Title: Love Letters
Tagline: Is Caroline’s romance for real?
Summary: Caroline Pearce, one of the least popular girls at Sweet Valley High, becomes the center of attention when she begins receiving love letters from her new out-of-town boyfriend. The only problem is that she invented him, but now everyone wants to meet him.
Just what we’re clamouring for… a story about Caroline bloody Pearce.
Can’t say I’m too bothered about this one, going in. While I do enjoy a decent Canadian Boyfriend tale, can’t say that I give a pimply snit about ol’ CP, the Gossip Queen. Although she’s a constant presence in Sweet Valley Twins, she didn’t do much of anything but channel Rita Skeeter.
In fact, this book will probably see me full of impotent rage, saying stuff like “well, that’s not how Twins Caroline would react” until I’m tired of my own voice. Ah well. I’m sure everyone else is already tired of my voice, so I’m just joining a swelling group.
[Dove: I had this muddled up with a Twins book – and, for all I know, an upcoming High book. Having never read this one, or paid any attention to the tagline, I was under the impression that this was about some kind of lonely hearts ads run in The Oracle, and the hilarity that ensues as couples break up, fall in love with someone unexpected and reunite at the end. But then again, as far as I’m concerned, all romance books in this universe are unnecessary. We already have The Great Boyfriend Switch and The Middle School Gets Married. What else do we need?]
Standard porthole design on a dirty mustard-coloured background. Red text for author and series name, blue for book title. Pretty boring stuff.
In the porthole, we have two girls. The first is (presumably) Caroline Pearce, wearing a long-sleeved mustard-coloured buttoned blouse. She’s reading a (presumably) love letter, on blue paper, and her shiny eyes betray the depth of her feeling for the prose within. She has reddish-brown shoulder-length hair, parted in the centre. She looks like Crystal from the early seasons of Roseanne.
Leering behind her is, presumably, Elizabeth. She too is wearing a long-sleeved buttoned blouse. This one is cream, which is a bold and strident choice (seriously, this whole cover is magnolia-adjacent). She is giving Caroline the side-eye, but it’s in a concerned Elizabeth way rather than a vindictive Jessica way. She has her arms crossed, which means Something Must Be Done.
[Dove: And I think it’s worth noting that Caroline Pearce’s model is cute. The book would have you believe that she’s Medusa, but she’s all smiley and dimpley – she looks far more friendly than most SVH models.]
You know things won’t go well when you’re irritated by the first bloody page.
We wake with Caroline Pearce, at the gossip-mansion that is her house. I recall that she lives a few doors down from the Wakefield Compound, or at least she does in Twins. Whether this is a conceit from that latterly-written prequel series remains to be seen. Also, I initially mis-spelled Compound as “Compopo”, and I do like the phrase Wakefield Compopo, so I think I’ll be using that going forward.
We have a little reminiscing of the Patman’s cool country club party from the previous evening. Apparently, this was the first time that Caroline has ever felt part of a group. She self-identifies as an red-haired outcast in the very same paragraph, which is not something I’d particularly label her from our contact in the Twins series. Neither an outcast, nor a redhead.
As she gets dressed, we’re straight into the exposition. At first, we have Caroline’s thoughts on her older sister Anita, someone I’d completely forgotten existed until Dove reminded me. [Dove: *shakes head in disappointment* Just pointing out that The Older Boy, Anita’s debut in Twins, was Raven’s favourite book for quite a time in our Twins run. It was also her last appearance in Twins. But that’s not the point.] Anita has told Caroline that she’s a gossip, in the past, and that gossiping is no way to make any form of lasting connection. Caroline bristles at this, as she’s only a gossip because she feels so left out.
She then spends a chunk of text internally monologuing about her Anita’s annoying perfection, and how her advice was all complete bullshit. Despite consistently being herself, no boys were interested in her, not one bit.
Also, the girls apparently hate her too. That is, they did, until the invention of… Adam.
Adam, her imagined boyfriend. He’s the catalyst for her newfound popularity. Well, perhaps “popularity” is too strong a word. He’s the catalyst for her newfound acceptance. It’s the first step on a long journey to Prom Queen, I guess.
We then get a shopping-list of Adam’s imagined traits and aspects. He’s six-two, with warm eyes, and he’s a baseball star. He lives in Cold Springs, some two hours away. He packs nine inches, and he’s got the mad hots for Caroline. His letters will confirm all of the above.
As she brushes her hair, she repeats her mantra. She has a boyfriend. His name is Adam.
At breakfast, she converses with a noncommittal Anita, who is now of college age but is living at home and commuting to a local campus to presumably save on rent. Anita waffle-shames Caroline by suggesting she shouldn’t eat her breakfast of choice, which immediately makes me want to punch the judgey bitch in the fucking throat. [Dove: I think everyone in this universe considers a healthy diet to be “eat whatever you want, but shame anyone else doing the same.”]
Caroline tells her bored sister about the Patman Party from the previous evening. Anita is all “mmm” and “uhuh” and “sounds nice” while reading the paper. Anita, it appears, is a monumental arsehole. She only raises a soupcon of interest when asking who Caroline had danced with (if anyone). When Caroline answers in the negatory, it’s a passive-aggressive response and then back to the paper.
Caroline’s mother enters, and shows some actual interest, but she’s pretty much ignored by the withered Caroline, who has wilted like hot spinach in the blowtorch of Anita’s indifference. Oddly, Anita’s indifference melts away once she hears that Caroline is getting a ride to the beach with the Wakefield Twins that morning. Because, for some inexplicable fucking reason, Anita believes that the Wakefields are “the nicest girls in Caroline’s class”, and she wishes that Caroline would get to know them better. [Dove: That’s an interesting take for someone who we’ve never seen interact with them, except for that awkward circus date when Jessica lied about her age to date Anita’s boyfriend.]
I’m not a fan of the whole “everybody loves and respects the Wakefield family” as if they are some shitty blonde Mafia. Although if the Pearces DO live a few doors down from the Wakefield Compopo then I guess Anita would know who they are.
I’m also not a fan of the fact that Caroline is such an outcast and loner in High, where she was a standard peripheral character in Twins without so much as a sniff of a backstory. But I expect this is a complaint that will bear repeating.
So, Caroline is off to the beach with the Wakefields, is she? Apparently it’s not so clear cut. Caroline is stretching the truth somewhat, but her story she’s telling herself isn’t too far off the mark.
Caroline eventually decamps to her bedroom, where she cries a little. It is revealed that she is lonely. Oh, boo frigging hoo. Have a Solero and shut the fuck up.
Is it just me, or is this an absolutely shitty start to a book?
The fact that it’s Caroline is boring enough, but the fact that it’s pretty much an expositional monologue for the first few pages takes the damn cake. It’s about as dynamic as a blancmange.
I don’t expect a thirty-car pile-up on page one, but I expect something a bit more engaging than melancholic navel-gazing sludge.
We now skip to the Wakefield Compopo, and a doorbell ringing. It’s Caroline Pearce, and Jessica is not happy. She had spotted Caroline approaching, and barks warning to her sister.
The twins, after their customary comparison paragraphs, bicker over who should answer the door to the Valley’s resident gossip. Jessica wins, of course, and hides away while Elizabeth does the honours. The Elder Wakefields are both at work on this fine Sunday morning, which is surprising but necessary to extend the plot.
Elizabeth answers the door, and is all sweetness and light to Caroline’s face but doesn’t brook any nonsense when Caroline tries to insert herself into their plans. No, she can’t accompany Elizabeth to the beach: Elizabeth isn’t going, as she has to work on her play for the Big Play Competition (or something). And Jessica is “asleep” and “won’t get up for ages”.
Elizabeth is lying for her sister, and I am shook. SHOOK, I SAY.
(In a nice spot of continuity, we learn that surfer-cum-actor Bill Chase is also submitting a play for the Big Play Competition. Go Bill Chase!)
Caroline tries to soft soap Elizabeth some awkward compliments, which fall flat and come across as insults. Elizabeth is irritated by this, but we are told that Caroline has trouble communicating to a socially acceptable effect. So is this her fatal flaw? I guess it’s something that Elizabeth can work on in her role as Valley Saviour.
Eventually, Caroline fucks off to take the bus to the beach. But as she does so, the plot contrives her to be tying her shoelaces by the Wakefield Bins. A dog has somehow taken the lid off the bin / trashcan, which I find wholly unbelievable. Trash-eating mutts in Sweet Valley? Surely some mistake.
Anyway, Caroline finds a discarded letter to Alice Wakefield, from a San Francisco company, and its contents rock her to the core. And we head into the story proper. [Dove: When the reveal comes, we’ll be left with the question: why on earth would you bin that letter? Even if it’s just a photocopy? This makes no sense. Why would you photocopy a letter and then bin it, or why would you bin a letter that is so important to the plot? Conclusion: Alice is a fucking moron who cannot be trusted with correspondence, much less anything else.] [Raven: It’s definitely the gin.]
Chapter Two! And We’re at the beach, with flat-faced Lila Fowler still bristling over Regina Morrow’s recent Ingenue cover. She’s with Jessica and Cara Walker, which I’m guessing is becoming cemented as the de facto Evil Trio. I’m down with that. Lila has form, and style. I’ve not seen much from Cara yet, but the series is still young.
As the three snicker and bicker about Lila’s jealousy, Caroline Pearce eventually approaches. It’s clear from the Evil Trios’ reaction that there’s no love lost here.
Caroline flomps down next to them, and the conversation is immediately guarded and superficial. Caroline, seemingly in reaction to the awkwardness, launches into some unsubstantiated gossip concerning Annie Whitman (who?) and Ricky Capaldo (who-who?) [Dove: Seriously? The girl who held hands with loads of boys and tried to un-alive over cheerleading and the boy that was there when Jessica talked life back into her body. Even I remember her, and my brain is only filled with Twins characters.]. Some pointless bullshit about a Cadillac and an argument and a flounce. It all seems very High School, which is entirely the point, so Go Team.
I’m joshing a little about my inability to recall minor characters her. I think. Annie is the wrong kind of girl, right?
One of the unmentioned things about our shift from Twins to High is that we have to re-learn the cast of characters. And at this point, we have neither the flush of excitement of a Shiny New Project nor the practiced nuance of an adept ghostie or standout story. It makes it tough to give a shit, which feels like a disservice to the readers and to the fans of the series. I hope that the recent micro-upturn in our enjoyment of the book bodes well as a good omen, though. Give it time and I’m sure we’ll be listing these names like we’re doing a roll call.
Also, I’m old. I can’t be arsed with REAL people, never mind imaginary ones.
Cara chooses to view this gossip as a clear indicator of Ricky Capaldo’s availability, and the talk moves on to taking the piss out of Winston for being a gangly nerd. We now learn – shock horror – that Caroline Pearce has a crush on the big lad, which is nice but so far out of left field it might as well be Release the Pressure. [Dove: Nope, that’s been mentioned in several books. Like, every nerd is hot for Winston. Jessica’s forever setting hangers-on at him.]
Soon their lusty chats move onto fresher meat, particularly sports editor John Pfeifer. Caroline duly supplies more gossip in this area too, before clumsily moving the narrative onto her Canadian Boyfriend, Adam. Predictably, Lila pipes up at this point, demanding details. Details which Caroline is more than happy to fabricate.
Well, if she can do it, so can we.
- Adam lives in Cold Springs, which is two hours and thirty minutes from Sweet Valley.
- Adam is six foot two inches tall.
- Adam is a super duper baseball player.
- Adam writes incredibly romantic letters.
- Adam is a professional-level competitive eater, and holds the state record of forty-eight hotdogs in ten minutes. Step aside, Winston!
- Adam has a suite of superfluous nipples which wax and wane with the tides. Sometimes there are a mere six extras, while at others there are upwards of three hundred distinct nodules.
- Adam was not conventionally conceived. Instead, he was grown in a laboratory. His mother is Meredith Sourman, from Galena, Illinois. His father is Infinity Rocket Plastics, a subsidiary of GlaxoSmithCline.
Caroline soon gets lost in flowery thoughts of “Adam” and his brilliance. The Evil Trio press her on the couple’s next rendezvous, and Caroline realises that she might be biting off a touch more than she can chew. As Lila presses her for details, Caroline makes an excuse and leaves.
This gives the Evil Trio an opportunity to badmouth the redheaded gossipmonger in her absence. They slate her conservative choice in bathing attire, and her poise, and her irritating falsetto voice. Jessica even throws out an imitation of Caroline that’s apparently on the money. Meh, I bet Ellen Riteman would have done it better.
They also mock “Adam”, claiming he must be near-sighted to fall for such an clumsy munter as Caroline. And while this is bitchy, it’s actually nice to see that none of them, at this point, are outright calling her out for being a bullshitter. I’m sure that will come, but still.
Anyway, Caroline returns while Jessica is in full Alistair McGowan mode, leading to a pithy exchange in with Caroline decides to strike out with a full-on one-inch gossip punch.
“Well,” Caroline began, her eyes sparkling with anger, “you must be awfully busy getting ready to move. Sixteen years is a long time in one place,” she went on, “and it must be hard to tear yourself away from Sweet Valley. I understand, Jess.”
“What are you talking about?” Jessica laughed. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Are you going to stay behind when your whole family moves?” Caroline asked, looking shocked.
Jessica paled. “Is this some kind of joke?” she asked, her eyes beginning to spark with anger.
“Not unless this is a joke,” Caroline retorted, plucking the photocopied letter she’d found that morning out of her bag and handing it to Jessica.
It seems that the letter, which Caroline rooted from the bins at the Wakefield Compopo like a goddamn truffle pig, is the news of a job offer for Alice Wakefield. A job offer which comes with a caveat… a move to San Francisco!
Jessica is obviously blindsided by this bombshell, which suggests that the move could take place a mere month from now. The letter also takes pains to inform the reader that the job offer had not been accepted, yet, but of course that fact doesn’t stop Jessica’s mind and heart from racing.
Cara demands clarification from her friend, and Jessica vamps well. Of course she knows all about this, her mother is just stringing the company along, the Wakefields are going nowhere, etc. She doesn’t believe that, of course, but as readers we all know there’s no relocation in the pipeline. [Dove: Which is actually meaningless in this series. SVH is very fond of doing “As you well know, this brand new information is relevant because…”] The series doesn’t go from Sweet Valley High to San Fran Fam from book eighteen, after all.
Her work done, Caroline make an excuse to leave. Not long after, Jessica does the same. She has to get home and get the real skinny from her sister and her family. Because, naturally, she’s already jumped to the wrong conclusions.
So this is entertaining enough. I like the way Jessica did her best to style it out.
More importantly, I’m liking how the Evil Trio are now being established as Jessica’s friend group in more than a casual comment here and there. It gives Jessica some grounding, grounding that she desperately needs.
Where to next, I wonder? Enquiring minds want to know!
Chapter Three! And we’re back at the Wakefield Compopo. Jessica has just returned from the beach, and is ready to kick ass and take names regarding Alice’s job offer. Unfortunately, everyone is out. The Elders are still working, and Elizabeth has taken a break from her play to go get a little somethin’ from Todd.
When Elizabeth returns, however, Jessica sets the mood immediately, by asking her with a shriek exactly where she’s been.
It’s all business for Jessica, who hands over the letter to her sister with a grim expression. Elizabeth is also shocked and disturbed by the news. However, unlike her sister, who is dramatically flinging herself on her bed and wailing at the sky, Elizabeth is altogether more measured and calculated in her response. Think Liam Neeson in Taken.
Of course, she’s immediately reasonable. They must talk this through with the Elder Wakefields. Jessica, naturally, is much more flamboyant with her response.
“Reasonable!” Jessica wailed. “Liz, how can you talk like that? Don’t you realize we’re doomed? Finished? Completely ruined?”
We’re dooooooomed! Doooooooooomed! DOOOOOOOOOOMED!
Elizabeth makes her sister promise to be calm and collected when they speak to their parents, as her histrionics will get them the square root of fuck all. A calm and collected show of maturity and strength is the order of the day.
So of course, when the Elder Wakefields return home with pizza, Jessica immediately loses her cool and gnashes at the sky.
Jessica’s lower lip quivered as she sat down at the table. She tried to remain in control but couldn’t. Finally the dam burst. “Mom, how could you do this to us?” she wailed.
The next scene, in which Jessica stomps and cries and flaps like a five year old whos dropped their ice cream in the sand, is by far my least favourite of the book.
Don’t worry, I did quite enjoy this story, overall. But here? Here is where we see everything that’s wrong with Jessica. She’s shrill, overwrought, incorrigible and ugly.
In Twins, we saw Jessica become sassy and strong, and while her motivations were often murky, the standout books saw her learn and grow and develop. This Jessica? It’s almost as if the Twins series hasn’t happened.
Which, of course, it HASN’T.
Yet another thing to reconcile, as a recapper. At least High Jessica gets a chance to grow and develop with each new SVH book, just as she did with Twins. Here’s hoping this development can outpace our interest.
While Jessica continues to scream blue murder and the terrible injustice of it all, Alice is calm and pragmatic. The offer is a tempting one and a great career move, no decision has been made yet, any decision that is made will be made with full consideration of the ramifications for the twins, and so on. San Francisco is a great city, it’s a wonderful opportunity, etc, etc.
[Dove: At this point, Ned says he’s put feelers out and says that plenty of firms in San Francisco have need of an “experienced partner“. Dude, you’re 38. You’re not an experienced partner. You’re just older than a teenager. Partnership* really doesn’t come up that early. My firm’s partnership board (equity partners) ranges in age from about 46 to 65+. An experienced lawyer, sure. But by no metric would someone look at Ned’s CV and think he’s experienced at being a partner. Also, if he’s an equity partner (or whatever the US term is) – which is very fucking unlikely at his age (do not get your legal knowledge from Suits, not everyone can be Harvey Specter – and even he was 40 when he bought in) – he has his own money tied into the firm, and it is tied up good. Not to mention, our lawyers tend to have a lengthy resignation period. And if he’s an equity partner, you’re looking at about a year to extricate himself from the firm. Perhaps Wing will counter here because of the differences in US/UK law firms, but if he was in the UK, there’s no way he could up sticks and leave the firm that easily.
Unless, of course, he does something terrible. Having viewed a few car wrecks in the firms I’ve worked for, I know for certain that embezzlement will speed things up to around 3 months, and CP will get you booted so fast that you will have lost your job a year before you were even caught with those disturbing pictures by the police.
* Note: just to confuse things, you can be a Partner, which is like the top level of being a regular lawyer, except you sit in on more meetings, have more responsibility, and get paid pretty well; or you can be an Equity Partner, which means you sink your cash into the firm and share the profits. These are the people who make decisions on who gets to join the partnership. Which I assume Ned is, since in the first book, he was the one who promoted Marianne whats-her-name.]
Jess is having none of it, and continues to fling shit through the bars of her cage in order to get a rise from her folks. Elizabeth takes a more tempered track, but even she balks at the direction the talks are taking. And she’s forever undermined by Jessica’s theatrics.
Eventually, Ned makes like Popeye, and can’t stands no more. He puts on his spankin’ voice, tells Jessica that she should be more considerate of her mother, and banishes her to her room. Elizabeth, also angry but with a much calmer veneer, makes her excuses to leave too.
[Dove: To be honest, I wasn’t exactly against Jessica here – if we take this scene in isolation. That is exactly how every “we’re moving” scene played out in every 80s/90s movie with a teenage daughter. In fact, I’m genuinely surprised it didn’t end with “You’re ruining my life! I HATE YOU!”] [Raven: I’ve just realised, the family tale in Inside Out is a young blonde girl relocating with her folks to San Francisco, which she dislikes. Now THAT would be a crossover!]
Once out of the room, with her anger subsiding, Elizabeth realises that the road to redemption in this situation is not to follow Jessica down the Screamy Screamy Path of Drama, but to climb aboard the Cunning Planmobile and fix things through scheme and stealth.
She suggests to her sister that a plan of action is required. Initially, Jessica is too far into her performative malaise to hop aboard the Stay Train, but she eventually calms enough to communicate her acceptance of the idea. It’s up to the girls to set things right.
Immediately, there’s a cut to later that day, with Elizabeth reading the lines of her freshly minted one-act play with a newfound meaning.
Apparently, her play is on the love letters between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband Robert Browning. How lovely! Also, how pretentious!
Look, I get that Elizabeth is supposed to be all highbrow and literate, but this shit always annoys me. The entire writing staff on this series, and by series I mean extended universe, have palpable boners for writing, and The Craft, and literary pretention. I find it all so bloody exhausting.
I’ll admit, I fancy myself as somewhat of a wordsmith. I turn a fine phrase, if I do say so myself. But it’s just words, right? Just scribbles on a page. While the Ghosties always imbue writing, and Elizabeth’s aspirations, with a reverence and nobility that’d befit a fucking saint. [Dove: It’s weird, Elizabeth wants to Create Art (That Must Be Studied Across The Ages), but when I was her age, I just wanted to publish a fun series that people would like. In fact, the idea of Creating Art that people would be forced to write their English Literature GCSE would have made my internal workings curl up and die.]
Ah, who am I kidding. I’m not a writer, at least not a writer in the sense that this series would like. I don’t write anything, for a start. Just this bullshit. Who has the time?
And don’t get me started on poetry! I love a good verse, and I do pen quite a few myself. It’s fun. But I’m a Fezzik. I like to rhyme. Why? Because it is clever, and it is cool, and no amount of free-flowing verse or scat-like beatnik pentameter will convince me otherwise. But my poems are all whimsy, about tapdancing snails and octopus drummers and the like. Who wants poems about feelings? Yuck.
So! Were was I?
Elizabeth has seen new meaning in the letter passages that concern themselves with separation and loss, as it’s obvious to her that the Brownings were channelling her and Todd’s time-spanning and all-encompasing relationship. She decides to keep Todd out of the San Francisco loop for now, as nothing is set in stone quite yet.
(I actually give the Browning Letter Poetry Play sidebar a pass here. It’s relevant to the main plot, because of [REDACTED], after all. I just wish we’d have something a little more “surface” than this, whenever writing is brought up. I do quite like Twins Liz’s love of mystery books, though. That’s much more realistic.]
Anyway, Todd comes to the Compopo to collect his beau-beau. They hit the Dairi Burger, with Todd non the wiser about the oncoming San Fran storm. As they drive there, we are treated to more play chat, concerning Bill Chase’s entry (and development as an actor under DeeDee’s father’s tutelage).
At the Dairi Burger, they hook up with 1Rog1 and Olivia. It’s all very wholesome. And the collected faces of the Sweet Valley Trhong, chowing down on the special stuff, sends Elizabeth all wibbly and nostalgic. She can’t move to San Francisco. She just can’t.
As she composes herself, Caroline arrives at their table. She pulls up a chair and sits down. Immediately, she puts her foot in it, by asking Elizabeth to apologise to Jessica on her behalf. When Elizabeth enquires as to why, Caroline spills the beans about Alice’s job offer to the whole table.
Elizabeth is thus forced to explain the predicament to an incredulous friend group, as Caroline apologises for her lack of tact once more. Happy for the reader, this explanation happens off-screen.
It’s Chapter Four, and it’s Monday. Jessica has rocked up to her father’s office, where she’s ushered in by Mrs Kelly, his secretary. She softens her father up by saying she is just passing by, and enquiring about his current case (a divorce, so this week Ned is a divorce lawyer), before heading once more into the Self Pity Territory and bringing out the sob story.
To his credit, Ned isn’t biting. But this time, when he realises that Jessica’s hyperbole is masking real pain, he doesn’t lash out at her. Instead, he consoles her, and tries to impart the fact that the decision has not been made, and any decision would only be made once all the important factors have been considered.
While Ned has mellowed since the previous night, his sociopathic daughter is still riding the guilt wave. She continues in her well-trodden rut, until, again, Ned is sick to the back teeth of it.
“Jessica, that’s enough!” Mr. Wakefield stood up. “Now go home and forget any ideas you have about giving your mother a hard time. She deserves to take this job, and the only reason she hasn’t said yes is because of you and Liz. She’s made a lot of sacrifices for you girls and your brother over the years. The least I expect from you now is to respect her right to get what she deserves out of life. Do you read me?” His dark eyes bore down on hers.
“Yes, Daddy,” Jessica said quietly.
Pretty sure that last line has fuelled a lot of Steven’s fantasies over the years.
Jessica storms out, and the Ghostie spends a couple of paragraphs with Jessica conversing with Dennis Creighton. Remember him? I didn’t, until the text reminded me. He’s the fifteen-year old boy that works across the hall from her father’s office, from Racing Hearts. I guess it’s nice continuity, but she brushes him off quickly and the scene leads nowhere.
Next, we’re at the library with Caroline, where we learn a very important fact: in order to make Adam as romantic as possible, the redheaded gossip has been borrowing books of romantic prose and poetry. In particular, she’s been concentrating on the books of… Robert Browning. So much so that her borrowing habits have caused the librarian to comment. Why? Because she’s one of two students who are currently on a Browning high.
Dear reader, who do you think is the other student in this equation?
That’s right! It’s Elizabeth Wakefield!
Give yourself a damn cookie.
Mrs Jefferson, the jolly librarian (who I quite like, so who will inevitably never feature again), tells Caroline that there’s another fan of Browning in the house. Caroline doesn’t see the issue that’s coming over the hill like one of the L’Orchestra Cinematique’s monsters, so breezes away with her new books without the existential dread that comes from an exaggerated sense of foreboding.
Once she gets home, Caroline fires up the ol’ typewriter and cracks open the new volume: Robert Browning Letters, Volume III. We then gen a tiny insight into her creative process, at least in regard to these Letters From Adam. She picks a juicy example from Robert, spices things up with some contemporary teen references, and Bosh! Job done.
I’m sad that the book was actually available from the library. If Elizabeth had still had this thing checked out, or if jolly Mrs Jefferson had made an amusing clerical error, Caroline would have been left with books and love letters by other famous Roberts.
Robert “Bob” Marley Letters, Volume III: “I have toiled for so long with No Woman that I’m starting rethink my stance on No Cry.”
Robert “Rob” Zombie Letters, Volume III: “Dig through the ditches and burn through the witches and slam in the back of the Dairi Burger.”
Robert Mugabe Letters, Volume III: “I have died many times. I have actually beaten Jesus Christ because he only died once. Fancy taking in a movie?”
Feel free to play along with your own favourite Robert in the comments!
To her credit, Caroline is beginning to feel a little uneasy about these shenanigans. She’s yet to tell Anita about “Adam”, but is ready to take that aspect of the ruse to the next level at least. How things develop with Lila and the rest of the Evil trio is like a glass coffin… remains to be seen.
On to the next, and we’re flush in the middle of Operation Tell Anita About Adam (OTAAA). It’s simple enough. When Anita gets home from a hard day at college, she enters the Pearce Home to find Caroline in the middle of a telephone conversation with an unknown boy.
Once the call reaches a natural endpoint, the two sisters discuss the caller. Caroline tells Anita that it’s Adam, her new (Canadian) boyfriend. At first, Anita is sceptical, but she soon warms to Caroline’s detailed descriptors. The kicker? Caroline lets Anita read all the letters that she has “received” from Adam over the past weeks and months. Eventually, Anita is convinced…. And she’s very happy for her sister.
After asking when she might meet Adam (and being batted back by Caroline), she offers to treat Caroline to a big sister makeover. Caroline accepts with glee. It seems like the sisters are bonding, which is great! I guess. I still say Anita is a harpy, though. [Dove: Or Caroline is finally getting off the depressing topics and Anita can now stomach her company? Like when my mother finally stops talking about who’s died, which uncles have Alzheimer’s, and isn’t [something disturbing she read about the in The Daily Mail] terrible? She more tolerable then.]
They set a date for the following afternoon.
Caroline fights back tears of joy. She’s finally go Anita’s approval. So what if it’s on the back of a fabrication? Adam can continue indefinitely, as long as no one finds out about the library books and the source of her boyfriend’s romanticism.
Next up, it’s back with Elizabeth and Jessica. They are initiating their plan to surreptitiously convince the Elder Wakefields that their muffins are better buttered in Sweet Val rather than San Fran. Their initial foray? Enter the Sweet Valley Chamber of Commerce, and sign their parents up to every postal list and mail shot for pamphlets and brochures that demonstrate the variety of delights that the Valley has to offer.
Sounds nice, I guess. Perhaps a little more low-key than what I’d expect from Jessica. I thought her plan would involve firearms, or at the very least some sort of tiger. I guess this is Elizabeth’s opening gambit.
While in the Sweet Valley Chamber of Commerce, they spot a poster for the upcoming Sweet Valley Centennial Celebrations. I wonder if this is the plot of a future book? Either way, I think Dove has an opinion on the timing of this anniversary. [Dove: This flies in the face of Twins canon, where the town was founded by Spanish settlers in 1788, and the town was officially founded in 1857. So this book was either set in 1957, or High and Twins are floating in different eras.]
The receptionist promises to send them dozens of pamphlets, which is a level of trollish shithousery that I can get behind.
The girls are pleased with Phase One, and discuss their plans to plant subtle slurs on the good name of San Francisco too. Attacking the problem on two fronts sounds like a good call, as long as one of those fronts isn’t Russia in the winter.
We’re now in Chapter Six, and it’s the school cafeteria. It’s post-Big-Sister-Makeover, and Caroline is sporting a new haircut and a scooped neckline tshirt. It’s like cats and dogs living together in harmony. Total scenes.
So. New Look, New Caroline. While she doesn’t vocalise it here, she’s doing her best to tone down the gossiping too, looking to form some real relationships with her classmates at last. It doesn’t exactly go well, or course. Her simple questions about Bill Chase and his progress on his play come across as prying, especially when she mentions that she’d seen Bill talking to the school’s drama coach Mr Jaworski earlier that day. In fact, on hearing that bombshell, Bill gets defensive before dashing off to see his girlfriend DeeDee.
And Caroline decides that Bill must have been asking the drama coach for guidance, she’s approached by Anne Whitman, who tears her an new asshole for spreading the rumours at the beach that weekend. Which is fair. But once Annie has stormed off, Caroline mentally handwaves her concerns away, branding her accoster as overly sensitive.
Yeah, I don’t think Caroline is learning much in this story, at this point. Let’s hope the lessons are more forthright in the coming chapters.
[Dove: I don’t understand how Caroline can be so completely socially unaware. When someone’s furious with you – in the sense that at any time there is at least one person angry because of something you’ve done and is actively telling you to your face – it’s really hard to believe that a normal human being wouldn’t start to realise that their actions are having consequences. Especially when other human beings are saying the same thing to them (like, for example, Anita!). Unless… is Caroline my mother?]
She spots Elizabeth, sat with Todd in the canteen corner. She heads their way. As she approaches, Elizabeth wearily informs her that Alice has not yet decided whether the Wakefields are upping sticks, which did make me chuckle. Caroline, oblivious, insists that she wasn’t there for that… instead, she immediately gossips about Bill’s play and the playwright’s apparently-clandestine coaching session with Mr Jaworski.
“But that’s against the rules!” Elizabeth cried.
I’m pretty sure this could be the quote on Elizabeth’s tombstone.
Elizabeth thanks Caroline for the information (and subsequent elaborations), before discussing the revelation with Todd once Caroline has meandered on. Todd (rightfully) brands Caroline a troublemaker, and declares that he doubts that Bill is a cheater. However, Elizabeth’s focus has shifted to a table with Regina Morrow and Bruce Patman.
Much to Elizabeth’s disapproval, Bruce Patman seems to be trying it on with Regina. And – shock horror – it’s working.
[Dove: You know what normal girls do when their friend shows interest in a boy that’s attempted to rape them? THEY FUCKING WARN THEM. Hell, they actively warn their friends about dodgy boys whether or not their friend is showing interest.]
I’ll not dwell on the details, but I’m sensing that a possible relationship between Regina and Bruce is in the cards somewhere down the line…? As things stand, it seems that Regina can handle all of Bruce’s shitty shenanigans, at this stage at least.
I’m also sensing that this likely isn’t the case in the long run, as while our lovely readership have been perfectly wonderful in their No Spoiler policy, there have been a few veiled references to Regina’s story going forward. [Dove: Seriously, readers, you guys are great. You’re the exact opposite of those guys who were screaming “SNAPE KILLS DUMBLEDORE!” to the queue of midnight book buyers. The fact this series is decades old and you guys tip-toe around spoilers is epic. We talk about it all the time.]
There have been no specifics mentioned, which we definitely thank you for, but it’s a sad fact that if you take two and two, you often get to four without really trying.
Anyway, that’s a fried fish for a different day, so let’s continue with “The Caroline Pearce Story: Gossip is my Gift.”
In the next section, still in the canteen, Caroline has latched herself onto the Evil Trio. Again, she is oblivious to their sheer indifference at her presence. They notice her makeover, and not in a wholly negative way, before talk turns to Adam and his lovely letters once more.
Lila asks when everyone will get to meet the elusive Adam. Caroline states that Cold Springs is a fair old trek, offers up a slew of excuses before coming up with a doozy.
“Besides,” she added suddenly, a flash of inspiration coming to her, “he really can’t afford all that gasoline. He doesn’t have much money.”
“Oh,” Lila said distastefully, putting down her yogurt. The thought of a boyfriend without money seemed to make her lose her appetite. “What a shame.”
There she is! There’s the Lila we know and love!
Welcome back, our flat-faced queen. We’ve missed you!
When credulity starts to flag, Caroline whips out the letters, as is her wont. She reads passages from them, and for reasons of importance later in the recap I present those excerpts for you now.
‘My dearest Caroline, […] Your letter came this morning, and the promise it contained of another made me restless all day…’
‘Now I will go out and walk where I can be alone, and think thoughts of you, and love you. I will look in the direction of Sweet Valley, and send my heart there…’
Lila mocks the florid prose, which is understandable. Again, she presses for a date where they can all meet this loquacious Romeo. Caroline evades the question, but is fast realising that she might be playing a rather dangerous game.
Chapter Seven, and it’s back at the Wakefield Compopo. After signing up for the pamphlets, the next level of this scheme seems a little more hands-on.
As the Elder Wakefields return for a hard day’s graft at the blonde mines, their twinny offspring have set up a lovely meal for them. Each curated course is from one of the couple’s favourite Sweet Valley restaurants. Salad starter from Seasons Gourmet Shop. Veal Parmesan from Vito’s. Lemon Chiffon Pie from Casters.
Literally hundreds of books in this series, and this is the first time we’re hearing of any of these “favourite” places. Or perhaps we’ve heard of Vito’s…? I dunno. [Dove: Don’t think so.]
The girls also lay on a full-on apology overload for their brattish antics in recent days, all hoping to lull them into a false sense of security regarding the move. But those discussions are down the line… for now, this is a soft shoe shuffle towards a brighter tomorrow.
As a post-meal treat, and use the word “treat” quite wrongly, Elizabeth prepares to give her family a reading of her one-act play. Jessica is immediately dismissive, which I low-key love her for, while the Elder Wakefields are dutifully supportive.
They gather in the Den for the reading. Jessica pays scant attention, until a familiar passage wafts across her lugholes. She asks Elizabeth to read it again, and we’re treated to the following.
“As I was saying, Elizabeth Barrett was in her study, reading the letter sent to her by her beloved Robert. “ ‘My Ba, your letter came as it ought last night, and the promise it contained of another made me restless all the morning, to no purpose…’ “
“ ‘… I will go out and walk where I can be alone, and think out all my thoughts of you, and bless you, and love you with nothing to intercept the blessing and the love. I will look in the direction of London—’ “
Proof, if proof be need be, that something is amiss in the relationship between Gossipy Caroline and Canadian Boyfriend Cold Springs Adam.
Jessica is triumphant in her discovery, but dutifully waits until Elizabeth finishes her play. Elizabeth gets a rousing display of support from everyone, and Lila dashes off to call Lila and tell her the new developments.
She clues Lila into the story at double time. The letters that Adam writes are fake. Lila, to my delight, does not go for the “Adam doesn’t exist” explanation. No, she instead posits that maybe Adam just isn’t a poet, and that he faked the letters but Caroline didn’t know. [Dove: I loved this. Lila’s first reaction is, “Oh, bless her, he catfished her.” Yes! That’s adorable.] Jess, of course, takes the less charitable approach.
“Or maybe she knows all too well. I’ve always thought there was something strange about this Adam guy. I mean, how realistic is it for some fabulous, romantic guy to fall head over heels in love with Caroline Pearce? When you come right down to it, it’s practically science fiction!”
“What are you trying to say, Jess?”
“I think Caroline wrote those letters herself.”
The two friends bat the issue back and forth, and decide to force the issue at the following day’s sorority meeting. Caroline is a guaranteed attendee.
This feels warmly familiar. The series seems to be on a better footing now.
Jessica has a support group. The sorority is making an appearance. Both twins are scheming together, which was always a fun conceit in Twins.
And Lila? LILA’S BACK, BABY!
The chapter ends with Jessica vowing to expose Caroline as the good-for-nothing liar that she is. Standard.
Chapter Eight, and we’re at the sorority meeting. It’s Casey’s Place, and all members are present except from Elizabeth and Enid, who both are above such petty bitchery because the sun shines out of their arses.
The Evil trio get to business immediately. As Caroline holds court and reads one of “Adam’s” letters, the girls ask for details of Adam’s next visit. Caroline provides vague answers, but she is pressed for a schedule.
In panic, Caroline claims she will be visiting Cold Springs this coming weekend. This is great news to the Evil Trio, who take this revelation to cement that, for the weekend following Caroline’s visit, they will hold a party with Adam as the guest of honour. A party which Adam will no doubt be free to attend.
Caroline tries to wheedle out of it. Adam is shy, she says. He won’t like a party. But his letters, Jessica counters. He’s no shy boy in those!
Eventually, under the gimlet pressure of the Evil Trio, Caroline agrees to their terms. A party. Next weekend. With Adam as the guest of honour. And we spend the last few paragraphs of the section in her floundering head, where she frets about the walls of her duplicity collapsing around her.
The second half of the chapter begins with the Elder Wakefields puzzling over their ever-growing collection of Sweet Valley Propaganda Pamphlets. They’ve been arriving at the Compopo, and at both Alice’s and Ned’s place of employ. Their provenance seems to be bearing fruit, as Ned reads one and declares he might like to take a trip to local landmark Las Palmas Canyon.
The section continues with the twins sharing the fact that they are working on a school project. The project is on current events, and they are concentrating on the urban decay of San Francisco. They proudly display articles with headlines such as “Blaze Destroys Frisco Hotel”, “Crime in San Francisco – Can It Be Stopped?”, and “San Francisco is a PROPER Shithole, I Hope It Falls Into The Sea And Takes All The Sodomites With It”.
The twins then gild the lily with another local restaurant surprise for their parents: dinner at the apparently spectacular Tiberino’s. It’s where Ned proposed to Alice, and it’s where they go on their anniversaries, and so on. I mean, in Jumping to Conclusions, apparently they met in another Italian restaurant called DeSalvos, at which Alice was waitressing… I suppose this doesn’t directly contradict that story, but it’s an odd coincidence nonetheless. Oh, and Keeping Secrets happens at Guido’s… how many fucking Italian places does Sweet Valley fucking have?!
Finally, we learn that Ned, apparently, is allergic to Chinese food. This will come as a shock to long-time readers, because I’m sure they’ve had Chinese food before. Dove, care to elaborate on the specifics? [Dove: That post-Christmas tradition of eating Chinese food must be fun. Not to mention the following three days. I suppose at least they have plenty of bathrooms.]
Once the parents leave the room, the twins discuss their scheme. Jessica declares that she needs to get her father out to Las Palmas Canyon that coming weekend, to keep this nonsense fermenting. Elizabeth comments that she’s glad she’s scheming with Jessica this week, rather than being schemed at by Jessica. Yeah, we all agree with that one, Liz. It’s so much more fun when you team up.
Chapter Nine skips to Friday, and Caroline is at school an hour early. She’s in a bad state, but she’s there to set the groundwork of proof for her weekend trip to Cold Springs. A trip that’s not actually happening, of course.
Her first coup was securing a Cold Springs Athletic Programme t-shirt from a cousin that dated a Cold Springer the previous year. The reason for her early foray into school, and into the offices of The Oracle in particular, is to snag herself a picture from an old Cold Springs School Newspaper, a picture of an athlete that could pass for the well-described Adam.
Why, you may ask, would The Oracle carry copies of old papers from far-flung schools…? Because the PLOT SAYS SO, bitches! (That, and the “fact” that Caroline overheard Penny the Editor complaining of a glut of old papers clogging up the offices a few days earlier.) [Dove: But still, WHY? Also, they have Big Mesa papers too.] [Raven: Gotta keep tabs on The Enemy, I guess.]
Does she find what she’s looking for?
Short answer? Yes.
Shorter answer? Ys.
Long answer FUUUCK YEEEEEEAH.
Later that day, at lunch with the Evil trio, she casually dropped a purloined picture of “Adam” in his school paper. Sure, he was playing basketball and not baseball, and the picture was blurred and focussed on a miasma of grasping hands, but at least it was something.
Caroline mentioned that Adam had sent it in his latest letter.
I don’t know exactly what she hoped this would achieve, but it actually did nothing more than inflame the group’s curiosity. So, more talk of Lila’s Let’s Welcome Adam Party, and more coerced assurances that Caroline would guarantee his attendance.
Next, we see Jessica’s levelling up of the plan to Keep the Wakefields Local. It’s the weekend, and the game is afoot!
She calls her father and claims the red Fiat has broken down out on the Las Palmas Canyon. Ned duly offers to come fix things. Once the bait is laid, Jessica drives out to the aforementioned Las Palmas Canyon to wait for him.
He arrives, and tinkers with the Fiat. And wouldn’t you know it? The car is fine! Jessica is just as surprised as Ned, believe you me. While up there, she encourages her father to take in the splendid vista. They even see a herd of deer frolicking below. It’s all very Radiator Springs.
I reckon that the Elder Wakefields are totally on to the Twinny subterfuge, but there’s no way in hell this schtick ain’t working. Each time the parents exchange knowing glances, there are still trite phases that yes, this nostalgia trip is bearing delicious fruit.
On the drive back, Jessica spots one Caroline Pearce emerging from the local Farmer’s Market, a heavy bag of groceries in her hands. So! She’s not in Cold Springs after all… more fuel to Jessica’s fire.
Now I’m sorry, but Caroline has been deviously planning her strategies to avoid detection, and she drops the ball like this? Not buying it, sorry. If her mother asked her to fetch groceries, she’d at least have covered her red hair and wore shades to disguise her appearance. Better still, she’d have feigned illness and told her mum that she couldn’t help.
The chapter ends with Jessica updating Lila on the developing situation. Again, I’m charmed that Lila is naïve enough to believe that Caroline wouldn’t be lying to them, and happy that her bitchiness dictates that she vows to smite Caroline with furious anger for daring to cross her. I’m loving Lila in this book, and I’ve not really said that since the early Unicorn Club stories.
Chapter Ten! We’re cooking now. It’s Monday, at school, and both Lila and Jessica are waiting at Caroline’s locker for their Moment of Reckoning.
It’s odd, but good, that Jessica seems to be best friends with Lila instead of Cara in this book.
This makes me happy.
That is all.
Caroline rocks up, and she’s wearing the Cold Springs Athletic Department shirt. She immediately goes into another lovey-dovey spiel about Adam, and how excrementally romantic he is, and so on. When pressed, she outlines her obviously prepared lies about the preceding weekend.
“It sounds too good to be true,” Lila said, amazed.
“I wished I didn’t have to leave,” Caroline said.
Again, Lila is great here. I’m taking her amazement is genuine, and I’m also taking it as another sign that she’s not an irredeemable cow at this point. Go Lila, it’s (not) your birthday!
Jessica pushes Caroline on Adam’s attendance at the party that coming weekend. Caroline begins to spout her prepared excuses, but Lila catches her in a cunning trap…
“I bet if you were able to scrape together the money for the bus ticket, he’d come, wouldn’t he?” [said Lila.]
Caroline stared down at her loafers. “I’m short of cash myself, Lila.”
“But what if you already had the ticket?” Lila flicked open her wallet and dangled a bus ticket in front of her. “Like this one?”
Attagirl, Lila. Throw money at the problem. That’s the Fowler way!
Caroline claims she can’t take the charity, but Lila insists. Caroline then offers that Adam might have a game that weekend, but Lila counters with news that she’s checked the Cold Springs Sporting Schedule with John Pfeifer, and Adam is legitimately free.
Caroline is cornered by Lila’s total dominance, and it’s glorious. She has no option but to agree to attend.
The story then moves onto Jessica, who almost gives away the whole enchilada by suggesting that Caroline read some of Adam’s letters to Elizabeth. Because, you see, Elizabeth loves a bit of romance… she’s writing a play about Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which she’ll be reading at the Play Competition on Friday.
When two thirds of the Evil Trio saunter away with a laugh, Caroline begins to panic. Adam needs to make an appearance at the weekend, and it’s obvious that both Lila and Jessica are onto her deceptions. What’s a young gossipy redhead to do?
The rest of the chapter is more intrigue with 1Bruce1 and ReginaMorrow. Elizabeth is involved, simply to bear witness. Again, I’m not dwelling on the detail at this time, as I’m sure the story will receive coverage in good time, but the gist of it is that Bruce is not a monster at all. He’s actually a fluffy bunny. And Regina is falling in love.
The next chapter begins with the Twins at lunch, discussing the progress of their plans to staple their parents to the floor of the Wakefield Compopo. Despite their father arranging talks with high-falutiin’ lawyers from that there San Francisco, Elizabeth is convinced that his heart’s not in it, and that the girls’ scheming is going like gangbusters.
Jessica’s not totally convinced, however, and persuades Elizabeth that they need to redouble their efforts in order to bring the trophy home.
I am fine with this. I do like it when both Jessica and Elizabeth are channelling their respective powers in the same direction. I believe this is the first High book that has such a conceit, and I am here for it.
Lila rocks up with her tray, and beckons a recalcitrant Caroline to come join the throng. She does so, reluctantly, and she’s instantly accosted by Jessica. The blonde T-1000 absolutely will not stop harping on about the party, and Adam, and the letters, ad infinitum. Once Caroline has confirmed that yes, Adam has received Lila’s bus ticket, and yes, Adam is looking forward to Lila’s party, Elizabeth asks about Caroline’s fella. I suppose this is the first opportunity she’s had, so why not?
Caroline answers with a short description, her voice strewn with embarrassment. Naturally, Lila leaps at the chance to ratchet up the pressure and put Caroline on the spot.
“Liz, you’d be interested in this. Adam writes the most romantic love letters in the world. Caroline, why don’t you read one to her?”
“No, I couldn’t,” she began. “I—”
“What’s the problem?” Lila asked.
Without an easy escape hatch, or one of Trixie’s flashbangs, Caroline is cornered. She whips one out, and reads.
Naturally, Elizabeth recognises the prose immediately. She also side-eyes her sister, as it’s clear now that Jessica is setting up Caroline for a fall. Then there’s the realisation that Jessica only knows all of this due to Elizabeth’s play reading from the previous week. The ingenuous minx!
As Caroline finishes her purloined verbiage, and angry Elizabeth does her damnedest to attract her sister’s attention. She doesn’t succeed, and both Jessica and Lila make their excuses before scurrying away. This leaves Caroline and Elizabeth, and they both spend a page or two internally monologuing about their plight before the action continues. That must have been weird to watch in real time, for sure, just a pair of teen bellends stood looking at each other as the hamster wheels in the hear trundle full circle.
Eventually, the levee breaks and Caroline is the first to speak. She offers the letter to Elizabeth, and tells her she has something important to confess. Adam didn’t write the letters.
When Elizabeth admits she knows this, and offers the lie that Adam not being romantic isn’t a cataclysmic betrayal, Caroline yearns to complete the jigsaw. But the time and place are not right, so they arrange to meet up after school.
After school, the full story comes out. There is no Adam. Caroline is incredibly lonely. She has no real friends. And so on. Elizabeth offers sage advice, wittering on about how Caroline could make some lasting connections with folk if only she stopped gossiping. Coming from the writer of a fucking gossip column, this is a bit rich. [Dove: RIGHT?!]
Caroline agrees, largely, but is more concerned with her immediate predicament. What in the blue fuck is she going to do about Elizabeth’s play? Once she gives her reading, the cat will be out of the bag, and everyone will know what a big fat liar Caroline has become? In desperation, she begs Elizabeth not to read her play at the contest. And in irritation, Elizabeth promises that she will not.
The chapter ends with the pair of them wondering how Caroline will get through the Saturday night party at Lila’s without losing face.
Chapter Twelve, and it’s poolside at the Wakefield Compopo. Elizabeth needs to talk to a tanning Jessica. The subject? Caroline.
First, Elizabeth declares that she’s spoken to the redheaded gossip, and Jessica declares that she believes that Adam does not exist. On hearing that, Elizabeth asks why Jess and Lila took it upon themselves to invite “Adam” to a party when they suspected he wasn’t real. Jess confirms that Lila still thinks Adam is real (bless Lila and her guileless flat face!), but either way it’ll be fun to see Caroline try to squirm out of this predicament.
Jessica, you’re a monster. I prefer you when you’re scheming with your sister, not making your classmates miserable. Elizabeth says as much, and Jessica just laughs in her face. This is all fine sport to her. Why give quarter to someone so duplicitous? Caroline is a lair, and thus she must burn.
Liz the asks Jessica… what if Adam is real?
This throws Jessica, and if I’m honest it threw me too. I never thought Elizabeth would conceal the truth that Caroline has imparted, but here she is, full of vinegar and strategery, doing her best to out-fox the Master Schemer. She informs Jess that the letters are all Caroline is concerned with, and that she asked Elizabeth not to read her play for the competition.
Jessica is incensed that Caroline had the gall to curtail her sister’s academic aspirations. She tells her sister so, with vitriol. Elizabeth tries to justify Caroline’s request, and Jessica’s treatment of Caroline, but before she can come to terms with everything she has a brainwave. We, the readers, are not party to her House Moment, as she dashes off to talk to Todd. [Dove: Unlike House, though, we’ve all figured out what her brilliant idea is.]
She has a ruse that could put her scheming sister back in her box. How exciting!
The scene skips to Caroline at home. Her elder sister Anita pops into Caroline’s room, and a frank discussion is had. Anita starts asking difficult questions such as why Caroline has not spoken of Adam to their mother. In the face of such unanswerable conundrums, Caroline cracks and admits everything.
Anita rallies well in the face of Caroline’s tears. Although it’s little more than an extension of the Elizabeth / Caroline scene from earlier, it’s nice to see the elder sister not be quite as toxic as her earlier presentation would have us believe. She offers Caroline all the advice you’d expect from a loving sibling. It’s all “love yourself”, “listen to people”, “stop gossiping”, “ignore the voices in your head”, “put down the knife”, and so on.
At the end of their rousing and edifying exchange, Caroline Pearce internally declares that her gossiping days are well and truly over, and that it’s time she changed for the better in order to forge some real friendships.
The following morning, she puts her newfound plan into action, First, she speaks to Elizabeth and Uno Reverses her request that her friend nix the Browning play readthrough that evening. Elizabeth is pleased, and thanks Caroline for her change of heart.
Next, she spots an opportune moment when both Lila and Jessica approach. When they near, she accosts them and lets it be known that Adam’s letters are actually paraphrased from the romantic letters of Robert Browning. Sure, she doesn’t go full bore and admit that Adam doesn’t exist, but it’s baby steps where such changes are concerned. It’s easier to eat the odd Mars Bar every now and then than go chocolate Cold Turkey, if it means you can stick to your regime in the long run.
Jessica is a little nonplussed by this partial confession, but our Lila is actually… supportive?!
“Hey, what’s with the sad face?” Lila asked, putting an arm around Caroline. “A guy wouldn’t go to all that trouble if he didn’t care about you.”
Bless her silken socks, our little rich girl is still a Bo-liever in Adam. I’m legitimately loving Lila in this book. [Dove: Yeah, she’s completely turned around from the incoherent vegence queen from the previous book.]
Once 66% of the Evil Trio have departed (seriously though, where the fuck is Cara in all this?), Caroline apologises to Elizabeth for not coming completely clean about Adam. But if she had, we couldn’t have the inevitable showdown at Lila’s party, now, could we?
Later that day, Todd and Elizabeth discuss the Caroline Conundrum. They declare that “Operation Rescue” is a go, whatever that is. I can only assume that it’s a plan to save Caroline’s blushes at Lila’s party on Saturday.
We all know where this is going, right?
The final part of the chapter sees Caroline making amends with DeeDee and Bill, coming clean about her gossiping rumour that Bill was cheating in the play competition. It’s actually heartfelt, and her apologies are accepted. We even get the real story as to why Bill was chatting to Mr Jaworski. It’s completely mundane, so if you want to know I suggest you go read the fucking book.
Bill’s got an audition for gay porn.
LOL! Another joke.
It’s for straight porn.
Chapter Thirteen, and it’s time to start concentrating on the headlines rather than the minutae. It’s late, I’m tired, we all know how this tale is going to end.
First, we have the denouement to the “Encase the Elder Wakefields in Concrete to Keep Them in Sweet Valley Because San Francisco Is a Corrupted Den of Vice and Depravity” plan. Long story short, the Elders have decided against moving to San Francisco. Alice has deferred the job offer until a far more pertinent time (like, in a few years or something). They also declare that they knew all along about the Twins’ cunning plan to hype Sweet Valley and trash San Francisco, but their nostalgia love-bombing did indeed have a palpable effect on their decision.
Next, we have Elizabeth giving her reading of the Browning play. It’s awesome, she gets a standing ovation, and of course she wins the grand prize. Meh. I wanna see Winston’s play about Lord of the Rings, where he gangles around the stage putting on a croaky Gollum voice. Also, loving the word “gangles”, I may have to drip that into my everyday speech.
Caroline congratulates Elizabeth on her success, and they talk about the party the following evening, Caroline is no closer to a solution to her troubles, but an enigmatic Elizabeth tells her not to worry. It likely won’t be as catastrophic as Caroline thinks.
The chapter ends with Lila’s Big Party. Here’s the description…
Lila had spared no expense for the gathering. Several long, rectangular tables set up on the patio were heaped with platters of food, and there were enough bottles of soda to quench the thirst of the entire town. Lila had even hired a mobile disco for the occasion. Two large portable monitors were hooked up at one end of the large patio, playing rock videos, the sound cranked up high enough to echo into the valley below them. A few couples were already dancing, while others were standing around and talking next to the Fowlers’ Olympic-sized pool.
For some reason, the sentence “Lila had even hired a mobile disco for the occasion” is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. A mobile disco? How fancy!
Caroline, looking beautiful and acting strangely calm, concludes the chapter on a cliffhanger…
“Could you turn down the music? I’ve got an announcement to make. And I want everyone to hear it.”
Of course, the start of the final chapter pulls the rug of Expectation from beneath all our feet, and reveals the great Operation Rescue (from the fevered brainpans of Todd and Elizabeth).
As Caroline begins her announcement…
“Thanks for coming tonight,” she began. “I know you all came here to meet the boy I’ve been telling you so much about, but he—”
“Caroline!” A boy’s voice cut through her words, and she was struck mute as a tall, friendly looking boy rushed up and gave her a big hug. “Sorry I’m late. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
Caroline felt like shouting “Who are you?” But the boy quieted the impulse with a kiss.
Okay, hands up who had “Todd ropes one of his friends into pretending to be Adam?”
Is that everyone? Good. Ten points to fucking Gryffindor.
Happily, Lila is thrilled that Adam exists. Jessica? Not so much.
“I just don’t believe it,” Jessica said, slumping into the nearest chair. “She must have pulled him out of a hat.”
“Come on, Jess, face it. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong.” Lila smiled. “I knew all along he’d show up.” She watched as he took Caroline’s arm and walked her toward the pool. “Caroline is some lucky girl.”
We soon discover that “Adam” is, in fact, Jerry Fisher. Todd’s friend. And, thought the magic of PLOT NEATNESS, the evening he spends with Caroline actually turns his pretend-to-be-Caroline’s-boyfriend schtick into ACTUAL FEELING OHMYGOSH.
Caroline has a wonderful evening, dancing with Adam / Jerry, and being more that a gossip conduit for everyone there. However, she’s still feeling uneasy about her role in the Adam debacle, so for extra kudos and soul-cleansing points, she goes through with her announcement and reveals that she invented Adam in a fit of loneliness.
And the throng? They don’t give a fuck.
The party ends with Caroline and Jerry vowing to stay in touch with letters. How cute!
Lastly, as Todd kisses Elizabeth for the final tableau, there’s more foreshadowing for the Regina / Bruce story that’s cresting the horizon. I’m sure it’ll be a doozy.
I liked this one!
Yes, there were low points. I detested the whiny foot-stomping Jessica from the early chapters, but I enjoyed the Liz-and-Jess double team that schemed a way to keep their family in the Valley. Parts of the Caroline story seemed repetitive, but overall she was written in a sympathetic way, and her “I don’t have any friends and I’m terrible at social interaction” aspect was well developed and presented.
But the best thing here? Lila Fowler, for sure. She was brilliant. I’m so glad she’s actually featuring now… or at least featuring in this book. Please say she continues to impress going forward, I’ll be so pissed off if this is a one-and-done fits-and-spurts deal.
So to recap: Liked the twins, liked Caroline, liked the story, loved Lila. It’s a brave new world, folks. Enjoy it while it lasts.
[Dove: This one was fine. I hope that we’re on to more stable footing now. We’ve had two books in a row where Jessica has been toned down. She’s still evil, but she seems more like a natural progression from Twins Jessica than the monster who was present for the first 15 or so books.
My feeling at the end of this book was that we’ve finally attained the heady heights of “this is like a perfectly average Twins book”. Nobody was utterly terrible, nobody was utterly brilliant (while it was nice to see Lila become the Lila we know and love, she didn’t have much screen time), but it was fine. And to be honest, there was a good long time when I wasn’t sure these books could even manage to be perfectly average, it was too high a bar. So they should take my “meh” rating and wear it as a badge of honour, because they’ve finally stopped being toxic garbage fires.]