Sweet Valley High #3: Playing With Fire

Sweet Valley High #3: Playing With Fire by Francine Pascal & Kate William

Title: Playing With Fire

Tagline: Can Jessica play Bruce Patman’s game and win? [Wing: No one should want to play Bruce Patman’s game.]

Summary: Jessica Wakefield demands attention in any crowd, from every boy.

After obsessing over him for weeks, she finally lands the perfect guy: Bruce Patman. And she falls hard and fast. There’s nothing she won’t do for him…

But Elizabeth soon notices a change in her twin. Jessica’s usual charm, determination, and attitude are gone. She’s a ghost of her old self. And Liz wonders just how far her sister will go for love.

Initial Thoughts

Bruce Patman was bad enough back in middle school. I’m not looking forward to seeing what he’s like in high school. (One of the things I’ve osmosed from fandom is that he’s terrible through and through.)

[Dove: It should be noted that Wing is recapping the 2008 version of this that was “updated for a modern audience”, while Raven and I read the hard copies that I’ve owned since the 90s. The comparison of both would be hilarious, but Wing did not have access to both, and I haven’t had chance – or the stomach – to read both versions back to back.]

[Raven: While I’ve enjoyed these books a little more than my compatriots, I’m hardly swinging from the light fittings in my underpants. I’ve little to believe that this will be anything more than a meh-fest. And as for reading two different versions of this book? Get outta town.]

[Wing: Note from the future: BURN IT DOWN. And since I’m burning it down by the time I reach the end, dropping these links here rather than in that dumpster fire: Patreon gives you extra recaps, dramatic performances, and Cover Calypso. Or buy us a soda and slice at Guido’s with our Ko-Fi.]


We open with Jessica and Winston Egbert attending the annual dance competition together, as required since they were voted homecoming king and queen a few weeks ago. That still doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would they then have to attend other events together? Unbelievable. Jessica calls it a stupid, archaic tradition and thinks that whoever came up with it hated love.

[Dove: The original version opens with Todd badmouthing Jessica’s constant need for attention and the hateful way she’s ignoring or insulting Winston, while Elizabeth defends the cesspool that is her sister. I side with Todd. And Todd sucks too.]

I’m willing to suspend my disbelief about a lot (no matter how it may have come across over the years of recapping, I swear I am!), but this one sticks in my craw. It has no believable in-universe reason behind it! Obviously it’s a plot device, and an awkward one, but things need to be more than just plot devices! [Raven: I don’t mind this, to be honest. I see it as like the supermarket openings undertaken by the winners of regional beauty pagents and the like.]

Winston wasn’t supposed to be elected homecoming king; Bruce Patman was, but Elizabeth pulled the “crudest prank of the century” on her own sister. (I suppose it is a step up from having her tossed into the pool. Sort of.)

The dance competition is a fundraiser for the athletic department. Jessica is certain she could have won it with Bruce as a partner, but Winston is a clutz [Raven: Winston. The back-flipping show-stopping tumble-monkey from the Boosters. Is a clutz.]


Jessica: Slinky green dress. Very descriptive. Also, a slinky dress to a dance competition? She is on the prowl for Bruce, I guess. [Dove: In the original she’s wearing a blue minidress with “matching tights”. That sounds intensely 80s. And Elizabeth is wearing “wheat colored pants and tan, striped shirt”. To a dance. Why is she cosplaying as Vern from Stand By Me? Liz is beige to her very core.] [Wing: What the fuck is that outfit, Liz? What the fuck.]

Bruce: Dark blue shirt and black pants. He’s allegedly far hotter than any of the other losers at the event, but he’s super fucking rich and that sounds boring as hell. I expect something fancier and for Jessica to fall all over herself focusing on how much it costs.

Lila: Trendy yellow dress right out of In Style magazine.

New girl alert! Robin Wilson is our new fat girl, it seems (I do hope Lois escaped the mess that is Sweet Valley), and she’s attached herself to Jessica. Jessica is “too polite — in public, anyway” to tell her to go away.

Jessica Wakefield. Is too polite. To tell someone to fuck off.


Ghostie, I cannot.

Jessica internally mocks Robin’s size and looks, I internally and externally hate Jessica, moving on.

[Dove: In the new version, Jessica thinks that Robin would not fit into a size six after “a month on Weight Watchers”. Well, duh. Of course she wouldn’t. If she’s plus size, it’s going to take more than a month to lose weight to a size six. This is where Sweet Valley cannot work out fat people. Are they “fat” because they’re just a size eight, or are they actually plus sized? If they’re just not as skinny as you, then get in the fucking sea with your comments about their weight. Being a teenage girl is hard enough, and giving someone slender a complex about their body because they could be even skinnier is monstrous. And if they are plus sized, fuck off to the moon and back, because you know fuck all about them. For all you know they are on a weight loss journey already (or not, and that’s their choice too), and you thinking spiteful comments doesn’t help. Particularly when they come from Jessica, who never eats healthily, but seems to think she’s an expert on treating your own body well, by virtue of being born with a metabolism that gives zero fucks she eats at the Dairi Burger every fucking day. And I want to point out that Robin is constantly referred to as “always eating”, but they don’t bother to specify what. For all we know – although I doubt it in Sweet Valley – she’s chomping carrot sticks constantly, because she’s one of those people who never feels full, and is filling up on healthy veggies throughout the day. Basically, I have a lot of thoughts about how fat people are portrayed in Sweet Valley, and I suppose it’s a good thing I have the next book, right? And finally, isn’t it terrific in 2008, the writers still thought it was a good idea to fat-shame people? Francine, you are an awful human being. Note: this is the point I realised the story was different to the original, and switched over to my actual book, rather than the revised one.]

[Raven: Of all the things I dislike about the franchise, I think it’s the fat-shaming crap I hate the most. Spoken like a true fatso, I guess.]

Valley of Death [Dove: The Droids.] [Wing: Update wins.] [Raven: Why the fuck does that need updating?!] finishes their set; they are the only student band worth listening to, per Jessica. Mr Collins, English teacher, major hunk, is apparently hosting this. For some reason. Despite it being a fundraiser for the athletic department. I mean, who would have expected a sports coach to host an athletic department fundraiser? Not Wing, that’s for sure.

This is the 20th annual dance competition, though even as little as five years ago, when Steven was still at SVH, it was social suicide to attend. Now, though, it’s one of the most popular events of the year thanks to all the TV dance competitions. [Wing: It is here that I remembered the copy I have is an updated copy, and I will need to grab an older copy and maybe compare. Maybe.] [Dove: In the original, it was the fifth anniversary, and everyone is super-psyched to be there!]

The rules are thus: band plays one hour, judges watch technique, originality, overall performance, winners announced after.

That’s much shorter than I expected! [Raven: I mean, the band in the orignal version only plays three songs before they annouce the results. Unless they’re a prog rock band playing a jazz odyssey, they’re done in fifteen minutes.]

Jessica and Winston have to lead off the competition, to Jessica’s deep embarrassment. Jessica orders him not to ruin this for her, he promises he won’t, and then we get: the most ridiculous combination of dance moves Jessica had ever seen. It was like early Michael Jackson meets old man attempting to swing dance meets boy choking on his own saliva.

Oh. My. God. I cannot picture that at all, but ghostie, I cackled. I still haven’t forgiven you for the other stuff, but this was a moment of levity.

Bruce rescues her from dancing with Winston, and Jessica basically swoons that he saved her in front of the entire school, all suave and smug and conspiratorial.

Oh boy.

Elizabeth and Todd dance nearby, Elizabeth still besotted with him. She can barely believe the guy of her dreams has been her boyfriend for a whole entire few weeks. Or, you know, all those years of middle school, but who’s counting.

Elizabeth thinks that Jessica feels the same way about Bruce that Elizabeth does about Todd and would be happy she’s managed a dance with the guy she’s loved for half her life, but Bruce is awful, arrogant and self-centered (…much like Jessica then).

(Jessica’s been in love with Bruce Patman for half her life, huh? I guess she never, ever told him off during middle school, or swooned over dozens of other boys, or sometimes found him hot but hateful. Nope, never happened.) [Dove: And also dated him, but dropped him for Aaron Dallas, who she liked much more because he was nice to her.] [Raven: I’ll do better when the obvious continutity errors aren’t front and centre as the main thrusts of the A Plot.]

Todd thinks Bruce is only paying attention to Jessica because he wants to win the contest and knows that Jessica’s the best partner for that. I’m skeptical that Bruce would care about a dance competition, but I’ll roll with it.

Sure enough, Jessica and Bruce win and Winston drowns his sorrows in root beer. [Dove: You missed some prime 80s here. The original held this description:

With the strength of his well-muscled body, Bruce lifted Jessica high in the air and spun her around his broad shoulders and across his body.

… and then everybody clapped.]

[Wing: Oh. my. god.]

Elizabeth and Todd try to cheer him up. Elizabeth calls him a guy who’s usually in the middle of everything. I don’t really have that impression of him, not from Twins but also not from the two other books we’ve read in High, so it sounds like an informed trait that gives me nothing.

Winston tries to shake everything off, says that Jessica’s going to Ken’s after-party with her, he’s sure of it, and he can handle Jessica Wakefield.

Now wait a fucking minute. I struggled to suspend my disbelief that Jessica and Winston would have to attend all official school events together after being named king and queen of once dance. Being ordered to kiss for the photographer at the dance was too far. And this is further still. Why the fuck would she go with him to the after-party if she’s not forced to go, and why the fuck would she be forced to go to a party that is not an official school event? And if she’s not forced to go, how in the world does Winston not have any idea that she doesn’t want to be near him? [Raven: Okay, so forcing dual attendance at the after-party is a step too far, even for me.]

Ghostie, you are really fucking stretching this to make your plot work. It doesn’t. You failed. Fix it. (I say nearly 40 years later.)

Valley of Death finishes their last song and the dance portion of the night ends. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this elsewhere yet, but I both love and loathe Valley of Death as their band name. Just as a band name, I love it, very hard rock, but since almost everything in Sweet Valley is named after Sweet Valley in some way or another, I am deeply annoyed at the idea that Sweet Valley is supposed to be a valley of death.

…though I suppose if you’re hard rock, you probably do hate Sweet Valley. [Dove: All of this falls apart when you remember they’re called The Droids in the 80s.] [Raven: Perfectly good name, The Droids. No idea why they changed it.]

Emily Mayer, drummer, shares good news with her friends Elizabeth and Todd: The band now has a manager. One who came to see them after watching a video posted on YouTube. I really do need to grab that not-updated copy so I can see how things changed, but this is the version I have easy access to and this is the version I’ll keep recapping. (I’m having tech issues, again, and I’m deeply annoyed at my computers.)

Elizabeth questions whether Emily knows he’s a real manager and not just trying to scam the band, which is an astute question even though Todd scolds her for not just being supportive. Emily agrees that it’s a legit question, because Emily is a wonder and I love her already. She’s certain he’s the real deal. His agency is huge and works with August Moon and Savage. [Dove: August Moon is unchanged. They were The Savage Six in the original though.]

Kudos, SVH, your band names appeal to me far more than anything I saw in Twins.

Emily wants Elizabeth to write about it for The Oracle, and Elizabeth is happy to do so. I guess this fits a gossip column, at least the immediate news about it, but if I were in the band, I’d want a longer piece from an actual reporter.

Jessica tries to blow off Winston some more, tells him that Bruce will drive her to the after party, but he tells himself to grow a spine and confronts her about it. She tells him that just because they came together doesn’t mean they have to leave together, which is valid. He can go do whatever he wants now — but oh, he wants to hang out with her. Guess he can only do almost anything he wants. Which is valid!

Robin comes over, and Jessica doesn’t dare let Bruce see her with both of them, so she tells Winston to take Robin, they’ll definitely hit it off.

Before she can get to Bruce, though, Elizabeth stops her and calls her rude. Jessica says he’ll get over it, and she’s been waiting for Bruce to ask her out her entire life. (Sure.) Elizabeth warns her that Bruce uses people, but Jessica’s certain she knows how to handle him. She understands him, not like those other girls. [Raven: Alarm bells…]

Oh, Jessica. Absolutely believable of her, and only going to lead to bad things.

Elizabeth frets about Jessica and Bruce the entire drive to Ken’s house. Todd doesn’t really take her seriously or understand why she’s so upset.

Elizabeth tries to explain the two parts to it: she left with Bruce, dissing Winston, and acts like Bruce is a god when he looks at her as just another follower to use.

That second point is a good one, but fucking hell, Elizabeth, no, that first one is bullshit. If she had agreed to spend time with Winston, date or not, and then blown him off for someone else, yes, that would have been fucked up.


She was forced to attend this event with him because they were crowned king and queen (which may or may not have been because of Elizabeth’s meddling, see our podcast discussion of the second book for more details). She never wanted to spend time with Winston and owes him nothing. (And wouldn’t even if she had agreed to spend time with him.)

Todd thinks Jessica and Bruce are made for each other, which Elizabeth takes as a positive thing despite how she feels about Bruce. I hope that was a sly dig on Todd’s part, even though it’d be shitty for him to say that to his girlfriend about her sister, because it’s funny as shit if so. [Dove: The original:

“I know, but if she’d only listen to me, maybe I could keep her from getting hurt.”

“By Bruce?” Todd snickered. “Jessica’s a big girl. She can handle herself just fine without your help. Besides, I’d say Bruce is the one who should be careful. Not that I think it’s necessary. They seem perfect for each other.”

Yeah, Todd cares significantly less for Jessica in the original. I wonder why they removed it? The guy has legit reasons to hate her. Hey readers, do any of you have the revised copies of Double Love and Secrets? If so, was Jessica’s behaviour toned down, and that was why Todd is less careless about Jesscia in this version?]

Todd convinces her not to worry about Jessica, it’s just one party on one night, she can’t let Jessica ruin it. Elizabeth tells him that she’d be a giant anxiety attack without his levelheaded advice.




Yeah, okay, I feel some kind of way about that, but I can’t quite put my finger on what. Maybe Dove and Raven will have an idea of why it struck me wrong. (Or maybe I will when I come back through to read their comments later.) [Dove: It reads to me like one of those memes calling out people who say they have mental health issues (without any medical diagnosis) for doing a perfectly reasonable thing, e.g., “I know I’m totes OCD because I alphabetise my bookshelf”. We have no evidence that Liz has anxiety. Her pressing need to meddle is not anxiety, it’s arrogance. She’s not worried, she knows better than Jessica. So giving it that word seems a bit “trendy”, maybe? I’m not like offended by its use, but it generates an eyeroll. Of all the things they wanted to keep/throw out/add in, they kept the fat shaming and added in trendy mental health. That’s a choice.] [Raven: Yup, definitely a cool buzzword and little else. Given the date of the reworking, I can’t really castigate it. #AcceptableInTheNoughties.]

At the party, Elizabeth finds Bruce holding court with Jessica, Lila, Cara Walker, John, and Paul Sherwood. John’s kind of an innocent follower, per Elizabeth, and Cara can be okay. The rest of them are shallow and cliquey and Elizabeth hates them.

Does that include Jessica? Because it really, really should.

If Jess and Bruce got together for real, they’d rule the crowd without any problem. “It would be like uniting two superpowers.”

I was going to call that an exaggeration, but actually, having seen exactly two books of Jessica in high school, I think it would be exactly that, if by superpowers you mean megalomaniacal villain superpowers.

Bruce said something in that deep voice of his and Jessica laughed again, blinking up at him like she was in heaven. Unreal. If Jessica could see herself right now, she would stick her finger into her mouth in one of her patented mock gags.

Maybe I could catch it on my video phone for later reference, Elizabeth thought. But no. That would be too much. She was just going to have to hope that Jessica would wake up and smell the pathetic on her own. Like Todd would say, she was not her sister’s keeper.

VIDEO. PHONE. [Dove: I feel certain the person who wrote that line also wrote this movie, which includes the gleefully clueless assessment that “Camera phones are going viral!” Side note: If you have a copy of Camera Phone, please for all that is good and holy in this universe, send it to me. It’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I need to see it again and review it. It’s so bad that the movie’s official twitter retweeted my insulting tweets about it because I was the only person in the universe tweeting about it.]

So fucking judgmental of her sister, goddamn.

NOT YOUR SISTER’S KEEPER?! Elizabeth, you are nothing but your sister’s keeper. Sure, that impression mostly comes from Twins, but you certainly haven’t separated yourself from focusing on her in the last two books.

Bruce holds court telling stories about a cop chasing him down while he’s speeding, paying him off with $100, and getting away with illegal driving. Fuck you, Bruce, fucking rich white boys, fuck cops, and fuck Jessica’s obsession with him. He’s a lying braggart and you, even this cruel, vindictive you, can do better. [Dove: It was $20 in the original, and he was doing 85 in a 30 zone. I know he doesn’t, but I really hope there’s a Very Special Episode coming up where Bruce wraps his car around a tree, and lives out the rest of his days receiving sustinance through an IV drip and completely unable to move or make sounds. That’s what we all deserve to happen. Because we would learn a valuable lesson: drive like a tool, end up as verbally responsive as one.] [Raven: Absolute insta-ban for that speed in that zone in the UK. I don’t care who your fucking dad is.]

Bruce teases Jessica that she’s never seen a $100 just like the cop hadn’t, and Jessica, who is mooning over him rather than listening, feels like she’s been the butt of a joke. Not even Lila supports her in this.

Everyone goes swimming and diving, Jessica continues to be besotted over the slightest bit of attention from Bruce, Jessica was apparently on the girls’ swim team in junior high — is this true? We haven’t (yet) dealt with junior high [Dove: One of our commenters said she joined the track team, but said nothing about swimming.] — Bruce puts the moves on her while they’re in the shallow area while Jessica’s mind blanks out again some, she’s so pleased that this is finally, finally happening.

Jessica loses herself in their kissing until he unties her bikini top right there in front of everyone. She’s under the water from just beneath her shoulders, so she doesn’t think anything is visible, but she’s still shocked that he did it, and didn’t ask, and did it without asking on their first date!

Her immediate response is to shove him away, but she sees the challenge in his expression and knows that if she wants to keep him in her life, she can’t come across as a prude. Instead, she teases him that they have an audience.

Bruce taunts her that she likes to be the center of attention, surely she likes that now, too. She leans into his ego, telling him she only likes to be the center of his attention, and he takes her into the woods to find someplace more private.

Over with Elizabeth, her friends talk about how exciting it is that Valley of Death might get an actual contract, but Elizabeth is distracted watching Bruce and Jessica leave the lake together.

Elizabeth excuses herself to get her phone from the car, making up a story that she desperately needs to interview Valley of Death right then in order to write her weird little gossip column.

She knows she can’t possibly tell Todd that she’s worried about Jessica going off into the woods alone with Bruce, not when she only just promised Todd that she would stay out of Jessica’s life.

I think this a valid reason to break that promise, Elizabeth! [Dove: That scene isn’t present in the original. She goes after them (because she made no such promise to Todd), and appears like the Keeper of Virtue, while Bruce and Jessica are making out.]

It takes Elizabeth a bit of time to find them, and then she lingers longer, listening to them, waiting for Jessica to tell him that she wants to go back to the party. Elizabeth’s torn between wanting to drag her sister out of there and wanting to run away and retch.

Elizabeth finally interrupts them, Bruce insults her and Todd, Jessica doesn’t defend her and Elizabeth is both humiliated and annoyed that Jessica laughs even though she knows Bruce is a loser.

“Jessica, let’s go,” Elizabeth said firmly. Jessica almost never turned her down when she took her no-nonsense stance.

That’s a lie.

Bruce tells Jessica he’s done, he didn’t sign up for the buzzkill twin, and Jessica flat out orders Elizabeth away.

When they’re alone again, Bruce calls Jessica his girl and warns her that if she doesn’t keep Elizabeth away from them, he’ll be gone. Jessica loses herself in his kisses again. [Raven: “Is this a kissing book?”]

Elizabeth waits up for Jessica even though she tells herself she’s not. She lied to Alice that Jessica was already at home and then kept an eye on Jessica’s room for fear that Alice would check on her, but she never did.

She manages to fall asleep at some point, and wakes up to Jessica sneaking back in at dawn.

They fight about Bruce again, Elizabeth is disgusted by Jessica mooning over him. She warns Jessica not to move too fast, Jessica is aghast that Elizabeth thinks they’ve already fucked, they just did “stuff” and talked a lot. [Dove: No “stuff” was done in the original. It was cited as “Nothing to be ashamed of. Talking mostly.”] [Wing: Is the slut shaming the same in the original?] [Raven: Butt stuff?]

Elizabeth can’t believe how often Jessica is falling for things Bruce says that are obvious lines to control her, and Jessica, of course, takes it as a direct insult, that Elizabeth thinks there’s no way that Bruce actually likes Jessica.

That’s a fair response from Jessica. Elizabeth keeps thinking about how Jessica knows the truth about Bruce, knows he’s a jerk, a user, etc., but Jessica very clearly does not, or at least is not allowing herself to know it. No wonder Jessica is insulted that her sister keeps questioning her appeal to the boy she likes.

Especially when we’ve not seen them actually be friends at this point in High, I can absolutely believe that Jessica wouldn’t give Elizabeth the benefit of the doubt and that Elizabeth would read as sanctimonious and judgmental to Jessica.

I think Jessica’s reaction to Bruce himself is believable, too, actually. He’s coming across as very good, if obvious, at manipulating people, particularly girls he knows are attracted to him, and she’s utterly overwhelmed by the force of that personality placed on her.

Sunday morning over breakfast, Elizabeth realizes that Alice believed her so easily about Jessica already being home and in bed because she was distracted thinking about the interior design job she wants to get: George Fowler is moving his corporate offices, and she thinks it will be a coup. Ned heard that he brought in a big San Francisco designer, though. Some people in the law office were talking about it and one of them might draw up the contracts.

Give it a try anyway, Alice! He hasn’t signed anything, and even if he had, Fowler would know how to get out of a contract. [Dove: Yep! Everyone loves peach, oatmeal and pecan living rooms. Even high power tech companies!]

(Since it is not Ned himself doing this contractual work, I choose to believe it is not a new legal specialty of his but that the firm is multipurpose.)

After a quick bickering-making up session that is absolutely pointless, Ned and Alice finally notice that Elizabeth is in a bad mood. They try to get some information out of her, but Jessica interrupts them looking happy and fresh and energetic even though she couldn’t have had more than 4 hours sleep.

Jessica tells everyone she’s in love with Bruce, Ned calls it inevitable and teases her that it’s because Bruce is known for his good taste.

Erm. Okay then.

Jessica lies to them about going to the dance with Winston as “just friends,” but a better, and truer, answer is that THEY WERE FORCED TO ATTEND TOGETHER BECAUSE OF SOME GODDAMN UNBELIEVABLE TRADITION.

I will never let that go.

Ned warns Jessica not to move too fast, Jessica promises she has everything under control, Elizabeth fumes and judges and worries, and then Jessica takes off to go sailing on Secca Lake with Bruce.

And to watch an afternoon concert, I’m sure. Or has Johnny Buck disappeared now that they’re in high school, too? (Them moving on free middle school celebrity crushes is totally normal! But if he’s gone, I doubt that much thought went into it when it came to introducing him in SVT.)

Monday, Emily brings band news to Elizabeth: they spent the entire weekend playing for that Tony guy and came up with a marketing strategy and local tour plan. She’s thrilled, of course, and Elizabeth eager to learn more.

(Daytime!Emily dresses much differently than rock band!Emily, per Elizabeth. Blue plaid skirt, white sweater, dark hair pulled back, no make-up. Still a hottie.)

First step of the plan is to have Valley of Death play at larger clubs around Sweet Valley, places that would never even listen to their songs before. Just how many large clubs exist in Sweet Valley? It seems far too small town to have too many, with L.A. (sort of sometimes) so close, but I guess it changes depending on what the book needs. [Raven: They could play at Kelly’s Roadhouse? Or, I dunno, Sweet Valley Concert Space or whatever bland name it’d have?]

Which, power to you, ghostie. Writing would be much easier if I was willing to simply make things fit whatever I need for that part of a plot, continuity be damned.

They’re going to make a new, high-concept video for “Freshman Love” and have a viral campaign on MySpace to drive people to their page.

Oh my god, all of this is wonderfully ridiculous and completely tied to a very specific time frame. (It does make me wonder what the original version says. Another place for me to come back if I have a chance to grab an older copy.) [Dove: Nothing, really. Just small gigs. Which Elizabeth thinks are “concerts”.]

Elizabeth offers, again, to write about Valley of Death for the Oracle, and Emily reacts as if (a) she hasn’t offered before and (b) Elizabeth writes anything for it other than a strange little gossip column. Though she does promise to run the idea past her editor, Penny, so there’s a bit of continuity in that she knows she has to do a bigger series.

(Teacher alert as we’re building out the world at SVH: Bob Russo the chemistry teacher is no-nonsense, demands excellence, and so obviously excited about his work that students like to pay attention to him.)

Jessica’s late showing up to chemistry, making Elizabeth worry about her right until she sees Jessica and Bruce making out in the courtyard, right where anyone in the classrooms can see them.

Jump to Jessica’s POV!

She tries to run to class because she’s going to be late. Bruce gives her grief over it, I’m sure you’re shocked to hear, guilt trips her because she prefers to be in class than with him. She tells him that Russo gives out detentions real easy like and if she gets one, she can’t come cheer him at his tennis match.

[Dove: OMG, the revised version lost this iconic line:

“I want to stay, Bruce. You know that. But I’ve got to get to Russo’s class. He’ll kill me if I cut it.”

“You mean to tell me my girl’s more interested in Mr. Chemistry than in me? What about our chemistry? I thought I knew you better, Jess.”

You missed out.]

[Wing: Oh. my. god. His lines were always terrible.]

As it is, she’ll have to skip cheerleader practice, but that’s fine, they can miss her one day, all she cares about is making sure Bruce isn’t irritated at her.

He writes her a note from the nurse’s office, on a special pink pad he just happens to carry around with him, of course, and they spend the entire class making out.

Elizabeth rushes home after school. She saw a few classmates flirting over the tennis net during gym and was hit with a story idea about two competitive people who fall in love, so she has to get home and write it down before everything flies out of her head. [Dove: In the original, she sees her sister making out with Bruce and has a great idea for a girl who makes bad decisions when it comes to love. Elizabeth is the worst and least creative writer on the planet.]

I’m surprised to see she’s moved on to writing romance. Seems like something she would deem frivolous and shallow, better suited for Jessica.

(Elizabeth outlines her short stories, as do I, and I am now charmed. Damn it.) [Dove: Don’t worry, Original Elizabeth does not.] [Wing: Thank fuck, my world has returned to normal.]

Robin Wilson shows up looking for Jessica (and for a second when I saw “Robin” my first thought was cousin Robin) [Raven: Same!]. They’re supposed to go shopping, but Jessica wasn’t at cheerleading practice.

Elizabeth is shocked to learn that because cheerleading is Jessica’s first priority. Ah, so this is what happens when the Unicorn Club disappears.

Then her shock disappears because she knows exactly where Jessica is: with Bruce fucking Patman.

Elizabeth feels sorry for Robin and invites her in to hang out and have a snack. Robin explains that she and Jessica were going shopping so that Jessica could help her find new clothes for her body type.

Elizabeth is surprised by this, right up until Robin says that it’s all because Jessica heard Winston has a crush on her and wants to help her.

Then she promptly chokes to death on a pretzel.

End book. End series.







Alas, there is not yet any death in SVH.

Elizabeth decides she has to break the truth to Robin: Winston’s been in love with Jessica since they were children and he’s not over her.

Robin shrugs it off, saying that Jessica told her he used to like her but they’re just friends now.

Elizabeth pushes, and then excuses Jessica, reassuring Robin that Jessica’s not always great with the facts, especially when it comes to people’s feelings.

That’s a real nice way of calling her a manipulative liar, but you’re the wordsmith, Liz.

[Dove: In the original, Robin knows that Winston’s in love with Jessica, but that he hasn’t got a hope in hell. And then she makes a self-depricating joke about how she’d totally take a boy on the rebound. She’s actually quite charming, despite how horrible the scene is. But this change does actually fix something that happens later, so I can’t hate the minor tweaks. Although, it was a book, not a live stream. It could have easily been corrected 30 years ago before publishing.]

Robin becomes cheerful again, they joke around, and Elizabeth realizes she’s starting to like her, enough so that she invites Robin to join her and Todd at the Valley of Death gig at a club in Sand Pines.

(Where the fuck is Sand Pines?)

Robin heads out, Elizabeth makes dinner even though it’s Jessica’s turn, and when Jessica finally gets home, snaps at her hard. Jessica waves away her complaints, Elizabeth warns her not to ignore everything else in favor of Bruce, and Jessica promptly wants to eat dinner so she can go back over to Bruce’s house to play tennis.

The Patmans live in an historical mansion overlooking Sweet Valley. Bruce smarms at her with cheesy pickup lines (Jessica: I love this view. Bruce: *eyes her legs in a short skirt* Me too), and talk a little about Jessica’s plan to survive the chem test the next day: cheat off Emily who sits next to her and is a chemistry genius.

Bruce says he loves that she knows how to play the game. Not really a good thing, but Jessica, of course, swoons over his use of the word “love” and blows it up in her own mind.

Jessica is a much better player than Bruce expects and he, of course, gets frustrated when she outplays him. She’s worried about it, even though she knows most guys don’t like to lose (does anyone?), she thought he’d appreciate that she’s good at his favorite sport.

So, of course, she loses on purpose and, of course, puts Bruce in a much better mood. She’s annoyed at first, but their kisses make it all better. [Raven: “It IS a kissing book.”]

Over to Emily who keeps messing up at rehearsal. She’s worried about her chem test and they’ve spent two hours learning one song. Guy says that Emily doing her best isn’t good enough and suggests that if she can’t cut it with their chance to prove themselves on Saturday, maybe they need a new drummer.

My dude, you’re a shit.

Dana defends Emily and says instead maybe they need a new lead guitarist, and it’s not his band, it’s their band, and they’re all a part of it.

Guy continues to snap and be stressed. He wants a music career after high school, and when they play on Saturday night, they’re “playing for [their] lives.”

Oh my god, that is an over-the-top reaction, and I love it.

They practice until after eleven and Emily falls asleep trying to study. [Raven: This whole “band falling apart” scene felt so tacked on. Musos gotta muse, I guess.]

Next thing we know, Jessica gets an F on her chemistry test. She doesn’t understand what went wrong. She always gets As when she copies off Emily. How did this happen?

She goes to Bruce for comfort. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal and would rather make out, even gets irritated when she wants to talk about it.

Jessica’s really worried, though. Not only is the F itself a big deal, but if Russo notices she and Emily both got all the same wrong answers, he’ll probably check their tests more closely next time.

Bruce is nonchalant, tells her to cheat off someone else next time.


Bruce continues to be incredibly helpful and tells her that she needs to smile because the brooding, depressed thing is ugly. He then mocks cheerleading and her love of it.

Jessica fucking Wakefield, since when do you let someone talk to you like this?

She grumbles a little bit internally but, of course, doesn’t call him on it.

He then tells her that he knows where Russo keeps his tests and teases her with the information about how to get them. Before he can actually tell her, though, his friends interrupt and he immediately starts ignoring Jessica in favor of gossiping.

Just as she’s getting worked up, he puts his hand on her leg and she decides to forgive him, because she wants to forget about everything else under his “proprietary touch.”

Jessica. Fucking. Wakefield.

The fuck are you doing?

[Dove: *side-eyes super hard* Why on earth was this scene changed? It doesn’t even make sense! In the original, Jess goes crying to Bruce, who gets off on being her saviour, even though he’s not loving all of her ~emotions~. He does tell her to copy off someone else, but when that doesn’t work, he tells her where the tests are. Jessica thinks he’s going to steal them for her, but he quickly says no, his days of doing that are over. But he’ll tell her how to steal them without getting caught. And then they kiss a lot.]

[Wing: That makes a lot more sense! And works for Bruce’s characterization better, I think, getting off on the power of being a savior.]

Elizabeth tries to cheer up Winston, who has reached the point of dramatic reactions where he wants to give it all up and join a monastery.

She wishes he’d get over Jessica because of how badly her sister treats him, and Winston flat out says that Jessica could treat him however she wanted, he just hates that she’s with Bruce.

Elizabeth agrees with him, of course, and moans to him about how much Jessica is changing because of Bruce.

On the one hand, I actually love that Elizabeth talks to her friends about her problems (and listens at least a little, even if she doesn’t actually handle things very well). It’s nice to see some actual friendships because we sure as shit haven’t seen one between Elizabeth and Jessica (or Jessica and anyone).

On the other hand, Elizabeth’s only recently decided Winston’s not so bad, and she has at least one other friend, so why is she dumping this on a guy she doesn’t know very well and who she knows is going through his own emotions because of Jessica and Bruce? Weird choice, Liz.

Elizabeth plays matchmaker and invites Winston to join them at the Valley of Death gig, but he is annoyed when he figures out what she’s doing. She swears that she doesn’t mean it like a double-date, she just thought he might want to go, too. [Dove: In the original it’s very clear it’s a mistake and not matchmaking, and Winston blows up at her because Jessica did the same thing. She placates him by saying that she just thought it would be nice for him to see some new faces. He comments, “I get nervous around people who eat all the time.” (asshole, SV writers, why so mean?) and then agrees to go.] [Raven: Yeah, get fucked, “Win.” Eating is cool. *chomp*]

Nothing in Elizabeth’s closet works for the gig, so she goes to borrow something from Jessica and finds her sister with a bunch of new clothes, all of which are very conservative and dull compared to what she normally wears.

I am shocked, shocked, that it happened because Bruce wants to take her to the country club with him and she has to dress appropriately. Oh boy.

Jessica even gives her red minidress, her favorite dress, to Elizabeth because she won’t need it anymore because of Bruce.

Jessica. Wakefield.

I am horrified at how he’s manipulating and controlling her, and I mean that not because it’s frustrating (though it is), but because it’s so fucking believable, even for Jessica fucking Wakefield. [Raven: The deletion of Jessica is genuinely terrifying. It’s probably the best thing about this book, but it’s less good-like-cheesecake, more good-like-a-thunderstorm. You can’t turn away.]

She’s not letting this happen to her, even if she’s making the choice to be with him and push aside her doubts and not listen to the people who (allegedly) love her. (Not convinced Elizabeth and Jessica actually love each other at this point.)

It takes them forever to find the Breakers, a worn out, unimpressive spot that looks like a stereotypical biker club. Todd wants to bail after the first set, but Elizabeth has to stay because she’s covering it for The Oracle. And because you want to support your friend, right?


They’re late enough that Valley of Death is already onstage.

Only half the tables are occupied and Winston and Todd both make fun of the bar.

Elizabeth starts to make notes for her article and tries to make Breakers sound as cool as possible because she’s treating this as a puff piece and not an unbiased reporter like she generally wants to be (do you, Liz? Do you really?), and she doesn’t want the kids at school to think Valley of Death played at a dive.

The music’s incredible, though.

Elizabeth drags Todd to the dance floor, leaving Winston and Robin alone together. Robin tries to be friendly, but he keeps ignoring her and she doesn’t understand why. When she went shopping with Jessica earlier that day, Jessica told her how much Winston looked forward to their date, but now nothing is going the way she hoped.

Robin figures out that Elizabeth is right, Winston is still hung up on Jessica, and she wants to make an escape and go hide at home to lick her wounds.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth is determined to stay for the entire show. [Raven: I think they only stay for the first set in the original.] Robin spends the time going back and forth as to why Jessica said what she did, why Jessica has been telling her that Winston likes her, and decides that Winston must have lied to Jessica in order to hide his crush on her, because why else would Jessica say it?

Oh, honey.

The fog clears as they drive home, and Robin spots Bruce’s car parked at one of the lookout spots along the coastal highway. The windows are all steamed up.

Jessica told both Robin and Elizabeth that Bruce was taking her to the country club that night, and Winston groans over it, making Robin feel even worse. [Dove: In the original, we get almost nothing from Robin – we don’t get that awkward scene with Winston – and then the drive home and spotting Bruce’s car happens as normal. Now with the tweak I mentioned earlier, it would make sense that Robin would blurt out that Jessica and Bruce make a super couple, because in the revised version, she thinks she has a chance with Winston (at that point) because Jessica told him they’re just friends and he knows it, but in the original, she knows Winston is still in love with Jessica, so her blurt makes her either look stupid or callous. But the tweak fixed it. Until this further tweak – the added scene of Winston being obsessed with Jessica. Now she’s back to looking either stupid or callous. Good job 2008 writer on fixing a 25 year old problem, and then breaking the fix!]

I sure as fuck hope this doesn’t end with Winston and Robin getting together and that making everything right in her world. You can do better, honey!

Elizabeth and Todd get food after they drop off Winston and Robin and talk about why Valley of Death didn’t invite more of their classmates to the gig. Apparently their manager told them it would be bad if the place was full of high school students.

Valley of Death, you are being fucked over.

Todd lets it slip that people are talking about Jessica and Bruce because Bruce keeps telling people that she’s real eager to fuck around with him anytime, anywhere. Not just making out, people think they are full on fucking.

Elizabeth is horrified and thinks her sister would freak out if she knew that Bruce was spreading rumors. Todd disagrees. Jessica’s so mesmerized with Bruce she wouldn’t actually care.

Elizabeth is torn. She can’t disagree with Todd and now she’s worried that Jessica actually is fucking Bruce.

Oh ho ho, we get a look at Elizabeth’s weekly gossip column.


The heiress from the hill was spotted canoodling with a member of the defensive line at Casa over the weekend. Chalk up one more conquest for our favorite Manolo-sporting lovely…. A certain sportswriter showed up at a certain musician’s b-day party on Saturday night. Could the long-unrequited crush finally come to something?… Our surf champion has found a new surf bunny.

Details to come…. That shy brunette spent another weekend visiting that chic private school and that hottie boy we all remember from the homecoming dance. Third in a row, but who’s counting? (Well, The Insider is!)… A raven-haired cheerleader has her eye on a senior varsity b-baller. Prediction? Slam dunk!

…wait a fucking minute here. Her column is called Eyes and Ears, not The Insider. Goddamn it, ghostie.

[Dove: Don’t worry, here’s the original:


The halls are buzzing with the news of a hot and heavy thing going on between Lila F. and a certain blond football player. Chalk up one more for Lila … Three cheers for Lois W! John P. showed up at her party. Guess sometimes dreams do come true … Bill C’s found another surf bunny … Enid R’s packing up her suitcases for another weekend visit with G.W.—fourth in a row, but who’s counting? … Cara W. has her eye on a basketball-playing senior. Maybe she can get him interested in something besides dribbling! … Danger. Toni J.’s now on the roads. Pedestrians beware …

Yeah. Original Liz was hardly being subtle with her gossip, was she? Also, Lois: Don’t Go Home With John!]

[Wing: I never would have guessed it was Lois in the updated one. The updated one reads a lot more like a blind item, and I remember that have a huge popularity hit in the mid-2000s, so I can see why the change. I think it works better without the names.

Do not understand why they changed the name of the column.]

Elizabeth knows that the column is missing something: all the gossip about Bruce and Jessica because the entire school is talking about them and the gossip column can’t just ignore them.

Yes. Yes you could. You choose what goes into the gossip column. Also, why are you, Elizabeth fucking Wakefield who fucking hates Jessica’s gossipy friends (fka Unicorns), writing the goddamn gossip column? Or two gossip columns, depending on the names.

Such a fucking hypocrite.


She took a deep breath and tried to think of something she could say about Jessica and Bruce that wouldn’t make her feel sick to her stomach. She knew what she would write if she’d spotted Bruce’s steamed – up car at the side of the road and anyone other than her sister had been in there with him. But now it just seemed wrong. How could she fan the flames of a relationship that was so destructive?



Three books. Three books is all it took to make me want to burn the Wakefield twins’ lives to the ground.

Yeah. Good job, ghosties.

At dinner, Jessica babbled about watching Bruce play tennis, and her parents are shocked that she would sit and watch and not play herself when she loves it so much and is so damn competitive.

Now Elizabeth is shaken by how much Jessica is changing and shocked by how much she misses Jessica’s old selfish, self-centered self. [Dove: I kind of love this Jessica. In the sense that I really hated the Jessica from the first two books, and seeing her quiet and broken is kind of pleasing. Please don’t read this as me being pro-abusive relationships. This is a very specific case. I hate Bruce. I hate Jessica. Todd’s right. They’re perfect for each other.] [Raven: I hate this Jessica too. She seems grey and broken. It’s horrible. I also hate the Jessica we met in Books One and Two. I’m Goldilocks tasting the porridge… the first boel is too hot, the second is too cold. Please let the next one be just right.]

Elizabeth’s second article about Valley of Death and their show at Rancho East in one of the “leading music venues” there leads us into the band worrying because of how bad the show actually was. Apparently Liz couldn’t go to that gig and so Guy lied to her about everything.

The band is fighting more and more, Guy snapping at all the others, and their manager is not doing anything to help them at all.

Dana arrives late because she was on the phone with said manager who claims he’s in L.A. playing their music at some clubs to get them attention.

Guy is furious because he was supposed to be the one dealing with Tony so why is he calling her? Dana says Tony claimed he tried to call Guy several times but never got an answer.

Emily’s worried about her grades and still staying too late at practice to study enough, but she convinces herself that it is will be worth it to become a big star.

Drama in the cheerleading squad! Jessica’s been showing up late, leaving early, full on skipping practice, and coach is pissed. Drea, one of the seniors who Jessica thinks is jealous because Jessica, a junior, was made captain instead of her, warns Jessica that at the very least, she’ll be demoted and their coach might just kick her straight off the squad. [Dove: A new scene, but one that makes sense, and should have been in the original.]

Jessica refuses to believe it, it’s not possible, it just be jealousy, Coach would never kick her off … and she has to be absolutely perfect, no more messing around, she cannot lose her spot.

Bruce snaps at her for wearing her cheerleader uniform and tells her she can’t cheer that night, he made plans to take her to dinner.

Jessica can’t skip the game, she doesn’t want to lose her spot and, even more important to me if not her, she loves football games. Loves them. [Dove: This one threw me. Bruce was repeatedly described as a “jock”, but I have yet to see him doing any kind of sport. And here he outright states and football is “boring”.] [Wing: Tennis jock, I guess? I can see someone who does tennis and, say, golf, to think football is boring, but I still don’t really think of Bruce as a jock at this point. He hangs out with them, I suppose, though I’m not sure that makes sense for this rich, spoiled, manipulative, abusive asshole.]

Bruce gives her an ultimatum, accuses her of being interested in one of the guys on the football team, pulls out all the stereotypical abusive talk, and Jessica begs him to come to the game and go out to dinner with her after.

After the ultimatum, Jessica is horrified and feels sick enough to run to the bathroom. She panics and then realizes that if she’s sick, she can’t be expected to cheer at the game.

Later, Elizabeth overhears a big group of people talking about the most exclusive party and they immediately shut up when they see her. It’s not that she’s not invited, Caroline the (Other) Gossip Queen tells her, it’s that Bruce doesn’t want her to know about it because he doesn’t think she can keep a secret from Jessica.

The story is that Bruce’s 18th birthday is coming up and he’s going to throw a surprise party for Jessica to celebrate.

Caroline thinks it’s romantic. Elizabeth thinks it doesn’t sound anything like Bruce. I think it’s weird as fuck, but whatever. [Dove: Another new scene that makes sense. This was handled later in the book by Elizabeth recalling that this had happened off screen.]

Jessica teaches Robin about make-up and thinks that if she lost some weight, she’d be really pretty with her unique eyes, perfect skin, and great bone structure.

You can do better than Jessica, too, Robin!

Robin calls Jessica her best friend, Jessica rolls with it and decides to use Robin for all she can. Not only is she copying her homework, but now Jessica wants Robin to help her cook a meal for Bruce. They’ll practice by cooking a meal for the Wakefields and then Robin can stay and have dinner with them.

All week, Bruce has canceled plans with Jessica because his grandmother is ill. She’s afraid he’ll do the same thing tonight, and of course there’s the fact that he looks tanner than usual, like he’s been at the beach.

What if he’s lying to her and blowing her off? Jessica is afraid of that, too.

Sure enough, he cancels their sailing trip claiming that he has to get the boat ready before Sunday’s race. It’s not like their plans were solid plans after all.

You know, unlike when he surprised her with dinner out and made her skip a football game.

Bruce snaps at her that she’s too needy, what is she doing. She backs down immediately, utterly shocked, and agrees to cheer for him on Sunday.

Jessica. Get the fuck away from him. You can do better. You deserve better treatment than not, no matter how shitty you are.

Bruce cancels again on Saturday, leaving Jessica to baby-sit for Mr Collins and hang out with Robin.

Bruce calls looking for her and Jessica promises him that she can get out of the baby-sitting job because he needs her. Jessica dumps the kid with Robin and leaves before Robin can argue with her much.

Turns out, Bruce needs her because his dad is forcing him to cancel his race because he has to go with his dad to a business weekend. He gripes that his dad acts like Bruce’s plans don’t matter and he has to be there whenever his father calls…

Jessica knows exactly how that feels but she doesn’t say anything about it to him.

She invites herself along to keep him company and make it less boring, but he snaps at her about it until she cries even though they’re in public. He immediately starts playing nice, holding her and apologizing.

Bruce Patman needs to fuck off into the fucking sea.

Jessica spends the rest of the day with him and tells herself everything is fine.

Middle of the next week, though, Elizabeth sees an addition to her latest gossip column that she didn’t write:

Our most accomplished tennis player is now also our most accomplished sailing champion. Congrats to a certain Caddy-driving someone for winning last weekend’s Secca Lake Invitational!

[Dove: Why on earth did they change it from cars to boats????

“And of course our heartiest congrats to Sweet Valley’s own Bruce Patman, who took first prize in last Sunday’s Sun Desert Road Rally…”

Why is Bruce racing a Porsche in a rally? I know all my information about rallies comes from playing Drift, but a slinky little convertible with no clearance is not what you want for a rally stage. Maybe that’s why the changed it to boats. It was less stupid.]

[Wing: There are Porsches designed for off-road rallies, but I don’t see Bruce driving one around town, too. Maybe he had both types in the original? And I’m not sure that boats are less stupid. I, at least, never pictured Secca Lake as large enough to have a fucking boat race.] [Dove: But he refers to racing his usual day-to-day car (“Black Beauty” as he refers to it a couple of times). I know there are rally Porsches, but he is not driving one.]

[Raven: I guess yachts are posher than cars. And him using his Porsche is just an error, so the correction is warranted. And I’m sure that Secca Lake is big enough for a sailing competition… If it’s big enough for Johnny Buck, it’s big enough for a flotilla or two.]

Jessica swears up and down that it wasn’t Bruce, whoever wrote it is mistaken, but Elizabeth can tell that she’s worried about it. Elizabeth doesn’t understand why her sister is taking this sort of treatment from him, why she’s protecting him.

It quickly escalates into a fight, Elizabeth confronting her about how terribly Bruce treats her. Jessica tells her that she loves him, she loves how she feels when she’s with him, he doesn’t have to give her anything else because all she needs is how he makes her feel.

Elizabeth is shocked into silence. Jessica’s never been genuinely emotional over a guy.

Okay, that’s fucking bullshit.

(Let it go, Wing. Let. It. Go. SVT doesn’t exist in this continuity.)

Jessica manipulates Robin again, going so far as to wait for her in the bathroom and stage a teary breakdown over how worried Jessica is about their next test.

And Robin offers to get the fucking test for her even though she’ll take the fall if she’s caught and Jessica will get away with everything.

Look. Jessica doesn’t deserve how Bruce is treating her, but this is also fucked up and abusive.

[Dove: In the original, Jessica just told her to steal the test as part of a Pi Beta Alpha screening process. The test is not for Jessica, it’s just a test because all the other mean girls in the sorority aren’t sure about Robin, so she has to do something daring to prove it to them, and if she does it, Jessica will nominate her – no guarantees that she’ll actually get in.] [Wing: This makes so much more fucking sense. What the shit, ghostie, why this change? It makes Jessica come across as even more manipulative and terrible. She’s full on treating Robin like a friend in order to manipulate her into doing this, tears and all, poor poor Jessica pity, etc. At least in the original, it makes sense to be an initiation step.] [Raven: A lot of these rewrites seem to be “quick, do something to justify the money they are paying us to change this shit.”]

Robin, make like all those middle school new girls and get the fuck out of Sweet Valley.

Emily finds a chemistry test in her locker and Jessica, who never comes to talk to her, saunters over to her locker, unsubtle as fuck.

Jessica’s “hinting” gets her nowhere, so she tells Emily that she knows Emily has a copy of the test. Emily freaks out, of course, and Jessica manipulates her into using the test to get an A because Russo will believe Emily getting an A after failing the last test, but not Jessica, so Jessica will only copy enough answers to pass.

I’m giving ghostie the benefit of the doubt that this isn’t a multiple choice test, because if it was, Jessica wouldn’t fucking need Emily for this and it would be pointlessly complicated.

Elizabeth talks to Penny, the editor, about someone adding a blurb to her column. Penny knows exactly who did it: John Pfeiffer, the sports editor.

When confronted, John immediately admits to it. Bruce always gives him grief because The Oracle doesn’t talk about his tennis matches enough, so he did this in hopes Bruce would back off.

Good fucking lord, Bruce manipulates everyone in this fucking school.

John says that Bruce shouted at him for writing it, though, because now everyone knew he was there. Which was stupid, John says, because half the school was at the race anyway.

Yeah, okay, why the fuck haven’t we seen anyone else mention this around Jessica? That’s mighty fucking convenient.

And then John lets it drop that they all partied afterward, couples, including Bruce, though he catches himself before he names the girl. [Dove: The original wasn’t so obvious. He just says that Bruce was at the race, and he doesn’t know anything else, because he wasn’t there. And in this iteration, it wasn’t an event that loads of SVHers went to.]

Elizabeth sits in on a band rehearsal taking notes for her articles, but yet again, Guy starts a fight with the others. They take a break, settle, and talk turns to how they’re all worried and how it doesn’t really look like most of them trust their manager, though Dana tries to cover up her doubts. Tony even called her to tell her they might have a gig in L.A., but though he said he’d call the others, he didn’t.

Guy loses his shit over the fact that Tony is ignoring the rest of them, and that’s pretty fair, to be honest.

Dana doesn’t fight back, simply leaves.

The rest of the rehearsal is canceled, and Emily asks Elizabeth for a ride home so they can talk.

She hems and haws a little but eventually tells Elizabeth that she cheated on the chemistry test.

Elizabeth thinks she can talk to Russo, worst case is he’ll fail her, it’s not like she can get expelled for cheating.

That is a motherfucking lie, ghostie.

No matter what Emily decides to do, Elizabeth swears she won’t tell anyone.

Jessica comes to her next to show off a beautiful black dress that Lila gave her, one she got at a sample sale in New York City but finds too blah so passed it along to Jessica.

Of course Jessica plans to wear it on a date with Bruce. He’s taking her to a private romantic dinner at the club to celebrate. She’s utterly delighted by it, and Elizabeth hates that Bruce is planning something very, very different.

She decides that he’s doing it because he wants his other girlfriend there, too, without Jessica knowing.

She tries to tell Jessica about it, but Jessica refuses to hear something bad about Bruce and then Cara interrupts them anyway.

Over in chemistry class, Jessica got an F on her test and has to see Russo after class. She’s freaking the fuck out and tries to determine what happened. Did Emily flunk on purpose to screw with her? (Yes, yes, you’re that important, Jessica.) Did Robin steal the wrong test?

He talks to her about the test, but not that she cheated on it. He thinks she just isn’t studying, tells her that she should have come to him for help if she’s struggling so much, and offers her an extra-credit assignment.

Jessica confronts Emily about it later, threatens to tell Russo that Emily cheated, but lo, Emily already told him! She didn’t mention Jessica, though.

Turns out, Russo changed up the test the night before, didn’t want to keep recycling old exams.

… are you. Are you fucking kidding me? So it was a multiple choice fucking test? How else did they manage to use the old answers with the new questions? W H Y W H A T I

I give up. Fuck it.

Jessica goes to Bruce for kissing, but he’s busy with the guys, snaps at her to shut up about chemistry class, and makes the other guys laugh at her.

At first she’s furious, because no one talks to her like that, treats her like that, who the hell does he think he is —

— oh yeah, Bruce Patman, and she can’t possibly lose him.

Fuckity fuck, Jessica, you were almost there. Come on, rage, you can do it.

The surprise party does not go over well with Jessica but she tries to pretend that she’s thrilled. [Dove: The asshole also tosses her beautifully wrapped gifts in the back of his car without even looking at them. If they are truly beautifully wrapped YOU WILL LOOK AT MY FANTASTIC WRAPPING AND SAY SOMETHING LIKE, “Wow, Dove Jessica, it looks like a professional did that! You’re so cool!”] [Raven: Dove is like “Don’t bother getting me a birthday card. Cards are pointless and I do not value them.” Dove is also like “WRAPPING IS AN ARTFORM AND MUST BE RESPECTED. If your wrapping is sub-par, it reflects very badly on your soul.”] [Dove: I might have braided Raven’s gifts last year. And used an iron to get perfect creases. Wrapping is serious business.]

Elizabeth and Todd arrive late, and Elizabeth goes to talk to Jessica who is sitting all alone. Jess tries to appear happy about everything, but Elizabeth knows she’s not, especially when she sees Bruce flirting with one of his many ex-girlfriends.

Elizabeth loses her temper and demands to know what’s wrong with Jessica, why she’s so passive when her boyfriend is flirting with another girl.

The fight goes nowhere on its own, Elizabeth knows she can’t get through to her sister, and then Valley of Death get onstage even though they’re supposed to be in L.A.

Emily is happy, despite the L.A. being canceled, and tells Liz all about them finding out Tony was a fraud (shocking) and was only trying to sleep with Dana, who did not let that happen when he tried.

They’re all feeling relieved over it, too, even though they are also disappointed, because they were so stressed and things weren’t any fun. They’re not ready for that kind of pressure without falling apart and none of them want that.

Winston gets annoyed that Bruce hasn’t asked Jessica to dance even after several songs and he asks her to instead. She says she can’t, she promised Bruce the next dance and the current song is almost over.

Jessica only gets one dance with Bruce while he dances with everyone else. She feels like a wallflower for the first time and hates it, but it’s Bruce’s birthday, he can do whatever he wants. [Dove: Ooh, that’s better than in the original. Zero dances for Jessica there!]

She keeps telling herself that, but she’s also starting to question why he doesn’t want to spend time with her.

He comes to her for the last dance, though, and she feels like all is well, especially when he kisses her neck while they’re dancing. [Dove: Actually, can we talk about this? In the original, he’s always “nibbling” her neck or her ears. That’s not sexy. I now see him as a sexual oddity with a strange nibbling-related tic.] [Wing: I think the actual act can be sexy, but “nibbling” is a bit of a weird word. Very popular in a certain type of romances, especially in the 80s, though.] [Raven: As I said earlier, eating is cool. *chomp*]

She thinks they’re off for “sexy alone time” after, but he wants to get pizza at Guido’s instead, with everyone else.

And Jessica gives up all hope for a romantic end to the night.

Everyone ignores Jessica when she tries to talk to the group around Bruce, and laugh at her when she thinks owning a gun is dangerous when she learns that Bruce has one. Elizabeth keeps waiting for Jessica to defend herself, but she doesn’t.

Bruce leaves to take a call and Elizabeth follows, catching only a little of what he’s saying. It’s enough for her to know that he’s talking about ditching Jessica and meeting up with someone else.

His excuse is that his grandmother is in the hospital again, of course. This fucker.

Elizabeth tries to think ten moves ahead like she does when she plays chess with Ned. Her plan: She offers to take Jessica home, rushes Jessica and Todd out of the restaurant after Bruce leaves, and orders Todd to follow Bruce.

Jessica wants to know what the hell is wrong with Elizabeth; Elizabeth ignores her and orders Todd around. Jessica is bothered by that, mostly because it reminds her that she has no control over Bruce.

Jessica stops arguing when Bruce turns the opposite direction from Fowler Memorial Hospital.

They follow him to Valley Heights, a neighbor city north of Sweet Valley. (…okay. Sure. Why not. I have no idea what we do and don’t know about Sweet Valley’s location or everything around it. Anyone ever make a map?) [Dove: I’ve always thought that Valley Heights is a daft name for a road. I know there’s nothing objectively wrong with it. Even a low place like a valley has a contexually higher place. But still.

Valley. Fucking. Heights
Be honest, is this a Dove thing, or do you guys think Valley Heights is daft name too?x
. Also, that’s where Jessica will live when she’s 30, which this pre-dates by 3 years.]

He picks up a beautiful girl, and Jessica feels sick.

[Dove: Ok, in the original, Liz offered to take Jessica home so that Bruce could rush to see his beloved Granny. She hissed instructions to Todd to stall for about 30 minutes (which he did with some guff about Saturn and Jupiter being visible tonight), and then Elizabeth claimed to have left her keys at Guido’s, so they went back and found Bruce with his other girlfriend. At which point the stories line up again. For the record, and I’m not sure if this is just nostalgia, but I prefer the original.]

[Wing: I’m torn. I think the original is smoother, but at the same time, it’s highly convenient that Elizabeth knows that Bruce will be back at Guido’s with his girlfriend.]

[Raven: I thought the original was totally going in the direction of the rewrite, and was disappointed when it didn’t. I think the rewrite works better here. I’m fine with Elizabeth’s sixth sense for Bruce’s infidelity. What I didn’t like was that Liz is like “OH NOES MAH KEYS” just as they pull into the Wakefield Compound, and when Jessica – who HAD HER OWN KEYS – suggested they just drop her off before Todd drives back, they basically kidnap her because of PLOT.]

Elizabeth wants to confront him, but Jessica refuses to let her. Elizabeth assumes she’s going to defend Bruce again, but instead she wants to follow him further, see where they go.

Next he leads them back to Guido’s where he and the new girl join his table of friends. Some of the people — Lila and Cara included — are shocked to see him with someone not Jessica, but most of the guys act like they know her well, that Bruce has been cheating on Jessica all this time.

Jessica storms into the restaurant to confront him. Bruce goes pale, the girl, Aline Montgomery, looks a little guilty, and Jessica doesn’t let Bruce get a word in before she’s rubbing a slice of pizza in his face, getting grease and cheese everywhere, following it up with a pitcher of soda.

Bruce calls her a bitch and tries to grab her, but she shoves him away so hard he trips and falls into a fountain.

Everyone ends up laughing at him, even his friends. No one has ever humiliated Bruce like that before. No one dared.

Winston applauds her dinner theater, and Jessica, feeling like herself again for the first time in weeks, asks Winston out for a date to Casa del Sol, and holds his hand as they leave.

[Dove: The original had a lead-in scene to the next book, where at some point Robin approaches Liz to ask if she and Jessica will be at the next Pi Beta Alpha meeting, because Jessica said she’ll nominate Robin as a member. Elizabeth realises Jessica will do no such thing, so vows to nominate her herself.]

Final Thoughts

What. the. Fuck.

That’s it? That’s the resolution? A slice of pizza, a soda, a fountain and all is well? Jessica’s switch is flipped and she’s her old self again, no damage done? And now she’s going to use Winston to make herself feel better? And all is well, Bruce is just letting her walk away? She and Elizabeth are fine again?

Also, I zero percent believe that Bruce would be at all worried when she caught him. He’d be as cocky as ever and tell her she’s being jealous and clingy and she clearly isn’t mature enough to spend time with him, etc. etc. etc. [Dove: Very much this!]

I’m still back on What. the. Fuck. That isn’t an ending. That is a story that drags a little bit but is mostly paced okay and then it is two pages of rushed faux resolution that is completely unbelievable.

What. the. Fuck.

The book actually handled the relationship between Jessica and Bruce surprisingly well up until that miraculous ending. It’s clear that he was causing her real harm in how he talked to her, how he treated her. Even the tension between Jessica and Elizabeth was handled fairly well.

And then it all meant nothing. It’s not even the characters resetting in the next book, it’s the characters resetting before this goddamn book even ends.

And that shit with Winston what the fuck. WHAT THE FUCK. Goddamn it, Jessica. Goddamn it, book. Goddamn it, ghostie. Jessica using him to make herself feel better is not the triumphant ending you seem to think it is.

No one getting expelled for cheating is also utter bullshit.

Fuck hypocritical Elizabeth and her goddamn gossip column, too.

Fuck this goddamn book.

[Dove: It was a big shock to see how massively the original and 2008 diverged. I thought it was just a case of awkwardly shoehorning a cell phone into situations where people would have them, but this one added scenes – that certainly filled out the plot, in particular the one where Liz finds out about the “surprise party”, rather than her just recalling it on the day of the party. It also changed a bunch of things. I don’t really see how changing how Jessica found out is “updated”, it’s just different. And overall, I prefer the original, but that’s probably just because that’s what I read back in the day, I don’t think it’s actually better.

And I kind of enjoyed this one. It wasn’t great or anything, but Jessica wasn’t a monster. It’s unfortunate that the options thus far are only: monster or victim of monster. It would be nice to have her being less of a harpy without being in an abusive relationship. This did feel more like a Jessica that came from Twins, because back then she did do silly things to fit in, and claim to like things she didn’t like because cool people said so. So… can we have a book where she isn’t a victim or a monster? No. The answer is probably no.

Still, for the first time, this felt like a book where things happened, rather than someone walks into a room, hears a rumour or something and then feels bad. Or wants something to happen but it doesn’t. So far the books have been very passive and reactive. While Liz was meddlesome, at least she was actively meddling, rather than just reacting.]

[Wing: That is a good point! It definitely felt like it had action, and I do appreciate that.]

[Raven: Another big bag of meh from me.

There were things I liked. Jessica’s fading into the background was horrible and compelling, and I am definiely digging on the pacing of these books over the Twins series (“suddenly it’s July” and the like, the action does feel like it’s shifting). I’m also happy with the continuity of the books so far, in that they dovetail together smartly. I can’t imagine that lasts forever.

I hated a lot of things, though. Particularly the casual fat-shaming. I’ve no bother if it’s used as a charatcer trait for the Baddies in the story, but the fact is that it’s just sprinkled over everything like a fucking condiment. It’s clear that everyone believes in the message, even the writers, so everyone involved can suck my pudgy nuts.

Three books, three mehs. Come on, SVH, give me a swagger, show some fucking ass. Move me, up or down, either’s fine.]