Title: Perfect Summer
Tagline: Geared up for adventure…
Summary: It’s summer in Sweet Valley, and the Wakefield twins and their friends are taking a bike trip up the beautiful California coast. What could be more exciting than four weeks of glorious sunshine, sandy beaches, and endless fun at every stop?
But the dream of a perfect vacation soon fades. Elizabeth Wakefield is about to break up with her boyfriend, Todd, over another girl. Her twin, Jessica, chases after sexy Robbie October, who ignores her. Bruce Patman is mean to his cousin Roger, Lila Fowler holds a grudge against Ms. Dalton, and Ms. Dalton is barely speaking to Mr. Collins.
Can this feuding group unite when an unexpected disaster threatens their lives? Join the Sweet Valley gang as they find love and adventure on the road in Perfect Summer.
A white cover with purple text and a vibrant red box containing the words Super Edition. Inside the porthole are the twins, one on a bike, she is all dressed in yellow, shorts and a polo shirt with white collar and cuffs with the buttons done up, this is most probably Liz. The other twin is wearing a pink tank top and pink and white shorts that look at a lot like PJs. The pink twin has her forearm resting on her head and is in a pose that screams “I love to sniff my pits! They smell of magic!”. The other twin just looks faintly amused. Behind them are trees and a blue sky, instead of the usual void.
It’s summer! We’ve done our first loop of junior year (is it junior year? I need an American, stat!) and we’re all on bikes for fat-shaming, romantic drama, and probably not the jolly campout that I’m hoping for.
Also, Mr Collins has already been accused of inappropriate handling of the nubile teens in his care, and now he’s going on holiday with them. #Optics.
[Raven: I’d love to say I went into this all “yay, first Super Edition in High!”. Instead, I went into this all “an extra hundred bloody pages?! DISLIKE.”]
[Wing: I misread our schedule and read Too Much in Love first and my sense of Sweet Valley time is even more messed up than usual.]
We open with a lack of continuity. Messie Jessie is here. Except, chronologically she tried to run away last week, and her final act in the house was to tidy her room. Anyway, Jessica is packing for the bike trip in Elizabeth’s room because hers is too messy.
The list says only two pairs of pants, but Jessica thinks four is more suitable for a whole summer. So she’s going to take her new jeans, black Levis (it took me a couple of reads to realise those are two separate items and not one description of her single pair of newest Levis), red cropped pants and her sister’s “pearl-gray, raw-silk slacks”, which sound incredibly prissy, and Elizabeth should where them to the next quorum of the Middle Aged at Teen Years Association of America.
Elizabeth objects, and naturally it’s not because the pants are hers, because when has that line of reasoning ever worked? No, it’s because they need to pack light.
Jessica says it’s fine for Elizabeth, she can wear the same thing every day because her boyfriend will be on the trip. Jessica, on the other hand, needs to flirt with every available boy there is, because she is defined by male attention. Elizabeth smartly counters that Jessica does not need a hundred different outfits, she just needs to keep seducing boys in different towns who won’t see her outfit more than once. That is a very smart argument, and I’m genuinely in awe of Elizabeth outsmarting her vapid sister here. Don’t worry, I know a fleeting moment when I see one.
Elizabeth then delivers some plot, Barry Cooper, nephew of Chrome Dome Cooper, the Principal, will be joining them – apparently this is such a draw he’s flying in from Ohio to join. She delivers more. It appears that Mr Collins wanted to be single for his biking trip with all these underage girls, so Ms Dalton is now dating Lila’s father again. Elizabeth is worried that this trip will be super hard on them.
I can’t imagine ever worrying about a teacher’s fee-fees. Mostly because when I was at school, they ranged from asshole to “avoid her, because I swear Mrs Martin who taught English in 1991 in a deeply religious school in Kent wants me dead, and actively humiliates me at every possible moment, including, but not limited to, reading my stories aloud and encouraging the rest of the class to laugh at my description, dialogue and even penmanship”. (Just in case she’s reading this, I want her to feel called out.)
But my own trauma aside, it seems so intrusive to have insight into teachers’ personal lives. They’re not your friends or your peers. They’re authority figures. It’s weird that you know about makeups and breakups. [Raven: I definitely agree, but I will add that this does feel, I dunno, so… AMERICAN. Like, meddling in the personal affairs of the faculty staff is something I’m sure American pop-culture would have us accept as the norm. Or something.] [Wing: Doesn’t fit my experience in high school. I mostly liked my teachers, but I didn’t know, nor care, about their relationships. (Okay, not entirely true. I did know about a few teachers, but that was because of gossip around school due to a few major things, not because the teachers opened up to us or anything.)]
Also, Jessica adds that Lila is not happy about this new development and wants Ms Dalton dead. Elizabeth can’t believe such a nice person is dating George Fowler. Jessica replies there are millions of reasons to date him.
“Jessica Wakefield, when are you ever going to learn that there are more important things in life than money?”
“Maybe when I have so much of it that I don’t have to think about it at all,” Jessica replied.
I think we can all agree that nobody expected to whole-heartedly agree with any of Jessica’s philosophies on page one of this recap. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the fact that a privileged Wakefield has just summed up the Millennial, Gen Z and Gen Alpha experience.
Elizabeth piously says that Lila should really make an effort to be nice to Ms Dalton because she’s so super awesome. Jessica says no chance, Lila tried to back out of the trip when Ms Dalton got back with her dad, but George insisted she go because “it’ll be a good chance for the two women in his life to get to know each other better”, so now Lila’s twice as pissed off because she made other plans.
[Wing: I mean, bonding sort of worked out back in Hawaii.]
You know what? You get down with your evil plans, Lila. I can’t justify my stance morally, but I’ve had a family-heavy weekend, so you act out, you little brat. Be the best brat you can be.
Apropos of nothing, Jessica calls Enid and Olivia drips, and Elizabeth gets “angry” and clenches her fists. I hate Jessica’s endless hatred of Enid. If Jessica was actually as cool and confident – and functional within society – as the narrative wants us to believe, she wouldn’t give a shit about her. She would know that as Elizabeth’s twin, she can always pull rank, and if she was decent, she wouldn’t have to. Elizabeth would just love her more because she’s loveable. Instead, this always reminds me of the way my mother would say “Are you going out with your stupid friends?” Even people she’d never met got called “stupid”. Why? Because she’s a feeble pathetic person who has such a fragile hold on her life that other people existing threatens her. Same energy with Jessica.
Stop being pathetic. It’s boring and repetitive.
Also, Enid’s not even in this one. So it’s pointless too.
Also, Bruce will probably be a twat to his cousin-bro, Roger.
Cool. That was a lot of data for the first scene. [Raven: Oh, and one more thing on Enid? Literally one book ago, Jessica was uber-concerned about Enid and her wheelchair plight, but now? Back to the status fucking quo. Also, why bother having Enid getting a summer job to explain her absence here, when you’ve got her RECENT FUCKING PARALYSIS to lean on as a possible reason she’s not up for hundreds of miles on a pushbike?]
Next we have the goodbye scene where everyone arrives by car and unloads their bikes. Fair when the Wakefields and Wilkins families arrive in their normal cars. Absolutely impossible to picture when Bruce and Roger arrive in a limo. Mr Patman gets out and glares at George Fowler, because even the grownups are idiot teens in this series.
Barry Cooper makes his entrance. For some reason, Lila and Jessica are convinced he’s going to be hot. Why? He shares genetics with your principal, whose appearance has never once been described positively. Imagine their disappointment when he’s pale and pudgy.
People immediately start laughing at him. Imagine being so basic that fatness passes for hilarity. Makes you feel sorry for how underdeveloped their wits are.
Elizabeth felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. She suspected that Mr. Cooper’s roly-poly nephew had come all the way from Ohio for a whopping big dose of trouble.
Why? For daring to be fat in Sweet Valley? Oh, no, you’re actually right there. What an absolute shithole Sweet Valley is.
We cut to Elizabeth writing a letter to Enid telling her how wonderful their first day was. Glorious ride (but the bike was heavy), and everyone holding hands and singing kumbaya. Even Bruce Patman washed the pots without complaint. But now she has to spill the tea on Barry and his fatness.
Barry Cooper had just emerged from the tent he had shared with Mr. Collins and was trying, without much luck, to stuff his sleeping bag—as bulky and inappropriate for camping as Barry himself was into a sack made for a much sleeker kind of sleeping bag. Elizabeth shook her head and picked up her pen again.
This is just going to be non-stop, isn’t it? Every single descriptor is going to point out that this boy does not have abs or golden skin or whatever else makes the Wakefield’s Aryan nethers tingle. [Raven: Just once, can’t we have a fat character thats a) confident and b) competent? Of course we can’t. Because fat = funny. Also, fat people are not “inappropriate for camping”, you absolute fucking shit. THIS FUCKING SERIES.]
Elizabeth angsts to Enid that things are just frightfully awful for poor old Barry. Everyone is so mean, and Elizabeth has to keep defending him. [Wing: Yes, and you’re always so competent at defending people without making things worse.] And of course, he’s so clumsy and so slow that he lags behind everyone else, and he fancies Jessica.
I’m so bored of people fancying Jessica when she treats them badly – beyond treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen. I mean when she openly has to hold back the vomit every time they’re in the room. Why are you into her? She’s never once nice, and she has an identical twin that will make a half-hearted show of tolerating you if her looks are just that good.
Apparently Annie Whitman broke up with Ricky Capaldo before the trip and she’s now making eyes at Charlie Markus. Jessica and Lila are flirting with boys. Collins and Dalton are having angst – they’re very strained and keeping apart, one at the front of the group, one at the back. (Uh… isn’t that standard? I haven’t done a bike trip, but that’s how pony treks functioned for safety.) They also keep separate on sightseeing trips.
… and we care because?
Also, isn’t this gossip? Isn’t Elizabeth better than that? Hasn’t she spent years judging Jessica and her gossipy friends? (Yes, I know she writes a gossip column, but that’s literature. That’s art!)
Next they’re going to stay with Mr Thomas (not Sarah’s dad who married Sophia’s mom), who is a bigshot Hollywood agent and has a mansion fit for a king. He’s friends with Mr Patman. [Raven: So, like Brooke Dennis’s dad?]
And I’m just thinking these are fine things to put in a book, rather than just recapping them via letter from the boring twin to her boring friend. [Raven: THIS IS THE CRUX OF THE BOOK.]
We cut out of the letter and back to the “action”. They have reached LA and boy are they tired.
Gosh, when Sweet Valley gets retconned to a suburb of LA, it’s going to be embarrassing for these healthy fit teens to realise that it took two days of biking to reach… the city they started from. [Wing: There might be a suburb that is far enough it would take two days to bike into L.A. I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised.]
Especially when Elizabeth and Ms Dalton both heartily complain how exhausted and sore they are.
Enter Courtney. She is the daughter of their host, and she’s an uppity little minx. While Mr Thomas shows them around his vast estate, they find Courtney by the pool sunbathing. She ignores them all until her father makes three separate pleas with her to acknowledge the humans in their oversized garden. Then there’s a roar of a motorbike, and Courtney is like “Yay, that’s my beloved Nolan!” and hops on the back of the bike and zooms off.
I can only imagine she returns sans skin on the backs of her thighs. The glorious sunshine has been described. As has Courtney’s teeny bathing suit. So I’m imagining how hot the pillion of the bike is, and how quickly her thighs are going to stick to it.
Also, Nolan has a mohawk and wears leathers with spikes. So 1) he’s a baaaaaaad boy; and 2) his body is adequately covered if they crash, unlike Courtneys; 3) they’ll both die because neither of them are wearing helmets; 4) ergo, at best, only Nolan can have an open-casket funeral. #TeamBikeCrashv2
[Wing: They might not die without helmets, but Courtney’s bathing suit’s going to cause her harm no matter what. The wind burn alone.]
Before they zoom off, Courtney and Nolan pause to dis the Sweet Valley crew, and it very much reads as, “What squares!” and “That’s right, daddio!” It feels like this ghostie is proper vintage. Which is a polite way of saying “out of touch, even in the 80s”.
Later, Elizabeth and Todd discuss what happened, and Elizabeth is sincerely sorry for Mr Thomas for having such a horror for a daughter, ignoring: 1) he raised her, this is what you get when you don’t parent well (most of the time, there is some nature/nurture there); 2) her parents have also raised a selfish, vapid monster by the hands-off approach, and maybe while she sits in this sparkly glass house, she shouldn’t be lobbing rocks. [Raven: Coincidentally, Elizabeth actually spends time in a greenhouse later in this book. Isn’t that ironic, don’t you think? … … … … IT’S LIKE RAAAAA-*snip*]
Todd comments that Courtney is beautiful, or she would be if she wasn’t so awful. Elizabeth isn’t threatened by this and gives him a big snog.
Mr Thomas insists Courtney takes them to lunch, but she skips out once they’re situated. And I have relayed that scene with exactly as much detail as the book bothered to. A single sentence.
And here begins the problem with this fucking book. Actually, no, it began with Elizabeth’s letter to Enid. Pretty much everything that moves the plot or motivates the emotions happens off-screen, only to be recounted later in short boring sentences. Somehow, the book is 20,000 words longer than a normal Sweet Valley High. How do you put in less detail and end up with more words?
No, seriously, as someone who does NaNoWriMo, I’m asking?
God, I’m bored. I’m on chapter 2 and I’m so fucking bored. And I really wanted to like this. The Super Editions in Twins were great fun. Team Unibore link up and adventures happen. They’re usually so much better than the early books.
[Raven: I really hope this is a bad example of a Super Edition in High, like The Class Trip in Twins or something. Becuase this is fusking AWFUL. Literally everything happens off screen, described in random letters to distant characters or shared as past events in internal monologues from opining gadabouts. Before the hasty and tossed-off denouement, every scene is a couple cooking a meal or talking by the campfire or chatting in a tent or complaining about the bike ride. This book is ten pages of breathless whizzbang at the end of two-hundred-and-forty pages of dishwashing.]
Mr Thomas has dinner with Ms Dalton and Mr Collins and expresses his woes that he hasn’t a clue how to parent, but he’s doing what any good Sweet Valley parent does and blaming her friends. Nolan smokes weed and steals things. So he’s to blame for her being a spoilt nightmare with no regard for consequences. The teachers, equally unaware of how teenagers function or how adults are supposed to behave, sympathise. Ultimately, she is added to the bike trip.
Also, everyone is described as gorgeous. “The handsome teacher nodded”, “The pretty French teacher sipped her mineral water”, “The abtastic Hollywood agent did a thing”. Oh. That’s how you pad your word count. [Raven: And, uness you’re Barry Cooper, your legs are invariably “long.” Like this damn book.] [Dove: *groans like Mermista*]
The next morning, Courtney arrives with muffins and an attitude that makes Saint Elizabeth look like a raging bitch. She’s all self-deprecating and charming, and the Wakefields are not buying it. Elizabeth feels guilty about it. Jessica does not. Apparently Courtney called her a “goody-goody” yesterday, which means they’re enemies for life. I didn’t mention it, because the writer didn’t write it. Or they tucked it into a paragraph packed with other information, probably about how good looking everyone is, and I missed it.
I don’t know why Elizabeth isn’t buying it, given that she believes Jessica every time she vows never to bully someone into the hospital ever again. And then two days later, they’re at the hospital begging someone to live, because Jessica didn’t mean it.
Also, Courtney makes eyes at Todd, but Elizabeth isn’t threatened, because she and Todd are so secure in their relationship. I know we’re only twenty books in, but can we all take a moment to laugh at that idea? They’re fucking morons who break up every other book because they see the other talking to some boy/girl and assume that they’re in love with this new person.
Courtney claims that she’s a delicate flower, and that’s why her dad wants her on the trip, to toughen her up. At this, Elizabeth sees Ms Dalton and Mr Collins exchange a look, and she wonders what does this mean?
Elizabeth turned all this over in her mind. She had a feeling that somehow, the new Courtney and this silent interchange between Mr. Collins and Ms. Dalton were parts of a larger puzzle. But she didn’t have the first clue as to how to begin fitting the pieces together.
Where’s my tag? I need that Elizabeth is stupid tag or whatever I called it. I really wouldn’t mind her being this thick, I usually find stupid fictional people charming (IRL, they tend to read The Daily Mail and believe it), but the narrative is like: Elizabeth is soooooooo SMART!
Elizabeth asks Todd what he thinks of Courtney’s sudden 180, and Todd gives her a lecture on believing people and giving them the benefit of the doubt. He learned it from her, he adds piously. (But as at the beginning of the book, still strongly believes Jessica should die in a house fire. And soon. He doesn’t bring up this contradiction. Neither does Elizabeth.) Elizabeth grudgingly agrees, but worries that something bigger is going on. Are you ok, Elizabeth? Do you need a white board, some pins and red string to figure this out?
The group go to Disney – this is covered in a couple of paragraphs, btw – and Courtney sits next to Todd on all the “scary” rides. Disney doesn’t have scary rides unless you’re a small child. If you’re 16, they’re all just great fun. But ok. [Raven: Odd that they get to go to Disney in this book, but had to plump for a Disney-alike in The Class Trip. Disney probably let them use the name for this book, then vowed to never do that again after reading the fucking thing.] [Wing: Plenty of people are terrified of roller coasters, though. That would be a scary ride. Isn’t that part of the appeal of them half the time?]
Also, Barry – who else? – gets sick on a ride and they have to cut the trip short. [Wing: Surprised they didn’t go for the too fat to ride storyline for him.]
Jessica spends the day pointing out to Elizabeth what a boyfriend-stealing bitch Courtney is. Elizabeth tries hard not to agree with her.
When they get back, Courtney excuses herself.
She’d ordered a taxi to take her to a friend’s house when the group left the amusement park. “I want to say goodbye to someone before we leave,” Courtney explained.
Elizabeth wondered if that someone could be Nolan Ruggers. Where did he fit into this complicated puzzle anyway? What kind of game was Courtney playing?
OH MY FUCKING GOD. IT’S NOT COMPLICATED. SHE WENT TO SAY GOODBYE TO HER BOYFRIEND, YOU FUCKING MORON.
This writer is so bad. Everything’s off screen, and Elizabeth has to have the IQ of soap to find this an intriguing puzzle. If you’re reading, ghostie, this is a terrible book. I’m sure you’ve done better since, because, let’s face it, this was a shit premise to begin with and it had a short deadline. But so far, this is on par with First Place, one of the most boring and badly-written entries in the Sweet Valley canon. I wish this book was dead. I want to stab it with a basilisk fang to make sure. (I do not endorse JKKKRowling’s views. I only endorse stabbing evil books.)
Over dinner, Courtney wears a sari and delights everyone will tales from Hollywood. Except Elizabeth hates her because she’s a boyfriend-stealer. And Jessica and Lila hate her because she’s wearing nicer clothes than them. Girls are awesome, right?
Dinner is compared to the stew from a can they had on their first night, and Courtney’s mask slips, saying she’s not keen. [Wing: Who can blame her? Stew is disgusting.] Jessica, eager to put her in her place, defends the stew, saying you really appreciate it after the hard work of biking all day, which, of course, Courtney’s not used to. Courtney snaps at her, then reins it in again, and makes a self-deprecating comment about herself.
Courtney nodded. “Yes, I’m sure all the pleasures of home will be even more tempting after living on the road.” She stressed the word “all,” with a funny half-smile that Elizabeth couldn’t quite figure out.
OMG, LIZ, YOU FUCKING HALFWIT, SHE CAN’T WAIT TO SEE HER BOYFRIEND. FOR FUCK’S SAKE.
(Yes, if Elizabeth continues to be this thick, I will quote it every time.)
Todd and Courtney smile at each other, and Elizabeth seethes with jealous rage. After dinner, Todd just can’t get over how Jessica spitefully went after Courtney like that. Like, who would do that to someone as nice as Courtney?
Dude, you’ve got mentionitus. You just want to bring her up all the time. I refuse to believe that this is platonic. When I was sixteen and boys kept finding an excuse to talk about [girl name] it was always because they were bonkers about her. Or that, as the years would later reveal, they were super gay and had found a girl that was pretty enough to appease their mates and completely incompatible, therefore their cover crush would safely never be reciprocated.
Elizabeth seethes more, and they snap at each other. Elizabeth doesn’t explain herself, then gets more annoyed that Todd assumes this is one of their daily “I’m sorry I said something mean about your fucking terrifying twin who falsely accused me of rape and bullied people into eating disorders and the hospital” discussions. (Yes, JC, I know he doesn’t know that, but it’s a good shorthand for their mutual loathing.)
But tell me again about how these two love each other and are in a “solid” and “healthy” relationship, Francine. Because seething unspoken resentment is usually a red flag for normal people. #Aspirational
We cut to lunch the next day, and Lila and Jessica take a moment to bitch about how much they don’t like Courtney. Olivia wanders over and gives them a lecture for their meanness. This doesn’t stop them in the slightest, as the move on to what a waste of space Barry is.
“Speaking of which, where is the boy wonder anyway? Still struggling back near L.A., somewhere?” Jessica burst out laughing at her own joke, and Lila joined her.
I just love the idea that Jessica was mean, and then had a “OMG, I’M SO TOTES FUNNY” moment that caught her off guard. Bless her broken basic brain and the lack of actual funny moments in Sweet Valley.
Olivia defends Barry, apparently he’s off buying them soda, not slacking. And Jessica could be nicer to him. Jessica says he has great taste, but she does not approve of his crush. Also, Courtney is still a boyfriend-stealing slut. Olivia defends Todd as the “nicest guy in the world” and I think we can all agree with her that Todd is indeed, a “nice guy”.
Olivia tells them to be nice, and swans off. Thank you for your pointless and boring contribution to this book, Olivia.
Once she’s gone, Jessica gets a really clever idea. They need to bully Courtney off this trip. Jessica claims it’s because Courtney is making her sister miserable, but I think it’s probably because creative has nothing for Jessica except being obsessed with boys and hating girls.
Jessica’s fantastic plan is to put something gross in Courtney’s sleeping bag.
How has this girl hospitalised so many people and this is still her Plan A? [Raven: Absolutely basic. This is not the Jessica we love from Twins, that’s for sure.]
Lila thinks this plan is just terrific and a sure-fire winner, because a moron is writing her. She says she’ll do the same thing to Ms Dalton. Jessica says no, Ms Dalton is nice. Lila says that someone’s accidentally swapped in Elizabeth’s dialogue for Jessica, and Jessica agrees and is embarrassed.
Over with Elizabeth, she’s trying not to cry as Todd and Courtney have lunch together. For lunch, Annie made cheese fondue and a dessert of chocolate fondue with fruit pieces. I just want to point out that they’re camping. And they have two rounds of fondue.
Fucking Sweet Valley, man. [Raven: “How many fondue sets should we take on this multi-day bike trek?” … “We have to travel light, so… two?”]
While everyone compliments Annie’s cooking talents, Bruce uses this as an opportunity to remind everyone that Annie is a major slut. He doesn’t, however, mention that he was one of the many slutty boys who had meaningless sex with her. I guess that’s because we all know it’s only slutty when a girl has sex.
Elizabeth clenched her fists. How dare Bruce Patman! Everyone knew that Annie had become a completely different person since the beginning of the year. Her days of seeking attention in the arms of any boy who came along were a thing of the past. Annie had long since learned that one faithful companion was better than a whole roomful of fickle ones.
I’m gonna do this point by point:
- Bruce is a slut himself, constantly dating new people, including Annie.
- BRUCE PATMAN IS A FUCKING RAPIST.
- Liz, you are one of his victims. Pissed off and ready to punch him should be your default state, and not one that only gets invoked because you need to defend one of your many projects.
- Fuck off with this sanctimonious shit. Annie deserves your respect, if she was dating six people at once or whether she’s as celibate as a nun, now or before.
- All that slutty shade we’re throwing at Annie? Can we maybe throw it on all the boys that used her? Because she seemed to think they respected her, which means they lied. Which means there is a chance of coercion or sex by fraud. And if it was all healthily and openly communicated where everyone stood and consent was enthusiastically given, then can we judge the boys who enjoyed her company as much as we judge her for keeping so much enjoyable company, if we must judge?
- Jessica frequently dates more than one person at once, and she hasn’t even had a long-lasting relationship to “redeem” her slutty ways. And somehow she’s not a slut.
- I HATE FRANCINE PASCAL AS MUCH AS SHE HATES WOMEN.
Charlie, who allegedly fancies Annie but plays tennis with Bruce, says nothing and instead washes his plate. Nobody defends Annie. Not even Saint Elizabeth.
They ride on, but only Elizabeth remembers the horrible scene, because she has deep sensitive feelings. Not the kind that would go so far as to defend her friend or tell a rapist to jump off a cliff. But, y’know, her half-arsed feelings are valid.
Suddenly! A revelation! This is why Annie has been so cold towards Charlie.
No, seriously. This has never been brought up before.
Well, the ghostie seems to think we ought to know this, so let’s just humour the inept moron. Elizabeth deduces that Annie thinks Bruce has been filling Charlie’s head with stories of Annie’s slutty past and he wants to try her out himself.
Uh… ok. I mean, why not? Since it wasn’t in the book, I can hardly refute it. And Elizabeth is smart, as the book keeps telling me.
This reads like early fanfic of a certain niche of writers, where understanding it relies upon you knowing the writer, their in-jokes, their ships, and their interpretation of canon. I once read a Harry Potter fic and spend the entire thing going “But why is Ginny Weasley French?” I never got an answer. (She was still part of the Weasley fam as per the books, and they weren’t French. Just her). After a lengthy chapter where she explained that she was tired of the Gossip Girl-esque nonsense going on around her, the lies, the scheming, the plots (as in, not Voldemort, we’re talking mean girls scheming for boys), she’s decided to move to Russia. In the middle of the school year.
I was just like “… wha…?” and the writer’s friends were giving glowing reviews. “Oh! You put in the Russia thing! Isn’t that just how it would all end?! BEST. CHAPTER. EVAH!”
(Still not supporting JKKKR. It was just a big fandom and had the weirdest shit going on.)
Same energy here. I feel like we should be plugged in to the ghostie’s brain to get the full experience of this story, because they certainly didn’t bother to write it down. [Raven: Two-hundred-and-FORTY pages of DISHWASHING.]
They later stop to enjoy the view, and Todd tries to snuggle with Elizabeth, who is very passive aggressive with him, saying things like “Why should I mind if you join me?” and “Why would I be mad at you?” Then she relents and says she hasn’t seen much of him. He jumps to say Courtney’s name, explaining she had a hard time with her bike, but the only girl for him is Elizabeth.
And Elizabeth is like “Really? Are you sure? Are you absotively posolutely certain that there isn’t someone–” *glares at Courtney* “–else?”
And after Todd says that she’s the bestest girl in the whole wide world a hundred times, she relaxes.
I mean, I’d be dubious, since he keeps saying that, and then being like, “BRB, Courtney’s here!” at every turn.
Then Elizabeth sees Annie and remembers to be sad about that too, because, in the words (and energy) of Shane Dawson, she’s an empath.
Then Bruce refers to Barry as “Bionic Barry” and the entire group laughs so hard they nearly wet their pants. Even Lila makes a special effort to point out that usually she loathes Bruce, but golly gosh wow, that sure was hilarious and the name “fits the little nerd perfectly”.
Uh, Lila, cross your right leg over your left if you need help. We’ll get you out, ok?
Because it wasn’t funny. In order for it to be funny, it would have to be both witty and intelligent. What Bruce “the Rapist” Patman has done here is jam any old word that begins with B in front of Barry’s name. That’s like finding it hysterical and totally fitting if we called you “Link Lila”. See how it makes no sense?
Fuck this ghostie, man. This is so fucking bad.
Also, if Barry constantly holds them up, why is he always doing errands for them, like shopping? Surely you’d send faster people to do that so that Barry can catch up while they’re shopping? And how are they making all their stops on time?
Roger tells Bruce to shut up. Bruce says something mean about Roger. Then Charlie tells him that he’s offended enough people today.
Urgh, I’m so bored.
Charlie then goes to talk to Annie, and Elizabeth wonders if he’s thought about the scene at lunch today as much as her. Oh, no, Elizabeth, nobody could possibly think about things as much as you. You’re an empath. She decides that Charlie is a good guy, since he finally stepped up to Bruce.
I mean, if that’s good enough for you, then that’s on you, but FYI, I would not consider someone who’s friends with a rapist, lets said rapist slut-shame a girl the rapist slept with and that he personally likes, watches said rapist humiliate his cousin for being born poor, and then finally mutters that the rapist has met his spite quota for the day as a good guy. But I’m kind of hard to please that way. I demand decency as a base level attribute even from people I don’t like.
They arrive at the hostel and Jessica sees a boy and immediately falls in love with him. Or the boy next to him who looks just like him. She doesn’t interact with either, she imprints like Jacob on Renesmee. After one glance, he (or one of them) is her soulmate. Well, the equivalent for people without souls, anyway.
They are assigned times to cook so as not to fuck things up for all the rest of the hostel guests, and Lila and Courtney are down to cook tonight. Courtney scowls, and Jessica is like “A-HA! I KNEW IT! I KNEW SHE WAS EVIL ALL ALONG.” Dude, yes, she is evil, but that’s not proof. Nobody likes chores. I bet you scowl too when you have to cook. [Wing: Just poisons her own family, right?]
Jessica works the room and asks the non-Sweet Valley girls who those boys are that she’s in love with. Robbie and Danny October. They’re bad boys. They were kicked out of their first hostel for throwing beer bottles out of the window. [Raven: Robbie October… what a fucking ridiculous name. I can’t think of anyone with a month as a surname. …
Objectively, yes, littering is bad, particularly when it comes to broken glass, particularly when there are boisterous young people and their bikes on the ground below. But even so, this is conveyed in tones of, “They were asked to leave because they cut off their roomate’s head and wore it as a hat as they biked through three states.”
Also. They break curfew.
This naturally turns Jessica on. Yes. She wants a bad boy who litters and stays out late. [Raven: I mean, hasn’t she already gone through this phase, in this series, multiple times already?]
Next up, Courtney writes a letter to her beloved mohawked boyfriend. And gosh, I hope you guys are sitting down because we’ve got a hell of a plot twist coming. Elizabeth’s mind will be blown when she hears this. Blown I tell you. This is the complicated puzzle that Elizabeth could not fathom:
Courtney is faking being nice. She’s playing up to Todd because he’s the kind of boy that her dad would love her to date, but of course she loves Nolan. She’ll have to stab Elizabeth and drop the body in a river for this plan to work, of course, but she’s loving the hell out of pissing Elizabeth off. Even if it is taking forever to break them up. She’s going to have to break out a fake tragic backstory. Then, once she comes home, she’ll find a way to keep Todd occupied while she swans off with Nolan.
If this was better written, we could see that Todd is the only choice. But I’m just wondering why she does flirt with Barry. The boy is a nerd, so I’m sure he gets straight As (we know nothing about him other than he’s chubby, clumsy and slow), Courtney could give “we bonded over being outcasts” as their meet-cute, and this would endear her to the group, because it would take Barry off their hands.
Or, if she can’t bring herself to fake-flirt with a chubby boy, then literally any other boy. Bruce is the son of her father’s friends. Charlie is… a boy…. Um, who else is on this trip? Oh, Roger. Well, he’s in a relationship.
Basically, the only reason Todd was picked is because it forces a really boring plot into action, and the author hasn’t even bothered to make it seem like a reasonable choice. Courtney vaguely mentions that messing with Elizabeth is the best way to keep the boredom away, but it really comes across as Courtney is a moron, acting out a moronic plot, and the only reason she’s making any progress is because Todd and Elizabeth are both morons too.
That evening, Jessica spends the whole time sulking. She’s picked Robbie. He’s the love of her life, and there’s no sign of him. The falls deep into the throes of depression because she’s so heartsick. [Raven: I know it’s On Brand for Jessica to fall in eternal love with someone she’s never spoken to, but I’m heartily sick of that particular trait, thanks very much.] [Wing: It could be an entertaining trait, if written correctly, if Jess was silly and dramatic in a fun way about it, but it’s not and it’s even worse when the book is this pointless and boring.]
At bedtime, Elizabeth decides they’ve been too hard on Courtney and they need to be nicer. Jessica tells her that Courtney is a boyfriend-stealing harpy who has spent the entire holiday at Todd’s side so far, and she and Lila are going to bully her until she leaves.
We cut an unknown time later, to everyone dancing to ABC at a camp ground. The music is so loud they have to yell over it to be heard. Ah, so they’re being those type of campers. I guess it makes sense that these entitled dipshits would be the kind of selfish tits that make so much noise you want to drown them in the beautiful scenic lake.
Charlie asks Annie to dance, and this delights Elizabeth, because she’s an empath.
Then Courtney basically does the Dance of the Seven Veils at Todd and yanks him out of Elizabeth’s arms. He gives a rueful, “What can I do?” smile at her, and Elizabeth seethes silently once more.
Barry asks Jessica to dance, and she laughs in his face. Again, I say, why are you into this girl?
That night, Jessica, Lila and Elizabeth share a tent, apparently the girls have to rotate who shares three to a two-man tent, and nobody likes it because it’s so cramped. The characters wonder why Courtney doesn’t just buy a tent, since she’s so rich, which is a very good question. We naturally do not get an answer.
Then there’s a scream.
Under the clear, starry sky, she could see Mr. Collins, clad only in a pair of shorts, rushing to the end of the tent Ms. Dalton was sharing with Courtney.
So… the chaperone is just running around topless and barefoot?
Ok. That’s not weird at all.
It turns out that Lila put Jell-O in the bottom of the sleeping bag. Unfortunately she “accidentally” put it in Ms Dalton’s, instead of Courtneys. In a bag. So it won’t leak. It’s just a wobbly plastic sensation that causes no harm at all.
That’s it? That’s your plan?
Fucking hell. [Raven: SO FUCKING WEAK.]
The tent-mates squabble, and Jessica and Lila again point out that Todd spends all his time with Courtney. Elizabeth sobs into her pillow so hard even Jessica realises she’s gone too far.
The next morning, Mr Collins gives them a stern lecture about how the Jell-O could have damaged “an expensive piece of camping equipment”. Dude, it’s a sleeping bag. I know he’s morally right, but it’s always so ridiculous when teachers try to make things sound so much worse than they are. It completely undermines their point.
Back in my school, I got told off for doing a Ouija board on the school altar. There was this HUGE SHOUTY lecture, where I was told that I could have “RECKLESSLY DESTROYED THE IMMORTAL SOULS OF EVERYONE IN THIS SCHOOL” and I had “SPITEFULLY SPAT IN THE FACE OF JESUS’ SACRIFICE FOR HUMANITY”. And I was like, dude, it was some cut up paper letters and a upside-down candle in a glass. We got it set up and then we got chased out. I did not start the fucking apocalypse. I did not just unpick the entire Christian religion. Bring it down and I might take your anger seriously. [Raven: You say you didn’t start the Apocalypse, but, yknow… Covid and Brexit and Trump and shit. Maybe it was just a slow burn.] [Dove: I already owned COVID. I said, “I should learn to drive before I turn 40, just in case the apocalypse happens.” And then I passed my test and about five months later COVID began its global domination. The others… not my fault.]
Use “I” statements. “I was upset because…” or “I was frightened when…” rather than acting as if we actually got to worst case possible scenario. Because the kid knows that it didn’t get that far, and walks away thinking, “FFS, adults are so dim. I’m not listening to a goddamned word they say. They just lied about what happened.”
He then takes Lila to a side and shouts at her for the prank, based on him glancing around the group and choosing the person who didn’t meet his eyes. Which is not guaranteed to be a sign of guilt. It’s also a sign of: 1) social anxiety; 2) fear (unrelated to guilt); 3) being on the spectrum or similar condition affecting social interactions; 4) discomfort, in this case with an authority figure who’s just thrown a tantrum and overblow a teeny prank to damage of expensive equipment; 5) not liking that teacher generally; 6) just not wanting to. What I’m saying is, yes, I’d be blamed for this.
Lila then shouts at Jessica because it was her prank, even though Lila did it.
You know how I was complaining that useful scenes are off-screen and recounted in single sentences? This argument between Lila and Jessica, which goes absolutely nowhere, goes on for four pages. Not book pages. Word document pages. Single-line spaced. Font size 10pt.
And the outcome of this fight? They make up and agree that Courtney sucks. Well, glad to see that whatever alleged plot this book has still hasn’t shown up or progressed if it’s already here and tucked into asides inside gigantic boring paragraphs of squabbling teens.
That night they go to a restaurant for paella. Elizabeth is delighted because Courtney isn’t there. She was feeling poorly. Todd offered to stay and look after her (several times), but she refused him (also several times). Elizabeth thinks this is a win. No, it’s not. Your boyfriend would be snuggling Courtney right now if she’d said yes.
Your boyfriend sucks.
Over with Mr Collins, he’s worried. With all of his years of being a teacher (probably about four years, given that the book always reminds us how young he is), he’s never seen a change like Courtney. Of course, he’s seen people like slutty Annie calm the fuck down and only have one boyfriend – no, seriously, that’s the example he goes to – but never has he seen a turnabout like Courtney’s. Which is weird, because, y’know, Enid Rollins exists. Criminal record, meth problem, now a straight-A student and besties with his favourite, Elizabeth (yes, he also takes a moment to name-drop her as his favourite).
He, just like Elizabeth, finds it absolutely baffling that she gave the story about her father wanting her to “toughen up”. But! Confusion! That’s not what Mr Thomas said to Mr Collins! Oh noes! How can this be? It is a mystery for the ages. This era’s Gordian Knot.
I’m genuinely concerned that so many people in this book are so breathtakingly stupid and have no clue how humans act.
Dear morons, let me spell this out for you. Here are the options:
- Courtney’s 180 was genuine, but she’s embarrassed about her earlier behaviour and doesn’t want to share it with the group; or
- Courtney faked her 180, and is just lying merrily to get her own way.
It’s really that fucking simple. I wish you would all die. I hate this book.
When they get back, Courtney’s not there, and when she returns says she went to call her father, who’s probably lonely. Once again, Mr Collins is baffled. Isn’t this the girl who was so rude to daddy dearest?
Oh my god, kill me now.
Mr Collins continues his thoughts of woe. Bruce is being mean to Barry because he’s fat, and his spite is catching as everyone tries to match his “wit”. And it gets worse! Barry is smart! He’s clever enough to understand that when people call him a useless fatty, it’s an insult. Oh no! Curses to be burdened with a fatty clever enough to understand when he’s being bullied. If only we had a stupid fatty who didn’t know!
Gosh, if only there were an adult present, you know, some kind of authority figure who could stamp that shit out, and maybe threaten to send Bruce home if he doesn’t stop being a cunt.
But there’s only two teachers, who are super sexy, so what can they do? They don’t have the power to send a child back to its parent for being badly behaved. Nor do they have any power or experience in reprimanding bad behaviour in teens. Oh gosh, it’s just too far out of his wheelhouse.
Then his favourite, Elizabeth, is utterly sad because her boyfriend is fucking obsessed with Courtney. Oh no.
And Bruce, when not bullying Barry, is bullying Roger.
Also, he pines for Ms Dalton, and I give zero fucks.
Fucking hell, man, pull yourself together. Grow the fuck up, tell Bruce that if he doesn’t behave like a decent human being, he’s going home. [Wing: Is that truly punishment?] Keep an eye on Courtney, and let the rest of the drama play out. It’s not on you to fix Elizabeth and her stupid relationship. Oh, and talk to the woman you’re madly in love with, you fucking moron. [Raven: Everyone is such a fucking sponge in this damn book. They might as well all live in a pineapple under the sea.]
And now we have another fucking scene where Elizabeth and Todd are alone, and Elizabeth is pissy about Courtney, and Todd lectures her about it. He first of all compares his lapdogging for Courtney to Elizabeth’s helping Barry – the latter of which, we’ve never seen, just FYI. We just have to take it as read that Saint Elizabeth is helping Barry because that’s what her character would do. Then he adds that Courtney has a tragic backstory. Her father is a nasty alcoholic who makes her life miserable and she has a dead mother. So there, Elizabeth! That is a backstory worthy of an X-factor contestant, so now you must like her!
Also, this? Would have made for a good scene to actually see. Show it from Todd’s point of view and have his conflict about comforting the delicate broken angel with he glistening tears, and his love for Elizabeth. But no, it happened off screen. So instead it just reminds me of my ex who used to lie about everything, and actually came up with this exact backstory as an excuse as to why he slept at the delicate angel’s house one night – “nothing happened, I promise”.
Same ex stole my jewellery and used it to propose to the delicate angel. #JustSaying.
Delicate Angel did not have a dead mother or an alcoholic father, as confirmed by Delicate Angel’s landlady (my friend) telling me about the time Delicate Angel’s parents visited, including the very much alive dead mother, and both parents refusing to go to the pub because they don’t like “drink culture”.
Same landlady also confirmed that if ex and Delicate Angel weren’t having sex that night, they were jumping on the bed and agreeing with each other loudly all night.
Elizabeth is dubious. She wonders how Mr Thomas can function so highly while being such a nasty drunk. It’s a fair-ish point from her limited knowledge, since the only drunk she knows is the now-reformed Betsy Martin and her family, who are sloppy low-class drunks.
Out in reality, my stepdad probably appeared quite high functioning. He had rules, no drinking before 6pm on a work day, showers and mouthwash at all times, smell fresh, not like booze, etc. And at home he could be spiteful. So hypothetically, Mr Thomas could work along those lines.
Also, he’s super rich. You don’t need to be that high functioning if you can afford to delegate.
Todd shames Elizabeth for being mean and calling his beloved Courtney a liar. Elizabeth says she’d find it easier to believe if Courtney wasn’t “trying to take my boyfriend away from me”.
Dude, she’s barely trying. Todd is besotted with her. This is not all on Courtney. All you can blame her for is that she doesn’t respect girl code. Most of this lands on Todd for making his not-girlfriend a priority over his actual-girlfriend. And a chunk lands on Elizabeth for not saying something like, “I feel like you prioritise her over me…” and going on to explain how she feels about everything. Then if Todd is like, “Fuck you, Courtney cries really pretty” then it’s time to break up.
He accuses her of acting like Jessica, then they get giggling over it. And nothing at all is resolved, but they don’t break up, so Elizabeth, the moron that keeps moroning, thinks things are good. [Raven: This bit felt super-weird and only here to prolongue the shitty plot point beyond all reasonable measure.]
Next up, Jessica writes a four page letter to Cara (Word doc, single spaced, 10pt font – this is the default when I’m talking about page length, ok?), recapping the book. [Wing: I love epistolary stories when they’re done well. Adore them. The setup here could have been excellent. It is completely wasted.]
I’m so goddamned bored. Is there a plot in here somewhere? Or is this like Fame, and it’s just an endless series or boring vignettes about assholes I hate? Sigh. At least Fame had a couple of good songs.
At the hostel [Wing: I am skeptical that this group would stay at hostels. Lila Fowler? Bruce the Rapist Patman? Seriously? – there is no sense of travel in this book, it just announces where they are now – Lila tells Jessica that she’s no longer Team Kill Courtney because Elizabeth has been sharing Courtney’s tragic backstory, which, btw, not cool. In theory, that should be private. So Lila’s going to be besties with her.
Jessica is furious, then she sees Robbie October (remember him? The guy she imprinted on about 10,000 words ago and we never actually met), and finagles an invitation to go to drinking with him. She can’t go because she’s on dinner duty with Bruce, and falls into deep despair over it. So deep is this depression that even Bruce feels bad for her. Bruce. Feels bad. For his ex. Whom he hates.
He tries to cheer her up by being nice and doing more than his share of chores. Dinner is a great success, but Jessica stays in the deep recesses of depression.
Because a boy she literally just met wouldn’t rearrange his plans for her.
The “conflict” in this book is so tenuous. Everything has to happen at precisely 8.45468135 metric fucktonnes of bonkers otherwise the plot doesn’t work at all.
Lila gets talking to some cute boys. They ask about Ms Dalton, except they know her as Beth Curtis. Oooh.
I faked that Oooh. I don’t care. [Raven: This was actually the first point in which I DID care. Because it was SOMETHING, against a backdrop of fat-shaming and dishwashing and hand-wringing.]
They stay in a greenhouse surrounded by flowers. Even the boys are like “Cooooool! Flowers!” Which no 16 year old boy from the UK would ever say. Particularly the Bruce Patman types.
Lila tells Ms Dalton that she knows her name is Beth Curtis and she plans to use this information.
Elizabeth wakes in the night to hear crying. She looks over and Todd and Courtney are lying side by side holding hands while he comforts her. Elizabeth cries herself to sleep over being two-timed.
And the resolve of this book is going to be Todd saying “Nothing happened while we were dating. I was being a nice guy.” I just want to say in advance of that: fuck you, Todd. You are prioritising Courtney over your girlfriend. She’s allowed to be upset about this. You weren’t in the right and this isn’t a misunderstanding. You’re being a bad boyfriend. Pick a girl and let them both know which one it is. And set boundaries with the one you’re not dating. No cuddling in the night. No secret conversations where she cries prettily. You can’t be besties with a girl to the level that it affects your romantic relationship and claim that Elizabeth is overreacting.
I don’t even like Elizabeth, and I hate her passive-aggressive tactics in dealing with this situation, but she’s not wrong here. [Raven: Yup.]
The next morning, Jessica and Barry are doing the washing up in the stream. Jessica snaps at Barry non-stop and he pathetically asks why they can’t be friends. OMG, read the fucking room, Barry. Why can’t we have a fat character who can read a room, who is funny and charming and witty? Why is fat always synonymous with stupid, ugly, slow, clumsy, socially awkward, and besotted with Jessica?
Jessica is still deep in depression over Robbie. You know, the guy who has had at least two paragraphs of interaction in this 50,000 word book. At this point, I’m actually worried about Jessica’s mental health. It is not normal to catch one glimpse of a human being – no matter how sexy – and make that perfect stranger your entire life. Your worth is based on whether you ever see them again. Your life without them is not worth living.
This is a mental health horror story. And I’m not being flippant or hyperbolic. When I was in the deepest throes of depression myself, I fixated on what movies I had to watch before bed, staying up to 5am to ensure that I watched them all in the right order, before getting up to work at 8am. It was not healthy. I was not doing the right thing. And those movies had absolutely no physical impact on whether my day would be good or bad. I wa s mentally ill and desperately needed help.
Jessica takes the pots she’s just washed over to Lila, who she’s pissed off with over the Courtney situation. They rotate carrying the pots and hate it because they’re heavy. Lila makes Ms Dalton take them instead. Ms Dalton seems very upset and agreeable about this, which is vaguely interesting to her, but she’s too depressed to care much.
Elizabeth and Todd have another goddamned fight about Courtney. I am so fucking bored of these endless repetitive scenes.
Todd shames Elizabeth for making mountains out of molehills. He claims he has no problem with her having male friends, and can’t see how this is any different.
*sputters on drink*
You fucking what?
Todd, you are the most pathetically insecure man-baby in fiction. You are constantly getting into stroppy little snits because you saw Elizabeth talking to a boy during class and you think they must secretly be frotting in the Oracle office. [Raven: We all know she only has (th)eyes for her Koala.] The amount of times you break up with her because a boy approaches and is like, “Hey gorgeous, we’ve got to have dinner again!” and you assume she’s a slutty cheater, rather than the identical twin of a slutty cheater. You go into TODDSMASH mode at the drop of a hat.
Seriously, Todd, other guys are hesitant to bless Elizabeth when she sneezes because your fucking ego is like a gossamer thread of pathetic insecurity, and they don’t want to get TODDSMASHED because they talked to your precious girlfriend.
I HOPE YOU FUCKING DIE, YOU ABSOLUTE WASTE OF HUMANITY.
Also, YOU ARE EMOTIONALLY CHEATING ON HER, YOU ABSOLUTE CUNT.
Elizabeth asks how he’d feel if he woke up in the night and she was hand holding with Ken Matthews.
For half a second, Todd realises that he would totally TODDSMASH that asshole who touched his woman. Then he excuses himself, saying that Courtney totally needs hand holds because she’s a Delicate Angel that needs to be worshipped.
Elizabeth felt the heat rushing to her face again. “And where do I fit in? Am I just supposed to grin and bear it? I don’t know what your definition of ‘sensitivity’ is, Todd Wilkins, but I could sure use a little of it now, too.”
“Maybe you’d get some, Liz, if you’d give some.”
And she realises that she’s getting nowhere with this asshole, so she breaks up with him.
Just guessing here: Todd’s going to hook up with Courtney, and then her evil plan will be revealed and Elizabeth and Todd will get back together, because it’s all Courtney’s fault and it was just a big misunderstanding.
And if that happens, I’m throwing this fucking book in the River Aire.
This is not a big misunderstanding. He is constantly belittling her emotions. He is gaslighting her, constantly saying that she’s not as kind as she thinks she is (I mean, objectively true, but let’s stick with the Sweet Valley understanding of the word), and forcing her to feel bad because he spends all his time with another girl.
Elizabeth was right to leave, and I hope they stay broken up.
Elizabeth is just done crying, when Annie comes over, also crying. And once again, the ghostie takes the most bonkers approach to a scene. Instead of writing it, they decide to recall it, but this time instead of just inserting a single sentence into an unrelated paragraph, Annie tells us what happened, forcing her to have dialogue that explains the description, the dialogue she heard and the attribution. Her dialogue contains quotes.
Like, that is unnecessarily hard to write and not the greatest to follow. Why not just write the fucking scene and then have Elizabeth and Annie meet up and cry together after?
I’m sorry, ghostie, but you are a terrible writer. You may not get a choice on the overall plot, but do you see how The Carnival Ghost isn’t just a great Sweet Valley book, but is actually a great supernatural middle grade book? And do you also see how this is a boring and badly written piece of shit? Your choices made that difference.
Anyway, Annie walked past the tent Charlie and Bruce shared, only to hear Bruce explaining that his dick has been in Annie, and if Charlie puts his dick in Annie, then it’s like his dick has touched Bruce’s and that’s totally gay, and neither of them are [NAME REDACTED], so they can’t do gay stuff.
Oh wait, no. Bruce is still going on about how slutty Annie is, and after hours of listing her slutty exploits, Charlie goes, “Maybe you’re right.”
Is it Friday 13th or Sleepover Camp where the bad guy hangs a person in a sleeping bag over a campfire and roasts them alive?
I have no idea what made me think of that.
The girls cry together and it’s beautiful. Because what is a summer holiday all about if it’s not about boys being assholes and making girls cry with their thoughtless bastardlyness?
That afternoon they argue over whether they’re staying here (“here” is not specified) or go on to Big Sur. Big Sur wins out, and Elizabeth wonders why Ms Dalton sides with Lila. She imagines her as a puppet being control by Lila, which is amazingly insightful, from the girl who couldn’t fathom why Courtney wanted to go home.
They arrive at Big Sur and Elizabeth finds a log to sit on and remember things that never happened.
She didn’t know how long she sat there. Long enough to remember the first time she and Todd had ever really noticed each other, in Mr. Russo’s science class, and their first kiss outside the Wakefields’ front door. And all the sweet, loving times after that. And then—
Yeah, just FYI, your first kiss was outside Kelly’s after Todd saved you and Jessica from Rick Andover. But whatevs. [Raven: Bad continuity within THIS SERIES, not even between Twins and High. Fuck this piece of shit book.]
Barry then joins her to wallow in self-pity about how he’s not fitting in, and he kind of wants to go home. Elizabeth bullies him into staying, saying he’s not a quitter. Dude, there’s a difference between quitting and walking away from an unhappy situation for the sake of your emotional wellbeing. Do you think he’s going to feel like a winner because he stuck out X weeks with toxic shits instead of Y weeks? You don’t get points for stretching your own unhappiness to breaking point.
He then says that California is much prettier than Ohio, there’s nothing to look at there. I mean, I’ve never been to Ohio, but fuck off with this California shilling. I hate this. Every visitor is like “OMG, this is THE BESTEST place I’ve ever been IN MY LIFE.”
[Wing: Ohio is awful and pretty much any other US state is prettier. I am contractually obligated to say this as a Michigan alum.]
But he still doesn’t know if he’ll stay because he feels more lonely when everyone’s having a wonderful time and he’s not included. And Elizabeth, the central hub of all things social, the girl who has never once been excluded from anything, is like, “OMG! SAMESIES! Now I don’t have a boyfriend, nobody can possibly fathom the desolate depths of my broken soul.”
Over with Jessica, she bumps into her soulmate, Robbie, who actually remembers her. I mean, he’s not that into her, but eventually is worn down my her tenacity. They make plans to meet after everyone’s asleep tonight.
Over with the boring teachers. Nora is swimming. She sees a stringray. Has the presence of mind to scream, explain what the problem is, then immediately becomes a damsel in distress and nearly drowns in fright so Mr Collins can jump in and save her.
What a pointless scene.
Jessica and Lila make up. I had already forgotten they were fighting. It’s partially because they don’t like sharing tents with Annie and Olivia respectively, but mostly because Jessica needs to sneak out.
Lila wakes in the middle of the night to find Jessica gone. She deliberates for some time over whether she should raise an alarm or cover for her friend. She ultimately decides that Jessica is probably having a brilliant time and if she gets found out, that’s her problem, but not Lila’s. She goes back to sleep.
The next morning, there’s no Jessica. Everyone grill’s Lila, and I’m sitting here thinking, “Leave her alone, she knows nothing. She had no clue about anything.” And then Lila spills her guts. Apparently she did know when Jessica was going, where and with whom.
Once again, the ghostie didn’t bother to write that. Three pages of Lila and Jessica arguing about who was the most wrong as they made up, but nope, no data on the plot.
Fuck you ghostie, you are without question the literal worst ghostie of all time in Sweet Valley canon. Francine might be an awful person, but at least the one book she did bother to write contained a plot. It wasn’t canon compliant or very good, and everyone was an asshole, but in this series, that’s not really serious criticism.
The plot demands that Todd and Elizabeth pair up to take one trail to the waterfall, while Mr Collins will take another group on the other trail. So… this genius has decided a 2/8 split, the latter group containing both chaperones is the sensible option, has he?
Todd is now the resident expert on the trails of this place, where they literally arrived in the dark last night. He draws the trail on a map. Yes. This makes so much sense.
Why not call the authorities? This is precisely how you end up with headlines like “MISSING TEEN SEARCH GROUP DIES WHILE SEARCHING FOR MISSING TEEN”. Fuck me. [Wing: That would be such a better story even at its most poorly written.]
Ok, I’ve hit 10k words on this recap. I have to rein it in. And to be honest, you would feel swindled if you knew how many pages I summarised as a single sentence. I am doing my best, but a whole lot of nothing is going on, and because I haven’t read this stupid book, I have no clue what’s relevant and what’s just fluff.
Spoilers: 100% of it is just fluff. Kill the book.
Oh, Courtney has just joined the ElizaTodd team. I hope Elizabeth finds the “drowning machine” point of the waterfall and knocks Courtney in. Google “drowning machine”. And join me in absolute terror of water that moves by itself. [Wing: I’ve never heard that phrase and am now besotted by it. Such a beautiful bit of water movement.]
Group two consists of Mr Collins, Roger and Charlie, and then Barry joins too. Mr Collins is like, “We need to zoom along, fatty. Time is of the essence.” And Barry is like, “Yes, I know, but I have to take my pride back after all this bullying, so now is the time I am going to inconvenience the group with my clumsy fatness. While someone’s life could be in danger. It’s the perfect time.” And Mr Collins understands that a boy’s pride is more important than any of his students’ lives.
(And, let’s face it, nobody likes Jessica anyway. Let Barry assert himself at the cost of her life. I’m not fussed.) [Raven: I guess if Barry is left unattended back at camp, the whole area could collapse in on itself and disappear due to the fatty’s hilarious ineptitude.]
Staying at camp are the rest of them. Lila feels guilty and Bruce bitches that they should be at Monterey by now. Annie calls him on his selfish spite.
Bruce turned and fixed Annie with a scowl. “And you, Annie. You treat me like, I don’t know, one of these pieces of wood.” He stabbed at a burned log from the campfire. “You know, I’ll admit that I haven’t always acted like a friend to you, but lately I’ve really been trying. And you make me feel like I’m no better than a—a—”
“Tramp?” finished Annie. “That’s your favorite word, isn’t it—or at least it’s what you call me.” She hopped off the table and went over to Bruce, crouching in front of him. “You might as well say the word to my face because you certainly haven’t been shy about saying it behind my back!”
I know it should go without saying, but I have to point out: 1) we’ve had no scenes of Bruce being nice, except for when Jessica was super depressed. The only interaction he and Annie had have been when he’s slut-shaming her; and 2) nobody has ever used the word “tramp” in this book.
FOR FUCK’S SAKE, GHOSTIE, PUT IT ON THE FUCKING PAGE IF YOU WANT THE WORDS TO MEAN ANYTHING.
I HATE THIS SHITTY BOOK.
Annie recounts what she overheard and Bruce says that she should have waited longer, because Charlie said “Maybe you’re right” and then followed it up with “But I don’t think so.” And then convinced Bruce to give Annie a chance. And he brags Charlie had to fight super hard to get Bruce to listen.
Yeah, no, that’s not making an effort, that’s being an absolute shitstain of humanity for funsies, and then grudgingly being less of a shitstain when your friend wears you down. You’re not a good person, Bruce. And bragging that it was nearly impossible to convince you to treat a girl with dignity and respect is not the flex you think it is.
Annie, being a Sweet Valley character, and written by the worst ghostie that ever ghosted, gets all teary eyed at Bruce’s big-hearted gesture of no longer calling her a slut.
[Wing: Push him into the fucking fire, Annie!]
Over with Team Gaslighting Love Triangle, Courtney is having a horrible time. It’s raining and she wants to go back. She claims to be ill. Todd is torn. He desperately wants to protect his Delicate Angel, but even Todd knows it will undermine his “nice guy” image if he lets his ex’s twin die.
Courtney “heroically” offers to go back to camp alone, since she’s not as important as Jessica. That’s a move right out of my mother’s playbook.
Todd is totally torn now. His Delicate Angel feels unworthy of them and she’s got a teeny sniffle that literally just started on this page. She’s clearly dying. He must protect her. But…
Thankfully, the other group appears, preventing him from having to make the decision he was obviously going to make, and spoiling the Elizabeth/Todd ship forever for the three people who actually give a shit about them as a couple.
If you are one of the three people that care about this ship, please comment below and explain how you came to care about these assholes and their romantic happiness. If you can cite sources for why they make sense, I’m all ears. Also, if you consider yourself one of these three people but your only reason is “Todd isn’t Jeffrey French”, [Wing: Spoilers?] you’re not. You’re just regular fandom. And I already side with you on that one. Or, I do currently. I might change my mind at a later date.
Jessica and Robbie are stuck in a cave with a bear, in this layout:
Big rock they’re hiding behind
Bear Cubs and Mama Bear
GHOSTIE, YOU ARE FUCKING DEAD TO ME. GO PISS OFF A BEAR, YOU WASTE OF WORDS.
Oh, and obviously, this is not the grownup version of the bear cub that Jessica fostered back in middle school. Even that wouldn’t redeem this book. [Raven: I know there’s no continuity between Twins and High, but I’d have thought that is Jessica was near some actual bear cubs here, she may have mentioned (or at least THOUGHT ABOUT) the time she nursed a bear cub to health and imprinted with it. I understand that one was written before the other, but still.]
Around this time, the search groups show up. Charlie, being a boy, wants to solve the issue by throwing rocks at the bear. Barry is literally the only person to point out that this is a suicidally stupid plan. And Charlie attempts multiple times to throw a rock, only to be stopped by Barry each time.
Everybody else is just standing there being useless.
Barry goes and pokes the bear. No, seriously, he does that. And then runs off, getting the bear to chase him. Somehow this does not end with the headline “IDIOT BEAR POKER DISMEMBERED BY ANGRY BEAR”, and the bear chases him, freeing up the opening. Jessica and Robbie come running out and the cubs cry, causing the bear to stop chasing Barry and go back to her young.
Everyone is like, “OMG, I know he’s fat and all, but this kid might have value.”
So that’s the moral of the story: don’t bully fat kids, they may be useful in the future. [Raven: Yeah, as a fucking decoy.]
Was this book written by Dahr Mann?
Annie and Charlie get all snoggy, after Annie apologises fully for assuming that the two boys who have been slut-shaming her non-stop were slut-shaming her the one time they weren’t.
Moral: If someone’s been an asshole 100% of the time you’ve known them, don’t assume that they’re being an asshole right now, even when it sounds like they are. You’re probably wrong. Especially if you’re a girl. Especially if you’re a girl who enjoys sex.
Lila and Jessica make up. Were they fighting? Why do I keep typing this fucking paragraph?
Anyway, Lila spills the tea on Ms Dalton. Apparently she was called Beth Curtis, married to John Mayfield Curtis III (if the three names and third generation didn’t give it away: rich and powerful family), who took his own life the very day after she left him. Lila thinks that she married John for his money and threw him away when she got bored of him. And that’s not going to happen to her father. She’s going to expose her.
This book relies upon you caring. It makes no effort to get you to care.
Now they’re in Santa Cruz – I can’t even bring myself to care that they’re in the Murder Capital of the world.
That night Courtney makes her play.
She smokes a cigarette while recalling that she’s managed to convince daddy she’s allowed home, because now her boyfriend is Todd, who he thought was the bees knees – you know what? This information would have been useful about 47,000 words ago, so I wouldn’t have to have ranted extensively about how picking Todd was just causing needless stupid drama.
Of course, she can’t tell Todd that, so she tells Todd that she’s super worried about dad, and so scared of being alone in the house with him, she just needs a big strong man to protect her. And Todd’s view is, “I am kind. Elizabeth isn’t kind any more. I do the kind thing. I win.”
I actually thought Todd would be so horrified to see her smoking that he’d break up with her and go back to Elizabeth, but apparently not.
Oh… wait, are they moving in together? She’s now saying that LA’s a great place, and maybe he can work in the movies. What. This is fucking stupid.
They agree to set off in the morning.
Suddenly! A FOREST FIRE.
No. Really. Courtney’s cigarette set it off. [Raven: Bears and secret identities and fires, oh my! This ending is a clusterfuck.]
Todd and Olivia are dispatched to fetch the forest rangers. Lila has a panic attack, Ms Dalton tries to soothe her, and Lila pretty much outs her in response. Someone needs to do… something… I either don’t care or it’s not well explained, and Bruce and Roger volunteer, but Bruce says no, only one Patman takes the risk, he’ll take Charlie with him. Elizabeth is like, “OMG, what a sweet big brother move.” And I’m like, “OMG, what an elitist cock. He will preserve his bloodline – a person he doesn’t even like – over his own friend.”
And then the fire’s over and everything’s ok.
Well, that was fucking stupid, wasn’t it?
Elizabeth now has guilt. It was her duty to put out the campfire, which she did. Using water. But she set fire to California and probably baby animals died, so she’s leaving tomorrow as a mark of shame.
Over with the teachers, we get the Beth Curtis story. And it’s dead boring. She left. Her husband took his life. The powerful family blamed her. So she changed her name and moved away.
But then Mr Collins gives her a soulful look and suddenly she relents.
The actual truth is he was an evil man, he drank, got into fights, behaved badly and was a domestic abuser. She had to cover it all, because that’s what you did when you were part of the family. And then she hit her limit and left. When the Curtises realised their son was dead, they decided to make her life miserable, so she’s basically under an NDA enforceable by violence and threats, rather than the law.
Roger Collins grew tense. He let his arms drop to his sides and took a step backward. “What about him?”
“He knows the Curtises. Does business with them. He heard the story and figured out who I was. Of course he heard their version of the story, but I was too frightened to tell him the truth. And I was terrified he’d expose my former life to the entire town of Sweet Valley.”
“Blackmail!” Roger Collins’s jaw dropped open in shock.
“Not exactly.” Nora Dalton lowered her eyes. “He just sort of managed to take up more and more of my time… Oh, what does it matter, anyway?” She was inconsolable. “Now that Lila’s heard about me, my life in Sweet Valley is over. I’ll have to flee again, hide.”
I have no clue what this means here at all. Like, is George a bad guy who’s helping threaten her or what? Or is she just spending time with him to convince him she’s not evil like the Curtises say?
I mean, I don’t actually care in the slightest, I just think the big reveal should reveal something, rather than stumbling over the words and leaving a confusing message. And maybe not imply that the father of one of the leading characters is a monster who helps terrify and control women. #JustSaying [Raven: The whole George Fowler thing is just baffling.]
Anyway, snogging ensues, so who cares what the actual story is or how it ends for them? All’s well that… has a snog somewhere in there. That’s the saying, right?
Next up, Ms Dalton bares her soul to the group, while Elizabeth runs off and Mr Collins follows, they catch each other up on all the boring shit that’s gone on in this shitpit of a book. Mr Collins says that if she loves Todd, she has to fight for him, because Courtney is full of shit about her alcoholic dad, she’s just a brat acting out who wants to get home to her scumbag boyfriend.
No. Fuck off. First of all, he doesn’t know for certain that her scumbag antics aren’t as a result of alcoholism in the family. I know it’s not, because I’ve read as much of this book as the lazy ghostie could be bothered to write, but if you were in that situation, you wouldn’t know for sure. Secondly, Todd has been an absolute shit to Elizabeth, and this should be a wake-up call to her that he’s just not worth having around full-time.
Elizabeth walks back to the group where Ms Dalton has just finished telling her story and everyone loves her for it.
Elizabeth challenges Courtney based on absolutely nothing, just says she needs to tell the truth. When has that ever worked? But it does, because Elizabeth has to confess that she started the fire. And then Todd remembers Courtney was smoking, after Elizabeth turned in for the night, so it was her fault. And then all of a sudden he realises that Courtney is lying about everything.
Moral: Don’t trust smokers. They’ll burn you to death and lie about dead/drunk parents.
Todd apologises to Elizabeth, and apparently things are fine. [Raven: WHAT A CROCK OF ABSOLUTE SHIT. The Ghostie had TWO-HUNDRED-AND-FIFTY PAGES to land this story, but fucked it up ROYALLY. This was the big plot in this plotless piece of shit, and todd just goes “duh smoking it’s all lies” and Courtney goes “yes you are shitty people” and Liz goes “i love todd” and we move on? GET TO FUCKING FUCK, YOU FUCKWITS.]
Courtney spits out that Toddibeth deserve each other. Elizabeth giggles and agrees.
And then I agree, because these assholes really shouldn’t be inflicted on anyone else on the planet. They suck. I firmly believe that Todd doesn’t deserve anything better than a Wakefield, and Elizabeth is fully inviting all the shit that a Wilkins-Wakefield union will bring.
And then we have an irrelevant wrap-up chapter, where Enid shows up like a painful contractual obligation. It’s utterly boring and meaningless, so I’m skipping it.
I hate this book. Everything happened off screen. The ghostie is by far the worst writer in the franchise I’ve ever encountered. They do not have the skill to write a menu, much less a Super Edition. I would read The Class Trip, followed by Ithig, followed by convincing Raven to read those two again, before going anywhere near this piece of shit.
I was bored and angry, and I have two boxes of 158 Sweet Valley books to open and instead I’ve been stuck here for two days reading and recapping this piece of shit.
Ghostie, if I ever meet you by chance, I’m going to give you such a glare that you’re gonna go home traumatised.
KILL IT WITH FIRE. NOT JUST THE BOOK. THE CHARACTERS. THE SETTING. HELL, ALL OF FICTIONAL CALIFORNIA. IT ALL NEEDS TO GO IN A NUCLEAR BLAZE.
[Raven: This book was fucking AWFUL. For all the things Dove said, and more.
By far, BY FAR the worst thing was that everything happened off-screen. EVERYTHING. Until the last ten pages, in which we got a bear and a fire and a person confessing a dark past and anotehr denouement and another and another. The whole thing felt so haphazard.
I hated the letter-writing conceit too, which just leant into the terrible structure.
Oh, and Robbie October can fuck off as well.
There are literally no redeeming features here. None of it made sense, and the bits that didn’t make sense were badly written to boot. It’s been the worst High book by far. I’d still read it over Ithig or The Class Trip, though. [Dove: Really? Because they are, respectively, 30,000 and 25,000 words shorter. I’d read them twice before this shit.]
Let’s hope the remaining Super Editions have a little more gumption.]
[Wing: Well, this book made me feel a lot better about the book I accidentally read first, so there’s that. Otherwise, it’s so boring and pointless and such a waste of things I love that can be done well but utterly aren’t here that I can’t even hate it. I plan to forget about it as soon as I finish this comment.]