Title: Against the Rules
Tagline: Is Elizabeth about to make the biggest mistake of her life? I’m guessing no, unless the book focuses on her decision to attend a private tutoring session with Mr Nydick.
Summary: Good friends are big trouble…
Sophia Rizzo is a good writer on the school newspaper, she’s nice, and Elizabeth likes her But all the other kids at Sweet Valley Middle School – including Elizabeth’s twin sister. Jessica – make fun of Sophia because her family is poor and her brother as always in trouble. Even Elizabeth’s parents tell her to stay away from Sophia.
To show Sophia that she’s her friend no matter what anybody says. Elizabeth decides to go against strict orders from her parents and throw a secret birthday party for Sophia.
But is Elizabeth willing to pay the price if she’s caught?
This promises to be a Very Special Episode of the Sweet Valley Twins saga. Today, we learn about poor people. And Italian Americans. And, thanks to another inspired cover, we know a brunette enjoys a cake.
Woo. And, indeed, Hoo.
[Wing: But the girl on the left appears to hate cake, the brunette, and Liz. And maybe all of Sweet Valley. Girl on the left, are you me?] [Raven: In all seriousness, who is that meant to be? Maybe Amy Sutton? She’s not wearing purple so she’s not a Unigibbon.]
“Jessica’s mouth puckered as if she had just tasted a lemon.”
This recap starts with a puckered aperture, as do all the best things in life.
Jessica Wakefield, Pure Evil in Designer Shoes, is discussing the Peripheral Character Du Jour, Sophia Rizzo. Sophia, it seems, is ”the biggest creep in Sweet Valley Middle School.” Of course, she’s newly crowned this year, as Mr Nydick’s win for the last eight years straight means he’s now allowed to keep the trophy. [Dove: Update: Nobody gets a trophy this year. It failed the blacklight test and has been sent to an industrial cleaner.]
Elizabeth, blessed be her socks of cotton, disagrees. Yang, meet Yin. Black, meet White. Salt, meet Pepper. [Wing: Alternate title of this book: “A Salt with a Deadly Pepa“]
Before Jessica pushes it (real good) any further, we have the Sweet Valley Twins Contractual Interlude #1: Twin Comparisons.
“The twins have animal spirits. Elizabeth is an antelope: graceful, sleek and nimble. Jessica is a honey badger: she doesn’t give a fuck.”
“Jessica is a powerful witch, who can twist the minds and desires of all she touches and bend them to fulfil her every dark whim. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is a fucking sponge.”
“Elizabeth? Goooood. Jessica? Baaaad. Faces? Saaaaame.”
Jessica tells her sister that the “stray” Sophia Rizzo is likely to bite her, an idea that makes Elizabeth laugh (and one that would do nothing to soften Steven Wakefield’s increasingly confusing dreams, should he have heard it). Lizzie, of course, can see the diamond in the dogshit and believes that Sophia is spiffy. She must be, she’s a super duper Sweet Valley Sixers journalist, and she can write like a motherfucker!
It becomes apparent that Jessica, true to Unicorn / Unigibbon form, believes Sophia and her family are of a certain social underclass, personified by Sophia’s older brother, Tony.
Tony, it seems, once stole a VCR. He was sent to Reform School as punishment. I’m sure the standard of teaching there was higher than that at Sweet Valley Middle School; maybe his surly attitude springs from a desire to return to the sweet bosom of teachers that actually care. [Wing: Care without inappropriate touching at that.]
Changing the subject – anything for a quiet life, eh Liz? – Elizabeth mentions the approaching School Play (this book’s obvious Situational Backdrop). Mr Bowman of the Vomitous Wardrobe is in charge of proceedings, and the Sweet Valley Sixers Squad are looking for a scoop on the as-yet-undisclosed details. Jess, blinded by thoughts of an epic retelling of a West End Musical, dumps some errands on Lizzie’s shoulders and sashays off.
Sophia arrives, and she and Elizabeth head back to school.
Sophia, it seems, has a soft spot for the Wakefields. She compliments the departing Jessica on her active social life, and by extension throws some shine on Elizabeth herself. Liz dismisses the comparison with a coquettish pshaw, calling the Unicorns, in no uncertain terms, a gaggle of twats.
Sophia silently agrees. With proof.
She shares a threatening note with The Sainted Elizabeth, a note which reads:
We don’t need your kind in Sweet Valley. … Get out, and take your brother with you.
At the bottom, it’s “signed” with a crude rendition of a Unicorn. I think. It could be just a spikey horse. Or a donkey with a dildo on its head.
For the remainder of this recap the Unicorns, a.k.a. the Unigibbons, are hereby christened the Dildo Donkeys. [Dove: *sigh* Dildo Donkeys? Yet another reason why our site gets blacklisted from Facebook. Well done, Raven.] [Raven: Gonna do this every month, obviously.]
The Dildo Donkeys, not content with snarking from the sidelines, have extended their malice to include ACTUAL MENACING NOTES. Now, as a vaguely right-minded adult, I’m pretty sure that such veiled threats and anonymous notes would not be merely written off if, say, Elizabeth did the right thing and advised Sophia to show the note to a teacher. Of course, she doesn’t. The note is merely a serviceable macguffin, after all.
But playing along and singing the song, as faithful readers we can only surmise that Elizabeth doesn’t escalate this because:
- She thinks Sophia is lying, and has made the note herself for attention. (Unlikely.)
- She doesn’t want to get her sister in trouble. (Likely… grow a spine you fucking sponge. Trying to help Jessica avoid trouble is like trying to drain Lake Winnipeg with a colander.)
- She has zero respect for the staff of Sweet Valley Middle School, and their ability to manage any problem more complex than Timmy-Has-Lost-A-Sock-Oh-There-It-Is-On-His-Foot. (Totally believable.)
In the Real Goddamn World, I’m pretty sure that signing your threatening note is a major faux pas. And as someone who has actually received an honest-to-god anonymous death threat in the past, I can assure the gentle reader that such things are taken seriously. Even in school. I’d expect at least suspension from classes should this note reach the proper authority. [Dove: It’s worth noting that our death threat was written by someone who was still in nappies, and was hounded into it by a scrotty thirteen year old, so unpleasant that her only friends are toddlers, and that’s because they lack the vocabulary to say, “Fuck off, you weirdo.” ]
Elizabeth decides to pull her usual trick, and papers the cracks by changing the subject. She mentions the School Play, and Mr Bowman appears as if by magic, like some creepy theatre goblin. Awash with excitement, the girls press for production details.
Mr Bowman, loving the attention, reveals one important fact: the play twill be written by the students themselves!
A six-student committee has been formed, he tells the astounded girls. The committee is made up of two of the brightest stars from each English class in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. And the representatives from grade six? Elizabeth and Sophia. Obv.
Also, fuck you Amy Sutton. Guess hard work on the class paper means shit all when Sophia is all bonafide.
Once Mr Bowman has disappeared in a cloud of clashing cloth, the girls discuss the exciting news. Sophia comes up with a cool headline for the next issue of the Sixers, which prompts Elizabeth to ask her why she has gone uncredited for all her articles thus far. Sophia, eyes downcast, reveals her true torment.
“The name Rizzo doesn’t exactly make anybody around here stand up and cheer.”
[Dove: Yes it does. I spent a good portion of my youth watching Grease with my friends. Everyone liked Rizzo best.]
[Wing: Rizzo is hot as fuck.]
Elizabeth casts these notions into the Pit of Bullshit. Refusing to allow Sophia to hide her talents, she posits the opinion that she and Miss Rizzo were friends.
“Friends?” The word that Elizabeth had used so easily sounded like magic when Sophia said it.
While I guess that this scene shows a decent amount of self-awareness, it’s the first real step on the road that reveals my main beef with Sophia Bloody Rizzo: she’s overloaded with melodrama.
When things are bad for Sophia, her eyes widen and she turns them to the floor. It’s all true… her brother is indeed a cockwomble. Poor Sophia! Her life is terrible. What a brave little soldier she is.
When things are good for Sophia, her eyes widen. “Am I dreaming?” she asks herself, clasping her hands to her chest. “I’ve never seen a cake before. I never want to wake up!” Cue the bluebird of fucking happiness, tweet tweet tweet.
Dial it back, Sophia. If I wanted this bullshit, I’d go watch X Factor.
Apparently, Sophia has written plays before, for family time, to be performed by her brother and herself. Shyly, she invites Elizabeth to the Rizzo Ranch in order to check those suckers out. Elizabeth accepts, albeit with a sideways glance towards her mental image of Tony. Is he as bad as people make out? Elizabeth is on the case!
Meh. All the girls love a Bad Boy. I’m surprised Lila and the Unicorns aren’t all over him.
[Wing: They only love Rich Bad Boys.]
The Rizzo Ranch, it seems, has had better days, or so the faded exterior would have us believe. Inside, the place is well maintained and homely, as is Mama Rizzo herself. She’s excited to see that Sophia has made a friend, and bustles around making drinks despite the fact that her movement is compromised by a pronounced limp.
Once the first committee meeting has been arranged, Elizabeth reads some of Sophia’s childhood plays. The earlier plays were tales between a princess and a troll, obviously cast for Sophia and her brother. As Elizabeth enjoys the excellent work, Sophia talks fondly of her wayward sibling.
Okay, so this is pretty nice. While it’s still Tell Not Show, it does succeed in both humanising Tony and deepening Sophia’s backstory. Elizabeth, confused by the conflicting pictures of the Two Tonys, decides that discretion is the better part of valour and departs before the VCR-stealing ne’er-do-well returns to scowl broodingly at her. To be frank, it’s all very Twilight.
Before Liz leaves, Sophia shares more X Factor style backstory about her family’s downtrodden life. “We were all so happy, then Daddy was catapulted into space, Mama came down with a mixture of Scurvy and Gout, and Tony stole a VCR that was fucking BETAMAX. Tonight, Simon, I’m singing Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen.”
The racial stereotyping in this book is pretty pronounced. The Rizzos, poor but plucky, with a deadbeat dad and a reform school renegade son, are so supposedly “typical” Italian American they are practically made of bada-bings and pizza. It’s pretty weak that the whole town, including the Sainted Elder Wakefields, are down on the family until the Plucky Little Ethnic Comes Good at the denouement of the book.
I’m all for a redemption tale, but without the text specifically dealing with the issue and explicitly condemning the racial stereotyping, it smacks of lazy writing and bigotry.
Oh, and Lois Waller says hi.
Elizabeth tells Sophia that while the childish fairytale plays written in the full flush of her youth are sweet, it’s the plays about real situations and real people that truly shine. Sophia agrees, and Liz is can’t wait to cast aside the Rizzo Bushel and reveal the hiding Sophia as a genius wordsmith to the rest of the school.
When she arrives home, full of hopes and dreams, she questions the empathy of the pampered Sweet Vallians in the face of Jessica’s overwrought excitement.
“We’re going to L.A. next month! Dad’s biggest clients want company for their daughter on a weekend trip.”
First up, I presumed this was seeded foreshadowing for the next book, but no. It turns out it’s all part of the final showdown in this one, so buckle up for excitement!
[Wing: So much fake-out foreshadowing lately!]
Second, why the hell hasn’t this poor daughter got any friends of her own? Why the hell do her parents feel the need to hire her some damn friends? If she’s not thirty times worse than Bag O’ Dicks Dennis, I’ll buy a hat and eat it.
The Twins bounce around the house and discuss all the cool things they’ll do, while Mother Wakefield tries valiantly to stop them ricocheting off the ceiling in joy. Jessica is very keen to see her favourite musical (this week), Shout. Soon Jessica, Elizabeth and their mother are dancing through the kitchen together, whirling and laughing in a scene so twee and contrived it actually made one of my eyes bleed.
Alice dashes off to collect Steven from basketball, while the twins do the dishes. As soon as she leaves, Steven enters from the rear. Feel free to insert your own joke in the space provided below:
After the requisite sandwich making and sexually tense banter between the siblings, Elizabeth spills her beans of excitement regarding the play. She shares everything, from the committee news to the self-written show to Sophia Rizzo’s quasi-Godlike writing ability.
Of course, Jessica hates the idea.
“Liz, are you telling us that the most important event of the whole school year is in the hands of raggedy Rizzo?” Jessica gave an anguished cry.
And on learning that Liz had actually visited the Rizzo Ranch, Steven is no better.
“I’d sure think twice before I visited that neighborhood. Who needs to hang out with losers like that?”
Elizabeth is crushed. She can’t believe her own family could be so shallow and heartless, despite all the fucking evidence displayed in every single interaction they’ve had in the previous eight books in the series, alongside the other eleven years of their short lives. She tries to convince them of Sophia’s finer points, but Steven is fixated with the Big Bad Tony. Apparently, he’s stolen everything from TVs to cars, and by the looks of things he’s also stolen Steven’s heart.
Jessica comments that the play “probably won’t have a single song in it.”
“It’ll probably be all about crime and murder and disgusting bloodshed.”
Fair play, that line had me laughing. Well phrased, Jamie Suzanne!
[Dove: Jessica cries at Romeo and Juliet.]
Elizabeth, now feeling the pent up ball of white-hot rage in her stomach, the one that probably empowers Jessica in all she says and does, turns on her sister. She accuses her of writing the signed Note of Menace that Sophia presented earlier, an accusation which Jessica is more than happy to accept. In fact, all the Dildo Donkeys are of the opinion that the town ain’t big enough for the Rizzos.
Steven agrees, with further tender reference to the proud and muscular Tony.
“I mean, you don’t know Tony Rizzo [like I do]. He doesn’t care how he dresses [but he always looks fabulous]…”
(Quote contains some embellishment for comic effect.)
Jessica, for once, hits the nail on the head with a surprisingly insightful comment.
“She doesn’t care, Steven,” said Jessica. “Whenever Lizzie likes someone, she plunges in without thinking.”
And we end the chapter with Liz firing back the insults like a pro. She may be the “good” one, but she’s still a Wakefield, and the old skills come flooding back when she needs them.
Later that evening, Daddy Wakefield arrives home with some bad news. The proposed trip to L.A. has hit a complication. Apparently, due to some communication mix up, there is only room for ONE twin! Daddy “just assumed” both were invited. His twin privilege is showing.
Both Jessica and Elizabeth are distraught. And then the games begin.
Step One: Jessica pouts. If she can’t see Shout, she’ll simply die.
Step Two: Elizabeth, like the fucking sponge she is, caves immediately. She declares that Jessica should go.
Step Three: In a rare display of parental prowess, Daddy Wakefield declares the only fair way to decide is to draw straws.
The Sainted Alice returns, far more good-humoured over Steven’s neglectful behaviour than any sane person should be, and after further torrent of insipid banter the straw-draw commences.
Daddy Wakefield picks a number. The twins guess what it is. The closest guess is going to L.A.
Elizabeth is one number out. Jessica is four.
Elizabeth wins. But she doesn’t want the prize.
If Elizabeth really wanted to cede the L.A. trip to Jessica, why the hell doesn’t she sabotage the straw drawing?
“Jessica, what’s your guess?”
“And yours, Elizabeth?”
“Forty Seven Million.”
Come to think of it, if Elizabeth really wanted to cede the L.A. trip to Jessica, why doesn’t she flat-out refuse to go?
Oh that’s right. She’s a FUCKING SPONGE.
(And if you give the whole scenario some thought, it’s not random at all. First up, it seems there are no number parameters to bookend the process, no “pick-a-number-between-one-and-fifty” to make the thing remotely workable. Without one of those, it’s open to huge trolling from any party, as above. Literally, with no upper limit, the smart call for Twin#2 would be to simply add one to Twin#1’s initial number guess, as there are infinite numbers above that number but a finite choice below. Of course, Twin#1 should know this… in that case, should Twin #1 lead with an objectively high number? If they did (say, 1000), Twin#2 could name 999 and hope Daddy W had chose something sensible. Either way, not remotely random.)
(And even WITH a limiting number parameter, such as one-to-fifty, the objectively correct number that Twin#1 chooses should be the midpoint, in this case twenty-five. Twin#2 then has a fifty-fifty choice (or just under, as Daddy W could have chosen twenty-five himself), weighted by whether she thinks Dad would choose a low or high number. If Twin#1 didn’t lead with twenty-five, but led with, say, ten, Twin#2’s optimal play would be to name eleven in order to ring-fence the majority of the remaining numbers on her side of the bargain.)
(So either way, the best play is to be sure to be Twin#2 rather than Twin#1. Even with optimal decision-making going first, Twin#1 is, at best, slightly less than fifty-fifty to win.)
[Dove: Jesus fucking Christ, Raven. It’s not Deal or No Deal. Let it go.]
(Is anyone still there?)
[Wing: This has been my favourite aside yet. Talk statistics and game theory more, Raven. *swoon*]
Predictably, and to be fair actually quite amusingly, Jessica takes the disappointment with glorious self-centred aplomb. She declares that she doesn’t feel like being a good sport, and hissyfits off to her room with one outstanding line:
“Elizabeth’s your favourite. She always gets everything. She always wins.”
Sorry honey, but I’ve just read eight bloody books in which you LITERALLY GET EVERYTHING YOU ASK FOR OVER AND OVER AGAIN. [Wing: INCLUDING THE SHOES OFF ELIZABETH’S FUCKING FEET OH MY GOD.] And I’m betting that, by the end of this one, you’ll be wearing a fucking “I Heart Los Angeles” t-shirt and clutching a signed Shout programme, you hideous entitled bowel-nugget.
In order to make peace with her delusional tit-badger of a sister, Elizabeth follows her to her room and lays down a full scale subject change. Forget Shout, she says. Jessica will soon be hard at work on her own show. And Sophia is coming over tonight to start work… isn’t that peachy?!
Jessica does not, in fact, believe this is peachy. As Lila Fowler is also invited to the Wakefield Compound that evening to practice a new Booster cheer, the appearance of Raggedy Rizzo is probably the opposite of peachy (which is, as we all know, cauliflowery). [Dove: No. We are not going down this route again. I am BANNING cauliflower talk on this site.]
[Wing: Cauliflower, cauliflower, CAULIFLOWER.]
[Raven: It’s cauliflower or custard… your choice, Dove.]
Jessica, having largely forgotten her disappointment over the L.A. debacle, rants and rails about Sophia’s awful nature, and how it impacts on Jessica’s social life. Then she largely forgets the Sophia rant halfway through making it to implore that Elizabeth does her long division homework. The doorbell rings, and she wanders off, distracted once again by a random sound and confused as to why she’s salivating.
Elizabeth picks up her sister’s homework book, and goes full sponge. I’m getting a bit sick of her complete lack of self respect, to be honest.
Of course, while Jessica once more berates Elizabeth Squarepants as Lila waits in the living room downstairs, the doorbell rings again. Sophia is here… and is ushered into the living room too!
As Elizabeth introduces Lila to Sophia, Jessica dashes in to lay the smack down in fine sociopathic style.
“Oh, hello, Sophia,” she [said], turning to Elizabeth’s guest as though she’d been expecting her. “I’m glad you came to pick up that box of old clothes we packed. It’s good to know they won’t go to waste. It’s a pleasure to help those less fortunate than us.”
The two Dildo Donkeys leave the room, allowing Sophia time to come over all X Factor and play the too-proud-for-charity card. Elizabeth, when questioned directly about the meaning behind Jessica’s comments, immediately sets the record straight to spare the blushes of her newfound friend.
Of course she doesn’t.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Elizabeth Wakefield.
We now cut to a few days later. While getting ready for school, the Twins discuss Jessica’s shoddy treatment of Sophia. We learn that the Dildo Donkeys are responsible for some weak bullying, locking Sophia’s books in a broom closet. We also learn that Jessica wears a lacy pink nightgown, a fact of which I’m sure Steven Wakefield would be most interested. In another act of benign martyrdom, Elizabeth takes a back seat while Jessica commandeers a pair of her twin’s earrings for her own nefarious uses. [Dove: And once again, the twins have pierced ears. That’s awkward, given that a book is coming up where the subplot is that the twins are fighting with Alice over whether or not they’re old enough to have pierced ears.]
[Wing: Are they explicitly pierced earrings here?]
This is one of the more grating issues I’m beginning to have with the Sweet Valley Twins series. The writers constantly feel the need to reinforce Jessica’s selfishness against Elizabeth’s selflessness. At least three times each book, they show a petty Jessica taking something of Elizabeth’s to which she is not entitled. And each time, Elizabeth just lets it happen.
My issue is that none of these small indiscretions do anything to further the plot or the story. They are padding, pure and simple. Stock scenes that are largely identical, inserted into the text with the delicacy and poise of a hamhock-forearmed veterinarian brandishing an icing-piper of bull semen towards an ululating cow vagina.
[Wing: This is why Facebook keeps flagging us. And to think, I refrained from posting a link to a donkey dildo earlier.]
I, for one, could do without them. And I apologise unreservedly for the previous metaphor.
At school, it seems the Caroline Pearce Gossip Express has been powering through the corridors and enthusing everyone about the upcoming play. Even Bruce Patman shows interest. He offers the services of his rich father who has promised to capture the show on VHS and have the whole school round to watch it. Presumably before word gets to Tony Rizzo, of course, who has a VCR fetish.
Bruce asks Elizabeth if she can write a part that showcases his abilities. Jessica purrs like a kitten while Elizabeth puts the handsome little rich kid in his place. As a lifelong fan of the spotlight, Bruce is the perfect choice to operate the lights!
My sides, they are a-splitting.
Amy Sutton, Elizabeth’s best friend whenever she isn’t busily tonguing the New Girl On Campus, is chuffed with the theatrical news. At lunch, the trio of Amy, Elizabeth and Julie Porter discuss possible directions the play could take. They all agree that the play should be about their own middle school experience, and are happy to believe Elizabeth’s assertion that Sophia is to writing what knees are to bees.
Talk turns to Sophia, and how they have never seen her at lunch. They posit the theory that she goes home each day to aid her limping mother. Joined by a redeemed Bag O’ Dicks Dennis, they vow to form a secret picnic lunch club, and Sophia is cordially invited to join.
Of course, what’s left largely unsaid is that Sophia can’t eat with the rest at the cafeteria because she’s poor. It’s alluded to, of course…
“We could all bring sandwiches and drinks from home. That was Sophia can bring lunch without feeling left out.”
When I was growing up, my family were relatively poor. Amongst more comprehensive benefits received, I qualified for free school meals. Each week, I’d be given five aluminium discs by the school secretary, each stamped with our local authority watermark. Each disc could be exchanged for, if I remember correctly, one pound’s worth of food from the canteen [Dove: It was worth £1.09 by the time I hit secondary school.]. Once, I used it to buy seven sausages, floating in six ladles of gravy. Basically, it looked like turd soup.
America is probably different, of course, but in the early Eighties Britain, the poor kids ate well. A packed lunch was the sign of thrifty parents, but not poor parents.
[Wing: Sophia would probably qualify for free lunches here, too, but I think, based on the earlier scene about charity, the Rizzos haven’t applied for it. Also, in current political news, there is lots of talk about completely cutting free school lunches, because yes, punishing the poor is the greatest thing to do. America. America. (I hope you fucking burn.)]
Sophia is soon co-opted into the picnicking fold, and she and Elizabeth head to the first committee meeting. Armed with examples of her work, Raggedy Rizzo is ready to take on the world.
The committee, led by Mr Bowman and the Technicolour Barfcoat, contains a nerd, a Dildo Donkey, a Bruce Patman sympathiser and a serial committee-abuser. At first, they are primed to shelve the idea of a self-penned work.
Elizabeth has put too much cash on her particular horse to back down now. With a stirring speech, she persuades everyone that their own stories need to be heard… and that Sophia Rizzo is the perfect storyteller. With a flourish, she passes the metaphorical mic to her raggedy pal.
Sophia reads, slowly and timidly at first, but growing in confidence as she loses herself in the narrative. Predictably, the committee lap it up like thirsty kittens.
Now full of ideas, the committee buzz with excitement. The rest of the meeting flies by. Sophia is a hit.
Elizabeth, naturally, is full of praise for her talented friend.
“You know, “she told her friend, “That’s what I always thought writing was all about. The way you helped everyone see themselves more clearly, the way you made them interested in everyday things.” She stared in admiration at Sophia. “It’s just what I hope I can do someday.”
Another of my pet peeves is showcased here, and pretty much constantly throughout this book.
It seems that, whenever possible, a certain breed of writer enjoys nothing more than telling everyone that writing is oh-so-important, oh-so-demanding, oh-so-beautiful, and we the readers are oh-so-privileged to be bathed in the sublime light of the oh-so-glorious text.
Pffft. Behave yourselves. Self-indulgent twaddle of the highest order.
In an article or book dedicated to the craft of writing? Sure, go wild. In a limited-page teen fiction potboiler? NO.
Just put some good words in a nice order, you twats. No need to masturbate onto your keyboard.
Elizabeth and Sophia dish out the praise to each other in equal measure.
“You’re the best, Liz!”
“No, you’re the best, Soph!”
“No, you’re the best, Liz!”
“I am the best, Soph!”
Sophia departs for her hovel, and Elizabeth, hazed in an aura of self congratulation, returns home…
To find that some ass-clown has fisted her brother in the eye!
Steven, full of spunk and sandwich, dared speak ill of the towering Tony Rizzo, while the Italian Rapscallion was within prime fistage distance. Without a baseball bat or butler to protect him, Steven’s eye was blackened faster than the charred swordfish he often orders from his favourite restaurant.
Jessica, forever the stirrer, brandishes blame and points the Manicured Finger of Aprobation at the entire Rizzo Clan.
Elizabeth, grounded abruptly from her high-flying afternoon, is quick to defend her flavour-of-the-month-friend. Tony, she surmises, is not Sophia. Although I assume similar yet tangential situations are tackled at length later in the series when Steven-in-heels is caught masturbating into Jessica’s knicker drawer.
With both her siblings against her, and against any contact with the raggedy Rizzos, Elizabeth dreads to think what her parents will say. Knowing Alice and Ned, it’ll be something fuelled by gin and largely incoherent, along the lines of “pretty girls are lookey likey, boychild is of different face.” Either that, or “the Rizzos are plebs, be sure to hit them with your polo mallets when you canter past their supine forms.”
Next day, Elizabeth dodges the ‘rents and leaves early for school. Happily, all thoughts of Steven’s shiner are expelled from her mind in a whirlwind of play questions and picnic lunches. Sophia gets to showcase another of her special talents – filling her eyes with pleasure – as she sips fruit punch and observes her friends as if they are convicts tarring a summer roof and she’s Andy fucking Dufresne.
Talk turns to birthdays, and Sophia reveals her birthday is next month. THIS IS IMPORTANT TO THE PLOT.
After a wonderful lunch, the girls head back to classes. In an unusually vomitous bout of X Factor bollocky pubejam, Sophia reveals that she’s never had a birthday party. Why? I dunno. Poorness or some shit.
Elizabeth, used to parties that included balloons, servant races and Pin The Tail On The Homeless games, immediately vows to do the same thing she seems to do in every book at some stage: throw a fucking party. How thrilling.
After vowing to meet Sophia after school, Elizabeth is full of plans. Plans that appear to be neatly scuppered by an interfering Jessica, who is hell-bent on telling her supposed better half the details of the black eye discussion at the behest of the Elder Wakefields. Ever the drama queen – seriously, she’d actually do a grand job in Sophia’s play if she wasn’t such a bigoted cleft – Jessica lays on the doom and gloom with a massive trowel. As she stomps off, she supplies a silent stinkeye to the approaching Sophia, before declaiming the following curse to all that could hear:
“As long as you’re going to be talking to Hot Fingers’ sister,” she announced loudly, “you might as well tell her to try putting on a play with no one in it.”
Is this foreshadowing? It just might be!
Sophia, confused about Jessica’s outburst, asks Elizabeth what’s up. Elizabeth… changes the fucking subject. La la la la la la spooooooonge.
On the walk home from school, we learn that Sophia’s birthday, and thus Wakefieldian Party, occurs oh-so-conveniently on the Saturday after the play’s performance. We learn that the blossoming play needs a father character, and Elizabeth tactlessly waxes lyrical about the benefits of the Beloved Ned Wakefield.
Cue the violins, and yet more X Factor backstory from Sophia.
Her father’s abandonment of the Raggedy Rizzos was the catalyst for Tony’s descent into the swirling surliness of teenage hormones. Presumably, had Mr Elder Rizzo stayed, he’s have bought a VCR for the family to enjoy. Without his guiding hand, however, Tony was rudderless, and floundering. Thankfully, he’s got the voice of an angel, and on tonight’s show he’ll be singing Creep by Radiohead. See you after the break.
At the Rizzo Ranch, Elizabeth finally comes face-to-face with the fabled Tony Rizzo. Thus far, she’d neglected to tell her friend about Tony’s five-fingered face flattening of Steven Wakefield (spoooooooooooooonge), and when Tony proffers a begrudging hand in an act of socially mandated friendship, she shook it in confusion. Was this the hand that fisted Steven? Probably.
[Wing: Only in Steven’s wet dreams.]
Making her spongy excuses, she turned tail and fled.
After a journey home full of soul searching, she enters the Wakefield Compound and finds herself in a full-on parental intervention. Jessica, it seems, has spilled the beans of her friendship with the Raggedy Rizzos. And after learning of Steven’s fight, and Tony’s juvenile criminality, the Elder Wakefields have concluded that the Rizzos are meffs. [Dove: Nobody but the Scouse know that word, Raven.] [Wing: The majority of our readers don’t know the Scouse either, Dove. Hell, I only know because of you two.]
Despite her protestations, Elizabeth is banned from socialising with Sophia outside of school. It’s not a punishment, of course… like most draconian assaults on our freedoms, it’s couched in the insidious language of protection.
“It’s not a question of punishing,” Mrs Wakefield declared. “It’s a question on protecting you.”
The Elder Wakefields know Tony Rizzo has been charged with burglary. The Elder Wakefields know that Steven has been injured. The Elder Wakefields know best.
[Dove: This is probably the most active parenting the Wakefields have ever done in their life. And they’re absolutely wrong on everything: forcing twin 1 to go to LA when she doesn’t want to go but twin 2 does; listening to their moron son instead of just feeding him more and keeping his gob occupied; and now waving their class/race hating flag high. I wish they’d die in a fire.]
Next chapter, we see Jessica asking Elizabeth is things are okay. All she’s done, apparently, was for the Greater Good. To keep her sister safe. They call a truce, because as we all know by now, “Elizabeth couldn’t stay mad at Jessica for long.”
Say it loud, say it proud…
Jessica arms Elizabeth with a fan letter for her favourite Shout actor, and we learn that, as luck would have it, the L.A. trip is scheduled for the Saturday after the school play. Yup, Sophia’s birthday.
WHAT ARE THE ODDS?! I CAN’T EVEN.
Elizabeth, still unsure of how she can plan a party for her friend without
- going anywhere near her, and
- being in Sweet Valley,
… pleads with her parents to change their minds over L.A. She delivers the wonderful line:
“Mom,” she asked, “couldn’t Jessica please take my place on the trip. You know she’s the one who deserves to go.”
Excuse me, but how the blue fuck do you conclude that Jessica Wakefield deserves to go on this trip? Seriously. I can’t think of one reason why she “deserves” this. [Dove: Don’t forget, Elizabeth “deserved” a horse in the last book. Liz doesn’t really understand that word. She thinks it’s a posh version of “want”.]
Is this all because she likes a musical? Get fucked, you twinny bellends.
Elizabeth is going to L.A.
Jessica is staying at home.
Steven is playing basketball.
The Elder Wakefields are getting pissed on a motherfucking boat.
[Dove: I really love that song. It helps a lot with all this nonsense going on.]
Walking to Sophia’s after school the following day, SpongeLiz SquareSkirt avoids telling her friend exactly why she can’t come in and discuss the play. Instead of the truth, she pulls a Jessica and feigns an upset stomach. Sophia, blind to the deception shows concern for her friend and wishes her well.
Back at the Wakefield Compound, Elizabeth is feeling sorry for herself. Upon learning the reason why – because of the L.A. trip, apparently – Steven, ever the loving brother, suggests a solution.
The Ol’ Switcheroo.
Jessica goes as Elizabeth.
Elizabeth stays home, and parties with the Rizzos.
What an inspired solution! I have literally never heard of anything like it. So original. I trust the writers will never return to this particular well, dear me no, because that would be unthinkable.
Elizabeth posits the idea with Jessica. Naturally, she doesn’t let Jessica know she’s planning a party of Sophia, as that would surely scupper her plan. Jessica is just the right amount of petty to cut her nose off and miss Shout in order to spite her face and ruin Sophia’s birthday.
At first, Jessica is sceptical. Soon enough, however, she reverts to type and goes for the supreme self interest. A deal is made!
Talk then turns to the school play, and finally we have some advancement of the plot from the Dildo Donkey perspective. Jessica is firmly against auditioning for Sophia’s “stupid play,” and her Unigibbon friends have proposed a school-wide boycott.
Elizabeth pleads with her sister, but it’s no use. Jessica and the Dildo Donkeys have spoken. They will not be sanctioning Sophia Rizzo’s masterwork.
Jessica chooses some nice clothes for her L.A. trip, and then Elizabeth spends time teaching her wayward sister exactly how to do homework herself.
I’ve a feeling that Elizabeth fucked this whole shebang. She literally went in with all the cards. She had a once-on-a-lifetime trip to L.A. and Shout on the table as her bartering chips, and yet came away with nothing in return. No promise of auditions for the school play, no leniency with regard to Sophia… she even ends the night by helping her sister do her homework.
Why the hell is Elizabeth so wet?
Oh yeah. I know.
If this exchange had been the other way round, Jessica would’ve left with every one of Elizabeth’s possessions, a promise she could hand off three years of her chores, and ius primae noctis with the first five of Elizabeth’s boyfriends. [Dove: To be honest, Liz got off light. I’m surprised that Jess didn’t walk away with all that from this exchange.]
At school the next day, it’s business as usual. Jess hangs with the Dildo Donkeys, Liz looks to lunch with her ladies. Naturally, it’s when the two collide that the sparks fly.
In a scene reminiscent of every single prison film I’ve ever seen, Sophia barges into Lila and Jessica in a public place, and all three girls are sent sprawling. Pages of Sophia’s play rain like an A4 snowstorm, and Lila, quick on her feet, springs to action in the name of embarrassment and sport.
“Look at this, everyone,” Jessica shouted. “We’ve been bowled over by the school play, knocked down by the biggest talent in Sweet Valley.”
Suddenly, Lila grabbed the sheet of paper from Jessica, held it in front of her, and announced grandly. “And now, I think we should sample a bit of this great play we’ve all heard so much about. I’ll just audition right now.”
Lila’s impromptu audition is played for cheap laughs, of course. She hams it up for the cheap seats, and Sophia is predictably mortified. Gathering up the scattered sheets, she flees the scene with tears in her eyes. It’s good to discover she can fill those eyes with a myriad of different things, as the situation dictates.
Elizabeth rushes to comfort her friend, as Lila courts applause from the gaggle of fuckwits gathered to watch the shitshow. In the solitude of Mr Bowman’s empty classroom, Sophia cries on her shoulder. Alongside the waterworks, we have yet more of her family’s X Factor bullshit existence.
“Everyone always laughs at me. They laugh at my clothes. They laugh at my house. They laugh at Tony too, even though he tries to scare them all.”
Every fibre of my being longed for this line to finish with Sophia unzipping her duffel bag of guns, pulling out her AK, and screaming “THEY’RE NOT LAUGHING NOW!”
Instead, in a couple of pages that are actually pretty cool, she spills the true skinny on Tony and her home life. Turns out she loves what her brother was, not what he’s become. She touches on his assault of Steven, only a nameless boy to her, and shares her real fear that she’ll never get her brother back from the brink of his darkness.
Elizabeth takes this all in, and makes a vow, consequences and parents be damned.
“The two of us have a lot of work to do. We’ve got a play and a party to get ready!”
Although I’ve been tough on Sophia’s constant X Factor whining, I really enjoyed her breakdown here. It was paced well, and believable, and finally got to the nub of her character, and her familial sorrows. Nice work Jamie Suzanne!
As the days roll by, Elizabeth constantly goes against the wishes of the Elder Wakefields, and spends more and more time at the Raggedy Rizzo Ranch. The play takes shape, and Sophia shares a charming family ritual called the Rizzo Raffle: the family deposit all their spare change into a single jar, and then each Saturday they guess the total value of the contents. Whoever is nearest gets fist choice on how to spend the money on family activities. A lovely touch.
Over home-made lemon slush, Elizabeth discusses the play – Straight Talk – with Sophia and her adoring mother. Mama Rizzo is justifiably proud of her daughter, and all hope the auditions go well the following day.
Of course, they are sparsely attended. The Dildo Donkeys, led by a vindictive Jessica, have worked their petty magic well. Despite their publicity campaign and posters, there are more parts than auditioning actors.
Salvaging the situation, committee member Nort the Nerdy suggests casting some parts immediately, but holding selected reading the following week during English classes. That way, once the student body realised the merits of Sophia’s magnum opus, they’d be beating off prospective players with the stinky end of a shitty stick.
Everyone agrees, and the nepotism begins!
The audition goes ahead, and while the numbers are low, everyone agrees the process is successful given its limited remit.
Caroline Pearce is cast as the Mother.
Committee member Peter the Patman Sympathiser is cast as the Brother.
Sophia Rizzo is cast as the Elder Sister, which is the supposed main role.
Elizabeth Wakefield is cast as the Younger Sister.
Elizabeth, while accepting praise for her audition, suggests that the only reason she had any stage chemistry with Sophia was that they were friends in real life. While it’s nice to see a lick of humility from the town’s favourite Aryan Barbie, another reason she might have for being a good stage sister is having an all-engulfing co-dependent relationship with a self-serving vacuous twin who designs on school – and probably world – domination. That probably informs her stage role somewhat, I reckon.
The following week, the class readings of selected scenes are a success. Suddenly, everyone is excited to be part of the play. Even Bruce Patman shows more than a cosmetic interest, and he’s cast as the Father. It seems that everything is coming up Milhouse for Elizabeth and Sophia.
Jessica, of course, is still being a cockwomble. Still fixated on the fact that the school play isn’t a musical. Not content with merely not auditioning, she goes a step further. Stamping her twinny little feet, she declares she’s not even willing to come watch the performance!
Finally, gloriously, the sponge grows a spine.
“What if someone were to tell you she wasn’t going to switch places with you for the trip?” Elizabeth suggested shrewdly.
Nice work, Liz! You’ve turned a corner!
Oh no, hang on…
“And I suppose that since you won’t be switching places with me, you won’t want to take my new shoes to Los Angeles with you.”
For fuck’s sake, Liz, you blew it. You had her with the trip. No need to throw in your fucking footwear too, you pliable porous loofah.
The following days, and pages, flash by in a blink. Elizabeth spends more and more time with Sophia, expressly against her parents’ wishes. Rehearsals are successful, and the play promises to be a success. And the party plans for Sophia’s birthday, to be held at the Wakefield Compound on the day of the L.A. trip, proceed apace. Elizabeth has reservations regarding her deception, of course. It’s a shame she couldn’t talk to her twin about these concerns, as I’m sure Jessica would have laughed them away in seconds.
Sophia, flush with new friends from the play and committee, is happy that she’ll have actual people in attendance at her party. Invitations are mailed, apparently disregarding the security risk such a paper trail creates. If any one guest RSVPs by return letter, the Elder Wakefields would be onto the scheme faster than Chris Hansen onto Mr Nydick.
The day of the play finally arrives. It’s a full house; everyone who’s anyone in Sweet Valley is in attendance. The entire Wakefield Clan are front and centre.
It’s a success, of course.
As a one-time drama nerd, I was a little underwhelmed by the book’s treatment of the actual performance. Ironically, it all happened off stage. One paragraph saying that Sophia was good, followed by one line saying that everyone performed beautifully.
Followed by TWO PAGES describing the self-indulgent curtain call.
Get fucked, Jamie Suzanne.
By writing such a wonderful play, and acting like a fucking legend, Sophia turns the town’s frowns upside down. No longer the social pariah, she is Sweet Valley’s Hot New Thing! Everyone now loves the Raggedy Rizzos!
Way to go, writers. Poor people (and Italian people) are scum. Unless they are talented. Then they are fantastic.
Sophia has also won the hearts of the Wakefield Clan. The Elders admit Sophia is more than she seems, Steven is complementary, and even Jessica manages some choice words of praise, even if they are disguised as a back-handed slap.
“I still say she dresses like a toad. … But, I guess anyone who can write and act like that can dress any way she wants!”
Thanks, Jess. I’m sure Sophia is thrilled she can now choose her own clothes without fear of reprisal from the Donkey Dildo Fashion Stasi.
Elizabeth drifts off to a happy slumber, wondering whether it was too late to inform the Elders of the festivities planned at the Compound the following day. Predictably, she decides it’s not worth the risk. In a total Nydick move, she reasons it’s far better to ask forgiveness than permission, and presses on regardless of consequence.
The next day, Operation Rizzo Party kicks off in full effect. Jessica leaves for L.A. once the house is free of Elder Wakefields. In typical Jessica style, she’s late with her preparations and massively over-packed. And the mysterious girl she’s travelling with appears to be an absolute nightmare!
It’s a good thing Jessica’s going instead of me, Elizabeth thought as she studied the girl’s stiff, snobbish expression. She has a lot more patience with spoiled brats than I do.
Really, Liz? I’m sure your formative years with the Nightmare that is Jessica Wakefield stand you in good stead here. [Dove: I’m pretty sure that by the time Jessica gets back, the other girl has committed suicide, given Jessica’s track record.]
Amie, Julie and Elizabeth scurry round the Wakefield Compound and prepare the glitziest, tackiest party their twelve-year-old minds can muster. Sophia is in for a treat, a treat which includes turquoise crepe paper, silly noisemakers, and a crown so she can “be treated like a real princess for once.” Patronising nonsense.
The centrepiece is a wonderful cake, adorned with a frosted stage scene and motivational message. I’m sorry, but these kids are twelve. I know of no pre-teen Master Bakers in the real world.
Heh. Master Bakers.
The guests arrive, and Elizabeth starts feeling guilty. Her intentions, ever so pure as always, help stave off the tremors, but there are still concerns lurking beneath the surface.
Guests keep coming, and coming. As Sophia is now Flavour of the Week throughout Sweet Valley, it appears the lackeys and sycophants are seeping from their grimy crevices. The party is growing, exponentially, but that’s okay, thinks Lizzie. It’s all for Sophia.
So when the whole plan crumbles in the face of a returning duo of Elder Wakefields, Elizabeth is mortified.
Alice and Ned, their plans changed due to inclement weather, return home to collect “Jessica” and take her to the now land-based party as second prize in the L.A. lottery. As they enter their home, they are pounced upon by a posse of children pulling the party “surprise” greeting that’s de rigueur in situations such as these.
The Elder Wakefields, perhaps the only people on the planet able to distinguish between the twins on looks alone, are Not Amused.
And Elizabeth, the Child Made Of Sponge, breaks instantly.
Here’s the main difference between Jessica and Elizabeth, starkly presented in one scene.
When faced with the failure of her plans, Elizabeth immediately surrenders. She confesses all, and begs forgiveness.
When faced with similar circumstances, I feel Jessica would double down immediately, convince her parents that they agreed to this all along, and then berate her father for not bringing Sophia a present.
You’ve gotta love Jessica for that.
In the tumultuous scene of repentance that follows, with Elizabeth and her friends offering sincere apologies for their deception, the Girl of the Hour walks through the door. Raggedy Rizzo, in the house, is blown away by the party preparations. However, as she possesses an ounce of emotional empathy – another rare gift in Sweet Valley – she senses something is wrong and makes to console Elizabeth.
Elizabeth primes herself to confess all to a bewildered twelve-year-old playwright, ready to apologise completely and beg for forgiveness, when in a wholly predictable turn, the Elder Wakefields pull a snap Face Turn of Big Show proportions. They smile and welcome Sophia to the party. Happy Birthday!
Naturally, it’s at this point I feel compelled to throw my Kindle into a fucking lake. [Dove: Do that! That way I’ll have a clue what to buy you for your birthday. You’re always so difficult to buy for.] [Raven: I’m not destroying my stuff just so you can buy me versions of the stuff I’ve just destroyed!]
Over the remaining pages, the Elder Wakefields, tie up all the loose ends and solve all the Rizzo Problems with ribbons and bows and good intentions.
Sophia loves her party.
Mama Rizzo is offered a job, alongside lessons to improve her faltering English.
Tony Rizzo is pointed towards an Anger Management Councillor, in the hope that his surliness can be contained and the precious little boy-peach nesting within can be revealed once more, like the peeling of an onion or the opening of a Russian Doll.
I do have some props for Tony here. Even faced with the fact that the Book is Ending and the events dictated his redemption before the final full stop, Tony snubbed his sister’s birthday party like a true little rebel.
Good on ya, Tony. Don’t believe their bullshit.
My personal head canon here has Tony prowling the deserted streets of Sweet Valley at this time, repeatedly burglarizing the neighbourhood, a sack of VCRs slung over his shoulder and a discarded party invitation in his hand. After all, he knows where everyone will be that afternoon…
In the cooldown for this book, Jessica returns after spending a fun weekend in L.A., and immediately realises that the Twin Magic will go unpunished by her parents. Elizabeth isn’t so sure, but Jessica has a wealth of experience in this field.
Then there’s some talk of the next book, which involves Jessica being chosen to lead the school’s approaching Mini Olympics, whatever they may be. Jessica, of course, is ready to exclude all that don’t fit her ideal athletic mould.
She grinned at her sister, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “Why, blubbery old Lois Waller will be up to her ankles in sweat!”
Readers should note that, at this point, I waded into the lake, retrieved my Kindle, drove to the coast, and hurled the Kindle into the sea. Water was not good enough. It needed purging with salt.
[Wing: Next up, I’m going to boil the sea and purge by fire.]
So, will Jessica get her way? Or will Elizabeth convince her that the games should be inclusive? And will any give a raggedy rat’s ass about the Rizzos now their Book in the Sun is complete?
All this will be answered… now!
- Biiiiig bag of Nope.
See you next time!
This book was okay, I guess. I didn’t really warm to Sophia the way the narrative intended. She irked me, with her soulful eyes and X Factor backstory. As you’ve no doubt surmised, I hated Elizabeth Squarepants all the live long day. Also, “writers on writing” made me cringe on more than one occasion.
I quite liked Tony. I doubt he’ll get a mention going forward. Hell, he barely got a mention in this book.
Ah well, they can’t all be zingers. Onward!
[Dove: I actually liked this, and I think it’s because I have read the later books where ELIZABETH IS BEST AT EVERYTHING. This book gets a major pass for letting someone be better than Liz at something. In the later books, there’s not a single thing that the twins aren’t amazing at, writing, singing (rock band), singing (show choir), dancing, directing plays/movies), so it’s nice that back here, in the single digits, someone was better than Liz. This probably won’t ever happen again. And then you guys will come to like this book more for that reason.]
[Wing: I liked this book more than the one I recapped this month, mostly because I did like Sophia quite a bit, and Tony, and wanted to see more of them. Alas.]