Sweet Valley High #28: Alone in the Crowd

Sweet Valley High #28: Alone In the Crowd by Francine Pascal

Title: Alone in the Crowd

Tagline: Can Elizabeth help Lynne overcome her shyness?

Summary: Secret song…

Lynne Henry is tall, awkward, and painfully shy. The one bright spot in her life is her songwriting. In her room, playing her guitar, Lynne forgets how lonely she is and becomes someone special.

When The Droids, Sweet Valley High’s most popular rock band, announce a songwriting contest, Lynne enters it. But she is so insecure about her talent that she submits her song anonymously.

As soon as they hear Lynne’s song, The Droids know they’ve got a winner. Guy Chesney, the attractive lead guitarist for the band, vows to find the songwriter, no matter how long it takes.

Only Elizabeth Wakefield knows Lynne’s secret. Can she persuade Lynne to come out into the open and share her talent, or is Lynne destined to remain unnoticed?

The Cover

[Dove: Yep, totally forgot to do this. Sorry, my brain was tapped out.]

[Wing: Oh boy, I’m bad at cover descriptions, but I’m taking a whack at it this week. Lots of neutrals, tan cover background, brownish red lettering for the title with a matching thin brownish red circle around the porthole on the cover, black letter for the tagline. Francine Pascal’s name is in a brighter red, as is Sweet Valley High in the standard blocky USA high school letterman’s jacket font (I’m sure that has an actual name, but I cannot think of it to save my life).

Two girls in the porthole, both pale skin. Girl on the right has her blonde hair pulled back, clearly Liz Wakefield. She wears a light blue polo shirt that looks like the collar might be halfway popped and maybe white shorts? Some sort of white outfit on the bottom. Girl on the left wears her brown hair loose. It’s maybe a little frizzy, but nowhere near the kinky it is described in the book. She wears a brown shirt slightly darker than the brown guitar she holds and either brown or black glasses. My screen isn’t making that very clear. 

Liz has a bit of a patronizing there there I’m here to solve all your problems expression and the girl looks both sad and put out and kind of blank.]

[Raven: Girl in brown with brown hair and brown guitar is cosplaying as Rowlf from the Muppets. Liz looks like she’s supplying chipper advice through the medium of song as a chorus member from a broadway musical.]

Initial Thoughts:

Oh cool. Another book about an ugly girl realising she’s valid enough to date a boy.

I also give zero fucks about The Droids. You know what killed The Droids for me? The entire sub-plot while Elizabeth was having her hair stroked by a kidnapper, and Max was just wandering around going, “HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO UNDERSTAND THIS BOOK? I CANNOT FATHOM ITS CONTENTS BY SIMPLY LOOKING AT THE COVER! LIFE IS HAAAAAAAAAAAAARD!”

And then Emily had to learn the very important life lesson that when you are being abused by a fucking monster in a parental role, your job is to realise that being a mother is hard, and just be thankful there’s a baby in the house.

We are not on a good run of fun Droid books.

[EDIT from Dove: It appears that my ebook is not a good copy and has a few bits missing. Keep this in mind as you see me disagree vehemently with everyone else who’s read this book.]

[Wing: I love stories about teenage rock bands, but we’ve not seen a lot of fun around here, that’s for sure.]

[Raven: She’s going to take her glasses off, isn’t she? Yeah, she’s going to take her glasses off.]


We open with the most perfectly perfect twins who ever perfected perfection. Jessica has a fabulous idea for a fund raiser for cheerleader uniforms – which is apparently a dire situation that we care deeply about.

Her marvellous idea is…

… a sponsored rock-a-thon where the cheer squad tag team spending time in a rocking chair?


Guys, you are only twenty-eight books in. You cannot be out of ideas this early on. [Raven: Thought I’d be funny and see if there was a pic of a rocking chair with a dildo attachment. Turns out that’s actually a kink / real thing. Don’t Google it, folks!] [Wing: … Raven. How in the world did you not see that coming? (Heh.)]

Also, you have skipped straight past all the normal things to sponsor: walking, skating, dancing. Those are normal. Then you’ve got your wacky-fun-Winston-Egbert-does-this-instead-of-having-a-soul things: flipping pancakes, eating pizza, juggling Pokemon plushes.

But somehow you bypassed those options in favour of: one girl in a rocking chair.

No, wait, sorry. I misread it. Sorry, I get it now.

One girl in your grandparents’ rocking chair.


What the actual fuck, ghostie?

How are you going to pitch this sponsorship? The whole point of sponsoring someone is because you look at their task, and think, “rather you than me”. Oh, you’re doing the Tough Mudder challenge? Rather you than me. You’re doing the Three Peaks challenge? Rather you than me. You’ve signed up to scale Everest for starving orphans? Rather you than me.

You’re sitting in a rocking chair for a few hours? And you don’t even have to do an activity like knitting? SIGN ME UP. EVEN MY DISABLED ASS COULD DO THAT.

Jessica has spent far too long with agreeable sycophants. No matter what stupid idea she comes up with, people will all agree with her. Therefore, her brain has atrophied because she hasn’t used it since middle school.

When everyone is rightfully dubious about this frankly stupid waste of time, Jessica lies and adds, oh yeah, there will be a party too. We can call it Rock Around the Clock. Because pop culture references that are 30 years out of date are way coooooool!

It’s planned for a week from Saturday, and then Jessica runs out to ask to borrow the gym for it – and presumably, her grandparents’ rocker.

[Wing: Okay, no lie, I find this delightfully weird. Would it be stupid in reality? Hell yes. Is it accidentally accessible? Yes, emphasis on the accidentally. Is this entire premise, including the timing on raising money for uniforms, badly thought out and clearly a rush job by ghostie + Pascal? Yes.

Did this ridiculousness make me laugh? Yes, for a moment.]

[Raven: My thoughts are that the Rock Around The Clock party concept came first, then some bullshit fundraiser afterhought was tacked on. How very Jessica.]

On her way out, she bumps into Lynne Henry, and the entire group stare at her creepily and discuss her. End thinks she’s really quiet. Lila thinks her outfit is tragic. Winston doesn’t have a brain, so he can’t think. Elizabeth thinks she’s marvellous. How perfectly quiet and shy and broken she is! ELIZABETH CAN FIX HER, Y’ALL!

Lynne, by the way, is not a new girl. She’s been with them through every grade thus far. I just want you to keep that in mind.

Over with Lynne, she hates her life. She has no friends. She’s not pretty. She is so alone that even the books in the library don’t want to hang out with her.

“I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?”

Mr Collins read Emily Dickinson in class, and Lynne felt… well, not seen, because she’s the invisible girl, but y’know. That poem is about her.

Also, she plays the guitar.

I wonder where this is leading.

[Wing: She’s angry that Dickinson wrote those words that hit her at the core. Not envious of the skill, but actually upset that Dickinson wrote something that rang so true for her. It’s odd.]

Still with Lynne, at the end of the day, Winston is annoying as fuck and makes Caroline dance at the bus stop. And it’s hysterical.

To everyone but Lynne, who is forever alone.

She vows that after today she’s never getting the bus again, because she cannot deal with being so lonely.

Thankfully, she has hidden depths – which is good, because she’s been a wet rag thus far – and can compose music in her head. She has always dreamed of being a songwriter. Once upon a time, she wanted to be a singer too, but now she knows that she’s ugly and lonely, she understands that all she can do is pass her songs on to more valid human beings.

Oh for fuck’s sake, Lynne. Have a goddamned word with yourself. You want friends? FUCKING TALK TO PEOPLE. I have not seen a single scrap of evidence so far that Lynne is worried or anxious about talking to people, or that she socially flubs. Lynne, by chapter 2, is just this annoying soppy rag that has resigned herself to eternal solitude because nobody has actively tried to be her best friend.

Lynne has failed at having a friend in the same way that I have failed at Olympic curling.

Neither of us have ever tried.

And I’m pretty sure neither of us want to.

Zero fucking sympathy for this fucking nightmare.

You want social difficulty? Try going to your husband’s best friend’s wedding while you’re having two different allergic reactions, and the only person you know is your husband, who you can’t talk to because he’s in the wedding party and has duties. I spoke to like 50 perfect strangers, and then! THEN I introduced these strangers to my husband – without forgetting a goddamned name. [Raven: You nailed it. *hugs*] [Dove: I did my entire year’s socialising in one evening.]

You can’t even be bothered to say hi to Caroline Pearce as she sits next to you on the bus. You cannot say one syllable to a human being whose name you already know. Just fuck off, Lynne. You truly are an absolute waste of humanity.

Now, if she was anxious, I’d have a lot of sympathy. Ultimately I’d give the same advice, but I’d give it with a lot more patience and gentleness. Lynne is pathetic. Not sympathetic.

[Wing: Hard disagree. I think she is anxious, deeply self-loathing, and dysmorphic. Of course, this will all be fixed by a makeover, a boy liking her, and Liz Wakefield doing something actually unhelpful, but setting that aside for now.

She is obsessed with how awkward she is, how everyone is judging what she looks like, how she doesn’t deserve attention at all, that if she tries, people will judge her even harder than they already do. It’s sad, and it’s laid on heavily so the rushed change of heart and circumstances have something to change, but that’s poor writing and a longer plot forced into a short book.

She has all sorts of signs of anxiety and self-hatred, and she needs help and support. Not the Liz Wakefield kind, either.]

[Raven: I think I predictably fall somewhere in the middle of this debate. I think she has some issues with her metal health and self image, but I find it a bit odd that she’s decided that TODAY’S bus journey is the camel-back-breaking straw. I personally think she has more issues with her mother than her classmates, but we’ll get tho that in time.]

Lynne hates her looks too. She’s tall and thin, like her mother. But where her mother is elegant, Lynne has no boobs and might as well be dead.

The only good thing about her is “her almond-shaped, gold-flecked green eyes”. [Wing: Between this and describing wavy, frizzy hair as kinky, sort of felt like ghostie was trying for the pretense of diversity without actually committing.] Did you know that gold flecks are sometimes a sign of a heart condition? Yeah, I worked with a girl with the prettiest eyes ever (brown, with an inner ring of green, with gold flecks) and I commented on them, and she was like, “Yeah, that’s because my heart nearly exploded when I was a baby.” Which I don’t think is the correct response when in Sweet Valley. [Wing: Okay, that is the best fucking response to anything I’ve ever heard.] [Dove: Right? I was like, this girl beat an exploding heart when she was a baby. She sets the bar in “not to be fucked with”.]

Oh, and here comes the X-Factor backstory. Lynne’s father, a lovely but ugly man, died when she was three. Leaving behind a glamorous sexy mother, deeply disappointed with her wet rag of a daughter who looks almost identical to the dead father, save for the pretty eyes.

Hot Mamma wants Lynne to wear contacts so that people can see the one feature she has that doesn’t make people dry heave, but Lynne feels too self-conscious. People will make fun of her for not wearing glasses.

*rolls eyes* Only in Sweet Valley can glasses be the kiss of death, but not wearing them be equally death-kissy. Like, how do you fucking win there? [Wing: They won’t make fun of her for not wearing glasses, they’ll make fun of her for trying to look better. For thinking that she deserves to even try to look better. She thinks she’s too ugly and boring to even deserve to try things.] [Raven: She’s going to take her glasses off, isn’t she. Yeah. Her glasses will be coming off.]

Naturally, Lynne got her musical talent from her dead father. He had dreams, but binned them upon marriage and children. That kind of reads like it was a bad thing, but the only alternative we’ve seen is Melissa McCormick’s father, who just fucked around for decades, playing teeny gigs and getting nowhere, and ignoring his children, even when their mother died.

Lynne apparently can’t play guitar in front of people because the “magic disappeared the minute anyone else was around”.

Lynne also teaches guitar.

I don’t think the ghostie thought too hard about those sentences living side by side.

Or maybe she just never shows, she just tells, in her classes.

(She teaches at “the Music Center” on Saturdays. I don’t know if that’s a shop, a community area, or the musical offshoot of a centre of learning. It’s really hard to tell when everything is named in the most unimaginative way possible.) [Wing: Deeply disappointed it’s not Sweet Valley Music Center. By some definitions of disappointed, I suppose.]

As Lynne gets off the bus, she sees The One and Only Guy Chesney, keyboard player for The Droids. I’m gonna picture him with a keytar. And if you don’t join me in this, then you’re doing fandom wrong.

I’m pretty sure The Droids look exactly like this:

The Jem fashion doll lineup from the 80s, all dolls have neon hair cut in a mullet; glitter, velvet or animal print clothes; and some of them have keytars
The Droids

[Wing: I would attend that fucking concert even if it was in the middle of the afternoon at Secca Lake.] [Raven: Truly Outrageous!] [Dove: I love that every single one has a mullet. Breathtaking.]

It turns out that The Droids’ performance moved Lynne to tears at the Centennial in the last book. And not in a good way. She’d been feeling like part of something right up until they started playing, and then she remembered that she’s nothing and no-one and had to run to the loos to ugly cry.

Thea from Bumper in Berlin saying "Ok, shut up" and looking really done with this shit.
Ok, shut up.

I am so sick of her shit. Nothing thus far has indicated she’s even tried. This would be like me crying that I’m not Prime Minister. Ok, sure, I haven’t made the faintest effort to even do step 1 of the plan, but please pity me and write a book about my brave struggle of not getting my own way.

Guy approaches her and they get talking. He says he’s seen her around, but doesn’t often get to socialise outside of The Droids. Lynne – whose name I keep forgetting, btw – gushes that it must be fabulous to be in a music group. Guy is surprised because not many girls would say that, like music’s fine, but joining a band is weird.


The boy who’s in a band with a female drummer and female lead singer.

That guy. That Guy. Is surprised that girls like music.


[Wing: This? This I agree with. Stupidity abounds.] [Raven: “Music’s fine, but joining a band is weird”…? What the hell are teenage musicians supposed to do, if not join a band? Sit and write a fucking aria in their bedroom?]

Lynne is shocked that he’s so easy to talk to. I can only assume she’s surprised by this because she’s never tried to speak to someone before in her life. Lynne is a fucking moron.

They bond over their love for Linda Ronstadt. I’ll just admit this right now: the only song I know by her is “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tale.

[Wing: Now I’ve been earwormed. I’ll share a different song in case our readers aren’t up on their popular classic rock. (HA!) To go along with the rockabilly theme of that weird fundraiser, here’s her cover of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.”]

After a perfectly nice chat, they go their separate ways, and Lynne hopes to run into him again.

At home, she looks at her canopy bed – look, I didn’t write it. I’m just pointing out the ghostie wants us to know she’s wealthy enough to have a canopy bed, so you guys need to know it too – and then picks up her guitar.

But she can’t concentrate because she’s fallen madly in love with the first human being who ever spoke to her.

By the way, if you want to read that actual plot done with sass and style (and the girl in question having plenty of time to consent while being well-informed, no matter how dubiously I worded it), I highly recommend Diana Wynne Jones’ Castle in the Air.

The next morning, Lynne oversleeps because she was up until midnight working on– and then she stops herself. She doesn’t want to talk about it. I know she was probably writing a soppy love song, but I’m just going to pretend she was up late plotting the demise of Dana, so she can steal her life and worm her way into Guy’s life. Because that would make her faintly interesting.

Hot Mamma seems annoyed, and Lynne thinks she is thinking that Lynne should take more care of her appearance. I mean, yeah, she might be thinking that, or she might be thinking a perfectly normal mum thought which is: if those jeans are clean enough to wear today, why were they balled up on the floor; and if they’re not, why are you wearing them? I think this is likely, because I’m thinking the same thing. [Wing: Look, sometimes you have to store things where you can and sometimes that where you can is the floordrobe.]

Lynne can’t be bothered to do anything more than faintly rake at her hair with a hairbrush and pick a sweatshirt to wear. Then she pauses at the mirror to hate how ugly she is. And again, fucking try. Oh, my hair is so ugly. Yeah, I mean, I barely brushed it and I don’t take care of it, but woe is me! I look so boring in my sweatshirt, but that’s all I could be arsed to wear today.

Make a goddamned effort. Wear clean jeans, brush your hair properly, stand up straight and fucking smile at people. I’m not saying makeover. I’m saying barest fucking minimum effort will make a change.

[Wing: Yes, and she doesn’t think she deserves to make an effort. That is how much she hates herself.]

I say this as someone who struggles a lot with my looks. I loathe the way I look. I’m allergic to makeup. I used to love makeup, but over the past 10 years, I’ve developed an allergy that will pretty much hospitalise me if I use it. I have to be very sparing about curling or straightening my hair now, because the allergy I have can be triggered by heat (basically, anything except for water, Aveeno or CeraVe touches my face, I’m done. Even nail polish fumes will set it off). So, the fact that I can’t make my best effort before leaving the house makes me not care at all about my appearance, which makes me hate it more. So I do understand her issues with her self-image. But on the other hand, I find it annoying that she’s weeping and wailing about how ugly she is, when she doesn’t even bother to brush her hair.

[Wing: Your allergies are fucking ridiculous. I hate that you lost so many things you enjoyed because of it.]

[Raven: *more hugs*]

I mean, she could be depressed, but again, I’m not seeing that. I’m just seeing someone who sulks about not being Miss Popular, while making zero effort to improve at all.

And you guys know that I rarely, if ever, give the mother the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their parenting skills.

And then Hot Mamma blows my optimism right out of the water, but suggesting that Lynne come to the spa with her and get her hair treated.

Mrs. Henry’s eyes were filled with concern as she regarded her daughter. “Honey,” she began, obviously trying hard to say the right thing, “I want you to come to work with me this Saturday and let me have Rhoda do something with your hair. I know you don’t like being fussed over, but, sweetheart, it really—”

Lynne felt her chin sticking out the way it always did when her mother started in on her. “I like my hair,” she said fiercely. “And I don’t want Rhoda putting that goop all over me the way she does on everybody.”

No, Lynne, you don’t like your hair. You hate it. According to chapter two, you hate literally everything about yourself except your eyes. Here, this is how you felt only a chapter ago:

Every time she looked in the mirror, she felt like crying. Everything about her was so plain—plain light brown, kinky hair. A blah-looking complexion.

But now you like your hair, do you?

I get that this is supposed to be girl power, but it just makes Lynne look more petulant and pathetic with every word. She wants to be beautiful, but she wants to do nothing to improve her situation. She wants to be popular, but she will die before she speaks to another human being.

Just fuck off, Lynne. I hate you.

[Wing: I don’t think it’s supposed to be girl power at all. She can’t even find a way to say the things she actually feels and is full-blown teenage rebellion when it comes to her mother trying to connect with her. Again, Lynne hates herself so much she can’t even reach for help when it’s offered. (In a really shitty way, because Sweet Valley Parenting(tm).)] [Dove: But it doesn’t actually say that in the text. It just says that Lynne juts out her chin. It reads as very petulant.] [Wing: Hence the teenage rebellion part. Multiple things going on for Lynne.]

Lynne tearfully wails at her mother that she’ll never be beautiful, she gets it, so just stop going on about it.

Hot Mamma, fresh from the Sweet Valley School of Parenting, where she graduated with a Toxicity Rating of 4.0, says it’s not just the clothes and the ugliness, Lynne’s also failing classes too.

Excellent parenting.

[Raven: I have mixed thoughts about Mama Henry. She’s done the quare root of fuck all to help her daughter though her father’s death, it seeems. And she’s all surface on no depth when it comes to advice and guidance. Later we see she apparently gives gifts to her daughter than are what she percieves as things the girl NEEDS (like elegant clothes) rather than things her daughter WANTS (sheet music and the like), and she’s pretty scathing overall. But later, she says and does the right things without having a moment to consider her own place in her daughter’s journey. I’s very odd, as if she’s an agent of the plot rather than a character that’s moulding a daughter. As Wing says, it’s Sweet Valley Parenting ™.]

So… who wants to bet that the moral of this story will be that Lynne needs to accept that being a parent is haaaaard and she needs to meet her mother halfway? Except, unlike with Emily, I give zero fucks. Emily was a nice person, Lynne is pointless.

Lynne internally admits that she could do much better at school, but she likes staying in the background, so why do better and call attention to herself.

Oh, so now we freely admit that Lynne is actively choosing to blend into the walls at school?

How am I supposed to root for a character whose motivations are simultaneously:

  • I want a friend! I’m so lonely!; and
  • If anyone talks to me, I will pretend to be a wall, and hopefully they will die of old age before trying again.

Hot Mamma says that she worries about Lynne’s songs taking her away from her school work.

I mean, if she hadn’t fumbled that whole “Yes, you are ugly. But also stupid” thing a few paragraphs ago, I’d say she has a point.

Lynne walks to school, and happy days, The One and Only Guy Chesney is there!

Guy says that his mother would be happier if he dropped the band, but he loves it so much. Lynne will fucking die before she lets that happen. Her father died with an unlived musical dream in his heart, and even though it’s too private to tell him, she will cut a bitch to make sure that Guy lives his musical dreams.

Kids. Fucking chill. You can do music and school. Maybe not in the real world with current expectations, but definitely in Sweet Valley, where school is 98% dances and proms and 2% meetings in The Oracle office.

For the third time so far, Guy comments that Lynne is ~NoT LiEk oThER GirLz~, which is just typical of Sweet Valley, really. Lynne is made up. Guy is the BESTEST MOST WONDEFULLEST PERSON IN THE WORLD. He’s so easy to talk to. It’s like they’ve been friends for months.

As if she’d fucking know what that feels like.

At this moment, Jessica pulls up in the Fiat Spider, sans Elizabeth, whom we are told in the description is at the doctor. So, I guess, Lynne knows the Wakefield schedule? Even though she makes no effort to interact with anyone on the planet (except WONDERFULLEST GUY), she still knows the Wakefield Twins’ every movement? Seems legit.

No, really. I do think that every single character probably gets a printout of their weekly schedules and has to memorise it, regardless of whether they are friends with the twins.

[Wing: Ahahahahahaha, love this. I just assumed it was ghostie’s awkward way of reassuring us that Jess didn’t kill her sister so she wouldn’t have to share the car anymore.] [Dove: Fair.]

Jessica burbles on about her Rocking Chair Shit, and offers Guy a ride to school. Ignoring Lynne throughout. Guy awkwardly accepts, after checking that Lynne’s ok with it.

As Jessica tears away from the curb, she lets out a laugh, and Lynne knows that Jessica is laughing at her.

Dude, if Jessica had noticed you, she’d have said something mean. You don’t even exist to her.

[Wing: But that’s not how it feels to her! She’s so anxious and self-loathing that of course people look at her and judge her and mock her. This is a really fucking common presentation of anxiety.]

Lynne goes through the rest of the day in a heartbroken daze.

But no one talked to Lynne.

And why should they? she asked herself. This was a day like any other. So why in the world should she expect anybody to pay her the slightest bit of attention? She was alone, and it looked as if that was the way it was going to stay.


If someone ignored me for my entire life, I would absolutely not check in on a regular basis, on the off-chance they’ve decided to stop being an arrogant little shit, and will deign to interact with me.


[Wing: I’m not sure Dove and I have ever so fundamentally disagreed over a character, good lord. ANXIETY! THIS IS ALL FUCKING ANXIETY!]

Speaking of wastes, over with the twins, they’re getting ready to have terrific fun at Secca Lake, and talking about Rock Around the Clock. Which I’m sure I’m going to mistype as Cock at some point. [Raven: If they did a Cock Around The Clock fundraiser, they’d make a fucking KILLING.]

We do get this gem from Elizabeth, which means for a single sentence, she’s my favourite person in the book:

“I’m all for the relay, Jess,” Elizabeth said dryly, “but frankly, eight girls and one rocking chair is not my idea of the biggest event of the year.”

[Wing: Careful, Liz, that’s almost a spine.]

And then Jessica responds:

Her aqua eyes darkened as she regarded her twin. “For your information, we have permission from the office to have a dance in the gym from eight till eleven on Saturday, and The Droids have agreed to play. And we’ve lined up teachers who will take turns staying up and monitoring us. It’s turning into the biggest event of the whole semester!”

Wait! You mean there are going to be teachers? And shitty robotic music? For three whole hours?

Wait, no, not three hours. Fifteen hours. Fifteen hours of teachers and rocking chairs?

You just made it sound even worse.

Elizabeth, on the other hand backpedals hard, because we all know her spine is made of jelly. [Wing: So close.]

When they get to Secca Lake, everyone but Elizabeth immediately starts fanning out to have fun. Elizabeth just eyeballs Lynne, shocked that she’s suddenly pretty as she talks to Guy.

What a difference, Elizabeth thought. She had barely recognized Lynne at first—that was how powerful a change a smile could make!

Elizabeth further expands that isn’t it amazing that a vivacious person was hiding behind all that sulking. You guys know how much I hate to agree with Elizabeth, and we can all agree that she’s phrased her thought in the most sickeningly cloy way possible, but generally speaking, if you just sit sulking in a corner, people will remember your resting bitch face and aura of “fuck off and die”, and decide you’re ugly and uninteresting.

(Unless you’re a cute boy in a YA novel from any era. In which case you will be remembered as “mysterious”. I don’t make the rules, people, I’m just sharing them.)

We hop into Lynne’s head, and guess what peeps? YET MORE WHINGING. Apparently she got a ride over with The Droids, and the ride over was awesome, because she was just listening to her favourite band ever talk. But then everyone spread out, and now she’s feeling “tongue-tied and miserable” as she talks to Guy without a single problem. You know, THE MOST WONDERFULLEST one, the one who she never feels awkward with, and feels like she’s been friends with for months. That one.

Lynne tells Guy that she doesn’t usually come to things like this because of her tragic X-Factor/dead father backstory, and now she’s just super-self reliant, to the point where this is a fault of hers. She so humble.

Guy, still hot on his ~NoT LiEk oThER GirLz~ obsession, tells her it’s because she has an artistic temperament.

Lynne says no, she’s just shy.

Dude, you are not fucking shy. Shyness is a whole other thing, where you desperately want to speak to people, but your anxiety gets in the way, or you manage to speak, but you say something stupid because you’re too busy worrying about how you’ll be perceived.

You’re just some stuck up harpy who won’t talk to people because you’re pissed off that they didn’t talk to you first. It’s basically incel logic, only instead of sex, Lynne wants adoration.

[Wing: Jesus fucking christ, I could not disagree with this harder. She’s so fucking anxious it seeps from the page. Her anxiety is painful to read in part because it’s overdone (again, force fed emotions that should have been built up over a longer story) but also because it’s such a fully believable spiral of anxiety and self-loathing.]

[Raven: If you haven’t guessed thus far, gentle reader, I’m keeping out of this one.]

[Wing: But the glasses are still coming off.]

Lynne listens to Guy talk and imagines him playing a gig and being surrounded by groupies, and afterwards, they all want autographs, but he shoves them aside and runs through the crowd to pick her up and whisper “You were wonderful. Just like always, Lynne.” before kissing her.

Which is a baffling fantasy. Why was she wonderful? He’s the one who just played a gig. What did she do just like always? Watch from the wings? Really? Also, if it’s your fantasy, why are you the b-player here? Why didn’t you just play a sell-out show at Madison Square Garden, and he’s in the crowd madly in love with you?

[EDIT: It turns out my ebook is missing a chunk of text here. JC has clarified that Lynne did have the fantasy I suggested, it’s just my copy chopped off all the important bits. Behold:

With this in mind, I may be missing other words in the book. Probably not so many that it would have turned me around completely on Lynne, but it is something to keep in mind given the vast discrepancy between my reading of this book and everyone else’s.]

Dana shows up and says that The Droids need to announce their songwriting contest. Lynne develops social anxiety for the first time ever and becomes tongue-tied, and hates herself for not saying something clever. Since this is a brand new thing that she’s never experienced before, I’m not taking it seriously, and I just think it’s a daft place for the ghostie to put it in.

You know where would have been a good place? Chapter one. The first Lynne POV, where, instead of bitching that nobody ever talks to her because she’s super ugly, we could have seen that she actually wanted to interact with people, but can’t because she gets all quiet and frightened, or she says daft things, or even if she says something clever, she starts agonising over it, did they think she was being mean instead of sassy?

Here? It’s frankly moronic. Guy is leaving with Dana. What clever thing do you think is expected of you beyond, “Cool. See you later, maybe?”

Oh. Wait. This is not just some social thing, this is a school event. It’s the “annual junior-class softball game”. Ghostie, get it together. For fuck’s sake.

Mr Collins is presiding, because, of course he is. Dana gets up to announce that The Droids are running a “Star-Search Song Contest”, which is a fancy way of saying drop your demo tapes into The Oracle by next Friday, because The Droids are creatively tapped, and they’ll use your songs to drag out their tired old setlist at their next gig. [Wing: I love how whenever we get a new event, it almost always happens in one week. Much like the fundraiser in this book, too. Scheduling things out so that you have time to do the actual prep work? Fuck that.] [Raven: A week! To write The Greatest Song In The World?! Welcome to Sweet Valley, I guess.]

Lynne comes up with a song title “The Outside, Looking In”, because – in case you missed it – Lynne is an OUTSIDER. Then she bitterly decides to submit it anonymously, because she really wants to submit, but she’s an ugly nobody. Oh, fuck off, Lynne.

And it was going to be a really special song, too. It was going to be written for all the “nobodies” out there: for anyone who knew what it felt like to be anonymous when everyone else had a name—for anyone who had ever known what it was like to be on the outside, looking in.

Let me rewrite that for you:

And it was going to be a really special song, too. It was going to be written for all the people who had shunned humanity without giving it a chance, and were now sulking that they were alone. It was for anyone who knew that they were secretly better than everyone else, and could not fathom why people weren’t falling over themselves to be besties. It was for everyone who was ~NoT LiEk oThER GirLz~.

[Wing: I cannot with Dove’s reading of this. I didn’t even like the book, but good god, the difference in how we read Lynne is rocking me. She’s fucking anxious! She hates herself! She doesn’t think she deserves human connection or anything good at all.]

At home, Hot Mamma tries to interact with her daughter. She’s delighted to hear that Lynne has been with other people, and politely asks if she had a nice time. Lynne basically tells her to fuck off, she’s writing a song. Hot Mamma says homework first, but Lynne says there is none.

(See what I mean about Sweet Valley not being a real school? You can totally do Sweet Valley High, a job and a music career, and probably raise a small family at the same time. This school has no demands at all.)

Sidenote: throughout this interaction, everything Hot Mamma does is elegant or gorgeous. Like her beautiful eyes will fill with tears, or she will elegantly shrug or whatever. Do NOT forget for a second this lady is pretty.

Hot Mamma asks if things are better at school, but again, Lynne tells her to fuck off. Hot Mamma adds that she knows what it feels like to be lonely and she worries.

Honestly, aside from that flub early on, this woman’s only crime is being hotter than her daughter, which, admittedly, is a hangable offense in Sweet Valley. [Raven: I’d put her down for a few more misdemeanours, but she’s basically a wash once the dust settles.]

Lynne thinks to herself that she loves her mother more than anything, and would die for her, and is nothing without her. But somehow can’t stop telling her to fuck off. This may well be normal, I wouldn’t know, but it is massively infuriating, and when heaped on top of Lynne’s shitty attitude to literally everything that isn’t Guy Chesney, I don’t really sympathise with her. Especially when she does yet another passive-aggressive, “I know I’m the ugliest thing that ever uglied, and I’m so stupid and pointless and you wish I was dead, because I’m such a disappointment” response.

Hot Mamma hugs her and says that she’s not a zero, she loves her, and she’s worried that Lynne is unhappy, and all she wants to do is help.

And yeah, again, Hot Mamma is trying to parent here. I’m going to attribute that misstep earlier to the ghostie’s ineptitude with this topic, a genuine fumbled response rather than an indication of intent, or it’s how Lynne heard it, rather than how it was said, because everything else she’s doing is right. And given that I’ve spent the entire book in Lynne’s head, I can see that everything Lynne does is… sulking.

She isn’t saying, “Kid, you’re ugly, and you only have worth if you’re pretty.” Her approach was, “Let’s go to the spa and have a girls’ day!” She didn’t say, “You’re pointless and pathetic,” she said, “I’m worried that you’re lonely and/or unhappy. How can I help?” These are very valid ways to approach these topics.

Hot Mamma realises that she’s getting nowhere and asks if she should just leave Lynne to her songwriting. Lynne tells her to fuck off.

The minute she leaves, Lynne instantly forgets the fact that she made her mother cry with worry for her, and goes on to write a song about how sad she is because nobody gives a fuck about her.

It makes her cry.

She just wishes she could let Guy know that she wrote it for him.

… I thought it was for all the losers who don’t have friends, Lynne? I thought it was for you?

Fuck empowerment, I guess. Write it for a boy you just met.

But she can’t ever tell him, because anonymous means no glory. But it also means no pain.

How fucking deep.

Just die, Lynne.

I have genuinely not hated a character this much since Sandra Ferris.

[Wing: I honestly had to stop here and consider whether I was going to finish reading and commenting on this recap. Like I said earlier, I don’t even like the damn book, but this deep disconnect in reading Lynne, particularly around anxiety and other mental health, means I want to defend it, at least most of the Lynne part, all over the place rather than remember any of the other thoughts I had while reading it. I did not expect to come here and find Dove reading Lynne as anything other than someone struggling with anxiety. Poorly written? Yes. Too easily fixed? Yes. But the anxiety is there.]

[Raven: *eats popcorn*]

Over at the Wakefield Compound, those hip and happening kids, Elizabeth and Enid, are talking about how Billie Holiday is the bestest singer ever. This conversation takes place in 1986. Between two sixteen year old girls. It’s not impossible that their favourite singer hit peak popularity in 1947, but it’s far more probable that this is a note from Francine, the Ancient One, that kids today love Billie Holiday. Because she does. And Francine is nothing if not down with the kids.

[Wing: My favorite Billie Holiday song is the heartbreaking and infuriating “Strange Fruit,” which put her in the crosshairs of a lot of powerful white people who wanted her silenced. Here’s a quick video explaining it. Note: It’s about the hate crime of lynching black people.

Another song I love is her cover of “Gloomy Sunday,” in part because it has beautiful clarinet work that I enjoy playing (or did back when I played regularly). Note: It’s about suicide.

I’ll stop here before I add even more content notes.]

[Raven: Billie Holliday is great, but I agree that it’s surprising that she’s the focus here. I mean, sure, this is Liz and not Jess, but even so. Hot on the heels of a book about a snobbish artsy girl and Ken Matthews, this does come across a bit like the “highbrow” choice. Plenty of more contemporary choices to go with… Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner. Maybe a bit early for Madonna, Tracy Chapman, Annie Lennox, but the point stands. There are names in the ring, and Billie Holliday seems an odd choice, even though she’s cool.]

I much prefer the Twins approach, where everyone loves Johnny Buck and Melody Power(s). Since they don’t exist, I can’t disbelieve because their music genres aren’t mainstream enough for everyone to love them, or they’re twenty years older than the usual age tween girls swoon over.

They briefly talk about the song contest. Then Jessica comes in to say that she’s going to Helen Bradley’s house to practice rocking because she has a rocking chair. And, yeah, I smirked. This is the wacky Jessica of old that we invested in. This is exactly the kind of shit she would practice.

(Of course, ignoring the fact they were going to use the Wakefield Grandparents’ rocker. Because this ghostie has the attention span of—SQUIRREL!)

Largely this scene is contractual obligation to keep the twins on the page for X amount of words.

And I’m fine with that. Lynne’s story is more compelling. Mostly because she’s an asshole. [Raven: I agree with the compelling aspect. I like that the story doesn’t have the Twins front and centre. Leaves less room for Liz to meddle or Jess to appall.]

(By the way, this ebook copy is littered with spelling mistakes. Helen Bradley goes back and forth between Helen and Hellen, for example.)

Over with Jessica, WOE AND PANIC! Helen Bradley is moving to LA. This means that – yes, you’ve guessed it – there’s a slot open on the cheer squad, and we have the opportunity to destroy the life of some chubby/slutty girl who wants to join. After all, everyone loves a life-ruining hattrick.

[Jessica] was thinking that she was the one who had to suffer most when they had auditioned Annie Whitman, but she didn’t dare mention it, not with Annie right in the room. The poor girl had tried to commit suicide when she hadn’t made the squad. Everyone had gone almost crazy with fear and worry. Finally they expanded the squad and let her on. The last thing Jessica wanted was to go through something like that again.

Well, that’s certainly one way to remember that time you bullied and slut-shamed a girl into the hospital, and personally insisted that she didn’t make the squad, just to break her soul.

After all these horrible books, I am still shocked by the audacity of Jessica being like, “OMG, that time I bullied a girl to suicide was really hard on me. I’m not sure I can go through that again.”

[Wing: Dove already covered the actual important part here, so I’ll only say: If they expanded the squad for Annie, why don’t they just retract it now that Helen’s leaving?] [Raven: Because with one less cheerleader, they’d have to rename the school to Sweet Valley Hig. “Gimmie an S…” and so on.] [Wing: What did they do before Annie, then?] [Raven: Spelt it wrong?]

Thankfully, there is happy news on the horizon. Lila’s hot rich cousin, Christopher, is coming to visit soon. Jessica is determined to bed him.

We should really be keeping a counter of how many men Jessica obsesses over before she even meets them.

We cut to Lynne on Wednesday morning, wanting to drop her tape off. She’s picked a time when everyone’s in class, while she herself has study hall. Unfortunately, she has timed it just as Elizabeth is coming out of The Oracle office, and Elizabeth nearly knocks her flying as she hurries out.

Elizabeth asks if she needs anything, and Lynne says she’s at the wrong room, gotta go. Which, naturally, even though we’re in Lynne’s point of view, I’m sure will be enough to get Elizabeth’s “I can fix her” sense tingling.

Lynne waits until Elizabeth moseys off, then drops off her tape.

And now we cut to the announcement of the winner. Guess nothing happened for two weeks. Excellent pacing, ghostie.

This is being done on the school green, with The Droids playing the submissions on a tape deck after announcing the title and submitter. They get to Lynne’s, and Ken is completely stumped by the title “Outside, Looking In”. I guess JC is right. This boy is an utter moron. She called him a “himbo”, but I can’t take middle school Amy Sutton’s ex seriously. [Raven: Ken Matthews, flummoxed by the concept of windows.]

Everyone is blown away when they hit play. It’s the most amazing voice that ever voiced. Here, I love this clip, I bet it goes down exactly like this (particularly the moment where the big high chorus kicks in):

[Wing: Unavailable for me in the US, but I assume this is absolutely fitting.]

(Also, check out the Jessica judge. Hot. Blonde. And her reaction clearly telegraphs, “OMG, who’ve thunk a chubby, speccy guy in a cardigan had that voice?!” The fact that she can’t stop shrieking after she sees him always bugs me. Um, I’ve never watched this show. I just accidentally watched this clip once.)

This is Lynne’s soopah-speshul song.

Day after day I’m feeling kind of lonely,
Day after day it’s him and him only.
Something in his eyes
Made my hopes start to rise.

But he’s part of a world that doesn’t include me.
Nothing he says could ever delude me.
I’ll never win.
This is how it’s always been.
I’m on the outside… looking in.
Night after night I’m saying a prayer
Night after night… that somebody will care!
Somebody to hear me,
Someone to stay near me…

But nothing’s going to change. Dreams can’t deceive me.
I’m all alone. You’ve got to believe me.
I just can’t win.
This is how it’s always been…
I’m on the outside—on the outside…
Lookin’ in.

You can’t win, Lynne? I feel you. I have never once won at Bobsledding either. And Raven’s never made the Olympic team for dressage. And Wing? Wing absolutely cannot win a place on the space shuttle to Mars. I’m sure all the readers are equal failures in shit they’ve never tried too.

[Wing: Goddamn it, Dove, how fucking dare you ruin my dream. (Honestly, space travel was a dream, as was being a fighter pilot, but for health issues around vision, vertigo, and, you know, being crazy. Alas.)]

The students of Sweet Valley High though? They think this is a big win and it gets played again to a spellbound audience.

[Raven: “Couldn’t remember the greatest song in the world, no… this is just a tribute.” I always laugh when a book or film presents something as “OMG this is the greatest song ever” and then actually has the audacity so SHOW it. Like, the Ghostie here isn’t going to write something so profound as to change the world. Whatever is presented, it ALWAYS falls short of greatness. Except the final song in School of Rock, naturally. That’s perfect.] [Dove: Like how in the previous book, the ghostie deftly side-stepped showing Liz’s amazing short story that Ken copied, or his even more amazing short story that he wrote.] [Wing: Ghostie in this book should have side-stepped, too. I would have! Songwriting is hard as hell.]

Guy has imprinted on this voice, this song. He rallies everyone present to find this amazing girl.

(I bet she’s ~NoT LiEk oThER GirLz~ to him.)

Over with Lynne, Mr Collins speaks to her after class and thinks she’s just super. She probably would make a great poet. If she does try it, be sure to show him the poems, ok? Because they’ll probably be awesome.

And Lynne walks out confused. But doesn’t Mr Collins know that she is the biggest nothing in the history of nothings? Other Nothings ate Fantastica. She’s the Nothing that ate the Nothing that ate Fantastica.

Just fuck off, Lynne. I’m sick of your shit. Grow up. Woman up. And enjoy your fucking life.

Lynne wishes there was something that would validate her. She toys with the idea of going to the spa with her mother, or wearing contacts, or doing something with her hair.

This is it, Lynne told herself, glaring at her reflection. This is really it. Suddenly she was fed up with herself for being such a slob. True, she might not have been blessed at birth in the beauty department, but that didn’t mean she had to aggravate the situation by taking such bad care of herself.

OMG, yes! This is a good realisation. Everyone can be beautiful, but not usually while wearing a holey sweatshirt, jeans that haven’t been washed for weeks, and with hair that you can’t get a brush through. And when you feel more confident in how you look, even something as simple as knowing your hair is well brushed and your sweatshirt is fresh from the laundry, you will present better to others.

She bumps into Guy on the way out and he says he’ll walk her home. He tells her that he’s found the most amazing singer-songwriter and Lynne immediately wants to die. Oh woe! He has found someone else! Oh no! The tragedy of Guy listening to someone else’s song. I know this is meant to be humble, but wouldn’t it be nice if she had the faintest hope, instead of just being Moaning Myrtle about everything?

Then he hands her a Walkman and OMG, it’s her song.

Guy is fucking smitten with this Mysterious Girl, and Lynne says why so mysterious, playing dumb, and Guy tells her it was an anonymous submission.

“But I have a feeling she’s really intense—really terrific. I can just tell by listening to her that she’s not like anybody else around here. Gosh,” he concluded breathlessly

Run away from a guy who’s in a band with two girls and assumes that no girls like music, and Lynne and the mysterious songwriter are soopah-speshul and ~NoT LiEk oThER GirLz~.

Lynne takes all of Guy’s excited musing about what it would be like to play backup for this singer with her amazing voice to mean “I bet she’s hot and fuckable with big boobs and not a fugly mess like you. Why don’t you just put a bag over your head, uggo?”

I mean, yeah, Guy is obsessed with the rest of girlhood being a complete wasteland of pointlessness, but he never once mentioned how sexy she would look. Lynne is actively searching for reasons to get upset and offended. And this is the one she gloms on to, and vows to keep her identity secret, because Guy has just proved how necessary that is.

[Wing: Lynne is depressed and anxious and has a completely unrealistic understanding of herself and others.]

Dude. Get help. I am not the right person to help you. I hate you. But a therapist is paid to put up with your bullshit and could redirect all this nonsense.

[Wing: I agree that she needs help.]

Over with the twins, they want to know who Mystery Songwriter is. Jessica because she wants to unveil her at Rock Around the Clock. Elizabeth because she senses from the lyrics that the writer is inherently broken, and she fucking needs to fix her. [Wing: I love how Jess is absolutely certain that Liz knows the truth. Your reputation as a gossiping busybody is solid, Liz, no matter how you judge people who gossip.] [Dove: This. And in any other book, she’d have known since chapter 3, so major kudos for not making this Liz’s book about Lynne’s problem.]

And that’s it. For all the flaws in this book, I am loving the hell out of the way the ghostie, for all their flaws, are keeping the twins out of the parts they’re not necessary for. Objectively, these scenes are pointless overall, but this is Sweet Valley, it would be weird not to have a POV chapter from at least one Wakefield. So keeping them to the barest minimum is very smart. [Raven: Agreed!]

We cut to the Beach Disco, where Guy takes Elizabeth outside to ask her to find out who Mystery Songwriter is. He tells her that she’s oddly perceptive for a femoid. I’m genuinely shocked when he doesn’t tell her that most girls aren’t into sleuthing, and she’s pretty special.

Elizabeth says there is no lead for her to follow, and Guy needs some alone time after that. He’s super invested because he feels like the song was written just for him.

Elizabeth goes back to Enid and reports all that was said – which is an oddly human and best-friend action for her to take. Particularly towards Enid. Would you just look at that. Actual proof that Enid is her bestie. Elizabeth adds that she thinks Guy is in love with a girl he doesn’t even know the name of.

Elizabeth wonders if Mystery Songwriter has any idea what kind of stir she’s causing.

That is a box we don’t wanna open, Elizabeth. She could angst for days over it.

Over with Lynne, she’s reading magazines and giving herself a makeover. She has a bath, [Wing: She describes pouring all the various bath things into the tub as being like science, and I kept waiting for her to have something go terribly wrong with it all. We’re too close to the end and the magic fix for that, though.] washes her hair, puts on her contacts [Raven: She took her glasses off! Yeah, she took them off.] and plucks her eyebrows. She looks objectively at her closet and realises that ancient grubby jeans and sweatshirts are not the look she wants any more, and instead tries on the clothes that her mother buys for her at any occasion.

Lynne usually just chucks these in the back of her closet, while wishing it was sheet music instead. And I have to ask: has she told her mother that? Because if she has, and her mother continues to buy her stuff that Lynne doesn’t want and ignore her wants, forcing Hot Mamma’s own interests on her, then that absolutely sucks, and needs to be addressed. [Raven: Yeah, this is a Red X against Mama Henry. Buy your daughter gifts for HER, not for YOU.]

On the other hand, everything I’ve seen thus far from Lynne suggests that she never mentioned it because she hates talking to her mother, and is just sulking that Hot Mamma can’t read minds. And this also sucks, and also needs to be addressed.

But tonight, she tries on a jumpsuit with a t-shirt and a sash around her middle. How very.

Hot Mamma comes home, and Lynne is awash with shame. Her mother is going to laugh at her.

But no! Hot Mamma comes in and says she looks wonderful and she would never ever laugh. Lynne is the most precious thing she has in this world. Lynne asks to go to the spa, and Hot Mamma says sure, but the most important thing is: is Lynne happy?

“That’s much more important than coming to the Silver Door,” her mother told her seriously. “What matters is feeling good about yourself—really good about yourself—and being able to see your strengths and talents as much as your weaknesses. Do you know what I’m saying?”

Lynne nodded, her throat aching. She knew exactly what her mother was saying. And for the first time in her life, she didn’t push it aside or try to ignore her mother’s advice. Because she knew now that she needed her mother’s help. And she was ready and willing to try to change.

Yeah, I’m going with the slipup earlier was just a flub. If she understands a message as healthy as this one, there’s no way she’d have intentionally told her daughter she wasn’t just ugly, but stupid too.

Also, have we just met the best parent in Sweet Valley? [Wing: Which means we’ll never see her again.] [Raven: Best Parent in Sweet Valley? As coveted an award as the Most Handsome Man in the Burns Unit.] [Dove: It’s a low fucking bar, and Ellen Riteman’s mother was the only person to clear it in the Twins run, before tripping over it and breaking all of her goodwill during the Unicorn Club.]

The next morning we are at the Wakefield Compound and Jessica needs help moving a rocking chair. Elizabeth cannot help because she has to go to the Music Centre to buy the Billie Holiday album that Enid has. Because I guess she is too pure to tape it off the record, like any normal person of her age in that era. Elizabeth supported Metallica in the Metallica vs Napster dispute. [Wing: We’re ancient.] [Raven: “Oh hello… Enter Sandman…”


“Liz, don’t you think Enid’s getting more boring than ever these days?”

I’ll not lie, I fucking lol’d. It was just so casual and conversational. Ordinarily I find Jessica’s peevish hatred of Enid to be tiresome and indicative of her narcissistic need to be the centre of everything, but this was just so off-the-cuff. “Hi, I need a ride to school with my rocking chair. Also, have you noticed that your bestie is tapping new depths in dull?”

And the answer is actually yes here. In the Venn diagram of “cool kids in the 80s” and “people buying Billie Holiday’s record forty years after it was released”, there is an overlap so skinny that even Jessica can’t find a justification to fat-shame it. And Enid is not in it.

Elizabeth says it hurts her feelings when Jessica is mean about Enid. I guess there’s no point in saying that endlessly running people down is spiteful and massively ugly, so just focus on the bit Jessica might care about.

Elizabeth drives over to the Music Centre, which I can only assume must be a shop. She finds the record, but decides to eavesdrop on a music lesson because the plot demands it. She hears a girl signing and thinks it sounds familiar.

The voice leads her to Lynne and boom! Big fat reveal! Elizabeth exposits that everyone is wild to find out who Mystery Songwriter is, and Guy Chesney is truly, madly, deeply in love with her. Lynne whines boringly about her issues.

Elizabeth tells her that everyone feels self-conscious. Even her. And I fall about laughing, because no Wakefield has ever felt anything less than 110% perfect at all times.

Lynne makes her promise not to tell because she’s not as hot as Linda Ronstadt, and although Elizabeth really wants to watch Lynne and Guy snog, she vows not to tell.

We cut to Rock Around the Clock, which I can’t be bothered to describe because we’ve all seen the Born to Hand Jive number from Grease.

The Droids play Lynne’s song, and Guy specifically dedicates it to Mystery Songwriter, and everyone is moved by the beautiful music and lyrics. And Dana’s voice, I guess. That’s fine. Not as good as Lynne’s. But, y’know, it’ll do.

At home, Lynne is getting a makeover from her mother – as a bonding experience – and Lynne is revelling in how nice it is to talk to her mother, instead of just endlessly telling her to fuck off. She tells the whole story, and her mother understands everything, and says that her dad would be proud. He never had the nerve to write songs, because it would mean showing who he was to the world. She describes him as “a very frightened man”, which sounds like anxiety in today-speak. And it would have been great if Lynne had consistently shown she was anxious too. [Wing: She has. Over and over and over. She is terrified, in particular of looking like she cares about things, about looking better, about wanting friends, when she doesn’t think she deserves anything.]

Lynne says she wants to learn how to be brave.

Over at the dance, Guy takes Elizabeth outside to badger her about Mystery Songwriter. Elizabeth missteps and reveals that she knows who Mystery Songwriter is, but adds that she’s sworn to secrecy. [Wing: You know, Liz judges her sister for never being able to keep a secret, but much like with the gossiping, Liz, you’re just as fucking guilty.] Guy wants to know why. Elizabeth says that people expect all singers to look like Linda Ronstadt. Shockingly, Guy immediately knows who Mystery Songwriter is.

Elizabeth is like “How did this happen? I just mentioned a forty-year-old singer, whose career is in decline* right now, and hasn’t had a single in the yearly Hot 100 Singles of the Year since 1980 (six years ago), which in music terms for sixteen year olds, is like five decades ago. Meanwhile, Dolly, another country icon, is still riding those charts – and high. How on earth could this incredibly specific reference – that nobody in 1986 would make – narrow down the identity of Mystery Songwriter?”

Elizabeth is SMART.

* decline, as in, she is no longer peak popularity, not that it’s over. No shade on Linda. An American Tale is coming out any moment now.

[Wing: You do not know how much self control it is taking me to not share some of my fave Dolly songs, even though I’ve gone off on tangents with music too often already. She’s amazing.] [Raven: Dolly is another choice. We love Dolly. Who doesn’t love Dolly?!] [Dove: I don’t think Trump likes her. Which makes her all the more loveable to anyone with a soul.]

Surprisingly, we cut to the next day, instead of wrapping it all up at the dance.

Lynne and her mother have been to the spa where Hot Mamma works, and have tried everything, saunas, exercises, new hair, new makeup, everything.

“It looks wonderful, Mom,” Lynne said gratefully, a lump in her throat. She couldn’t believe how eager her mother was to help her. For years Lynne had been such a brat, refusing to confide in her mother, acting hostile and difficult. All of that had changed now, and it made Lynne’s heart ache to see how easy it was to bridge the gap between them. Her mother had been ready and waiting—the estrangement had all been her fault.

I will say, I do appreciate that Lynne realises that this situation has been her own fault. I think the text specifically means the relationship with her mother, rather than her entire situation in life. Even so, this is far more self-awareness than most SVHs are capable of.

She has a full makeover, and feels more attractive. Again, I’m absolutely shocked that we’re not told she was classically beautiful all along. She just thinks she looks better, and she’s happy with that, although she’s still not Linda Ronstadt hot, and that may still be a problem with Guy. What if he laughs at her new look?

Urgh. Shut up. I’m bored of this.

But in other news, I just became an auntie to JC’s tropical fish, so it’s character development for everyone.

On Monday, Lynne takes delight in getting ready for school, and just as she’s leaving, Guy calls her on the phone and asks if he can walk her to school.

Lynne is like, “OMG, what if he likes my personality or something?” Dude. He must do. Because the way you are described pre-makeover makes me assume that you smelled faintly of feet at all times. Why do you think he was hanging out with you before? You self-described as ugly af, so you don’t think it’s your looks. What else do you have? You spent no money on him. You don’t have a car. Dude, you got nothing but personality.

Guy surprises me too. He compliments her clothes and then says he never noticed her eyes before because they were hidden by her glasses. If I was to pick a book from my childhood where a compliment would stand the test of time, anything in Sweet Valley wouldn’t make the top 100 guesses. These are great compliments to give someone. Guy just validated choices she made – to ditch the specs, and her choice in new clothes – rather than how her body looks naturally.

And then the plot swoops wildly to the side, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it, so I’m just giggling to myself about it, because it’s weird and silly.

Guy tells her that he’s found Mystery Songwriter. He knows someone who works as a sketch artist, and so he called him, and described how the singer should look, based on his obsessive playing of the song to the point where he could visualise the singer.

He and Elizabeth are going to photocopy the picture and distribute it at lunch today.

Like, of course you are. Why wouldn’t you? [Raven: I mean, this could backfire in a number of spectacular ways. What a completely shit idea.] [Dove: Sometimes you just have to let SV do its thing. I picked the rocking chair thing to pieces. I don’t have the spoons to point out how daft this idea is. So instead, I giggle.]

Lynne, naturally, anticipates that he has drawn Linda Ronstadt.

She spends the morning fighting her anxiety, but at lunch the flyers all have her face on it.

Everyone is super supportive. Including the principal, who has given The Droids permission to play the song there now. So Lynne sings it and everyone goes wild.

Then Guy kisses her and says he loves her.

Because that’s not an alarmingly quick declaration.

Then we have the lead-in to the next book. Everyone’s at the beach, Team Unibore are together, because it’s handy for the plot, even though Enid would never sit with Lila, Cara and Jessica. They’re talking about how sad it is that Helen Bradley is moving away. Then Elizabeth comes up all aflutter. OMG, you’re never going to guess who bought Helen’s house.

The lank-haired spunkwaffle herself.

Amy. Fucking. Sutton.

And if you’re not super excited that Raven is recapping that book, may I suggest you read our extensive back-catalogue and acquaint yourself with Raven’s dismissive attitude to Amy. [Wing: I shouted with joy. (Woke up Monster Dog and Ostrich, too. Not sure they agree with my excitement.)] [Raven: AAAAAAMMMMMMMMYYYYYYY…. SUUUUUTTTTTTTONNNN!]

Final Thoughts:

Well, that was so much better than I thought it would be. Not Carnival Ghost good, but of all the entries thus far, it’s better than most.

The structure was helpful – keeping the twins offscreen, and making this Lynne’s problem and not Elizabeth’s take on Lynne’s problem, was exactly what the book needed. When they showed up, it was short and sweet, and didn’t bug me.

If I’m being fair, this book was written in about 30 days, by uni student trying to make rent, following the outline of a fat-phobic woman who has an unenlightened take on pretty much everything, in a world that hasn’t really tackled mental health particularly well yet.

And with that as the context, this ghostie did very well.

Looking just at the book as it stands, Lynne’s characterisation could’ve been better. If she has anxiety, seed it, don’t just tell me she has it, especially when I’ve seen her fail to socialise but not for anxiety reasons. Unfortunately, I spent at least half of the book hating Lynne because she was badly written.

But I very much liked that she owned her part in failing to connect with her mother.

And the resolve was bonkers. And I’m ok with that. It’s Sweet Valley, after all.

I’m giving this a high Good. I’m waiting for something I will re-read for a Stupendous, so don’t expect one unless something awesome happens. But this is the highest Good I’ve read.

[Wing: I was leaning toward a high meh when I read it, but my utter shock over the fundamental differences in reading Lynne made me question that. It’s probably still a high meh, the overall story is kind of boring and overdone (at least looking back on it from the 2020s where I’ve seen decades of movies with similar premises), but I think defending the weight and destructive nature of Lynne’s anxiety and self-loathing bumped this up to a low good. High meh, low good, they’re pretty much the same.]

[Raven: Overall, I quite liked this. It’s a Good. But a low one.

The best thing about this book is that it wasn’t about the twins. They had a very small influence on the story, but placing them as peripherals meant their tentacles were’d quite so constricting as we’ve come to dread. So no sanctimony from Elizabeth, and no shit-housery from Jessica.

As for Lynne and her “anxiety”, my fellow recappers had different reactions to the story as presented. Predictably, I’m placed somewhere in the middle. I didn’t feel that Lynne’s anxiety was well seeded, as Wing did. Nor did I think it wasn’t seeded at all, as Dove did. I personally thought that the ghostie did the character a disservice by not showing Lynne as anxious in any material way, instead leaving us to infer the anxiety by having Lynne stating her position and thoughts in a very cold and matter-of-fact way. She found herself ugly, becuase she is ugly, and no questions will be fielded at this time. Like the whole aspect was a done deal on page one, and she had come to terms with everything. So we are told, but we do not see, and there lies the disconnect.

And finally, hooray for another victory in the War Against Glasses. They are truly the blight of all ugly ducklings everywhere!]