The summer holidays are here, and Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield and their friends have just arrived at sleep-away camp! On a hike through a dark, eerie cave, Elizabeth finds something incredible—a glowing pen! She can’t wait to use it to write an article for the camp newspaper.
But as she writes, Elizabeth is astonished to find herself composing a mystery full of scary twists and turns. And to her horror, little by little the mystery seems to be coming true! This isn’t just an ordinary pen. Could it be haunted?
On the one hand, I love some of the Super Chillers and enjoy the ideas behind almost all of them. On the other hand, Elizabeth. Unless a ghost is around to try to kill her, I’m not really feeling a book about her right now.
On the other other hand, the weather turned again, and I am once more cold enough that a story set in the summer is a pleasure.
Also, I don’t hate the USA cover, but damn, that other one is terrible.
[Note from the future: Y’ALL. THIS BOOK.]
[Dove: I saw no need for me to make a cover, since we have the USA one. Which is good, because my ideas were absent. The first time I read this, it immediately slipped out of my brain – I blame The Carnival Ghost, it just set the bar damned high – but this time around I enjoyed it a bit more. I do love the summer camp trope, and I’d completely forgotten that was the setting for this book.]
[Raven: Ooooh, a magic pen. Spooky! How very Stephen King…
Elizabeth Wakefield is thrilled when she hears the news: her teachers want to skip her to seventh grade! Everyone is proud of her—except her identical twin, Jessica, who wants her sister back in sixth grade where she belongs.
But Elizabeth vows to prove that she can make it as a seventh-grader—even if it means staying up all night to finish her homework, or sneaking out to a seventh-grade party.
Trying to meet everyone’s high expectations is turning Elizabeth into a zombie. Maybe she can make it as a seventh-grader, but does she want to?
I have so many questions. Where are we in the school year? Last book was Valentine’s Day, so we are at the earliest in the second half of February, which means well into spring semester. Elizabeth probably has about three months of school left for the year. And even if we stick to the main series books, the last one felt like a spring semester book. Flu season generally is the heaviest in the first part of the year, and Shakespeare makes me think of second semester English class for some reason. Why the fuck would they promote her now instead of waiting until next fall and having her skip seventh grade completely? Am I really supposed to believe that Elizabeth would be happy to leave her twin, her friends, and the Sixers? Am I supposed to believe that she’d be happy with all this extra pressure when at the end of the last main series book she was annoyed at how much pressure her parents put on her and how they expect too much and she can’t measure up to it? Are you trying to tell me that Elizabeth sneaks out to a seventh-grade party? Unless Jessica is egging her on (and from earlier in the blurb, it sounds like she won’t be), I will not believe this at all.
So many questions. I’m sure the answers will be just fine. Just. Fine.
[Dove: I really looked forward to Wing either explaining how this could or could not happen based on US logic, since skipping a school year isn’t a thing here. And she’s irritated before she’s even started. A good sign. Also, since we universally hate these ugly covers, have mine instead:]
Summary: The Unicorn Club is throwing the best Halloween party Sweet Valley Middle School has ever seen! Lila Fowler’s dad has lent the girls a rundown shack in the woods—a perfectly spooky place for the party.
But as the Unicorns are fixing the shack, strange and scary things happen: Ellen Riteman discovers a human skull, Jessica Wakefield gets lost in a cave full of bats, and a mysterious girl appears out of nowhere to relay ghostly warnings.
Then the twins hear that the shack was built over an ancient Native American burial ground. Could the shack really be haunted? Or are the Unicorns the victims of a terrifying Halloween trick?
Jesus fucking christ, that cover. That title. That summary. I know I went into The Unicorns Go Hawaiian expecting the worst and was pleasantly surprised, but the haunted burial ground trope is even worse, and even if it turns out to be a terrifying Halloween trick (and, no lie, I expect it to be about 50/50 as to whether it is supernatural or mundane when it comes to the Super Chillers), the stereotypes are likely to be horrific and offensive.
From Schmieding’s piece (Schmieding is a Lakota writer):
All I know, from the point of view of one Lakota Native who enjoyed The Shining as much as you did but with one eyebrow raised, is that the only “ghost stories” I’ve ever heard from my own people are that of ancestors who carry wisdom, who aim to protect, who are considered sacred and powerful, and whose manifestations as malevolent only occur when they’re not talked about. When their story isn’t told. There’s a moral here that I hope you’re grasping. When someone tells you that their house is built on an Indian Burial Ground and it makes the hair stand up on your arms, ask yourself, “What am I really afraid of? Am I afraid of Indigenous people because of pop culture’s portrayal of them as unholy, spurned beasts of the underworld? Or am I afraid of my own willful ignorance of settler colonialism and modern Native issues? Am I afraid that Natives’ stories haven’t actually been told?” I’ll go ahead and assume that it’s a mix of all. But until Native filmmakers and television writers get a chance to scare the shit out of mainstream audiences with our own stories, we’re all stuck with supernatural microaggressions and embarrassingly coded displays of white guilt.
With all that in mind, here we go.
[Dove: My brain says that the Super Chillers went downhill after the covers changed, but in all honesty, maybe Christmas and Carnival Ghosts just set the bar and everything since has been hopelessly flailing at that bar ever since.
On another note, I don’t know if I’ve ever made it clear publicly, but god knows poor Wing has to patiently listen to me bitching about “the new covers” and “the geocities covers” like they’re the worst thing in the world. Every week. Every time we skype, I bring it up. So, in an attempt to put my money where my mouth is, I will be creating badge-style covers for the books from now on. Well, after this we have Amy’s Secret Sister, but after that we are officially switched over to the new covers. So, without further ado, here’s my first cover creation.
I’ve done much better covers after this – this was a bitch to render and I kind of screamed and gave up at some point. Elizabeth’s hair kept pushing through her face (don’t ask), and my computer kept falling over under the weight of the background. So, while it’s not the greatest cover, stick with me, I fully intend to get much better.]
[Wing: A billion times better than the actual cover for so many reasons.]
While reading a book about old New Orleans, Jessica Wakefield learns all about voodoo and decides to try it out herself, She knows exactly who she’ll make a voodoo doll of—her brother, Steven, of course.
Incredibly, the doll works. Poor Steven is lurching and leaping and writhing for days. Jessica is exhilarated by her powers… until she loses control of them. Steven’s still moaning in pain, but Jessica’s not doing voodoo anymore. Now Steven’s a zombie, and it’s all her fault!
Sweet Valley is known for its sensitive approach to everything, so I’m certain that this won’t be 130 pages of exploitation. Right? *wide grin*
Also, if anyone’s been creeped out by the way Wing’s been all “OMG! I LOVE THIS SERIES! IT GIVES ME THE FEELS! I LOVE THIS CHARACTER! THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD!” etc., fingers crossed that this is the book that returns her to form. I have my explosion gif at the ready. [Raven: Marshmallows on sticks are go, people!] [Wing: Oh, god, the pressure. THE PRESSURE.]
Important Note: For anyone who wasn’t here for One of the Gang or skipped my lengthy intro there, I have a mobility disability. This means I use words that are off-limits to able-bodied people.
[Wing: I’m going to share a couple links here before any Wing Goes Boom moments may or may not happen. These talk about Halloween, because that’s when a lot of these conversations happen, but the application is broader.
Title: Super Chiller #4: The Ghost in the Bell Tower
Summary: Midsummer nightmare…
When the Wakefield kids are invited to their aunt Helen’s country inn, Steven and Jessica are determined to use the eerie old mansion to scare their sister, Elizabeth, into believing in ghosts. But no matter what Steven and Jessica do, logical Elizabeth always works out their tricks.
Then things start happening that even Elizabeth can’t explain, and all the Wakefield kids are afraid that the inn really is haunted. Will they make it through the summer sharing their holiday with an unfriendly ghost?
Tagline: A holiday in a haunted house!
I’m not sure if I knew that Aunt Helen had a country inn, but I do love creepy old mansions and ghost stories and siblings teasing each other. HOWEVER. If the goal is to get Elizabeth into believing in ghosts I’M PRETTY SURE THAT THE CARNIVAL GHOST DID THAT FOR YOU ALREADY.
Oh, wait, that would suggest continuity. Never mind.
[Dove: Well, so far, so good. I was under the impression that Wing would either love or loathe this. So far she’s not mentioning fire. I’ll take that as a good sign. Me? I didn’t own this back in the day. Back then, I thought the only Super Chillers were the first three. Possibly I’d have more attachment to it if I had read it back then.]
Title: Sweet Valley Twins Super Edition #4: The Unicorns Go Hawaiian
Summary: Aloha, Unicorns!
Just when Jessica Wakefield becomes bored with Sweet Valley, [Wing: So every book then?] she wins a trip to Hawaii. [Wing: Wut. Already starting off with a Wakefields must win trope? Damn it.] She takes five of her best friends from the exclusive Unicorn Club and they’re ready to have the time of their lives.
But things don’t turn out the way they had planned. Jessica has a streak of bad luck, Janet Howell is convinced she is a Hawaiian princess, [Wing: WUT. GOD DAMN IT.] and Mandy Miller, Mary Wallace, and Ellen Riteman find out a secret they must keep from Lila Fowler.
The girls don’t understand why their trip to paradise is turning out to be the worst holiday ever… until they discover the curse of the Hawaiian volcano goddess! [Wing: WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK ARE YOU SHITTING ME RIGHT NOW. I DON’T WANT TO RECAP THIS.]
Tagline: It’s the trip of a lifetime! [Wing: Considering how rich most of Sweet Valley is, I doubt that.]
WHAT THE FUCK I WANT TO BURN EVERYTHING DOWN OH MY GOD.
Over on Twitter, Dove encouraged me to post a list of the things I rage-feared would happen in this book. I did that right before I read anything about the book.
Here is my list:
Some sort of bullshit Hawaiian princess storyline
Only white people live in Hawaii except for the SUPER SPECIAL magical native.
Someone (probably Jessica) will be amazeballs at surfing without even trying.
Someone (probably Jessica) will be amazeballs at hula, just as good as the “locals.”
People who live in Hawaii will be called Hawaiians indiscriminately from Hawaiians being actual native peoples.
Everyone will wear cheap tourist “Hawaiian” shirts and plastic leis.
All the food will be “Hawaiian” simply by adding pineapple to it. There will be no mac salad, loco moco, malasadas, or L&L (oh my god I’m so hungry right now).
WW2 references + American imperialism.
Fucking haoles the whole entire lot of them, in that terrible stereotypical loud, brash, rich white American tourist way.
CLEARLY I DID NOT SET MY EXPECTATIONS LOW ENOUGH VOLCANO GODDESS CURSE OH MY GOD I NEED STRONGER LIQUOR AND MORE FIRE. [Raven: This is gonna be AWESOME.] [Dove: Or she’s going to drink so hard she falls off her chair and doesn’t finish the recap.]
Shallow: The girls on that cover are not wearing nearly enough purple.
Winston Egbert wants to join the Boosters, Sweet Valley Middle School’s cheering squad. No way, the girls say! A boy as a cheerleader? So what if Winston happens to be a terrific gymnast? So what if he makes up fantastic cheers? Jessica Wakefield and the other Boosters vow they’ll do anything to keep Winston off the squad.
At first Winston endures the girls’ nasty pranks, Charlie Cashman’s bullying, and his classmates’ giggles. But something happens to make Winston give up for good!
When the state cheering competition arrives, the Boosters are surprised to see that almost every other squad has a boy as a member. Without Winston, they’re sure to lose! Is there any way the Boosters can get Winston back?
Tagline: Winston Egbert wants to join the Boosters! [Wing: We get it, book. WE GET IT.]
Oh, good, I bet this book is filled with gender essentialism. Y’all know how much I love that. BOYS? In CHEERLEADING? Heaven forbid.
[Dove: I really enjoy this book. It’s good fun, and the Unicorns are hilariously ridiculous.]
Jessica Wakefield is sick and tired of spoiled Lila Fowler’s constant boasting. So when she reads about the Model Family competition being sponsored by Teenager Magazine, she’s tempted to enter just to put Lila in her place. The first prize is a fabulous, all-expenses-paid trip to Paris. To compete, all Jessica has to do is write an essay describing her perfect family.
But the family Jessica ends up writing about is nothing like her real family. Still, it’s just a joke, until her twin, Elizabeth, posts the essay by mistake. Now it’s good-bye France and hello trouble—unless Jessica can convince the Wakefields to pretend to be something they’re not!
Tagline: How far will Jessica go to win a trip to Paris? [Wing: Considering she buries people in the Mercandy backyard on a whim, I’m sure there’s no limit to how far she’ll go.]
Two things: One, why are you posting your sister’s essay? WHY? WHY ARE YOU MEDDLING AGAIN? I DON’T FOR A SECOND BELIEVE IT WAS AN ACCIDENT.
Two, I cannot spell “mademoiselle” right on the first try to save my life. Fingers crossed that I won’t have to write it again in this recap, because The Carnival Ghostnearly killed me.
Title: Jessica and the Money Mix-Up by Francine Pascal
Summary: A matter of trust…
When Jessica Wakefield’s father asks her to run an errand for him, she jumps at the chance. It’s the perfect opportunity to prove to her dad that she can be trusted. All she has to do is deliver an envelope of money for a charity to Mr. Hopper, who lives three blocks away.
What could possibly go wrong? Jessica doesn’t know that she’s about to be sidetracked by Sweet Valley Middle School’s biggest gossip. Or that, when she hides the money to deliver it later, her hiding place will disappear! Jessica’s only hope is to find the money—fast. With Elizabeth’s help, she’ll search all over Sweet Valley. But will the twins find it before their father discovers the money is gone?
Tagline: Jessica is in the biggest trouble of her life!
I … am not looking forward to this book. It might have been a bad idea to start recapping the Baby-Sitters Club books, which I love so much, while recapping Sweet Valley. Similar character age, similar target audience, and yet, I love the hell out of those books and spend a great deal of time hating these.
On the other hand, this is the fourth SVT book I’ve read this week (the last week of December, as I write this), so maybe I’ve just overwhelmed my ability to deal.
[Dove: No, you’re not wrong. I know this is the first Michael Grant/Katherine Applegate book, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. As you can see from our Q&A session with him, he wasn’t delighted by this outline. But I promise it does get better.]
Spending money is one thing the Wakefield twins are very good at, but earning money isn’t that easy. Especially earning $87.50 in just three weeks. [Wing: Didn’t Jessica easily earn around that amount just a few books ago by selling Ginny’s artwork to local stores and taking a cut of it? Why can’t she do that again?] [Raven: Because Ginny told her to strongly do one?] That’s how much Jessica and Elizabeth need to take a bus trip to visit their great-aunt Helen.
Mr. Wakefield has told the twins that they must be responsible for earning their own bus fare. [Wing: … but why?] Elizabeth’s Idea of dog-sitting is the perfect solution, especially since their friend Ken is helping them. [[Wing: Is he earning the money for himself or for their bus fare?] But that’s when Joe comes along. The poor dog has been abused and the three suspect that Joe’s owner is the guilty one.
If Jessica, Elizabeth, and Ken keep quiet about Joe and collect their pay, the twins will have all the money they need. But what’s more important – the trip or a dog who needs help? [Wing: Yeah, that dog is dead if it has to rely on the Wakefields.]
Tagline: Can the twins prove that they’re not babies any more? [Wing: Well, considering the dog on the cover and what happened the last time a Wakefield took care of a dog, I’m going to say NOPE. Also, who is that dude on the cover? Is that supposed to be Steven? Because too young. Ken? Because EVERYONE LOOKS LIKE A WAKEFIELD.]
[Dove: It’s Ken. Steven has brown hair.]
That dog is a dead dog, and once again the Wakefield looks are taking over Sweet Valley.
[Dove: About three weeks ago, I said to Raven: Shall I tell Wing this is a book where the dog “goes to live on a farm” in the end? Raven said no, because he doesn’t want to see our site burn.]