Sweet Valley High #15: Promises

The cover is blueish grey with orange text - a particularly horrible combination and the text is harder to read because each colour is very muted, so they don't pop against each other. Standard porthole cover, with Trisha Martin standing in the foreground visible from the ribs up, she has short chestnut hair and dark eyes. She's wearing an oversized blue shirt with a white collar that makes her look like a maid (not sure how we're supposed to infer this is a hard-drinking slut from such prissy attire). No pose, arms at sides. Behind her, one of the twins stands with her hand on her chin, looking somewhere between thoughtful and murderous. The hair implies it's Liz, but the vicious look in her eye says Jessica. She's wearing an orange tank top.
Sweet Valley High #15: Promises by Francine Pascal

Title: Promises

Tagline: Somehow Jessica will get rid of Betsy! [Wing: Murder and Mercandy backyard.]

Summary: Steven Wakefield is crushed when his girlfriend, Tricia, dies after a tragic illness. The only things that keep him going are the memory of their love and his promise to Tricia to take care of her sister, Betsy, after she’s gone.

Betsy Martin’s wild exploits with drink, drugs, and boys have left her with the worst reputation in Sweet Valley. But when Steven takes her into the Wakefield home, Betsy makes a promise to change. And as her goodness grows, so does her love for Steven.

Jessica, Steven’s conniving younger sister, doesn’t like this one bit. She makes a little promise of her own to get Betsy out of the house and out of Steven’s life… forever!

[Dove: We had a comment from Sarah asking to describe the covers. Raven and I put descriptions in the alt tags, but it occurred to me that it might not be the optimal way to do that. Sarah, does this work better?

The cover: The cover is blueish grey with orange text – a particularly horrible combination and the text is harder to read because each colour is very muted, so they don’t pop against each other. Standard porthole cover, with Trisha Martin standing in the foreground visible from the ribs up, she has short chestnut hair and dark eyes. She is pretty. But she has resting “I have a tragic past” face. She’s wearing an oversized blue shirt with a white collar that makes her look like a maid (not sure how we’re supposed to infer this is a hard-drinking slut from such prissy attire). No pose, arms at sides. Behind her, one of the twins stands with her hand on her chin, looking somewhere between thoughtful and murderous. The hair implies it’s Liz, but the vicious look in her eye says Jessica. She’s wearing an orange tank top. The twins, by the way, always look like a 35 year old Fox News anchor that’s had a lot of work done and genuinely believes she looks seventeen.]

Initial Thoughts

How the fuck did I end up with another dying from cancer book? As I said back when I recapped #12 When Love Dies, my sister died from cancer right after Thanksgiving. Toward the end of December, one of my best friends also died from cancer.

Here I am with another fucking cancer book. I’m pretty sure SVH hates me as much as I’ve hated on it.

All of that being said, I do like writing recaps as a distraction, and the last one worked well. I hope this one will, too. At the very least, it’s a break from all the conversations my friends and I are having around planning the memorial.

I’m sure this book will be filled with hypocrisy and things that make me rage. Super excited about that.

[Dove: I have no initial thoughts on this one. In Cover Calypso, my thoughts was this was about a maid who caught Jessica sleeping with Mr Fowler, and Jessica promises do to anything to keep her secret. I stand by that as what the cover looks like. And it would have been a much better book.]

[Raven: Finally, a book that centres on the series’ bogeywoman, Betsy Martin! How thrilling. Here’s hoping she’s every bit as trashy as Jessica has claimed.]


We open with Elizabeth telling Tricia Martin that she can’t die. How could she possibly leave the Wakefields behind. No one else in her life is nearly as important, after all.

Tricia is dying much faster than expected. No matter what the doctors said, Elizabeth never really believed she would die. I can’t even mock Elizabeth’s naivety here, or her intentional refusal to believe science. Sometimes clinging to hope that someone will live despite all the odds and medical statements is all you have.

(I do better preparing myself for the death, myself, but I’ve spent a lot of time with people who needed to be optimistic even as we literally watched our beloved person dying.)

Tricia is aware enough to recognize and talk to the people around her, which currently is the Wakefield family. Including Jessica who has the goddamn fucking nerve to cry over Tricia after all the fucking shit she’s thrown her way. I knew we’d have fucking hypocrisy.

Tricia tells them they can’t cry because the last few months have been the happiest of her life. Because of the Wakefields. She almost feels like a part of their family.

Jesus fucking christ. [Dove: I suppose she does. In the same way as I feel part of the family of our Chief Financial Officer, who, during our one and only meeting last week, called over his primary school-aged daughter and said, “[Kid name], look at Dove’s unicorn hoodie! Isn’t it great!” Because I feel both Trish and I have had equal interaction with our new families. Side note: my hoodie is great. It has googly eyes and a unicorn horn. And yes, it has prompted a lot of people to show their seven year olds how cool it is.]

She even gets a dark expression through all her smiles because that makes her think of her own family. Neither her father nor her sister are there for her even as she’s dying.

The Wakefields are there for her, of course.

On the one hand, these are the goddamn hypocritical motherfucking Wakefields, so fuck all of this.

On the other hand, chosen family is so fucking important, and families of any type can be good and bad, and yes, sometimes people fuck off when they really should be there supporting their family members as they are dying.

But it’s the fucking Wakefields, so fuck them. [Raven: I mean, sure? I did roll my eyes when Tricia named them as her palliative saviours. But then her mum is dead, her dad has fucked off, and Betsy is a wreck. So I get why the Wakefields are the surrogates she needs at this time. And, basically, we need to make peace with SOMETHING in order to get through this stuff.]

Jessica doesn’t understand how Tricia can be so heroic in death, saying nice things to the Wakefields, accepting their love and professing her own.

Of course you don’t understand, you absolutely shitstain. How your character is so amazing in SVT and SVJH and so terrible in SVH boggles my mind.

Jess even thinks, begrudgingly, that maybe Elizabeth was right about not judging Tricia by her family. Fucking hell.

(This whole saint in dying thing is an overplayed, trite trope, too, but my rage at Jessica fucking Wakefield overshadows anything intelligent I can say about that. I hope Dove will step in with something smart. I know she has strong thoughts about things like this, cancer porn or whatever it’s called.)

[Dove: Apparently this genre is called “sick-lit”, which, although gross, is exactly the right name for it. And Wing has listened to so many rants from me over the decades she’s known me about the protagonist watching great people die, and remembering them fondly as the bestest most wonderfullest perfectest most awesomest person in the cosmoverse. Because, y’know, sometimes people die, and they’re just people. Or they really are that great, but you don’t really know them, so you have no clue what you’re missing.

Like Liz being in tears here. Point to a single page thus far in SVH where either of the twins has been in the same room as Trisha Martin. Go on. I’ll fucking wait. I’ll wait until the Black Rabbit of Inlé comes for me, because you won’t fucking find one. But sure, now Liz is like “OMG MAH BESTIE IS DYING PEEPS! HOW WILL I GET THROUGH THIS GRIEF!” Just fuck off. The grief is Steven’s. You’re just a fucking irrelevant bystander, trying to steal someone else’s emotion. By all accounts, Steven loved the socks off this girl, and she was his bestest, most wonderfullest, etc. His grief is valid. Stop leaching it, you fucking vampires. And Jessica can fuck off with her “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have been such a bitch to her…” thoughts. Just absolutely fuck off. I HATE THIS FUCKING SERIES.]

[Raven: Another devil’s advocate opinion here, I suppose. Elizabeth emoting on the death of her brother’s girlfriend, someone whom she’s barely interacted with but someone whom she hs consistantly advocated, is entirely on brand. And really, how else should we expect her to act? With a stoic expression and an announcement that she has no feelings one way or another on the subject? She’s not Ivan Drago.]

The rest of the Wakefields say good-bye and give Steven and Tricia some privacy. Steven begs her to stay with him. She makes him promise to take care of Betsy. She’ll be all alone, their father will fall even farther apart just like he did after their mother ied of cancer. Betsy wasn’t always a troublemaker and she needs to know someone will take care of her sister for her.

They exchange I love yous and Tricia goes to sleep for the last time.

Is this saccharine? Yes. Did I promise my dad, in some of his last lucid moments when we were alone together in the middle of the night, that I would take care of my siblings even if he had previously said he would never ask me to make that promise? Also yes. [Dove: And you do an awesome job at it.] [Raven: *hugs*]

So, no matter how much this is a trite death in a dramatic teen soap opera, no matter how Tricia’s death has been used in large part to teach Jess a lesson that she will immediately forget and to give Steven pain, no matter how much I do not want to read yet another book about cancer death, I can’t actually snark this part.

As the Wakefields are leaving after Tricia’s death, Betsy comes running into the hospital, shouting that she needs to see her sister. She’s drunk and staggering and loud. Steven calms her. Jessica slut shames her and mocks her, having, of course, immediately forgotten any lesson she learned from Tricia in her death, so fuck that. [Raven: While I feel I’ll have a contradictory opinion to my fellow recappers on this book, I do think that Jessica is fucking ATROCIOUS in this book. I’m so over her bullshit.]

The Wakefields take Betsy home with them. Betsy is shocked at this, in a sad little way. Jessica is shocked at it in a giant bag of dicks way.

Betsy swears she’ll never drink again. Elizabeth hopes that it’s the one good thing to come out of the terrible evening. Jess doubts her and mocks her again. I hate the Wakefields.

Jessica isn’t really allowed to drive anymore because she got too many tickets, especially when she’s speeding on her way to Miller’s Point, the Sweet Valley makeout spot, because going up there with boys is fine for Jess but Betsy’s a slut. [Dove: Duuuuuude. Like, isn’t there a law against that? They’ve only been driving a year. If you get too many tickets during your first three years of passing your test, you get your licence revoked for a set period of time, and have to re-take your test again. If not, maybe do that. Jessica seems like a menance on the road.]

Fuck you, Jessica Wakefield. Fuck you, ghostie. And especially fuck you, Francine Pascal, who thinks this is fucking role model stuff.

Liz actually does call out Jess’s hypocrisy, but of course it changes fucking nothing.

Jess even flat out says that she’s been saying all along that the Martins are bad news and Steven needs to wash his hands of them forever.


I hate Jessica Wakefield. I hate this book. I hate this series. I hate Francine Pascal. [Dove: Same. This was the book where I genuinely felt like quitting.] [Raven: I hate Jessica Wakefield too. But the rest? There’s not the same vitriol. If I’m honest, I prefer High to the complete shitshow that the Unicorn Club became at the end.]

Back at school, Elizabeth can’t stop thinking about Tricia and her concern over Steven and Betsy. Enid tries to comfort her, but there’s nothing really useful to say. [Dove: Wow, if only one of these characters had a history of reckless behaviour and then turned it around to become an A-student. That might be really inspirational right now. Particularly if that A-student’s old friends and Betsy’s current friends overlapped. Oh well. You can’t work with what’s not there.]

There’s some stupidity with the boys challenging Winston Egbert to eat a bunch of minipizzas. He manages it and Todd wins money for a date off Bruce Patman. I don’t give a fuck.

While Elizabeth’s friends surround her for the rest of lunch, she can’t stop thinking how lonely and sad Betsy must feel, and decides that she will be there for Betsy even though she has no other friends.

Oh look, Saint Elizabeth to the rescue.

Again, supporting someone after their sibling’s death is good! The fact that this is Elizabeth Wakefield and we have fucking hundreds of books about her interfering with things no matter if she should or not colors my opinion of everything she does at this point. [Raven: Again, her actions are entirely on brand. And she’s much more palatable than fucking Jessica.]

Music blasts out of the study where Betsy is staying and Liz, as hypocritical as her sister, assumes she’s smoking and drinking and fucking in there.

Surprise! Though the music is loud, Betsy is working hard at the mahogany desk, drawing something. Betsy’s sharp with Liz, Liz thinks it’s going to be a pain to support her but she can’t quit now.

They finally find conversation in talking about Betsy’s drawing. She learned she could lose herself in it after her mom died and it’s sometimes the only thing that keeps her going. Again, can’t snark this, considering I’m using this recap as a distraction myself.

Talk turns to Liz’s writing and how she writes for herself, not just the newspaper, how she wants to be a famous author someday but she almost never mentions it to anyone. She opens up to Betsy, though, because Betsy’s opening up to her.

This is actually kind of sweet. [Dove: This was the one scene where I didn’t want to smash my Kindle against a wall. I liked that Liz realised that art makes you vulnerable and was open.]

Liz cajoles her into showing her current drawing. It’s Tricia, of course, and it is so good that it leaves Liz speechless.

Next chapter starts with Jess obsessing over what she’ll wear to the funeral. Liz doesn’t understand how she can be so concerned about how she’ll look when they’re burying the girl Steven loves.

Now, I want to give Jess the benefit of the doubt here. Clothes can be armor, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need when you face something like death and the funeral, the celebration of life, whatever.

Except Jess immediately says this bullshit: Lizzie, dear, someone in this family has to look respectable. To make up for having you-know-who with us.

So get the fuck out of her Jessica fucking Wakefield, this book, and SVH as a goddamn whole.

Jess once again borrows Liz’s shoes, because of course she does, and Liz once again says no and then lets her.

I hate everything. [Dove: As I read this book and found myself loathing Francine and her the stories she forced her fleet of ghosties to write, I quickly realised you would be having the same emotion. Then Jessica stole the shoes off Elizabeth’s feet, and I honestly wondered whether I’d just receive an “I quit” email instead.] [Raven: Again, a differing view. I quite liked the shoes/feet thing, as it made the scene from Twins feel like a nice callback. I may be reading too much into it, but if that’s how to enjoy these books then that’s my plan of attack.]

Steve gives Betsy a complete set of acrylic paints and several brushes. Liz told him she draws and he thought she might want to try painting, too.

On the one hand, this is fairly sweet. On the other hand, that’s a pretty damn big assumption. [Dove: Oh, art’s art. It’s not as if these are completely different mediums that give completely different results to the charcoal she’s used to. Clueless ghosties. Also, note from the future: she never uses them, so maybe Betsy was just being polite. In which case, A+ to her.] [Raven: I thought it was a considered gift.]

Funeral happens. Betsy’s the only family member there. Betsy breaks down.

When Alice and Ned take off for work after the funeral, Betsy demands that Steven take her to Kelly’s, that seedy bar. Jess, of course, takes this as a sign that Betsy will never change. Jess is rude to her, Steven is gentle with her and talks her into coming back to the house, tells her that the Wakefield home is her home for good, remembering the promise he made to Tricia.

[Dove: Jessica spends this whole book spitefully telling everyone who’ll listen – and even Steven, who refuses to listen – that Betsy can never change. All the while, Betsy visibly changes. At the same time, Jessica can’t even hold on to that vow to stop being a bitch about Trisha’s family for the three steps it took Jessica to walk out of a hospital room. Projection much? Like, were we ever supposed to see Jessica as good, because she’s a fucking unrelenting monster, and I hate her.] [Raven: Agreed. She’s a nightmare.]

Jess tells Cara and Lila about Betsy the tramp who has moved into the Wakefield house. Fuck. You. Jessica. Wakefield.

This book is horrifying and bullshit and not at all for the reasons I worried it would be horrible. I hate this fucking series so fucking much.

B plot is that Winston wants to break the world pizza-eating record, which is apparently seven extra-large pizzas in one sitting. I’m skeptical that’s the real record, but I’m also infuriated enough that I’m not going to look it up. [Raven: I quite enjoyed the B Plot.]

Lila tells Jess to go through Betsy’s things and find something that will get her kicked out. Pills, pot, whatever.

Fuck. You. Lila. Fucking. Fowler. I know you fucking underage drink you fucking hypocritical asshole.

Jessica goes through Betsy’s things that afternoon. The worst thing she finds is a bottle of aspirin and a drawing that makes her drop the sketch pad in shock.

Later, Jess lies to Liz that she was in the study because she wanted to see the sketches. Otherwise she couldn’t believe that “Miss Tramp-of-the-Year” is a good artist.

What the ever loving fuck.

I hate every goddamn thing about this book. Pascal may not have meant for Jessica to be the role model, she talks about wanting a split between good Elizabeth and bad Jessica, but the thing is, Jessica is always supported in the end, justified or not, and that undermines any so called role model aspect of Elizabeth or the other Wakefields. [Raven: For me, it’s the fact that the bad shit that Jessica pulls far outweighs the good stuff that Elizabeth does. Like, Liz cleans out her yoghurt pots while Jess pours thousands of gallons of oil into the sea.]

God, I hate this series.

The picture Jess found that has sent her for a loop is, of course, a beautifully done drawing of Steven. Jess, of course, assumes this means that Betsy wants their brother.

I, of course, assume this means Jess will slut-shame the shit out of her, Betsy isn’t in love with him or anything else, and I’m going to want to burn down Sweet Valley even more than I already do.

Cara and Jess mock Betsy some more. Cara tells Jess that Caroline told her that she saw Betsy and Steven at Valley Cinema last night and people are going to talk if Steven starts spending all his time with her.

Jess waves this off but does start to worry that Steven is falling for Betsy as a replacement for Tricia. [Dove: The future will show that “replacement Tricia” is definitely a thing the Wakefields have to worry about. But not in this one instance.]

At home, Jess overhears Betsy on the phone with Jerry Crunch McAllister, best known for hitting Todd and Elizabeth on Todd’s bike and nearly killing Elizabeth.

I’ll give SVH one thing, it’s much better at continuity than I expected, at least when it comes to referencing previous events. Not so much when it comes to any sort of lasting character development, though.

Betsy refuses to meet up with Crunch, tells him that she’s not drinking anymore. Jessica later asks her if there’s someone who does mean something to her, and she says she hopes so but won’t name anyone. Jess is certain she means Steven and can only hope that he doesn’t return her feelings.

Over to Liz and Todd heading into the Beach Disco to listen to The Droids. Dana Larson is singing their new romantic song when they arrive. Liz and Todd flirt until Bruce interrupts to pay for them after losing the bet. He leaves them alone shortly after, they talk about how girls will put up with a lot because he’s rich and handsome, no thought at all for how Bruce tried to rape Liz, much less everything he did to Jess when they dated.

Of course, they also never talk about how Jess lied about Todd abusing her, so what do I expect.

After dancing for awhile [Dove: I know you’re pissed off, but how dare you miss telling everyone that Todd repeatedly spins Elizabeth above his head, like it’s the dance-off from Grease and everyone’s going for it to Born To Hand Jive? I’m pretty certain that all dance/prom/party scenes look exactly like that scene from Grease.], they step outside for fresh air and find Jess with Aaron Dallas on one arm, Neil Freemount (SVH’s newest heartthrob) on the other. Because of course that’s fucking fine for Jess but god forbid there be even the rumor that Betsy goes anywhere with more than one boy. [Dove: This. But also, Confidential states that Jessica has never liked Aaron Dallas. Even if you discount Twins, she’s flirting with him. And someone else. At the same time. But Betsy, who’s not, is a slut. Ok.]

Cara shows up with more news about Roger Barrett’s mother, who had a heart attack the other day but I couldn’t be arsed to talk about it at the time. She’s in a coma now, though Jess mocked the hell out of Roger the other day she know pities him, and they gossip about how Roger will never be able to afford to send his mother to Houston for open-heart surgery, her only way to survive.

Fuck the USA’s health system. Fuck it. [Raven: On THAT we agree, for sure.]

Lila comes up to give Jess her condolences because now it must be official: Steven and Betsy are together at the Beach Disco.

Boys slut-shame Betsy loud enough that Betsy and Steven overhear them. Steven tells her not to pay attention to them. Betsy says she tries but it hurts her and sometimes she thinks she should run away and start over somewhere no one knows her.

Might not be a bad idea. Get the fuck out of Sweet Valley. It can only be better elsewhere.

Steven introduces Betsy to Jason Stone one of his college friends. Jason’s awkward, Betsy won’t look away from Steven, Steven’s worried that she’s in love with him, I fucking hate that the book is going to go with her latching on to her dead sister’s boyfriend.

Jason tells Betsy that he’s heard a lot about her. She, understandably, assumes it’s the slut-shaming gossip, but he tells her Steven told him that she’s a talented artist. He calls Steven every night with his assignments and apparently they talk about Betsy. Pretty cute. Jason is also an artist, and Steven is clearly trying to make them be friends. Or more.

Turns out, Jason teaches a life-drawing class every Saturday morning at the Valley Community Center. She’s heard about the class. Tricia always told her to take it, but Betsy was too afraid of what the other students would think about a girl like her in the class. [Dove: He’s eighteen. Why is everyone a fully-fledged and established grownup at eighteen in this series? He’s probably got a mortgage, reasonable home insurance premiums, a 401k (I don’t know what that is, but I’ve heard it mentioned in movies), and is contemplating buying a second home in the Hamptons.]

Fuck every. single. person. who. has. ever. mocked. her. Burn each and every one of them, starting with Jessica Fucking Wakefield.

Jason tells her that the class is for anyone, no matter what else they are, they only have to be serious about their work and enjoy it. He thinks she’ll fit right in based on what Steven says.

Jason invites her to the class. They talk about how sharing art can be difficult and revealing but it’s all about communicating and you have to learn to share it. This is actually very cute. I like Jason. [Raven: Me too. I do think his art class is a little Deus Ex Machina, the exact thing that Betsy needs turning up at precisely the second she needs it. But that’s fine.]

When she agrees to go, Jason takes her hand in his enthusiasm, and she recoils. Tells him that it’s a student-teacher relationship and he can forget anything else he heard about her, she’s not like that anymore.

Ugh, Betsy. I hate that you’ve learned to react to everything like this because that’s exactly how most people treat you and the few who might not tend to get lost in the terrible experiences you’ve had with everyone else and your understandable inability to trust. [Raven: I thought Betsy was sympathetically and intelligently written throughout this book. I felt for her.] [Wing: Agreed, actually! And I’m shocked by it.]

The next day, Jessica yells at Steven for humiliating her at the Beach Disco, because of course everything is all about her all the fucking time I hope you drown in that goddamn backyard pool.

Steven listens to Jessica’s complaint, tells her to show a little fucking consideration and shut up about Betsy. Jessica refuses to let him be optimistic that Betsy actually has changed (not that she fucking needed to change, hooking up with people is fucking fine, though she seemed miserable and that’s a good reason to change, not because people judge you for it), Steven tells her she should try opening up to Betsy and Jess flat out refuses and storms off, because that’s totally the appropriate action when someone disagrees with you.

It’d be different if she left because she needed time to calm down, but she’s throwing a tantrum and we all know it.

Even Liz talks to him about Betsy, though she’s slightly nicer about it. She’s worried that he’s not taking enough time for himself to mourn Tricia. He’s always being the strong one when it’s him and Betsy and he needs time to be weaker.

Hard agree on this. An actual decent point and handled surprisingly well.

Liz also warns him that he’s giving Betsy the wrong idea about his feelings, which will hurt both of them in the long run if he doesn’t care about her like that. (Which he doesn’t.)

Liz writes her gossip column, because that’s totally the type of writing she wants to do long term and also gossip is terrible when Jess and friends do it but just fine for Liz. Fucking hypocrites all over Sweet Valley. [Raven: The whole Eyes and Ears thing has never sat well with me, as Twins established for us that Liz is in no way a gossip (and Caroline Pearce is Rita fucking Skeeter), but High came first so I guess this is an error in design by the Twins team.]

Betsy gets home from art class upset because she thought she could trust someone but as usual she was wrong and dumb and stupid for trusting. Jason turned out to be a creep, asking her out after he spent all class complimenting her work.

Liz doesn’t understand why this is so bad, of course. [Dove: I actually thought it was charmingly naive of Liz to be like, “But he only asked for a date… I don’t understand why that makes him a creep.” Like, bless her. She’s got the comprehension skills of a dandelion. She’s so dim. And just think. She’s the clever one.] [Wing: So we’re told, but Jessica’s fuckin clever as hell when it comes to manipulating people to get her way. Terrible, yes, but clever. Sort of that whole book smart versus experience smart or whatever.]

Betsy tells her that a date with Betsy Martin only means one thing. Surely the star gossip columnist knows the gossip about her.

Liz is frustrated that it’s so difficult to be friends with Betsy.

Jesus. fucking. christ. Your gossip does damage. You know this when it comes to everyone else’s gossip but not your own. Can you not, for thirty fucking seconds, consider how hard it would be to open up to someone who presents their life as so goddamn perfect, whose twin sister judges her constantly, and who writes a fucking gossip column?

Fuck, I hate Liz again.

Gossip over breakfast: Mr Patman offered to pay for Roger Barrett’s mother’s operation. Jess is horrified by this, because Jess is a horror. That turns talk to generosity and why Mr Patman might do something like this.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say public goodwill and maybe tax benefits.

Jason shows up to drop off Betsy’s sketchbook. She ran off so fast she lost it. He suggests she apply to art school to train with professionals, she’s that good. In fact, the Los Angeles Academy of Fine Arts is doing a talent search. Three people will get four years of tuition, room, and board at one of the best art schools in the country. [Raven: And lo, the gods descend from the ceiling.]

They’re reviewing final applications already, but one of his old art teachers is head of the admissions board and will likely accept one more application if he asks. Betsy demands to know what he wants in return because it’s too good to be true. He tells her that all he wants is knowing that she really wants to get in. [Dove: On the one hand, good for Betsy. On the other hand, fuck off. I bet there are thousands of people who want a full-ride four-year art scholarship, particularly in LA, where they move out to be closer to Disney. And I bet the ones who missed the deadline are just as disappointed as Betsy would be. And the ones who missed work, socialising or family events to make that deadline are going to be delighted to see that some girl who is friends of a friend of the decision board got an exception. Everyone who missed the deadline has a reason. Probably a fair chunk of them involved the death of a loved one. Where’s their exception?]

Just as she’s starting to soften toward him, he says they can put together her portfolio from her current sketches. She snaps that she knew all he wanted was a night alone with her and then he’d tell her his teacher refused to accept any more applications.

Ugh, I hate that she’s been bullied and used such that this is a logical, believable response from her and, of course, no one ever does anything out of the kindness of their hearts. Except the Wakefields. Which is fucked.

Liz decides that they’ll apply for Betsy. Because of course sneaking around behind her back is exactly the way to make her trust you. [Raven: Yeah, this was manipulative. But it’s a trope, so that’s fine.]

Steven heads back to college.

Cara, Lila, and Jess go to Bruce to try to get an answer about his father’s generosity. He says she used to work at the Patman Canning Company and his father believes in taking care of the little people. (Yeah, right.) Except she hasn’t worked there since before Roger was born.

Which, of course, means that Roger is Bruce’s half-brother, doesn’t it. [Dove: *giggles* Yeah, the next book is not going to be the mic drop it hopes to be, is it?] [Raven: I hope he gets a Porsche with a 1Rog1 number plate.] [Wing: Okay, I laughed.]

Bruce mocks Jessica about Betsy staying with them, only stoking Jess’s fury. She’s determined to get Betsy out of the house now that Steven’s gone back to school. Not even Liz will help her, because Liz cares more about “some wild tramp” than her own twin sister.

Jess, I hope you fucking drown.

Everyone watches Winston at Guido’s as he tries to beat the world record. He makes it through six and a half pies before he rushes off to get rid of everything he ate, and everyone is super disappointed. [Dove: Obviously, I hate this storyline.] [Raven: I thought it was okay, but I acknowledge Dove’s discomfort.]

When the twins and some of their friends and Betsy watch the news report that night, Jess is thrilled that the corner of her arm is on television, as if she’s not been fully on television and in movies before.

They’re interrupted by Betsy’s father showing.

Aaaaaaand after a chapter break, we’re on the next day being told that Betsy refused to go with him and instead called Steven for support. He promptly came home from college to help her. Begs Ned and Alice not to send her back to live with her father, not when she’s been doing so well.

Ned and Alice are worried about how much Steven is babying Betsy as he tries to help her.

Steven finally admits the promise he made to Tricia. Jess is eavesdropping and decides she now knows the best way to get Betsy out of the house. All she needs to do is get Betsy alone, and she manages to do it that night while Betsy is drawing.

Jessica continues to have shitty thoughts about Betsy even as she manipulates her, I hate everything about this [Dove: Particularly when her justification is “party sluts never change”, all the while, Betsy changes, and Jessica doesn’t. I know she’s not supposed to be the good guy here, but why on earth is she so toxic? I hate her.], Jess tells her that it’s a shame Steven can’t help himself the way he helped her. Tells her that Steven promised Tricia to take care of Betsy until she was back on her feet.

Betsy is shocked and then miserable about this. She had no idea. Then her sadness turns to hurt and rage. Steven’s been lying to her, only being nice to her because of Tricia, there’s no other reason anyone would be nice to her, not even when they want something from her.

Jess almost feels sorry for her until she remembers Bruce mocking her at school, because of course Bruce’s good opinion is worth any fucking thing at all. Jesus fucking christ. [Dove: “I value the opinion of a man who emotionally abused me and tried to rape my twin, over the life of a vulnerable girl.”] [Raven: But the slate was wiped clean when she hit him with a pizza, right? … Nah, fuck it, she’s a total monster.] [Dove: The attempted rape came after the pizza, and to be honest, even if they had dealt with his nonsense in a more grownup manner than a food fight, I think that’s the kind of faux pas that can rekindle old loathing.]

Upstairs, Jess tells Liz that Betsy is leaving and Jess wasn’t able to stop her. Betsy said she’d had enough of them, bored with their life. They gave her a chance to pull herself together and she wasn’t interested.

Liz absolutely fucking believes this nonsense despite (a) knowing how badly Jess wants to get rid of Betsy and (b) knowing Jess wil lie over everything single thing to get what she wants.

Fucking hell, why do you fuckers enable her?! [Raven: I think this is the crux of the series, and it’s (likely) fatal flaw. It’s set up as AngelLiz and DevilJess, but the form dictates that the status quo is largely returned at the end of the book. So it’s “forgive, forgive, forgive”, and frankly, that’s both annoying and impossible to maintain. I’m beginning to think that the way to get through this series is to simply hand-wave Jessica away.] [Wing: Oooh, this has inspired some sort of creative thoughts for me. I’ll have to see if anything comes of them.]

When Steven hears about it, he’s at least skeptical over everything and believes something happened to trigger Betsy’s reaction. He and Jason want to go look for her. Not only are they worried about her, but they have good news: she won the art contest, of course.

They find Betsy at the Shady Lady (which is across from the Dairi Burger, randomly [Dove: lol wut?]), sitting with Charlie Cashman and Crunch McAllister.

Betsy acts all drunk and high and happy, but she’s only had one drink and is mostly hurt and angry.

I’m struggling to make sense of this myself, though I guess it would be hurtful to know that someone only helped you out because they made a promise to your sister and didn’t actually care about you. But logically, they didn’t know her! How could they do anything for care of her when they didn’t know her? Whatever the reason it started, they’ve become friends, so does that initial beginning matter? But emotions aren’t always, or even usually, logical, I guess.

Steven and Jason try to talk to her, she shuts them down, snaps that Steven doesn’t need to keep holding up his fucking promise, Charlie starts attacking Steven even though Betsy begs him to stop, Jason steps in and flattens Charlie without breaking a sweat and gets Betsy and Steven out of there.

Turns out, Jason’s a brown belt in karate. Of course he is. [Raven: I was totally behind this. Because Karate.]

Betsy and Jason are shy at each other, which is honestly kind of cute,

Betsy’s pretty touched that Jason risked his own safety to help her out even though he owed her nothing, made no promises to anyone, and decides he must have been telling her the truth all this time, that he didn’t expect anything from her the way other guys do.

… this is what makes you decide that? This, when he just told you he didn’t want to see her stuck with a creep like Charlie all night, which could easily be read as him wanting her for himself, wanting something from her in exchange for helping her.


Steven goes to the Dairi Burger to call home and let everyone know Betsy’s okay, leaving Jason to tell Betsy the happy news about her scholarship.

Of course, we don’t get to actually see her joy, because the next chapter jumps ahead to a Wakefield party on a warm Saturday afternoon. [Dove: This is part of the problem with this series. Even when the story is about you, it’s not. It’s about how the Wakefields feel about your story.] It’s to celebrate Betsy’s acceptance to art school, which is actually pretty cute. I know we mock how people in Sweet Valley have a part at the drop of the hat, but celebratory bbqs is exactly how I like to celebrate, too.

Jess and Steven fight over how she handled Betsy and Jess is furious they left her out of the art school plan, but they’ve made up now. Why? Why does everyone let her get away with what she does, no matter how it hurts people? Fucking hell, you enable her far too much and you are all fools and I hope she kills you all and then dies herself. [Dove: Same. Every Wakefield is to blame for the toxic mess that is Jessica.]

Betsy’s not even upset that they went behind her back to submit her drawings. She and Jason are getting along well, Betsy loves the entire Wakefield family for taking such good care of her. She’s going back to live with her father until she leaves for art school in September, in hopes that she can help him the way the Wakefields helped her.

Fucking hell.

Why? Why do the Wakefields always win even when the story is about someone else? WHY?

Betsy apologizes to Steven for taking his attention the wrong way and for making things harder for him when he was also mourning.

Jess eavesdrops on this, too, and mocks Betsy’s “corny apology scene.” ARE YOU NEVER FUCKING PLEASED? God, I can’t believe how much I adore you in SVJH, loved you a lot of the time in SVT, and hate you in SVH.

And Liz returns with gossip, because, again, gossip is fine when it’s her, terrible from Jess.

Roger’s mother died and it turns out Roger’s “real” father wasn’t the man he thought, he was Bruce Patman’s uncle Paul Patman (…Paul. Patman. That’s quite a name combo), who was even richer than Bruce’s dad and was killed in a plane crash.

Roger is going to live with the Patmans now and he’s just become the richest boy in Sweet Valley.

Oh boy, that book’s going to be something else. Far too much Patman time, I’m sure, and considering how much I hate Bruce Patman, on top of how much rage I will still carry from this book, that’ll be a great time.

Final Thoughts

Thanks, I hated it. All the normal problems were here, some of it really turned up, particularly Jess’s hypocrisy, slut shaming, and horribleness, topped with a big serving of angelic death and Wakefields must save people, though this time it’s not just Liz to the rescue.

Them helping Betsy isn’t all bad, or even mostly bad, to be honest, but there’s also a lot of … I’m not even sure the word I want. Looking down on Betsy even as they lift her up. Look at us saving this sad, poor girl, etc. [Dove: Apparently you can be a white saviour to other white people if they’re poor enough.]

That part was honestly handled better than I expected. Everything else was worse.

Fuck Jessica Wakefield. I want to burn her and Sweet Valley to the ground. Glad as fuck that Betsy will escape to L.A. in the near(ish, I assume) future.

It took me just at 2 hours to read and recap (I actually timed it), and I hate nearly every single second.

Dear god, I hope this is my last cancer book for awhile.

[Dove: I hated this book so much. It is a small, petty, bitchy, nasty, book of spite that has no value unless you run out of toilet paper. It is a spiteful series about spiteful people who do spiteful things, all at the whims of a spiteful creator, Francine Pascal. I am so close to quitting this series. Everything is so goddamned mean, and I’m honestly not sure I can subject myself to this level of cruelty and shallowness for another four years. And even when the story isn’t about the Wakefields, we only ever get to see the Wakefields react to it.

Remember Elizabeth and the Orphans, a book I raged against because the long-lost father dedicated a song to Elizabeth instead of his own children? Well, at least the prominent parts – the mother dying, the avoidance of the social worker, the attempts to keep the house together without any authority finding out they were alone – were from the point of view of the character it was happening to. I said it was too much about Elizabeth then, but it’s got nothing on High. The twins overhear everything that isn’t about them, and then we have their reactions. We didn’t get a single Betsy point of view, or if we did, it was accidental during all of the head-hopping. In Twins we would read about the feelings – Melissa was horrified to find out you had to pay for water, who knew, when it just comes out of the taps? She found it hard to cook. She didn’t sleep. She deeply missed her mother. Now compare that to Betsy. The Wakefields watched her cry at the funeral. They watched her draw. They watched her be wary of men. And then they opted out of watching her get her dream. Instead, The Wakefields threw a party to celebrate, and we got to watch the Wakefields be wealthy and smug.

New tag: this story is allegedly NOT about the Wakefields.

I hate this series. The stories are awful, the characters are awful, and the writing is awful. I would much rather re-write every story than recap these bastard things.]

[Raven: I liked it.

I thought Betsy was sympathetic, and layered, and troubled. I get Dove’s point about the fact that she was merely a conduit for the Wakefield story, but I didn’t feel that it detracted here. I thought Elizabeth was entirely on brand, for good or ill, and that the scenes in which she discussed art and writing with Betsy were lovely.

I thought Steven was nice, and intelligent, and in pain, and a damn sight better than the Steven in Twins. I even enjoyed Lila and her bitchery, something Wing disliked immensely, as it was the first time we actually saw SOMETHING from our favourite Poor Little Rich Girl. Jason was fun, and the B Plot was a little gross and kooky but at least it had a story.

The only thing I hated was Jessica. And that hatred was legion.

As I’ve mentioned above, the AngelLiz and DevilJess dichotomy is doomed to fail, structurally, in the long run, unless there’s a rebalance between the sides. But while my fellow recappers appear to have laminated this hatred and hung it on the wall above their beds, I’ve just popped it in the bin and moved on. Why? Becuase I don’t want a fucking ulcer, that’s why. The veins in my temple pop enough as it is, thanks.

To get through the series, we need to balance OUR expectations too, along with the balancing of the blonde yin and yang at the epicentre. Will we manage? I guess that’s a question for the philosophers.]

[Wing: I can rage at something without carrying that rage outside of the expression of it. I’m not ready to quit the series, in part because I enjoy the other recaps even when you guys hate the books you’re recapping, but I’m also not going to lose the rage over things that infuriate me. I still hold out hope that there will be ridiculous plots without some of the rest of the shit. Not all of it, but it will be at a lower level. It feels like this series hasn’t quite found its feet yet, though you’d think it would have fifteen books into the main series.]