Sweet Valley High #21: Runaway

Sweet Valley High #21: Runaway by Francine Pascal

Title: Runaway

Tagline: Jessica’s had enough!

Summary: Jessica’s had it with Sweet Valley.

Jessica Wakefield is sick and tired of taking second place to her twin sister, Elizabeth. Everyone adores Elizabeth; she’s kind and loving and generous. But Jessica can’t seem to do anything right.

Then Jessica meets handsome, sensitive Nicky Shepard, who feels the same way she does. Nicky is running away to San Francisco and wants Jessica to join him. At first she doesn’t take him seriously. But when things reach the breaking point at home, Jessica starts to see that she might be better off if she left Sweet Valley–forever!

The Cover

A blonde girl who looks older than 16 but not as old as the 40-year-old news anchor the cover art often looks like stands with her back to the viewer, looking back over her left shoulder, though her gaze is fixed off into the distance. Jessica, I assume, based on the tagline.

She wears a loose gray sweatshirt with the neckline cut out so it is a raw edge over a pale blue tank top or possibly sports bra, all we can see is the strap. I bet tank top. She carries a red duffle bag with white handles over her shoulder, and I’m sure it’s not, but the quality of this Kindle Unlimited version makes it look like the duffle bag is made of velvet.

The background behind the girl is pale blue, the rest a weird tan. Francie Pascal’s Sweet Valley High is written at the top of the book with the number 21 in a little blue pennant. The tagline Jessica’s had enough! is just under the artwork in small black font. The title Runaway is in larger blue font below that.

Initial Thoughts

That’s quite a woebegone expression Jessica wears. As I said last recap, I don’t think SVH as a whole has built up the idea that Jessica is treated poorly by her family. She’s fairly monstrous to them all the time!

But last book did introduce it surprisingly well, and I’m going to try to let go of the earlier books as much as I can. Who needs continuity? Not me!


[Dove: I second all of this. If we had stepped from Twins to Crash Landing to this, then it would be quite a normal progression. Unfortunately, before this we had 19 books where Alice and Ned just smiled lovingly and nodded indulgently while Jessica destroyed the lives of everyone around her for whatever stupid motive crossed her tiny closed mind, and while she screamed and shouted and kicked walls and cars because someone didn’t smile at her. Sure, I can get behind this Jessica, but only if I delete all memories of the high school Jessica before her.]

[Raven: While I hated the last book, the one ray of light I found in the hideous text was the foreshadowing for this book. So I’m going in with a lightness of mood that is a surprise even to me.]


Despite this being a Jessica book, we open on Elizabeth frantically searching through her closet for her new blue silk blouse and then stomping over to shout at her sister about it. Jessica’s room is trashed, she ignores her to read a magazine instead, and sure enough, she borrowed Liz’s blue silk blouse without asking. She had a date with Neil, after all, and he’s already seen everything in her closet many a time.

The problem, Jess says, is that Liz is never around when anyone needs her, she’s always with Todd or doing something for the newspaper. She really should understand that family comes first, those who love her best.

Ahahahahahahahahahaha, oh my god, that is some A+ level manipulative spin right there. I fucking love it.

Liz can’t believe what she’s hearing, which is very stupid of her because Jess pulls this all the time, if not always in such an entertaining way.

They’re both distracted by Liz’s news: Steven is taking the rest of the semester off. He’s having a hard time dealing with Tricia’s death. No shade here, that’s a difficult thing to go through. I don’t blame him for taking time off.

Jess feels a little guilty for badmouthing Tricia when she was alive. Better late than never?

And then she says it’s sad and all but Steven needs to get over it and remember he’s alive.

Which, fair, but also, fuck you, mourning doesn’t have a timeline or guidebook. [Raven: True, but I must say I’m surprised Steven hasn’t moved on yet. Not because Mourning, but because Sweet Valley Time. If we can have five Christmases in a single school year, “Steve” can lose a girl on Monday and be married with two kids by Thursday.] [Wing: That is a fair point. And Steve for Steven Wakefield is my nails on chalkboard thing. I don’t even know why it gets to me! It’s pointless! And yet.]

They brainstorm ways to help him feel better and LIZ thinks it’s the best idea ever to take him to Cara’s party, even when JESS says they probably shouldn’t, Steven doesn’t much like Cara. This from the girl who tried to set him up with Cara while his girlfriend was (secretly) fighting cancer!

Family dinner, they joke about how Alice has a Master’s degree in design and yet can’t make a salad. Smart, Alice. Let Ned do all the cooking. That’s how it is for Ostrich and me. (He made the best air-fried chicken wings tonight. They were amazing. He doesn’t even eat poultry on the bone, but I love it.) [Dove: I just need to put it out here so that you can all judge the Wakefields for their shitty life decisions. The main course they’re having that salad with? A roast. A fucking roast. It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? Or is this going to be some unfathomable thing where it’s perfectly normal to have crisp lettuce and cherry tomatoes with beef, spuds, yorkies and gravy?] [Raven: Also, Ned has a bread roll at this meal. Who has a bread roll with a roast? The same twat that has a salad with a fucking roast, that’s who. Oh, and Dove doesn’t eat chicken that looks like chicken. (Please don’t confuse chicken with Chicken, the latter of which is probably the nickname we’ll use for one of our acquaintances in the fullness of time.] [Wing: Erm. Um. Uh. Roast + salad + bread roll is really, really common over here. I am now terrified to ask what you think it should be. And if this was all deep sarcasm, well, failed social cues! I think I mention this later.]

The twins have the next week off from school. Jess casually brings up that Cara is having a party the next night, but it all goes downhill from there. Steven lashes out at her for trying, again, to set him up with Cara even though he’s made it perfectly clear he isn’t interested, damn it!

And he has! And it’s a valid point!

Except Jess truly isn’t trying to set him up with anyone and this was all Liz’s idea in the first place.

Steven demands that she stops trying to manipulate all their lives, and after he storms away, their parents take his side, lay into Jess for pushing him like that. Liz says it was her idea, and Alice apologizes to Jess, but Jess is already upset. Now that it’s Liz’s idea, of course it’s fine, but Jess was being cruel.

Which again! Valid points! On both sides! Jess is often cruel and manipulative! She did try to set him up with Cara and he’s made it clear he doesn’t like her!

But at the same time, they do cut Liz a lot more slack than they do Jess. Last book set this up nicely, though I still don’t believe it for the SVH series as a whole.

Remember, Wing, we’re forgetting anything more than a book or two ago. No continuity needed here.

[Dove: There have been moments in Twins where Jess was the unfavourite – going back into the archives, even Liz had a moment of “did Jessica steal the class trip money… I really hope not“, rather than devout High Liz who will watch her sister stab a girl in the throat and then spend the rest of the book telling everyone that the girl stabbed herself in the throat, and it was just a trick of the light that made it look like her beloved Jessica (who’s really good super deep down and could never hurt anyone) did it. And when they had extra money to spend on something new for the family, they picked a computer, which helped Steven and Liz, but not Jess, even though they were leaning towards a new TV or sound system or something, that everyone could have enjoyed. I will say, these are first world kind of issues, rather than neglect or abuse, but there is a vibe in Twins that Liz is best twin. So if we stick with your plan, there’s plenty of really ancient foreshadowing.]

Jess grumbles to herself that she doesn’t feel like a part of the family, everyone is always yelling at her, it’s just not fair.

Liz comes to try to comfort her, but they end up arguing and Jess admits to herself, if not her sister, that she’s tired of being the bad twin and sometimes she wishes she’d never been born.

Oh damn. Did we talk about this in a recap, a podcast episode, or just a conversation recently? It’s sometimes difficult to keep these conversations straight, but I know we talked about Jess and depression recently. (Even if “we” might only be Raven, Dove, and Wing.) [Dove: It might have been a comment on an earlier recap, but we did discuss it before recording Cover Calypso.] [Raven: We recently discussed how Enid was depressed after the crash landing in Crash Landing… maybe that’s it?]

Some of the things Jess does make a lot more sense if she is feeling depressed and hated and self-conscious. She lashes out at people and that could be a part of the depression and anxiety. This ties into that nicely.

Unfortunately, for most of the rest of SVH so far, she’s written as a straight up narcissist, so.

Jess and Cara go to the Dairi Burger to hang out. Cara asks Jess what’s going on, she looks completely depressed. Jess isn’t sure whether she should tell Cara the truth: She’s depressed because she’s not as good a person as her sister, the one everyone likes.




If I take this as separate from the earliest books in this series (SVH in particular, I mean), I fucking love this. One twin who is kind of mean and manipulative and nasty but who wants to be the “good twin,” who feels judged and overlooked and unloved because she’s not as “good” as her sister (who is spineless and often manipulative herself!), who feels like the one everyone puts up with because they like her sister better, this is a plot I can get behind. I want to read this! I want Jess to deal with her pain and her worries, her depression and her anxiety, to find her way to becoming a person she wants to be.

Except I don’t buy this for one fucking second with how she’s been written in SVH.

(Now, Sweet Valley Junior High? I can see this story working there, and, in fact, pieces of it are there as she struggles to adapt to their new school while Liz settles in and makes friends immediately.)

In the end, Jess decides not to talk about it and instead listens to Cara talk about how happy she is with her life.

The Dairi Burger is then invaded by hooligans, hooligans I say, coming from the Shady Lady across the street, a bar with a wild reputation and known for selling alcohol to minors. (The Shady Lady is a billion times better a name than most of the things in Sweet Valley.) [Dove: I love the way a pub is opposite a cheap fast food place and drunkards coming in wanting burgers doesn’t happen all the time. Pub lunch vs burger from the Dairi Burger? Save those $$$$] [Raven: In the UK, such opportune placement would be LITERALLY the entire business case.]

Cara identifies one of the hooligans as Nicky Shepard, also a junior at SVH. Jess has always been intrigued by this boy we’ve never, ever heard of before. (Someone let me know if I’m wrong!)

He’s wild, what with his Shady Lady shenanigans and his fast driving and his drug rumors. He’s a hottie, though, blond hair and blue eyes, and a little rugged with the body of a football player. He’s quiet and a loner around school. [Dove: I love the way even nerds who do no sport or are too busy huffing paint still have ripped abs in SV!]

When he sees Jess looking at him, he smiles at her, and she smiles back.

Cara is horrified that she would smile at a hooligan, my heavens, what are you thinking?

…is this going to really be Jess and the Bad Boy? Because that’s not the book I signed up to recap! [Raven: Though it appears to be the book we’ve recapped about seven times in the High series so far.]

Cara reminds her that Jack Howard was also hot but ended up being completely dangerous. What is this? More continuity? Damn. And from two books ago, not just one!

Nicky comes over and says hello by asking Jess if she’s one of the Wakefield clones.

WELP, I immediately adore Nicky.

Jess takes offense to that, understandably, but all he does is smile and ask if he can join them. So many of the guys (and girls) in this series would have just shoved their way into the booth, so the fact that he asks is a surprisingly big point in his favor.

…which he then burns by doing just that, but at least he and Jess are in the middle of a somewhat bantery exchange.

When he leaves, he calls her Jessica and says that they might look the same, but they’re actually very different. Which, considering even their own family doesn’t recognize them sometimes, is fucking delightful.

Cara’s party goes off about as well as expected considering Liz talks Steven into halfheartedly apologizing to Jess and reluctantly coming to the party. Best plan ever, I’m sure.

He mopes his way through the party, the only one not having fun, except for Jess who also doesn’t have much fun because she keeps worrying about him — oh wait, no, not that, she’s annoyed that he’s embarrassing her in front of all her friends.

Jess is stuck with a morose brother as a date (…damn, Steven is mourning, he’d normally be all over this opportunity) while Liz fucks off with Todd. Everyone’s dancing and laughing and playing Trivial Pursuit — wait, what. One of these things is not like the other. Not at all what I would expect at a Cara party. [Dove: Parties I attended during my teen years where we played Triv: Zero. How about you guys?] [Raven: I collect boardgames. You can probably guess how Raven parties went.] [Wing: I don’t remember playing Trivial Pursuit until I was an adult. We don’t even play it very often now. There are far more fun games to play, especially trivia games.]

Jess is also and possibly mostly furious that Steven pretty much immediately agreed to come to the party once Liz said it. Once again, she smoothed over all the awkward things Jess messed up. Liz can do no wrong and nothing Jess does works out.

Jess, that is quite an exaggeration even for you in this book.

Oh, apparently Liz recently helped Gossip Queen Caroline go through a major change. Now she’s sweeter, more relaxed, and no longer gossips, looks even prettier, and now everyone likes her.




Caroline doesn’t gossip? Gossiping is a bad thing? Liz helped her do a complete overhaul of herself? I have no memory of this. [Dove: Raven recapped it in January.] [Raven: Yup.] [Wing: Oh, the one I missed because of memorial traveling. Apparently if I don’t comment on a recap, I’ll never remember it again. That’ll be good for future podcasting purposes.]

That being said, Jess has this thought: Elizabeth Wakefield, savior of the world, defender of the oppressed, strikes again.


Welcome to the snarky recapping, Jess.

Caroline compliments Jess’s dress, but Jess isn’t in the mood for compliments. Bullshit! She’s never not in the mood for compliments. Caroline then gushes over how lucky she is to have a sister like Liz, which is crap. Damn, Caroline, read the fucking room.

Liz drops Todd off with her to baby-sit him while she goes to the bathroom, because god forbid he be alone for two minutes. He starts to babble on about how great Liz is, too, and Jess storms off to the backyard. [Dove: I can’t judge her for this. If I had to listen to Todd talk about anything – but particularly Elizabeth – I’d make a swift exit too.]

Honestly, I don’t blame her at this point. This heavy-handed and sort of out of nowhere, but it’s also pretty compelling if I take it at face value. Poor girl. It would be hard to have a sister everyone compared you to, especially when she comes out the better for it.

(I was often compared to my older sister in a positive way, I helped my parents remember why they adopted kids and wanted to be parents, she had been such a difficult daughter, and that deeply impacted both of our lives. It’s not easy being held up as the savior just as it’s not easy being held up as the bad seed. I shudder to think what my younger siblings might have gone through in comparison.)

Though Jess normally doesn’t like being alone, she takes off for the bathhouse (I’ve never heard it called that before — poolhouse yes, bathhouse no) to sulk alone in the dark.

Except, she’s not alone! Nicky Shepard is also hiding in the darkness. He came with Dana and Guy, two of the members of The Droids, SVH’s “premiere rock band.”

Premiere. Rock. Band.

Fuck, sometimes I love the ridiculousness of these teens. Sometimes. Rarely.

He invites Jess to sit, and she does, but she keeps distance between them because she’s still a little afraid of him. Which, fair point, considering what she recently went through, and also, he’s basically a stranger.

He’s hanging out alone in the dark because he doesn’t do well at parties and he likes being a loner. It makes him seem mysterious. [Raven: One of my old school friends (let’s call him Chicken) operated in this way throughout our teen years. Every party, in the corner, brooding, smoking, playing with his lighter. It got him nowhere. If I’m honest, I’m not even sure where he was hoping it WOULD get him. Man, teenagers are idiots.]

I also don’t do well at parties and like to be a loner, but not for that pretentious reason, fucking hell.

She tells him it makes him seem sad. Maybe he likes being sad. She honestly wants to know how he can like being sad and doesn’t really understand when he says it’s easier than being happy.

It is! This is a really good point! “It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.” (G.K. Chesterton.) It takes concentrated effort to be upbeat and happy. The happiest, most cheerful people are often working damn hard to be those things and don’t receive nearly enough appreciation for it.

She asks him what makes him sad. He tells her that she doesn’t like him, he’s not her kind. He wants to drop the conversation, she pushes. He explains that her kind is the kind that everything goes right for.

Oh, Nicky, now you’re being judgmental too.

I could almost, almost take this as a lesson that we don’t know what’s going on inside other people, all we see is the surface, even with those we know best, we don’t know everything going on, and we shouldn’t assume things are easy for them.

Except this is SVH, so I expect that bubble to be popped before the end.

Still, I’ll take it while I can.

They talk about how Nicky’s parents don’t have time to care about him. His dad is “an American Dream,” a poor boy who pulled himself up by his bootstraps. His mom is too busy with his younger brother, Danny, who is in poor health. No one has time for Nicky.

[Dove: This X-Factor backstory annoyed me a little (although it gets expanded on later). It’s a legit way to feel, and having to spend all your time taking care of a very sick child can easily lead to the neglect, even abuse, of other children because all your focus is on that one.

However, it seems to be the default “bad parent” trope in 80s and earlier media. There’s always a reason. And that “reason” seems to imply the troubled kid needs to grow up and realise this is life and death, and they’re just going to have to suck it up. Couldn’t we mix it up and just have that his parents just don’t love him? They had children because that’s what you do after being married for a bit. And actually, now they have one, they’d have rather had a boat to take out on Secca Lake. Just vary it up a bit. Commenters/Recappers,

did you read a lot of sick kid/neglected sibling stories, or is it just me?
did you read a lot of sick kid/neglected sibling stories, or is it just me?x

[Raven: Yeah, the whole Intense and Troubled Nicky came across a little too Dark Knight for my tastes. This series doesn’t need a Batman, becuase it already has a Patman. In fact, TWO Patmen. And at least one Robin.]

Jess tells him that she’s sure his parents care about him despite everything else, because everyone’s parents care about them.

Oh, the privilege.


She gets defensive, says her life isn’t perfect. She doesn’t want to discuss it with him, even though he’s just opened up to her, and he takes this as proof that she doesn’t like him. She’d be embarrassed if her friends caught them talking.

She’s so concerned with what she thinks she should be that she doesn’t know who she is.

Well damn, Nicky. And damn, ghostie. This is actually kind of legit. Jess is obsessed with what people think about her, even when it comes to her brother being too sad to actually have fun at a party. She doesn’t know who she is.

Almost no one does, even as full ass adults, we spend our lives working that out, but this is surprisingly deep and meaningful for SVH.

Jess is feeling overwhelmed by this. Tells him to tell her who she is if he knows so much.

She’s beautiful, smarter than people realize, always knows what she wants and how to get it and it doesn’t matter who gets in the way, she’s not afraid of anything (except for him, he teases), and she’s a good liar, but not good enough.

That is astute.

He tells her that she should be afraid of him because they’re a lot alike. She calls him a nice person, and he tells her that she is, too.

He tells her to close her eyes, to trust him. After a moment, she does, and the tension in the darkness grows. She knows he’s going to kiss her, but it still surprises her when he does, gentle, warm, tender.

He asks her to go back to the party with him, to dance with him, and she does.

They cause quite a stir amongst their peers, and Liz even thinks it’s an excellent bit for her gossip column.

Because gossip is just fucking fine when Liz does it, even captures it in print, but fuck anyone else who likes gossip, those shallow bitches. [Dove: *points at Caroline who is restraining the urge to tell others about this development*]

Before Nicky and Jess take off together, she does go tell Liz she’s leaving. They end up arguing over Jess’s choices, because Liz is fucking intolerable and judgmental and righteous.

Before she leaves, she runs into Steven, who invites her and Nicky to join a group of them for pizza.

Wait a fucking minute here. Steven, who has been miserable all night, has decided to go do more with a group of people who aren’t even his friends but his sisters’ friends and therefore a few years younger than him? Right. Sure. Okay.

It’s Liz’s idea of course, but Steven says they’re both worried about her.

The next morning, Liz worries about Jess and how she’s been withdrawing for awhile now, how she seems less lively, more sensitive, touchier, and even resentful.

Liz asks their parents for advice. I’m sure that’s going to go well. She says she doesn’t think any of them take Jess’s moods seriously. Alice waves that off. Jess isn’t herself these days, but it’s a change for the better. She’s more in control, not complaining, not arguing…

Fucking hell, Alice. Time to buy whatever this book is selling when it comes to the treatment of Jess I’ve struggled to fully believe, because this is some utter fucking bullshit. Your daughter is hurting, feeling unloved by her family, and all you can think about is yay, she’s less trouble now? The fuck?

Then Ned waves it off as boy trouble.

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

Ghostie, you deserve a standing ovation. In one book you’ve turned me from mostly hating Jess for being terrible to being on her side because she’s being treated like shit. Even when she’s manipulating and lying and being selfish and judgmental, I’m on her side. Fuck all this noise. [Dove: Agreed. And they are bad parents, because they’re just as cluelessly oblivious or outright uncaring when she’s doing awful shit. If they’d just fucking parent their children, they wouldn’t be so awful – and by that I mean: Steven wouldn’t be the most healthy of all of them. Yes, readers, I know what’s coming, and I still stand by it. The twins are toxic. He’s just broken.] [Raven: As above. The Ghostie is inflating the Elder Wakefield’s shittiness for pure plot reasons, sure, but it’s still believable, and it does make us feel for Jessica throughout. Nice work.]

When Jess comes down, her parents are more worried about Steven and making him feel better than they are Jess’s clear unhappiness. Liz gets angry that her parents aren’t more concerned about Jess, but she doesn’t say anything else about it.

At the very least, they do seem to notice something is off. Alice even asks if she’s okay, but this is too little far too fucking late. You should not need Liz pointing things out to you for you to be concerned and even if you are distracted by Steven’s mourning (which is serious! I’m not ignoring that! It’s understandable that they worry about him!), you shouldn’t wave away Jess’s attitude change as just boy trouble or as something fucking GOOD.

God, they’re often terrible parents, but this takes the cake.

(Mmmm, now I want cake. Damn the distance between me and Raven’s baking.) [Raven: I made Millionaire’s Shortbread last week… it was lovely.]

Jess says she’s just a little tired AND HER PARENTS FUCKING DROP IT.

I’m not saying they should push it and demand answers from her. That’s not the way to handle it either, not with Jess. But they were so blase about it, everything they do looks like it’s utterly nothing and they’re only doing it because blessed St Liz said something.

When they’re alone, Liz asks Jess about Nicky. Jess says that he’s not like everyone thinks, he’s just a little confused.

Things are awkward between the two of them, no matter what Liz tries to say. Jess finally tells her that Liz is so perfect she has to see what Jess has realized: no one in the family wants Jess around.

For a moment, Jess wants to let loose all her feelings, but then remembers it won’t make a difference, Liz will never understand. Instead she apologizes for being a little weird, she’s just tired, it’s nothing more than that.

Fucking hell. Jess is miserable.

Liz talks to Steven about it next. She doesn’t know who else she can go to for help. Their parents suck, and Todd hates Jess so he won’t be sympathetic and helpful.

SHE FALSELY ACCUSED HIM OF SEXUAL ASSAULT. He has no fucking reason to trust her or care about her or even want to be near her. Except as our beloved commenters keep reminding me, we’re apparently not meant to treat the beginning of the series as, uh, existing, basically, so it never happened. [Dove: And, I suppose, we have to ignore the fact they bonded and worked together when Liz had her head trauma that made her into Jessica.]

And if it never happened, yeah, Todd is pretty shit about how he treats Jess and how he reacts to Liz when she tries to talk about her worries for her sister, no matter what’s going on, because this isn’t the first time she’s needed someone to talk to.


I cannot let that go, no matter how none of Jess’s stories really work unless it didn’t happen.

Steven is worried about her, too, even feels guilty for snapping at her. It’s the first time he’s seemed to care about something else since Tricia’s death, and Liz is relieved by that even as she’s worried.

Steven takes Liz to Casey’s for ice cream. [Dove: I just want to point out, he specifically takes her to Casey’s to cheer her up. They are going to eat their feelings. Which is fine. Because they are thin. But remember the last book when Robin ate hers? Baaaaaaad.]

Guess who works there now.

Ricky Capaldo.

Ricky and Nicky in one book.

I’m going to fuck this up, aren’t I. [Raven: Just wait until Mickey turns up.]

Anyway, Ricky is one of Liz’s favorite people. He’s manager of the SVH cheerleading squad, and apparently an utter delight. Except he’s pretty down right now, and she worries that he and his girlfriend, Annie, are having issues. He helped her a lot when she attempted suicide and they’ve been inseparable ever since.

Now wait a fucking minute. Didn’t Jessica talk her back to life from her coma? [Dove: Yes, but Ricky was there for all the bits when Jessica was throwing dramatic tantrums about how it’s all her fault, and being reassured by Liz that she did nothing wrong. Ricky was there for every step. Jessica pulled her out of the coma with Ricky. Ricky was there for the rest as well.]

Liz asks about Annie, nothing seems to be wrong between them, and Ricky cheers up a little bit.

Not even copious amounts of ice cream distract Liz from how worried she is about Jess. Steven promises to talk to her, and Liz hopes that will help.

Bill Chase (surfer extraordinaire, up and coming actor) and girlfriend DeeDee Gordon (arteeeeeest), come join them because clearly there’s no other booth available in Casey’s. Clearly.

Liz steps in it yet again when she asks after DeeDee’s design classes at the Civic Center. Apparently DeeDee isn’t taking them anymore, which is news to Bill. DeeDee is uncomfortable, Liz and Steven awkward, and Bill tense.

Damn, Liz, you’re supposed to be fully focused on and worried about your beloved twin sister and yet you’ve now been distracted by two different romances between bit characters who really had no need to rock up in this book. [Raven: The need for foreshadowing… a blessing and a curse.]

Meanwhile, Jess, whom this book is supposed to be about, is swimming in the pool at the Wakefield house when Steven comes to talk to her. Things go poorly when he lies that Liz didn’t talk to him about her concerns, and Steven gets annoyed at Jess’s emotions, enough so he actually yells at her when she starts to share how she’s feeling, how Liz is the perfect twin and everyone blames Jess for everything.

Fucking hell, way to make things fucking worse, Steven. Goddamn.

Jess waits until he leaves to cry, and even then she hides under the water as long as she can. Poor girl.

She knows she’s unfairly lashing out, saying all the wrong things even when she’s trying not to, and she doesn’t know what to do, how to accept his care, or Liz’s.

I actually love this part. All three of them are saying one thing when they mean another, struggling to communicate around their own emotions and confusion, feeling awkward as hell and berating themselves after for fucking it up.

It’s so realistic! And sympathetic! They keep fucking things up, but they love each other and they keep trying, no matter how awkward and annoying it gets. SIBLINGS. <3

Jess decides the best way to make things better is to change herself and be more like Liz.

Oh boy.

What can she do to show she’s changing? She could clean her room! Oh, no, that will take forever and she needs something faster. She could make dinner! Except she poisoned them all last time and they blew up at her over an accident.

Still, she’s determined to try again.

She makes roast chicken, rice, and vegetables. Alice is shocked to find Jess in the kitchen in control of all that. She tells her mother that there’s time for a glass of wine before dinner’s ready, if she wants.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA, boozy Alice headcanon confirmed! [Raven: BRING ON THE GIN!]

Alice makes things awkward, tries to help, questions Jess, and finally takes herself away to enjoy her wine with Ned. He’s certain Jess wants something huge and is sucking up to them. Which on the one hand is fair, because that’s exactly the sort of thing she’s done in the past, but is also fucked up right now. He knows everyone else is worried about her, why can’t he get his head out of his ass for awhile?

At dinner, Liz teases her about the seafood fiasco, and Jess’s optimism starts to fade. Ugh, poor girl. They keep joking about it even knowing that Jess is embarrassed and even worrying about her lately, because they are fucking shitheads.

And believable! It’s so easy to push a joke too far and not catch that you’re actually hurting someone! I am particularly bad at it myself, because I don’t pick up on subtle social cues. [Raven: It’s not even the pushing of the joke that’s crappy here. The family are NOT joking when they side-eye her cooking and look to deflect her plans elsewhere. Even though Ned and Alice presumably paid for her to do the bloody Cordon Bleu Cooking Course in the last book, a course which she fucking ACED according to the french chef that ran it. I know she poisoned them with mussels, but they need to move on.]

Liz turns talk to Ricky working at Casey’s. Ned isn’t surprised, though the rest of them are. And then he promptly breaks attorney-client privilege and tells them that Ricky’s mom isn’t letting Ricky’s grandparents visit the kids after the divorce. [Dove: Seriously. What the actual fuck, Ned? Why on earth would you spill the tea on a school friend’s family issues? What the fuck is wrong with you?] Ricky’s dad left a lot of debt and isn’t paying child support and Ricky’s mom hopes that if she withholds the kids from the grandparents, they’ll pressure their son into doing the right thing.

On the one hand, that’s shitty, using kids as leverage. On the other hand, fuck that deadbeat. I hope his parents do force him to get his shit together. Fucking hell, dude.

Courts tend to side with the mother, Ned tells them, and so if she wants to keep the kids away from the grandparents, she probably can. Jess has strong feelings about this for some reason. No mother should be allowed to keep the grandparents away.

Oh, Jess, your privilege is showing again. But in a believable way. Of course she doesn’t think about families that harm each other, grandparents who might be abusive, etc.

Liz says they’re missing the point. The real problem is how it is impacting the children, not parental or grandparental rights. The kids are the ones losing people in their life, being harmed by this battle. And she’s correct!

Except that then Ned says he’ll use that argument with the judge, because Ned is the shittiest lawyer to ever lawyer, holy fucking shit, how did you not think of that yourself? [Dove: That’s not insight, that’s fucking precedent. The law is that the child has the right to see their parent/grandparent/etc. Not vice-versa. The law says that because we are THINKING OF THE FUCKING CHILDREN. Fuck me, Ned is literally the worst lawyer in the entire world. I don’t have a law degree, and I’d be better than him.] [Raven: Ned Wakefield needs to get in the fucking sea.] [Wing: Not defending him, but Liz’s argument is more that it’s important for the kids to receive that sort of love and care and attention from their grandparents, not whether the kid wants to receive it, which comes up later. He’s still a terrible, terrible lawyer.]

And Liz is going to write a series of articles about it for the Sweet Valley News, because apparently she’s a contributor there, too. [Dove: Why? Who in SV gives a shit about some family dispute? What the fuck is wrong with this town?] [Raven: YES!]

Jess feels worse than ever. Ned blew off her concerns and the entire family is leaning into Liz’s project now. Of course they are.

They don’t even notice when Jess leaves the room.

I feel for Jess so fucking much right now. It’s not easy being the focus the way they make Liz, I know that from experience, you carry a lot of pressure and fear of failure, but fuck, they’re not being fair to poor Jess, especially since they all know something is wrong with her.

I can’t believe I’m bringing this back in SVH considering everything we’ve seen in the books before this one, but: Jess, I love you. [Raven: Agreed.]

Jess takes herself off to the movies alone, completely down because her family didn’t say one nice thing about the dinner she made them. In fact, they made fun of her then focused on Liz. She doesn’t even want to go to the movies alone, and she doesn’t want to see this one, but she also doesn’t want to be around anyone else.

She’s all alone, no one in her family loves her or understands her, and she feels awful.

This poor girl is so fucking depressed. Someone get her some goddamn help!

She decides to skip the movie. Outside, she runs into Nicky. Lies to him that she was to meet Lila but Lila backed out, too embarrassed to admit the truth. He invites her to go for a ride with him. Last time, they kissed for quite awhile when he gave her a ride home, and she really likes his kisses, warm and tender.

He doesn’t fit in with her group, but she’s sure she can help him do so.

Jess. Jess Jess Jess.

Stop trying to change people! You’re hurting because people don’t care about you because you’re not like Liz, don’t do the same thing to him.

It’s so unfair that people say such mean things behind a person’s back, Jessica thought, conveniently forgetting how many times she had been guilty of spreading rumors.

GHOSTIE! That was great. Snarky and yet still caring toward Jess. Nicely done.

Nicky takes her to a small park, the oldest in Sweet Valley and to a beautiful, old gazebo. I’m getting real Sound of Music vibes here.

He tells her a quiet story about how they used to hold dances at the gazebo, long before they were born, long before Sweet Valley grew into a large town. He comes there a lot for the beauty and the silence but never brings anyone. She’s different, though, from anyone he’s met. She’s special, and he wanted to share this with her.

She asks him if that’s the line he uses on all the girls. Understandably! It sounds like a fucking line!

It hurts his feelings, though, and he swears he doesn’t bring anyone there, he didn’t lie. And Jess realizes she hurt him. Apologizes. Is sympathetic, because she knows how it feels to be misunderstood by the people around her, the people who have such a strong idea of who they think she must be that they don’t see who she really is.

Nicky waves it away. Half the time nobody believes him and the other half of the time, no one cares. That’s why he’s running off to San Francisco, to his friend Denny who has a good business there and wants Nicky to join him.

It’ll be easier for his parents, too, he says, bitter and sad.

Jess tries to comfort him. Kisses him gently, holds him close. He feels like nobody wants him around, and she understands that far too well.

Then they dance to a sweet, sad song on the radio under the night sky and the beautiful stars.

Liz wakes Jess to join them at the preliminary visitation hearing for Ricky’s grandparents, because it’s totally normal for an attorney’s family to join them in the courtroom, happens all the time.

Liz shouts at Jess for her attitude and for letting down Ned who really wants them at the hearing. The fuck? Why are you yelling? Where is this coming from? He absolutely did not ask you guys to be there at dinner last night, at least not while Jess was there. [Dove: Yes, he did:

Her father beamed at her. “That’s a wonderful point, Liz. If we can get the judge to see it from that angle, we might have a chance. Look,” he went on, “the hearing starts tomorrow. Maybe you’d like to come down and see how it goes.”

Elizabeth smiled broadly. “Boy, would I. Maybe I can even get something in The Sweet Valley News about it. I’ve been looking for something to do a series of articles on. This might be it.”

“That’s a terrific idea,” her father agreed.

Everyone at the table began throwing out ideas for the articles. Everyone, that is, but one person.

They were all so busy with plans for the next day that no one noticed when Jessica stood up and quietly left the room.

He just didn’t extend the invitation to Jessica.]

[Wing: Well damn, I did not all read that as a sincere invitation for any of them, more a throwaway line. Huh. I clearly have zero trust in Ned fucking Wakefield.]

Fucking hell, this escalated quickly.


Liz accuses her of acting weird just because she wasn’t the center of attention at dinner.

ELIZABETH FUCKING WAKEFIELD. Not twenty-four hours ago you were worried as hell about your sister and now this is what you’re doing? The fuck is happening here?

Ghostie, this is some unbalanced pacing.

Jess says she just wants to be left alone and she has a date with Nicky. Liz is worried about that but tries to sound like she’s not. Just keep talking to her the way you have been this morning, you clearly don’t give a fuck.

Liz tries to talk Ned into asking Jess to join them, but he tells her that he and Alice shouldn’t bow to Jess’s every whim and the twins are very different and Jess just isn’t as interested in this.

Which, yes, both of those are good points! Except! This is clearly a more complicated situation and you and Alice fucking suck as parents, goddamn.

Liz decides to set Jess’s problems aside for awhile so she can focus on the article series she’ll be writing for the town newspaper.

Yeah, so much for all that worry.

No, I don’t think she can stop her life just because she’s worried about her sister, but damn does it feel like she’s blowing off someone she purports to love just because it’s easier to focus on her own things.

The preliminary hearing lasts for about an hour, just long enough for Liz to tell us that Ricky’s grandparents are Italian immigrants and they’re spending all their savings on this legal battle.

This legal battle that’s lasted about thirty seconds so far? All these details you shouldn’t be sharing with anyone, much less your SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER?! What the fuck.

They’ll meet again on Friday for final arguments and the judge’s decision.

I have no idea if this is accurate or not. Since I started law school, I have been in court precisely four times: (1) touring a courthouse in Seattle, (2) touring a courthouse in Kansas City, (3) when I swore in as an attorney for the first time in Jefferson City, and (4) recently when I was called for jury selection but wasn’t chosen in the end.

Not a litigator, and unlike Ned Wakefield, I don’t have a new practice every other book.

Ricky is very unhappy that Liz is writing an article about it. Asks her not to do it because of their friendship. He knows it’s a big deal for her, but it’s life and he doesn’t appreciate that she’s making it public.

Damn. Fucking. Straight. I’m glad someone fucking called her on this. [Raven: This. As Dove says, why would any paper-reader care? What is it, a Slow News Day?]

It’s not like she was assigned this story. It’s not like minor cases like this, while important to the people involved but not really outside that, show up in the newspaper much at all, especially not as a series of articles. Liz only cares because she knows the people involved!

Fuck you for building your reputation on the back of your so-called friends.

Annie tells her after that Ricky’s not being himself. He’s angry at his father for leaving and stressed over having to take the job at Casey’s to help them survive as a family. [Dove: I’d love to see someone not hang around to make peace with the fucking Wakefields. I’d love it if Annie was like, “He’s got a point, you know. This is his life, and you’re using it to pad your college application. It’s kind of a really shitty thing to do to someone you class as a friend. So, fuck you from us both.”] [Wing: Fucking hell, yes! That’s the kind of friendship/relationship I’d love to see here.]

Liz tells Ned what Ricky asked of her. Ned tells her that with any good story, she’ll step on some toes. She just has to decide if the pain she’ll cause some people is greater than the enlightenment she brings others.

Which, again, is true! Except that this situation is special for Liz. She’s not a working reporter. She suggested this, she only knows about it because she has a connection to it, and she’s doing no one any good shining a light on this specific case. [Raven: Also… is it true? Not sure I agree there. Weighing pain against enlightenment is pitting two unequal things. At the very least, pain should be factored as a much heavier commodity that the nebulous enlightenment, that’s for certain.] [Wing: I do think sometimes stories need to be told no matter how much pain they cause. However, the balancing decision is important to make there, and we don’t see it from Liz, but it is even more important because she is already an active part of the subject’s life. She’s capitalizing on something she only knows the details of because she’s friends with one of the people involved (and her father is a shitty, shitty lawyer).]

It’s interesting how many times the characters in this book say things that are, as a theory, correct, but must be taken in the context of the situation and in that context are kind of terrible. Nicely done, ghostie.

Nicky takes Jess to a party in Tierra Verde, about an hour from Sweet Valley. His friends keep offering her beer, but she keeps turning it down.

Though she normally loves parties, she’s not having much fun at this one. She barely knows anyone, she’s anxious about finding common ground with Nicky and their different lifestyles, and she’s been feeling terrible anyway, so she’s not really enjoying anything these days.

Nicky hasn’t spent much time with Jess. His friends dragged him into a game of pool the second they arrived, and though he keeps giving her sympathetic looks, he hasn’t actually come to rescue her from being uncomfortable.

He doesn’t seem very comfortable either, doesn’t talk much, and isn’t smoking the joint that keeps being passed around.

He is drinking, though, and when the pool game finally ends, she starts to worry about the ride home.

They take off not too long later. Nicky apologizes to her because she didn’t much enjoy herself. Asks her about how she’s been feeling down, offers to listen if she wants to talk about it.

And she does! She hasn’t felt like she can talk to anyone else about it, but she opens up to him, because she thinks he’ll understand. He holds her while she talks and cries, is gentle with her, sympathizes with her.

… we’re probably supposed to think he’s a bad influence by the end of this book, but he’s being pretty fucking great to her so far! I’m rooting for him and his complicated emotions and the gentle way they fit together.

He tells her that he’s leaving on Friday and asks her to come with him.

She’s shocked at first, thinks it’s a joke, but the more she listens to him, the more it feels right. He really does understand her emotions, she thinks, and leaving seems like the logical thing. [Dove: We all know how this is going to go, but damn, this could have been so good for her. Not that I advise running away. But imagine if she’d left, realised that she needs to work, and just how little money she will make as a teen with no high school qualifications, and somehow used all that charisma and scheming for good – as publicity and marketing – and managed to pull herself up by her bootstraps, then came back to Sweet Valley all functional and no longer reliant on Liz and her lack of spine. And Liz would have had to become a person in her own right, instead of just treading water and waiting to see what Jessica decided they were going to do next. Does anyone want to write this?] [Raven: To be honest, that’s what I thought we were getting in this book. Jess running away early, realising that it’s a terrible idea because Reasons, then being saved / returning home. Not that the book we GOT is bad… it’s just different to my expectations.]

Except that it goes against everything she was raised to believe. People who run away from home are quitters, losers, but she doesn’t think that about Nicky.

Of course that’s how she was raised. Completely believable and she’s had little experiences outside her Sweet Valley bubble, especially if we ignore anything outside SVH, to teach her different. [Dove: And annoyingly, that’s the moral of the story. We don’t ever see that sometimes leaving is the best thing you can do.] [Wing: Yeah, looking back at this, it’s annoying now because it’s held up as the truth, not just Jess not having experiences outside her white upper middle class own.]

She can’t leave Liz, though, not with their close bond and she knows, deep down, that her family does love her like she loves them, even when they hurt her.

She tells him now, and he asks her to think about it, that’s it.

He’s hurt when she asks him if he feels well enough to drive (after all those beers, though she doesn’t mention that part), and she feels guilty over it.

Honey. No. Never feel guilty about that. Better to ask and refuse to ride with a drunk driver than try to protect his feelings.

She buckles her seat belt, hoping he didn’t notice, because of course she only buckles it because she’s worried and doesn’t want to make him feel bad that she’s worried. Back in the day when people rarely wore seatbelts unless they had to.

I still hate wearing seatbelts and likely wouldn’t do it every single time if my car didn’t sound an obnoxious alarm if the driver or the front passenger aren’t buckled. [Raven: They’re a legal requirement in the UK, for all occupants of the vehicle. Is this not the case in the US?] [Wing: They are now, though they might not have been in the 80s. You tend not to get pulled over for not wearing them, but you can have it added to the ticket if you’re pulled over for other reasons.]

Jess asks him to slow down on the drive, and he is angry at her for it, ignores her almost completely.

He passes a slow car even when he shouldn’t, they almost get into a head-on collision, and that calms him down some, slows him down.

When they’re in the outskirts of Sweet Valley, he lights another cigarette, misses a stop sign, and nearly hits a blue convertible, wrecks his car trying to avoid it.

But of course. He’s this good guy who is unfairly judged, people make snap assumptions about him because he’s quiet and reserved — and in the end, his reputation is deserved. So much for that lesson that gossiping is damaging.

Fuck you, ghostie. [Raven: Sorry, but he’s a drunk driver. So Fuck You Nicky, too. #NoQuarter]

Nicky calls his parents for help. He berates Nicky for damaging the car, never asks if either of them are hurt. His mother is silently disappointed.

Jess feels bad for him, especially when his dad tells him the car crash is the last straw, all he’s doing is ruining them financially and hurting his mother. Tells him it’s good he’s going, maybe he’ll learn some responsibility. They certainly haven’t been able to teach him anything.


In bed that night, Jess realizes how close she came to disaster. The car accident could have been awful, Nicky’s parents might have woken her parents to tell them about the crash, her parents wouldn’t understand Nicky, not like she does.

She sees herself in him, and she thinks she loves him.

(There’s a joke to be made here about how she can only love someone she sees herself in, narcissist, but I am caught up in the real emotions she’s been feeling otherwise, so I’m going to refrain.)

She starts daydreaming about San Francisco, how nice it would be for them to have a cute little apartment together, interesting friends, Nicky a successful businessman, her friends could come see her.

But she can’t go, not really. She’ll talk to her family in the morning and things will be different.

She wakes up early the next morning to practice her speech. Thinks about all the things she and Liz have been through. Like that coma. And that kidnapping. And … well, that’s about it, apparently.

Both those things were basically Jess’s fault, she realizes, as has been almost every bad situation Liz has ever been in.

Really, Jess? Don’t take on all that pressure, god. Liz fucks things up all the time, too.

She goes down to talk to Alice and Ned first, but Alice is already leaving for an early meeting. She tries to talk to Ned, but he ignores her, talks over her, talks about how right Liz was about his case, as if he shouldn’t have thought of that argument himself, fucking hell he’s a terrible lawyer, etc.

Liz has even decided to go ahead with her article despite the pain it will cause, and he’s very proud of her. He takes off without ever noticing how much Jess is hurting. [Dove: Wow. Liz, Ned, you both suck as human beings and professionals. Just stop everything you’re doing. Including breathing.]

Next she tries to talk to Steven, who is up early to go for a run. He doesn’t want to stop and talk to her, though, he’s busy with running and playing tennis with his friends later. He, too, doesn’t notice how upset she is.

Lila calls and teases Jess about not being around much, not being any fun lately. Jess turns down an offer to go shopping, the second time she’s done so in this book, a sure sign she’s struggling, lies that she’s spending time with her father.

Lila does notice that she sounds a little off, but Jess blows it off, unable to open up to her friends. They seem childish now, they’ll never understand.

Liz finally wakes up and Jess goes to give it one more try.

Liz is in a hurry, though, even asks to borrow Jess’s lipstick rather than notice anything’s wrong with her sister. She’s meeting with the editor this morning to talk about her article.

Jess asks to talk to her, and Liz does pay attention, but she looks at her watch, obviously too busy to fully focus, and it breaks Jess’s heart, even when Liz offers to skip the meeting if Jess needs her.

Jess doesn’t want to be any more trouble for her, though. Says they can talk later.

Nicky’s right, she realizes when she’s alone. She doesn’t belong with her family. She’s the only one with problems and she causes trouble for everyone else.

She desperately needs to talk to Nicky. Calls him at home. He says he was just thinking about her because he’s decided to leave that night rather than wait until Friday. Things are really bad at his house after the crash and he needs to go.

She tells him that she called to talk about his offer, and we get a cliffhanger chapter ending that actually works!

[Raven: The whole “Final Attempt at Communicating with my Family and Friends” section was perhaps my favourite part of the book. It felt like the earlier chapters built well to this, and I felt for Jessica at every step. Nice work, Ghostie!]

She doesn’t leave with him that night. Nope, she waits until Friday to join him.

She daydreams about how the gossip will run through the school on Monday, Jess Wakefield quite a story. She’ll eventually write Cara a letter, maybe, much later. Cara will miss her most of their friends. Lila will probably be glad to have less competition.

Jess thinks her family might be upset for awhile, but they’ll get over it, distracted by all the things they have in their lives that are more important than her.

Her plan is to lie that she’s spending the weekend at Lila’s, so no one will even know she’s gone before Sunday. That makes her think of some of the fun things they do on weekends, but she won’t let herself linger on good thoughts.

Then she worries that her family might think she’s been kidnapped like Liz was, not that she ran away. Which is a really good point I hadn’t considered! She considers telling Cara the truth, someone in her family, a phone call that might be traced, and in the end decides to leave a note.

She struggles drafting it, even though we learned in SVT that she’s a much better, more engaging writer than Liz.

In the end, she decides to write the note to Liz:

Dear Liz,

By the time you get this, I will be far away. I’m sorry if my leaving causes you all a lot of pain, but it will be better for all of us in the long run. There are many reasons why I’m going. It isn’t just your fault. You can’t help being the way you are any more than I can. You’re so good. It would just be better for all of you if you’d forget that I ever even existed. I’ve never been anything but trouble anyway. That doesn’t mean I’m forgetting about you. I’ll be thinking a lot about all of you as I take the bus to my new home. I love you, Liz. And make sure you tell Mom and Dad that I love them too, and Steve, even though I know he hates me. Someday I’ll return, I promise, but not for a long time. Please don’t try to find me. My mind is made up. I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused.

Still your loving sister, Jessica

P.S. I’m leaving you my new jeans. I think they make me look fat anyway.

AHAHAHAHAHAHA oh my god, that note is pure Jess. I’m so delighted that I’m going to ignore that bullshit fat shaming shoved in at the end. [Raven: Loved this letter.]

After she says goodbye to Liz who is headed to the courthouse with Ned, Jess admits to herself that she wrote the note, referenced the bus, because she really wants her family to come after her. She doesn’t want to leave, she wants them to beg her to stay, wants things to change.

It takes her hours to pack two suitcases (so much for that duffel bag from the cover), and when she’s done, her room is cleaner than it’s ever been.

She slams the door shut behind her, and, of course, the note blows off the surface and behind her dresser.

Over at the courthouse, things aren’t going well, and it boils down to this: Ricky, his sister, and his mother don’t want to have contact with the grandparents.

Is this fair to the grandparents? Not really. That doesn’t change the fact that Ricky, his sister, and his mom should be able to choose whether they see the grandparents, though.

The defense counsel understands the grandparents’ pain, but his job is to defend Ricky’s mother, and he does it well. This is a shockingly nuanced glimpse at defense attorneys, most of whom are lambasted in media and life by grown ass adults who should know better.

Yes, sometimes people are awful and should be punished for what they’ve done. They still deserve strong, competent defense attorneys!

Ned’s closing argument basically boils down to the fact that this should never have been in a courtroom, which is fair, and that children need love as much as food, air, and education, and people are suffering because the grandparents aren’t allowed to give the children the love they need. [Dove: And for those of you keeping count, he actually uses the phrase “think of the children”. *shakes head*] [Raven: He uses it, like, three fucking times. He’s such a shitty lawyer.]

Ricky starts to look uncomfortable at that, storms out of the courtroom. Liz doesn’t let Annie follow him but goes herself, because of course she has to meddle and make sure everyone else is happy, or at least feels the way she thinks they should feel, while mostly ignoring her sister. [Dove: The fucking audacity of this harpy! That’s her boyfriend. She’s closer to this “story” that Liz wants to write because her boyfriend is living it. I know I’d want my boy/girlfriend with me over some girl from my English class who is selfishly splashing my family drama all over the papers for no fucking reason. Fuck you, Liz.]

Ricky snaps at her because she’s getting good material for her article. She tries to tell him how he feels, he yells at her about that, too, and how miserable it is that his father left and doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. Ricky doesn’t want to have anything to do with him either, then, or the grandparents. He completely breaks down, poor kid.

Liz tells him to think about his grandparents who are also hurting and just want to be there for him.

Fucking hell, Liz, yes, that’s exactly what you tell someone who is crying in front of you and clearly in a ton of pain. You tell them how they’re not being fair to some of the people who are hurting them. Excellently done.

Ricky tells her he wants them to leave him alone and for Liz to leave him alone, too.

Instead of listening to this perfectly valid and understandable request, she gets made at him, tells him that she always thought he was strong but apparently he’s weak and giving up.

Fuck you, Elizabeth fucking Wakefield. This is some intrusive, manipulative bullshit, and of course the story is going to treat it as exactly the right thing to do.

[Dove: I hated this so fucking much. First of all, stopping Annie. Just no. And now this emotionally manipulative shit. Liz knows nothing about this case. Literally zero. She has not once spent any goddamned time with anyone involved in it, except her dad, who is pro-grandparents. For all we know, there is abuse that only Ricky knows about, because the victim (Ricky or his sister) is too scared to come forward – especially because Saint Liz is writing a fucking article about it. There is just so much she doesn’t know, and the fact that she bullies him into doing what she wants boils my piss. Even more so because she’s “right”. I hate her.]

This was going so well, but fuck this book.

The judge is just about to rule in the mother’s favor because the law is clear when Ricky interrupts. He says he’s been thinking about things and this isn’t right, they shouldn’t punish the grandparents or the children because their dad sucks.

The judge takes the family back to his chambers, which, uh, should really include their lawyers too, what the fuck.

Ned tells Liz that he thinks her article will have a happy ending.

You know, the article her friend asked her not to write because it was too intrusive, she decided to write anyway without caring for the consequences, and which will now tout her as a hero. Great.

Sure enough, the parties came to an agreement, the judge won’t have to make a holding, and Ricky gives all the credit to Liz. Fuck out of here with this bullshit. [Dove: Well, brilliant. But the legal fees still need paying, so it’s a big win for billable hours.] [Raven: YAY CASH!] [Wing: Truly the lifeblood of lawyers.]

Ned wants to take Liz and Alice out for lunch to celebrate, but Liz wants to go home and start writing while everything is still fresh in her mind. She wants to call Jess, too, because she finally remembers she’s supposed to be worried about her sister.

Liz wants to start her article first, but decides to return Jess’s scarf since she always complains when Jess doesn’t return things she’s borrowed. Good point, I’m still pissed.

Jess’s room is shockingly neat. First Liz thinks it’s a joke, until she notices that the closet is almost empty. She screams for her parents, who at first don’t understand the truth, but soon do.

Steven suggests she’s with Nicky. They try to reach his house, but the line is busy. Ned and Liz decide to go over there, Steven and Alice stay behind in case Jess calls.

Liz kicks herself for not noticing how bad things were with Jess that morning, when her sister was reaching out to her. You mean, like she’s done this entire book and you keep pushing her away? Yup, that.

Over at the Shepard’s place, his mother is angry at Liz because she at first thinks she’s Jess. She snaps that she knows where Nicky is, of course, she just doesn’t know when he’ll be back and tries to shut the door in their face.

Ned forces it back open, because there’s nothing to encourage people to talk to you than to lunge at a woman who is trying to close a door. Slick, Ned.

She starts crying and says that Nicky’s left and she doesn’t actually know where he’s gone.

On the way back home, Ned asks why they didn’t listen, how they could have let her get to this point without anyone noticing.

I don’t fucking know, Wakefield, maybe take a look at your life, take a look at your choices, you fucker.

At home, they argue over what to do next, because of course they do.

Jess has an old lady sleeping on her shoulder and decides to let it go for now. Everyone else in the bus station waiting room is excited, happy. She’s the only one who is miserable.

The ticketmaster tells her that the last bus for San Francisco is leaving soon and if she wants to leave today, she needs to be on it.

She, of course, has been lingering, waiting for her family to come get her, but there’s been no sign of them. They must not care, she decides, and goes to board the bus. She still hopes that her family will magically arrive in the five minutes before the bus is due to leave.

The old lady from inside ends up being on her bus, too, excited to see Jess again. Jess isn’t.

Steven calls Joe Seegar, a friend of his from high school basketball who sort of hangs out with Nicky’s crowd.

… why do you know that? [Dove: Because the plot says so.]

Whatever, this is almost done, I’m still annoyed at the whole Liz to the Rescue thing, let’s just get this finished.

Steven lies to Joe until Joe tells him that Nicky’s with a friend in San Francisco and they need money.

Ned leaps into motion. The Fiat is still at the house, so Jess had to go by bus or plane.

Or train, or having someone give her a ride, or hitchhiking, or .. there are other ways, Ned! Ghostie! [Dove: *rolls eyes* It’s like you’re new to this series. Every single time someone runs away, they go to the bus station. Yes, every single word is a link.]

Liz and Steven get the bus station, Alice and Ned the airport.

They make it to gate 3 just as the bus pulls out. They get the location of its next stop and rush to Carver City to meet Jess there. Steven is determined they will catch Jess even if they have to follow her all the way to San Francisco. Liz is worried they’re five minutes behind the bus and they’ll never catch up, especially when they have to stop for gas.

[Raven: You missed my favourite scene! Steven, frantic at the bus station, trying to describe Jessica to the ticket agent…

“Well, she’s a young girl, about five foot six, very pretty with blue-green eyes and…” Steven sighed. “Wait a minute.” He took hold of Elizabeth and pushed her towards the window. “She looks just like this.”

*chef’s kiss* Sublime!]

Liz, you clearly have no idea how long it takes for a bus at any given stop. Which is bullshit, because you used to take one to visit family back in SVT.

Steven and Liz both blame themselves for not seeing Jess was in so much pain. Which, yeah, okay, this is a drastic action from her, but she fucking reached out to each of you, you really should have noticed something, fuckers!

(Yes, it’s completely believable that they would have missed it. I might have missed it! It’s still terrible, and they should feel guilty. I certainly would.)

The old woman is super nice to Jess on the bus, comforts her when she cries, picks up some magazines for her in Carver City.

Then she freaks out and begs to make a phone call. She left the humidifier on in her room and if it keeps running, it will go dry, overheat, and start a fire.

The driver gives her five minutes, because of course he does. We desperately need this convenient longer pause.

Of course, Liz and Steven arrive just in time to see the bus start to pull away, but then it stops again! How convenient!

Liz and Steven climb on the bus, ignoring the driver, and beg Jess to come back home with them. Lots of tears, lots of loving words, I’m too annoyed to appreciate even the best writing, and this is melodramatic as fuck. [Raven: The whole bus scene is great, especially the sassiness in the poor beleagured bus driver.]

Jess thanks the old woman for comforting her, the driver lets her get her suitcases off the bus, Steven and Liz reassure her that she’s not made a mess of anything, all is well.

Turns out Liz never found the letter, of course, which makes Jess feel better that they never showed up at the bus station.

They get home and all is well. They promise each other that no matter what they get up to, they will remember that family is the most important thing and they won’t be distracted from each other.

I give that about five seconds before it fails, but okay. [Dove: Especially as none of it is shown, it’s just recapped in a single sentence.]

Jess writes a letter to Nicky telling him that running away isn’t the answer for her and she hopes that he’ll remember he’s a good person and that things go well for him.

Enid is agog when Liz tells her the whole story. Jess is home safe, Steven’s doing better and is even going back to school everything is great —

— and then DeeDee and Bill have a huge argument in the middle of the lunchroom.

Enid has some gossip from Caroline Pearce. Who stopped gossiping, I thought! Because of Liz! What the fuck! [Dove: Hey, Enid. We didn’t see you at all this book. How’s the depression and PT? All gone like magic? Yeah, I fucking thought so. Because nothing medical ever happens in SV.]

Anyway, DeeDee backed out of some English project she was working on with Caroline. Add this to DeeDee dropping her design courses, and Liz knows that something is wrong and it won’t be a secret for long.

Final Thoughts


I really liked this! There are ridiculous points and some unbelievable things, as I talked about more than once. (I will never be able to fully set aside the horrific things Jess did in the early books of SVH.) But it was fun! Jess was awful and manipulative and yet still sympathetic!

Then the bullshit b plot happened and got worse when Liz magically saved the day and everything rushed to an unsatisfying ending.

Goddamn it, ghostie. You were doing so well!

And of course the next book is set up through gossip, because it’s fine when Liz and her friends gossip and terrible when everyone else does. Fucking hypocrite.

[Dove: I liked this one. Well, that might be a stretch. I emotionally reacted to this one. I wasn’t bored. It was nice to see a different side to Jessica, but I doubt it’ll stick. Liz was insufferable as fuck. Steven was… oddly normal. Grief is hard to work through, so I had no real beef with his preoccupation with his own feelings, particularly since Jessica had historically shown no respect to the woman he loved. Ned and Alice are truly awful parents who should never have had kids though.]

[Raven: I liked this one too! That’s three for three.

Yes, my fellow recappers all make fine points. The ending (i.e. the actual Runaway, and its aftermath) was terribly rushed, but what we got was lovely. And the build up to it was excellent at (almost) all points. I think I could have used a little less buildup and a little more boom at the endbut what there WAS was certainly engaging. I also hated the courtroom subplot, and I’m not particularly arsed about Bill and DeeDee. So there’s that.

Best book in the series so far? Perhaps. Then again, it’s not got much competition.]