Sweet Valley High #27: Lovestruck

Sweet Valley High #27: Lovestruck, by Francine Pascal

Title: Lovestruck

Tagline: Will Suzanne succeed in changing Ken?

Summary: No one at Sweet Valley High can believe that football star Ken Matthews has fallen in love with super-sophisticated Suzanne Hanlon. Suzanne likes poetry, gourmet food, and art films, while Ken’s idea of a good time is listening to rock ‘n’ roll and eating pizza. Two people couldn’t be more different. Elizabeth Wakefield knows that snobbish Suzanne is wrong for Ken. But Ken seems to be blindly in love with Suzanne and is willing to do anything she wants. Can anyone help Ken come to his senses before he gets hurt?

Initial Thoughts:

I’m sorry, but the guy on the cover is Not My Ken Matthews.

The Twins series is responsible for a lot of weirdness, when judged against the parental series from whence it sprang, but I must say that turning Ken Matthews into a tiny uncoordinated idiot being taught to play basketball with a tennis ball in Elizabeth Wakefield’s driveway from SVH’s all-star uber-jock high-school-football-quarterback-star is completely incomprehensible. Maybe future books will flesh it out and explain things, but for now it’s a mental step too far.

Also, Lovestruck? This is another kissing book, isn’t it? DEEP FUCKING SIGH.

[Dove: I have been waiting for this recap. I accidentally read the book a couple of weeks early, and have been waiting for Raven to go BOOM on the faculty, and relive those wonderful days from Twins when he went Ofsted on their clueless asses!]

[Wing: I have very low expectations for this book, because (a) this isn’t the Ken I know, and (b) it sounds like another Something Must Be Done + Wakefields Must Win, and I don’t really want to retread that combination yet again.]

The Cover:

We’ve got pink as a background. We’ve got red for the SVH text. We’ve got blue for the title. Standard stuff. For the porthole pic, we’ve got a disinterested-looking muscular blonde boy-man, sporting a neck chain and a grey Die Hard vest. Nuzzling into his neck is a brown-haired girl, dressed in a cream sleeveless top and a string of pearls. She has a look of either devotion or concentration, with raised eyebrows, and she’s staring at his jawline. Muscle-boy is turning his head away from her. Perhaps he is troubled by their relationship, or maybe the girl has just delivered a particularly devilish fart. Or perhaps it’s as simple as he’s pondering the need for a fourth layer of eyeliner. I guess we’ll never know.

For the record, having actually read the book, I have to say that this cover does NOTHING to convey the characters, the story, or even the basics of human interaction held within its pages. The cover is supremely and incoherently shit.


This recap is a week late.

The reason for this? Last weekend, in the time allocated to recapping, I instead visited an emergency dentist and had a wisdom tooth removed. Consequently, the majority of my time was spent in recovery, both financial and physical. If I’m honest, the former caused more pain than the latter.

I’ve more dental work that needs to be done, sadly. And the lockdown means the only dentistry available to a UK resident is via private practice. Most NHS dentists, with their greatly reduced costs, have multi-year waiting lists, waiting lists which do not gel with pain in the face that constantly screams for attention.

But those concerns are for Future Raven. Today, Present Raven has a window, a window in which he can recap the next in the Sweet Valley High series. So that’s exactly what he, what I, am going to do.

Will this book be as painful as a tooth extraction?

I hope not.

Let’s find out!

We start poolside at the Wakefield Compound. Elizabeth is recuperating after the kidnap shenanigans of the previous book. Funny that, because she hardly paused for breath when “recuperating” from her own kidnapping ordeal. Actual proof that she cares more for others than she does for herself. [Wing: In all the worst, most obnoxious ways.]

Jessica is grounded by more mundane concerns. Bruce Patman has tasked her with the organisation of the Sweet Valley Centennial Picnic, which is the culmination of the town’s celebrations. There’s a parade, fireworks, special exhibits, an exhibition football game, and Jessica’s picnic. And of course, Jessica is All In on the task, vowing it’ll be the best picnic wot ever picnicked. [Dove: *grumbles* But it’s not 100 years since the town was founded. How many times do I have to bitch about this?]

After the usual Twinparisons (“Elizabeth loves jelly! Jessica loves cock!”), we see the girls share their diametrically opposed viewpoints on reality: Liz thinks the picnic’s purpose is to raise money for the community, while Jess believes it’s there to facilitate a good time. I’m not choosing sides publicly, but I know which picnic I’d rather attend.

Soon, Jess tries to cajole her sister into helping with the picnic by asking her to man the kissing booth. [Wing: I am horrified at the idea of kissing booths that involve actual kissing of the mouth. H O R R I F I E D.] Elizabeth agrees with a laugh, before she realises that Jessica is actually attempting to delegate the entire picnic-arranging process to her various friends and relative, leaving nothing but a nebulous “chairperson” role for herself. All the glory, none of the work, that’s the Jessica Wakefield Way! [Wing: It serves her well much of the time, too.]

After laughing at the idea of Lila agreeing to be Jessica’s assistant, Elizabeth capitulates and offers to help her sister with whatever is required. We often blame Liz for having an invisible spine, but it’s gotta be said that Jessica is a master of an impassioned speech.

Next, Alice Wakefield appears poolside, with the following bon mot on her lips…

“Well, if it isn’t ‘double trouble,’” she said and laughed, looking at the twins.

She’s had sixteen years of this shit, and this is the best she can come up with? WEAK. [Dove: Still prefer the Jr High approach. “No relation,” Jessica says without even pausing to think.]

Talk amongst the three turns from the centennial picnic, to the centennial football game. For some reason, the twins decides to share with her mother that their star quarterback Ken Matthews is on the verge of being dropped by the team, because he’s perilously close to flunking English. Apparently, that’s a school rule: fail a class, and you’re benched in your extra-curriculars.

I get it, I guess. That seems sensible. Or at least it does to a Brit, as UK Academia doesn’t seem to fixate itself on the athletic prowess and development of its youth. We don’t have things like “College Football” and the like, where school-age competitors compete for lucrative professional opportunities in front of tens of thousands of paying spectators, and on TV. At best we’d maybe fill half a row of bleachers with the player’s friends and families, and the only thing you’d get for winning is a store-bought trophy and a pat on the back.

My knowledge on the American School Sports scene is, admittedly, cribbed entirely from Movies and TV, but it seems that it’s the focus of, well, everyone, to a patently absurd and disproportionate amount. Literally any transgressions can be forgiven for the uber-jock athletes that are primely placed to catapult their school or college into the national limelight. And I mean any transgressions, as a quick and tawdry google would make instantly and depressingly clear.

So what of this hard line approach by the school? While I find it laudable, and correct, I also find it to be wholly unbelievable. Couple this with the fact that this is the centennial game, which as Jessica rightly points out is “[something that] only comes along once every hundred years”, and the fact that it’s a non-competitive exhibition game with no actual consequences on playoffs or trophies and the like, and you have a situation in which I’d be positive that the school would waive this rule and have Ken play regardless.

But no. The plot says Ken may not play, and I presume the narrative will explain how and why he fulfils his obligations to make the team and score the winning points. Because that’s how books work.

[Wing: Ken being benched for bad grades is surprisingly realistic for a Sweet Valley book, though it’s obviously a hard line drawn for Maximum Drama later. Yes, many schools, at all levels, put more focus on, and funding into, sports because sports brings in the money (and often American football is the most sportiest of those sports), but there usually are grade restrictions. Unfortunately (and a spoiler), what actually happens when it comes to Ken, academics, and football is also sadly too often realistic.]

I do have to ask one thing, mind… why the fuck are the Twins telling their mother about this? Sure, I know they’re actually telling the reader here, but that could have been managed by them gossiping about it with school friends, and not telling Alice. I presume she doesn’t give a pimply fuck about the whole debacle, but I could be wrong. [Dove: Alice, might I remind you, never once contacted the school about her own offspring when she returned following a coma brought on by head trauma. So if you think she gives a shit about some other kid in class… *shrug*]

Let’s clarify what we learn, because these are the plot hooks from which the fabric of this story do hang:

  • Ken is failing English, If he fails, he’s off the Football Team.
  • As the team’s talismanic centrepiece, him being ousted will leave the team no chance of winning the upcoming Centennial game.
  • Ken has one chance to get a passing grade: he needs to write a shot story by Wednesday.
  • Elizabeth has decided to offer her services as a tutor to help him out.
  • Ken is currently seeing Suzanne Hanlon, who is apparently an odd match for him as she’s rich, cultured and wealthy, almost the opposite to the jock sports-driven Ken. [Dove: ♫ He was a punk, she did ballet, what more can I say?] [Wing: Obviously the rich only belong with the rich. And so on. How could they possibly mingle with the plebs?]

The chapter ends with Elizabeth placing a call to a post-football-practice Ken, who accepts her offer of some English tutelage after a brief moment of consideration. He agrees to popping to the Compound in the next half hour, which is an admirably quick turnaround. Well done Ken.

Chapter Two starts in Ken’s head. It’s post-practice, post-the-very-practice that saw Elizabeth make her call and offer. So we now learn of Ken’s thought process on the whole thing.

First, we learn that the practice was tough. The centennial match is against the Palisades Pumas, who are always a good opponent. Now, with senior Peter Straus as the star quarterback, the match promised to be the most difficult yet. [Dove: TOO MANY PETERS!]

Ken’s English predicament is common knowledge amongst his team, and the uncertainty is piling pressure onto the other players.

Ken also thinks back to the meeting he had with Coach Schultz and Roger Collins, his English teacher, some two weeks previous. We should thank Ken for thinking back on this so vividly, as it helps us as readers understand the predicament in full. Thanks Ken!

At that meeting, Mr Collins was clear about the requirements for his course, and equally clear on how Ken was not meeting them. Coach Schultz argued his case in exactly the way you’d expect a high school football coach to do so. Mr Collins claimed his hands were tied, and that rules were rules, and that Ken has it in his gift to make this entire situation moot.

Also, Bruce Patman was there, which surprised Ken, until he realised that it was in an official capacity as Centennial Committee student liaison, or something. As it’s a flashback, I thought maybe Ken was dreaming that Bruce was also there, but as Bruce wasn’t naked then I guess he was real.

[Dove: Why. the. fuck. was Bruce Patman there? I don’t care if he’s penny pinching the budget for some school fete or whatever, what fucking business is it of his that some other kid he knows is failing English? Can you imagine going into a meeting with your teacher, and there’s just some random kid – one who has a massive history of having a gigantic mouth – sitting there, acting like he’s part of this process? This fucking school, man.] [Raven: So fucking bizarre.]

Soon, we’re back in the real world, and Ken is excited to be visiting Elizabeth for her super-duper English tutelage. As he left the school grounds on his way to the compound, however, he bumps into…

… A naked Mr Nydick!

Suddenly a voice broke into his thoughts. “Well, hello, handsome!”


To be honest, it’s on brand for the perv…

End aside.

It’s not Nydick, of course. It’s Suzanne Hanlon.

In her description, she’s noted to be “willowy”. I’m sorry, but the girl on the cover does not scream “willowy” to me. Ah well, I don’t know why I expected the cover models to resemble the descriptors in the book. I’m surprised the cover twins are both blonde, to be honest.

We are informed immediately that Ken is besotted with Suzanne, and that every time he sees her, a bell rings in his penis. We also learn that Suzanne is cultured, and this makes Ken worried that he doesn’t pass muster. We also learn that Suzanne has no love for Football, which is fine, but might be a sticking point if she’s dating the school football team’s starting quarterback.

Suzanne asks Ken to dinner that night, at the Hanlon Mansion. He’d be meeting her parents for the first time, which would be daunting for anyone. While he know he shouldn’t, as he has scant hours / days to write himself a short story for his assignment, he agrees. We discover that he’s not told Suzanne of his current issues with English, as he fears she would feel less of him if he did.

This does not sound like a healthy relationship.

A Rolls-Royce arrives to whisk Suzanne home. A joke is made, wherein we discover that the Hanlon’s other car is a newer Rolls-Royce, just in case we were wondering just how excrementally rich her family is.

Ken climbs into his crappy Toyota, determined to do his level best to pass English. For Suzanne. Because, y’know, he’s obsessed. Don’t do it for YOU, Ken, do it for the girl who takes a dim view of the one thing you love more than anything in the world.

No, not Amy Sutton. Football.

Anyway, Ken heads off to the Compound. On his journey, he tries listening to a Mozart tape, gifted to him by his cultured girl. Unimpressed, he switches it out for the Rolling Stones pretty quickly. Maybe she’d be open to trying some of the cool things that he likes…?

Yeah, not gonna happen, dude. Just because the plot demands it, of course. Not because of anything more sinister.

Chapter Three, and Ken arrives at the Compound. He and the twins have Iced Tea before Elizabeth shepherds him poolside for a tutoring session.

Ken begins by explaining the predicament. He outlines the facts, and announces that he blanks when tasked with things such as this. Apparently, he’s simply not a very good writer. [Dove: Ah, and the perfect person to ask is the one that does not understand sarcasm, hyperbole or metaphor. Just think how lively her writing must be! Just the bland beige facts with no life in it at all. He’d honestly do better asking Jess.] [Raven: Jess would be GREAT at fiction. She’s had so much practice inventing alibis.] [Wing: Canonically a better writer once we get to Twins, too.]

Elizabeth suggests that’s untrue, and that she enjoyed his report on Edgar Allan Poe. Ken has a comeback: that was fact, not fiction, so it was easier. In his own words:

“That was different,” Ken replied. “It was just a lot of facts, and I put them in order. It’s different for me with a short story. I can get ideas, but I don’t know how to fill them out.”

Elizabeth suggests he read some good stories, as a starting point. Ken isn’t convinced, as that doesn’t show him the metaphorical man behind the curtain.

Suddenly, Elizabeth has an idea. THE idea, the idea that will drive the rest of the book to its inevitable conclusion.

She dashes off, only to return moments later with a sheaf of papers. A sheaf of papers containing a short story of her own, a short story that, importantly, no one else has yet seen. Complete with writer’s notes and comprehensive outline. [Dove: I know that someone out there does outline a short story, possibly Wing, if I was pushed to make a bet. But the fact that she has an entire folder full of notes and outlines for a two-page story is frankly ridiculous. Also, I love the arrogance that of all the short stories in the world, Elizabeth’s is the one that shows him how good they can be. Not The Lottery by Shirley Jackson or even something obscure like Sredni Vastar. No. Elizabeth’s is the best story of all time.] [Raven: I’ll giver the benefit of the doubt becuase she was supplying a story with an outline and notes. Not sure she’d readily have the Director’s Commentary on any of the true-and-tested classics.]

[Wing: Excuse me, it is a five-page story. Which is likely at most 3k and more likely between 1.5k and 2k, depending on the spacing she set on the typewriter. 

Dove would win that bet, of course. I have absolutely outlined short stories. I have outlined short stories of that length, and written multiple drafts, too. In fact, I am more likely to have 10+ drafts of a short story than something longer. Writing short is difficult for me. So I actually did not find this too ridiculous beyond the amount of ridiculousness that constantly goes along with us being TOLD, over and over, that Liz is such a fabulous writer when we’ve seen evidence that she is in fact not.

I think Raven is correct. It’s not that Liz is saying her story is the best short story of all time (…though the book might want us to believe that), it’s more that Ken says he needs to see the actual, practical process of writing something. Her own outline and drafts is a good way to do that. No matter how well done a story and the analysis of it, that’s not the same as the practical aspects of writing.]

Ken is thrilled with this. At this point, I believe his happiness is not disingenuous. While we can all see where this is going – Ken presenting Elizabeth’s work as his own, a true Ken Matthews original – here, Ken is actually happy that he’s getting real, tangible help. A story, with notes and outline, is precisely what is needed to help him surmount his stultifying block.


Why wasn’t something like this offered by, say, Mr Fucking Collins?

Why is such help only available through another student?

Ken is patently struggling with the material, and as his teacher Mr Collins should be there to support him. Instead of saying “the story is due on Wednesday, get on with it,” Mr Collins should be guiding Ken through his obvious issues, to help his learning and development.

[Dove: Why didn’t Bruce think of this? I mean, it was very important for him to be in that meeting. Surely since it was part of his job, he should also be thinking of things like that? Right?]

But no. Of course. Head in the sand, lalalalala-I-can’t-hear-you.

Don’t worry about it, Collins. Just let the boy flounder and flail. Why should you give a fuck?

This fucking school.

End aside.

Liz asks Ken not to show her story, concerning a boy’s impressions of Sweet Valley having just moved there, to anyone. It’s personal to her, and she’s showing great trust in giving the manuscript to him, and so on, and so on. Apparently, she’s never shown her stories to anyone, which is blatantly shit as I’m sure she’s won contests in Twins with them.

Also, if she’s never shown her stories to anyone, how the fuck did she complete Mr Collins’s assignment?! [Dove: Why didn’t she hand in this story for that assignment?]

[Wing: Most likely a logic/continuity flaw on a meta level, but I can see Liz feeling differently about a story she wrote specifically for a class assignment and something she wrote outside of the boundaries of an assignment. I might have at her age, too, really.]

Ken tells Elizabeth that her story is really good, because of course it is, before promising not to reveal it to a living soul.

Lila arrives, armed with clipboard and pen, cheerfully completing her responsibilities as “co-chairperson” of the Centennial Picnic. So not Jessica’s assistant, as Jess maintained earlier. Standard. How else would Lila agree to get involved?

Lila cajoles Ken to get involved in the Kissing Booth at the picnic, to which he agrees. [Wing: H O R R I F I E D]

Buoyed by the tutelage, and armed with Elizabeth’s short story, Ken bounces out of the Compound full of vim and vigour. All will be well. He’s sure of it.

[Wing: Raven made a good point earlier about the teachers failing Ken, but honestly, Liz is, too. Handing him an example work without actually talking through things isn’t really help at all.]

The rest of the chapter sees the Twins and Lila set the table for dinner, while discussing Ken and Suzanne’s relationship. Predictably, Jessica thinks Suzanne is awful and that she and Ken are destined for oblivion.

Elizabeth asks that Lila and Jess refrain from telling anyone at school about Ken’s tutelage predicament, as the poor boy is under enough pressure as it is. They promise to keep schtum, but if you believe that then I’ve got some magic beans to sell ya.

Chapter Four! And we’re high in the hills, where the rich live. It’s the Hanlon Mansion, sat overlooking the plebs and riffraff below.


I mean, how many more uber-rich families are we going to get in this fucking series?

We’ve the Fowlers, and the Patmans. Then there’s the Morrows, and now we have the Hanlons? Not to mention the Dennis family from Twins, and likely the Slaters with Maria’s Hollywood and TP money. [Dove: Don’t forget the Howells were retconned to be rich on the Lois book, not to mention Rachel Grant. This town might seriously run out of mansions. My home town has that problem. The rich people are edging out the middle class. The working class are bussed in to work in Waitrose.]

I just wish someone would move to the area that wasn’t shitting out a gold bar every forty minutes.

We need more Rizzos.

End aside.

Ken arrives at the Hanlon Mansion, with its driveway fountain and turning circle, and is suitably awed. He immediately sticks his foot in it by addressing Mason the Butler as Mr Hanlon, in an obvious and clichéd scene. How embarrassing for Ken, and the thousands of other fictional protagonists that have undergone the same fate! [Dove: #relatable]

Ken is led through rooms of unparalleled opulence, with rich mahonganies and powerful abstracts setting the scene impeccably. Eventually, Mason deposits him in an all-white room, where he is warmly greeted by Suzanne.

All-white room? How very Mike TV.

A little nonsense now and then…

The couple adjourn to the sun porch to meet the Elder Hanlons. It’s always the fucking sun porch. Why does no one ever adjourn to the moon porch? Fucking Syzygy Fascism at it’s finest!

The Elder Hanlons are how you’d expect. Warm yet oddly stuffy. Hank is reading Gentleman’s Quarterly, which if I’m honest sounds like a posh version of Fiesta. Marian is delicate, with a strong resemblance to her daughter, just like every goddamn parent in this cock-awful town. They are both listening to classical music, because why not? [Dove: That’s the second Hank in the series. Patman Sr is the first. Good god, BUY A BABY-NAME BOOK, GHOSTIES!] [Wing Patman Hank is even referenced in this book and yet they couldn’t do better than this.]

After some banal small talk about business, which Ken believes Hank is uncomforted by, the Elders ask what Ken plans to do at College. Ken admits he hasn’t the first shit-spackled clue what to do with his life, and they all head in for dinner.

As they take their seats, Suzanne discretely asks Ken that he not mention Football at the dinner table. Her reason? Because Daddy Hanlon thinks that schools put too much focus on it, and therefore it annoys him. Ken’s uneasy about this, but agrees, as it behoves him to make a fine impression on the father of the girl he’s hoping to nob.

As for Daddy Hanlon’s belief? It’s a bit closed-minded, but it’s 100% correct.

At the dinner, in a dining room that would make Downton Abbey seem like a tawdry little grief-hole, Hank and Ken share some genuine conversation about fishing. Ken informs us that he goes deep-sea fishing with Papa Matthews, and that they all practice catch-and-release.

National Treasures.

During a conversational lull, Ken notices that he’s using his knife and fork in a wholly different way that that of his hosts. I don’t know exactly how that would manifest itself. Perhaps he’s using the fork as a trident to spear his recalcitrant trout, while brandishing his knife as a ward to the marauding Mason? This comes hot on the heels of his relief upon realising he’d used the correct spoon for the soup, so I suppose it’s a 1-1 draw against manners in this fixture.

[Wing: I know this one! US etiquette (possibly North American etiquette broadly) involves holding the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right when cutting a piece of something, but then the fork switches to the right hand for the actual bite. European etiquette evolved to keep the fork in the left hand, for the most part.

Both styles have become fairly acceptable in most places, I think, but in the late 80s and early 90s, it was still something to comment on. 

Personally, I sometimes do the switch cutting and sometimes use the knife in the left hand, though I’m right handed, so that can be a little more awkward than switching. I rarely actually take a bite using my left hand because, again, solidly right handed.]

Table talk turns to Shakespeare, of all things, and it becomes apparent that a Hanlon family joke casts their father Hank in the role of an irritating bore that likes to blurt lines of Shakespeare at his family at times of import or humour. [Wing: Following his own father’s tradition at that! Multigenerational snobbish buffoonery.] Ken smiles along, confused. It’s all very annoying.


I wasn’t sure what was most annoying here, the fact that Hank Hanlon is obviously a complete jebend for sounding this shit apropos of nothing, or the realisation that I recognised the Shakespeare quote the used as being from one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, this landing me a mere stone’s throw from that irritating personality type myself.

Ah well. Time to exit, pursued by a bear.

*slinks away in iambic pentameter*

End aside.

Through the laughter, Hank reveals his true feelings on Football, and it’s high-falutin’ place in the academic pantheon. He disses the great game with a passion usually reserved for meetings held at the docks.

I like Football. Except, as we know, it’s incorrectly named.


Ken is tempted to stuck up for Sportsball with appropriate levels of passion and verve, but swings away from the decision after looking at the face and (probably) boobs of his willowy paramour.  It’s not fair, he inwardly opines. Football is more than a game. It’s taught him things he’d never learn in a classroom. And the athletes involved are all very good students. Apart from him, of course, because he no do English good.

Suddenly, dinner is over. No dessert?! The Genie would be steaming.

As Suzanne ushers Ken to his car and home, they discuss what her father said at the dinner table. She asks Ken if Hank’s words upset him, and he admits that it did. They have a rather frank discussion about, well, nothing really, which ends with Ken hoping that Suzanne doesn’t view him as a dumb jock, and Suzanne kissing him to take away his apprehension. She also tells him that being clever is more how you view the things you know, rather than the sum of the things you know, which is quite astute if I’m being honest. [Wing: And basically the opposite of everything else she says in this book.]

So Ken leaves, and outside the Hanlon Mansion he bumps into a jogging couple: Bruce Patman and (the now not-deaf) Regina Morrow. They say hello, flirt with each other, ask about Ken’s English progress, then jog the fuck away.

Pointless? Not quite.

Once they are gone, Ken muses about how people couldn’t see the Bruce / Regina pairing lasting more than a week. But they did, and they do, and it’s great. He tells himself that he loves Suzanne, and that their relationship will get the validating through time that the Bruce / Regina pairing got.

So yeah, largely pointless.

Chapter Five! And we’re with Ken. He’s at home, and he’s trying to write a short story.

He’s failing.

His issue is concentration. He tries his best, but his mind wanders. He’s distracted by the hum of his electric typewriter, by his maths homework, by the upcoming Sportsball, and so on.

[Dove: When I first read this, I said to Raven, “If you were to list three boys at Sweet Valley High that don’t own a typewriter, who would they be?” (I gave him three, in case he said Bruce Patman.) He instantly replied, “Ken Matthews…” and then he couldn’t remember any more boys’ names off the top of his head. But he’d already proved my point. Why on earth does Ken have a typewriter? Why does he know how to type? None of this makes sense.]


Man, I feel for him. Writing is hard. Not the words, necessarily, as they are largely inconsequential. It’s the mood that can prove mercurial.

Take me, and this. It’s now what, 18:00 on Saturday 27th May?  I’ve been at it for best part of four hours, and I’ll be at it for best part of six, eight hours more before I’m done. I’m hoping it’ll be done tonight, to give my fellow recappers time to read and comment, but I expect I’ll be here this time tomorrow night, dotting eyes, crossing tees.

I shouldn’t be here, in Last Minute Mode, but my process is depressingly predictable. I’ve had all week, an extra week, to head this off with elan… but those hours have been elsewise gripped, by TV and Animal Crossing and Poker and Kitties and Cooking and laughter with my wife. I’ve other projects too, also back-seated: models unpainted, podcasts unedited, hedgehogs unreported, new books unread, new games unplayed, and so on. There’s no end to the distractions. If you’re ever bored, you’ve no imagination.

The Recap Event Horizon approaches, so to cope I’ve donned headphones and I’m blasting the Metallica back catalogue. It keeps me facing forward, and imparts a certain energy. Because that’s what I need to power through.

And I’m enjoying it! I always do, once I’m in it. But, like Ken, it’s the first few steps that take the biggest emotional effort. I’ll make it, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. And so will Ken, if narrative predictability is remotely real.

So yeah. I feel for Ken here. Doing all he can to cling to the slippery eel, and ultimately failing.

Sometimes, all you can do is dick about until it’s almost too late.

End aside.

Aside addendum:

I bet you’re wondering what the hell I meant by “hedgehogs unreported”…

Well, tough titties! I ain’t telling.

*hedgehog-emoji heart-emoji*

End aside addendum.

[Dove: Just to up the intrigue, no. This is nothing to do with Animal Crossing.]

The phone rings. It’s Suzanne! She’s inviting him to the movies the following evening, with her friends. To see The Seventh Seal, by Bergman.

When Ken admits he’s never seen it, Suzanne is predictably and snootily incredulous.

“What?” Suzanne said in disbelief. “I can’t believe you’ve never seen The Seventh Seal. It’s a classic.”

Man, I hate shit like this. I haven’t seen The Seventh Seal, and I’ve got a degree in film.

(“What’s that?” … “Yeah, completely. Total waste of time.”)

To his credit, Ken styles it out with self-deprecation and some actual wit, and the conversation ends on a high. Yeah, the English assignment is due in two days, so there’s demonstrably no time to take one of those days off, but… sometimes you have to tread the wire.

He agrees to the “date”, before going back to the blank page.

He tries, and tries again, before falling asleep at his desk. Then, it’s Tuesday morning, and the clouds are rolling closer.

Poor Ken. One day until Football Oblivion.

Chapter Six starts with Ken sneaking into his Tuesday English class, where Collins is opining on the assignment due tomorrow. He’s throwing out useless guff like “make sure your composition doesn’t sound too fancy” and “less is more”. And while I largely agree, it’s a little too Dan Brown for me to take totally seriously. [Wing: Not to mention, it’s the day before the deadline. LITTLE LATE FOR THIS LESSON, YOU GODDAMN FAILURE OF A TEACHER.]

Also, I’d love Ken to hand in some blank pages and call this prick’s bluff.

“You said Less is More, sir. What I’ve submitted is, logically, the most.”

After class, Collins calls Ken to heel, demanding to know why he was late to the party. Even though he’s not written Word One of a story, Ken jazz-hands the encounter and tells Collins that he won’t let him down. After all, he reasons that before and after the movie with Suzanne and her friends, he’ll have a total of four or five hours to get this motherfucker done.

Attaboy, Ken. Keep rationalising the deadline away until it disappears completely.

In the school halls, Ken has a wholesome banterous exchange with a Sportsball Colleague, before snapping at the same Sportsball Colleague when he dares to suggests that Suzanne and Ken together make about as much sense as putting socks on a car park.

Then Suzanne appears, and all is calm again. Until she asks him to join her and her friends for a pre-Bergman bite, which would curtail his English assignment time by a good two hours.

Reluctant and resigned, he agrees.

His Sportsball Colleague also delivers bad news: football practice will be running long that afternoon too. So there’s even less time to get things done.

Poor Ken. He knows he’s in the shit now… it’s just a question of the depth.

The chapter ends with Ken talking to Elizabeth and Enid, assuring Liz that her story is great and that his story is coming along nicely.

“I can’t wait to read your story, Ken,” Elizabeth called over her shoulder as she ran off down the hall with Enid.

Yeah, Ken said to himself quietly. Me, too.


I still don’t understand why Mr Collins can’t help him out. It’s obvious that the boy is struggling with the assignment. The teacher should be there for him.

I suppose it’s down to timing? Like, the original meeting with the Coach and Collins and (randomly) Bruce was two weeks ago… maybe if Ken had actually mentioned the depth of his struggles then, Mr Collins could have done his damn job and provided some guidance?

Ah, who the hell knows? The plot does what the plot does. If Ken has an immutable and unfathomable assignment, then SO MOTE IT BE.

This fucking school.

[Dove: I was once taken into a room and asked why I didn’t have the necessary ingredients for Home Ec. Thankfully there wasn’t some random kid from the year above present. I explained that my mother refused to get them because they were too expensive. I was told to “stop making excuses”. Some teachers are just absolutely shit.

Although I never got to the end of the course and thought, “Gosh, that tough love approach really helped my twelve year unemployed self without transport obtain ingredients. It in no way taught me to bunk off school and sit in the woods alone for 8 hours a day every time there was a cooking lesson. Teachers are just the best and making us the best us we can be, aren’t they?”]

[Raven: For the record, let me state that I do the cooking in Chez SVO.]

End aside.

The next chapter starts with Ken, still struggling to take the first step with his project. Not one word written, and it’s two AM.

He has, however, read Elizabeth’s story multiple times, and he’s sure it’s a super-duper tale and that Elizabeth is a top-notch handy-dandy writer. Her story is called The New Kid, and focusses on a boy moving from New York to Sweet Valley. [Dove: *shakes head* Liz has literally no imagination, but somehow her short story is about a boy, when most people get their legs under them by writing stories about characters of the same gender? Ok.]

In describing the story, the Ghostie takes great pains to establish that Elizabeth’s story is exactly the type of writing that Mr Collins would appreciate. We knew this, of course, and Collins basically froths at the guy-gusset every time Liz puts pen to paper.

Ken then thinks back to the evening he’s just spent with Suzanne. It was, as you’ve probably fathomed, a shitshower. Not quite a shitstorm mind, and a far cry from a fully-fledged Poo-ricane, but a shitshower nonetheless.

At first? All good. Suzanne’s friends hadn’t made it to dinner, so it was just Suzanne and himself. Then the crowd got together at the Plaza picture-house, and headed in to watch the film.

Of course, Ken couldn’t make head nor tail of the Bergman classic, fully subtitled and metaphorical. He’d almost fallen asleep.


One thing I must mention…

There were subtitles, and Ken was glad about that, but the subtitles were white and usually printed over a white part of the screen, so most of the time he couldn’t read them.



Me? I like a good foreign film. There’s a lot of great Korean stuff at the moment, as I’m sure you know. I’m a friend of the subtitle, and always happy to partake.

I just wish the subtitling was consistent. So many films are ruined by not having a solid backdrop behind the text, meaning the words can be lost against the images at the foot of the screen.

I never thought I’d find myself agreeing so vehemently with a Sweet Valley High peripheral character, but I SEE YOU, Ken Matthews. I fucking SEE YOU.

End aside.

After the film, during movie discussion at Guido’s Pizza Place, Ken finds himself in the minority. Predictably, Suzanne and her crowd had loved it.

And of course, Ken had the misfortune to make a mistake when discussing the film. He asked the crowd, including clichéd film student Mark Andrews, which of the actors was Ingrid Bergman. Of course, the film was by Ingmar Bergman, the director, and Ingrid was not involved in any way.

The crowd are predictably scornful of this, and they continue to pile onto the beleaguered quarterback, setting him up with pithy comments and sneery asides.

Such a bunch of cunts.

Eventually, when they all appear to pour scorn on his chosen path of Football Player, Suzanne has a prime moment to step up in defence of her beau…

… and, to use a vernacular with which she’s unfamiliar, she fumbles the fucking ball.

Ken knew Mark was making fun of him, and he started to defend himself, but Suzanne interrupted. “Oh, Ken doesn’t really care about all that,” she said. “He just does it to keep in shape.”


*bro-advice-mode activated*

You’ll never be yourself with this girl, Ken. Kick her to the kerb. You’re the STAR FUCKING QUARTERBACK of the High School Football Team. You should be beating the girls away with the shittiest end of the shittiest stick.

You’re KEN FUCKING MATTHEWS, man. Get a fucking grip.

*bro-advice-mode deactivated*


One thing I need to mention.

One of Suzanne’s friends? Allan Partridge.


From the Ouse to the Waveney


End aside.

When dropping Suzanne off at the Hanlon Mansion, Ken does bring up the subject of him not fitting with her friends. Suzanne’s response is telling: she says that Ken is not dumb, and that all he needs to do is give it time before he will be loving Bergman films and all that cultured bollocks. Ken wonders what’s wrong with the things he already likes, but says nothing. [Dove: Come on, Ken! She should at least be willing to listen to your favourite Fishbone album. Even if she hates it. She should listen to it at least once.] [Raven: I’m sorry my music tastes have progressed past creepy pop covers wheezed out by asthmatic goth girls.]

And then it’s two-thirty, and he’s staring at a blank sheet of paper.

Next, we have the seminal scene in the story. The scene in which Ken Matthews, good guy, convinces himself that he can solve all of his problems by printing a new front sheet for Elizabeth’s story, a sheet that declaimed that it was written by one (traditionally) short-arsed quarterback instead.

His reasoning is thus: No one would know. It’s a shitty English assignment. Only Mr Collins would read it. Liz had never shown it to anyone else. All his problems would be solved. And so on.

You’ll be unsurprised, dear reader, that in the battle of the Good and Bad Ken Gollums, the Bad Ken Gollum wins out. Ken creates a new cover page, claiming authorship of the story, and slips into a troubled sleep.

Awakening the following day, he notes that the sun is shining. All feels fine in The Val. All, that is, bar Ken himself.

Ken feels like shit.

Chapter Eight, and we’re in the school parking lot, with Jessica. And Lila. Specifically, we’re with a Lila who’s just given Jessica some bad news. Apparently, she’ll be visiting New York on the day of the Centennial Picnic. In fact, she’d be departing that coming Friday, so she’d be AWOL for the entire week’s run up to the celebration the following Saturday.

The scene ends with Jessica vowing never to speak to her friend again. A claim that a knowing, smiling Elizabeth would wager on being wholly false.

Ken rocks into the parking spot, “his” story in a folder, clasped tight. Elizabeth accosts him before they enter the school buildings, asking whether he’s pleased with the story he’d written. Ken mumbles in assent, and almost backs out of his course of action, ready to hand Liz the folder and take his licks with Collins. However, Hurricane Jessica storms in and puts paid to that notion, bemoaning the treachery of her so-called friend Lila “I Heart NY” Fowler.

As talk centres around Jessica’s now-compromised plans for the picnic, Ken internally monologues about his plight. He’s snapped back to reality when Elizabeth asks if he’d be attending that evening’s poetry recital. Again, he replies in the positive.


Oh yeah.

Earlier in the book, Suzanne Hanlon asked if Elizabeth would read one of her poems at a recital evening she was organising. Liz said she would. I guess that’s tonight.

I didn’t mention it, because I thought it wasn’t important. [Wing: I think this actually first came up in the previous book as a part of setting up this book, but I’m not going back to reread that book, so I guess I’ll never know for sure.]

It actually ISN’T important. But anyway.

End aside.

Eventually, Ken fucks off to class, with a proud Elizabeth smiling at his departing frame. She was proud of her Brave New Author.

Hehehe. The fan is being unpacked, in preparation for the shit.

The remainder of the chapter seen Jessica moaning to Elizabeth about her treacherous friend Lila, but ends with Jessica admitting she’d still talk to Lila until after she returned with a great looking sweater as a gift from her jaunt to New York.

All the old school readers will know how we love a Great Looking Sweater here at SweetValley.Online.

Chapter Nine, and we’re at the (unimportant) literary reading. Auditorium, chairs, small crowd.

Elizabeth takes pains to tell us, through internal monologue, that these aren’t really Her Folks. Mostly, they are from Suzanne’s crowd, who’ve established are artsy snobs. And aside from Olivia Davidson and Winston Egbert, who are known and loved quantities, the Ghostie has Elizabeth denigrate the efforts of the other readers en masse. Their stuff, it seems, is overblown and melodramatic, and the protagonists in this Theatre of the Absurd are entirely clichéd artsy-fartsy nobheads. Let’s take Joanie as the case in point:

Another senior, Joanie Shreeves, was reading at the moment. Joanie was dressed in black. She was reading a poem about the ghost of a woman named Daphne who had been murdered by her husband.

“‘Daphne sighed,’” Joanie read in a passionate voice, “‘as the world, a bright-red apple, split at the center, revealing a core that rained apple-seed tears on the parched soil of her dreams.’”

Elizabeth looks down her nose at all this turgid spoffle. With good reason, I suppose. It’s written that way, with ill-intent from the Ghostie. It’s wholly uncharitable, but I suppose it’s fair, in a fashion?


Okay then. Here we go?

I think I WAS one of these people. Almost. Sort of. For a bit.

Then I became Elizabeth. Almost. Sort of. For a bit.

Let me explain.

Most of us, those with a lean to the page, have dabbled in poetry. It’s short form, and thus it’s quick, so the creation-to-praise loop is mercifully short. Pen, paper, poem, praise. BOSH. Job done.

It’s particularly pervasive in the teenage mind, or at least it was in me. Exactly the age of the people here, in the auditorium. And I was in this metaphorical auditorium, in my teens. I peppered the page with so much florid spunk, and it was god-awful to a word.

My personal “favourite”, and I use that word with caution, is when I wrote a poem that compared a girl I liked to “a fox’s snow-bound trail.”

I mean, what does that even MEAN? “Eyup love, you look like a vermin’s footprint”…?

I grew out of this phase, thankfully, but into another. From a Suzanne, into an Elizabeth, if you like.

A certain skill inherent in poetry comes easily to me. Specifically, rhyming. I love rhyming. I’m Fezzik, in a number of aspects. To me, rhyming is cool. To me, rhyming is clever. To me, rhyming is fun. If a poem rhymes, I smile. And now, when I write poetry, it rhymes. No exceptions.

I don’t write poetry often. More tellingly, I don’t write poetry “seriously”. I tend to write it as a relaxant, as a mind cleanser. And the poems I write, they’re almost entirely whimsical, and fun, and somewhat childish in their design.

I write about crime-fighting cows, and tap-dancing snails, and spiders with gliders and other such nonsense. And mainly, I write poetry on demand, through prompts. Give me something to write about, something whimsical, and I’ll pull out my inner Seuss and Silverstein and come up with something fun. And it doesn’t take me long! Give me an hour or so, and I’ll get you your fix, no question.

The issue is that, like Liz, as I laughingly “matured” out of my Teen Poetry stage, I began to scoff at others that wrote stuff I considered be beneath mine. This manifested one day when I went to a late-night open mic poetry recital in Liverpool, after hours at a pub near a theatre where I was performing. It was full of earnest, black-haired artists bringing their free verse A-Game to the stage, and, like Liz here, I found it to be mockable.

In the end, egged on by drunken friends, I wrote a fun poem (that rhymed!) about the Jerry Springer Show, while waiting to be served at the crowded bar. I got up to perform it, all six or seven verses, and it went down a storm, especially when the compere discovered I’d only just written it. “This is what this night is all about!” he gushed.

This could be quite a nice memory, but it’s not. I cringe when I think back. Not because of the poem: I remember THAT quite fondly, even if I did lose the flyer it was scrawled on while journeying home that night. I cringe because I recall feeling superior, and sneery, purely showing off my parlour trick with unkind thoughts in my head. Who was I to act that way? To look down in contempt at the efforts of strangers? To laugh openly in the face of kind words and a warm embrace?

I was an asshat. I was a hack. I was awful.

Nowadays? I breeze on by, and smile at all the forms that words and thoughts can offer. I still veer towards a rhyme, as I’ve gotta be me, but I know not to judge. I’m no Judy, no Rinder, no Dredd. I’m just a man who likes a couplet, and a pun, and an interaction that ends with a smile.

My point? Largely lost in the static, I fear. But mainly this: Liz is also an asshat, and a hack. How dare she malign the earnest words of her peers who are carving out their voices.

Oh, and if you want a silly poem, drop a prompt in the comments.

End aside.

[Wing: I’m torn on whether I actually believe Liz isn’t a part of this crowd. On the one hand, her love of the mystery genre from Twins would either need to be jettisoned or hidden to fit into the stereotypical literary snob found here. On the other hand, it sounds like exactly the sort of thing Liz would be involved in without at all being aware of the snobbery of it.

I have complicated feelings about literary programs, writing degrees, poetry groups, performance art, and snobbery, but at this point, all I’ll say is that I’ve known several people and groups exactly like this and the way that sort of literary crowd looks down on genre writing is one of the reasons I didn’t get a second writing degree. (My undergrad is in writing and publishing.)

The other thing I’ll say is that I hated poetry until I was in my 20s and now have a line of a poem as a cornerstone of a tattoo that is ever growing. (It’s a galaxy spreading across my back, around other, more specific pieces like the poem. The two current specific pieces are the lines from the poem and a very simple elephant outline in memory of my mother for the 10-year anniversary of her death last year. Sister Canary and Brother Owl each got one, too. The only difference in mine is that a galaxy spray comes out of its trunk, because it will be worked into the greater galaxy tattoo.

The first stanza of the poem inspired the entire galaxy tattoo:

1. Why I stargaze

We share ninety-eight percent of our genetic code
with rats. Over half with grain. The stars, then,
must contain us somehow in their burning.

Tattoo line: The stars, then, must contain us somehow in their burning.

“The Astronomer and the Poet” by Jessica Piazza. Note, this is a Tumblr link because I could not find it online anywhere else. I guess the publication where I first read it, lo these many years ago, shut down and it’s not longer on the website.

One of the concepts I love most is that we’re all made up of stardust, obviously.]

After her open mockery, Elizabeth steps up to the plate and offers her simple fare. It receives raptures, from Suzanne and Ken especially. Because OF COURSE IT DOES. Elizabeth Wakefield is a fucking miracle.

As she gushes over Liz’s less-is-more poem (I do hope it was a bloody Haiku or something equally tiny), Suzanne suggests that, next time, it might be Ken’s turn to recite. When he demurs, she hits him in the face with the following frying pan.

“Oh, I can’t write like this,” Ken said.

“Sure you can,” Suzanne prodded him. “It just takes a little patience. If you put the same time into writing that you do into football, you could really do something wonderful.”

Not content with one fatality, when Elizabeth suggests that maybe Ken could pen a poem about sport, Suzanne’s pan-wielding arm rears back for another powerful blow.

“Oh, Liz, be serious.” Suzanne laughed. “Surely there are more important things to write about.”

Elizabeth concludes, correctly, that Suzanne is a snob. [Dove: Pot, may I introduce you to kettle? I feel like you have a lot in common.] [Wing: … you know that whole thing above where I nattered on about why I’m skeptical Liz and Suzanne don’t run in the same crowd? Remember that whole thing even farther above when I said writing short is difficult for me? Dove made the point in a clear, concise way and proved my criticism of my own writing in a mere 16 words.]

The chapter ends with a short burst of reluctance from Ken, when Elizabeth tries to get him to open up about his short story. Of course, we know the reasoning behind his sullen silence… and it’s a reason that Elizabeth is about to discover for herself.


Chapter Ten does not start with Ken. It starts with Liz, who’s in a tizz.


Liz is in the Oracle office, putting the finishing touches to the upcoming Centennial Issue. In barges Jessica, whose world is collapsing about her ears. The reason for this exclamation? The posters to advertise the upcoming Centennial Picnic all sport the incorrect date.

The feast is on the third. They all say the fourth.

Jessica, of course, initially lays the blame at the feet of the printer. Under duress, however, we learn that it was an error of Jessica’s and Jessica alone. In tears, she asks her twin for guidance.

Naturally, Elizabeth steps up to the plate, and helps her sister fix things.

You see that, Collins? That’s how you offer guidance and support when someone faces a tricky time. You Redford-faced cleft.

The solution? Tippex, felt pen, elbow grease. Standard.

While the twins work on the posters together, Jessica breaks away to make a call to the caterer. During this, Elizabeth smiles to herself, proud of her sister’s resourcefulness and moxie.

Suddenly, the office is filled with one Penny Ayala, the editor-in-chief. She’s excited, and she actually uses the phrase “Stop the Presses”.


Because, OBVIOUSLY, it appears that Ken Matthews has written the perfect story for the Centennial issue! [Dove: He hasn’t submitted it. Mr Collins, asshole extraordinaire, just randomly handed out one of his student’s homework to another completely unrelated student, because… because fuck Ofsted, that’s why.] [Wing: Does Ofsted cover things like this? Not to say that I don’t think Collins is a complete and utter bag of dicks here and fully in the wrong.]

Intrigued, but happy, Elizabeth reads the copy that Penny hands her. Go Ken, she thinks.

There’s then some odd confusion between Penny and Elizabeth, as for some reason Elizabeth doesn’t join the dots and thinks that this story is something that Ken has submitted to the Oracle for possible publication, rather than what it is, a copy of the story that Ken submitted to Mr Collins.

Also, Penny seems hellbent on publishing the story without any input from Ken, who’d apparently be “thrilled” when told about the plan. This doesn’t sit well with the protective Liz, whose relationship with her own prosaic output seems a little toxic at best. [Wing: I wish I’d had the chance to comment on this at a time you could respond, because I don’t see toxic in that part at all, and I’d like to know more about your reasoning. Unfortunately, I was with my siblings this weekend and didn’t get back early enough.]

Anyway, she finally reads “Ken’s” story.

Initially, she thinks it’s a honest mistake. Maybe Ken accidentally submitted the wrong papers? The title page, with Ken’s name writ large in (presumably) Comic Sans soon yeets that theory into space.

In a panic, Liz dashes off to speak to Mr Collins, who is about to chair an Oracle meeting that would doubtless cover this story development. How could Ken do something so duplicitous? It literally beggars belief.

Liz gets to the meeting, just as the agenda turns to Ken’s story. Convenient. Everyone has a personal copy of the tale, and everyone looks well pleased that Ken can apparently write like a goddamn motherfucker. [Dove: Hey all, I just made 15 copies of a student’s homework, handed it out to a bunch of kids, and now I’m going to publish it. That’s perfectly normal and moral, right?]

Olivia Davidson and John Pfeifer both declare the story to be every possible combination of bees, knees, cods, pods, dogs and bollocks. Collins concurs. The only dissenting voice?  Liz, of course.

“We can’t publish this story,” Elizabeth blurted out. “We just can’t.”

Way to deliver a measured response, Liz. Why not burst into tears and flip a fucking table while you’re at it?

Mr Collins asks for the source of her disagreement. For some reason, Elizabeth can’t bring herself to snitch on Ken, so she offers the fact that the Oracle never publishes fiction as an excuse. What the fuck, Liz? Ken’s stitched you up like a fucking kipper, and you’re pulling your punches? Jessica would have called the fucking police on his ass by now. [Wing: Jess would have him buried in the Mercandy backyard by now. Though, to be fair, Jess is also far more likely to have passed someone else’s work off as her own.]

The talk continues, Elizabeth mute with a frantic rage. Eventually, a vote is held, and the decision to publish “Ken’s” story is passed. Without clearing it with Ken, of course, because why on earth would they ask permission when they can ask forgiveness?

Much to everyone’s surprise, Elizabeth leaps to her feet and dashes off. She has to find Ken, and get this thing squared away.

The next chapter starts with Elizabeth loitering outside the male locker room, waiting for Sneaky Ken to emerge. Aaron Dallas has popped in to fetch him, and Ken dutifully appears a few minutes later.

Elizabeth is ready to get down to brass tacks immediately, but Ken steals her thunder with the following:

He didn’t wait for Elizabeth to speak. It was obvious he already knew what she was there for. “I guess you know about the paper.”

This disarms our so-called heroine, and she goes through a number of predictable stages of upset before landing on “confusion and pity” a touch too quickly for my tastes. It’s obvious, she muses, that this silly mistake was an act of desperation.

Of course Elizabeth would come straight in with the forgiveness. OF COURSE. [Dove: At this point, I metaphorically hoofed my Kindle across the room. Be angry. You have the right. You helped him and he stole your work. Have some spine.] [Raven: How many books have we read in which Liz HAS a spine? Genuine question. Surely no more than five?]


We make a big deal of how different the twins are. About how Jess is fire, while Liz is ice.

Even so, I do wish the stereotypes and tropes were subverted a little more often, and that Elizabeth would explode with rage once in a while. And this bullshit would be the perfect time for a one-chapter heel turn.

Then again, I don’t think I’m ready to see Jessica serving the unfortunate at a bloody soup kitchen.

As you were!

End aside.

Ken is immediately repentant for his actions. He knows he’s fucked it, and his “fucking it” is Big Style. He tells the sympathetic Elizabeth that he was up against the wall for this, and that after the Big Game with Palisades he was going to admit all to Mr Collins and set the record straight, with the offer of another story when the stakes weren’t so goddamn daunting.

It’s clear to Elizabeth that Ken has no idea that things have escalated, and that Collins and his cabal of sycophantic lickspittles are set to print the story in the next issue of the school paper.

To his credit, Ken is appalled by this turn of events. He wails, unsure of his next steps.

Ken stood up, his face set in determination. “There’s only one thing to do. I’ve got to stop them. I’ve got to stop this before it goes any further.”

Attaboy, Ken! Go sort it out, post-haste! Sure, you’ll get kicked off the Football Team, resulting in a town-wide pariah status, and you might even get suspended or even expelled, but it’s time to make amends nonetheless.

We all know that, in the same situation, Jessica would have taken more extreme measures here. Likely resulting in the series being called “Sweet Valley Sisterless Girl” going forward.

So off he stomps, ready to confess all… but on the way to the Collins Enclave, he’s accosted by his excited girlfriend Suzanne. Apparently, she’s super proud of his literary accomplishments, which she’s heard tell of from a blabbermouthing Olivia Davidson. [Wing: Damn, Olivia moves quick.]

Ken does his level best to interrupt a gushing Suzanne, but it seems that she can’t be held back when spouting in full flow. She steamrolls his attempted interjections, filling the air with her plans for Ken’s future. He’d win a scholarship through a young writer’s competition, eventually going to Yale for the summer. And of course, he’d have to dedicate more time to his craft, so dropping Football would be a given.

This rocks Ken to the core. Drop football? How could his girlfriend even suggest such a thing?

As she skips off with a jaunty smile, Ken realises that he’s in more trouble than he initially thought. As well as his academic life crumbling, it seems that his love life is built on the shakiest of foundations.

Ken knows that he needs to tell Collins about his duplicity. But he also knows that a mere confession would be inadequate, given the gravity and magnitude of his predicament. So he does something that, up until now, he’s found impossible.

He sits down and writes a fucking story!


This is fine.

I know that, until now, he’s not managed Word One of fictional prose, but I suppose he’s now had his Hero’s Journey, so the Muse has come a- knockin’. [Dove: One might argue that he’s still not managed fiction, given the subject he’s tackling.]

Take one undeveloped soul, add a dash of conflict, and bake until steaming. Voila! Instant creativity!

End aside.

(Suzanne calls while he’s penning his Magnum Opus, inviting him to yet another thing. He tells her, nicely, to fuck off, at which point she takes a snit and bounces.)

Chapter Twelve cuts to Elizabeth, oddly tasked with delivering the fresh typed copy of the Oracle to the printers. The copy, at this point, still contains “Ken’s” story. It seems that Ken has done nothing to fix the appalling situation,

As she sets off, she’s accosted in the halls by a rampant and frantic Ken Matthews. At first, Elizabeth remains cold and aloof, she opens to him when she realises his idea:

Replace Elizabeth’s story with a new tale from Ken Matthews, entitles “Offsides”, which would serve as a confession, and explanation, and an apology.

Did I say “open”…? That’s a little premature. At first, the Sainted Liz on her shoulder tells her that she can’t do something so clandestine, so daring. And anyway, what if Ken’s story is a bag of wank?


I SO wish that was the case. Ken goes through all this, only to discover that he’s still complete dogshit at writing.

It’s not narratively visible, but I would laugh like a fucking gibbon.

End aside.

She reads it. And it’s perfect. Because OF COURSE IT IS.

Eyes full of wonder, she asks Ken if he’s sure that he wants this to see print, the inference being that the raw honesty contained within would lay him bare and vulnerable. Ken is ready for this, steeling himself for the worst. [Dove: So… he still can’t write fiction then?] [Raven: They say you should write what you know, I guess.]

So Elizabeth agrees, and heads to the printers, pausing only to check in on the picnic B Plot with Jessica (and Winston, being his usual wackily depressing self).

Chapter Thirteen tackles the aftermath of the release of the newly-edited Oracle. There’s a buzz in the school. Ken’s story has touched a raw nerve, and it’s the only talking point.

Jessica is the first to jabber to Liz, sharing a quote from Ken’s story that happily sums up the content and the feel of his confession…

“It’s so scandalous! I mean, listen to this.” She turned to the end of the story and began reading out loud. “‘He had lived his life thinking that every move he made was for the best, so it was easy for him to rationalize stealing the paper. But gradually, the idea came to him that once he had based a portion of his life on a lie, the rest of his life would be based on that lie.’” Jessica put the paper down and turned to her sister. “Isn’t that terrible?”

Jessica tells her sister that everyone knows that Ken’s story, although supposedly a work of fiction, is actually autobiographical. Elizabeth plays coy, maintaining a professional veil of plausible deniability, an ejector seat for when the plane begins to plummet.

Jess then delivers the gossip that Ken is likely to be expelled from school, something she’d heard from Ricky Capaldo. Scandalised, Elizabeth realises that This Cannot Be, and dashes to Ken’s aid.

She finds him waiting outside the Principal’s office. The condemned man, gallows bound.

Elizabeth offers to speak to the Powers That Be before Ken is judged, because even she thinks the sun shines out of her vagina. Ken is calmly stoic while declining this offer, which must spring from the knowledge that he’s doing the right thing. He’s ready to face the oncoming storm.

Upon entering the Belly of the Beast, he’s met with a trifecta of furrowed brows. There’s Coach Schultz, there’s Roger Collins, and there’s Principal Cooper. And, as is the custom when Principal Cooper is mentioned, there’s a brief interlude used to highlight the shininess of his bald head.

First, the Cabal of Asshats ask if the story wot Ken wrote had any truth in it. Ken responds in the positive. It’s all true, bitches. Every damn fucking word.

This gives the Cabal pause, but it’s a pause that Ken chooses to fill. Because he’ll be damned if he doesn’t do his best to state his case.

Ken outlines the truth of the issue: he stole Elizabeth’s story, as he was paralysed by the pressure that the game and the assignment had put upon him. He knows it was wrong, and he’s sorry, and he’s ready to accept his punishment.

I mean… this is a prime example of compromised mental health, right? Being totally unable to focus on the problem due to anxiety and a sense of existential dread? Either way, it’s something the FUCKING school should have FUCKING noticed and FUCKING handled.

The Cabal of Asshats try their best to keep a straight face, but we all know where this is going, right? They hem and they haw, but they eventually call him brave, perhaps braver than a first line responder or a soldier in a war. They waive all punishment, and award him a C for the assignment, and let him play in the Big Damn Game.


Calling it now…

Ken Matthews is a distant relation of the Wakefields.

Because, for one day at least, Matthewses Always Win.

End Aside.

Another Aside:

Let’s get real…

The school. The teachers.


So Collins sets an assignment, an assignment that Ken finds impossible. But let’s not give him any guidance or aide, let’s just threaten to shoulder-charge him out of his sporty safe space while simultaneously kerplunking the town’s Centennial Celebrations.

And then, when Ken delivers the project (on the face of it, at least), instead of drawing a line under it, let’s put the fucking assignment in the school fucking paper without speaking to the fucking “writer” to get their consent.

And THEN, when a mysterious “confession” appears in the paper, written by Ken and apparently confessing to plagiarism of the highest order, just hand-wave it all away as if nothing fucking happened. This can’t be done at the beginning of this book, mind… only NOW, when bluffs are called and stakes are high.

There’s so much shit brushed under the carpet in the office. The floor looks like the undulating foothills of the Andes.


[Dove: Everything Raven said right here.]

End another aside.

The chapter ends with a newly-minted and forgiven Ken is greeted warmly by his teammates. They too applaud his bravery. Perhaps they should give him a medal.

We’re on the downward spiral now, with the loose ends being tied, so let’s initiate tubo mode so we can all go about our fucking lives.

  1. So, the picnic is promising to be a disaster. Jessica forgot to confirm the catering arrangements. At first she’s ready to flee the country in shame, but all things are turned around when Bruce congratulates her on her spartan fare of PB&Js, served in the name of “savings we can pass back to the Community Fund.” I swear this family is bulletproof.
  2. In a thrilling exhibition game, Ken Mathews and the team from Sweet Valley High defeat Peter Straus and the Palisades by three points. Ken scores the winning touchdown at the death. Everyone is ecstatic. GO SPORTSBALL!
  3. Suzanne Hanlon is apologetic for being a bit of a pill, at least where Football is concerned. However, the apology proves disingenuous almost immediately, so Ken grows both a spine and a paar, and kicks her into touch. For three points. Or something. Erm… … Tackle Interference, do not pass go. … … … Roughing the muffin? … … … SPORTSBALL!
Go Team!

And that’s it, I guess. Sure, there’s some shit about The Droids an Lynne Henry, but who gives a fuck, really?

Thanks for reading! It’s been emotional.

Raven out.

Final Thoughts:

Did I like this?

Not really.

I mean, it was fine, I guess. The dialogue was sassy, and there was a lot of fun in the B Plot, even if I didn’t dwell much in the retelling. I didn’t really like the way the stands were sewn, mind. It was the opposite of seamless (seamful?)

I don’t mind Ken as a character, but Suzzanne and the artcore crowd left me a little cold. As I mentioned, I have flirted with that life. I do have a soft spot for it, so it made me a little queasy to see it both skewered somewhat successfully and sneered at somewhat cruelly.

There’s also my usual complaints abut the school, and the staff, and the adults in general, but that’s not a green and shooting vine. It’s a hoary old rock, encrusted with salt and molluscs.

And finally, there’s the old complaint I have about a subset of the Twins books, those that revolve around the sanctity and mysticism of writing. The Ghosties, to a person, always present the craft of writing as The Most Important Thing In The World, and that those who can wax lyrical with a certain aplomb are akin to saints, or demigods. Not only is that patent narcissism slathered in a bullshit coulis, it’s also excrementally tiresome to read about.

Overall rating? Meh.

Bet you’re glad you asked.

[Dove: I also found this to be meh, because in order for the plot to work, so many things had to be done that just would never happen. Bruce Patman has been in multiple meetings about Ken, so that he can – mid-hostage situation – tell Liz, so that in this book she can help Ken, who steals her work, which gets published because a teacher has no concept of boundaries… just fucking no. What was written was fine, but if you need two books of improbably situations to generate a very standard “jock boy worries about book smarts” plot, you’re a fucking idiot. Wade into the Mighty Ducks fandom. Thirteen year olds have been writing this plot better since 1992. I mean, the pushy girlfriend is right there. She could have been the one who submitted it to the Oracle without his permission. And the story about Ken flunking could have just been regular gossip from a teammate who over heard coach grumbling at Ken about maintaining his B-average. It really didn’t need to be so complicated and silly. It would have been a much better story then.]

[Wing: It’s boring. I was bored. Except for when I was angry. Or when I was H O R R I F I E D by the kissing booth part. And I like: US high school football, school newspapers, poetry (now), readings, town celebrations, and Opposites Attract. This simply did nothing interesting with any of that.]