Sweet Valley High #25: Nowhere to Run

Title: Nowhere to Run

Tagline: Will Emily lose everything she loves?

Summary: What will The Droids do without Emily?

Elizabeth Wakefield is surprised when Emily Mayer tells her she wants to join the school newspaper. After all, Emily’s a musician, not a writer. Why would The Droids’ crack drummer turn to writing, especially when the band is so popular?

Emily confides to Elizabeth that she’s having problems at home. Her stepmother has imposed a strict curfew and gets annoyed whenever Emily practices her drumming. What’s worse, Emily’s father seems to agree with his new wife. Emily’s certain her stepmother is out to get her–and she’s succeeding. Can Elizabeth help Emily before the situation at the Mayer home reaches the breaking point?

The Cover:

Weird salmon color for the cover with red and pink font that clashes with it a lot. Typical porthole cover framing a blonde girl and a brunette girl. Based on the hair, the blonde is Elizabeth, wearing a striped shirt, trying to comfort the brunette, I assume Emily, who wears a pink polo shirt and holds her neck oddly. Liz stares at Emily, Emily stares off page, Liz looks like a full grown adult, Emily looks slightly younger and a little bit drugged into sadness.

Really hate all the colors on this, or at least how they appear on my Kindle screen.

Initial Thoughts

I have little to no interest in evil stepmother stories and don’t trust Sweet Valley one bit. I’m sure this will go well.

[Dove: I have never read this one before, and I didn’t bother to read the summary, so I had no idea what it was about. On reflection, I think I should have read the summary and braced myself.] [Wing: You went into this book without knowing? Oh, ouch. I thought it would be rough for you, but running into it by surprise is awful.]

[Raven: I want to speak to this book’s manager.]


Our a plot: Emily’s having a rough time of it with stepmother Karen. (What a beautifully fitting name. Ghostie foresaw what was coming.) She changes the rules all the time, shouts at her for doing what they agreed she can do, blames Emily for everything that goes wrong.

Our b plot: Alice Wakefield thinks she works too much and is a bad mother, evidenced by the fact the twins prefer spending time with their Wakefield grandparents who visit for three weeks from Michigan.

On to the book.

Jessica and Elizabeth get together at lunch to plan a three week visit from their Wakefield grandparents. Obviously this is exactly the sort of thing Jessica Wakefield would ignore her friends and popular gossip to talk about instead.

One of the things Jess likes most about being a twin is that they have twice as many clothes — except there’s not much in her sister’s closet that she likes.

Yeah, right. She’s constantly stealing clothes from her sister, sometimes right off her body. Ghostie, you can say as much as you want about how Jess doesn’t like Liz’s clothing, but it’s a goddamn lie.

One of the lesser continuity errors in these books, of course, but still.

Jess wants to decorate the house for their grandparents, can’t stop talking about how their grandparents will take them shopping and out to a special dinner.

Liz doesn’t pay much attention to her, though, she’s too busy listening in to Emily and Dana’s conversation at the next table over. They’re both members of The Droids, but they’re arguing over how rough it is that Emily’s baby stepsister, Karrie, is awful, loud and messy. Dana thinks she should cut the baby some slack. Emily draws a firm line between sister and stepsister and refuses to look at it any other way.

My girl, your stepmother sounds awful. Hate away. Karrie’s just a baby, though. No reason to hate on her, even if you don’t like being around her. I can’t blame you for that. Babies can be annoying. [Dove: When one child is being abused, and the only other child in the house is a precious wonderful angel sent from heaven who is the very reason we all live and breathe, I think it’s not unreasonable for the abused child to hate the angel child. When you’re young and the emotional knife-twisting is endless, it’s hard to be objective. So. As the story goes on, I’ll loop back to this.]

Liz has noticed that Emily’s been very jumpy lately, but she tells herself that it’s none of her business and she shouldn’t be eavesdropping in the first place.

… yeah, just like you shouldn’t gossip, per your own judgments of everyone else, and yet you do that, too.

Karen also has Dana snowed. She’s nice to everyone but Emily, and though Emily knows she sounds paranoid and even doubted whether she really was the one with the attitude problem, but now she’s realized nope, it’s all Karen.

That afternoon, Mr Collins comes to Liz while she works on the Oracle and asks her if she’s willing to take Emily on as a part of the editorial staff. [Raven: What the fuck has it got to do with Liz?]






Liz writes the GOSSIP. COLUMN. She’s not the editor in chief. She’s not the faculty sponsor. She’s not the teacher. The fuck is going on here? [Dove: But she’s his favourite. This is very true to life. Gay work bestie and I were not allowed to join the diversity committee at work. Old boss instead chose her favourite, who thinks “pronouns are stupid, I’m not doing it*. Everyone can tell I’m a real woman.” Favourites matter. (* “it” being adding pronouns to your work signature, and encouraging others to do so. Key word encourage. Not demand. Just explain that if everyone has pronouns in their signature, then it’s not a big fat target for our trans/nb colleagues.)]

He also asks her to give Emily a little moral support. She acts like she needs it.

Gee, as if she needs encouragement to meddle.

Emily opens up to her. Admits she’s not good at expressing herself in writing. She’s always better at showing how she feels using her drums. Joining the paper is her stepmother’s idea.

She doesn’t want to be a burden, but she desperately needs to talk to someone, and Liz never seems to have any problems.

I mean, fair.

Emily breaks down a little. Karen’s trying to talk her father into sending her to boarding school because Emily needs the discipline. And her dad’s so in love with Karen that Emily worries he’ll actually listen to Karen and send her away.

She’s gone so far as to convince Emily’s dad that The Droids are a bad influence on her.

Emily’s terrified that she’ll be sent away. After her mother’s death, all she has left is her father and Sweet Valley, so she’s going to try things Karen’s way for awhile, including joining the Oracle.

…your father, Sweet Valley, and The Droids, right?

Before Karen brought Karrie home, things were bad but not terrible, but now things are awful and Emily’s sad all the time.

Emily has a big secret, too: her mother didn’t die, she just took off one day, leaving her husband and daughter behind.

Emily doesn’t understand how anyone could do that.

Despite that, for a long while, things had been good. Her dad, Ronald, taught her to play the drums, supported her in her talent and her love for The Droids.

But then Karen came along. She’s the only child of a wealthy couple, and she’s spoiled as shit, desperate to have all the attention on her. She claims Emily is spoiled and does whatever she can to get Ronald to focus on her instead of his daughter.

Totally healthy relationships going on here.

After Karrie’s birth, the baby became the focus of everyone’s attention. Even Emily is fascinated with her, because she’s sweet and cuddly and adorable and so, so vulnerable. But Karen makes everything terrible, tries to make Ronald paranoid that Emily is in trouble and needs stricter curfews, boarding school, etc. [Dove: Like I said, it’s not unreasonable for a young person who is being abused at home to hate the golden child. In fact, some abusive parents love this dynamic, because it makes the “bad” child act out more out of jealousy/depression/all the emotions, and generates more stress, so the parent can claim that everything is their fault. I kind of resented that Emily’s like “Oh but the baby is so innocent and precious and perfect, and just sniffing her talcum-scented brain stem calms all the ills in the world”. I know not everyone had my response (I was constantly compared unfavourably to my cousins, and consequently hated them, which allowed my mother to be angry that I never wanted to visit them, “You’re so surly and anti-social!”). But naturally in SV, everyone worships babies.] [Raven: At this point, I’m getting Billy / Belinda Leyton flashbacks from SVT. Without the sportiness, naturally.]

Despite what she said earlier, Emily has one more thing to stick around for: Dan Scott. Nothing exactly has happened between them, but the potential is there, and she loves spending time practicing with him for The Droids, talking about everything. [Dove: Dana and Dan in the same band. In real life, perfectly normal. I know couples where both parties are called Steve, another Neil couple and a Nick and Nicola couple. But c’mon, it’s fiction. Clean up the names a little.] [Raven: TOO MANY PETERS DANS.]

Grandparents Wakefield arrive! It’s not nearly as thrilling as Jess made it out to be, but sure, let’s roll with it. Much excitement! Big joy!

Grandpa marvels at how Alice manages to work full time and still manage amazing dinners. Riiiight. Since when is she full time? Since when does she do most of the cooking? [Dove: 1) ok boomer Wakefield; 2) as if she does all of the cooking and chores – this house would fall apart if not for Elizabeth; and 3) when exactly did Alice go full-time? She’s been part-time since the dawn of humanity.]

Grandma’s gone back to school, and she sure doesn’t make homemade meals these days. It’s all fast food and take-out Chinese.

… what.

I’m shocked. Honestly. Homemaking is still such a big deal in these books that I can’t believe a Wakefield woman is allowed to focus on what she wants and not on making the house clean and the food good, etc.

Grandma is the oldest Ph.D. student in American history at the University of Michigan.


Look, I’m an alumnus, it’s instinct.

(Yeah, I refuse a gendered term there.)

[Wing: Note from the future: This moment is the biggest highlight of a book that drove me into going boom, so have a song about Michigan by one of my favorite bands. And don’t judge them by this incredibly cheesy but very school spirited song.]

All the college kids come in with knapsacks and Walkmen and make her feel old. The fact that their music source is a Walkman makes me feel old. [Raven: Ah, the nostalgia in cassette tapes is real. They’re so cute and mechanical.]

Jess is so excited to see her grandparents that’s she’s eager to go to a museum with her grandmother. Amazing.

They’re also going to Hampshire Place, a new mall in a nearby town. Well, I already like that town more than Sweet Valley due to its naming structure. Unless the town is named Hampshire Place, I guess.

(Liz briefly thinks that Alice looks and sounds kind of tired. I’m sure this will mean nothing and not at all be a setup for anything of importance.) [Dove: Oh gosh, I sure hope she’s not dying (probably of mono) again.] [Raven: Pregnant. With Bruce’s baby.] [Wing: I’d read the hell out of that storyline, Raven.]

Ronald asks to speak with Emily one evening. Karen sent him to discuss curfew. Emily reminds him that he claimed he doesn’t believe in curfews and he trusts her to use her judgment.

He admits that’s true, but they have to consider Karen’s feelings now, too. And she thinks it’s good for Emily to have a fixed schedule, so her curfew will be 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.

Now, that doesn’t sound too out of the ordinary, but I guess it is a big shock to go from having no curfew to this, especially when it’s driven by your wicked stepmother.

She tries to use the fact that The Droids practice until 11 p.m. or so on nights they practice, because he knows how important they are to her. He agrees with that, too, but he’s more worried that she’s giving Karen a hard time and not helping her enough.

Emily is really afraid then. Her father is cold and distant, and if she can’t reach him, she might actually be sent away.

Emily knows she can’t do this alone, but she doesn’t know who she can go to for help.

Things are so rough that Emily misses a special practice. Dan covers for her, calls to check on her. Asks her to meet up Friday night so they can go over the new song together. She’s utterly thrilled. He’s shy and sweet and cute and she kind of adores him. Even better, this sort of feels like a date.

Emily tries to be patient with Karen. It’s not her fault that her parents did everything for her when she was growing up and she never learned anything about running a house, not balancing checkbooks or grocery shopping, not cooking or cleaning.

When Emily shows her how, she gets resentful, though, and it’s hard for Emily to keep a good mood around her. [Dove: This one hit me hard. My mother was always offended if I knew how to do something she didn’t. “You think I’m so stupid! You can’t wait to laugh at me! Your cousins aren’t so hateful to their mothers. They love them.”] [Wing: I suspected this would strike a chord with you. Your mother is awful.]

Karen tells her that she and Ronald are going to the theater that weekend, because Karen deserves a break, and of course she doesn’t trust anyone else with Karrie but Emily.

And, of course, it’s on Friday night.

Wakefield grandparents teach the twins a variation on poker, and Alice and Ned talk about how Alice feels a little sensitive that the twins are so much happier when the Wakefield grandparents are visiting [Raven: I mean, you say “a variation on poker”, but it’s actually a card game that Grandpa invented. Which is nice, I guess, but the genre peaked with Shithead.].

It makes her wonder if she’s been neglecting the twins because she’s working so much. She considers them independent and assumed they didn’t mind her doing her own thing so often, but now they’re incredibly happy with their grandparents’ attention, so maybe they do.

Ned assures her she’s an amazing mother and that part of what’s so interesting is that his parents only visit for a short time.

No matter what he says, Alice decides she’s working too much, and she’s determined to spend more time at home.

Right, right, right. That’s what I think of when I see the name Alice Wakefield, workaholic. [Dove: Not to mention a devoted mother. Jesus, Alice, you haven’t given a single fuck about your children in anything we’ve read in the past five years (aside from Jr High). Suddenly now, while Ned’s parents are here, you’re suddenly heartbroken that they can’t spend time with you? Grow up your small jealous harpy. You only want them because right this second someone else does.]

Such a fucking privilege to be able to work less just because you feel like your kids love their grandparents more than you.

Emily vents to Elizabeth again. Liz doesn’t know how to help her, except to tell her to be herself, but they aren’t close enough for her to feel comfortable saying that to her.

When has that ever stopped you before, Liz?

Emily even tells her the secret about her mother, and that she was too embarrassed to tell anyone the truth that her mother took off and left her behind.

Now that they’ve bonded, Liz promises Emily can come to her house any time she wants. When Emily leaves, Liz frets over her and her sad, sad storing, one of the most moving ones Liz has ever heard. She wishes she could help, but thinks the Mayers have to work it out for themselves.

Since fucking when do you believe that?! You always want to work things out for other people, even when it comes to abusive, complicated familial relationships where you really should keep your opinion out of it. Not all families are meant to be together, goddamnit.

Jess is thrilled that they’re going out for Chinese food. They haven’t been for a good six months or more, because Ned doesn’t like it. Jess doesn’t care about that, of course, only what she wants.

Liz asks if Jess noticed anything weird about Alice, but before they can get into it, Alice comes home, early for once, and wants to make a home-cooked meal. Except the girls are going out to one of the best Cantonese restaurants in the entire country which is half an hour away (at least it’s not in Sweet fucking Valley, I guess).

Liz worries even more about Alice after this exchange, but Jess ignores it, of course. Doesn’t think mothers feel insecure about things like this, about their daughters wanting to spend time with the grandparents. [Dove: And in theory Jess should be right, this is like day two of their visit. Grow up, Alice. All this angst is pathetic. Obviously feeling pushed out is a natural feeling, but Alice’s downward spiral of misery is pathetic because it starts the minute they get there and, as I’ve said, she has shown zero interest in her kids thus far.] [Wing: I agree in this specific situation, and I do think Jess is being presented as unreasonable, especially because we’re in Alice’s head some and are supposed to find her sincere, but in theory, this does play in to Jess’s inability to see anyone else as a fully developed person with needs and feelings of their own.]

Liz decides that Jess is at least partially right. If Alice is upset, it can’t be about something as silly as dinner, and if it was important, she’d tell them.

Emily fights with Karen again over when she’s supposed to be allowed to practice and when she’s not, has to miss another practice, and worries that she can’t keep both Sweet Valley and The Droids, but she’s determined not lose Dan’s friendship.

Things continue to be weird with Alice. She keeps offering to go do things, but the twins are busy with their grandparents. Jess is oblivious, Liz worried.

For once, you might have been correct that you shouldn’t stick your nose into Emily’s family problems if you can’t work through your own, damn.

While Liz tries to get Jess to take her worries seriously, Emily has a fight with her stepmother. Emily brought Dan home to see her studio, assuming that Karen was at the doctor with Karrie, and everything goes extremely well until Karen comes home with a crying baby, and screams at Emily for making noise in the house.

Karen even yells that she’s not going to let Emily turn out like her mother, won’t let her baby grow up in a house with a tramp.

what. the. actual. fuck.

Emily, burn that house to the goddamn ground. [Dove: It was around here I became really invested in Emily, but also the part where I announced to Raven, “They can’t come back from this. I know how this ends in Sweet Valley, but it can’t this time. But it will.”] [Raven: A tramp! Won’t someone think of the children? Also, I know that the word tramp has a few meanings, and that contextually we’re in Harlot Country, but this book would be much funnier if Emily’s Mum was actually The Littlest Hobo.]

All of this in front of Dan, too, and Emily is heartbroken and embarrassed and angry. He knows the truth of what she is now, what her mother is, and he will never want to be her friend now, or anything else.

Emily calls Elizabeth and breaks down before she can explain anything. Liz invites her over so they can try to talk about it. [Raven: For someone who’s apparently got Nowhere To Run, Emily spends far too much of this book running to the fucking Wakefield Compound.]

Emily still thinks it’s weird that she confided in Liz, who is the kind of girl she always wanted to know better but was too anxious to approach. The kind of girl who has everything, including being sympathetic and warm.

If by sympathetic and warm you mean judgmental and hypocritical, sure.

One thing does sort of make sense to me, though. It’s easier for Emily to confide in Liz because they haven’t been friends for ages, like she has been with Dana and the other members of the band. The band is low-key, lighthearted, and they don’t get serious about anything together.

Dana won’t listen when she tries to complain about Karen or figure out a way to deal with the situation, and Emily feels all alone even among her friends.

And that’s fair! Sometimes it’s easier for people to talk to strangers, and even moreso, not every friend is good at being serious and supportive.

And of course she can’t confide in Dan now, not since he knows the truth of her and how her stepmother treats her.

Emily worries a little that she has no choice but to grow up and be a tramp like her mother (my eyerolling at the sheer amount of misogyny hurts, it’s gotten so bad; the woman abandoned her daughter! we don’t need any other reason to judge her!), but really she knows the truth: she can be whomever she wants to be, and Karen is wrong for talking to her like that, especially in front of her friends.

Emily, honey, I love you.

She hopes that Liz will be able to help her, because she feels like she’s losing everything she cares about — her home, her family, her friends — and she’s running out of strength to keep fighting.

Emily fully breaks down in front of the Wakefields. She tells them everything that’s happened and though it’s difficult to admit to things, she can tell they all want to help her.

Of course they do. The Wakefields love to meddle.

Ned tells her that they want to do everything they can to help her, but they’d overstep their bounds morally and ethically if they try to take things into their own hands.

What. the. ever. loving. fuck.

When does a Wakefield not take matters into their own hands? When do you shy away from practicing any kind of law that exists? When do you care about morality in a way that means you can’t help someone in need?

Fucking hell.

Emily begs to stay with them for the night, and they allow it, as long as she calls her father after dinner and tells him where she is and that she’s safe.

Of course, the call goes poorly after dinner. Ronald takes Karen’s side, complains that she’s banging her drums when the baby’s around, not obeying chaperoning rules (since fucking when did you have those?), and, of course, Karen didn’t tell him that she called his daughter a tramp. Emily’s too embarrassed to tell him that part.

And she doesn’t think it will make a difference. She’s fighting a losing battle with him, and she still doesn’t know what to do.

She refuses to come home until he threatens to get rid of her drums. Of course, that’s the way to manipulate your daughter. Fucking hell, my dude, could you at least try to talk to the daughter you allegedly trusted up until you started dating someone new?

[Dove: Yeah, this is a power move from my mother’s play book. The amount of time I came home to my clothes in the trash – utterly ruined, thrown in the kitchen bin and convered in pet food and food scraps. Sometimes I’d come home to find objects in my room smashed. Other times they’d just be lined up in trash bags outside the house – with the rubbish, not in a “here’s your stuff, get out” way, but in a “I’ve binned this useless shit” way.

It is a brilliant way to devalue your child. It shows that their property isn’t their own – Emily paid for the drums herself by doing chores for money – and that their status in the family home is not permanent, it is utterly subjective to their ability to please the parents. It’s fucking sick and if you ever pull this on your kids, you are a fucking monster.] [Raven: *Hugs*]

And we head hop into Alice’s thoughts, because she understands why Emily cries. After all, she’s a total stranger in her own family, too, and has no idea how to regain her daughters’ love.

Wow, Alice. Wow. Not the fucking time. [Dove: Alice, do absolutely fuck off you over-privileged fuckwit.] [Raven: This book has the most jarring seam connecting the A and B Plots. It’s not an invisible mend, more like a jagged scar. It almost feels like the Ghostie has no clue on how multi-faceted storylines work… so weird.]

Dan is deeply worried about Emily, but feels completely helpless to do anything. He’d be angry about someone talking to any of his friends like that, but especially Emily, who is special to him. He’s been too shy to let her know he cares, but he cares a lot. She’s smart and sensitive and delicate, and he adores her.

When he approaches her at school the next day, she’s cold and dismissive. Defends Karen a little. Quits the band. It was a phase she went through, she’s sick and tired of it now, and Karen needs her too much.

Dan starts to tell her that he cares about her, but she momentarily looks like she’s going to burst into tears and then runs away.

This makes Dan worry about her even more.

Emily next talks to Liz. She defends Karen even more strongly there, and wants to post an ad in the Oracle selling her drums. She wasn’t that good, and they don’t mean that much to her anyway.

Liz, too, knows that something’s up.

Liz and Dan meet up to figure out what to do to help Emily. Liz tells him that she thinks Karen made an ultimatum and Emily is too afraid to fight it.

Liz wants to “lose” the ad, but then Emily will wonder why it didn’t run. She’s priced the drums extremely cheaply at $200, and they’re both worried someone will snap them right up.

Of course someone will, Dan decides. At that price, even he might be interested.

Aww, I kind of love this part. People who are more or less casual acquaintances at best teaming up to help someone they both care about (…let’s ignore the way Liz and emily have so quickly become friends in this book and take it at face value). Sweet.

Emily spends time with Karrie, loves her, worries about her. Aches because of her. She was vulnerable and sweet like Karrie once, too, but her mother still left her. Emily is determined to protect Karrie the way her mother never protected her.

Dan calls to buy the drums for his friend, Jamie, a sophomore at Palisades who’s been looking for drums for a long time. How very convenient. Heh.

She’s shocked he doesn’t try to talk her out of selling them, though he does ask a couple times if she’s absolutely certain about selling them.

Dan comes over right away to pick them up. They’re awkward together, both of them shy and not saying what they feel. She’s still ashamed of what he heard Karen say and how he must have figured out that she lied about her mother being dead.

She’s ready to end that phase of her life, the band, the drums, Dan — she’ll be a different person now, a person who won’t be sent away.

Dan gathers his emotional fortitude and asks her to go to the movies. I’m impressed, Dan! Wasn’t sure you had it in you at this point.

I’m also not sure this is the best time for it, but you do you. [Raven: Also, he’s definitely going to fap all over those drums. *rimshot*]

Emily feels awful after he pays her and takes the drums. Falls asleep in her room without realizing it, and doesn’t wake until her father actually wakes her. He thanks her for baby-sitting, is soft with her.

That’s actually worse for Emily than when he’s angry or siding with Karen. This poor, sweet girl. You deserve so much better than this kind of treatment. I can understand that your father wants to make his new wife happy, and protect his new child, but fucking hell, man, take care of your first child, too. The fuck is wrong with you?

He’s shocked to hear that she quit the band and sold her drums, then exasperated that she’s martyring herself over her music. She tells him she’s glad the drums are gone and she’s never going to play again. Assures him that she knows what she’s doing.

Ronald. This is a huge fucking red flag. What the fuck is wrong with you? [Dove: *seethes*]

Alice is even more in her feelings now that Steven is in town for the weekend and all three of her kids are constantly off with the Wakefield grandparents. No matter how she tries to include herself in the plans, she just doesn’t fit, and the more it happens, the more she feels like they don’t need her anymore and don’t have time for her.

I think this is meant to be an interesting juxtaposition to what’s going on in Emily’s story — the mother who wants to be involved versus the two mothers that don’t, in different ways — but it’s not working out very well. [Raven: We’ve far too much backstory with Alice to take this even remotely serious. I suppose without the lens of Twins, this might come over as more organic and beliveable than we can credit? #Devil’sAdvocaat.] [Wing: Maybe it wouldn’t feel quite so hypocritical and poorly done if we hadn’t read Twins, but at the same time, there’s been nothing in High that makes me think Alice cares about being close to her children. So less egregious but still not believable.]

It wasn’t so bad before that scene where Emily has been breaking down and Alice then compares herself to a teenager who feels threatened and abandoned by her parents. Woman, that was not the time, and the pacing of the writing rubbed me the wrong way. Mere paragraphs apart, I’m supposed to feel sympathetic to rich, privileged Alice Wakefield after seeing all the ways adults are failing Emily?

Yeah, right.

Ned again tries to comfort her, and she’s aware that she’s being insecure, but she feels completely ignored and useless. She doesn’t even want things to go back to normal, she wants things to be better between her and the twins.

Ned suggests she, you know, be an adult and talk to them, but god forbid she do that and make them think she’s paranoid or something.

She thinks he’s probably right but doesn’t want to go to them, she wants them to come to her, to show they need her again.

Fucking hell, all the adults in this book are fucking terrible. Even Ned isn’t great, but he’s probably the best of a bad lot, and that’s saying something.

Over at What the Fuck is Wrong with You Ronald house, Emily is taking care of Karrie all the time now while Karen runs off shopping and to parties and talks about how claustrophobic she feels trapped in the house all day with her baby.

Fuck. You.

She even wants Emily to make dinner, too, and when Emily says she can’t do that and watch Karrie, who has started crawling, Karen blows up at her. She’s been doing that a lot, demanding too much of her and then yelling at her when she can’t do it all.

Emily tries to talk to her dad about what’s going on, but he waves it away. Karrie is a little angel, Emily can’t possibly be bothered by baby-sitting her, can she, and oh, she must be regretting her drums. [Dove: What a cunt. I can’t even right now.]

When she flat out tells him that she’s having trouble with Karen, he, as usual, takes Karen’s side. She’s vulnerable, she’s having a hard time adjusting to having a baby and living with a stepdaughter who is almost fully grown, she’s under a lot of pressure and she needs Emily’s help.

You are a horrible parent even for Sweet Valley and that’s saying something. [Raven: Absolute fucking clown shoed asshat.]

Emily, dearheart, take your sister and burn this place to the fucking ground. Hell, take out all of Sweet Valley as you go.

She goes so far as to tell him that Karen lies about Emily, that Karen called her a tramp, and robert shouts at her, tells her that whatever her stepmother says goes, and he’s tired of her talking back to her, lying about her. [Dove: She even uses the phrase “I’m afraid of her” and zero fucks are given. Zero.]

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

Never mind, honey, bring your sister over here, I’m going to burn this fucking place to the ground, spill blood, salt the earth.

Jess loves their hot air balloon ride with the grandparents, Liz didn’t, neither of them have seen much of Emily lately. I don’t care about how perfect and entertaining your visit is going, SOMEONE FUCKING HELP EMILY YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY (BARRING STEVEN) KNOW HOW SHE’S BEING TREATED, FOR ONCE IN YOUR GODDAMN LIFE, I WANT YOU TO HELP SOMEONE AND YOU ARE DOING NOTHING.

Ned takes the twins aside to talk to them that Alice feels left out. Liz is contrite, Jess not so much and still loving all the things they’ve done with their grandparents, I’m torn. On the one hand, yes, someone needed to talk to the twins and Ned doing it is pretty decent as their father and Alice’s husband. On the other hand, all this does is encourage Alice’s refusal to actively engage and instead passive aggressively wait for her daughters to come to her for help, to prove they still need her.

Jess comes up with a plan to make Alice feel better: throw a going-away party for the grandparents.

…I suppose I should have seen that coming from Jess, to be honest.

The part that is supposed to help Alice, I guess, is that they need her to help them pull it off, or so they say. And they probably do, despite all the parties they’ve thrown and attended, they never really manage to keep anything a secret.

Alice falls for this, of course, and I can’t even blame her.

I still think this mostly just encourages a lack of true communication, but ah well, at least it’s wrapping up this b plot, and I don’t hate that the twins are working together to do something that helps other people, not just them (by which I mean, Jess). [Dove: I give less than zero fucks for Saint Alice’s ickle-wickle hurty fee-fees. Grow the fuck up, Alice. And if it’s truly ripping your soul apart to see your children have fun with their grandparents, fucking talk to them. You’re a fucking adult.]

Karen gives Karrie a new rag doll with beads for eyes. Emily worries that the beads aren’t sewn on tight enough, but Karen ignores her, of course, snaps at her.

Emily then hears Karen arguing with her own mother over the phone, and her mother doesn’t listen to her, they shout at each other, Emily’s glad that she doesn’t have to spend time with both of them.

And then Karrie promptly chokes on the bead she pulls off the doll.

Emily tries to get Karrie away from Karen, but Karen clings tight. Emily slaps her to stop her hysteria, which she’s heard is the thing to do, and snatches Karrie away from her.

Jesus fucking christ, this is going to go badly.

Emily took first aid, knows how to use the Heimlich maneuver [Raven: “I have invented a manoeuvre.”] on choking victims that are older children or adults, and assumes it will, of course, work on a baby.

[Dove: Uh, this is a really good way of killing a baby. But then again, it probably has brain damage after Karen shook it to get the bead out like a penny from a money box. Let’s just kill the baby to save it.]

And it does, because sure, why not, I’m not even going to look up what you actually need to do.

Ronald comes home to see Karen jerking Karrie out of Emily’s arms, the phone receiver off the hook, a chair overturned, and everyone crying.

None of them can answer his questions, and he immediately blames Emily, orders her upstairs, then when all Karen can says is her poor little baby, he assumes Emily tried to hurt Karrie and throws her out of the room.

Emily grabs the money she got from selling the drums, the one picture she has of her mother, and runs away, because of course she does. And she should. Fucking hell, sweetheart, I want to feed your father and stepmother to fucking hyenas.

Emily doesn’t know what to do next, though. She might go to the Wakefields, thinks she might join her mother in Chicago, but finally ends up calling Liz for help. [Raven: Again with the Wakefield Compound as the ultimate destination holiday. This book should lean into it and be called Somewhere To Run.]

And honestly, this is probably the best option she has, considering how she’s disconnected from everyone. At least the Wakefields already know some of what’s going on.

When the Wakefields are your best answer, that’s a sad, sad day.

Liz still isn’t sure what to do, either. She wants to help, but she doesn’t feel right offering advice.


Emily tells her everything that’s happened since the last time she was at the Wakefield house. Liz is shocked and horrified by what she hears. Encourages her to talk to her father before she runs off to Chicago, which is pretty standard for Liz (I know Dove will have the right reference to that time she reconnected a kid and their parent in a situation they really shouldn’t have reconnected [Dove: Here you go.]), and I hate that she’s finally doing something and yet it is not what actually helps. Fucking hell, Liz, what happened to not feeling right giving her advice? I guess it doesn’t count when that advice is to return to abusive parents.

Liz isn’t sure if she should call Emily’s father and tell him about Emily’s plan. Here’s a hint: do not dob your friends in to the abusive people they’re trying to leave. There are other ways to handle things, and maybe she does need to talk to him, but not by you telling him what’s up.

Parents do not always have their children’s best interests in mind, will do real harm, and reconnecting them is not always the right thing to do. [Dove: This. “Mother is the name for god on the lips and hearts of all children” is a cool moment from The Crow. But it’s not fucking true in all cases. Family doesn’t mean safety to everyone. Fuck the Wakefields.]

Liz has to stop for milk and runs into Eddie Strong, a sophomore who works on the Oracle. This entire scene exists solely so that we can learn Regina Morrow has returned from Switzerland.

Liz is shocked that Regina didn’t write to her about returning, since they have kept in touch, and even weirder, Bruce hasn’t said anything about his girlfriend coming back for a visit.

I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. [Dove: This awful pacing. We’re getting to the vinegar strokes of the book, and all of a sudden we screech to a halt to have an entire chapter of Liz shopping for milk and thinking about Regina. Do better, ghostie, because this was the worst structural choice in this book. But not, by far, the worst choice overall.] [Raven: Regina’s Story coming in hot like Randy fucking Orton. I legit laughed out loud at this awful, awful nonsense.]

I hate Bruce, this did not need a c plot, not even to set up a future book, and we get this bullshit ableism: There was only one thing about Regina that wasn’t perfect. She was almost entirely deaf.

Yes, yes, what a terrible flaw in her perfection.

Back at the Wakefield house, Alice gives Emily space in Liz’s room to rest for a bit. Liz tries to convince her to tell Alice and Ned what’s going on, but Emily is certain no one will believe her about what happened earlier.

Emily begs her not to tell her father where she is and to not let Alice and Ned do so either. Liz is certain they’ll want to call her dad and tell her she’s safe, because of fucking course, Liz’s inability to see that it’s not always best to let a parent know the location of their child is inherited from the privilege her parents have, too.

Liz promptly goes and tells Jess and Alice everything, because of course she does. Alice is worried that her mother, who has been out of touch for so long, won’t exactly be welcoming to her teenage daughter rocking up with no notice.

Alice refuses to consider not telling Emily’s father where she is, because she can’t look beyond her own experiences and privileges and this is fucking bullshit.

Jess is somehow the voice of reason here, pointing out that they’re basically snitching on Emily and Jess would feel betrayed if she was in her place. Of course, we’re meant to look at this as Jess being stupid and selfish, but in this case, she’s fucking right! [Dove: Finally. Fucking finally. I had a moment where I truly loved Jessica again. Without a single caveat.] [Raven: Snitches get stitches, Alice.]



So not only do you think you should go behind Emily’s back and tell her father, who you have heard is abusing her along with her stepmother, her location, you think your teenage daughter is the best person to do this?!


Meanwhile upstairs, Emily called the last phone number she had for her mother. The person who answers used to be her mother’s roommate, but she got married again, moved out about two years ago, and maybe went to Mexico with her new husband.

Emily is even more heartbroken that her mother didn’t tell her about this huge thing. She feels even more alone than ever before.

Grandma Wakefield comes in to tell her a story about how she first came to live with Bob. He was married before her, his wife killed in a train accident, and he was raising his son all by himself. Louis was 11 by the time she met Bob and he didn’t want anyone to come in and replace his mother.

Grandma Wakefield, we might both be Wolverines, but don’t think I won’t burn you to the fucking ground with everyone else if this goes where I think it’s going.

She married Bob, had Ned (who is actually named Edward), and lost all sense of logic for the first few months, obsessed with making everything perfect for Ned. Louis had his own troubles growing into teenagerhood, and it was rough for everyone.

She admits she was unfair to Louis, didn’t know how to deal with him, loved him but was awkward and afraid and made all sorts of mistakes.


Eventually she and Louis started to get along a lot better and she now considers Louis as much her son as Ned, but it took a lot of time and patience.

Woman, nowhere in this story does it sound like you abused Luis the way Karen has been, nor that Bob turned on Louis, so this story does nothing but make Emily feel bad and infuriate me.

[Dove: When she started speaking, I yelled, “Oh just FUCK OFF!” so aggressively that I startled Raven. Just fuck off. When I was a teen, I tried to tell my friends about my situation, and I was misled into thinking my situation was normal. The difference? I, a thirteen year old, was explaining badly, using words that my mother had thrown at me, to other thirteen year olds. So they just heard that me and mum rowed and she thought I was a bad kid. Since my other friends all had done something wrong at some point – staying out too late, going out with a boy their parents didn’t like – they heard nothing out of the ordinary, and nodded sympathetically, and were like, “yep, mums don’t get it”. This is not the same. This is a grown-ass woman actively ignoring a bunch of abuse, and being like, “Oh yeah, this is EXACTLY THE SAME as that time me and my stepson had an awkward silence on our first Mother’s Day.” FUCK OFF TO HELL, AND WHEN YOU’VE REACHED THE VERY ENDS OF HELL, FUCK OFF EVEN FURTHER.

*explodes and kills everyone*
*explodes and kills everyone*


[Raven: This series has a problem with endings. But THIS bullshit? ABSOLUTELY ATROCIOUS. The worst ending of the SV Universe thus far, and it’s not close. If the finale of Lost had unprotected group sex with the finales of Dexter and Game of Thrones, the resulting child-finale would be a far better ending than the last few chapters of this shit-spackled cock-otter of a book.]


Grandma comforts her for awhile, until Ronald, Karen, and Karrie show up. Emily now feels loved and confident because of Grandma Wakefield.

Burn. It. Down.

Karen apologizes to Emily and wants to do it in front of Emily’s friends because of how she’s acted in front of her friends before. She acknowledges that Karrie would be dead if Emily hadn’t saved her, and she warned Karen the toy wasn’t safe in the first place.

Emily is shocked.

Karen goes on to say that she’s been jealous of Emily ever since she married Ron because Ron adores his daughter and Karen couldn’t handle how much attention he gave her. She’s never given Emily a chance, was unreasonable about everything, made her feel unwanted and unloved, and was completely, unforgivably selfish.

I know this is going to be treated as a serious faceturn, but she’s crying and saying dramatic things and demanded an audience: this feels like a goddamn performance, just like she’s been putting on in front of people this entire goddamn time.

[Dove: Oh. Love-bombing. Yeah, an abusive parent literally never love-bombs. That’s in no way part of the cycle of abuse. I never came home to find my bedroom completely redecorated with a brand new TV after a particularly ugly fight. Fuck off, book.]

Karen begs for forgiveness, Emily hugs both Karen and Karrie, Ronald holds them all and Emily feels like she’s finally a part of a real family with a father and a mother.


I’m done.

Surprise party goes off well, the Mayers come too and Liz and Dan and the rest of the band surprise her with her drums and to invite her back to the band, the Droids play while everyone cheers, Dan and Emily share a sweet moment, and everything is well.

[Dove: And then everyone in the room tearfully toasts to “Mothers and daughters”. Just. Fucking. Die.]

Fuck. this. shit.

Liz tries to visit Regina but the estate is locked up, Bruce hadn’t heard about Regina coming back, Bruce calls to see, someone who identifies herself as Regina’s aunt says she’s not there and hangs up on him, but then Bruce tells Liz that Regina doesn’t have an aunt, both her parents are only children.

And we have another hostage situation, at least per the title of the next book.

Final Thoughts

Ghostie at least tried to link the a plot and b plot and did so in a way that could almost have worked to improve both stories. Almost. Emily is wonderful, and I love her and Karrie, and I want them both to have better parents. Go blue!

Unfortunately, anything good or even meh about this disappears into the inferno that is my rage BECAUSE WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK WAS THAT ENDING. And not just the ending, there’s a bunch of bullshit parenting throughout, abuse and gaslighting and no one helping a girl frantically asking for help, but that abrupt, apparently sincere faceturn fixing everything is the laziest goddamn writing and storytelling and absolutely fucking infuriating.

Karen did real fucking damage to Emily, as did Ronald, but oh, everything’s just peachy keen now and Emily has a “real” heteronormative family.


I’m burning this to the fucking ground.

[Dove: I hate this book, and it should be burned. I’m not talking hyperbolically here. I know I usually do. Books like this should not exist, or – if they must continue to exist – they need to come with a page that explains it was a product of its time, and it is very very wrong.

This book perpetuates the lie that an abused child will will the unconditional love of their abusive parent(s) if they just somehow manage to hit the right plot points.

The truth is they can’t. Abusive parents will never love you the way normal good parents will. They are literally incapable. There is nothing you can do to win your parents’ love. And that’s because they are broken, not you.

This book gives out a horrible message and books like this are part of the reason it took me 24 years to notice I was being abused, because I knew I was the problem. Mum said I was the problem. Other people weren’t finding their clothes in the trash week on week. Books like this show that if you just get it right, your parents love you. So obviously the problem is me. I’m the one not doing things right.

Also, the fact that Liz snitching on her friend is regarded as the right thing to do is a damaging message. Liz was working from her own knowledge – her parents love and support her, therefore everyone’s parents love and support them. And then Granny Wakefield just downplays all of the abuse into a “Well, it’s just akwardness, it’ll pass”, is horrible. Don’t get me wrong, you will run into these people, but they’re NOT RIGHT. And the book shouldn’t say that they are.

It’s bullshit. It’s a toxic and damaging message and everyone involved in this should be ashamed for what they put out into the world.]

[Raven: Both Wing and Dove have said everything so eloquently. I have very little to add.

What’s really galling is that the build-up is actually rather compelling. Sure, there’s too much Alice, and too much Elizabeth, but Emily and Karrie are interesting. But, as is customary for Sweet Valley, the book’s finale takes every scintilla of good will in the collective readership and yeets into fucking space.

Up until the appaling denouement, I’d have given this book a high meh. But now? Kill It With Fire. The record-breaking plummet in form on display here will take some topping.]