Sweet Valley High #19: Showdown

Sweet Valley High #19: Showdown by Francine Pascal

Title: Showdown

Tagline: Jessica and Lila are in love with the same boy!

Summary: When Lila Fowler’s mysterious boyfriend finally appears at her pool party, Jessica Wakefield is dazzled. Jack is handsome, sexy, and exciting – even more perfect than Lila described him. So Jessica wastes no time making sure he notices her, too.

Unknown to Lila, Jack dates both girls – Jessica during the week and Lila on weekends. But the sight of Lila’s happy face on Monday mornings is more than Jessica can stand! Jessica’s twin sister, Elizabeth, warns her to drop Jack before she really gets hurt. But Jessica would rather get Lila out of the picture. Then Jack will be hers – all hers.

Initial Thoughts:

OMG, no. I don’t want to do another book where girls are spiteful bitches who backstab each other.

I don’t.

But before I even start reading this nonsense: you cannot “steal” someone from someone else. You beau chose to go behind your back. That said, if you see nothing wrong with secretly dating the person your best friend is smitten with – particularly as a power move – then you are a rancid human being with no decency.

So based on the summary: Jack is a lying asshat. Jessica is a selfish toxic harpy. And, as for Lila, well, she needs both a better friend and a more honest boyfriend.

Let’s see how this actually pans out.

Also, I’ve had a cold all week and have a big work thing going on at the moment, so it has been really hard finding time to do this when all my body wants to do is keel over.

[Raven: Not looking forward to this one. Although, now I’ve actually finished reading it, I conclude that this book is definitely NOT the story promised by the cover.]

[Wing: It’s interesting how this is sold as one thing, and it has that thing, but the actual core of the story is something very different. That’s not unusual for some back of book blurbs, but I’m surprised to see it here when the love triangle is such a popular part of the series.]

The Cover:

The cover is a kind of salmon pink with purple writing. Standard porthole cover, with two female characters shown from the waist up. One is a very angry looking Wakefield blonde, who looks to be around 40 years old, but I’m certain that it’s Jessica, not Alice. She’s wearing a green shirt with weird ruffles – like on the back of the sleeves. [Wing: I like a fancy sleeve, but this is a little weird even for me.]

She’s facing a brunette, Lila, who looks super cute and age appropriate. However, she’s wearing an ugly grey sweatshirt paired, bizarrely, with a string of pearls.

The Wakefield is staring hatefully at Lila’s hairline, while Lila looks smugly at us, the viewer.


We open with the twins excitedly talking about Lila’s upcoming pool party. They speculate that she decided to throw it, just to impress Jack, her hot new beau.

Elizabeth gave her sister a hard stare. “Jessica Wakefield. You’re not, by any strange chance, thinking of going after Lila’s new friend yourself.”

“I’m not?” Jessica asked with mock innocence. “And why not, if he’s so fabulous?”

Because of girl code, you fucking harpy. Don’t get me wrong, if he’s still only platonic with Lila and it later turns out that he’s not interested in dating Lila, but does want to date Jessica, a healthy friendship with clear communication could get past it, but Jessica is a fucking nightmare and this reeks of “Lila has a new toy. I WANT IT.”

She hasn’t even met him yet, and she already wants him. For fuck’s sake. [Raven: Aw, shit. Back to hating Jessica, I suppose. This is a far cry from the halcyon days of The Older Boy.]

Elizabeth asks what about Lila, she saw him first. Jessica gives zero fucks about that. She also gives zero fucks about Neil, her date for the party. Apparently they are allowed to see other people. But Elizabeth points out that Neil doesn’t.

[Wing: Jess has a point there, actually, even if nowhere else. If they’ve agreed to see other people too, it doesn’t matter whether Neil chooses to do so or not, it’s still their agreement, and Jess can see someone else.]

We cut to the party where Todd and Elizabeth have their usual cringe-filled snoggery and attempt at flirty banter. They are interrupted by George and Enid joining them. George has come from his flying lesson.

I really can’t get past this. The privilege involved in letting an eighteen year old learn to fly a plane is staggering. I just can’t take it seriously at all. This is some royal family shit right here.

And OMG, it gets better.

Ok, guys, I know you all know this. Hell, I knew this because I know what plotline is coming up. But seriously, ROBIN WILSON IS IN THE SAME FLYING CLASS.

And you’re like, yeah, Dove, we know. We’ve read this. Hell, we read it 20+ years ago. WE KNOW.

But guys.

Take off your “yeah, it’s Sweet Valley” goggles off for a moment and think about this in real-world terms:

How many sixteen year olds do you know that fly planes?

I’m stuck on like Prince Harry. That’s it.

I’m sure there are more privileged kids out there who do, but it’s the way everyone’s talking about it as if it’s as everyday as joining an art class or doing hot yoga. And I say that as someone who doesn’t know anyone who’s currently taking an art class or doing hot yoga. Unless… Wing, you still going to art classes? [Raven: Flying lessons? Sure. I totally bought into this. Like, American kids learn to drive in school, over a two-hour period or something ridiculously short, right? Basically, in the UK we have the Cycling Proficiency test while in the US the have the Driving Proficiency test, and they are exactly the same. So flying? Why the hell not? Frankly, I’m more impressed that people actually somehow learn how to pole vault. How the hell does THAT happen? Do kids just grab a big pole and run towards the high limbo thing? It’s not like you can start on a smaller bar, like a hurdle.]

[Wing: I am not in art classes currently, for a variety of reasons, but I’m already looking into several to take after the move, including blacksmithing lessons.

You know, I am also curious as to how people learn how to do the pole vault, and I had friends who did track and field in high school. I never heard about that particular skill, though.

Many kids don’t have to take any sort of driver’s ed at school, and most of the schools I am familiar with don’t even offer it as a class except as some sort of bonus thing during the summer. I didn’t take it. At the time, my parents taught me, and once I got my permit at 15 1/2, I drove everywhere as long as there was a licensed driver in the passenger seat, and I got my license one week into being sixteen, as soon as I could schedule the test.

Currently, Missouri has a graduated license. Permit is available starting at 15 and allows an unlicensed driver to driver as long as a licensed driver is in the passenger seat (with a few other requirements based on age). Permitted drivers have to have their permit for at least 182 and have 40 hours of driving “instruction,” including 10 hours of nighttime driving, from a “qualified person,” which means the licensed driver, not a driving instructor. So basically, I could sit in the front passenger seat and let a permitted driver do all the driving without really teaching them anything.

Intermediate license is the next step. There are limits around how many people you can have in the vehicle who aren’t related to you and are under a certain age and driving alone between 1 and 5 a.m.

Finally a full license, which isn’t available until the driver turns 18.

Literally none of this is important but for the point that teenagers getting a driver’s license is pretty easy and taking flying lessons is unusual (except perhaps outside of the rich, I can’t speak to that). I haven’t even gone to flight school myself. I just checked, and the nearest flight school offers a course, including cost of final test, for around $15k. That’s for 55 hours of flying time, apparently the average during flight school. I currently make a very good amount of money and that’s a huge amount of money for a license, especially when you must continue to fly to keep it active.

All of this is potentially moot even if I did decide to spend the money, because bipolar is one of the diseases that can be an automatic disqualification for a license, and it can be a pain to go through the hoops to get an exception.]

OMG, I can’t take any more. Their pilot’s licence test is in two weeks. Then they can just fly alone. [Wing: This part doesn’t surprise me one bit.]

“Can you even light a snowman on fire?” Same energy.

Ok, so I’m just going to have to accept this, or at least pretend to, and move on.

Suddenly! A doggie paddle race between Nicholas Morrow and Winston! Oh, how the fun young people did laugh!

(I don’t understand why this is funny. Nobody explain it to me. I don’t care.)

Late into the party, the man of the hour arrives. Jack is described as specifically wearing a Lacoste shirt. I kind of want to punch him. He’s your standard white boy with blonde hair. Naturally, everyone swoons. [Raven: We’ve had so many “but this boy is hotter than all the previous boys” stories in the Sweet Valley series that Jack must be so fucking hot that he triggers orgasm in every breathing creature within a half-mile radius.]

Jessica waits for Lila to bring Jack over before throwing off her terry-cloth beach robe (which I doubt Ms Attention Seeker would be wearing in the first place), [Wing: Agreed. If she wore any coverup, it would be light and flowy and sheer.] and suggesting they cool off in the pool. He agrees and Lila looks unhappy about this development. He goes to get changed, and Jessica appraises her best friend and decides that she has a better body than Lila.

What follows is a boring few paragraphs as each girl tries to ensure that they are the one nearest Jack, and it eventually culminates in Lila dismissing Jessica by suggesting they swim a few widths of the pool. I’m honestly not sure how that worked, but it did. And Jessica is not happy about it. She is thirsty as hell for this guy, and she will cut any bitch who gets in her way.

She spends the rest of the party waiting to get him alone, but realises that will never happen. She introduces herself officially when he speaks to Elizabeth, and he seems delighted that they’re twins. Lila tries to get rid of Jessica by saying that she’s going to show Jack the gym, but Jessica tags along anyway. Way to cockblock, Jessica. Or whatever the girl version is. Is it rackjack? [Raven: I thought it was Clam Jam?]

Finally, the world tips in her favour. The phone rings and Lila has to answer it because, unbelievably, it’s the servants’ day off. All of them. While a large catered party is going on. While George is away. Lila, did you learn nothing from the last time you did this?

Jessica immediately flirts and gives him her number. As she passes it over, their fingers touch and there is “electricity”. Yeah. I’m already bored. Lila returns and Jessica tries to make small talk about what Jack is up to in Sweet Valley. He reveals that he’s a construction worker and the chapter ends.

I mean, it’s ballsy as fuck to say “working class people?! THE SHAME! CLIFFHANGER TIME!” It really announces that this book is better than you. Especially when you remember that Elizabeth’s friends are learning to fly aeroplanes. [Raven: I thought we were over this shit with Roger the Janitor?]

Over with Lila, she’s pleased that the Big Reveal of Jack’s lack of wealth and power has slowed Jessica’s roll, but now she thinks that – just like her – Jessica believes that Jack isn’t “just” a construction worker. He’s super important and under cover. Well, that was a very short respite, wasn’t it. It only lasted half a sentence.

After the party, it’s just Jack and Lila and she comments that he seems more than his job, destined for doing important things. Because, obviously, the value of someone can be easily seen by how fuckable they look. That said, this is the kind of shit that teenagers, particularly privileged ones, spout when they’re in the throes of a new crush. And, obviously, everyone is more than their job. But Lila isn’t being as tactful as me, she means that, as a hot guy that she’s interested in, he’s more important than all the other guys who she doesn’t want to fuck who do the same job as him.

Jack looks pleased by this comment and says that his father is a very important man who has Jack’s life all planned out, where he’s going to uni (Princeton), and where he’s going to work after that, and Jack just wanted to work his way up from the bottom. Pull himself up by his bootstraps, like you totally can in the USA.

(I’m calling bullshit on this. I’m going with Jack realises that Lila and all of her friends are shallow AF and if he is secretly a Vanderbilt or whatever, posing as an ordinary working man, then their snobbery will keep him around. Oooh, I hope he’s a serial killer or a thief that woos bored rich girls and steals their stuff/goes on killing sprees. Basically, I want this to be a prequel to Dexter. Dexter: The Gap Year that Harry Never Knew About.) [Raven (having finished the book): *sips tea*] [Wing: Dexter: The Gap Year. I want it.]

Jack has an X-Factor back story, his mother is dead, his sister is two years younger than him, and he misses his sister very much.

“We used to have so much fun together, exploring the woods in back of Grandpapa’s chalet in Switzerland or hiding from Veronique. She was our governess, this old Parisian woman. Of course, Father made sure we were brought up fluent in French, and he had us studying Latin, as well, by the time I was ten and Valerie was eight.”

I’m posting that here because I don’t think he’ll keep track of his back story well, and these details will change when he’s wooing Jessica.

At this point, George Fowler returns home and Jack sneaks off, saying he doesn’t need another powerful father angry with him, much to Lila’s relief, because while she claims she’s not allowed boys over while George is out, she knows her dad would not allow her to date a lowly working class boy. [Raven: I thought George was all about the modern outlook, in business at least. This “your suitor must summer in The Hamptons” is all a bit Patman-esque, if you ask me.] [Wing: For certain rich circles, even the modern outlook would be Don’t Date the Poor.]

Later that day, Lila justifies sharing Jack’s big secret with Cara Walker. Well, that pretty much guarantees that everyone will know by school tomorrow.

Also, this is our first sighting of Lila’s pale blue Princess phone. That will mean nothing to Wing and Raven, but just know it’s as iconic as 1BRUCE1.

Lila Fowler's Pale Blue Princess Phone
I just thought this would be cooler, y’know?

You know, I always thought it would be much cooler than that, since they were always name-dropping it. I was imagining something that was faux-antique or just… better. This is just a normal telephone that’s blue. [Raven: It’s not even purple, the colour of royalty.] [Wing: Wait, that’s a princess phone? I’m pretty sure I had one as a teenager, though not blue. WTF, that should be much fancier.]

It’s the next day and Elizabeth is having a doozy of a day! Penny, the editor of the Oracle, is off with mono and Elizabeth is now in charge, and apparently it’s just a bombsite in the office. Personally, it feels like Elizabeth is completely revelling in moaning to Mr Collins about what a mess Penny left behind, but let’s not linger. Anyway, there is a mysterious photo of a big football player kissing a teddy bear. Nobody knows anything about it. They decide to run it anyway though, because it’s a great photo.

Things are always so electric around Elizabeth, aren’t they?

At lunch, we catch up with Lila, Jessica and Cara. Lila is pissed off, and Jessica hopes it’s because Jack has broken his date with her, but actually she’s pissed off because Jessica was throwing herself at Lila’s crush, and Cara blabbed her secret.

I mean, yes, but seriously, you chose these fucking idiots as friends. You’re Lila Fucking Fowler, you could be besties with anyone you want, so why the fuck do you hang around these mean girls? [Raven: This series does miss a Unicorn Club equivalent. There needs to be some extended friendships beyond the binary BFFs.]

She grudgingly forgives them when they… well, they don’t apologise, they just justify their shitty behaviour, and Jessica forces her to admit she’s still got a date with Jack, so she’s winning. Urgh. The nastiness in this “friend group” is just so icky.

Then Lila has to admit that her dad is super pissed off. Someone broke a vase, the pool drain is clogged, and his gold cufflinks and tie pin are missing. All of them. As in, he has many sets of them. Fucking called that one, didn’t I?

“Yeah, I remember Bruce once telling me that Mrs. Patman’s emerald-and-platinum choker vanished one day,” Jessica said, looking across the cafeteria to where rich, handsome Bruce Patman was talking to some of his friends from the tennis team. “It turned up later in a drawer where they kept stuff for their dog. It seemed one of the servants thought it was a dog collar.”

I love this. Not because “lol servants are dim”, but because I feel like the maid would have thought, “Fuck me, that’s ghastly. That’s exactly the type of shit these gauche assholes would put on a dog.”

It turns out that Bruce was not invited the party because yet again it’s Fowler vs Patman. Their dads had harsh words at the town meeting. Jessica thinks to herself that this feud is boring as fuck, and for once we’re on exactly the same page.

Oh, ok, that plot point goes nowhere. Back to Jack. Lila can’t tell her dad about him, because he’s angry at the moment, so he won’t let her see a lowly construction worker, so she’s going to have to sneak around. Jessica vows to herself that she’s going to get between them.

I’m so bored. I hate love triangles. But what I hate more is two bitchy girls backstabbing each other over a boy. Especially when the only reason to do so is that he’s been endlessly described as hot. Every single character is utterly interchangeable. How am I supposed to invest in this when Jessica’s a selfish bitch who just wants to take something from Lila, doesn’t matter what; Lila is madly in love with a boy, but we have no reasons for that. When they talk, it’s just fluff while she thinks to herself how gorgeous he is. And also, I don’t give a shit about Jessica or Lila either. They’re both awful, and my only interest comes from Twins. [Raven: I do agree with this, but I’ll take a futher step: this could have been fine, if the story promised by the book’s cover and tagline was actually delivered. If we’d had Jessica and Lila going head-to-head and scheming for the love of the New Boy? Standard, but sassy. But THIS is just Lila being largely oblivious while Jessica is a Grade-A Butthole behind her back. It’s so one-sided, and that’s just SUPER-boring.][Dove: I hadn’t even realised that. It’s such a dull story to tell, and they picked the dullest version.]

We cut to Jessica after school, she cannot fathom why Jack asked Lila, not her, out. The only difference between them is that Lila has money, but since Jack is running away from money, it can’t be that.

I wonder if it’s because you’re a fucking nightmare that everyone hates?

Sadly not, the phone rings and it’s Jack calling to ask her out for Wednesday. Two days before Lila’s date with him.

“How does this look?” Jessica stood in the middle of Elizabeth’s cream-colored bedroom and modeled a slinky, royal-blue dress. It fell softly to just below her knees, with a slit up both sides to midthigh. “Casual but elegant, right?”

“Right,” Elizabeth answered as she looked up from an article for the next issue of The Oracle. “But I just bought that dress last week, and I’ve only worn it once.”

“Sexy, too,” Jessica added, ignoring her sister’s comment.

Elizabeth put her work down on the table she used as a desk and stuck her pencil behind one ear. “Yes, Jess, it looks absolutely terrific, but who said you could wear it?”

Jessica inspected herself in Elizabeth’s full-length mirror. “Well, you’re not going out tonight. That means you’re not going to wear it,” Jessica observed. “So I figured—”

“Exactly what you always figure—that you can come in here and take anything you want.”

I thought I’d post that, because for half a second, Elizabeth has a spine. And then Jessica says she’s grumpy and Elizabeth immediately folds, peevishly saying the last time she lent something to Jessica, she found it crumpled in a ball under Jessica’s bed. Dude, just say no. You can, you know. It’s yours.

Elizabeth says that Jessica can borrow the dress, and if it’s not returned in exactly the same state it left in, then Jessica has to do her chores for a week. Jessica says no. Elizabeth agrees anyway.

Fucking spineless waste. I hate Elizabeth. I hate Jessica. Which, I suppose, means that Steven, of all people, is my favourite Wakefield, mostly because he’s absent.

It turns out that Elizabeth feels dubious about Jack. She thinks that her sister is heading for trouble because it’s a bit strange that he’s dating two girls. Apparently she has no feelings on how it’s not good form to secretly date the boy your alleged BFF is dating.

Jessica reassures her that Jack merely feels obligated to take Lila on a single date after she invited him to her party. Jack likes her best though. So it’s all good.

And now it’s date night. Jack arrives with a rose for Jessica. This charms both her and Alice, who I feel has cougar energy. After charming the parents, they set off and we get this.

Jessica felt a bolt of electricity shoot through her at his touch.

I know electricity is a default descriptor for a positive reaction but it’s only occurring to me now, particularly with that sentence, just how weird it is. It’s like he’s a super villain and just zapped her with his super power. Or maybe I’m just fed up with Jessica, and want someone to hurt her. [Raven: Yeah, Jack’s secret is that he’s actually an electricity-based super hero… THE TAZERATOR!]

He takes her out to a rusty old car, and Jessica decides that she likes it, because it’s his. He’s proud that he paid for it all by himself, and Jessica complains that because she’s still in school, she’s utterly reliant on her parents. You’re sixteen. Get a job if it bothers you. Which is clearly doesn’t.

They drive to the beach and talk. Or, Jessica asks where he grew up, he refuses to answer, and then he asks about her. She talks for hours until even she thinks she’s talked enough. He renames the North Star after her. And then they snog.

Elizabeth goes to visit Penny at home, now that her mono is no longer contagious. She meets Penny’s sister, Tina, who can’t help but gush about how everyone knows the Wakefield Twins. We need a new tag. Sorted.

Elizabeth says she can’t believe how quickly work mounts up at The Oracle. I’m still going to read this as Elizabeth gaslighting Penny and convincing Mr Collins that Penny’s doing a terrible job. I know that actually, Elizabeth is being sincere and warm, but because she’s so damned punchable, I have to bring my own interpretation to the table.

“That top folder has all the feature articles in it,” Elizabeth explained, “including a story I asked Robin Wilson to do on the flying course she and some of the other kids from school are taking with students from Sweet Valley College.”

Oh. Lots of Sweet Valley High students are flying. Of course.

Elizabeth then reminds Penny that Robin used to be fat and everyone used to laugh at her. Back then when she was FAT and ALONE and SAD and PATHETIC, she needed an outlet, so she wrote. But now she’s SKINNY and HOT and FUCKABLE, she doesn’t need to write any more. Because SKINNY IS BETTER. DO YOU UNDERSTAND, PENNY? DO YOU FUCKING GET THIS COMPLEX THOUGHT I’M HAMMERING INTO YOUR BRAIN. ROBIN USED TO BE FAT. FAT, PENNY. SUPER FAT AND UNFUCKABLE. [Raven: Also, she’s now thin enough to fit in a plane!]

Finally, the point of this meeting reveals itself, and it’s not actually that fatness is bad. Elizabeth brings up the mysterious anonymous photo, and there are two more. One of the principal searching for something under his desk, and one of their stern science teacher petting a kitten, looking utterly besotted. Which, by the way, is the only way your face should look if you have been granted the privilege of petting a kitten. Unless you have allergies, in which case, you have my deepest sympathies. Particularly if you’re one of those people who downs a couple of Clarytin and snuggles the kitty anyway.

Penny says print the photos, and because Elizabeth is such a clever girl – she’s “the paper’s best journalist” – she must find out who the photographer is.

Wow. Such B plot. Many excite. [Raven: Yeah, this is piss-weak. And I’m talking well-hydrated platinum-blonde-tinted water piss, not dessicated bladder mahogany syrup piss.]

Over with the evil twin, she’s lecturing Cara about how she needs to work if she wants to perfect that cheer. Look at Annie Whitman, she’s working her butt off. Cara calls her on this obvious bullshit. Not because Jessica bullied Annie into a tragic attempt on her own life, that would just be unseemly, but by reminding her that (off screen) Jessica had wished that she could be an awesome cheerleader without having to sweat for it.

It turns out that Jack’s work ethic has made Jessica decide to say things she think will impress him, even when he’s not here.

They head over to the Dairi Burger where they meet Lila. Jessica is not happy about this. She’s been avoiding Lila, because a) Lila’s still pissy about her dad being angry with her; b) she can’t stop talking about Jack; and c) because Jessica is basically trash who doesn’t understand that you should like your friends.

Cara is the only person who orders a burger. Lila gets a fish sandwich, and Jessica gets a shrimp roll. For some reason, they all badmouth the clam special. I don’t get why you’d go to basically McDonalds to eat fish. [Raven: Pescatarians? Or isn’t that a thing in the mid-Eighties.] [Wing: Not that it explains this and them, but during Lent almost all the fast food restaurants offer fish sandwiches, and they’re pretty popular.]

First she twisted around in her seat, staring at all the other people in the Dairi Burger and amusing herself by making up stories about each of them. For example, she decided that the nerdy little guy sitting in the corner by himself, poring over a dull-looking textbook, led a secret night life as a popular ladies’ man. And that the man walking through the door with a cap pulled low over his face and a pair of dark glasses was a notorious bank robber.

Well, that’s cute. Jessica amuses herself while trying to ignore Lila’s Jack talk (and I’m sure one of them is a private investigator/undercover detective following Jack). And – oh, never mind. It’s no longer cute. Jessica imagines DeeDee growing a wart on her nose and Bill being horrified, because of that time Jessica didn’t want to date Bill until he might become famous, and then she really wanted him. And then she decides that Lila deserves a wart on her nose and to be really ugly.

Well, that was a scene that was worth putting in a book, wasn’t it?

On Monday, Lila is all loved-up. She’s spent the entire weekend with Jack, not just Friday. Jessica is thrown. But she’s the one Jack loves! Then Lila confirms that Jack can’t see her during the week, and Jessica realises that Jack must have said that so he has time with her.

Later that day, Jessica goes through the full range of emotions available to her. As everyone gossips about Lila and Jack as an Official Couple, she wants to go on a murderous rampage and do everything in her power to end Lila. Then, bafflingly, she realises that Lila did nothing wrong.

No, seriously. She really understands that. I’m so confused right now.

Then she further realises that the problem is Jack. He’s the one who snogged her silly after renaming the North Star after her, and then became an official couple with Lila.

Her first reaction, naturally, is rage. But this just bubbles away to disappointment later. He’s hot. He’s a great kisser. She wants him. It’s not fair.

But we’re back to her usual irrational nonsense. She spots her sister outside and is furious that she’s with Enid. She’s always with Enid when Jessica needs her. Someone should totally stab Enid.

Just FYI, Enid is never around. Elizabeth is always with other characters who move the plot along. Enid is only ever present when the plot needs her to drop info in. Like, for example, that George and Robin are taking flying lessons. That’s not just fluff, that’s there for a reason. Otherwise, Enid might as well a pet rock that Elizabeth has.

This is not like Amy from Twins, who was always around Elizabeth. Sure, Elizabeth might have a separate Bestie-of-the-Week, but Amy was always sitting next to her at lunch, or chatting about the Sixers. She never had anything to say, other than agreeing with Elizabeth, but she was present. Enid is just a word we use when we need Elizabeth to be busy with something that can be dropped.

Anyway, because she’s completely unnecessary, Enid obligingly vanishes.

Elizabeth points out that Jessica’s crises always coincide with her spending time with Enid. Jessica says something spiteful and Elizabeth just rolls her eyes, like “oh, my funny twin who might one day murder my bff out of pathetic jealousy” and makes a half-hearted attempt to chastise her.

Outcome of the chat: Jessica somehow expects Elizabeth to magically fix the situation, and when she doesn’t – and when she dares to point out that Jessica has only been on one date with this boy and can’t be in love with him – Jessica throws a tantrum and storms off. Yet again proving that these twins are not friends, they don’t love each other. They’re two muppets in a toxic co-dependency. [Raven: Jessica has literally no redeeming features in this book. Actually zero. None whatsoever.]

On Tuesday night, Jessica is ready for a date with Jack and gets snitty when Elizabeth asks what he said about his status with Lila. Jessica says she hasn’t asked him. Elizabeth reasonably points out that she assumed he had explained it, hence Jessica agreed to the date. Jessica sulks and strops and is forced to stop when Elizabeth shuts her down with a tickle war. It’s hilarious, let me tell you. Nothing funnier than being told something is funny.

Then Todd and Jack arrive at the same time, which is awkward because Jessica wanted to keep her date a secret. Elizabeth thinks it’s a bad combination of people. She is dubious about Jack, Todd hates Jessica, Jessica is a violent monster, and Jack is probably a wrongun.

Well, yeah, except it shouldn’t be awkward. Todd sees Jessica all the time and is so used to her bullshit that dating her BFF’s boyfriend is a perfectly normal thing for her to do. And they all met at a party where everything was social and light, so this weird awkward silence the narrator informs us is present is just daft.

Jack’s eyes look read and puffy. He was probably crying over some beautiful poetry. Or it’s allergy season, I’m sure. [Raven: “Don’t forget to bring a towel.”]

Jack says he came from the community centre pool, and the chlorine irritates his eyes. Todd jumps in to say he plays basketball there. Elizabeth says “to each their own” in French, and Jessica nearly hits the roof, asking what the fuck that’s supposed to mean.


You ever been in one of those situations where the conversation appears perfectly normal and somehow everyone is super offended about everything? Christmas with my mother springs to mind. This is one of those times.

When Jessica and Jack leave, Todd asks about the dating situation, then muses to himself that this is standard Jessica bullshit.

“Todd Wilkins! What’s that supposed to mean?” Elizabeth crossed her arms angrily. “So perhaps Jessica has gone a tiny bit overboard with this latest crush. It’s no reason for you to start picking on her again!”

And if that isn’t some standard Elizabeth bullshit right there.

Todd does not apologise – and I applaud him for that – but notes it’s a strange situation. Elizabeth agrees but specifically adds, “Not through any fault of Jessica’s, though,” because she is genetically bound to excuse all of her sister’s bad behaviour.

And after a bit of snogging, everything’s good again for the most boring couple in the world.

Over with the Monster and the Thief, Jessica offers to buy popcorn and drinks for the movie, because she thinks Jack will appreciate girls who can stand on their own two feet (paid for by mummy and daddy). Unfortunately, her money is gone, she had a $10, some ones and some change. And I’m certain that it’s not in Jack’s pocket right now.

She panics, but he says she probably left it at home. He’ll get the snacks. And even though she searches while he’s away, she can’t find it. But then he touches her leg when the movie starts, and she forgets all about her problem.

Also, they’re watching Help!, an actual real-life movie. Admittedly, one that came out in 1965, but y’know, pop culture is pop culture. And they’re not pitching it as the most recent movie, unlike all the other pop-culture references where Jessica and co swoon over sixty-year-olds. [Raven: It’s weird, going from Johnny Buck and Coco to The Beatles and other real-world properties. But I guess it’s strangely comforting to see that these hip young girls are still fixated over movies and bands from twenty years ago.]

After the movie, more reality! Jack loves the band The Police and says that he saw them live at Hartford Coliseum, and Jessica barely listens, because now she’s figured out that he’s from Connecticut, where the rich people live. She imagines herself being introduced as “the Lady Jessica”, apparently unaware that you can’t just take a title because you’ve met a rich person. Especially since that title is only used the UK. [Raven: Okay, so referencing The Police in 1984 is a decent call. Way to go, picking a “modern” band at the time of printing that actually stood the test of time.]

Jack finishes his tale, saying that for an encore The Police played Every Breath You Take, his favourite song, and she should’ve been there. Jessica, remembering Lila’s existence, says that he says that to all the girls.

He explains he went on a date with her on Friday as a thank you for the party invite. Yes, he went sailing with her on Saturday, but has Jessica never done an activity with a boy where there was no romance? Surprisingly, the answer is yes, she went water skiing with Ken Matthews and there was no snoggery. And then on Sunday the accidentally ran into each other at the mall and had lunch. They’re just friends.

Welp, that sounds like bullshit to me. Jessica, honey, if this sounds like the kind of shit you say to Elizabeth or any of the eight billion boys you’re dating, then it’s lies. A liar should recognise a liar.

He says that she’s the girl he wants, and he’ll make it clear to Lila on Friday.

They do so much snogging that Jessica doesn’t care that she never finds her wallet.

Cut to Elizabeth the next day, she’s just put the Oracle to bed, it’s late, and she’s dreaming of a sundae from Casey’s. As she’s leaving, she bumps into Tina, Penny’s sister. It turns out that she’s the phantom photographer. She’s kept it anonymous because she had an inferiority complex that she seems to blame on Penny.

Since they didn’t bother to set this up in the slightest, they went in favour of gushing over Wakefields in the one scene Tina was in before this, I’m just gonna say I don’t care and move on.

Tina shows more photos. One shows George and Robin snogging. You know, Enid’s boyfriend and the ex-fat girl. Told you it was foreshadowing. I haven’t read this book, but I’ve read the next one.

Back at home, Elizabeth agonises over the secret. It’s her job to protect Enid, therefore she must lie! No! Wait! It’s her job to tell the truth to her best friend! Oh no! That will hurt her! Oh, woe!

If this was a real book, I’d care. But these are just names who say words. And I’m sure that Jessica will blurt out the truth, cementing herself as a toxic bitch, while absolving Elizabeth from making any decision at all.

Elizabeth, by the way, is watching her favourite movie of all time, The Maltese Falcon. Made in 1941. It’s fine if a character loves old movies or music or whatever. It’s just fucking weird when every reference every cool teenager makes in this series relates to something from the 40s. It’s very:

"How do you do, fellow kids?" (Steve Buscemi, in at least his 40s trying to pass as a teen.)
Down with the kids kidZ

And sure, Elizabeth might well be into old movies. But then Jessica comes in and is like “OMG, I LOVE THIS MOVIE!” Jessica [Raven: Agreed, as I discussed above]. She then blathers on about how romantic her date with Jack was (another one), and how by tomorrow he’ll have broken up with Lila and will be all hers.

Over with Lila, she’s on a wonderful romantic date with Jack at her own house. She’s stolen a vintage bottle of wine for them to share, and Jack is love-bombing her to hell. He’s in love with her, wants to marry her and will name the North Star after her. They must keep their engagement a secret because of his powerful father. Lila realises that she can’t tell her dad either, because until Jack goes home and toes the line, no matter which upper crust surname belongs to him, he’s just a hellion who went rogue. But at least they’re in love. Totally in love and totally exclusive.

Elizabeth, by contrast, is having an awful date. She’s eaten up by guilt which she can’t share with Todd, so she has to feign illness and leave early. After even more boring agonising, she decides to go to the airfield tomorrow and see what’s occurring when they get their pilot’s licenses.

What’s occurring is they’re a couple. Elizabeth doesn’t know how to handle it. She claims that “Robin had always been Elizabeth’s friend”, which is – by no stretch of the imagination – anything like the truth. Elizabeth was a judgemental hag who just stopped shy of verbalising her obvious loathing and disgust of this horrible fat pig in front of her. Not to mention the multiple times she thought that Robin was mentally deficient in some way because Elizabeth could not fathom metaphors or sarcasm. And then Robin lost weight, which is something it took Elizabeth weeks to notice, because she’s a fucking idiot, and like was like “yay, go team”.

But sure, “always”.

Apparently, they never meant for this to happen, and they denied their feelings for sooooo long (they’ve been doing these classes for like 30 pages), but they’re in love. And they really don’t want to hurt Enid or Allen (remember him? Robin’s boyfriend?) but love is love, Elizabeth. [Raven: I proper hated this insipid justification shitshow. You’re fucking over your partners. Just twiddle your moustaches, flourish your capes, and own it, you horrible monsters. And yeah yeah, teenagers, hormones, blah blah fucking blah. I don’t care. Stop being shitty to people you claim to love.]

Elizabeth softens when she notices how beautiful Robin looks when she cries, but she says she can’t be happy for them. And George is like, “OMG, but we’re friends” and Elizabeth waffles a bit.

Here’s how you handle this. Tiny’s ex-boyfriend was calling her and making a nuisance of himself, and she passed the phone to me in exhaustion. Can I deal with him because she’s all out of emotional spoons on this one. He pulled the same tack, oh, but we’re friends. “No, Ashley, we’re not friends. You were the boy went out with my best friend. Now you’re the boy who treated her badly. My best friend. I owe you less than zero and her everything. Now leave her alone.” [Raven: And he was absolutley dogshit at poker, too.]

It turns out that Robin has already finished with Allen, but George is far weaker, and is putting it off until he takes her up in a plane for the first time. She’s been so looking forward to it. Oh, fuck off. She’s not a Make-A-Wish kid. Just do the decent thing and be honest with her.

Lila wakes up very ill and nearly unable to stand. She calls for her housekeeper, called Eva here, not Mrs Pervis, who immediately puts her to bed and tells her she can’t go out tonight. It’s actually quite a sweet scene, and reads as very normal/mother-daughter, which just highlights how little of a normal upbringing Lila’s had. She doesn’t want to break her date, but Eva says that if her fella is as nice as she says, he can wait a day or two for her to get well. And well, that’s her fiancé we’re talking about, so yes, that makes sense. She gives Eva his number so she can cancel the date.

Over at the Wakefield Compound, Jessica comes bursting in to see Elizabeth to gloat that Jack’s broken up with Lila, as evidenced by them going out together at the weekend.

Then the twins have a pointless fight over which is most beautiful and it’s so funny it reduces them to hysterics. I mean, can you imagine… an ugly Wakefield? You can understand why this is pinnacle comedy.

This book has an unusually high count of “and then everybody laughed” moments. Dear writers, never do this. If you need to tell the audience it’s funny, it’s demonstrably not.

Then there’s a lot of dialogue and I’m pretty sure none of it is relevant, which is a shame because it’s the most normal part of the entire book. Basically, Jessica says that Elizabeth never gossips, but somehow she knows all the best gossip. How? And Elizabeth doesn’t really give an answer. I mean, my answer would be to point at Jessica.

Oh and Jack and Jessica are going to Guido’s for a late lunch. And since we’re on chapter 10 of 13, this has got to be heading towards them being found out. [Raven: Ten chapters down, and literally NOTHING has happened.]

Or not. They have lunch and as they’re finishing up, Nicholas Morrow walks in with his East Coast friend, David Matson. Jack clocks them and says it’s time to go, he’s going to meet her in the car. Jessica takes more time and is briefly introduced to David.

Once in the car, Jack explains that he’s met David before and is worried he’d make him go back to his family. A strange claim, since he wasn’t sure of his name. Like, what’s David going to do? “I say, old chap, really ought to go visit the old homestead, eh wot?” (sorry, I can only do posh Brits, so just go with it). And then Jack would be like, “No.”

Jack then invites Jessica to his house. Jessica internally debates for a hot second (it’s not proper!) before deciding that yes, of course. She can snoop to find out just how rich and important her new boyfriend is.

Over with the Team Uppity Prep Boys, Nicholas tells David that he’s worried about Jessica. He’s sure he knows Jack from somewhere, but Jack did not respond well. Did David recognise him?

“I only looked at him for a second,” David said, “when you waved to them. And he had his head down. But come to think of it, he did seem sort of familiar.”

Because you know what I think is probably a rarity at their prep school on the East Coast? White boys in preppy clothes. I bet is really hard to find one of them in Connecticut.

Suddenly! DRAMA! As Nicholas mentions Jack (no surname) by name, David realises that he does know exactly who he is.

“Something happened when you first transferred from your other school,” David said, “and were just getting settled, so maybe you didn’t hear much about it. But a student, Jack—yes, I’m almost positive he’s the same one—robbed a girl at knifepoint, a girl he’d been dating, in fact.”

Oh, well, if you’re “almost positive” that the knife-point robber was called Jack, then it’s a slam dunk.

What are the odds that there are two white boys called Jack in the whole of the United States?

Damn near impossible, says I.

Oh. Oh fuck.

I’m now really glad I didn’t ask to swap with Wing. You see, before we started this foul endeavour, I wanted Runaway, because I had this solid theory that Jessica was the unfavourite. But that was based on Twins logic, before she accused a boy of rape for not wanting her, ruined Enid’s life for a plastic tiara, bullied one girl into an eating disorder and another to the deepest depths of despair. By that point, I was like fuck it. Wing can have it. Jessica doesn’t deserve my support.

And now I’m glad. Because this is a “crazy people be crazy dangerous” storyline. You see, Jack’s entire family were killed in a boating accident. He indulged a fantasy world where they still lived. Then when his uncle sent him to prep school – through painful saving, not overwhelming wealth – Jack started adding to the fantasy, making his family richer and more important than the elite around him.

Then he got into drugs. And then he got into stealing to fund the drugs.

And then sometimes “we all go a little mad sometimes…” and yeah, that mentally ill boy just gets stab-happy, particularly when people poke at the fantasy and want it to make sense. Y’know, like Jessica is about to do.

Cheer on the killer: 1 – oh, wait, we don’t do those counts over here.

Over with Elizabeth, she’s just as smug as can be. The whole Penny/Tina inferiority complex thing has been resolved (off screen) and I still don’t give a fuck.

Then her smugness is shattered by Team Preppy arriving to spill the beans. OH NOES! WE MUST RACE TO SAVE JESSICA.

Or, y’know, dawdle. All I’m saying is, will anyone really miss her? [Raven: While I’m glad something is now actually happening, I’m sick of yet another “this is a creepy guy who poses a threat to a Wakefield”. I fear it won’t be the last time we revisit this overworked trope.]

Over with the hopefully-nearly-dead twin, she’s having a very mood-swingy date. Jack wants her to look at photos but gets in a rage if she asks too many questions. She excuses herself to use the bathroom so she can snoop, hoping to find his real name. She hopes for a shaving kit with his initials, or maybe prescription bottle with his full name. Dude, he’s working class, you think he can afford meds? [Wing: It’s funny ’cause it’s true.]

She finds an entire box full of drugs. Not the kind that get prescribed. She realises that this explains his mood swings and puffy eyes. He is not the boy she thought. And, with the privilege born of plot armour, she decides that the best course of action is to stomp over and angrily confront him about it. Instead of making an excuse to leave and never seeing the angry drug-addled man who outweighs and out-muscles her substantially ever again.

Of course, this grand plan is put on hold, because his hand is in her bag, so she has to deal with that first.

Either way, yelling angrily is definitely the safest play a woman can make in this situation.

And as it falls into place, the angry yelling contains: drug accusations, the theft of her money and Lila’s dad’s swag, and also an accusation that he’s a liar and a phony!


How weird.

It results in violence.

Who on earth saw that coming?

Elizabeth calls Lila to get Jack’s address. Lila is initially concerned for Jack, then furious when Elizabeth explains everything. Delightfully she gives zero fucks about Jessica’s safety and just asks Elizabeth to thank her sister for taking him off her hands.

Jessica is on the floor. Jack has stopped strangling her, but has his knee on her ribcage. She tries to apologise and talk him down, but he’s decided that he’s got a good thing going on Sweet Valley, and he needs to be sure she won’t talk.

At this point, Elizabeth and Team Preppy (so… Team Preppy, I guess) knock on the door and call out to her. Jessica calls back, but Jack says if they break down the door, he’ll hurt Jessica. She tells them to do it anyway. He drags her across the room and grabs a knife. But at this point Team Preppy burst through the door. There is a quick scuffle, during which Nicholas goes for Jack, and Jessica kicks Jack’s arm.

Then Elizabeth has the knife and all is well.

Over at the police station, Alice and Ned think Jack needs counselling and medication rather than prison, which is an oddly gentle take. That said, I don’t remember them having any reaction at all to the last person who abducted their child (Carl the orderly), so maybe they’re all “peace and love” about everything. [Raven: After just watching Happy Valley, I think I’d have preferred a little more vengeful fire and brimstone in the Elder Wakefield reaction.]

They manage to make Jessica feel good enough about what happened for her to start parlaying everyone’s worry into a nice meal at a restaurant.

And then suddenly, this comes over the radio.

“Small aircraft in trouble. Vicinity of Secca Lake. I repeat, small plane in trouble. Craft number BA three-two-nine. Rented to one George Warren.”

And this is why cheating on your partner is bad. It makes planes crash.

Keep it in your pants, people.

Final Thoughts:

That was a thoroughly bland entry in the Sweet Valley canon. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. It just was.

I didn’t care in the slightest what was happening, and I apologise if that made for a boring recap, but to be honest, not much did happen. 90% of this book was Jessica on a date, thinking to herself that Lila can suck it, because she’s Jack’s girlfriend, not Lila.

Even the ghostie wasn’t feeling it. There was an utterly half-arsed B plot about the anonymous photos, which the ghostie couldn’t be bothered to write, so she just left it off screen and had Elizabeth recap what the ghostie couldn’t be arsed to write.

And George/Robin? Well, that was a couple of pages of meh too.

It was all very bland and boring. It was like eating rice. Just rice. Sure, objectively, it will fill you up, but if someone says, “What do you want for dinner? You can have whatever you want!” literally nobody is going to reply, “Just rice.”

[Raven: Unlike Dove, I felt that this book was actively bad.

Why? For ninety-five percent of this book, nothing happens. There’s a few dates, and a slew of internal monologuing, and a shitload of Jessica-being-Jessica and Elizabeth-being-Elizabeth, but actual noteworthy events? Zero. Then, in the last five percent, we have an assault, knife-fight, a stabbing and a foreshadowed plane crash. It’s unnerving, like a scuttling insect. Complete stillness for ages, then a madcap skittering in the corner of the eye.

But the true nail in the coffin for this book is that the tagline and cover promised one thing, but the words inside delivered something quite different. I don’t know if I’d have prefered the book I originally expected, but either way I definitely disliked the one we got in its place.

Let’s hope the plane crash book is better.]

[Wing: I was bored. You can tell I was bored because all my comments trailed off because everything I might have typed felt pointless. Which would have matched most of this book, so maybe I should have anyway. Even with the crazy = dangerous, I come away from this merely bored. *yawn*]