Sweet Valley High #11: Too Good To Be True
Title: Too Good To Be True
Tagline: Is Suzanne as perfect as she seems?
Summary: The Wakefield Twins are wild with excitement. Glamorous, sophisticated Suzanne Devlin is coming to Sweet Valley from New York City. For two weeks, Elizabeth will show her around town while Jessica has the time of her life in New York.
At first, Suzanne seems to be the most perfect girl in the world. She’s beautiful and friendly and not the least bit stuck-up. All the boys of Sweet Valley are absolutely crazy about her. But when Suzanne accuses Mr. Collins of trying to seduce her [Dove: That’s not what she accuses him of.], Elizabeth knows there’s more to Suzanne than meets the eye.
This is going to be a different kind of recap. But before we begin, let’s tackle this book’s cover.
At first glance, I guessed that this was Lila getting the stink-eye from Jessica. But as Suzanne is mentioned in the blurb, I suppose that she’s the preening brunette. She must be evil, because she’s holding a mirror in fine Evil Queen style. [Dove: I have to say, I miss the Twins covers, where the image was from a scene in the book, rather than two characters portraying the arc of a book behind a swirling void that is no colour known to mankind.]
And, to round out this section: I put a few Sweet Valley High phrases into an AI Art generator. Here’s one result…
Let’s fucking goooo! [Dove: Looks like a 90s album cover for a grrrrll power girl band.]
[Wing: The art community has sparked a lot of interesting discussion around using AI art generators. I much prefer that to this book. Not the recap, though. I always love the recaps. Raven and Dove say such smart things, particularly now that we’re tackling some truly horrific storylines in SVH.]
If you’re new here, hello! I’m Raven.
Today will not be Your Usual Recap.
I pull this crap every six months or so. Basically, I mess around with the form and function of the medium, largely for giggles, but also to keep my engagement up and my interest charged. If you like this, cool! If not, it’s only for one recap.
let’s hit the floor running!
CHAPTER ONE: In which A Decision Is Made about the New York Trip, and in which Jessica decides that fairness is for suckers.
Jessica starts us off by crying. She just has to be the twin selected to go to New York City. She simply has to.
(For those not au fait with the situation: Ned Wakefield, patriarch, has been contacted by an old roommate, a diplomat who lives in New York, and Paris, and London, (maybe Peckham?). Said diplomat has suggested a “kid swap” for a few weeks. One of the twins would head to NYC, while the other would stay in the Val and show the diplomat’s daughter Suzanne all the sights and smells that the West Coast has to offer. Jury is still out as to which twin has which role to play. Jessica wants NYC. Elizabeth isn’t particularly arsed either way).
[Wing: Jess acts as if she’s never left Sweet Valley a day in her life. Normally I’d call continuity foul (yes, even though SVT was written long after this book), but Jess being overly dramatic about something absolutely works for her, in all the best and worst ways.]
There’s banter between the siblings, including Steven. Jessica suggests she doesn’t need a college fund, as she could be a “gypsy fortune teller”, which of course is something she’s already been in the Twins series on multiple occasions. The Ghostie chooses to ignore this, as well as ignoring the slur.
Jessica daydreams while the matter is discussed. She imagines being whisked off her feet by Mick Jagger, who at the time of writing was 41 years old. That’s pretty much the same age as her father, right?
Eventually, a coin is flipped, much to Jessica’s chagrin. Chance is such an uncouth method of selection, after all. Jessica calls Tails.
Jessica bursts into tears and decamps to her room, because apparently she’s still eleven. [Dove: I can understand a Twins-aged Jessica crying over this, because she was always highs and lows, but come on. You’re sixteen. Grow the fuck up. I hate you.]
Snap to the bedrooms, with Elizabeth consoling her twins. She offers Jess the opportunity of wearing her new clothes as a placatory offering, as if Jess wasn’t planning to piss all over Elizabeth’s wardrobe the minute she left for the city.
Even though Jessica knows she’ll miss Lila’s big birthday bash at the country club if she heads to NYC, she’s determined to go. She sets about achieving her aims by gaslighting Elizabeth into thinking that Lila has the hots for Todd, and is poised to strike if Elizabeth is not around to shield her man from temptation.
Elizabeth is slightly genre-savvy, but moans for a split second that she feels like Jessica is trying to talk her out of the trip. Jessica leaps on that tiny misstep by thanking Elizabeth for her generosity, and loudly declaring to the house that Liz has offered to switch places so Jessica can head to New York.
WHAT DO I THINK?
I was immediately annoyed by Jessica here. For a start, why all the waterworks?! She’s sixteen, and she grew out of this basic type of manipulation in the Twins series, surely? It’s basic level tantrum stuff, and does nothing but piss on out memories of the much more scheming and conniving girl we loved from the prequel series.
I was also immediately annoyed that, again, Elizabeth collapsed like the Oilers in the 1992 AFC Wildcard game. Of COURSE Jessica is going to New York. Why should Elizabeth get ANYTHING? But I took a deep breath, and I looked back at our tenure with Sweet Valley Twins… and I realised that this development is entirely on-brand with the Jessica and Elizabeth we endured through the pre-teen years. So this gets a pass.
I was also angered a little by the manner of Jessica’s gaslighting of Elizabeth. While I was happy that Elizabeth did see through this plot, she only did so with a caveat that OH NOES it might actually be true. It also showcases Jessica’s casual and calculated disregard for anyone and anything, as she not only throws her sister and Todd’s relationship under the bus, she yeets Lila into the fucking sea for good measure. I guess that Lila has not been established as Jessica’s best friend in this series (which makes Twins feel sadder, to be honest, even with the Junior High series pretty much covering the reason for this).
So far, not impressed with this. But it’s early days.
Their father was so infuriatingly fair, Jessica thought.
Sums up Jessica in a nutshell, I guess.
[Dove: Just gonna borrow Clueless for my thoughts on this image (particularly the witch faces):
– – –
CHAPTER TWO: In which Jessica departs for New York, and in which Suzanne (Jessica 2.0) arrives from New York.
The first part of this chapter describes Jessica’s departure to New York. She’s flying, naturally, and the whole family are there to see her go. Apart from Steven, who has popped off to check on the arrival time of Suzanne’s plane. How nice that the two planes are so serendipitous.
[Wing: Oh for the days when people could go with you all the way to the gate whether they were also flying or not.]
Elizabeth channels Aesop and the sour grapes by letting everyone know that Jessica’s trip and her own non-trip is the best possible outcome, for some fatuous reason. Jessica demurs, claiming that she is a city gal while Elizabeth is a guileless hick. Standard, I guess. [Dove: Sweet Valley Confidential, the only book Pascal bothered to write, says otherwise.]
Elizabeth warns her sister not to be too, well, Jessica-ey. She also says blah blah Todd blah blah New York Boys blah blah BLAH blah blah. Steven returns and says that Suzanne lands in half an hour, and the family banter in an entirely inappropriate way before Jessica flies off on her trip of a lifetime (of this book).
Half an hour of book time later, Suzanne’s plane arrives. As they wait for her to clear whatever she needs to clear on an internal flight, the family muse over their visitor, and what fun they will all have together. “Tennis, jogging, horseback riding, swimming – you name it!”
That’s right, folks, it’s a veritable tampon ad here.
Mrs Wakefield and Ned discuss Suzanne’s boarding school reality, and suggests that they would never banish their crotch-rats in such a cavalier manner. Will this be important? Who the fuck can tell?
Suzanne eventually arrives, and she’s a grade-A number-one bona-fide stunner. Long black hair, tall, willowy, astounding eyes, eye-popping ass, they whole fucking shebang. Elizabeth is immediately struck that, in comparison to this goddess, she looks like Madame fucking Razz [Dove: Can we not link Madame Razz to Elizabeth? Razz is wonderful.]. She is tongue-tied as Suzanne heartily introduces herself.
Thankfully, Elizabeth soon pulls herself together, and the conversation flows freely. Suzanne, it appears, is all sweetness and light. She’s bubbly and she’s effervescent [Dove: Like a snail. If you know, you know, right?], which is of course the same as “bubbly” only more sophisticated. She’s super nice to everyone as they wend their way back to the Wakefield Compound, and she assures everyone that she knows she’s just going to LOVE Sweet Valley.
Well, or COURSE she is. It’s Sweet fuckling VALLEY.
During the journey from airport to split-level ranch house, Suzanne is all squees and yippees. Look! It’s a surfboard! And look again! It’s a… erm… avocado? I dunno, something Californian? A Raisin? Whatever, she loves every sight, sound and smell. She an Elizabeth chatter away, with Liz talking about the next day’s lakeside junior class picnic (“Wow!”), and boyfriends (“Mine is Todd!” … “Wow! Mine is Pete!”) and all that jazz.
As the car arrives home, we also hear that Steven is having issues with his supposedly ne’er-do-well girlfriend Tricia Martin. Apparently, she’s low-key ghosting him. This is building for the next book, which is fine, but hardly important so I’ll gloss on by like a sashaying housepainter.
Suzy and Liz have a dip in the Wakefield pool. Here we learn that Suzy’s swimming is very powerful. She’s like a black-haired paddle steamer. Strong and majestic. IS this important? WHO KNOWS? (Yes.).
Before dinner, they talk about love. We discover that Suzanne’s boyfriend Pete is apparently infatuated with Suzanne, a feeling that she doesn’t reciprocate with the same intensity. She also waxes lyrical on her boarding school lifestyle. She keeps it light, but Elizabeth is astounded. How can anyone live like that? Doesn’t Suzanne know that her family should love her?! [Wing: SVT Liz would be trying to fix the fuck out of this.]
After dinner, the dishes of which Suzanne is more than happy to wash, the girls chatter about all and sundry. Of particular interest is Suzanne’s position on her Lonely Only Childhood. She doesn’t like it, but she has to go along with it.
The chapter ends with Suzanne claiming this will be her Best Vacation Ever!
WHAT DO I THINK?
I’ve no real opinion on Jessica’s departure, other than the “I am cosmopolitan while you are provincial” schtick is a little played out. Both girls have travelled extensively, to Hawaii and Paris and more, so it’s a bit rich. Also, the very fact that the girls have been to a lot of different places makes the whole “wow, Jessica is going to New York, how thrilling” narrative seem a little forced.
And Suzanne? At this stage, there’s nothing to dislike about her. She’s peppy and fun and inclusive and bright. The fact that she’s drop-dead gorgeous also helps, I’m sure. Yes, there are red flags and warning signs to be seen, but as things stand, we’re still in set-up, so it’s to be expected. [Dove: As I read this, remembering the plotline from my teen years, I thought about how much I would enjoy SVH so much more if Jessica was this. A bubbly, charming, beautiful girl who had everyone wrapped around her little finger, and regularly out-niced Elizabeth, instead of a tantrum-throwing, gaslighting, bullying brat that the narrative keeps telling us is super-good-looking so we have to like her.] [Raven: After reading the full book, I have to agree.] [Wing: … well, Jessica is much more like the real Suzanne, so you sort of got your wish.]
As for the Steven / Tricia stuff? Let’s save that for the next book, okay? If I’m super honest, I miss Cathy Connors.
When a guard motions Jessica for a patdown after she sets off a metal detector:
Elizabeth giggled. “Maybe he thinks you’re carrying a weapon. I can just see the headlines: ‘Teenager Hijacks Plane To Disneyland.’”
There’s your proof that this book was written in the Eighties, folks. Casual airport-based hijacking humour that doesn’t result in three hours of awkward conversation in a windowless room.
[Dove: This looks like the Gossip Girl books that were reworked to tell the same story, but Gossip Girl is a murderer (or something, I never read them, but I liked the covers). DO THAT, SWEET VALLEY! (Also, please fix right twin’s arm/shoulder, because she has two on the same side, and it’s frightening.)]
– – –
CHAPTER THREE: In which Suzanne channels Raymond (whom Everybody Loves), and in which Mr Collins channels David Hasselhoff in bright orange shorts.
Like all the best darts tournaments, we begin the chapter at Lakeside. Perennial clown Winston Egbert is serenading the New Girl in Town, and Suzanne is taking it in good humour. She’s not interested in him romantically, but she’s being nice so it’s all good, spud.
[Wing: I keep forgetting that Ken is the one who had the magical makeover between SVT and SVH and not Winston. He’s still a nerd, Ken’s the tall sporty hottie, and yet I can’t keep that straight.]
All the boys, it seems, are hot for Suzanne. Even super-cool Bruce Patman. Who’s a cock, naturally.
Enid, Elizabeth’s not-Amy-Sutton best friend, sassily mentions that it’s a good thing Jessica is on the East Coast, as she’d be livid to find anyone other than her at the centre of the Valley’s attentions. She’s not wrong. She and Elizabeth talk about the newb, and are quickly joined by Cara Walker. Cara plays up her own attractiveness, comparing her life’s plight to that of Suzanne, but Team Boring are unpersuaded. [Dove: Awkwardly, the narrative is quick to point out that Cara’s “dark eyes and olive skin” are no match for Suzanne’s sexy paleness. Which is definitely a choice.]
Overall, the picnic, chaperoned by the Robert-Redford-bought-from-Wish Mr Collins, is great fun. That is, until Suzanne got into trouble in the lake. Elizabeth is the one who spots the black-haired pale-skinned supermodel, somewhat floundering in the Secca waters.
With the endorphins of a dolphin and the purpose of a porpoise, Collins dives into the water with a powerful swimming gait. He’s upon the troubled Suzanne in a flash of a single hairy bollock, and he drags her to the shore and scoops her to safety with ease.
Suzanne, the powerful swimmer from the Wakefield pool, looks like a drowned rat. She simpers her thanks and displays her gratitude to the sexy teacher. He acknowledges her comments, but does little more to encourage her. Once he removes himself from the equation, Suzanne is beset with male well-wishers offering their ample and testosterone-fuelled support.
Elizabeth knows something is afoot, but lacks the intelligence or foresight to pinpoint her unease. Soon it doesn’t matter, as Todd has laid his clammy hands on her semi-private areas while jabbing his slug of a tongue into her suckling mouth. Ew, gross.
Later, while the walk hand inn hand, Elizabeth’s thoughts turn to Jessica. She’s probably having the time of her life.
WHAT DO I THINK?
I remember having a similar story told in Twins, in which a new girl took the boys of the school by storm. She too turned out to be a complete wrongun. I think Dove especially hater her, although I can’t remember her name or the book in which she appeared. I think her name began with an S… Dove, any idea? [Dove: It wasn’t a new girl, it was Sandra after her makeover. I also hated Giovanna from Ciao, Sweet Valley, but that was because she was a badly written stereotype designed to make America look so much cooler than silly old Italy. Both had swarms of boys after them.] [Raven: Ah, that’s right… Sandra fucking Ferris.]
So we have Suzanne, proving a fine hit with all the cock-leaning contingent at the lake. That’s fine. She’s not done anything wrong, yet. She will, of course, as that was mentioned on the cover of the damn book. But at this moment? She’s actually charming. Or she is until she needs “rescuing” by the dishy Mr Collins.
I think we can see where this is going. The question is just how far the Ghostie will take it.
Maybe this is the redemption of Jessica. It feels like Suzanne, who is obviously going to make a cack-handed play for Mr Collins at some point, is some weird Jessica proxy that will likely push things slightly over the Event Horizon of what is redeemable in a Teen Fiction story. She’ll overstep the mark, and disappear back to New York, and we’ll be glad that she wasn’t Jessica even though the original story premise likely had Jessica front and centre of the whole shebang.
It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.
As for the grand rescue of the flailing Suzanne, it’s obvious that there’s an obvious Ghostie-Boner for descriptions of Mr Collins. He’s a walking monument to DNA, and he can see through Suzanne’s FAFO games. Which is more than Elizabeth can do at this time. She seems smitten with this New York kitten, even if she does feel like something is askew. Maybe Suzanne causes a little flutter in Liz’s lady-garden?
When bulleting the efforts of the boys when Suzanne was looking for support…
Even Bruce Patman got in on the action by bringing her a paper cupful of iced tea.
Suzanne? I wouldn’t drink that, if I were you. [Dove: What is it with this guy and paper cups?]
[Dove: This is the best one so far. My favourite by a country mile.]
– – –
CHAPTER FOUR: In which Jessica meets the Love of her Life of this Book, who plays incredibly hard to get.
We skip to Jessica, and are immediately confronted with her lust. She’s met a boy, and, as usual, he’s breathtaking.
His name is Pete McCafferty. That’s right… another fucking Peter. But this Peter is Suzanne’s boyfriend.
He’s calling on the Devlin’s apartment, ostensibly to see Suzanne Devlin. Of course, she is not home. Neither are Mr and Mrs Devlin. Pete ain’t bothered. He invites himself in, and lounges like a lizard on the Devlin’s posh furniture.
After a brief period of lovestruck wonderment, Jessica rallies and starts flirting up a storm, but before that, we have a quick recap of what’s happened in Jess’s live in the two days since she arrived in NYC. The Devlins are an odd couple, with a short-and-round father and a long-and-thin mother. Reading between the lines, it seems that they are tremendously classist, as they brand taxi drivers as “dreadful little men”. They took Jessica shopping on Fifth Avenue, where she bought herself a pretty necklace that was on sale, and snaffled some free samples of perfume as gifts for her sister. She then ate in the Russian Tea Room, but did not see anyone famous while doing so.
And now she’s alone in the apartment with the delectable Pete. So he’s Suzanne’s boyfriend? Who in the blue fuck gives a shit?
The reason for Pete’s visit? He’s delivering two tickets to a concert that evening, tickets that were originally for himself and Suzanne. Perhaps the Devlins would appreciate them. Alas, the Devlins have other plans for the evening, so they can’t attend. Jessica, of course, has a brilliant idea. Pete can take her to the concert. It’s Chopin, apparently. She loves Chopin, she’s got all his albums and everyhing!
Pete is cynically amused, but rolls with it. He arranges to pick her up at five thirty. Mise well go have dinner beforehand, amirite?
WHAT DO I THINK?
It’s nice that we see what happens to Jessica in NYC. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen, with the Suzanne-centric nature of the cover and the blurb. Even though we currently hate Jessica, she’s generally value from an action standpoint. Maybe a stint as the B Plot will do her the world of good?
It’s pretty clear that probably won’t be the case.
While the story of the Devlins whisking her to nice places to have fun experiences is cute, and does somewhat present her as an innocent young girl slightly out of her comfort zone / depth who’s trying her best to fit in, the whole “I don’t give a fuck if Pete is Suzanne’s boyfriend” does stick in the craw.
I think my issue is that it’s so blatantly a middle finger to the sky. The Jessica we know from Twins was much more sophisticated in her justifications for doing things. Sure, she made the bad choices and took the wrong paths on countless occasions, but she always justified the choices to herself with some twisted logic or magnificent leap of thought. She was right in what she was doing, in her own head at least. But this? It’s just a big “meh, whatevs, I want some”.
We know Elizabeth would not dream of flirting with Pete, because of Suzanne, and so not to spit in the eye of the generosity of the Devlins, and because of Todd, and and and and. Jessica needs similar motivation to flirt with Pete. Maybe something like “surely Suzanne was eyeing up the hot beef on the Sweet Valley scene,” or “It’s obvious that Pete isn’t happy with Suzanne because he keeps calling when he knows I’m home alone”. Nothing huge, just… something. Something more than “dibs on that”.
As for Pete? Pretty sure he’s Chuck Bass. [Dove: Chuck Bass from the first episode. Before he could get away with shit with the phrase, “I’m Chuck Bass.”]
[Wing: This is 100% Jessica from SVH, though, and I’m real damn tired of her, her bullshit, her manipulation, her hypocrisy. I’d much rather not see the NYC storyline.]
They had had lunch at the Russian Tea Room, which Jessica had read about in People magazine. Mrs. Devlin spent the whole time smoking skinny brown cigarettes. She hardly even touched her food, Jessica noticed. No wonder she was so slim!
I smoked for years. Never put me off my food.
[Dove: Hollywood diversity in the 80s. Look! We hired a brunette!]
[Wing: The days of smoking as a weight loss tool. Though I think some people still use it for that, we’re mostly beyond that sort of mindset, I think. Also the days of smoking inside restaurants. How things have changed.]
– – –
CHAPTER FIVE: In which Jessica has a date, which ends in HUMILIATION.
So we’re still with Jessica, as she prepares for her dinner-and-Chopin date later that evening. She pampers herself with a long soak in the tub, trying various suffusions of unguents and essences, before slathering on the cakeface like it’s going out of fashion. It’s sweet, actually, very Pretty Woman.
Eventually, she decries that she positively definitely doesn’t have an appropriate stitch to wear, she decides to raid her faraway host Suzanne’s wardrobe. She settles on a slinky black number that makes her look at least nineteen. She’s sure Pete will be bowled over.
Of course, the date does not go well.
First, when he picks her up, Pete is rather noncommittal on her swanky appearance. She expected him to be breathless with desire. Instead, a curt nod, and a “isn’t that Suzy’s dress?”
While some of the conversation between them seems charged with subtext, it’s more like he’s actually making fun of Jessica rather than the desire she was expecting.
During dinner, the chat, and the wine, flows freely, but Pete keeps her at arm’s length at all times. And when they get to the concert, it’s all she can do to stop herself from nodding off. The pianist is no Johnny Buck, that’s for sure!
On the drive back to the Devlin’s empty apartment, in Pete’s Ferrari, she insinuates that he should accompany her upstairs for a little sumthin’-sumthin’, but he’s not nibbling at all. And to cap it all off, when she thinks that Pete is leaning in to give her a well-deserved kiss, he’s in fact reaching across her to open the passenger door. Straight out of the Tony Stary / Peter Parker playbook! Don’t worry, Jessica, they love each other in the end.
And with a “Sleep tight, little Jessica,” she’s deposited on the kerb. And she’s livid at the brazen humiliation. How could he?!
WHAT DO I THINK?
This is your stock Sweet Valley “older boy” date, I suppose. Teen gets dolled up and is ripe with expectation, only for the stark reality to be anything but romantic. I’m glad that Pete is unmoved by Jessica’s wiles and charm, at least at this stage, because Suzanne is still being presented as nothing but sweetness, light, and puppy dog tails. We are forewarned that this will not always be the case, and I’m sure the fall will be steep, but for now, Pete gets a grudging pass despite his rather callous demeanour throughout.
And of course, there’s the usual “Jessica can’t process anything unless it’s in relation to her proximity to a boy” thing that blights the series. Everything is measured against how she makes this boy feel and react. There’s no joy in the meal, or the concert, or the Ferrari, it’s all Pete Pete Pete. Elizabeth would not be so base. Although she’s constantly lip-locked with Todd in every book in High, which doesn’t lend credence to that assertion.
I was warned, going into High, that the series is much more cute-boy-focussed than Twins. I girded my loins, and I guess I shouldn’t complain, but I do miss the hijinks escapades from the prequel stories. I hope that High Jessica also has adventures where she wants to be a rock star, or High Elizabeth manages to part face with Todd long enough to become a Plucky Girl Detective once more. But even if they do, I suspect those diamonds will shine as pinpoints in a field of boy-addled nuggets of coal.
Jessica, to Peter, as they arrive back at the empty apartment.
“I know it must sound silly, but I’m just an awful scaredycat. Would you mind terribly waiting around with me until the Devlins get back?”
“Awful scaredy-cat”…? Really?
[Dove: It looks like the SV doll line. (I have the SV dolls. I’m not even sorry.)]
– – –
CHAPTER SIX: In which a necklace disappears, and in which Suzanne is adored, and in which the plot twists like a pretzel.
The chapter starts with a missing necklace. Elizabeth’s lavaliere, a present from her mother on her sixteenth birthday, and quite the relic in fandom, has disappeared from the dresser. Suzanne offers to help her look, because she’s a fucking saint. How so? Let’s look at the evidence.
On Sunday morning, the Wakefields enjoyed a splendid and elegant breakfast concocted by their charming guest. French toast, zested with lemon. Actually sounds dece, that. Monday saw Suzanne helping Steven varnish his canoe, which is now my go-to euphemism for wanking. If dishes needed washing? Suzanne. If clothes needed ironing? If ingots needed smelting? Su-fucking-zanne.
[Wing: On the one hand, we learn that Suzanne is very happy to be manipulating the stupid Wakefields, but on the other hand, she’s doing a lot of work to make that happen. Too much work. Why, Suzanne? Why? There are easier ways to make the Wakefields like you!]
Everyone loves Suzanne. Even Lila. The Wakefield phone is ringing non-stop, with boys on the hunt for a slice of Suzanne action. Tom McKay, Aaron Dallas, Bruce Patman, and especially Winston Egbert. Suzanne had turned them all down.
That morning, the girls were looking forward to a trip to the beach. And why not? It’s California, after all. Todd would be collecting them shortly. Elizabeth warns her family that she’ll be looking for the necklace later, so no one should vacuum her room until she returns. This causes much merriment, because Alice is a slob. Who does fuck-all housework at the best of times. The idea that she’d randomly pick up the hoover today is frankly laughable.
Suzanne offers Steven some coffee, but he’s moping about Tricia, laying on the foreshadowing for book 12. He declines, both the coffee and the invitation to join them on the shore. Fair enough.
The girls then change into swimwear before heading to the sand with Todd. As they depart, they discuss the necklace once more…
And as we do so, we skip into Suzanne’s head. She slips her hand into her shorts pocket… and fingers the necklace that lies coiled within.
*KLAXON* *KLAXON* *KLAXON*
SUZANNE IS A SNAKE!
WHAT DO I THINK?
So! We’re in Chapter Six, and the reveal is… revealed. Suzanne ain’t all that she’s cracked up to be. It appears that she’s a dirty little tea-leaf!
The question is… why?
Looking at the evidence thus far, it seems that poor little rich girl Suzanne is likely acting out in order to get attention. She’s loving the attention of the Sweet Valley boys, although there’s no real evidence of her using that for personal gain or anything. In fact, I’d even suggest that she’s presented as acting sweetly to all involved, in accordance with her public-facing persona.
She does seem to have some baggage regarding her parents, and her only-child boarding-school life. Or at least, that has been mentioned, even if she’s hand-waved it away.
One undeniable thing is that the girl is rich. She doesn’t need the necklace. This is no Tony Rizzo. She’s a thrill-thief, doing it merely to feel something. Which is interesting, even if it does lead into a “daddy never came to my ball games” x-factor narrative that frankly leaves me cold even when it’s real.
And her cover! It’s pretty much bullet-proof. She’s laying on the schmatlz with a spatula, but it’s working. Every adult and kid absolutely loves her… apart from Mr Collins, apparently. I find the fact that he’s impervious to her obvious charms (as presented) a touch suspicious. Has he form in this sketchy Lolita arena? [Dove: I love Suzanne. She’s a much better foil to Liz than Jessica. The Wakefield parents keep “joking” that they want to adopt her. Yes. Do that. Leave Jess in NY. Nobody will care, I promise. Name one person who likes her as much as they like Suzanne. In fact, name one person who isn’t named Elizabeth who likes Jessica.]
It’s interesting. I’m looking forward to the story unfolding.
(Also in this chapter: some nice family interaction with the Wakefield Clan. It’s nice to know that the family will function swimmingly when Jessica is finally sent to prison.)
Elizabeth joking calls Steven “puny”. He responds with sass.
“If you turned sideways and stuck your tongue out, you could probably pass for a zipper.”
Genuine chuckle there.
[Dove: Alice and one of her daughters pretend to be twins, and it’s hilarious. In the sense that literally nobody is fooled, but they have to tip-toe around Alice’s crow’s feet and sulks.] [Raven: Lol!]
– – –
CHAPTER SEVEN: In which Suzanne enacts Operation Collins Phase II, and in which there’s pointless filler at the beach.
Before they head to the beach, Elizabeth asks Todd to drive to Mr Collins’s house. She has papers to drop off, apparently. There’s a child’s bike on the lawn, and we learn that Collins is divorced, with a six-year-old son called Teddy.
Suzanne is interested in all this information. She loves kids, apparently. If she gets married, she’s going to have a dozen. It’s a uterus, Suzanne, not a clown car. Then again, you do you! You can certainly afford them.
Suzanne offers to take the papers to Mr Collins, on the pretext that she wants to thank her swimming saviour one more time. Elizabeth is thankful for the offer, largely to drive the plot of course. So Suzanne knocks on the door, to no answer, before heading round the back at the sound of spraying water.
In the garden, a topless Mr Collins is hosing down the green. Suzanne sneaks up on him with a giggle, which he hears. He spins round in shock, then smiles… but not with his eyes. He’s onto her bullshit, that’s for sure.
We then get a Suzanne monologue, in which her status as a panto villain is cemented. She internally confesses that she enjoys playing with male emotions, although she’s nonplussed that her wiles seem to wash off Mr Collins with no effect. She brands Elizabeth as “dopey”, and admits to sneering at the Wakefields (and the rest of the town) behind their hick backs. And finally, she vows to crush Mr Collins and bring him to his knees, before we snap back into the action. [Dove: And I, as a reader, agree with her. The Wakefields are thick as pig shit. The SVH-ites are pointless and basic. And Mr Collins is a moron. I just wish Suzanne’s evilness was more along the lines of Leland Gaunt’s, than her actual plan.]
She hands over the envelope with a fluttering glance and a gushing thanks. Collins takes it, gruffly. She then “wilts” into a nearby chaise lounge, flashing her beautiful legs, before commandeering the hose to take a quick drink. In doing so, she channels every Eighties vixen rock-chick in a cheesy video, letting the hose-water drench her t shirt to accentuate her form in a tiny bikini.
She laughs it off as klutziness, but Collins is wise to her games.
[Wing: What is this supposed to do, Suzanne? He already saw you, and rescued you, and held you while you were wearing a bathing suit. How is this going to change anything? You need a new plan.]
Suddenly, Teddy appears. He’s a cute rapscallion, as you’d expect. Suzanne lays on the charm with the tiny guy, hoping that the way to Mr Collin’s cock is through his son.
At first, Mr Collins seems to warm to this show, before he shuts it down and sends her on her way. But as she leaves, Suzanne sees a slight blush in the Collins complexion. Maybe she’s getting somewhere after all…
Back in the car, Suzanne starts the flannel once more. Todd happily joins in, heaping on the Liz love-fest as they head to the beach. They meet Enid and George there, and settle down on their towels, before a host of boys beset Suzanne as per usual.
In an entirely forgettable scene at the beach, there’s some love-fest behaviour from both couples, and a lot of talk on the effect that Suzanne has on the male population of Sweet Valley High. Winston, in particular, seems smitten with this kitten, having serenaded her from the Wakefield Compound lawn. As well as writing love messages in toilet paper for her to read from her window. Apparently, since Mandy Farmer moved away, he’s been pining for her, but it seems his crush for Suzanne is now all-consuming.
After their frolics on the beach, reality crashes back as the chapter ends… Suzanne reminds Elizabeth that they need to start searching for her lost necklace.
WHAT DO I THINK?
First up… an errand at Mr Collins’s house? Is it common for American high school kids to know where their teachers live? I don’t think that’s a thing in the UK. [Wing: Eh, maybe. He’s the newspaper sponsor, so it’s more believable to me that Liz knows where he lives and has been there. We knew where our marching band teacher and sponsors lived (…which is maybe not saying much because shortly before my time there was a huge statutory rape situation with the previous marching band teacher), and I think the yearbook people sometimes hung out at their sponsor’s house. It’s a small town, though, far more likely that most people knew each other and had kids in the same grade, etc.]
Next up, the whole “oops, I dribbled the hose water” bullshit is SO cliché! Was it cliché in the early Eighties? Probably. It’s completely Motley Crue video, that’s for sure. I can picture Johnny Lawrence watching a VHS of this scene on his tiny telly while Def Leppard play in the background.
The question is, of course, whether Mr Collins will actually pour some sugar on Suzanne (or something)…?
He won’t, obviously. He’s wise to her dangerous games, as every aspect of their interactions are clear to indicate. But the fallout along the way will be interesting.
It’s super-cool to get a definitive picture of the depths of Suzanne’s guile and depravity. She’s a monster, that much is clear. I’m sure that, later down the line, we’ll get the sob story that will supposedly excuse and explain her hideous behaviour, but until then, I’m happy to see her twirl her metaphorical moustache and swish her conceptual cape.
Also? Teddy’s a cutie. Not quite a Sweet Valley Child Care Centre kid cute, but definitely cute nonetheless. [Wing: Probably a good thing, since those kids got used to teach various members of the various Unicorn clubs a lesson far too often.]
Moving on to the pointless beach scene… pointless much? I’m beginning to think that the Sweet Valley High Style Guide mandates a kissing scene at lease three times per book. It’s getting old quick. [Dove: And I feel like the ghosties are just trying to out-gross each other on the Liz/Todd kiss-talk. Because Liz asking for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is just cringe AF.] [Raven: The whole kissface stuff just leaves me cold.]
Finally… Mandy Farmer? And Winston? Is that a thing? I can’t remember. I’m getting old, so it’s entirely possible I’ve blacked out entire plots… please confirm or deny this in the comments. [Dove: Yep, they got together… some books ago. *shrugs* It’s not Twins. I don’t remember specifics. My brain can only handle the middle school data.]
At that moment a blond, blue-eyed miniature version of Mr. Collins came banging out through the screen door.
I so wish this was a Mini Me version of Mr Collins. Now THAT would be a twist!
[Dove: Did Jeff Lee Johnson create this?? Seriously, follow the link and look at his art. Particularly: Under the Boardwalk (which is what this reminded me of); The Grand International Hotel; Blue Plate Special; and Rue the Day.]
– – –
CHAPTER EIGHT: In which there’s a phone call, a party, and a blackout.
This chapter mostly concentrates on the Jessica-in-NYC B Plot, but it starts with a phone call between the East and West Coasts. And, as you’d expect for a middle-of-the-story placeholder, it achieves very little.
So! Jessica phones Elizabeth. She’s having a fabulous time. Everything is perfect. She’s deliriously happy. And Elizabeth? She too is perfect. Nothing is amiss. All is good. Existence is perfection.
Jess mentions that a friend of Suzanne, called Evelyn, held a party for Jessica the previous evening. Evelyn is very sophisticated. She’s dating a twenty-five year old, and is never ID’d for anything. The party was brilliant.
Jessica and Elizabeth bicker, like siblings. It’s not venomous. Actually, it’s not even relevant.
Jessica spills the beans on the wonderful and peerless Pete. She doesn’t mention him by name, of course, only by fantastical characteristic. Liz warns her to be careful, and mentions Scott Daniels as a warning. Jessica is sure she’ll be fine.
When she hangs up, we learn that Jessica called because she’s feeling a little homesick. Mrs Devlin is not a friendly woman, and Mr Devlin is barely present. Jessica is lonely.
We flash back to the party from the previous evening, and learn that, far from being brilliant, it was, in fact, a disaster.
The party was held in an exclusive part of Manhattan, but Evelyn and her friends were distant and cold at best, and downright nasty at worst. They were all Spoiled Rich Kids, talking about spending their inheritances on Diamonds and Real Estate and other totally far-fetched and hackneyed nonsense. They drank champagne from impossibly thin flutes, and rather looked down their noses at the poor, provincial Jessica Wakefield.
She was largely ignored all evening, despite the party being held “in her honour”, and she necked a little too much wine over dinner as there were no chaperones. She knocks over a vase, hears someone mocking her, passes out in a bathroom, and wakes up in a taxi on her way back to the Devlins. [Dove: This? Is how I imagine Jessica’s life will be after high school.]
WHAT DO I THINK?
Definitely a weird chapter. I am enjoying the parallel looks at Jessica in NYC, and it’s nice to see her not being a complete bitch for once. It’s also nice seeing her completely out of her comfort zone, especially as that comfort zone is exactly the zone in which she longs to feel comfortable.
Additionally, showing Suzanne’s friends as complete See You Next Tuesdays is grand. They are complete caricatures, sure, but they are horribly believable. Rich, entitled bellends with few filters placed on their existence and a hell of a lot of baggage to unpack.
It’s also interesting that Jessica is paralleled with Suzanne in an attempt to redeem her previous bad behaviour. Suzanne is showing us how shitty people can be, while Jessica is showing us how guileless and innocent she can be. The gulf between the two is stark, so perhaps we can start to warm to this Jessica.
Yeah, right. I’d be down with that if they hands started this book with Jessica being entitled and snipey and crap. [Wing: Erm, they did, complete with regular Jessica levels of manipulation of her spineless sister. All of SVH has Jessica being entitled and snipey and crap.] And if she had a little more justification, imagined or otherwise, for throwing Suzanne under the bus in her rampant pursuit of the perfect Pete.
The last thing I’ll say about this chapter concerns the series’s total obsession with age equalling sophistication. It’s not just a High issue, to be fair. I’m just getting a bit bored of the “he’s so sophisticated, he’s almost twenty” style declamations. Age is not a mystical gateway to sophistication. I’m almost fifty, and I’m as sophisticated as a digestive biscuit.
From Jessica, describing her holiday.
Everyone around here is so fabulously rich, it’s enough to make you sick!
You said it, sister.
– – –
CHAPTER NINE: In which Elizabeth shirks responsibility, Suzanne makes a child cry, and shit both goes down and gets real simultaneously.
We start with dishwashing. Elizabeth is loading the machine. I didn’t know they had a machine, but there you go.
Todd has two surprise tickets to a Lakers game that evening, and has invited his girlfriend. Unfortunately, she is committed to babysitting Teddy for Mr Collins. All of her friends are busy too, so she can’t go… that is, until Suzanne steps up to the plate. She offers to take over the babysitting job, undoubtedly with mischief in mind.
Elizabeth vacillates for a nanosecond before taking up the “generous” offer. She makes to call Mr Collins to get his approval for the swap, but Suzanne stops her. Apparently, the Lakers game is about to start, so Todd and Liz need to depart IMMEDIATELY. Todd agrees, because the plot demands it, and they all head off.
[Wing: The Elizabeth we’re told she is would be far too responsible to switch baby-sitters without letting him know and possibly to even switch baby-sitters at all. The real Elizabeth bends over for anyone who tells her to do anything, so this is not a surprise.]
Suddenly, Suzanne is outside Mr Collins’s house. It’s showtime.
Mr Collins is shocked that Elizabeth isn’t there, and is dubious about the (truthful) reasoning behind her absence. He suggests that she’s acting out of character, because the responsible Liz would have called in advance to let him know. Suzanne shrugs. Whatever, it is what it is.
To set him at ease, Suzanne assures Mr Collins that she loves kids, and when Teddy appears there’s a cute scene in which he and Suzanne plan a fun evening while his father is out.
Mr Collins slips Suzanne the number where he can be reached, says a nice goodnight to his son, then leaves. He’ll be back at twelve thirty, apparently.
As soon as he’s gone, Suzanne’s demeanour changes. Teddy tries to engage and play together, as Suzanne has intimated would happen, but Suzanne casts him off with a bored expression. The poor kid asks why she is mad at him, blaming himself, but she just waves him away and heads to Mr Collins’s bedroom to snoop. There’s no one here to impress, so why should she suck up to some irritating little kid? After all, she was shipped off to boarding school, and she was fine, so Teddy can go fuck himself.
She spends the next hour searching through the Collins unmentionables. She’s not searching for specifics, just getting a thrill from poking her nose where she shouldn’t. Irritably, she doesn’t stumble upon anything salacious. [Dove: In fact, the text takes pains to make it clear that he doesn’t even have a single solitary wank mag.] [Raven: I don’t know what’s more depressing, having loads of wank mags, or zero wank mags, or one single wank mag.] [Wing: He’s supposed to be great at teaching writers, which at least implies he himself might be a writer. Maybe his imagination is just that good he doesn’t need any help. Or maybe he’s writing the porn himself and Suzanne’s too up her own ass to think about looking for the notebooks or even a computer.] While Teddy watches TV, she takes a leisurely bath until past eleven. She then returns to the living room, where a cried-out Teddy has passed out in front of the blaring screen.
Suzanne then dims all the lights and sets up some romantic music. She’s a very definite plan in mind.
She readies herself, blouse buttons askance, and pretends to be asleep when she hears Mr Collins enter his home at just past twelve thirty. It’s showtime!
As he bends over her to “wake her up”, she “wakes” with a small start. He’s not moved by her proximity or lamentations of surprise, so she ups the ante as he pulls away. First she asks for a glass of wine, which he refuses. Then she rises with a catlike gait and wraps her arms around his neck.
Mr Collins tenses, and asks her to stop. She refuses, claiming she’s a big girl that knows what she wants. She readies herself for their inevitable embrace…
But he resists, of course. He pulls himself free and shuts her down.
She hisses. He was going to kiss her, she was sure of it! But no. He warns her that she’s playing a foolish game, and that he’s doing her a favour, but she’s having none of it. Full of an absolute weld-hot rage, she storms out into the night.
On her walk to the Wakefield Compound, Suzanne’s rage simmers into a cold-burning hatred. If Mr Collins would not be her plaything, then she would destroy him. She rips her blouse, musters up some fake tears, and prepares to lie to Elizabeth about the horrible Mr Collins and his attempted sexual assault…
WHAT DO I THINK?
Whew! What a chapter!
Before we get into the big stuff, let’s tackle one little detail: Elizabeth babysitting Teddy.
I know that Liz mentioned her part-time babysitting gig with Mr Collins and Teddy earlier in the book, but I’ll wager this never gets mentioned in the series again. In fact, if we see Teddy again in any shape or form, I’ll eat my hat (or a cake made to look like a hat). [Dove: Oh, honey. I’ve read like four of these beyond this point, and all I can say is: get in the fucking kitchen and start baking. Everyone, get ready to applaud Raven on how much his cake looks like a hat.] [Raven: Heh. Busted.]
Also, Elizabeth being persuaded that she needn’t call Mr Collins about the change in babysitting circumstances is wholly unacceptable. Liz would NEVER fall for that, no matter how late she was running for the surprise Lakers game. But if she had called, of course, the plot would not have plotted.
So, onto Suzanne and her terrible story and actions.
I think her switch between Nice Suzanne and Nasty Suzy was very well realised. To be honest, and likely to my detriment, I was most angered by the heart-breaking exchange in which she destroyed poor Teddy and his expectation of a fun night of babysitting. I found the fact that he blamed himself incredibly upsetting, and I was almost broken when Suzanne stumbled upon him, red-eyed and sleeping, in front of the TV at 11:30pm. What an ABSOLUTE and COMPLETE bitch. [Dove: This. I had no idea how this went – I only remembered the big plot point – and thought she was at least going to take care of the kid until her plan kicked in.]
Onto the Big Scene. I got a feel of American Beauty here, although that was different in that Mia Sorvino was actually a nice girl pretending to be a maneater rather than a maneater pretending to be a nice girl. And, as usual, I feel wholly out of my depth and comfort zone, as a man, to tackle this touchy and triggering subject. The whole thing squicked me out somewhat, and I’m happy that Mr Collins was not a wrongun, although I’m uneasy with the text’s subtle suggestion that his libido nearly won out, like a throbbing helmet straining against his grubby sweatpants. I’m putting that down to Suzanne’s internal narration being somewhat unreliable.
After the “humiliation” of her being rejected, Suzanne chooses the nuclear option and concocts a fake sexual assault story, albeit off-screen. This has parallels with Jessica and her treatment of Todd, of course, but while he was labelled as “handsy”, it seems that Mr Collins is getting the full force of this particular firehose. Again, I’ll leave it to Wing and Dove to bring the fire and flame here.
[Dove: I’m sorry, but I’m honestly all out at this point in proceedings. We’re a mere eleven books in, and we have had false sexual assault as revenge stories multiple times. Add to that we’ve had actual sexual assault (Bruce to Liz) brushed off as “boys will be boys”. I’m tapped out. There’s only so many times I can be angry about this before I just start absolutely loathing Francine Pascal for her apparent hatred of women, and her absolute disbelief in their stories – because if you believed this actually happened, you wouldn’t insist that your heroines keep lying about it as revenge. And you wouldn’t cluelessly write actual sexual assault and never comment on it being out of the ordinary or, y’know, FUCKING WRONG.
Perhaps if I were kind, I could guess that she has that mentality of “well, it happens to everyone” (which is also alarmingly common), but I also think that when you’re a publishing powerhouse with thousands of impressionable girls all over the world reading your stories, you DO FUCKING BETTER.]
[Wing: It doesn’t come across as “well, it happens to everyone” though. It’s clearly used as punishment to boys in several different storylines. Rape itself is therefore a bad thing that can be used against a man, which means it’s real, but apparently rare, to Pascal’s mind, because there’s so much boys being boys to Bruce Fucking Rapist Patman and that older boyfriend of Jess’s and so many girls are comfortable using rape as a weapon.
Maybe don’t watch the video if certain movements trigger vertigo for you. This did that to me, but it’s the only official video I could find for it. Thanks, Dua Lipa.]
One thing that I will discuss, however, is the use of Suzanne as a proxy for Jessica. I’ve mentioned it in passing earlier, but I feel that we’re getting to the core of things now (definitely so once the next chapter is complete). There’s a small part of me that believes that the plots and points of Suzanne’s arc were likely originally intended for Jessica, before cool head reined things in and people realised that there are some things from which your titular “heroines” can not come back from.
I’m glad this is the case, and that it’s not Jessica who’s making these claims against her sister’s favourite teacher. Partly because it means that Jessica has a redeemable heart at her centre, but mainly because it demonstrates that the people behind this series have actually put some consideration into the monstrous extremes of Jessica’s character, and that they’ve a set of firm boundaries in mind.
Let’s hope those boundaries are on show in the rest of the series, because I for one miss our entertaining sociopath.
[Wing: Are there limits? Is there consideration? This is the same girl written to make a rape accusation at her sister’s beloved Todd, who is meant to be her big love of her life even if we ignore them knowing each other before SVH. This has a different amount of potential consequences, but I’m not sure I believe it was given to Suzanne instead of Jessica in order to keep Jessica away from that one final line too far.]
Teddy’s big blue eyes shimmered with tears. “How come you’re mad at me, Suzy? You said we were friends.”
Oh my heart.
[Wing: This takes children of the corn to a whole new level.]
– – –
CHAPTER TEN: In which Jessica and Pete have a horse-drawn date, before things turn bleak.
Before we get into the aftermath of Suzanne’s deception, we head back to New York City. To Central Park, specifically, in which Jessica and Pete are enjoying a “romantic” horse-drawn carriage ride.
At least, Jessica is enjoying it. Apparently, it’s a little too touristy for Pete’s sophisticated tastes.
Jessica thanks her escort for a wonderful day, at which point we learn that the whole thing was the Devlins’ idea, and it was mere happenstance that Pete was available at all.
Jessica, a little incensed that Pete is not reciprocating her amorous advances, turns things up a notch. She snuggles into him, and talks of movies and kissing. There’s a flirtatious exchange in which she describes her idea of a perfect kisser, which coincidentally dovetails with the real and all-present Pete.
Pete isn’t moved by these tingly tales. He’s more laconic, and sardonic, in his responses.
Jessica gives up. There’s nothing she can do to melt this New Yorker’s heart, it seems. So much for the legendary Wakefield Charm Offfensive.
They both enter the Devlins’ apartment, which is devoid of life, as is the custom. Jessica, still upset and defeated, doesn’t resist when Pete opens the liquor cabinet and pours them both a brandy. She downs it, as Pete dims the lights.
And suddenly, it’s awful.
Pete is all over her, kissing furiously, searching for more. He seems out of control, and Jessica is at his mercy. His hands are wandering, and she is crying “No”, but it’s no use. Soon, she is firmly pinned beneath him, as he leers at her, telling her she is begging for it, and worse, with a mocking tone.
Things progress, and the comments are crass and unwarranted. Jess feels angry, at Pete, at the Devlins, and even at Elizabeth. [Wing: As usual, blame Elizabeth when you are the one who manipulated her so thoroughly.] Thankfully, this anger fuels her, and she manages to throw off her assailant. She demand he leave before she calls the police, which he mocks as they would never believe a girl like her.
She cries out that she hates him, to little effect. Finally, he declares that he will leave, only after he gives her “the goodnight kiss” she deserves.
He lunges once more, and wrestles her to the ground, smashing a coffee table in the process.
Then, happily, thankfully, the Devlins arrive home, horrified, frozen in the open doorway. And we fade to black.
WHAT DO I THINK?
What can I say? A big chapter in a growing story. Things are deepening now, on all sides.
Again, this storyline is one which I feel unable to totally tackle with my usual brand of dad pun or inappropriate joke. It’s strong stuff, and certainly the most direct and distressing display of the maturation of the Sweet Valley universe from Twins to High. And the internal parallels of the book are stark: Suzanne invents a sexual assault, while Jessica lives one.
It’s well actualised, and compelling, though very unattractive. I also question the necessity, so hot on the heels of other books in this series which have flirted with similar themes. My hope that the series moves to balmier climes and less incendiary (and depressing) vistas is well documented, and this desire is only strengthened here.
But this story is not for me, and it’s not touching on the grim reality of my life on a personal level. So I’ll bow out of the discussion here and leave it to those more harrowingly qualified.
[Dove: We have had plenty of books with terrible pacing, particularly the ghostie who blows her load by putting every single event mentioned in the summary in the first couple of chapters, so to see this was refreshing. Obviously, the subject matter is horrible, but I will give this ghostie kudos for having the smarts to put these scenes side by side. And incredibly basic structure for most books, but surprsingly skilled for the low bar that is SV.
As for the content, nobody checks Jessica is ok after this. So maybe it’s no wonder that the SV women are frequently being assaulted and have no idea – because nobody has told them they don’t have to endure this. It may also explain why SA allegations as revenge are so common too. I mean, if they’ve got no clue what sexual assault is when they’ve lived through it (and that’s just “normal”), then what’s the harm in claiming it. I mean, if it’s normal, then every guy does that to every girl, so it’s not really a lie. If he’s not groping me against my will, he’s definitely groping someone else against theirs, so… y’know, let it ride. It evens out.]
(One more thing: This is the last time we have a scene with Jessica until she returns to Sweet Valley. I mean, the FUCK?! Way to leave a cliffhanger, Ghostie, you cleft!)
Pete, to Jessica, in the heat of the moment.
“Grow up,” he growled. “What kind of a game did you think this was? You’re not playing in the sandbox anymore. This is the real world.”
I know it’s inappropriate, but all I could think of was “What game? A sandbox game. Grand Theft Auto 5.”
[Dove: It’s… kind of beautiful. And horrifying if they’re SV cheerleaders. And there’s not enough blondes in there.] [Raven: I like this one a lot.]
– – –
CHAPTER ELEVEN: In which Suzanne weaves her web of lies.
And now we’re back with Suzanne and Elizabeth. It’s time for Suzy to tell her friend Liz about the horrible ordeal she faced at the hands of Mr Collins.
She starts off strong. Trembling, crying, smudged mascara, torn clothes. It was awful, a nightmare. The whole shebang.
Elizabeth questions gently. What happened?
Suzanne intimates but does not elucidate. It’s still YA fiction after all. But of course, the insinuation is there, black and pendulous, ripe, ready to burst.
When Suzanne tearfully introduces the Collins name into the narrative, Elizabeth is dumbfounded. No! Not Mr Collins! Surely there’s been a mistake? Bust Suzanne presses, and is believable.
Elizabeth feels sick. She tearfully presses for the intimate details.
Suzanne supplies, in spades. He was different. He returned drunk. He plied her with wine, before pouncing on her. He was kissing her, unbuttoning her blouse, before she managed to escape his clutches and run away.
Elizabeth is appalled. She recalls all the times that Mr Collins has offered wise counsel. This whole scenario is awaking nightmare.
She suggests they tell the Elder Wakefields, as they will surely know what to do. Suzanne plays her part to perfection, panicking, asking if she’ll be believed. She even suggests that Pete would kill Mr Collins if he knew.
Crying real tears, confused over her image of Mr Collins and the one painted by Suzanne, Elizabeth heads to tell her parents. Inside, a nagging thought… is sweet Suzanne telling the truth?
WHAT DO I THINK?
This chapter is short, and pitched well. It’s emotive, and clear, and pulls very few punches. I have no complaints with what’s written.
My issues are bigger. They’re not about the strength of what’s written, but more about why it’s written at all.
In the current climate, there’s a drive to stand with a victim. To hear their stories, their voices, and to believe what they say. This is correct, and I wholeheartedly support this.
On the opposite side of the coin, there are those who look to diminish the voices of the victims, claiming oppression, or witch hunt, or false accusation, or worse, with said victims often becoming vilified by the vox populi after voicing their truth and laying themselves bare.
And, honestly, it’s reckless stories like this that fuel such unhealthy narratives.
Again, this is not my fight, or position, or story, so I feel woefully unqualified to opine with any substance. I’m loathe to mansplain at the best of times, but this? It’s not the offside rule, or driving technique, or how to wire a plug, or any other comic topic on which I could wax lyrical. This is important.
The real kicker? We’re only twelve books in, and Francine has put such duplicitous, damaging scheming front and centre of two fucking books.
Get in the sea, Pascal. You’re doing harm.
Again, I’ll leave this to Dove and Wing to drive a furious charge through the gathering throng.
[Wing: I’m not sure what else to say. You did a fab job with the highlights, and Dove and I have both shouted about this the other times Pascal let this go into books with her name on them. It’s fucked up. To this day, people believe false rape accusations are the only possible way that someone they like, be it family, friend, or famous person they may or may not have formed a parasocial relationship with, could be accused because everyone knows rapists are a certain type of guy who you can recognize on sight and who has no friends.]
Doesn’t feel appropriate, sadly.
[Dove: “If I put a towel over my hand the same shade of my dress, nobody will know I’m tickling her. Mwahahahaha!”]
– – –
CHAPTER TWELVE: In which Mr Collins is suspended, and in which the Gossip Rumour Mill maintains a relentless grind.
We immediately cut to a grubby aftermath. It’s two days since the story broke, and the Gossipers are out in force.
People can’t believe it, naturally. Not Mr Collins, surely? Elizabeth has hardly slept.
We learn that Liz went to Ned, who went to the principal Mr Cooper, who notified the school board. Surprisingly, to Elizabeth at least, a lot of folk are actively pleased that Mr Collins was getting his just desserts, as they didn’t like his liberal methods of teaching. Here’s how they can kick him to the kerb.
Apparently. Mr Collins himself is pretty upset about the whole thing, but is offering nothing in his defence. No denial, no statement, nothing. People would believe what they wanted to believe, apparently, so why add fuel to the fire?
[Wing: The fuck, Collins? Get thee to a lawyerery.]
Todd and Elizabeth are off to Cara’s, to pool their resources with some other kids and buy Lila a present for her birthday, with her party being that evening. As they drive over, they discuss the whole torrid affair. They conclude that Suzanne couldn’t be lying, because who would make up such a horrible tale?
At Cara’s, the crowd are divided into pro-Collins and anti-Collins. Cara claims he’s always been lecherous, but she’s not exactly a great judge of character as her best friend is Jessica. Ken Matthews in on Mr Collins’s side. John Pfiefer and Enid Rollins both want to hear Mr Collins’s story before judgment, but Caroline Pearce is Judge, Judy and Executioner… Collins is guilty.
Talk in the group turns to the effect the whole affair must be having on poor Suzanne. It’s eventually decided that they should use a chunk of the cash collected for Lila’s present on a gift for Suzanne. After all, Lila is rich, so she doesn’t need a big gift. Of course, Suzanne is rich too, but the decision is final. [Wing: SVT Lila would have cut a bitch down for this.]
Elizabeth suggests they buy her a blouse Suzanne had eyed with appreciation while on a recent shopping trip. She also decides to spend the money she’s been saving to replace her lavaliere on a complementary scarf to combo.
Suzanne is blessed with fine new friends, it seems.
WHAT DO I THINK?
We can’t discuss this chapter without touching on Mr Collins’s peculiar decision to say nothing to anyone about what happened that evening. How the hell is that going to help anyone? [Dove: When a minor is accusing you of sexually assaulting them, I don’t care how strong your pride is, now is the time to hit them with facts. Your side of the story. Receipts if you have them. Damn, Collins. Stoic is not cool in this situation. It’s stupid.]
Like, I’m sure he doesn’t have to come out with fists flying, calling Suzanne a lying slut or whatever, but I’d think he’d have something to say. Unless I’m wide of the mark here, and he’s actually telling the appropriate channels what went on and just not shovelling shit onto the gossip fire…?
[Wing: I mean, maybe, but you’d think gossip would mention him doin gat least something even if it is all behind the scenes.]
It’s all a bit odd, that’s for sure. As for the way the Wakefields handled things? Sounds like due process, so that’s good. Although what do I know about due process? Maybe there should be some safeguarding teams involved somewhere.
I’m low-key impressed that the Ghostie took the opportunity to throw considerable shade onto Mr Collins from the more conservative members of the Sweet Valley society (both lower- and upper-case C), as that feels like a wholly believable reaction from the people. It’s also pleasing to see the kids at Cara’s not split along obvious party lines on the whole affair. There’s still with a strong bias towards Suzanne, which can largely be explained away by male hormones.
Finally, we have decision to pool some of Lila’s present collection cash into a present for poor Suzanne. This feels a little plotty, but that’s fine. I’m sure it’s a device to help the truth come out without anyone losing too much face (other than Suzanne, of course). It surprises me that the cosmopolitan Suzanne has found any blouse of worth in Hick Fashions or similar shitty boutique, but maybe they’ve just got a new consignment of the latest trends.
From Caroline Pearce…
“I mean, to think a maniac has been on the loose at Sweet Valley High all this time and no one even suspected!”
… … … … Has Mr Nydick been relocated to the high school?!
[Dove: Can’t be Sweet Valley. These kids are lacking hands, and in one case, an entire arm. There’s no way SV would let the disabled join in. Anyone seen Pamela Heart Condition recently? Well the fact that even I can’t remember her surname demonstrates how often she came back.]
– – –
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: In which Suzy and Liz prepare for Lila’s party, and in which Elizabeth discovers the awful truth.
Suzanne and Elizabeth prepare for Lila’s party. Suzanne is wearing a white satin off-the-shoulder Halston dress, a present from Pete. Apparently, this is a big deal. Must be a big money item or something. Elizabeth thinks she looks spectacular.
Elizabeth is dressing more demurely, in a velvet skirt and a high-necked lace Victorian blouse. Suzanne is similarly complimentary about Liz. There’s a talk of Princess Diana and Christie Brinkley, which effortlessly dates the piece. [Dove: This book was perfectly poised to age badly. Jessica visits the Windows on the World restaurant at the WTC. She dreams of being a supermodel like Cheryl Tiegs (who I’d never heard of and had to google). Cheryl was in her mid-40s at the time the book was published. She dreams of Mick Jagger. Jessica has a “hello fellow kids” vibe throughout. Doesn’t every shallow sixteen year old dream of being 40?]
Suzanne gushes that Elizabeth has become a very special friend, almost a sister, over the past few weeks, which fills Elizabeth with tears of joy. Then, in a devious internal monologue, it’s confirmed that Suzanne thinks Elizabeth is a sap and the whole thing is an epic ruse. Culminating, of course, with the destruction of Roger Collins.
Aaron Dallas arrives. He is Suzanne’s date for the evening. Before she heads downstairs, she and Liz share a final touching moment… a moment in which Suzanne nearly lets the mask slip by talking of Mr Collins with some ill-disguised vitriol. [Dove: Which is weird. I have friends who have been sexually assaulted. In some cases I don’t know the name of the predator, in others I make sure never to bring them up. Why wouldn’t you hate the person who assaulted you? Particularly when everyone around you is like “Oh, he’s such a top guy! We just love him!” Her hatred is not proof of lies, it actually sells them. You are allowed to be angry at and hate the person who sexually assaulted you. Just because crying or wilting when people talk about them is the expected reaction, doesn’t mean there aren’t more emotions attached. And all of them are valid. So basically, fuck you Elizabeth. I know in this case Suzanne is lying. I just think this was an awful thing to put in as “proof” of her deception.]
With Suzanne out of the way, Elizabeth takes the opportunity to secrete Suzanne’s special presents of a blouse and scarf, hiding them plainly In Suzanne’s luggage. She’ll spot them before she packs the following morning, so the logic goes.
While rearranging the case’s contents, Elizabeth stumbles upon… her gold lavaliere. How on earth could it have got there?
Suzanne hadn’t meant to… steal it, had she?
Full of doubt, she dons the lavaliere and heads down to meet Todd.
WHAT DO I THINK?
Things are beginning to unravel for the book’s supervillain, which is nice to see. It’s been rather well paced, thus far, and I hope that continues.
(*Morgan Freeman’s Voice*: The pace of the narrative did not, in fact, continue well.)
So it seems the architect of Suzanne’s downfall will be Elizabeth herself, and the stolen necklace will be the instrument of that demise. While I’m pleased that this stolen property is the catalyst for Elizabeth’s doubts against her “new friend”, it’s a little bothersome that she can only comprehend the evil before her when it’s focussed entirely on something of hers that has gone missing. It’s almost as if she can’t see anything wrong until there’s a possibility that Suzanne stole her necklace, from which point it’s on like Donkey Kong.
Still, it does open up the hope of some Plucky Girl Detective nonsense, where Elizabeth brings down the beast and hoists Suzanne by her own duplicitous petard. Yes!
“You’re the sweetest girl in the whole world!” Suzanne gushed.
“The second sweetest,” Elizabeth amended laughingly.
I just threw up in my mouth.
[Dove: L-R/top to bottom: Amy Sutton, Elizabeth Wakefield, Lila Fowler, Jessica Wakefield, Friend-of-the-week-with-a-problem. Not sure why there’s a Wuzzel behind Amy. Or nightmare fuel behind Liz.] [Raven: You see Wuzzel, I see Krankie.] [Wing: This looks like the cover of a graphic novel reboot or something. I kind of love it.]
– – –
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: In which Elizabeth speaks to Mr Collins, and plans an epic revenge.
On the journey to Lila’s party, Elizabeth confides with Todd all the news that’s troubling her. Her main contention is this: if Suzanne could be so scheming as to steal the lavaliere, could she also be so scheming as to concoct a bogus sexual assault claim against Mr Collins?
Usually, Todd is little more than a sounding board for Elizabeth’s internal discussions, which is absolutely fine. This time, however, he offers nugget after nugget. He recalls the class’s reading of East of Eden, which apparently contains a character that was similarly as sweet and wonderful as Suzanne, who turned out to be an absolute asshat.
So there’s precedence, and it’s literary. What more does Elizabeth need?
Then Todd throws a little shade Jessica’s way, over the Bill Chase and DeeDee Gordon debacle in which Jess strung him along for no real reason other than personal pleasure. Liz defends her sister, but only half-heartedly. [Dove: Liz literally can’t think of a single reason why a person would make up sexual assault. Not one. Even though her twin did just that about Toddikins because he didn’t fancy her. Liz is S-M-A-R-T. (JC recently reminded me for the hundredth time that Todd doesn’t know about that lie. She keeps telling me, and my rage keeps obliterating that fact. However, Liz knows.)]
Elizabeth is torn. Is Suzanne a baddie? There’s only one person who could help make up her mind… Mr Collins.
Todd and Liz take a detour to Chez Collins, hoping to hear his side of the story. He lets them in, but it’s obvious that he’s feeling the strain of the situation. How do we know? Because he has stubble, which as we all know is a prime indicator of male turmoil or sexual impropriety. [Dove: Why on earth, when facing a SA allegation of a minor, would you invite another minor into your home? Jesus Christ, was he taking cues from Michael Jackson? Talk on the damn lawn, you fucking idiot.] [Raven: Damn good point! Although I guess she has Todd as a chaperone.]
After some tedious small talk, Elizabeth plain comes out and asks. Is Suzanne’s story true?
Mr Collins asks her what she thinks, and stares her down until she cracks. Of course she doesn’t believe Suzanne. How could she? Mr Collins would never do such a terrible thing.
Mr Collins remains stoic, shrouded in an enigma. When Elizabeth presses for his forgiveness, he says there’s nothing to forgive. He’s not even mad at Suzanne, who must be broken indeed if she needs such attention so badly.
As the teens make their leave, Elizabeth vows that Suzanne won’t get away with this. She will rue the day she ever crossed Elizabeth Wakefield… she will absolutely RUE IT!
WHAT DO I THINK?
Yeah, Mr Collins is getting on my tits a bit.
Like, are we supposed to think he’s some sort of teaching paragon, completely perfect in every way? Because frankly, I’m getting a bit sick of his swan-like grace in the face of satanic levels of provocation. I’d much prefer a few chinks in his armour, and for him to show a little swagger now and then.
And Elizabeth can piss off as well. What is she, some kind of Teacher Whisperer? She can look into a teacher’s eyes and see deep into his tortured soul? Get to fuck. And again, I make the point that everything she’s “learning” about Suzanne is a simple symptom of having her necklace stolen. This Damascene conversion is on the shoulders of an entirely selfish construct. If Suzanne hadn’t taken the necklace, Mr Collins would be on a fucking register, for all the shits Liz could give.
Todd, though? Great work! Actually helping his girlfriend work through her worries, with decent advice and a shoulder to cry on. Go Todd! [Dove: This might be the first – maybe only? – book where he doesn’t get all sulky with her preoccupation with the plot and assume she’s in love with someone else.]
The chapter ends on a very positive note… it looks like Elizabeth is priming herself to battle with Suzanne, using all her wiles and strength. How exciting!
Elizabeth, on Jessica’s general demeanour.
Elizabeth bit her lip. “But that was just Jessica. She’s never done anything really bad.”
“Members of the jury, may I present Exhibits A through ZZ…”
– – –
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: In which there’s a confrontation, a retaliation, and a comical definition of “sparing no expense”.
We’re at Lila’s party, and Winston is trying to cut into Aaron’s dance with his date Suzanne for the umpteenth time. Standard.
We see the no-expense spared nature of Lila’s party, which appears to be little more than a few balloons and a big cake.
Suzanne purrs into Aaron’s ear, whispering phrases that she knows will capture his heart. Internally, she’s mocking him, and everyone around her. She’s loving all the attention she’s getting. Yes, she may be leaving tomorrow, but she has this town in the palm of her hand. The icing on the cake would be if she could stick around for long enough to see Mr Collins lose his job.
Suddenly, she spots Elizabeth and Todd heading her way. She even has the gall to consider using her wiles on Todd… if only she were staying in town a little longer!
But when Elizabeth arrives, she’s not smiling. And, shock horror… she’s wearing the stolen lavaliere.
Elizabeth whisks Suzanne off to the cloakroom, and basically accuses her of everything under the sun. She knows that Suzanne stole the necklace, despite her feeble excuse of it getting caught up on a sweater, and she also knows that she’s lying about Mr Collins and the sexual assault.
Elizabeth then calls Suzanne a loser.
Suzanne fights back with more lies, at first, until it becomes obvious that Elizabeth will not be dissuaded from her new convictions. Then the nails come out, and she admits to every terrible thing. But instead of being apologetic, she’s actually rather proud. And she knows that it’s just her word against Elizabeth’s… whose reputation will be shredded once Suzanne works her magic.
Elizabeth stands her ground, and says that she won’t let Suzanne get away with anything. Suzanne reiterates that her wrath will be glorious and white-hot, and that Elizabeth will be a mere husk when Suzanne’s plan is though.
This troubles Elizabeth somewhat, but she does her best to leave without showing any perceptible weakness.
[Wing: Liz, you already know she’s a thief and a liar who doesn’t care one whit about whether she destroys someone’s life. Why aren’t you coming up with a better plan to deal with her? Not to mention, your sister does things like this all the goddamn time. You don’t stand up to her, but surely you can fucking recognize it in someone else. Surely.]
After she leaves, Suzanne’s cogs begin to whirr. She quickly formulates a plan, based on a small snippet of information she gleaned from Liz in confidence during her stay.
She corners Cara in the bathroom, and asks her if she’s noticed anything different about Liz. When Cara answers in the negatory, Suzanne mentions Elizabeth’s recent head-bump-based character change from Dear Sister, then suggests that she saw Liz bump her hear poolside yesterday afternoon… could this be the reason that Liz is acting off? Could this be the reason she’s not being friendly, that she suspects Suzanne of lying about Mr Collins. [Dove: Outstanding. Why isn’t Jessica this good? Jessica would just kick the drinks table or something here.]
Wide eyed, Cara swears herself to secrecy… then promptly decamps to Lila’s side to spill the beans. Just as Suzanne had planned.
WHAT DO I THINK?
First up, let’s look at the party,. A few balloons, a cake, and a white buffet table with small sandwiches? For Lila? Lila fucking Fowler?
No expense spared? No. Expense. Spared. …? [Wing: Not a fucking dinosaur to be seen.]
Please, get in the fucking sea. This is the most lacklustre description of a Fowler party that I’ve ever heard. This party could have been held by Sophia fucking Rizzo.
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING, YOU INCOMPETENT COW?!
This is the grand plan to bring down Suzanne Devlin? This?
Simply walking up to her and accusing her to her fucking face? In private? Then walking away and giving her ample time to retaliate?
As this scene unfolded I was sure that Elizabeth would be recording Suzanne’s confession, that there was some guile or forethought in Elizabeth’s blurting. But no! It’s a simple “you are the baddie” declaration with no rhyme or reason behind it.
I was so enjoying this book, and now it’s going to end in fucking whimper?!
Fuck you, Book, for making me give a shit.
I’m now officially Team Suzanne. Fuck all these basic bitches in Sweet fucking Valley.
(As for Suzanne’s retaliation? Nicely done! Sharp, not excessive, and nuanced. And it uses continuity!)
Seriously though, fuck this version of Elizabeth Wakefield. I do miss our Plucky Girl Detective.
[Dove: Literally everything Raven said here. Elizabeth sucks. Suzanne’s evil is fantastic. At this point I was looking forward to seeing how it ended… before I remembered this wasn’t later in the series where they did 3-5 book arcs, so Liz can’t lose this battle. She can lose for a paragraph, and then she wins the book.]
Cara, to Suzanne, as the tea is being spilt.
“You can trust me,” Cara promised. “I won’t tell a soul.”
Is there anyone trustworthy in this fucking town?
– – –
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: In which everything happens, all at once, and in which Winston inexplicably saves the damn day.
The gossip about Elizabeth’s new bump to the noggin has spread through the party like wildfire. Eventually, it gets to Enid, courtesy of Caroline Pearce. Enid is predictably confused. Liz hasn’t been acting strangely at all… has she?
Enid, close to tears, hunts out her friend to let her know the score.
When Elizabeth learns what’s happening, she knows the source of the lies… Suzanne! With a renewed anger, she decides to enact the second phase of her plan to bring her down, which is exactly the same as the first phase, but in public instead of in a cloakroom.
So she approaches Suzanne, and loudly accuses her of lying. First, about her.
Suzanne deflects this deftly, as you’d expect. She uses every tool in the passive-aggressive gaslighter’s arsenal, to great effect.
Elizabeth is outmatched, and confused, which is best shown when she accuses Suzanne of stealing her necklace, only to have Suzanne point out that Elizabeth is wearing it. [Dove: *applauds*]
Elizabeth is shaking with anger, while Suzanne remains cucumber-cool. It’s painfully obvious which way the tide is rising.
Elizabeth decides to go for the jugular. She accuses Suzanne of lying about Mr Collins.
This gets some traction, in that Suzanne does flinch. But she composes herself quickly. But, before she can properly retort, Winston Egbert stumbles into the scene, and accidentally spills a drink on Suzy’s Halston dress. He’s immediately apologetic, but Suzanne looses her cool and rips him a new one.
She calls him an idiot, and a clod, and a big dumb dog, before she notices the looks of horror from the collected high school throng. Immediately, the sheen is returned, and she “forgives” Winston for his clumsiness, but the damage is done. Everyone has seen Suzanne as she really is, and her sycophants fall away one by one until she is left sobbing in frustration and defeat.
There’s a quick snap-cut to the refreshment table a little later, at which point Winston confides to Elizabeth that the spillage of the drink was no damn accident. It was a calculated act designed to unveil the depths of Suzanne’s depravity. Apparently, Winston had overheard Suzanne’s confession to Elizabeth in the cloakroom, and acted accordingly.
Elizabeth thanks her friend for his valiant act. Then Todd arrives, and tells everyone that the place is abuzz with Suzanne’s downfall, and apparently Mr Collins is now totally in the clear.
WHAT DO I THINK?
This is how we’re ending the story?!
GET INTO FUCKING SPACE, YOU BELLENDS.
I can’t believe that Suzanne is going out like this. She’s a monster, and her actions throughout were monstrous, and as such she deserves an epic and glorious defeat. But this? This bullshit in which Elizabeth limps onto the battlefield armed with a fucking spoon, against the arsenal of a teenage warmonger, and just LUCKS her way to victory with the help of a random WINSTON FUCKING EGBERT?
I DO NOT ACCEPT THIS ENDING.
This could have been SO GOOD. This could have shown Elizabeth as a completely vengeful saviour, full of vim and vigour and schemes and ideas and plans. Instead? She does the SQUARE ROOT OF FUCK ALL yet still comes up smelling of fucking roses.
And the denouement, in which everyone decides to hate Suzanne because she snaps at a clumsy Winston? Why in the blue FUCK would this negate a fucking INVESTIGATION INTO SEXUAL ASSAULT?
How the hell have they FUCKED THE LANDING OF THIS BOOK SO FUCKING BADLY?
I’m actually angry.
This series, man… this fucking series.
[Dove: Yep. This. *deep sigh*]
[Wing: Raven for the win.]
“Poor Liz. You’re imagining things again. How could I have stolen your necklace? You’re wearing it.”
– – –
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: In which Suzanne leaves, and Jessica returns, and everything is both hunky and / or dory.
It’s the aftermath. Suzanne has left for NYC. And Jessica is back!
Jess and Liz gabble in their bedrooms. Elizabeth hadn’t made the trip to the airport to see Suzanne off, which is understandable. Jessica asks what she has missed, but Elizabeth keeps quiet, sure that Cara would fill her in soon enough. [Wing: What the fuck, Liz. Why the fuck aren’t you telling your sister? You already know whatever story Cara tells her will be complete and utter bullshit.]
Elizabeth asks her sister how things were in New York, with particular emphasis on her mystery man. Jess tells Elizabeth his name, which identifies him as Suzanne’s boyfriend, but doesn’t share much else. The reader does learn that the Devlins had taken Jessica’s side in the whole affair, and kicked Pete out of their place, never to return. And that, as they say, is that. [Dove: Also, Jess finds the gift everyone bought for Suzanne, assumes it’s a coming home present, rips it open and immediately wears it. And, just like always, Liz’s lack of spine is so absent she can’t say, “Um… all of our friends paid for that, I really should return it and give them back their money.”]
The rest of the chapter is three pages of foreshadowing about Tricia and Steven, so that can fuck off until next time.
WHAT DO I THINK?
I’m still angry about the previous two chapters.
I’ll end with another point of apoplectic rage… how the HELL can the Ghostie hand-wave Jessica’s attempted rape away with a fucking SINGLE PARAGRAPH of SHITTY EXPOSITION in which NOTHING IS DONE TO MAKE THINGS REMOTELY RIGHT?!
Ah balls, why the fuck should I care?
Of Pete McCafferty…
“He sounds breathtaking,” said Elizabeth.
Presented without comment.
– – –
I was enjoying this book.
I was enjoying this fucking book!
And then it TURNED TO COMPLETE BULLSHIT.
Can NO ONE in the pantheon of Sweet Valley High Ghostwriters write a decent god damn ending?!
I just want something that has a logical progression from the words that precede it, that has a properly weighted conclusion and a satisfying feel. Am I asking too much here?
Suzanne? She was great. Ugly, monstrous, conniving, and wholly engaging. Elizabeth, pre-ending, was also fun, and a special type of naïve that made me smile. Jessica’s B Plot was pleasing too. The sexual assault stuff, both real and imagined, was troubling, but I guess that’s the point? Either way, it was compelling fiction throughout.
UNTIL THEY BOTCHED THE FUCKING LANDING.
This has happened in every book so far. It’s getting tiresome. Same old, same old, same old.
I used to work in the Computer Games industry. One fact you may not know is that, in games design, a hugely disproportionate amount of resources are spent on the first level of a game, and the level that receives the least love is generally the final one. Why? Because everyone sees Level One, but only a handful of players make Level One Hundred.
I’m beginning to think that this series embraces that philosophy. No one gets to the end of these books, mise well write any old shit.
Fuck it, I’m done. Bring on the AI Art.
[Dove: I agree with everything Raven’s said. I was really enjoying this book. In fact, I was imagining a world in which Suzanne replaced Jessica, and we had a real big bad to fight against, rather than a big bad the narrative keeps informing us that we think is fun and aspirational. And you never realise until they’re gone just how many filler scenes there are in the regular books where Jessica is supposed to do a chore, doesn’t, and then wheedles, gaslights and manipulates Liz into doing it. And I do not miss them when they’re not there. Suzanne was fantastic. I mean, you all know how I feel about the sexual assault (real and made up) in this series, but aside from that, the sugar coating to her evil, YES! MORE OF THAT. And then we had the weaksauce ending that made me want to hoof the book into the sun.]
[Wing: I did not enjoy this book at any point because I already knew going in that there was goin gto be a false rape accusation and, as usual, there would be no actual fallout from it. I can’t with that plotline anymore. I never could, but I just fucking can’t. If I ever get my hands on a time machine, I am going back to take Francine Pascal the fuck out before this series can ever exist.]
Mena Suvari I think you mean?
*cackles loudly* He’s rubbish with names. Yes, that’s who he means.
Hah! Yes,that’s the badger. Thanks for the clarification. I got the initials correct, which I see as an absolute win.
Back when I was young and slim and she was at the peak of her fame, I looked a bit like her, so now I will never forget her name
Brilliant recap as always. It’s horrific how often the false accusation gets thrown out!
I thought I read a lot of these growing up but after your recaps of Twins and now this I’ve realised I must have just read the same few over and over instead but tbh I’m glad cos Lord knows what sort of impact this would have had on me!
Thank you! 🙂
We have a theory that no one bothered to read all the books in the actual Eighties, and it’s only the snark and recap communities who are putting in the hard yards now. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen.
I think this is the first real YA series. I know it predates BSC by several years. It’s very clear that the ghosties are all bright eyed Lit grads, eager to hone their overwrought prose, but I can also production doing about fuck all for quality control, as long as they marketed it well. And as age in-appropriate those cover models are, they are beautiful, James Mathewuse did a great job on SVH and SVT
I’m sympathetic to ghost writers in that they have very little control over what they’re writing, but it’s still annoying that they wrote it.
Hang on, have we considered that Jessica is bipolar and possibly BPD? That’s why she’s forever putting on a show? I wonder if there’s any real consistency to her behaviour
The last couple times I flew, all but once security asked only for my ID. The time they did request the boarding pass I asked and it depends on the training of the TSA agent. But I wonder if we’re circling back to being able to meet people at the gate
I have to say, I love her plan. “This town of hicks and fools! I’ll show them by doing all of their chores! That’ll teach them! ???? Profit!”
That’s my favorite song off Future Nostalgia, and I appreciate it’s placement as the final track to give it extra heaviness
I like your analysis that this and the last was a rehash of earlier plots to soften the actions and then characters. I talked to someone today about how Elizabeth and Jessica are the Madonna/Whore complex marketed to tweens, and it blew my mind that I’d never realized that before. Also, she was a rare Enid fan, who was “super into Elizabeth and Enid’s friendship” before later realizing she was bi. I also hadn’t considered Lesbian Enid before which both makes mounds of sense and recontextualizes Enid in an almost interesting way. I will certainly be viewing her in your recaps as queer from now on
Bipolar? Interesting idea.
Regarding Enid: I keep hearing that fans of the series are not really keen on her, but I think she’s decent. She’s a hell of a step up; from the lank-haired spunkwaffle that was Amy Sutton, that’s for sure.
I cannot wait for you to meet SVH Amy Sutton. It’s still a ways off, but . . . you will have new things to call her. Although “waffle” might still be part of it.
Yeah, I’m going to walk us back from diagnosing like that. It adds to the public perception that people with mental illnesses, particularly “scary” ones like bipolar, BPD, schizophrenia, are inherently dangerous and awful.
That is really good insight! And makes Pascal’s claims that she wanted to write good role models for teen girls even nastier.
Ah sorry, didn’t mean to imply Jessica’s awful behavior was the result of mental health. Those are fully on her
Please never stop doing this; I just discovered your amazing site a few days ago and I’m hooked!! Thanks for the laughs!
Hah, glad you’re enjoying it all!
Glad you like it! We’ve been having fun for awhile now.
Been reading these for a few years now my best friend and I read pretty much all the twins books when we were kids I also read a lot of the high school ones but to be honest the later ones were better loved the jungle prom mini series was hoping for a different ending to it though for everyone who doesn’t like Enid she is loads better in the uni series especially at the beginning please carry on with these as I find the 3 of you very funny
I realise that this is quite a minor point but I don’t think that citing Mick Jagger as a teen crush in the early to mid-80s is that weird when you consider what a weirdly common reference point he was in early 2010s pop music when he was already in his 70s! Ke$ha refers to him as the gold standard of male beauty in ‘Tik Tok’ and Maroon 5 wrote a whole song about his moves! I don’t understand it personally as I have always found The Rolling Stones’ music supremely dull and uninspiring, but I feel like that about a lot of 60s male rock and roll bands so I’m probably a musical philistine!