Sweet Valley High #1: Double Love

Sweet Valley High 1 – Double Love, by Francine Pascal

Title: Double Love

Tagline: Will Jessica steal Todd from Elizabeth?

Summary: Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are identical twins at Sweet Valley High. They’re both popular, smart, and gorgeous, but that’s where the similarity ends. Elizabeth is friendly, outgoing, and sincere—nothing like her twin. Snobbish and conniving, Jessica thinks the whole world revolves around her. Trouble is, most of the time it does. Jessica always gets what she wants—at school, with friends, and especially with boys.

This time, Jessica has set her sights on Todd Wilkins, the handsome star of the basketball team—the one boy Elizabeth really likes. Now it’s a game of double love, with Todd as first prize. Elizabeth doesn’t want to lose him, but what Jessica wants, Jessica usually gets… even if it ends up hurting her sister.

Initial Thoughts:

Here we are.

It’s time.

Sweet Valley… High.

Honestly? I’m going into this series spoiler-free, with more than a modicum of apprehension. Sure, I went in fresh to Sweet Valley Twins, and that bore strange and exotic fruit. But this time, I’m no virgin. I have expectation, and baggage. I have characters I love, characters I’ll miss, and a towering wall of history that can’t help but loom over everything.

It’ll be weird, this forward skip into high school alongside a technological rewind. While the Twins in middle school dallied with cellphones and (even) the internet, there’s nothing like that when they hit their mid teens. The cultural whiplash will be jarring, and very real.

Am I looking forward to it? I think so. Sweet Valley High has always felt like the main dish, with Twins a nutritious but ultimately residual starter that serves to whet the palate while leaving the diner unsated. We’ve devoured enough breadsticks, it’s time for the steak.

Deep breath.

Page one.

Wish me luck!

[Wing: I’m trying to go into this with as few preconceived notions as possible, but we’re already starting out with something we read in Twins multiple times. I know High came first, but I can’t stop thinking about what poor choices were made to have this same story occur in Twins when the target market for Twins would then age into High.]

Recap:

Chapter one begins in a fashion I suspect is common with the majority of the series: Jessica Wakefield being dramatic, and seeking attention. Skinny legs, vomit-inducing knees, and probably a pulsating and bilious anus. Oh woe is her! She’s positively hideous!

Of course, this is hyperbole.

Aside:

The word “Hyperbole” leads one to assume there exists a distinct and quantifiable hierarchy of “bole”. Let’s theorycraft.

Let’s say Hyperbole sits middle to middle-top. What’s underneath, and what’s above? I suggest, in descending order:

Stupendobole
Incredibole
Quantumbole
Hyperbole
Superbole
Passabole
Okaybole
Bole
Subparbole
Terrorbole
Unfathomabole
KILL-IT-WITH-FIRE-Bole

*brushes hands*

Yup, nailed it.

End aside.

Naturally, the text sets us straight. Jessica is no Quasimodo. She’s literally perfect.

After Jessica complains about her face and her eyes, we meet Elizabeth. She pretends to be offended, as well she should. She’s Jessica’s identical twin, after all. If Jess is a minger, then Liz mings too.

And then… yay! We hit the first paragraph of Twin Comparisons from the initial series. The first evet Twinparison! If you’re new to our site, you’ll be unfamiliar with our treatment of such peccadillos. If you’re a rail runner from our Twins recaps, you’ll know all about them. So, in the spirit of a new start, let’s make like Undertaker and go Old School.

  • Elizabeth is one in a million. She’s destined for greatness. Jessica is also one in a million. She worries this will make it easier for them to pick her out of a lineup.
  • Jessica is the more resourceful twin, in that she can kill a man with anything she can lay her hands on. Elizabeth’s only dalliance with “Resources” involves the prefix “Human”, as she’s constantly reported for meddling in the affairs of others.
  • The twins are as alike as chalk and cheese. If by “chalk” you mean “cheese”, and by “cheese” you mean “chalk”. … They’re very similar, is what I’m getting at. Maybe I should’ve used a different metaphor.

There… so much better than the usual parade of eye-colour-cheek-dimple-four-minutes-older-angel-and-devil schtick that we’re all inoculated against.

Suddenly, the phone rings. Jessica springs to answer. It’s Todd Wilkins, Elizabeth’s on-off boyfriend for the entire Twins series. Excellent! Here’s a character we all know and love. After a little twinny confusion, he asks for Elizabeth.

Jessica is nonplussed. Todd, apparently, is the Hottest Star on the High School Basketball Team, and Jessica, as a practicing cheerleader, thinks that Toddy should only have cock for her.

Immediately, she sabotages her sister. Like, not in a fun way. She ignores his request to speak to her sister, and lathers on the softest soap imaginable.

“Oh Todd, you are the best at Orange Hoopy-Hoopy! Can I touch your powerful thighs? You can do anything, including, but not limited to: drywalling, astral projection and French patisserie baking. You have a powerful almondy musk.”

When pressed, she lies. Liz is in the shower. And there’s no point in calling back, either, as she’s likely to be stabbed to death in said shower before the night is over.

Once the call is done, we have that rarest of sweetbreads: a pang of Jessica Guilt.

Jessica experienced a slight twinge of guilt about sidetracking Todd, but she quickly brushed it away, telling herself she really hadn’t done any harm. It wasn’t as if he were Elizabeth’s boyfriend. She probably didn’t even know he existed.

I mean… what?

Alarm bells in the distance.

Elizabeth pops in and asks who called. Jessica continues the lies. It was Todd, she says. He was calling her about something called Pi Beta. He wasn’t interested in Elizabeth at all.

We oddly skip into Elizabeth’s head, where informs us that she’s after a Hot Todding, and she reveals the following nonsense:

Had Todd realized how much she liked him? He sat near her in Mr. Russo’s science class, and though she’d never spoken to him, she’d always been aware of his compelling presence.

ALARM KLAXON BLARES.

What in the Cock-eyed Christ are the writers playing at?! I’ve just read around ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY BOOKS in which Elizabeth Wakefield and Todd Wilkins had an on-off boyfriend-and-girlfriend relationship, and now you’re telling me they’ve never fucking met?!

*drops book, exits room, screams into the existential void*

I don’t blame this book, of course. It can’t help being the first of its name. This is the canon blueprint. But I can blame whoever concepted the Sweet Valley Twins series, as they had a slew of source material in the form of THESE FUCKING BOOKS and yet they chose to use TODD WILKINS as Elizabeth’s Ride or Die for a series set years before she first talked to him! Couldn’t they have invented a new boy for this role? They could have called him Rod Pilkins or something.

Absolute wreckage. I do hope this is something the retcon in Book 2 and beyond, but I doubt that’s the case. What’s really grinding my gears is there’ll be a fuckton of shit like this, and even though it makes me apoplectic with impotent rage, I’ll just have to eat it down. [Dove: And this is why I swapped books with Raven. I thought it made far more sense for someone not familiar with SVH to highlight the differences between Twins and High, since, like any fandom oldie, I just shrug helplessly and say, “Well, that’s Sweet Valley for you.”] [Wing: Do we really have to just eat it down? Surely we can rant about it. Go boom, dare I say. Surely.]

I’m getting Brexit flashbacks now. Todd means Todd, apparently.

Elizabeth relives a recent school day, and her apparent “first” contact with the mercurial Todd Wilkins. They’d caught each other’s eyes in the canteen, which was apparently a portent for an after-school sexy meeting in which he asked for some homework info. Banter occurs, and it is sweet.

Back in “reality”, Elizabeth snaps out of it and changes the subject. What is Jessica going to wear for the Pi Beta Alpha?

Apparently, Sweet Valley High has a sorority system?

Is that a thing in American high schools? I thought it was a University thing. Either way, it sounds like a poor replacement for the Unicorn Club.

[Wing: Apparently there are high school fraternities and sororities, though some state governments ban them in public high schools, allegedly including California in 1906. The way to get around this is to have them be unofficial school clubs that don’t need a teacher sponsor and are under no control from the school. Is that what’s going on in Sweet Valley? Fuck if I know.]

There’s clothes talk, and apparently Jessica thinks a tuxedo shirt is the fashion statement for the ages. Probably because it’s an outfit that Elizabeth owns. Liz’s spineless nature is immediately front and centre, and she agrees to let Jessica wear her clothes on pain of TREBUCHET. [Dove: Readers, what are your thoughts on this tuxedo shirt?

Is it the goofy t-shirt with the ruffles silkscreened on, or is it an actual ruffly shirt that would be fucking ridiculous to wear to school?
2
So, what do you think this abomination of fashion looks like?x
Answers in the comments section please!]

Sproing goes the dynamite!

Actually, it’s “wash these clothes by the weekend, mmkay?”, which is the ultimatum equivalent of a wet fart. I’m sure this won’t be the last time that Jessica borrows Elizabeth’s clothes!

/resignation

[Wing: We’re getting into the Elizabeth Has No Spine part of the high school story real early, aren’t we.]

The girls then chat about Jessica’s browbeating of her weaker twin, forcing her to pledge for Pi Beta Alpha. In doing so, they were actioned with pulling pledge pranks. Sounds familiar.

The prank? Have a pizza delivered while being subjected to Mr Russo’s science class. Thus follows a faithful enactment of the fateful prank. Class is in session, a pizza is delivered… and the pizza guy declares it’s for “Elizabeth Wakefield”.

Can you guess who actually ordered the pizza? That’s right…

A naked Mr Nydick!

What do you mean, “wrong series”…? Are you saying I can’t keep cracking that joke? Bah, humbug. [Dove: May I introduce you to… no, it’s not a young Robert Redford, it’s Mr Collins!]

As you’ve guessed, it was JESSICA that ordered the pizza in Elizabeth’s name. Which is all kinds of stupid. Why not just give a fake name, like, I dunno, Ellen Riteman or something? There’s no one in the class called Ellen Riteman, after all. [Wing: I am sobbing. Ellen, I miss you!] All that fingering your sister achieves (easy now) is to cause needless drama. Which, I suppose, is Jessica’s modus operandi.

Even so, this feels a bit Paint-Jessica-By-Numbers basic. Look everyone, Jessica is a wild and wacky girl! She’s a beauty, but she’s also a honey badger because she doesn’t give a fuck! I know that this is Book One of the Sweet Valley Universe, so broad strokes are the order of the day, but I come here with one hundred and eighty books of baggage, which is difficult to shrug off.

Liz is cornered by Mr Russo, but gives a smart-arse answer to his probing question, so the science teacher merely laughs it off and plays along. Standard.

More pranks are intimated: sending a singing telegram to their bald headmaster, dying the school mashed potato supply purple. And at noon, the fruits of their labours will be revealed. Will they join the PBA sisterhood?

Spoiler? Yes they will.

The chapter ends with Jessica blithely considering her Pi Beta Alpha future like a boss, and Elizabeth worrying about her feelings for a likely Jess-loving Todd like a micturating ferret.

Chapter Two skips to breakfast, where we meet the Sainted Alice Wakefield. Enquiring minds want to know if the Wakefield Matriarch will be quite as gin-addled in High as she was in Twins, but I guess we can leave that insight to the philosophers. Here, she introduces the sub plot: Ned, her erstwhile lawyering husband, is working all the hours that God sends on a case involving the SVH football team… alongside a mysterious new colleague known only as “Marianna”.

After some banter involving secrecy, it’s ascertained that all the Wakefields will be “doing things” that afternoon, so the twins get to drive the family Fiat convertible.

Okay, so that feels like new! The twins can drive now, of course.

The US way of Driver’s Ed is such an alien concept to us Brits. We have Driving Lessons, available to independently buy from the age of seventeen, at around 30 quid ($35) for an hour. Typically, some 45-75 lessons later, you can then play £23 for your Theory Test and £62 for your Practical Test, and after that you can drive. Provided you pass, of course. Although you’ll have never driven on a motorway, so you might want some more lessons to get that down (optional). [Dove: And if you have anxiety, once you have your driver’s licence, you will never use it, because you hate driving alone, so your car is a very expensive ornament. Um… that one might just be me.]

In America? It always looks like it’s a couple of school periods with Mr Specky Gimmer, and boom, you’re good to go mow down a family of four at a busy intersection.

[Wing: I don’t know the specific details of getting a license in California in the 80s, but in the midwest in the 90s, we did not have to take driving lessons/driver’s ed/anything of the sort. There’s a thin little book of road rules to study, a written test (multiple choice, I think), and a driving test. You don’t even have to be able to do everything right to pass it. I got my license right after I turned 16, and I had my permit from the moment I turned 15 1/2. It allowed me to drive with a licensed driver in the car (probably one over 18, but I don’t actually remember), and I don’t remember having to drive any set number of hours, though I know teen drivers must do that here now.]

Jessica immediately assumes she’ll be driving the little red second car. Alice puts her straight. It’s Elizabeth who gets the honour, and Jess recently crashed it and is in double secret probation.

Immediately, Jess bemoans her plight.

“That’s not fair!” Jessica whined. “I’m not going to school to be humiliated like a kindergarten child! Oh, forget it, Mom, just forget it. I know Liz is your favorite, and I’m just an afterthought!”

“Come on, Jess, let’s get going,” Elizabeth said patiently. “You know you’re not going to miss today for the world. What’s Pi Beta Alpha going to do without you? Let’s just go, or we’ll be late for school.”

I’ve a feeling we’ll be living through an endless carousel of variations on this theme. Mise well get this one in amber as the archetype of the series.

Quick skip to the car journey, in which Jess is still grumbling about what admittedly sounds like a prang. Although $200 in the Eighties probably bought you, I dunno, a set of golf clubs and a great-looking sweater?

During the drive, we ascertain that Jessica longs to be rich, like the Fowlers or the Patmans (Patmen?), while Elizabeth thinks all things are perfect as they jolly well are. Their dad is doing well for himself… after all, he’s always working late.

And lo, talk turns of possible Wakefield Infidelity. Is Daddy Wakey being flaky, getting nakey with the secretakey?

[Dove: Dude. She’s not a secretary. She’s a fully qualified lawyer. And this isn’t Dove being obsessive about the details. This is Dove being pissed off at the huge amount of hateful sexism thrown at this woman for having the audacity to be pretty while also being clever. I know yours was literally for the sake of a rhyming joke, but this poor woman does not deserve the level of hatred she receives throughout the book. Mostly from Elizabeth, who prides herself on being pretty as well as clever. And I’m pissed off about it.] [Raven: I didn’t clock this. Fair point.] [Wing: What Dove said. We both know how often this sort of thing still occurs in the legal field to this day, too.]

Can you guess which sides of the story our intrepid girls are on? That’s right! Elizabeth thinks it’s all nonsense, while Jessica is convinced it’s all true. I guess we’ll find out as the story unfolds, but I must say it’d be a brave choice to break up the Wakefield family in book one of the series, especially after giving us one hundred and eighty Twins books down the line in which they are happily married.

[Wing: Plucky Girl Detectives All Grown Up! (And another reused subplot.)]

As they approach school, Jessica asks Elizabeth if she can drive into the parking lot. I guess she wants to look cool, or something? And being driven by her sister would make her look uncool?

So why doesn’t she just tell everyone that she did drive the car in that morning? They’re identical fucking twins, no one would bat an eyelid.

Naturally, Elizabeth tows the party line, and declines. Jessica is immediately offended to the core, and she clambers out of the car with a shouted comment and a display of pique that’s so piquey it may well be a mountain range.

Just as Elizabeth has resigned herself to a protracted argument with her hideous sibling, she spots her apparent best friend Enid Rollins, and dashes off to chat. Apparently, Enid has something important to say.

Jessica pouts and calls Enid a name. Specifically, a “nerd”, and “Eeny Rollins”. She announces that Elizabeth should not be friends with Enid, as this might reflect badly on the Unicorns.

Heh. Sorry, force of habit. Once more with feeling…

… as this might reflect badly on Jessica.

Aside:

Y’know, I’m beginning to think I’m Team Elizabeth.

I know they have to trowel it on thick for the pilot, but this Jessica is a fucking arrogant monster. She feels far too intense and terrible to be real, and the scale of her shittiness is out of sync with the scale of everyone else’s defining traits.

I do hope they tone it down for the future books. I don’t think I’ll like this version of Jess unless they start demonstrating some of her redeeming features soon.

[Dove: Same. I’m now understanding why people give me so much side-eye for saying that Jessica is my favourite. I’m a Twins girl, not a High girl. My Jessica is clearly a psychopath without a care in the world, but she’s not this tantrum-throwing cartoon villain we can see in High.]

[Wing: I hope it gets more balanced going forward, but the book summary itself immediately sets up Jessica as the Foul She-Beast and Elizabeth as the Innocent Good Girl.]

End aside.

Suddenly, Jessica has a change of heart. She gives her sister a powerful hug, tells her she is forgiven, then legs it. Liz doesn’t really notice this, as she’s more focussed on Enid Rollins.

So. First Henry, then Seth. Now Enid. Nice.

Enid is Liz’s best friend. As a sometime fan of Amy Sutton, the lank-haired spunkwaffle and Liz’s friend throughout Twins (until the vinegar strokes of the series), that’s somewhat galling. Enid, apparently, is more than the beige smudge that characterised this particular Sutton. She’s clever, and pretty, and funny, and mysterious. At least, that’s what we are told.

Told. Not shown.

The girls chat about boys, eventually, with Enid claiming domain over the powerful loins of one Ronnie Edwards, an apparent New Kid in Town (and in Miss Markey’s class, which is a sliver of sense away from Mr Mackay… Mmmkay). He’s actually asked her to the Phi Epsilon dance! Like, O M FUCKING GEE.

She also knows about Liz’s dreams to be a writer, and Liz’s crush on Todd. Which is nice. Girls being friends. We also learn that Liz writes for The Oracle, this series’ Sweet Valley Sixers. She’s in charge of the Eyes and Ears gossip column, which is written under a pseudonym. There’s a tradition at Sweet Valley High that if the writer’s real identity is discovered, they can be honed into the swimming pool while fully clothed. THIS MAY BE IMPORTANT LATER, so please take appropriate notes at this juncture. [Dove: I just want to put this out into the universe. You know all the real Twinparisons, not Raven’s ones, from Twins? About how every single one mentioned that Jessica is a vapid gossip, while Elizabeth prefers refined conversations with Amy about books and orphans and climate change? WHY IS LIZ RUNNING THE HIGH SCHOOL GOSSIP COLUMN NOW? (Yes, I know Caroline Pearce technically does that, but how is Eyes and Ears any different to gossip?)] [Raven: I agree, it does seem weird. Although I presume she doesn’t run it after this book, as the whole “throw them in the pool” prank makes this column look like a rite of passage for any new writer at the Oracle. Liz is new, so she’s the EaE columnist this term. And so on.] [Wing: How is Liz Wakefield new to the Oracle when she’s sixteen? She created an entire damn newspaper in sixth grade. Ghostie, you’re telling me that she didn’t force her way onto the Oracle from the day she started ninth grade?]

Suddenly, JESSICA TRIES TO RUN THEM OVER.

That’s right, folks. The powerful hug she administered earlier was a ruse to lift the car keys away from Elizabeth’s charge. [Wing: Have to admit, this was slick, the sort of Jessica I want to see, not the whining, whimpering weirdo we get.] She then hopped into the red Fiat Spider and drove it from one parking spot to another (the spot next to Bruce Patman’s black Porsche).

After picking herself up from the floor, Liz marches to give her sister what for. Predictably, on the way she is waylaid by… Todd Wilkins!

“Hey, what’s the hurry?” It was Todd Wilkins, and he was smiling. “I was hoping to talk to you.”

Elizabeth was in total shock. There he was—Todd Wilkins—the man of her dreams, standing two inches away from her.

Please remember that this is the same Todd fucking Wilkins that Elizabeth has dated and kissed across multiple books. Yet this is billed as their first conversation.

LET US UNLEASH THE PADDLE OF SHAME.

“Ignoring continuity? That’s a paddlin’.”

SHAME ON YOU, TWINS GHOSTIES.

*thwack*

*thwack*

*thwack*

[Wing: Fitting to have a paddle in a book which introduces high school Greek society.]

Their conversation is stilted and full of cringe. Acceptable. Long story short, they agree to meet under the clock after school, at five-fifteen.

And by the time Elizabeth gets to the Patman Porsche, Jessica has gone.

Cut to school!

Between classes, the halls of Sweet Valley High resembled the battle scene from Star Wars, with bodies hurtling in all directions accompanied by collisions and dropped books.

So, which battle scene is this, then? I guess it could be the Battle for Endor, with Ken Matthews running around like a fucking Ewok. Return of the Jedi was released in 1983, as was this book. But the reference is more likely to be some space battle, with weaving Tie-Fighters and X-Wings. Okay then.

In the melee, Jessica drive-by’s Liz and declares she has wonderful news. Liz doesn’t even mention the fact that Jess stole the car keys and almost committed auto-based double homicide, but at least ye references her oversight.

Another cut, to noon. The girls are listening to the Pi Beta Alpha announcement about new sorority members. Jessica leans into Elizabeth and declares that she thinks that Todd is going to ask her to the Phi Epsilon dance. And by her, I mean Jessica-her, and not Elizabeth-her.

Fighting back tears, Elizabeth hears her name being called for the Pi Beta Alphas. Jessica appears to have been overlooked, as the next name is called: Cara Walker. Walker is alphabetically sequential from Wakefield. Then other names are called, names that are mot in alphabetical order at all. Lila Fowler, Enid Rollins. What sort of list is this?! Wakefield begins with W, all that should be left are the weird goth letters. You can’t just skip back to the sunlight and optimism of the letter F.

Of course, Jess is actually the final name called, for no other reason than dramatic effect.

I’m sorry, but I would not join any organisation that rides roughshod over the great and noble tradition of the fucking Alphabet. Get it together, Pi Beta Alpha. [Dove: Isn’t the Greek system based on the alphabet…? It’s a bold choice to embrace one alphabet and mock another.]

Jessica immediately wonders how many votes she needs to become president of the sorority. NOOOOOOO, can’t we have an interaction where she’s NOT ticking an evil or sociopathic box? Surely she’s not 110% all the damn time? [Wing: Her being 110% all of the time would be amazing if she was being entertainingly evil and sociopathic, but NOPE. BORING.]

End of the chapter? A brief looks at Elizabeth beavering away in the offices of The Oracle, the student paper to which she is betrothed. Predictably, she finishes her tasks a little late and doesn’t get to her meet-cute with Todd. In her haste to arrive, late, she does spot Todd… with Jessica! And they are climbing into the Fiat Spider!

Off they drive, into the sunset of Elizabeth’s despair.

Chapter Three begins with everyone’s favourite perennial douchebag… Steven Wakefield. As a fourteen-year-old ass-faced clownspackle, he was pretty much the personification of a Red Flag. How will the now-presumably eighteen-year-old Steven fare?

Things begin… oddly. It seems that Steven and Elizabeth actually have a bond, and a fun “let’s take the piss out of each other for being ugly while constantly owning the fact that we ARE ugly” schtick. Of course, the ghostie can’t help but assure the reader that no, both Elizabeth and Steven are not, in fact, ugly, but actually both drop-dead-shit-your-pants sexay.

Steve reveals his defining Twins trait by claiming that he’s starving, and asks his sister to make him something. A sandwich, probably. Arse. Actually, it IS a sandwich. I mean, MY CHRIST what a cliché.

Steven seems genuinely interested in Elizabeth’s life, but she chooses not to share her feelings about Todd. That’s believable. We also discover that Steven is now a college boy, and his visit from dorm this weekend is a surprise, something about which he is recalcitrant. Okay, maybe this is the B Plot. Whatever. Steven can get in the sea, for the time being. As I’ve a satchelful of baggage from Twins, he does not get a free pass here despite a decent start.

[Wing: I’m torn, because as stupid as I find that inside joke about being ugly, I do like getting to actually see them joking around and not just being told about it.]

During their chat, Liz does reveal her concerns about their dad and the hotshot lawyer divorcee, Mariana West. Who was married to the big heart specialist, Gareth West.

ONE! At least she was not married to the patio specialist Fred West, and…

TWO! It’s nice to see the medical profession concentrating on people who are blighted with Big Hearts. So much so, they have a Big Heart Specialist.

One thing that IS weird, as Steven does his best to pour gasoline on these rumour flames? For some reason, Elizabeth keeps calling him “Steve”. That’s not a thing, right? The text labels him as Steven, but… Steve in the dialogue. He was never Steve in the Twins series, was he?

I mean, I guess that they call Elizabeth and Jessica things like Liz and Jessie [Wing: Jess Wakefield will stab anyone who calls her JESSIE. Or, wait, maybe that’s me.] and so on, but I dunno, Steve and Steven seem like distinct names, for some reason. Like, if I were writing about a Steven, I would have the characters call him Steven. If my character preferred the name Steve, I’d reference him as Steve.

Just feels weird, is all. Pick a fucking lane, or, as Mr Miyagi says, squished like grape.

[Wing: It sounds weird to me, too, we’ve known him as Steven for so damn long.]

Jessica arrives, and squees over “Steve”. When he and Elizabeth display their “we are ugly” routine, Jessica predictably calls it a “ridiculous game”, because heaven help she show anything like a human emotion or reaction to anything.

As Liz broods about Todd and her sister, Jessica waxes lyrical about their wonderful day and their acceptance into the PBA sorority, which is still not a thing and so I fucking hate it.

Suddenly, Elizabeth comes out with some passive agressive sassery that I am here for. She claims that the PBA acceptance is “no big deal,”, and from there we get the following:

“No big deal? Elizabeth, how can you say that? How can you even think it? You’ve got to be seven hundred and thirty-seven kinds of idiots not to be excited about associating with the best girls at Sweet Valley High. What’s wrong with you?”

“It’s hard to get excited when your feet hurt,” Elizabeth muttered.

“Your feet hurt? What in the world do your feet have to do with Pi Beta Alpha?” Jessica demanded.

“My feet always hurt when I have to walk all the way home from school,” Elizabeth answered in an ominously quiet voice.

Gotta say, that’s a headshot right there. Notch one up for Team Elizabeth.

“Steve” feels the wind, and scarpers. Or at least, he tries to scarper, but Jessica deftly changes the subject. She declares that she will set up her brother on a date with Cara Walker, whoever that maybe.

Steven, to his credit, turns Cara down as too young for him. He’s in college, she’s in high school. [Wing: Like that would ever stop Jessica.] Looks like he’s matured. He brushes the idea aside: he has other plans. INTRIGUE AHOY!

As Jess digs the dirt, Steven fucks off.

Jess turns her sights on Liz. Who is Steven seeing?! Liz, however, is still seething, and is in no mood to speak to her fast and furious car-thieving sister. She tries her best to make Jess take some responsibility, but it doesn’t work. Jessica does a fine job of gaslighting her sister. She “saw” her sister climb in a far without her, and she “forgives” Elizabeth for abandoning her.

I mean, this is all kinds of toxic. [Dove: I read this book not long after I was disowned. My takeaway on Jessica? This is what my mum would be like if she had charisma. I hated her throughout the whole book.]

Jess then drags things back to Steven and his mystery date. Liz does her best to wrangle things to talk of Todd. What exactly was Jessica doing with him? Helping him, according to Jess. He needed a lift to town. Did he mention anything about having a meeting with Elizabeth? Of course he didn’t.

While Elizabeth is sad, Jess move onto Steven’s “flaming love affair.” But Liz is not willing to move on. Voices are raised, until shit hits the fucking fan and Elizabeth throws a sponge at her sister as Jessica departs in a huff. [Dove: “flaming love affair” amuses me every time I see it.]

That’s right… a sponge. Talk about your loaded metaphors!

At that moment, Alice enters, and she’s right in line to be pelted by the porous missile. She asks her more sensible offspring if there’s anything wrong. At first, Liz is reticent about opening up, but soon the floodgates open.

And then she couldn’t hold back her tears any longer. “Acting like myself—what’s that, Mom? Liz Wakefield is supposed to be good, sweet, kind, generous…” The tears were streaming down her face. “Do you know what that adds up to, Mom? Boring, boring, boring! Sometimes I get hurt—sometimes I get angry…”

I mean, I like Elizabeth in this book. She’s less of a gurning mollusc than the Liz in Sweet Valley Twins. Although I guess this is Book One, and there are a LOT of opportunities for things to fall off a cliff before the end.

Alice says she understands. She doesn’t actually do anything, mind. [Dove: I think Alice might have moved on to medical marijuana. She’s so serene at all times, even when serenity is not the right call.] [Raven: “Burn the land and boil the sea, you can’t take this gin from me…”]

[Wing: Liz actually makes a very good point here, which is that no matter what kind of pedestal people put her on, no matter how “good” she is, how hard she tries, she still has other emotions, the ones society often considers messy, inappropriate for girls and women, etc. The dialog in this is awkward as hell, including this mini-diatribe, but the point is a good one.]

Steven returns, simply to pass on plot information. Jessica is currently talking to “some poor jerk named Todd” on the telephone.

This sends Elizabeth off the edge into a lake of tears. Off she fucks to her bedroom.

Chapter Four skips us to the school day, and the Oracle offices. Liz is working, but instead of working, she is not working. Instead, she is internally monologuing about Todd bloody Wilkins, her sister’s apparent boyfriend. Instead of writing her Eyes and Ears column, she descends to her happy place and daydreams about the Wilkinator.

Cara Walker bursts in. Turns out that she’s a student at Sweet Valley High. And she has the scoop of the decade for the Eyes and Ears column.

The scoop? That the co-captain of the cheerleaders (Jessica Wakefield) is now coupling with the captain of the basketball team (Todd Wilkins).

Aghast, Liz listens while Cara gushes about the evidence. The pair were seen in the Wakefield Convertible. They were seen up at Miller’s Point, a well-known fingering spot. And so on, and so on.

Elizabeth is upset. But it’s all believable. Todd is great, after all. Why shouldn’t he be with the prettiest and most popular girl at Sweet Valley High? Soon, she’s even second guessing all the looks she’s shared with Todd across the crowded canteen. All this time, he must’ve thought he was sharing distant intimacies with Jessica.

Figures. Here comes Elizabeth the sad sack.

But no! She has resolve! She has gumption. She has… dare I say it? She has spunk! So much spunk, that she’s dripping with it!

No, she told herself sternly. I won’t be like this. I won’t think about him anymore. Todd likes Jessica, and Jessica likes Todd, and that’s that.

Good work, Liz! Kick him in the metaphorical, and to the metaphorical.

It doesn’t last long. She starts her column on the situation, and the tears soon come. As she’s crying, she’s joined by this series’ apparent Mr Bowman… Mr Collins. He does his best to help, but it’s pointless. At the mention of Todd’s name, Elizabeth gathers her things and leaves.

In the corridor, it’s worse. She runs straight into Jessica and Todd! Jess is oblivious to her sister’s appearance, and is laying on her thickest hints to browbeat Todd into inviting her to the Phi Epsilon dance. On hearing this, Elizabeth turns tail and flees.

Todd, who to his credit is actually not interested in Jessica, tries to stop the fleeing Liz. Jess nips that in the bid with some prime shitbaggery.

She didn’t answer. She kept moving. She had to get away.

“My sister.” Jessica sighed and took Todd’s arm. “Always in a hurry. Always rushing off to meet some guy.”

“Where’s she off to today?” asked Todd. “I was going up to the Oracle office to apologize in person. Hey, Jess, you explained about the other day, didn’t you?”

“Oh, Todd, Liz is always ten steps ahead of me. I never know if she hears a word I’m saying. I wonder who the lucky guy is today—probably her date for the frat dance.”

This reveals the depths of Jessica’s dickishness. Not only did she simply steal Todd away from his meeting with her sister, she’s now starting to just make shit up about her sibling in order to get her way.

Aside:

Jessica is SUCH A BITCH in this book.

I think I’ve pinpointed the difference between TwinsJessica and HighJessica.

In Twins, our pithy little sociopath dreams and schemes her way through many a scene and scenario. She does horrible things, mainly to her friends and to innocents. However, the things she “does” to Elizabeth are either low key (she borrows her sister’s clothes and doesn’t give them back!) or indirect (she ignores her sister’s advice, or hates on her sister’s friends). The series maintains that although the girls have their differences, they remain the best of friends. And I can believe that, in a fashion.

In High, albeit in the first four chapters of the first book of the series, Jessica has been a royal and ancient BITCH to her sister, directly and without remorse. She steals the car keys and fucks off with the car, then gaslights Elizabeth when she kicks up a modicum of fuss. She lies to Elizabeth’s face when she is directly questioned. And here, she basically tells Todd that Liz is a promiscuous skank.

These girls are NOT FRIENDS.

I’m pretty sure that this series will have me screaming at the page over Jessica’s terrible shithousery, time and time over. I hope this Jessica becomes more nuanced and intricate as things go on, as the one in the early stages of this book is a one-dimensional panto villain that needs to be fucking stopped.

Team Elizabeth. Who the fuck saw THAT coming?

[Dove: All of this. So much this. There is not a single moment where I thought Jessica could be mistaken for a human being. She’s a narcissist. I hate her.]

[Wing: Raven explains it all.]

End aside.

Jessica labours the point about the upcoming Phi Epsilon dance, but Todd doesn’t bite. He eventually leaves without asking her to accompany him anywhere, much to her annoyance.

The chapter concludes with Jessica panicking that her fabled powers of seduction are waning. In order to feel better about Todd’s snub, she decides to walk home, as the attention she gets from passing motorists is always welcome. And always creepy as all fuck. What the hell?

Chapter Five begins with total confirmation that people are fucking appalling. That’s right… we get to meet Rick Andover.

Aside:

I was not spoiled when I read this book. I had no ideas about cast, colour or content.

Once finished, Dove informed me that Rick Andover is kind of a big deal in fandom. Not in a “he’s so dreamy” way, mind… more in a “haha, look at THIS prick” way.

This is fair. He is a complete arsehole.

End aside.

On her walk home, Jessica is accosted by Rick Andover. Apparently, he’s the most outrageous guy at Sweet Valley High, or at least he was until he dropped out some six months ago. Let’s revel in his description, shall we?

Jessica found it hard to believe he was only seventeen. He looked older than most guys their age. He had the ice-cool handsomeness of a junior Clint Eastwood, and a hint of danger lurked in his sultry dark eyes. One elbow was hooked casually over the door. Jessica stared in fascination at the eagle emblem tattooed against the densely packed muscles of his forearm. Her stomach executed a slow somersault. She’d never been this close to Rick before.

If I’m honest, it’s hard to imagine a time when a guy described like this was supposed to be attractive. Maybe I’m underestimating the whole Eighties vibe, but seriously? An eagle tattoo? Who the fuck is he, John Creese?

I guess there was much love for Stranger Things’s Billy Hargrove, so maybe I’m being unfair.

Can’t see the attraction, myself.

[Wing: This is an excellent comparison!]

This walking bundle of hormones and leather vomits up stale cliches to entice an enthralled and quivering Jessica into his car, playing on his bad boy persona and double-daring her like some sort of kindergarten Casanova. He’s trouble with a capital douche.

Apparently, Jessica is thrilled that she’s been “chosen to be” Rick’s companion that afternoon.

ALARM BELLS.

Fucking hell, this is creepy as hot balls. How in the hell is this in any way acceptable, even for the Eighties? It’s predatory nonsense at the core.

Eventually, Jessica semi-succumbs to his wiles. She accepts a lift (almost) home, and she agrees to have a date with this oh-so-bad-boy. He’ll pick her up at eight, from this very spot so to divert any Elder Wakefield suspicion that may come her way.

She’s going to end up dead in a barrel, isn’t she? And the rest of the series is just Elizabeth mourning trying to catch her sister’s killer. [Dove: BLEAK VALLEY THEORY!] [Wing: SOMEONE WRITE THAT SERIES, I WANT IT.]

Also, how fucking ominous is this bullshit?

“This is where you live, isn’t it?”

She stared at him. “H-how did you know?”

“You’re Jessica Wakefield, right? I make it a habit to know where all the foxiest chicks in Sweet Valley live.”

Get this fucker locked away before he legitimately abducts someone.

For some reason, this stalker shit is a plus point to Jessica. She’s happy that the boys all know that she’s alive. Pretty sure she won’t be by nine pm tonight, but whatever.

Rick speeds off in his Camaro, narrowly missing a conveniently-approaching red Fiat Spider driven by a non-Gin-soaked Alice. Jess climbs in with her mother for a ride the rest of the way home. Alice comments on the erratic driving of the Camaro, and asks if Jessica had seen what happened. Jessica denies everything, and Alice then says she’s sure the driver was that “wild Rick Andover”, and that he’s a boy that’s destined for trouble.

The only reason Alice knows Rick Andover is that she’s obviously burning a little fire for the bad boy deep down inside. The saucy minx.

Jess thinks he mother’s attitude stems from the issues that her parents are having with Marianna at work. Because why not?

The chapter ends with the Twins. Jessica is making herself pretty and presentable for her date with Rick Andover. Elizabeth quizzes her on her plans for the evening, and Jessica admits that she has a date. She also promises that she would wreak a furious vengeance on Elizabeth should she spill the beans to the Elder Wakefield.

Liz enquires to the guy on the obverse of the date coin. Jess declares that it’s none of her beeswax.

Liz assumes it’s Todd. Standard.

[Wing: Normally I would rant that a plot shouldn’t turn on characters refusing to communicate with each other, but this is Jessica willfully being a bag of dicks. It doesn’t make for fun reading, she’s awful, but it actually makes sense.]

Chapter Six showcases the date, and oh boy is it a complete and utter clusterfuck. Rick collects her, as promised, although Jessica is a little late. She’s also sporting curled hair and a red blouse, which is conclusive proof that there’s a dirty agenda in her thoughts.

In the Camaro, Rick immediately nuzzles her hair. Jess notices that he stinks of booze and ciggies. How lovely for her.

As they make their way to whatever godforsaken shithole Rick has chosen for their date, their banter is sexually charged. I’ll just throw this into the mix:

“Hey, you’re a fast learner. I can’t wait to see what else you’re good at.”

Jessica shivered a little at his compliment. He talked the way he drove—fast and dangerously. For an instant she wondered if she would be able to keep him at bay, but she quickly dismissed the worry. She had yet to come up against a situation she couldn’t handle.

Erm… No. Just no. This is fucking appalling. There are countless women no longer here that were sure they’d never find themselves in “situations [they] couldn’t handle”. I don’t care if it’s the Eighties, this does not get a pass from me. Irresponsible writing. Get fucked, Jamie Suzanne. [Dove: Agreed with everything you’ve said, but the shared name of the ghostie for High is Kate William.] [Wing: WHAT. WE DON’T EVEN GET GHOSTIE CONTINUITY? I FEEL BETRAYED! *pours one out for Jamie Suzanne*]

The car soon pulls up at Rick’s destination… it’s a place called Kelly’s Roadhouse. Shame, I was hoping it’d be called Sweet Valley Speakeasy or something similarly benign. It’s a dive bar, bedecked with gaudy neon, but let’s not speak too ill of the place because it’s Kelly’s pride and joy and (s)he certainly deserves a crack at the business whip.

Upon entering Kelly’s, Jessica is acutely aware that perhaps she’s bitten off a little more than she can chew. The locale, and her date, are perhaps a little much for her to stomach at the grand old age of sixteen. Rick guides her to a dimly lit booth, as all eyes in the pace bore into her back.

Rick orders some beers, and whisky for himself, and immediately gets handsy with Jess. She’s not happy with this, that much is clear, but she’s cowed and vulnerable, and her light admonishment is not enough to stop things getting more serious. The tone turns dark, as Rick presses his murky advantage.

Rick’s eyes narrowed. “All tease and no tickle, huh? Didn’t your mommy tell you not to put anything in the window that you don’t sell in the store?” His fingers groped higher, and she noticed he was beginning to slur his words. “Well, I’ve seen the merchandise, baby, and I’m sold.”

I mean, EW! Fuck off, you creepy little goblin!

Jessica tries to put her foot down, rebuffing his advances. Thankfully, it has some effect on the darkening drunk that Rick is becoming. Sure, he piles it on, thickly and grimly, catching her in a moist kissy clinch, but she does manage to step aside and compose herself before anything truly hideous occurs.

She stands, and makes to leave, declaring that she will call her self a cab. That doesn’t sit well with Rick, and he lurches for her, grabbing her wrist. Thankfully, her startled yelp attracts the attention of another patron at the bar, who makes to intervene at Jessica’s request.

As she wrenches herself away, all hell breaks loose.

Rick, in his cups, takes a wild swing for Jessica’s new saviour. He misses, naturally, but the return punch from his opponent connects clean and true. Chairs are tumbled, blood is spilled, and before Jessica knows what’s happening she hears a siren approaching at speed.

Fuck me, it’s the cops! Run!

There’s no time to flee. Rick is arrested, and the barman decides that he’s pressing charges. This time. Because it’s happened before. Obviously.

Aside:

Phew!

I’ll admit, this whole scene is pretty full-on. This ain’t Sweet Valley Twins, not by a long chalk.

I did feel for Jessica here, and there’s a sense of real jeopardy throughout. I’m actually glad she got out of there with little more than a bruised ego.

Maybe I’ll enjoy this series more than I originally thought. Fun!

End aside.

Jessica is taken to one side by a policeman, and does her best to convince him that her parents need not be informed of this indiscretion. The policeman is having none of it, and asks for her name.

“Uh… Wakefield…” she managed to choke.

“Wakefield, huh?” The cop peered closely at her. “Sure, I know you. You’re a friend of my niece, Emily Mayer. I’ve heard her mention Elizabeth Wakefield.”

“Emily? Oh, sure!” Jessica ignored his mistake. “Emily’s a terrific drummer, and the Droids are the hottest band in Sweet Valley,” she babbled in relief.

The cop takes notes, and Jessica is taken home in the squad car. But, en route, as Jessica pulls out all the tricks in her arsenal to dodge the blame and pass the buck, the policeman decides that he’s not going to tell the Elder Wakefields. This is partly because he believes in second chances, but mostly because the plot dictates that it happens this way and the book would make little sense if the Elders were informed.

“Oh, thank you, Officer!” Jessica leaped from the car like someone who had just been reprieved from death row. “I swear it’ll never happen again!”

“It’d better not,” he called after her as she bounded up the driveway. “Stay away from Rick Andover. I don’t want to see you in the middle of any more brawls at Kelly’s. And keep in mind, Elizabeth, I don’t believe in third chances.”

“Wait, I’m not—” She started to tell him she wasn’t Elizabeth. Now that she was out of danger, she was suddenly stricken by a guilty conscience for letting him think she was her twin. But the squad car had already disappeared into the night.

So! Jessica has got away with it. Her “date” was a bust, and Rick Andover was a lowlife nobody, and any fallout (should it come) would land on Elizabeth’s shoulders, but at least she can put it behind her. She’s dodged a bullet, that’s for sure.

… or has she?

[Dove: I love the way even her guilt is assholish. Ok, now that she’s not in big trouble, NOW she’s a bit worried that she was going to let her sister take the fall. Like, if she’d have been driven to Sweet Valley Jail, would she still be using Liz’s name?]

As Jessica skips down her driveway, she fails to notice an intrigued Caroline Pearce, SVT gossip queen and apparent PBA sorority sister, stood nearby with her dog on a lead at her side. She’s heard everything. “Elizabeth’s” indiscretion would not be a secret for long.

Aside:

Odd one, this. The story is picking up a pace, and the previous chapter has been the best by a country mile, but it does make me question Jessica’s character.

So far in the book, she’s been unrepentant. She’s flung her sister’s feelings under the bus, time and again. And that’s why I dislike her.

However, as the stakes are raised, the Ghostie takes pains to show that Jessica was not really at fault with this “misunderstanding” of the cop, and the switch between Liz and Jess’s names. This suggests that Jessica is redeemable, and not a total bitch. It also suggests that the Ghostie knows there is a line that Jessica should not cross, in order for her to journey back to Elizabeth’s good graces by the end of the book.

Oddly, I think the character we’ve seen thus far, pre-Kelly’s, is one that would namedrop Elizabeth in a heartbeat, consequences be damned. In fact, I’m actually a little nonplussed that she didn’t. IF we are to believe that Jess would hold back here, we should have seen a little more softness from her earlier in the story.

In conclusion, I’m thinking that the Ghostie has misjudged where the Bitchiness Line should be for sweet little Jessica Wakefield. I hope that future books are a little more considered in that regard.

[Dove: Jungle. Prom. (And if any of you commenters spoil the actual happenings for them, I’ll block you!)] [Wing: Jess drugs other girls’ drinks? (I should really hold onto this for the appropriate Cover Calypso.)]

And I’m still Team Elizabeth.

End aside.

Quick shoutout to Caroline Pearce too! #SVTAlumniRepresent [Wing: And she, at least, doesn’t seem much changed from her admittedly one-note presence in Twins.]

The next chapter begins the following morning, bright and breezy with Elizabeth wondering what the day will bring. We are gifted with some description of her bedroom, which is exactly how you’d expect it to be. Apparently, she has a fainting couch: a pale velvet chaise lounge. Nice!

The twins do meet in the hallway of the Wakefield Compound, but Elizabeth is dashing as she needs to get to school ASAP to talk to Enid, and to prepare for an upcoming test. Jessica wants to tell her something, presumably that she’s muddied Elizabeth’s name with the local constabulary, but there’s just no time. And in all honesty, Jess thinks she’s got clean away with the whole debacle, so I doubt she’d bother confessing anything at this juncture.

At school, it’s soon made clear that all is not right in Elizabeth Wakefield’s sphere.

Enid has somehow got a message to Liz that she needs to talk to her about something important right away, but before they have a chance to collude Elizabeth spots that a group of boys are watching her intently. Their leader, Bruce Patman, even congratulates Elizabeth on something unknown. I mean, we the readers know. But Elizabeth doesn’t know.

Liz and End get together, and briefly create an image of Bruce Patman for the new readers to consume. Gorgeous, rich, tennis prodigy (huh?), and a bit of a horse’s bellend.

Enid then tells Elizabeth that she’s her best friend, and that she can share anything, before leaving a confused and gazumped Liz to go fend for herself as she dashes to speak to Ronnie before the bell rings. Way to go, Enid. Nice work in communicating with your friend. What are you doing, channelling the lank-haired spunkwaffle Amy Sutton?

There follows a tiny scene with Ronnie and Enid. Ronnie is upset that Enid is talking to a girl like Elizabeth, as everyone and their mates have heard from Caroline that Liz was arrested at Kelly’s Roadhouse after starting a riot with Rick Andover. Enid sticks up for her friend, and Ronnie is a totally judgmental prick. [Wing: Ronnie can fuck off into the sea, that controlling jackass.]

It’s suddenly after school, and Elizabeth is back at home after a frankly confusing day. It seems most people were off with her, but she still doesn’t know why.

Life at the Wakefield Compound is proceeding apace. “Steve” is still back from college, and Mama Wakefield is quizzing him as to why. He exits as Elizabeth enters. The phone rings, and Liz takes it, as Alice leaves for work. Oh, the cut and thrust of a modern working home! (In 1983.)

It’s Enid, who finally clues Liz in to why everyone has been so bizarre that day.

Liz is DUMBFOUNDED. Liz is AGHAST. Liz is INCENSED. Liz is HORRIFIED.

Liz is INCREDULOUS. Liz is EXACERBATED. Liz is… hang on… AMALGAMATED. Liz is… erm… Liz is BLONDE…?

After the call, Liz is fairly sure that Jessica is the root of this debacle. And she’s also mortified (Liz is MORTIFIED) that Todd Wilkins may have hears the scurrilous rumour too! These things cannot be left to fester and grow!

Jessica breezes in, fresh from a trouble-free day at school in which no one branded her a jezebel. She and Liz are at it almost immediately.

Naturally, the evasive Jessica wants to turn the focus of the conversation away from her antics with Andover, and more towards the peculiar behaviour of Steven “Steve” Wakefield.

“Later, Liz! I’m talking about something really important. I found out this afternoon why Steve has been coming home every weekend. No wonder he’s been so mysterious and obnoxious to everybody. He should be ashamed of himself! My whole life is going to go right down the tubes! How could he do this, Lizzie?” She began to cry.

The waterworks are successful, and Liz is derailed towards her brother’s plight. Also, the above quote demonstrates Jessica’s uncanny talent to make anything and everything all about her. [Dove: I just hate her so much.]

Apparently, it seems that Steve has been spending his spare time cosying up… to Betsy Martin!

OH NO!

OH the fuck NO!

(Who the hell is Betsy Martin?) [Wing: She showed up in Evil Elizabeth, per our character tags. Did I remember her? NOPE.]

That question is answered immediately. Betsy Martin is a longtime drug abuser. Betsy Martin is the archetypical scarlet woman. Betsy Martin has a booze-addled father. Betsy Martin has webbed fingers. Betsy Martin is an accomplished flautist. Betsy Martin secretes Babycham. Betsy Martin is allergic to spades. Betsy Martin collects vinegar. Betsy Martin is a Transformer.

And so on.

Happily, the Elizabeth Express is soon re-railed. Liz ploughs on, and we actually get Jessica’s almost-unvarnished version of events.

The salient points:

  • It was Rick Andover, not Todd Wilkins. I mean, didn’t Liz know it was Rick, from Enid’s chat?
  • Nothing was Jessica’s fault. Standard.
  • The wrong name thing was a mix up, that Jessica tried to rectify. She didn’t try particularly hard, but I guess this point is true.

Jessica continues with the waterworks, and even tries to blame Caroline Pearce for getting the facts wrong. She senses that Elizabeth is close to forgiveness, and tries hammering it home by suggesting that none of Elizabeth’s real friends would believe such a scurrilous tale. She even manages to get a sly dig at “wimpy” Enid as she does it.

[Dove: While I am now Team Liz – actually, Team Enid if pushed – it does make me wonder why Liz never snaps. Even when Jessica is pretending to mend fences, she can’t help but be spiteful about everyone. This relationship would be more interesting if Liz had complex feelings about how her sister manipulates her – like, does she get a buzz, knowing how many people Jessica despises and thinks are beneath her that she, Liz, is loved (or “loved”)? It’s very boring to see Jess just being a toxic bitch from beginning to end and Liz being like, “Welp. What are you gonna do? That’s Jessica for you.” It makes it hard to root for Liz, because if her emotions really are that simple, and she’s supposedly a good person, why doesn’t she simply snap? Oh, right, because Francine Pascal has no idea that this isn’t wacky hi-jinks but actual emotional abuse.]

[Wing: Love the idea that Elizabeth gets a bit of a thrill from being the only one her sociopathic sister “loves” in whatever little way she can love. Flag this for the Elizabeth solving her sister’s murder series someone needs to write for me.]

Jessica also deduces that her sister is worried about how Todd Wilkins would react towards the terrible tale. First, she asks if Elizabeth and Todd are buddies, which is such manipulative bullshit. She then hits home with this crock.

Knowing she had won the battle, Jessica gave Elizabeth a hug. “Don’t worry about a thing, Liz. Todd and I have gotten very close. I’ll tell him the truth. I just know he’s too terrific a guy to hold it against you. No way do I want him mad at you, Lizzie. Like, wouldn’t it be impossible when he picks me up for dates for him not to say hello to you, at least?”

Gotta say, that’s well-crafted dickishness right there. It succeeds in being awful in a number of ways. I’ve nothing but praise for this kind of snide undermining bitchery… I just hate that it’s Jessica that’s doing it to her sister. As I’ve said before, the Twins Jessica was aiming outward to the world, not inward to her twin. In manners such as these, at any rate.

Next up is more Ronnie and Enid. Two characters that I give not one fig for, at this early stage. Todd is also present, I guess, which makes this beach date a little threesome-awks.

At the beach, Ronnie canvases opinion of the Elizabeth Wakefield / Rick Andover debacle.

Todd’s mood darkens. He seems crushed by the thought of it.

Ronnie is cold and callous about the whole thing. He’s a judgmental asshat. And as you might guess, it’s all the girl’s fault. Not the boy. [Wing: Fuck off into the goddamn sea, you judgmental fucker.]

Enid keeps the faith, and defends Liz’s honour. It becomes clear that all is not well in Camp Enid, and she’s becoming sadder at each of Ronnie’s clueless fucking utterances. What’s her dark secret?

Todd concludes by saying that Liz and Rick were together at Kelly’s, and there is no disputing it.

Ronnie concludes by claiming he’d never even speak to a girl like that.

And Enid concludes with an inner monologue in which she says Ronnie must never find out about her arrest. Which is a bombshell, and something I look forward to uncovering in the fulness of time.

Chapter Nine. Some time in the future. Breakfast at the Wakefield Compound.

Jessica happily leads with the news that no one at school has mentioned the Liz / Rick rumours for days. What, so Liz didn’t make her set the record straight? Fuck sake, Liz, get it together.

To her credit, Elizabeth sets her sister straight immediately. No one has been talking to Jessica about it, sure, but they’ve been laying hints to Elizabeth non-stop. There was even some on-point chalk-based graffiti in the Oracle office too…

“It said: ‘Scoop! Big-shot editor Wakefield makes news! Why isn’t it in the paper?’”

Jess offers to set anyone straight… anyone who asks her about it, naturally. She even offers to tell anyone that Liz would like to know in advance, safe in the knowledge that Liz would never even mention Todd’s name to her without turning beet red and exploding in a powder-puff cloud of sexual flutterjuice.

After ascertaining that Elizabeth won’t spill the beans to their parents, we move to school. There, it seems that the Kelly’s Roadhouse Affair is indeed old news, as the Legal B Plot finally hits the headlines.

So, the school has a football field. The Gladiators (school team?) play their matches there. The two rich families are battling for ownership of the land… The Fowlers want to buy the land and make a factory, while the Patmans want to buy the land and make an amusement park. Or that’s how the rumours are going, at any rate.

Various peripheral discus the proceedings. Namely Winston Egbert (yay!) and Dana Larson (Who? Actually, she’s been mentioned by the cop from earlier, lead singer of the Droids). [Dove: I can’t remember whether she was actually in a Twins book, or I just kept expecting her to show up in all the singing ones.] [Wing: She was!]

At the Oracle office, Mr Collins confirms that the lawsuit rumours are true… mostly. The Patmans are actually looking to “save” the field from a Fowler Factory in order to build… a traditional English country garden.

Aside:

I really wanted to share a funny video here. It was a cover version of the classic “English Country Garden” song from the Sixties, in which the singer accurately describes the realities of a REAL English Country Garden.

Unfortunately, the cover version was created by an incarcerated paedophile. As was so many of the things I enjoyed when I was a youngster. Ah well, that’s the perils of growing up in the UK in the late Seventies, I guess.

(Please note that the creator was NOT an incarcerated paedophile at the time of said creation. That would have been an awful use of taxpayers’ money.)

So instead, here’s a picture:

Newspapers torn and strewn across the lawn, in an English Country Garden

 

Ah, how beautiful!

End aside.

[Wing: There is no goddamn way Fowler would be able to build a factory next to a high school rich enough to be good enough for his daughter. No. Goddamn. Way.]

Mr Collins gives this story to Elizabeth, who is excited as it’s the biggest scoop of her career thus far.

The football field was unavailable for use due to the Patman’s court injunction, so of course the student body are ready to revolt. The crowd gather at the front of the school, baying for justice, led by the stoic basketballer Todd Wilkins and the (and I quote) “powerful blond captain of the Gladiators’ football team”… Ken Matthews.

Ken… Matthews? Powerful?

Let’s be generous and say he’s had a growth spurt. [Dove: In the next book he is specifically described as tall.] [Wing: Fuck continuity.]

Eventually, the team’s coach is called, and he hurries off to let the Principal know of this mutiny. Not before he claims that his boys won’t do anything wrong, and that they are just a little high spirited. Ah, the classing sporting privilege in which the players can do know wrong. I foresee something dark, non-consensual, and brushed under the carpet in Ken Matthews’ future.

The cheerleaders, led by Jessica, soon join the throng of irate jocks. Eventually, someone suggests they storm the field and take possession of it. So off they trot, like good little revolutionaries, with Elizabeth following on and taking copious notes. [Dove: Uh… Jessica, remember the last time you reclaimed a school field. Wanna sit down and make sure this is the right fight?]

At the field, we learn that the throng has cornered the kids of the warring factions: Lila Fowler and Bruce Patman.

Lila! Yaaaaaay!

Naturally, she has the square root of diddly-fuck to add to the narrative at this time. Neither has Bruce Patman. They simply shout at each other, and the crowd.

Jessica throws in a barb, which does nothing but exacerbate all involved and turn the attention to the Wakefields:

“Where’s your school spirit?” Jessica yelled at him.

“Aw, save it, Wakefield!”

“You and your family don’t care about Sweet Valley High. You’re a disgrace!” Jessica yelled.

“Hey, when it comes to having a disgrace in the family, Jessica Wakefield, just consider your dear sister, the pub crawler. And I do mean crawler!”

Elizabeth turns beet red, but does nothing to correct the crowd. She just keeps simping on, taking notes, her inaction showing Jessica that she can get away with absolutely anything.

Jess does try to help by telling Bruce to but out, but even Lila gets in on the slanging act. Then Bruce goes that extra mile, and calls out Papa Wakefield for playing away with the sexy assistant Marianna. [Dove: Not an assistant. She’s a lawyer.] [Wing: *heart eyes at Dove*] Standard stuff, I guess, as the Ned Wakefield is on one of the opposing sides of the triangle, but it’s all a little weird and puritanical coming from the sleazy and philanderous Bruce Patman. Maybe I’m projecting, I dunno. [Wing: Maybe something along the lines of knowing it would be publicly embarrassing for the boring middle class Wakefields?]

As Ken and Todd turn the crowd back to chanting for the Gladiators and their precious field, Elizabeth considers Bruce’s hurtful words. She is reminded of an argument between her parents, an argument she overheard recently, in which Ned was complaining that he didn’t see enough of his workaholic wife.

Workaholic? Pfft. Alcoholic more like.

Elizabeth is torn. Is her concern based in reality? Should she be worried? Has her father turned away from his love expeditions with Alice, instead looking to dive deep into Marianna’s Trench? Enquiring minds want to know.

Aside:

Marianna’s Trench?

That’s a damn good joke.

And yes, I’ve been waiting to crack it since I first saw her name on page sixteen.

End aside.

Next thing you know? Todd appears, right in Elizabeth’s face. It’s Chapter Ten, and we’re cooking with gas now!

They share some awkward dialogue, and it all sets up nicely for them to walk back to school and thrash out their confusions… when Jessica shambles up like a bad smell and demands to speak to Todd, immediately, because IMPORTANT.

Liz makes like souffle and collapses into the background, skuttling off like a blonde Zoidberg. To his credit, Todd seems upset with this state of affairs. He’s obviously pining for Liz.

Jess starts in on Todd. It seems that she’s actually looking to confess her part in the Kelly’s Roadhouse fiasco. She turns on the waterworks, which is one of her superpowers, and presents a roundabout “confession” that seems supremely calculated.

“Oh, Todd! I just can’t stand it, what people are saying about Elizabeth. I love her more than anything in the world. I can’t let her be treated like this.”

Jessica looked up into Todd’s concerned face, into his wonderfully tender brown eyes, and her heart fluttered.

“Todd, it could have happened to anyone! It’s not fair! Why, it could have happened to me.”

“Come on, Jessica. It didn’t just happen. She knew what she was doing.”

Jessica took a deep breath. “Todd, I can’t let this go on. Elizabeth is my sister. I love her! Todd—it wasn’t Elizabeth at Kelly’s.”

Of course, Todd isn’t having any of it. He declares that Jessica is the most noble creature that has ever walked the halls of Sweet Valley High, and that her act of sacrifice does so much to elevate her in his eyes. He draws her into his arms, and plants a beautiful kiss. Score one for Jessica!

As a final act, he invites her to the Phi Epsilon dance.

She accepts, of course.

Aside:

Jessica’s “confession” is presented straight, as if she doesn’t realise that her carefully considered phrasing would lead to this perfect outcome.

Me? I don’t buy it.

I believe Jessica is ALL OVER this shit, and she’s wilfully manipulating the situation to her own nefarious ends.

What about you, fair reader? Do you think Jess has noble intent here? Or is this further proof of her scheming?
2
Jessica: the devil or a misguided angel?x

[Dove: Even as a teen, I believed whole-heartedly that she delivered that precisely to make it clear that it wasn’t her and she was nobly sacrificing herself for her sister.] [Wing: Hard agree.]

Join me in the comments to discuss!

End aside.

We snap to Elizabeth, leaving the Oracle office and hearing all about the Smoocharama between Jessica and Todd. Winston Egbert is the one to spill the beans. Apparently, he’s been in love with Jessica since fifth grade. Which is a bit fucking rich, since we were there for all of sixth and most of seventh grade and it hasn’t been mentioned before. [Dove: Wonder how Grace Oliver feels about this?]

As Winston and Elizabeth walk down the school steps, up pops Bruce Patman like a bad fucking smell. He asks Elizabeth if she’d accompany him to the Phi Epsilon dance. His reasoning? He thinks Elizabeth will likely put out, if she’s fast and loose enough to cause a scene in Kelly’s Roadhouse with the lowlife Rick Andover. [Wing: You, too, can fuck off into the sea, Patman. Or straight into a bonfire. That’s probably preferable.]

Elizabeth makes like Popeye. She can’t stands no more. She lets Bruce have it with both metaphorical barrels, calling him a lowlife and turning down his obnoxious offer. And anyway, she actually has a dance partner, thank you very much.

When Bruce tries to call her bluff, none other than Winston Egbert steps up to her rescue.

Bruce and Winston face off. Bruce goes the usual Jock route, trying to belittle Winston for being a joke and a nerd. Winston holds his own and fights back with humour. Eventually, Elizabeth steps up and confirms Winston’s announcement. She is indeed accompanying the ubernerd to the Phi Epsilon dance. So Bruce Patman can get in the fucking sea.

Once Bruce has retreated in his Black Porsche of Impotence, Winston graciously offers to let Elizabeth back out of the arrangement. Elizabeth won’t hear of it. And the chapter ends with Winston cock-a-hoop, and Elizabeth feeling a lot better with her lot in life. Winston isn’t Todd, but at least Winston isn’t Bruce.

[Wing: This is kind of cute.]

Her happiness lasts for a single paragraph, before the existential dread returns. She starts whistling, to drown out the silence of her life.

Chapter Eleven, and we’re back at the Wakefield Compound. Liz is going about her life, trying to smother her feelings for Todd… when Jessica blunders in and sets her world afire.

In a breathless confession, Jessica tells her sister that Todd is incredible. How so? Because she totally confessed to being the woman at the heart of the Kelly’s’ Roadhouse Affair with Rick Andover, and Todd asked her to the dance regardless! Isn’t he just peachy keen!

A spark inside Elizabeth dies. That’s that. She’s going to the dance with Winston. All she has to console herself is her writing. And her stuffed koala, obviously. [Wing: Dirty.]

She musters up some words of celebration for her insidious sister. Way to go, Jess. Todd is a dreamboat.

When Jess learns that Alice is working late, and therefore unable to hear Jessica’s good news or fix dinner for her children, she begins to pout. Total mood swing, from one hundred to zero in a blink of an eye.

After a frankly pointless section of boring chat and timekeeping, things are improved by the return of Steven to the room. And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. As Liz prepares some frozen ready-meals for the trio, Jessica tries once more to extricate some of her brother’s secrets. When that doesn’t work, this family’s own drama llama turns talk to her father’s possible affair with the sultry Marianna.

Jessica is determined to believe the worst. Steven is determined to stick by his father. Elizabeth just doesn’t know either way. Now there’s the spineless fence-sitting gonk we’ve grown to despise!

In response to Steven’s blind faith for Ned, Jessica ups the ante and introduces Steven’s own taste in women into the mix. How on earth can he be gaga for Betsy Martin?

Turns out that was all smoke and mirrors. Steven isn’t in love with Betsy Martin. He’s in love with her much more appropriate sister, Tricia Martin.

For fuck’s sake, I don’t think I care. He could be pegging Dean Martin and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. [Wing: I might bat an eyelid. I can’t imagine Steve from Twins willing wearing a strap-on to be compared with his own cock.]

Elizabeth is happy, as Tricia is “one of the best”. Way to judge Betsy there, Liz. Jessica is still concerned, because Tricia Martin is still a Martin, but Steven says there’s nothing to fear as he’s royally screwed things up with his beau.

The skinny? Because of the Martin reputation, Steven had been keeping Tricia a secret. The savvy agl soon twigged that he was embarrassed by the Martin brand, so called him a snob and kicked him to the kerb. Sorry mate, serves you right. [Wing: Steven can fuck off into the sea, too. Good for you, Tricia.]

As the chapter ends, Liz despairs. She has lost Todd. Steven has lost Tricia. Their parents are on the brink of divorce. Only Jessica is happily coupled. And the world slowly turns.

Next, we’re on the evening before the dance. Jessica has just heard that Liz plans attending with Winston Egbert, and she is NOT FUCKING PLEASED. Y’know, the same Winston Egbert that was a vital linchpin in the middle school Boosters that she loved so very much.

Things get worse for Jess when she’s informed that, as well as accepting the nerdly Winston’s invite, her ridiculous sister turned down an invitation from the totally dreamy Bruce Patman. How the hell could she do that?! Nobody on earth would turn down an invite from Bruce! Y’know, the same Bruce Patman that Jessica dated in middle school, the Bruce Patman she thought was a dumb old dud.

Retro-fitted continuity is a curse, people.

In a typical fit of drama, Jess asks Liz if she’s actually okay with she and Todd attending the dance together. She offers to fall on her metaphorical sword and skip the dance if it would make Elizabeth feel better. What she’d do with her actual sword in this scenario remains to be seen.

Elizabeth is filled with love for her sister, and predictably tells her that all will be fine. Even if she is wailing inside. Jessica knew this would be the case, of course. She wouldn’t have offered elsewise. I swear, we’re all living in 1983, and Jessica is living in 2003.

Next up, it’s dance night, and the twins are getting ready. All standard stuff.

Both Todd and Winston arrive to collect their respective dates. Both wear cords, shirts, ties and sport coats. How ridiculous. [Dove: Is sports coats an American thing? Because when I was a teen, I couldn’t name one boy who owned one.] [Wing: I couldn’t tell you the difference between a sport coat and a blazer. I did see high school boys wearing blazers to formal dances. Would have looked better on high school girls.]

First to emerge from the Preparation Palace is Elizabeth, in a white strapless dress. Upon seeing her, Winston drops to his knees in comedy adoration. It’s all very cute, and Elizabeth laughs in appreciation. They decamp to the dance in Winston’s orange VW bug. [Wing: Fuck, this is adorable.]

Jessica overhears the commotion from Winston, and is angry that he and Liz are stealing her entrance thunder. Because it’s ALL ABOUT HER. When she appears, in a sensational blue dress with delicate straps, Todd says she looks nice. This just serves to piss her off even more.

At the dance, the Droids are playing. Todd and Jessica survey the scene upon arrival. We discover that Bruce Patman has come stag, and in conversation Jessica takes the opportunity to bad-mouth her sister to Todd once again. She confides that Liz turned Bruce’s invitation down, and straight-up lies to say that he was one of a host of suitors that Elizabeth toyed with on a daily basis. Way to go, Jess. Once you hit rock bottom, you just continue to dig.

Thin lipped, Todd drags Jessica onto the dance floor as the Droids power out a thumping beat. They dance up a frenzy, and Jessica is aware that her sexy dancing and gorgeous legs are turning all heads as the boys watch on with lustful eyes. Yeah, this series is definitely not Sweet Valley Twins.

Unbeknownst to Jessica, her dancing partner has locked eyes with Elizabeth, sat with Winston at the edge of the dancefloor.

We skip to Elizabeth and Winston. She’s eye-locked with Todd, and Winston is fully aware. He’s not arsed, mind. He’s loyal to his lust for Jessica. And he handles the situation with wit and aplomb.

Then, just as we’re warming to the charming doofus, he lays on the casual fat-shaming. So yeah, he can get in the fucking sea.

“You want to know the sort of girl people fix me up with?” he asked. “It goes like this: ‘Win, have I got a girl for you! What a personality!’ That always means two hundred and fifty pounds and two-foot-five! I have to put her hamburger on the floor so she can reach it.”

Go fuck yourself, “Win”, you arrogant colon.

[Wing: Knew it wouldn’t last. You, too, can fuck off into the goddamn sea, Winston. And Win is a stupid nickname. I say as someone called Wing.]

The pair of them go join Ronnie and Enid, although that happens off screen. I can’t see that conversation going well. Ronnie is a shitbag.

Jessica finally notices that Todd only has eyes for her sister. He’s now actively ignoring Jessica’s advances, which is beyond her lived comprehension. Her night is going from bad to worse, apparently. This slight shall be avenged, believe you me! Nobody puts Jessica in the corner!

The dance is over, and Elizabeth is back home in her bedroom. She’d skipped the pre-dance pizza party, and thus she’s present when Jessica gets home with Todd. Although she wasn’t intentionally eavesdropping on their post-dance clinch, she couldn’t tear herself away.

It’s a bust, naturally. Todd just doesn’t give a shit about Jessica. Even when she pulls out all the stops and leans in for a romantic kiss, he respectfully pecks her on the cheek before scampering off. Jessica is NOT HAPPY with that, as she expected a little under shirt over bra action at the very least. She vows to get even with immediate and devastating effect.

Her retribution is instant. What does she do? She eners the house and heads straight for Elizabeth’s room. When she gets there, she spills a host of fictitious beans, and besmirches Todd’s reputation completely and utterly.

Elizabeth asks her sister if she had a nice night. Jess says she didn’t. And she explains exactly why.

Let’s look at what she says, verbatim.

“Jessie, what happened?”

“Oh, Liz, I can’t. I can’t tell you!” Jessica collapsed, covering her face with her hands. “I’m—I’m too ashamed.”

Elizabeth put her arm around Jessica’s shoulder. “It’s all right, Jess. You can tell me anything, you know that.”

“Maybe I should tell you.” Jessica sniffled. “You really should be warned about him. You might go out with him sometime, and I’d just never forgive myself if I didn’t tell you what the real Todd Wilkins is like.”

“What did he do?”

“That rat tried just about everything. The horrible thing was that I could hardly make him stop. I had to beg him and beg him to please stop!”

“Oh, no.” Elizabeth moaned, squeezing Jessica’s shoulder in sympathy. “I can’t believe it.”

I mean, HELL NO.

This is ABSOLUTELY NOT A GOOD MESSAGE.

This could fuck up Todd’s rep for good. But let’s not dwell on the male impact from this, as that’s frankly boring. What really matters is the effect such insidious cry-wolfism can do to people with actual experience of this bullshit, who are desperate to be heard. What an absolutely irresponsible thing to write. I feel cheapened by the whole section.

As a bloke, I do feel wildly unqualified to weigh in on this subject, but it still has to be said. Fuck off, Ghostie. There are better ways to get your character point across. And sure, the current climate is hyper-aware of this shit, but there’s only so much hand-waving you can do. There’s only so much an #AcceptableInTheEighties hashtag can erase.

[Dove: I feel like the incel version of women came from this book. Jessica Wakefield is exactly what incels think women are. She’s a good looking bitch, who wants a good-looking rich partner, literally anyone rich and good looking will do. She will drop anyone if a new good-looking rich boy walks past. And she’ll cry rape if she doesn’t get her way. Well done, Francine and ghostie, you created a hate group. I hope you’re proud.]

[Wing: Jesus fucking christ, I’m not sure Jessica or this series can come back from this. There’s no way she’ll have to deal with consequences.]

Let’s move on before I hurl this book into space.

Liz believes her sister’s lies, and is now totally over her crush on Todd the Pervert. She’s so angry, she actually offers to kill him. Such is the depth of her rage.

Jessica is happy with this. She channels Ivan Drago.

I will break him.

Chapter Thirteen begins with a side quest. Ned and Alice Wakefield, spending time counselling their son on his Tricia-based heartbreak. I’m not going to dwell on it, because frankly I don’t give a tinker’s fig, but suffice to say they convince him to tell the apparent love of his life that he’s only got eyes for her, and that he’s sorry he’s been such a snob. They swallow back their criticism of the Martin family tree in doing this, which I suppose is growth, of a sort.

Steven pops round to the Martin house. It’s a shithole. Nevertheless, he sorts everything out with Tricia, and all is well in his world once more. They agree to meet at the Dairi Burger that evening, for clams and a shake. Gotta say, the Dairi Burger is doing great business, as it caters for every age from toddlers to pensioners. I’m surprised it hasn’t adopted the franchise model and conquered the continent.

The clam-date happens off screen, but it’s a success. On his drive home, Steven randomly spots his father’s car, and decides it’d be a fun semi-prank to follow him home. Predictably, things turn sour, because a) Ned is in the car with that slag Marianna West, and b) instead of heading home, he takes Marianna to her house, then pops in for coffee and a theoretical sex act. Steven doesn’t witness anything, of course. It’s implied. It’s Schrodinger’s Blowjob.

After an entire chapter without the twins, Chapter Fourteen isn’t much better.

First, we see Todd’s attempts to attract Elizabeth’s attentions. He tries catching her eye, he passes notes in class, he attempts to forge a meeting between the two of them. It’s all pointless, as Elizabeth is having none of it.

Next, we have a brief passage in which Mr Collins tasks our intrepid reporter to be at the courthouse that coming Tuesday, as that’s when the whole Patman-Fowler-Field case comes to a thrilling conclusion.

And finally, Todd manages to collar Elizabeth they finally converse. He actually calls her, but gets short shrift as she’s still very angry indeed.

They continue to completely fail at all forms of communication. Elizabeth doesn’t explicitly state why she’s angry at him (as he “knows very well” what he’s done). There’s even further confusion over an apology. Elizabeth thinks Todd is apologising for his treatment of Jessica, while Todd is actually apologising for supplying cold shoulder over the Kelly’s Roadhouse incident, something he can overlook if Elizabeth promises never to see Rick Andover again.

Oh, fuck off, Todd. Laying down the law with rules about who Elizabeth can or cannot see is not a great look, you malignant priapism. [Dove: Especially since at this juncture, they’ve had like three conversations over the span of sixteen years? He’s nothing to her. Also, from Elizabeth’s (confused) point of view, if he were to apologise for the attempted rape of her twin, is that… good? Would that make things ok between them? Because her heart lifts when she thinks he’s apologising. Like, oh cool, you said sorry. I can forget that you’re a grabby predator. Let’s get a milkshake.]

Things reach a crescendo, and Elizabeth slams down the phone. Their relationship, such as it was, is now finished for good.

Chapter Fifteen concerns the court case and the Marianna subplot. I’ll be racing through it, because this recap is a damn beast and it’s time to speed things up a little.

In the courthouse, we actually get to see Ned Wakefield doing some law! After one hundred and eighty (or so) books in the Sweet Valley Twins series, we get him into a courthouse and watch him do his thing.

Or at least we would, if it weren’t for Marianna West.

Marianna takes point for her team, and while the actual legalese is largely absent from the page, the Ghostie does take pains to assure us that Ms West kicks ass as a legal general. Elizabeth, taking notes and quietly seething at the godforsaken homewrecker, can’t help but be impressed.

[Dove: I need to add this in:

Elizabeth glared at Marianna West. That pushy creature didn’t even let her father—a partner in the law firm—speak up; she jumped right in!

I love the way that Liz is so intent on hating this woman, she assumes that she knows the law better than her father and Ms West. Liz’s personal feelings are more important that legal process. She wants her daddy to talk. Waaaaaaaaaaaaah. Fuck. Off. Liz.]

Lawyers for all sides make their pertinent points, and it’s all very Erin Brockovich. Eventually, the judge passes down a judgment. The petitions from both Fowler and Patman are denied!

Schwing!

Victory to Ned, Marianna, and the Gladiators Football Team!

[Dove: How on earth has this teeny-tiny case taking up so much of Ned’s time? This case was opened, heard, and had a verdict in the span of no more than an hour. If Ned has been working late for months over this, then he’s literally the worst lawyer in the world – either because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or he does and he’s deliberately over-billing his client, which is, by the way, illegal and immoral. When I was still in litigation my lawyer would have cases that would be done and dusted in about an hour in court. It was a mere formality. I would pull those bundles together. Me. Someone with no qualifications. They were so straightforward, I would do all the paperwork and then he would spend an hour reading and checking the docs. There is no way you can justify months of all-nighters over this. So my feeling is that Ned is a terrible lawyer. And he’s desperately trying to bed Ms West. And since the sexism against her has been so ugly, my headcanon is that she told him to fuck off, and he’s still desperately trying, because Steven must have learned his creepiness somewhere.] [Raven: I’m prepared to give Ned the benefit of the doubt here. His firm were up against lawyers from both the Fowlers and the Patmans, which I assume were top flight asshats from EvilCorp and Satan LLC. If I know anything about fictitious lawyers, it’s that the evil ones will bury you in red tape until you die from lack of funds. So the plucky underdog works all night and gets results while frazzled on coffee and doughnuts.] [Wing: I can actually see a property law case taking up so much research time, though ghostie really fucked up with having the case start here and not, say, having Elizabeth come in for the verdict, or brushing over the earlier days of it, like they’ve brushed over so many other things, too.]

Back at school, everyone is happy. Liz writes up her story, being objective at every step. Mr Collins is very pleased.

When she gets home from school, Alice greets her with a smile. She declares that there’ll be a guest tonight at dinner… Marianna West! And Marianna has an announcement to make!

Elizabeth immediately decamps to her room, dragging Jessica behind her. She shares the information from Alice. Both of them are convinced that the end of their parents’ marriage is nigh. Ned is in love with Marianna, and they will announce the new family dynamic over canapes at dinner that evening. [Dove: I’m not from a divorced household, but has anyone ever even heard of this happening? “Kids, I know you thought this family dinner was about the Disneyland trip, but actually, your mother and I are getting a divorce. Oh, that young twenty-something beside me? Yes, that’s Susan. She’s your new stepmother.”]

Soon, Steven is tractor-beamed into this bizarre theatre of the absurd. He adds a further wrinkle: he’s invited Tricia Martin to dinner that evening too!

It’s all gone Pete Tong! This meal is destined to be a Shitshow for the Ages.

Before we get there, let’s address the following:

Meanwhile, Alice Wakefield was busy preparing duck a l’orange, creamed asparagus, and a chilled parfait. The twins heard her humming as she worked.

Behave yourself. No she fucking isn’t. At best, she’s microwaving some ramen, or ordering some kung po chicken from a local takeout place. [Dove: It must be divorce. We all know that Alice’s favourite dish is broiled flounder.]

Once dinner is underway, the announcement proves to be a massively damp squib. Apparently, Marianna is being made partner in Ned’s law firm.

That’s it. That’s the tweet.

Aside:

Why in the blue fuck did Alice make such a big thing about this announcement?

Does she really think her sixteen-year-old twin daughters give a rat’s ass about Marianna’s standing in their father’s law firm? She’s not a friend of the family. They’ve never even met her before, or at least they hadn’t until that afternoon at the courthouse.

Manufactured bullshit drama. What a crock of ass.

[Dove: Also, why the fuck was Marianna robbed of her public announcement at work? You know, the place where this announcement has value and meaning? Who gives a shit if your boss’s teen daughters hear about your promotion, even if they are the most sensational twins in all of sensationalia? She worked hard for that promotion – admittedly on the teeniest and least important case that ever existed. And this is how it gets announced. In the living room of a split-level ranch house on Calico Drive.]

End aside.

Chapter Sixteen? We can deal with that in a paragraph.

Elizabeth is in the Dairi Burger with Enid. Todd Wilkins enters, with Emily Mayer (from the Droids, remember?). Liz pretends she isn’t upset, but she is upset. Even though she believes that Todd is a grasping and immoral octopus, she’s still shook that he’s with another girl. A nice girl, too. As she and Enid leave after their meal, the group exchange pleasantries, while Liz tries not to cry out to the indifferent sky.

Holy fuck, this book is long. I’m getting a bit sick of it, to be honest. It feels like it’s been coasting since the dance, if not before. All filler, no killer.

Ah well. Alonsey!

The chapter begins with a montage of Elizabeth’s pain. Still thrown by Todd’s new love, she throws herself into the dating scene. Her heart isn’t in it, of course. She goes through the motions. These motions, in particular, are a date with Ken Matthews.

Ken Matthews?!

I’m sure Amy Sutton would be thrilled.

Ken, on the other hand, must be loving it. He owes Elizabeth a great deal. She did teach him how to play basketball, after all. Before his growth spurt and transformation into a football hunk.

Soon, this frippery ceases, and we head back into the realms of actual story. One evening, after a trip to the Dairi Burger with their friends, a Dairi Burger that also housed Todd and his frat bros, Jessica and Elizabeth were heading home in the red Fiat Spider.

Who turns up like a bad penny? Tailing their car, weaving back and forth in their black sporty sleekster?

That’s right, folks…

Rick.

Fucking.

Andover.

I guess enough time has passed to suggest he’s served his time in the county jail (or something). But now he’s back, and he’s as drunk as a skunk. A skunk that’s incredibly pissed.

(Drunk as a skunk. Pissed as a newt. Wasted as an ocelot. The animal kingdom is lit.)

Jessica, driving, does her best to lose their tail, but her anxiety leads to the exact opposite of that. She pulls up, and Rick pulls up alongside her. He jumps out of the car to leer over the pair of them.

After exchanging some inebriated pleasantries, Rick takes the shittiness to the next level. He forces his way into the driver’s seat, and takes the twins for a white-knuckle ride.

Drunk driving. Don’t do it, folks.

[Wing: How? How did he push himself into the driver’s seat? How?]

The girls are terrified. They both scream for Rick to stop. Predictably, that just spurs him on to greater speeds, to manoeuvres with no safety in mind. Laughing, he plows into the occupied parking lot at the Dairi Burger, laughing all the while, scattering kids to the left and right as they scramble for safety. Not sated with this scene, he guns it for the beach.

But as he does so, a terrified Elizabeth catches an onlooking Todd’s bewildered eye. He registers just how terrified she is, and leaps into his Datsun, determined to help. [Wing: I have a hard time believing the Datsun beats the Spider?]

After a high-octane car chase, the throng find themselves in the parking lot of Kelly’s Roadhouse. Todd’s Datsun bars the way, foiling Rick and causing him to exit the vehicle, dragging the twins behind him. Todd tries to de-escalate things, firmly, but a whirling and intoxicated Rick will not be denied what’s coming to him. He connects with Todd’s jaw, squarely and with force, but that’s the only his he can muster. A rampant Todd brings Rick low with a flurry of jabs to the midriff.

The aftermath is soon upon us.

Todd turned to Elizabeth and Jessica. “Come on. I think he’ll leave you alone now. It doesn’t look as if he’ll be bothering anyone for a while.”

“Are you all right?” Elizabeth brought a trembling hand to Todd’s face.

Todd smiled. “Sure—as long as nothing’s broken. Are you OK?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“I thought he was going to kill you!” Jessica gushed. “Oh, Todd, you were wonderful! You practically saved our lives!” She glared in the direction of Rick and the roadhouse. “I never want to see this place again. It’s even worse inside.”

Todd gave her a funny look but said nothing.

Did you spot it? The comment that scuppered Jessica’s story? The words that led to Todd discovering the truth, and apologising to a much maligned Elizabeth?

That’s right, folks. Jessica has admitted to being inside Kelly’s Roadhouse. It stands to reason that the only way she’d have been inside such a terrible place was on the arm of one Rick Andover.

Jess declares that she could kiss Todd. He’s their saviour, after all. Liz cuts her off at the pass, and plants her own smacker firmly on the silky Wilkins lips. All is well with the world.

[Dove: Except it’s not. If Liz believes her sister, then Todd is still someone who sexually assaulted her sister. There was no car chase revelation for Liz that Jessica was lying about that. But sure, snog him.]

Back at the Wakefield Compound, Jessica makes herself scarce as Elizabeth and Todd talk through the whole plot of the book. Soon, their confusions are cleared. Todd learns that Jessica was definitely the one that ventured into Kelly’s with Rick. Elizabeth learns that her conniving sister had told Todd that Elizabeth was nothing but a boy-crazy flirt, which she vehemently denies. Elizabeth tells Todd that Jess told her that he was a randy little monkey with wandering hands, which he vehemently denies.

[Dove: But sure, kiss him before establishing he’s not a predator. Also, why isn’t Todd furious?]

And the scene ends with more kissing. Because why the hell not?

This book feels done, but there are still two damn chapters left. Forgive me if I don’t dwell on them. They serve little but to wrap up the loose ends, and return the characters to the status quo in time for volume two. Chapter Eighteen sees the twins have a heart to heart, in which all Jessica’s deceptions are finally revealed. Jessica also apologises for any wrongdoing, and while it’s sincere and heartfelt, I can’t help but think that nothing will change. We’ve almost two hundred other stories to read before we’re done, so it’d be crap if all the lessons were learnt at this stage.

[Wing: I did not find it all that sincere and heartfelt to begin with, much less something that would to lessons being learned.]

Elizabeth vows to settle the score with her sister, and she does so deftly in Chapter Nineteen. How? By manufacturing a quick clothes change between her and Jessica at a poolside party / football rally, before “leaking” the information that the Eyes and Ears columnist was none other than Elizabeth Wakefield. This results in Jessica, mistaken for Elizabeth, to be thrown, fully clothed into the swimming pool.

Hardly a fitting retribution for all the shit that Jess pulled, but whatever.

And that’s the end! Hooray!

Final Thoughts:

That book felt massive.

Did I enjoy it? Certainly. In places.

What didn’t I like? I didn’t like the fact that there seems to be little to no retro-fitted continuity at play, though that blame lies squarely at the Sweet Valley Twins’ door. Why did they choose to use Todd Wilkins as Liz’s preschool flirtation, when she didn’t speak to him until High School? This, and a host of other issues, dragged me out of the action all too easily.

But mostly, I just didn’t like Jessica. She seemed vindictive, catty, completely self-absorbed, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I’m chalking it up to a miscalculation in balance, and sincerely hope that she becomes 20% cooler in the coming weeks and months.

What did I like? I liked the more adult themes tackled in the narrative, with mentions of drug abuse and promiscuity. I liked the pacing and intensity of the Rick Andover scenes. I liked the way that Jessica’s excuses were properly manipulative and passive aggressive (even if I didn’t like the character herself). And I liked the fun dialogue and sassy asides too. Hell, I even liked Steven. Although I didn’t like “Steve”.

Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m always a half-full kinda guy, and this story did little to shake me from that branch. I’m looking forward to the rest, which I hope will seem more regular and less like a pilot episode.

[Dove: I hated this book. And the fault lies with 90% with Jessica being horrible, and 10% with the stupid story. I’ve been recapping Sweet Valley for five years now, I’m used to stupid stories. But I cannot deal with what a toxic nightmare Jessica was. She was a horror show. And words cannot express how damaging it is to have a character that thinks to herself, ahh, you’d never catch me getting raped, I’m too clever. And then levelling a rape allegation against an innocent man. It’s absolutely deplorable. It both blames the victim and undermines their truth. I wish that had been the reason I never read many SVHs when I was younger, rather than I thought the writing was crap. Add in Liz’s slut-shaming and loathing of Marianna West, and this is a book that truly hates women. And this woman hates it back.]

[Wing: I hate this Jessica, and I hate that I hate her because I loved her for huge chunks of Twins. This book somehow contains very little plot and yet a shitton of things actually happening, mostly around Jessica being a lying liar who lies and not in the fun way we’ve seen before.

Dove says some very good things about how this book and the characters, main and side, almost all seem to hate women.

I do not understand why the people in charge of Twins allowed such ridiculous character decisions to be made. This series existed! The details were available! They created a ton of new characters for it! Why not avoid the most glaring continuity errors by, say, not introducing Todd as a love interest when they are in middle school when the ghosties and editors know full well Elizabeth meets him for the first time in high school.]

[Raven: Hi everyone! Raven here. Thanks for getting to the end of this recap. First of the main series! Excite!

What am I doing here? Why, I’m bringing some site news, of course! Just in case you’ve missed things in the shuffle.

We now have a Patreon, where you can support our creativity and gain access to some cool Patron-only material. Here’s the link, go check it out! We’ll be sharing some examples of the Patron exclusives this month, including our inaugural edition of the much-fun Cover Calypso. Go listen and enjoy!

We also have a Ko-Fi page enabled, should you wish to support us that way. You want a link? You got it!

Oh, and don’t be alarmed. Our usual recaps (and podcasts) will not be hiding behind a paywall as we plough through Sweet Valley High. Our core content is, and will remain, free to enjoy. Just like this one.

So, that’s what’s new with us. Enjoy!]