parents, the last thing a teacher should do. Good god, man, you weren’t nearly so shitty at the beginning of this book. Go back to that.

Mr W brings up his career again; he missed the championship game his junior year because his parents were going to Hawaii and he wanted to go with them. UMM. What the fuck kind of parent takes off for Hawaii when their kid has something that important in front of him? Does anyone ever have a good parent in Sweet Valley?!

Oh god, Todd goes back to his room and rewrites the ending yet again: In the locker room, Tom realises he’ll miss his team, so on the drive home, he talks to his dad about both the things he wants. Tom’s dad tells him a story about how he was once a good basketball player, too, and he never told him because he didn’t want him to feel pressured to play basketball for his sake.

Todd stops there, because he still doesn’t know what to do. Even tears the page out of his notebook, he’s so confused. Countdown to Mr W finding it?

The next morning, Todd overhears Mr W telling Mrs W that he’s going to meet with Mr Clark to talk about Mark Ramirez. Todd immediately defends Mark, but Mr W blows him off, of course. Goddamn.

Mrs W tries to defend Mr W to Todd, but Todd’s too upset and angry to listen.

A bunch of Todd’s friends come up to make sure he’s okay because they saw Mr W talk to Mr Clark. Todd eventually snaps that it’s his problem and they should just leave him alone. Which is a shitty response, but also, kid’s still in a bad situation. I feel for him even when he’s wrong. He immediately feels ashamed of himself for snapping at them.

Todd’s still not really talking to anyone that night at dinner. Mr W is frustrated because Mr Clark thinks the world of Mark Ramirez. I — am shocked. Holy shit. Mr Clark is actually doing something .. right? What … what world am I in?

Todd’s in a much better mood after that and invites his dad to play basketball after dinner, but Mr W is distracted and has to make some phone calls. Oh god.

SURE ENOUGH, when Todd comes inside later, he hears his father talking to Alice about how Mark is giving the students too much work and encouraging Todd to disobey his wishes. He is, of course, calling all the parents because if Mr Clark won’t take care of the problem, they’ll take care of it themselves.

I hope Jessica Wakefield takes care of you herself and you all end up in the Mercandy backyard. Fuck. [Raven: This guy’s a piece of work. Run, Todd. Run like the fucking wind.]

Todd is confused and worried and sad and angry. He tries to write through his emotions to make sense of things (I love you in this moment, Todd), but he can’t even do that.

The next day, people attack Todd because his father is trying to get Mark fired. Jesus fucking christ, why would you immediately jump to Todd being in on this? Not a one of you ever talks to your fucking parents about anything.

Even Elizabeth thinks this, because they’re all of them fucking assholes. [Dove: Elizabeth fucking sucks. What about her kind and generous nature? Isn’t this her fucking job? She’s supposed to see both sides, to understand everyone, to not immediately think the worst of her own boyfriend… oh, wait, most of the plots in Sweet Valley High don’t work if she actually does the last one. This isn’t bad writing, it’s excellent foreshadowing.]

Todd leaves school and heads out toward Secca Lake to clear his head. He tries to think of a solution all morning, but can’t. When he heads home, finally, he sees little kids playing basketball at Sweet Valley elementary school and tries to remember the last time he had fun playing basketball. Oh, right, before the writing class.

He avoids everyone the rest of the night.

The next day, none of the other kids in the writing class will talk to him. Aaron asks him about the situation, and Todd learns that some kids are saying he’s trying to get himself out of trouble for missing basketball practice. Todd’s angry at this. Then he’s called to Mr Clark’s office. Todd is certain Mr Clark is going to tell him that Mark is fired.

Immediately, Todd begs him not to punish Mark for something Todd did. Mr Clark is shocked by this, because he’s there for a much more serious reason: he left school without permission. Duh, Todd. You weren’t even subtle about it. The punishment for it is serious, too. He’s suspended from the basketball team, which is reasonable. Until further notice, which is not, the length of time should be set in the rules.

Elizabeth talks to Sophia and Amy and tells them that none of them were fair to Todd. They should have listened to him and been there for him when he was in trouble. Elizabeth talked to Alice about it the night before and learned that it was all Mr W’s idea.

Tim comes and breaks the news that he’s not suspended from school but from the basketball team, which includes their final game before the championships. And apparently he’s taken off again. Because that’s just what you need, Todd, to actually be suspended from school. KID. Get it together.

Tim puts out the thought that Todd may not even go home at all, he might just run away.

Meanwhile, Todd went back to Secca Lake until 2 p.m. and then went home because Mrs W volunteers at the homeless shelter on Thursday afternoons and he knows she won’t be home. Sure enough, he’s going to run away, because it’s the only choice he has right now.

SERIOUSLY.

He writes his parents a note and takes the $50 he’s been saving for basketball shoes with him (along with some clothes, his toothbrush and comb, and a family picture KID STOP MAKING ME HAVE FEELINGS).

Elizabeth and Jessica are off to the mall one more time to buy bras and this time they are going to do it because Elizabeth has to find Todd and Jessica has to cheer at the basketball game. UMM. So do you or don’t you think Todd will run away? Because if you do, what the fuck are you doing? [Dove: Buying bras > boyfriend angst. Keep up.]

Steven shows up to tease them some more about their growing breasts. I hope you end up in the Mercandy backyard immediately. [Dove: This is very gross and uncomfortable, because we’re well aware that Steven has an unhealthy interest in Jessica. Since I didn’t grow up with siblings, does this really happen? Do brothers tease their sisters about boobs?] [Raven: I don’t think so. At least, I didn’t. Then again, I left home at 15 when my sister was under 10, so maybe there was no actual chance for me to do so?]

Despite some more embarrassment from the salesclerk, Jessica and Elizabeth do manage to buy bras. Finally.

They run into Ken, Patrick, and Aaron Dallas on the way home, of course, and just as it’s about to rain. There’s an awkward moment when the boys want to know what they bought that Elizabeth covers by saying sweatsocks for Jessica to wear to the game, and then the boys say they’re looking for Todd. Apparently, Mark convinced Mr Clark to lift the suspension because of all that’s going on with Mr W. Instead, he’ll have detention for a few weeks instead (but not on basketball days), but no one can find him now.

Rain pours down, they take cover for a bit, Jessica’s Kendall’s bag dumps her two bras on the sidewalk when it gets wet. Goddamn, this is embarrassing.

Todd is just headed for the bus station when Elizabeth finds him. Convenient. She apologises, he lies that he’s going to take clothes to the homeless shelter, she tells him that Mr Clark lifted his punishment, Todd says that he’s given up basketball and he’s going to stand by his decision (really to leave Sweet Valley). Elizabeth knows something’s weird, because she volunteers at the homeless shelter (since fucking when) [Dove: Since Poor Lila and mentioned more recently in A Christmas Without Elizabeth.] and knows the office closes at 5 p.m. on Thursday. [Dove: Although it’s nice that all the homeless people go home early on a Thursday.]

So she follows him, keeping close to the shadows of trees and bushes. Something she learned from Amanda Howard novels. Not something she learned from Jessica the sleuth’s adventures, I guess.

After he passes Some Crumb Bakery (I kind of love that name), she realises he’s headed toward the industrial side of town where there are a ton of abandoned warehouses (in Sweet Valley? I doubt it), and of course the bus station.

She races off for the gym to get help.

Todd feels like he’s being followed, but never sees anyone behind him. He’s going to run away to San Diego and stay with Anthony, his best friend from camp. Why is it always San Diego? Also, what exactly do you think Anthony’s parents will say about this? [Dove: Probably about the same as Amy Sutton’s did when Sam showed up.]

Todd buys a one-way ticket to San Diego for $25.50 and knows he’ll have to get a job when he gets to San Diego. Oh, kid. The bus isn’t coming for an hour, and he falls asleep waiting —

— and wakes to his dad sitting next to him. [Raven: How very Dumbledore.]

You’re a wizard, Todd.

Mr W says he missed Todd at the game. Everyone did. They won, but just barely. Everyone wants him back. Mr W talked to Mr Clark, even, and explained why he left school. He also talked to Mark and found out he’s a pretty nice guy. He wishes he’d talked to Mark sooner.

I wish all of you would freaking talk to each other sooner, and listen to each other, but whatever, this is wrapping up quickly.

Mr W promises Todd that he’s more important to Mr W than basketball ever ways and he wants to read Todd’s story. They’re all made up now.

Todd tells everyone the story at lunch the next day. He’s going to stay in class and play basketball. He worked out a compromise with Mark and Coach Cassels. Coach lets him show up 10 minutes later to practice and Mark is going to keep their homework down to a few hours a week. UMM. That’s what he already was doing, you just did all this extra effort.

Meanwhile, they see Jessica, Lila, and Ellen fanning themselves with pieces of folded paper and batting their eyelashes at every boy who walks past. This has been kicked off by the upcoming lessons on the Old South: slavery, great plantations, cotton trade, voodoo, etc. The Unicorns are getting into the Old South mentality.

Maria is glad that the Unicorns are more interesting in the Southern belles than in the voodoo. Maria’s grandmother had a friend who knew about voodoo who made sure Maria knew it was nothing to play with.

Oh god I am not ready for that racist disaster of a book. I could wish that it went the way of the Hawaii book, but I do not have faith that a regular series book will pull it off.

Prep yourselves, readers. Odds are high I’ll be burning everything down.

Final Thoughts

This book was surprisingly fun to read and recap! I really liked Todd throughout (who knew?!), and the conflict was great. The majority of the story was paced very well, too, until the end where, as usual, it reads like ghostie ran out of pages and had to wrap everything up in a rush of convenience and bad writing.

What the fuck happened with Jessica dropping her bras, for that matter?

And then there’s the hook for the next story, and it has ruined everything else.

[Dove: I didn’t like this book as much as Wing. It pisses me off that people have kids and then don’t bother to see what the kid wants or needs. Mr W’s picking and choosing what he listened to in order that he could get offended rang uncomfortably true with me. Sweet Valley has a high amount of runaways. Raven and I counted up over the books we’ve read so far, and we worked it out that basically every 10 books, someone goes, “I hate my parents, I’m leaving!” and that’s what provokes the parents to start doing their job. Sweet Valley is just a place filled with horrible adults.]

[Raven: This was decent enough, but it didn’t spark joy. How many times are the Ghosties gonna regale us with the notion that Writing is the True Calling of every fucking person on the planet and the most noble of ALL THINGS EVER NO SRSLY IT’S MEGA IMPORTANT, K? I’m sick of that crap. As for the rest of the story? Todd was decent enough, and the adults were all predictably awful, so yay, I guess? And then we have bras… sure. Why not. Overall, I think I’d read this one again, but it’s not Top Tier material. Too much angst, not enough Unicorns. But Wing’s love for this book? Such a great surprise, which makes the reading all the more special.]

I am the evil twin. I'm in a feud with R.L. Stine, but he hasn't found me here yet. Every story needs more werewolves.

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  1. By Sweet Valley Twins #78: Steven the Zombie on 1 April 2019 at 8:01 am

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