Sweet Valley High #9: Racing Hearts

Sweet Valley High #9: Racing Hearts by Francine Pascal

Title: Racing Hearts

Tagline: Can Roger melt Lila’s icy heart?

Summary: Roger Barrett has always had a hopeless crush on glamorous, wealthy Lila Fowler. The only attention Lila ever pays to him, though, is to make fun of him in front of her friends. But why shouldn’t she, he thinks. After all, he’s clumsy and shy and works secretly as a janitor after school.

When Roger wins the qualifying heat for a big race, he becomes a school celebrity overnight. And to his surprise, even Lila starts to chase after him. But Roger knows if he runs in the race finals, he’ll lose his job. Will Lila still notice him when he’s no longer a star?

Initial Thoughts

Readers, I’m in trouble. Recapping the second Sweet Valley Junior High book was such a wonderful, engaging, entertaining experience that I am even more reticent to return to the miserable, petty, backstabbing world of Sweet Valley High.

I’m tired, y’all. We’re only nine books into SVH, and I am completely and utterly exhausted.

Does a lot of that come from life things that are heartbreaking and painful and exhausting? Yes. Is that fair to anything I try to recap? No. I’m aware of this.

But SVJH has been a joyful distraction and SVH has been a miserable slog.

On the other hand, we’ve been wanting to see more Lila in SVH. Maybe this will be an enjoyable spin.


I can only hope.

[Dove: Not to minimise Wing’s current life situation, I agree with her even without the additional pressure that real life brings. JH is amazing. It’s warm and it’s friendly, and the problems are silly but real – like the stupid things you say when you’re trying to make new friends that just get you labelled the weirdo, instead of nastiness like, “I hate fat people, they need to be punished, and also I’m going to gaslight boys, and make false SA claims because I feel spiteful.” This is a mean-spirited series, and I really didn’t realise that it would be so mean in comparison to Twins, which was not exactly a kind series either.]

[Raven: As for me, I’m treading water with it. I haven’t really enjoyed a High book yet, but I am confident it will come. There’s wacky hijinks on the horizon, and I’m holding out hope for that. My tolerance for the beige is higher than that of my fellow recappers, it seems. Hopefully there’s a swing toward fun on the horizon.]


We open with Elizabeth searching all over the house for Jessica because Alice is making pancakes. Is that — is that continuity? Did Alice send Liz after Jess because Jess’s favorite breakfast is pancakes, as we saw in All Night Long? Damn. Starting off hot. Or at least lukewarm. Tepid, maybe.

More than I expect from this series so far.

This search takes forever, which is a little weird because Jess is in the parental bedroom trying on one of Alice’s suits, this one chocolate brown. It’s a good color for business, Jess says, though brown isn’t her usual color.

What is your usual color, Wakefield? It’s not purple any longer, to my utter sadness. I miss the Unicorns.

More continuity as Elizabeth recaps the last book for us. Raven did it better. [Raven: Heh. Thanks.]

To recap the recap: Jess didn’t much care about Bill or a movie career, she only cares that she was embarrassed in front of people.

Jess doesn’t care but for how it makes her look? Shocking.

She’s already spun things around, though. Bill will fail in Hollywood, it’s all a waste of time, and Hollywood is full of phonies anyway.

…you’d fit right in.

But Jess. Jess is “no longer interested in spending idle hours in the sun gossiping with my girlfriends. It’s sooo juvenile.”

Who to the what now?

Jess decided it’s time for her to stop being so frivolous with her life. She needs to think about the future.

She needs to share her goddamn drugs, is what.

She claims that the Hollywood thing made her realize she hasn’t done any planning for the future, nor have her friends, and the time to start is now so she can get ahead of them.

There’s the Jess we know and loathe.

Liz is skeptical.

Jess points out that she’s the perfect example of all this, because one day she realized she wanted to be a writer and she’s been working toward it ever since.

…I suppose. She does write that gossip column. And though that continuity is lost to us, she did spend quite some time writing for newspapers in middle school.

Liz thinks that this career focus is merely something for Jess to focus on between boyfriends. Jess is indignant. She’s not giving up boys, she just has to think about other things, too.

Liz remains skeptical. She’s heard Jess resolve to change herself before, and it never happens.

Liz, why do you stand up to her at moments like this when it doesn’t really matter and fail to do so when she’s actively harming you and people you care about? [Dove: That is a breathtakingly excellent point. Francine, any explanation for this characterisation? Failing that, readers?]

And then Jess spins it around so that Elizabeth is on the defensive again and she decides to give her the benefit of the doubt, help her if she asks.

At breakfast, Jess surprises everyone when she tells Ned that she wants an after-school job at his office, and she wants to start tomorrow.

You know, as much as I’ve come to hate Jess in SVH, I love this for her. It’s the good side of her going after she wants. I’m sure it will sour soon enough, but for now, I like it. She’s focused on changing things by actively doing positive things herself rather than tearing down other people to get what she wants or make herself feel better. I can get behind this. [Raven: Agreed. We might hate her, but at least she’s proactive. Although it does smell a little of “my homework is due this morning and I’ve not done it” desperation to demand an immediate start.]

Lila doesn’t rock up until chapter two despite this allegedly being her book.

First thing we see is her complaining about the rain. She and Jessica snarl at each other a little over their problems: to wit, Lila’s hair goes frizzy while Jess’s is perfect and never does, and Jess thinks most girls would kill for Lila’s problems, between her expensive designer outfit to her good body to her beautiful hair.

They’re both between boyfriends, there’s more snarling at each other over it, sly words and pointed verbal jabs. I’d say they snark at each other, but there’s nothing to this that feels like the kind of snark we try to embrace around here. It’s too cruel, too pointed. There’s no feeling of friendship between them, no matter what we’re told.

Jessica breaks the news that she starts at her father’s law office after school. Lila is aghast at the thought someone would willingly work, but Jess holds firm. She’s decided to become a lawyer and this is the time to start.

Holy. fucking. shit. The thought of Jessica Wakefield as a lawyer is terrifying. [Dove: And yet, it fits perfectly, doesn’t it? This will be the first time the California Bar Exam will be run with Hunger Games rules instead of a two-day exam.] [Wing: Three days! California is brutal. Or, as I’ve just double checked, it used to be brutal, it has been cut back to two days. Well damn. Still, Jess’s would be utterly brutal.


Lila continues to be shocked when Jessica says she’s going to maybe not date for awhile, at least until she sees how the job goes.

Who the fuck is this and what has she done with Jessica?

Lila makes sure she’s still going to the Bart dance next week, because of course SVH has another dance right on the heels of the last.

This one is a dance that follows the Barton Ames Memorial Mile, a prestigious interscholastic race. Of a mile? That doesn’t seem very prestigious. (I say as someone who doesn’t run and has never found that alleged runner’s high.) [Raven: In the UK, a mile is definitely a marquee distance for runners. Probably all to do with Roger Bannister and the four-minute thing, which is a barrier that’s highlighted in this book. [Future Raven: Also, I’ve only just realised… Roger Barrett… Roger Bannister… Bannister was even a junior doctor, which Barrett desires to be. How did I not spot that earlier?!]]

Lila doesn’t have a date yet. She’s not going to settle for just anyone.

Aaron Dallas interrupts them to offer to be her date. And Jessica doesn’t react at fucking all, despite all that middle school love. [Dove: You think that’s indifference? Francine states in Sweet Valley Confidential that she never really spoke to Aaron. I love the way she wrote one book out of 300+ and it’s not even close to accurate to any of the other books in the franchise.] [Wing: Spoilers and yet worth it because amazing.]

… and apparently Aaron and Lila dated back in junior high but had no chemistry. They’re still friends after the breakup, though.

If this is actual continuity, we’ll find out eventually on our Patreon where our wonderful Patrons keep choosing Sweet Valley Junior High books for the bonus recaps. (And I am glad for it. SVJH is the best part of any of the series so far, barring our beloved Carnival Ghost.)

Aaron rocks off to “help” Bruce Patman with a history assignment. Help. Sure.

Enter Roger Barrett, otherwise known as Bugs Bunny. His entrance is truly, unbelievably cartoonish, too.

Just as Jessica caught sight of him, Roger stepped in a puddle and lost his footing. He slid about ten feet and landed on his backside on the wet floor, right in front of the girls. His books went flying in a semicircle around him, and his unfashionable, thick-framed glasses tilted at an odd angle on his square-jawed face.

It took all of Jessica’s acting skills to hold back her giggles. The boy was a pathetic sight. His long legs stuck out of the cheap-looking jeans he wore, revealing his frayed white crew socks and well-worn sneakers. The force of his fall had caused his flannel shirt to open at the bottom, exposing a pale stomach that clearly hadn’t seen the sun in years. As he got up, he looked as if he couldn’t decide whether to tend to his shirt first or to get his books before they were trampled by students on their way to class. His hesitation only heightened his clumsy appearance—and made Jessica’s giggles harder to suppress.

Ghostie. This is over the top even for a ghostwriter in Sweet Valley High. Fucking hell.

Roger is, of course, completely embarrassed. Not only is it a rough situation, but he’s had a crush on Lila for a long time and though he knows she’ll never care about him the way he does her, he can’t give up the fantasy of her.

Roger. It truly is just the fantasy of her. You don’t know her. Let. It. Go. You don’t want to deal with any of their bullshit.

He rushes off, leaving Jess and Lila to talk nastily behind his back. Lila calls him Bugs Bunny because he bugs her. He’s a creep with a crush on her and she’s tired of it. [Raven: Okay, but Bugs Bunny, because he bugs her?! That is SUCH a terrible reason for that nickname.]

Now, someone having a crush on you doesn’t hurt you one bit. However, it’s quite possible that he’s been making himself obnoxious around her, following her places, staring at her. After all, he himself thinks that he can’t let go of the fantasy of her.

Jess decides to plead his case because she finds it entertaining, and when she’s a lawyer, she’ll have to defend lost causes like him, so she might as well sharpen her skills now.

I can believe Jess the Litigator, but not that she would defend individual people. She’d be some high-powered corporate litigator protecting the companies destroying the world. [Dove: Or she’d be the HR lawyer, the one that destroys your entire universe when you raise a grievance against anyone else in the company. Hypothetically, one such being might, for example, acknowledge that someone did have a nervous breakdown at work, but then use that existence of mental health issues, to prove that all of the bullying that led up to it were figments of their imagination, you know, because people with mental health issues be cray-cray. Just totally hypothetically. Such a thing certainly did not happen to me.] [Wing: <3]

Meanwhile, Roger keeps thinking that if he hadn’t slipped, maybe Lila wouldn’t think him such a fool. Except she constantly thinks that. My dude, don’t keep heading toward creepy.

He runs into Olivia Davidson, one of his closest friends. She’s the arts editor for The Oracle, because everyone we run into is connected to a Wakefield somehow.

Roger works as a janitor in an office building after school, but he doesn’t want anyone to know because then they’d figure out that he’s poor. He blames his constant exhaustion on how hard he has to study.

I feel for him here. It’s difficult, working and going to school full time. The stress of money, the stress of hiding a secret, the stress of being poor in Sweet Valley, where we know you’ll be considered a charity case at best and more likely a VCR thief [Raven: Ooooh, Rizzo burn! Nice.].

His mother’s too sick to hold a job, his father too drunk.

Liv works, too, giving tours and artist lectures at the museum, but she says it doesn’t feel like work. It’s her dream job, and it pays for her offbeat clothes.

Roger notices that she’s wearing a new skirt. It certainly is interesting, even if he doesn’t really like it. Her outfit: long floral print skirt, Chinese sandals (I have no idea what this means), and a faded silk scarf. She likes to buy her clothes at Martha’s Thrift Shop and not the mall because she doesn’t want to look like everyone else.

Bruce throws a fit in the boys’ locker room. I throw a fit because I hate him, and I don’t give a fuck about his problems. I’d be happiest if he fucked off into the sea.

They’ve been running in the rain to prep for the Bart trials. John Pfeifer asks Bruce if he’s going to skip the trials if it’s raining the next day, too. He’s the sports editor for The Oracle and thinks he has a story. Bruce has been bragging for weeks that he’s going to do better at the trials than anyone else.

Bruce claims he’s going to run no matter what. Can’t miss the chance to prove he’s the best athlete in the school. He just might not be able to break a four-minute mile. Todd mocks him that he’ll not get anywhere near four minutes. Bruce sneers at him. I don’t care about any of this.

I know I’ve heard people talk about a four-minute mile, but I don’t run, so I had to look it up. Apparently elite marathon runners average 4-5 minutes per mile, and the youngest person to break a four-minute mile (officially, in the records that popped up in my quick search) was 19-year-old Jim Ryun in 1966. [Raven: As I mentioned earlier, the whole Four Minute Mile thing is definitely a cultural touchstone in the UK at least. The British runner Roger Bannister was the first person to break the barrier, in 1954, after minimal training. His record lasted for 46 days, as the rest of the world caught up quickly. The current record is 3 minutes 43 seconds, set in 1999.] [Wing: This is very interesting! Thanks, Raven.]

I’m shocked, shocked I say, that Bruce is bragging about something he shouldn’t be able to pull off.

Todd hates Bruce because he tried to take advantage of Elizabeth back after her accident left her acting out of character. Her accident? I think you mean your accident. Also, take advantage of her is a real toothless way of saying he tried to rape her.

Apparently, only two guys from the track team are going to run in the trials, and the only reason Esteban is the team’s distance runner is because no one else wanted to be.

…ghostie. Do you know the first thing about high school track? To start with, I’m pretty sure a mile is not long distance (though perhaps I’m thinking more of cross country than regular track), and I’m damn sure more than two people on the track team would want to run in this prestigious race.

Fucking hell, I can’t even suspend my disbelief for this side plot.

Holy. shit. The winner of the race wins a full scholarship to Sweet Valley College.

Are you — are you fucking kidding me? This is a one mile race. One. Mile. How the fuck is a scholarship predicated on winning a one. mile. race?! [Raven: Yeah, I thought this was ridiculous too. Until the book mentioned it was a scholarship set up by the parents of a bereaved student, a student who loved running. Then I thought “okay, I guess that makes sense.” Or does it?] [Wing: I think I mention this later, but that did make more sense to me, though a full-ride is still a big chunk of money to ride on a single race (and one that is run every year, allegedly?); a specific amount would be more believable.]

Bruce brushes off Todd’s concern that if he wins, he’s taking a scholarship away from others. No one runs it just for the scholarship after all.

Though Todd says he could use it. He’s not sure he’s going to try out for the race, but he needs the money.

… do you though? Do you? [Dove: Dude. You bought a fucking motorbike at the age of sixteen with “your own money”. You either have a really well-paying job for a kid, or your fam is super generous with their gifts. You don’t need a scholarship, you fucking asshole.]

Gossip turns to talk of Coach Schultz who is an excellent football coach but a terrible track coach. Why the fuck is he coaching both? That seems like a weird combo. [Raven: I holidayed in a small Devon village that had a building that was a bank on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and a Fish and Chip shop on Tuesday and Thursday. I’m down for weird combos.]

Bruce says he thinks Schultz won’t be athletic director for much longer. He threw a fit at the last school board meeting when the board turned down his request for more money. Threatened to quit, even. The other guys think he was bluffing, but not Bruce. His dad is pretty concerned about it.

… but why? Why does he care? I’m shocked a Patman goes to the school board meetings in the first place, but I zero percent believe he actually cares about this.

Then their gossip turns to slut shaming when they talk about who is taking whom to the dance. John might take Annie Whitman, who is apparently working her way through all the guys at school. Bruce claims Charlie Cashman took her to Miller’s Point last weekend and must have had a very good time.

All of you can fuck off into the fucking sea. [Raven: Shitty foreshadowing is shitty.]

Jessica goes straight to her dad’s law office after school and daydreams about how exciting and glamorous it is to be a lawyer.

Oh boy.

This quote.

She took a magazine from the glass coffee table and began to leaf through the pages, but she could concentrate only on the wonderful experience that lay ahead of her. She was glad she’d decided to become a lawyer. Law was an exciting field to be in these days, she reflected, especially for a woman. For a second she thought of Joyce Davenport, the public defender on “Hill Street Blues.” Now there was someone Jessica could admire. Glamorous, dedicated to her career, upholding the rights of others, yet still making time for romance. That’s the kind of lawyer I’d like to be, Jessica thought, though a second later she discarded the notion. It was one thing to defend lost causes but quite another to have to defend really grizzly, dangerous criminals. Civil law, something more along the lines of her father’s practice, was much better, she concluded. Conferring with other lawyers—including lots of handsome men—certainly had to be at least as exciting, and a lot less dangerous.

A public defender. Is glamorous. A PUBLIC DEFENDER. IS GLAMOROUS. [Dove: I love the way she’s so stupid she thinks she can just be a lawyer at the age of 16 with literally no qualifications. Remind me again how she is an aspirational character?]

At least Jess discards that idea immediately in favor of civil law. Which, fair, you’d be a much better fit there. If you wanted criminal law, white collar crime would be the way to go.

Now let’s talk about all the handsome lawyers she’s sure she’ll meet. There’s a pretty common law school joke: Oh yeah, they’re hot. Law school hot. Jess, I think you’re going to be in for a rough time with these expectations.

(Do I know hot lawyers? Yes. Have I seen a lot of hot male lawyers? A few. My point stands.) [Dove: *points to Legal Eagle* That’s literally the only hot one I’ve ever seen. The rest look exactly like Nigel Farage. And most of them think like him. Source: 20 years in law firms.] [Wing: Legal Eagle is yet one more example of how sometime in the last few years, my brain tipped over and salt-and-pepper beards became one of the hottest things ever.]

Jess wonders what case Ned will have her work. He spends a lot of time at the county courthouse, and she can’t wait to spend time there. One of his cases involves someone suing George Fowler. Ned’s one of the growing number of locals fighting against Fowler power.

Wait. What.


Since fucking when? And why aren’t they going after the Patmans who are demonstrably terrible? [Raven: Maybe this is continuity? The Fowlers are New Money, the Patmans are Old Money, or at least that was the case when they were arguing over the use of the school field. I reckon it’s easier to sue the people planning to change stuff and build factories than it is to sue the people not wanting to change anything. And honestly, are the Patmans that bad, as a family? We’ve not really seen anything from them in this regard. Yes, Bruce is a fucking shitshow, but he’s not the family CFO.] [Wing: That’s fair RE Bruce, and a very good point about change versus tradition.]

Jess wants to work that case, because it will be good to give George Fowler what he has coming to him and even better to gloat over Ned’s victory in front of Lila. They’re friends, but there’s an unspoken rivalry between them.

Erm. I’m pretty sure that rivalry is the opposite of unspoken.

Ned is thrilled that Jessica is interested in the law and hands her over to his new office manager, Trudy Roman.

Trudy immediately sets Jessica to work making collated, stapled copies of legal briefs.

She’s not thrilled to start in the copy room doing monotonous work. She can’t even listen to music, at least not as loudly as she wants, because it disturbs Ned.

After she finishes with all the copies, she reads through some of the documents. Real estate law, maybe, and she finds the language so convoluted that it gives her a headache, and it’s more boring than chemistry.

She wants excitement! Challenge! TV legal practice!

I don’t actually blame her for this. I think a lot of people have a poor understanding of what actually goes into jobs they haven’t done before, especially when they’re teenagers. And the law is not, at the core of it, glamorous. Wonderful. Challenging. Interesting. Exciting. All of those things. Glamorous? No.

I adore being a lawyer. I’m practicing exactly the type of law I’ve wanted to practice since my very first year, I love the place I work and the rest of the legal team, and I am happy with where my career has gone.

All that being said, I tend to encourage people to not go to law school, at least not until they’ve worked for several years. An unbelievable number of my law school classmates no longer practice the law. A huge percentage of that are people who went straight from undergrad to law school without spending time working first, who didn’t know what they wanted from law school or a legal career.

I love being a lawyer. I’ve also hated being a lawyer, and law school nearly fucking killed me.

End lawyer aside. Not nearly as fun as that time I rabbit holed into real estate law and haunted houses.

Jess is trying to come up with a way to break the news to Ned that she will not work in that office a single minute more when she meets a gorgeous boy waiting for the elevator. She’s real thrilled to meet him but doesn’t want him to know she’s interested, at least not yet.

He’s Dennis Creighton. He works part time for his dad’s ad agency across the hall from Ned’s office.

… is Ned a solo practitioner? I thought he had associates and other partners, didn’t he? Do they not even take up an entire floor? [Dove: He can’t be. Remember when he promoted Ms-oh-wait-she’s-not-a-homewrecker-she’s-a-smart-lawyer in book 1. And he mentioned other partners, which made the promotion in his living room even more weird.]

Dennis is impressed that she wants to be a lawyer, likes girls with ambition. Jessica “I’m Not Like Other Girls” Wakefield leans real hard into his misogyny. Those silly girls who worry about clothes and beach weekends and carry little purses, how very dare they exist.

Jessica’s not like that at all. Nope. She’s never cared about fashion or beach weekends a single day in her life.

She thinks he must be in college. Once upon a time, she would have lied about her age, claimed to go to Sweet Valley College to impress him (…H O W), but she learned her lesson when lying about her age got her in big trouble.

… Jessica fucking Wakefield learned a lesson? And we see that continuity? What’s happening right now?

(Is this an All Night Long reference? I don’t think lying about your age is what went wrong there, but okay.) [Dove: Yeah, I wasn’t sure what it was referencing, because I don’t remember her lying to Pornstache on the cover. My brain went to The Older Boy, but I know that’s wrong. But wouldn’t it be nice if it was that?]

Dennis isn’t in college, though. He hesitates a moment then tells her he goes to El Carro, which is apparently a rival school to Sweet Valley. Big Mesa, I miss you.

“So how’s the law business?” Lila asked. “Defend anyone interesting yesterday?”

“Don’t patronize me, Lila. As it happens, it was one of the most exciting afternoons I’d had in a long time.”

“Oh, yeah?” Lila probed. “What’s his name?”

For a split second Jessica looked surprised. Were her feelings that transparent? But then she realized that the remark was just Lila’s way of indicating she didn’t take Jessica’s interest in law too seriously. “His name is Ned Wakefield,” Jessica shot back. “And thanks to him, I had a very enlightening afternoon.”

Worried about your father there, Lila?

I quite like this exchange, actually, but I also laughed at a moment of Sweet Valley incest raising its head again.

Over to Elizabeth and Friends, she teases Roger about how fast he always runs out of school after classes, surely he wants to see how he compares to the other guys. He’s annoyed that she keeps pushing it, especially because she’s the only non-family person who knows about his job.

Lila overhears this and decides to torment Roger some. She tells him that she thinks he should run the race, too, she’s seen him run around campus, he’s probably faster than anyone else. She’s had her eye on him, she claims, and she’d love to see him beat Bruce Patman.

When he refuses to run, she calls him a coward and walks away. He decides he has to run in the trials, at least. He won’t have to run in the big race and risk losing his job, but he can prove himself here.

Unlike everyone else, he’s not dressed in running clothes because this is a last minute entry, so he’ll be running this race in army fatigue pants and a t-shirt. [Dove: Bruce Patman, on the other hand, is wearing manties and a tank top in school colours. I could not stop giggling at the image.]

Coach Schultz knows he’s a good runner and has tried to recruit him for the track team more than once.

Lila’s certain that Roger will make a fool of himself and sits back to enjoy the show. [Raven: I know this was Get Roger To Run For The Plot nonsense, but why on earth would Lila believe Roger would make a fool of himself? Does he run like Phoebe from Friends?]

Oliva overhears Lila and Friends mocking Roger and his crush on Lila and feels awful for him. She doesn’t say anything, though. She’s well liked by most of her classmates, but Lila thinks she’s weird and won’t listen to her.

Honey, I’m not sure Lila listens to anyone. Also, has she so quickly forgotten that thrift-store chic is something she’s enjoyed in her friends? Oh Mandy, gone too soon.

Elizabeth calls Lila cruel and they argue about how shitty she is to Roger. Jessica interrupts it to point out that Liz should be cheering on her boyfriend and not Roger. Liz didn’t even know that Todd was running, but sure enough, he’s warming up.

Bruce mocks Roger, brings in other guys to make fun of him. Todd tries to shut him up.

Coach Schultz worries about the runners. Some of them are good, but Sweet Valley hasn’t won the race since 1956.

And they still participate? I have a hard time believing Sweet Valley would allow themselves to be involved with anything they couldn’t win.

Elizabeth and Friends gossip about whether Coach Schultz will be replaced by Coach Horner if no one from Sweet Valley places in the Bart. Liz is shocked by this, but also needs to know more for her Eyes and Ears column.

The trial is about to begin. The winner and two runner-ups will go to the Bart the next week. The winner there will receive a trophy and a scholarship to Sweet Valley College.

This still makes little sense to me but okay. The race honors a young man who died too soon, who loved to run. Perhaps his family created a foundation to fund a scholarship. This still seems like an extreme prize for a short race. [Dove: I know bugger all about running, but I’ve read plenty of horse books where the prize is some kind of high quality tuition, and every time it was a series of events – at least three, slimming down the list each time. It is weird that they just have a school qualifier and then the actual race.]

Six boys run the trial. Six. That’s it. Six boys, no girls. I thought this was a huge deal, prestigious, and of course it has a scholarship on the line. Why are more people not competing? The fuck is going on here? [Dove: Silly Wing. Girls don’t run. They wear lipstick and talk about boys. (We have about 50 more books until we get to Ms Quarterback, and I’m pretty sure that the antiquated gender roles will stay put until then.)] [Raven: The women’s world record for the mile is 4 minutes 12 seconds, set in 2019. Having a mixed race would be pointless, as all the qualifying spots would be (presumably) taken by boys. Having a women’s heat to win a second scholarship would be entirely correct, of course, but that would likely make this book fifty pages longer, and I know that nobody wants that.]

Roger hangs back for the beginning of the race while Bruce surges to the front, racing hard. Bruce is confident that no one will even be able to come close to him.

But then, around the three-quarter mark, Roger picks up speed and starts to pass people. He does well enough that some people in the stands start cheering for him. Olivia is the loudest. She’s so proud of him, as proud as a girlfriend would be.

Is that … is that supposed to be different than being as proud as a friend? The fuck?

She, of course, harbors a huge crush on him and has never given up hope that someday he’ll notice her instead of Lila.

Jess sits up and takes notice. If he wins, he’ll be pretty popular, and he’s not all that bad-looking. This could really turn things around for him.

Roger beats Bruce by several seconds and doesn’t even know what to do with himself after.

Bruce, of course, storms away, a poor sport as always. [Dove: … thighs chafing in his teeny-tiny manties.]

Lila throws herself into Roger’s arms, surprising the hell out of him.

Not me, though. The second Jessica started talking about him like that, there’s no way Lila wasn’t going to change her tune at least a little.

Everyone is thrilled for him, but Roger’s joy quickly fades when he learns that Coach wants him to practice every day at 230 p.m., exactly when he’s due at work. He tries to explain to Coach that he can’t do it, but Coach won’t listen. Roger resolves he just won’t show up for the first practice, and he’ll be a loser again then.

Everyone keeps congratulating Roger the rest of the day, and he learns he set a new school record: 4 minutes, 5.5 seconds. Damn, that is fast. (I think based on my earlier quick and dirty research.)

Principal Cooper gives Roger sweat suits for running, which again seems like too heavy an outfit when everyone else is wearing tiny running shorts, but okay, it’s still a good thing to do.

Roger starts to wonder if his speed might help him. The Bart could be the first step toward state track finals, NCAAs, even the Olympics. Except it wasn’t for him, he reminds himself quickly. He has talent, but he can’t develop it.

I’m surprised by how well this book handles his predicament, at least so far. This is something people face all the time, the inability to afford the opportunities they might have to pursue their talents. It sucks for them, and it sucks for the world, too, because who knows what they might have done.

There are so many barriers for entry to a lot of things, and income is only one of those, but it intersects with many others.

I’m sure ghostie won’t stick the landing on this one, but so far, not too bad. His “relationship” with Lila is awkward and cringe-worthy, I’m not down for yet another love triangle as seems to be building here, but the actual pressure of having to work instead of doing things he enjoys, of needing to work to help the family rather than just for pocket money, the deep embarrassment that you’re poor compared to your classmates and the desire to hide it, all of that is being handled surprisingly well for this series.

Good work here, ghostie. We’ll see how it goes.

At lunch, Lila and Jess check him out without realizing who he is at first.

“You can’t even see his face from here,” Jessica pointed out. “But I can see even in those baggy sweats that everything’s in the right place.”

Oh really, Wakefield. Oh really.

Lila brings him over to their lunch table and flirts hard with him. He’s awkward, Jess is entertained but also a little embarrassed for how obvious Lila acts, and I am so, so bored.

We’ve seen little of Lila, as we keep complaining, but apparently, she’s a badass:

[Bruce] didn’t dare continue, though, as Lila glared at him. The girl could be dangerous if she wanted, and even Bruce lay back when he could see she meant business.

Dangerous how? I want more of that and fewer love triangles and bullshit friendships. Show me dangerous girls doing interesting things! Dangerous in ways that don’t include false rape accusations, Jessica.

John Pfeifer comes to interview Roger for a special profile in The Oracle. Roger, of course, can’t make time after school, but does spend a few minutes with him. He sort of fell into running, he can’t talk about where he runs after school so he lies about trying to build up his cardiovascular system because heart disease runs in his family (which is actually true), things like that.

People are impressed by this, including Lila when she hears he wants to be a doctor someday.

Over with Elizabeth, Enid, and Todd, Liz wants to know why Todd ran the race. He wanted to show support for Coach and his running program because he learned that Coach is retiring after the Bart. Not because he’s being forced out, he says, but because he’s sick. Neil O’Donovan (whoever the fuck that is) told Todd that he overheard Coach talking to a doctor about some tests, and maybe Coach has cancer.

… well fuck. I did not anticipate this plot point. Even if it’s not true, just Sweet Valley’s rumor mill as flawed as ever, I do not want to read or write about cancer right now. I’m very glad I didn’t try to write this last weekend when I was traveling, but this weekend isn’t much better.

Roger goes to sit with Olivia for a little bit at the end of lunch. She won’t show him what she’s writing, though he normally reads her poems, because her writing now is about her hurt and envy over what’s going on with Roger and Lila.

He tries to cheer her up, she swears nothing is wrong, and they talk about his new outfit and the race — right up until Lila interrupts them. She wants Roger to walk her to class. He immediately abandons Olivia, of course.

Jessica’s back at the law office. She intentionally breaks the copy machine in order to give her an excuse to go across the hall and ask to use their machine. Slick work, Jess. It makes her look clever in front of Trudy, and it gives her time to flirt with a cute boy. I’m down with it. This sort of manipulating harms no one (…so far at least) and is pretty entertaining. [Dove: This is where I could no longer suspend disbelief. Literally nobody who has worked as a PA/Secretary/facilities worker will accept “it doesn’t work”, particularly from a clueless newbie with all of three hours’ experience. We underlings can fix any piece of technology from a completely different floor. And since all Jessica did was turn off one of the many on/off switches, that’s the first thing that would be checked. As always, mere office workers are regarded as morons who are outsmarted by a particularly thick girl forced upon them by their boss.]

She and Dennis flirt over a perfume ad that is trying to portray sexiness. Jess tells him he succeeded at it, really layering on that double meaning.

The copier is locked away because people were using it for personal reasons (fucking hell, let your employees have a little use of things, I’m certain you don’t pay them enough anyway), which gives them a lot of privacy.

Jess feels the electricity crackling between them. She wants to give in, especially when he wants her to stay, but her father really needs the copies and she doesn’t want to make his work suffer because of her.

Really? That’s a fucking first. Growth! That will soon be forgotten.

They agree to meet after the law firm closes. Jess thinks it’s the perfect place for a first date, lots of privacy and far nicer than, say, the Dairi Burger.

Yes, I certainly think of my father’s law office when I think about a hot date. Fucking hell. [Raven: Sex on the photocopier!]

She makes an excuse for Ned that she needs quiet to do all her homework and her friends will be calling the house all night. He allows her to stay for several hours after close.

She doesn’t get home until 930. Liz immediately asks her about it, and Jess tells her she didn’t really stay for homework — she stayed to clean up his office because it’s such a mess. Trudy’s terrible at organization, so Jess handled it all for him. It’ll probably take her a few days to finish, and she wants it to be a surprise for Ned, so Liz can’t say anything to him. [Dove: Once again, office workers are depicted as stupid and incompetent, and Liz is like “seems legit”.] [Raven: I thought this was leading to Trudy losing her job, but thankfully it was just random Jessica shittiness.]

Liz is a little skeptical, but not nearly enough. She does ask if Ned got a new office boy. Jess acts affronted. She would never have such a one-track mind. She wants to do more than office chores, and she hopes that by doing extra work, Ned will notice her interest and make her his assistant.

… his part-time, after school only assistant?

Well, nepotism is a powerful thing, I guess.

Jess sends Liz away, claiming actual homework this time, which she does have, but mostly she wants to daydream about Dennis and all their kisses. She’s certain that by the end of the week, he’ll be hooked on her and willing to pick her up at home for a regular date, and then she can quit her job. A week is a good trial period, after all, and she’ll look like she made a sincere effort. After that, she won’t have to keep Dennis a secret any longer.

After all, she would never have such a one-track mind. (She’ll never admit to it, at least.)

A few days later, Lila is a little annoyed that Roger seems to be dodging her. He didn’t show up to practice, he barely talks to her on the phone, and though he agreed to join her for lunch, he’s running very late.

Skip ahead to Monday, maybe? I’m unclear as to how much time is passing between certain scenes. Anyway, on the next Monday, however much we skipped or didn’t, Coach confronts Roger about missing practice.

Roger again tries to explain, but Coach again won’t let him. Instead he talks about the scholarship and how much he believes in Roger but Roger must practice.

Roger knows Coach is right, but even if he wins the scholarship for later, he needs the money from his job now in order to help his family. If he runs the race and loses his job because of the time he spends practicing and then loses the race, he’ll be much worse off than he is now. If he skips the race, he’ll at least still have the job that is helping him. [Dove: As always, the plot is kept going by people who refuse to let anyone else speak, because if they spoke, it would resolve the plot in chapter 3.] [Raven: Yeah, Coach got on my nerves in this one. Couldn’t shut the fuck up for a hot minute.]

I am not looking forward to where this is going.

Oh, no skipping ahead, this is the same day Lila was waiting for him at lunch! Okay then. She meets up with him in the hall, he apologizes for missing lunch, and she tells him that she wrote a poem about him but Oliva wouldn’t run it in the Oracle.

Instead, Lila is going to read it to him.

If I have to read this, so do you:

Roger Barrett, a boy so fine.

His speedy running is so divine.

In school, too, he is very smart.

He’ll walk away with the trophy at the Bart.

In everything he operates at the highest stratum.

We at Sweet Valley are so proud we have him.

Yeah, that last rhyme is ridiculous. The rest of it isn’t great, but stratum and him? Lila. Come on.

Roger thanks her but is glad that Olivia didn’t publish it. Lila would have been humiliated because the poem is awful. I think you’re likely spoiled because of Olivia’s poetic skill (or at least that’s what the text has implied). [Raven: I’m glad the Ghostie flagged this as awful. Be thankful you’re rich, Lila.]

She invites him to her pool after practice, and he’s so torn because it’s everything he wants but he can’t have it. He runs off, leaving Lila deeply annoyed. She’s not used to being turned down and she doesn’t like it.

… I know I said I wanted to see Lila being dangerous the way we’re told she can be, but not like this! Not over a boy turning her down. I didn’t want this, ghostie. I didn’t mean this.

Liz is off being a Plucky Girl Detective that night, though I think she’s outgrown the joy of a Plucky Girl Detective. Not because she’s too old, god no, but because SVH is, so far, mostly a joyless cesspool of terribleness. Plucky Girl Detectives are too much fun for this series.

She feels silly, but Jess has stayed late at the office every day that week, and her excuses are growing thin. The only way to find the truth: to investigate!

Liz takes the stairs up to the fourth floor because she doesn’t want to run into Roger and embarrass both of them. (Him because he’s embarrassed that he has to work, though he knows she knows already; her because she doesn’t want to be caught sneaking around.)

Upstairs, Liz finds Jess and Dennis making out. While she eavesdrops, Jess talks about how much of a pain it is to be stuck in the office for all their dates. Dennis shuts that down quick. They’re just getting to know each other, they have plenty of time, there’s no need to rush.

Jess. That is sketchy as hell. You’re smarter than this. Despite everything, I know you are.

She doesn’t want him to think she cares too much, so she agrees, but he notices she’s upset and tells her they should get out of there right then. Liz hides behind a nearby water fountain (…how? They’re small! I know the twins are too, but come on, a water fountain is not a solid thing to hide behind.). [Dove: Oh! Drinking fountain. I was imagining Liz hiding behind a large round stone thing with several layers of spitting angels or something?] [Wing: That would have made a more believable hiding place!]

Dennis plans for them to go to Guido’s and then he’ll walk her to her car. Jess is all excuses though: she needs a ride home, Liz begged to borrow Jess’s car.

Liz is not well pleased about that excuse. She does have the car, but only because Alice needed it during the day and so didn’t let Jess borrow it after school.

Jess has gotten away with borrowing it so often the last week because Alice’s interior design work has slowed down. I’m shocked, shocked I say. Her taste is appalling.

He can’t give her a ride, though, his car is in the shop and he has to take the bus home.

And of course this is when Roger comes out of the elevator wearing his janitorial uniform. Though neither he nor Jess say anything, Liz feels terrible. She knows damn well that her sister will spread his secret around so fast he’ll be a laughingstock by the next morning.

Fucking hell, this poor guy.

Liz has to put a stop to it! Something must be done! She rushes home, determined to beat Jess.

Erm, aren’t she and Dennis going out for food first? I’m pretty sure you can make it.

Meanwhile, Roger calls Olivia for advice. He knows he’s screwed.

First he has to admit that he’s been lying to her. He’s certain she’ll be too embarrassed to be his friend now that she knows he’s the cleaning boy. She points out how ridiculous he’s being about that. They’re friends, she doesn’t care what work he does, though she’s hurt he didn’t tell her sooner. She thinks he’s the one ashamed and he has no reason to be.

Nice words, but that’s a lie. Or, since she’s sincere, that’s a deep misunderstanding of how people treat janitors.

Time for his next secret! He can’t run the Bart and he hasn’t told anyone about it. His boss barely gave him time off to take his mother to the clinic, there’s no way he’ll give him time off to run a race.

Olivia is determined to find a way for him to race. That scholarship is even more important now. She refuses to allow a shit boss to ruin his chance for a college education.

And though she swore she wouldn’t tell anyone, she immediately decides to betray his confidence and tell someone who might be able to help.

Across town, Lila can’t figure out what she’s done wrong, why Roger is ignoring her now that she’s interested in him. She wants them to be the golden couple at school, “even more popular than the short-lived though spectacular team of Jessica Wakefield and Bruce Patman.”

Lila. What the fuck. I’m pretty sure no one but Bruce thought of that as spectacular. Fucking hell, woman. [Dove: Wing is still with her childhood sweetheart, I married the cute guy I met on LiveJournal, between us, our relationships span nearly 50 years. But oh to be like Bruce/Jessica #RelationshipGoals] [Wing: Oh god, it sounds so sweet and gentle when you say it like that. Childhood sweetheart. Blah.]

Roger absolutely has to be her date to the dance after the Bart. He must.

So she calls Jess for help, but gets Liz instead. They bicker a little about whether Jess is ignoring her friends for her job and whether Jess did something to Liz when Liz says she needs to talk to Jess too, but Jess returns home before it really picks up energy.

There is literally no point to this. Lila is so determined to compete with Jessica, I cannot see her calling for help with this, not the way they’ve both been in this book. What was the point of this conversation, ghostie? Why did you include it? It does nothing, tells us nothing we didn’t already know, adds no depth to their characterizations (as shallow as those are).

Liz confronts Jess about what she saw and they go upstairs to talk about it. Liz wants her to keep her mouth shut about Roger. She actually tells Jess that his money goes to make his family’s rent. This doesn’t really stop Jessica. She knows it would embarrass Lila and ruin the relationship if she found out, and Jess really wants to be the one who tells her that she’s been chasing the cleaning boy.

Holy. Fuck. There is no goddamn friendship between them, stop trying to sell that to us.

It gets better, too. Liz wants her promise that she won’t say anything, Jess refuses because something juicy might slip out, and Liz blackmails her.

Jessica is absolutely shocked that Liz would use one of her own tricks against her.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first time, and also, fuck off, you’re awful.

Jess promises and, of course, lies.

Jessica pushed any guilt she might have felt about deceiving Elizabeth to the back of her mind. Ordinarily she’d never break a promise to her sister, but news like this was too good to be kept under wraps forever. She’d just have to be extra careful about how and when she revealed it.

Lies to Liz and to us, because she sure as fuck would break a promise to her sister and regularly does. Stop fucking telling us that friendships exist, ghostie! None of them do. None of them. There is no fucking friendship in Sweet Valley. [Dove: Also, can you imagine being so devoid of joy in your life that the only thing that excites you is the idea of humiliating your best friend and a random boy? How the fuck is this aspirational?] [Raven: I miss the Lila and Jess from The Older Boy. Then again, I’ve been saying that for years.]

Thanks, I hate it.

They then gossip about Dennis, which would be kind of a cute sister moment except for everything that comes before it. I don’t believe they’re friends, I don’t believe they love each other, I don’t believe anything good about Sweet Valley at all.

Lila calls back, still wanting Jess to help her land Roger. Jess is thrilled to get to play the role of savior for once. And that she could lord it over Lila that she knows more about things than she does. Lila’s desperate, and Jess is super entertained.

Fuck off into the goddamn sea, Jessica Wakefield. I can’t believe I have a shirt that says I love you. [Dove: OMG. For the first time in my life, let me whole-heartedly and sincerely apologise for buying you a shirt that says that. I still don’t apologise for the fact that it’s pink.] [Wing: I need to pack it away with a few other nostalgic pieces, I’m so annoyed at Jessica in SVH. Though Jessica in SVJH is still wonderful.]

Jess decides that the best thing to do would be to get Lila and Roger together because Lila will run away from him if she knows the truth and there’s no way Lila will put up with a boyfriend who works Friday and Saturday nights and can’t take her out.

Her big plan: Since Coach is leaving school after the race because of his cancer (Jess heard it was his heart, not cancer), Lila should throw a party in his honor before the dance on Saturday night. Roger will be his escort, won’t be able to turn down a celebration for his coach.

Except for how Coach isn’t his coach, and also, this won’t get them together, this will only push them further apart when Roger can’t show up, but whatever, Jess, you’re an idiot.

Jess thinks Dennis will be her date to the party even though he hasn’t asked her to the Bart dance yet, and a small party would be a great time for everyone to see Jess’s “latest conquest.”

I don’t hate Jess treating boys like conquests. Guys do it all the time in books, I like seeing a girl do the same thing.

HOWEVER, Jess is so fucking terrible I hate this as much as anything else.

This rage burns hotter when Jess comes up with her next plan. She’ll make sure everyone knows that Lila adores Roger and will then drop the gossip that it’s good that he got time off from cleaning toilets to come to the party. Then Jess and Dennis will become the stars of the party.

Fuck. You. Jessica. [Dove: Well, that redemption arc didn’t last long. Thanks, I hate her.]

Liz gets a call from Olivia next, of course, and though we don’t see the call itself, she tells Jess that Olivia called trying to figure out a way for Roger to run the race despite his boss. Jess is determined that Lila will have the party so she can introduce Dennis. Of course Roger has to run the race and then go to the party! Of course he does!

Fuck. You. Jessica.

The next morning, Liz assures Roger that Jess won’t tell anyone, Liz made sure of it. After all, Jess is her sister, “[w]hen she gives her word to [Elizabeth], she means it.”

You are a lying liar who fucking lies. From the very first book, we’ve seen her lie to you again and again and again, and you keep believing her. W H Y? [Dove: I can’t think of a character I believe less than Jessica in the entire fictional universe. She has no moral compass. She has no line she won’t cross. She’s not consistent. One day she will protect her PBA sisterhood because everything reflects on her as president, the next day she will slaughter those bitches left and right because nobody blessed her when she sneezed.]

Liz, of course, has come up with her own big plan: She’ll have Ned talk to Mr. Pendergast, Roger’s boss.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

I see no way in which this could go terribly, terribly wrong and cost him his job. No way at all. [Dove: Right? For all we know, Roger’s boss is the type of person would feel very threatened by having some lawyer prancing over from their fancy-schmancy office to lean on the little guy – let’s not pretend there’s no class difference between a named partner in a law firm, and a guy with a small fleet of janitors – and then take out his frustration on Roger. After all, if he’s friends with lawyers, he can easily get another job, and this guy doesn’t need spoilt brats working for him. Also, we know this guy is already an asshat, since he was so grudging letting Roger have time off to take his mother to a medical appointment.] [Raven: I didn’t see it like this. I saw it as Mr Pendergast beiong employed by Ned’s firm to do the cleaning, and that Ned talking to him would be like a customer talking to a vendor. It’s likely the vendor will accommodate the customer’s wishes. Then again, I may have the hierarchy wrong here, and Pendergast could just be even more of a twat that I credit.] [Wing: If Ned’s firm owns the building, that would make more sense, but since they apparently only have half a floor, I suspect Pendergast is hired by the property owners and has little direct contact with the actual people who rent space within the building.]

(Yes, I know, Wakefields Must Win. Things will likely be fine.)

Roger tries to break it to Lila that he won’t be running. She won’t give him a straight answer as to whether her feelings will change if he doesn’t, but the way she acts, he’s pretty sure she’s already told him what he doesn’t want to hear.

So he tells her the truth about his job. She can’t hide how disgusted she is about this, but Roger stands up to her. It’s not his fault he was born poor, he works his fingers to the bone to do what he can to help his family, and he’ll become a doctor one way or another, even if it means missing the Bart in order to keep his job.

Lila thinks Roger’s integrity is admirable, but she doesn’t give a fuck. She doesn’t sacrifice for shit. Plus she hopes no one knows about his job.

Roger’s both angry and hurt by her response and takes off. He meant to tell Coach that he won’t compete, but heads to his first-period class instead.

Later, he finally manages to tell Coach the truth about his job. Coach already knows about it because Pendergast called him to say he wouldn’t stand in the way of Roger running in the Bart. He’ll even let him come in an hour late the rest of the week for practice and take all of Saturday off.

Why, you might ask. Did Ned Wakefield already pull off a miracle?

… You know he did.

Pendergast went to school with Jack Ralston and knows the Bart is important, is prestigious. In fact, he was shocked that Roger didn’t ask him for the time off. He would have given it to him for the race.

For the race but only an hour for his mother’s health. Fuck you, Pendergast. Fuck. You. [Dove: Oh, so he values this race. Well, that’s just super, isn’t it? What a swell guy. That just solves everything, doesn’t it? I mean, maybe not Roger’s poverty, his mother’s health, his father’s drinking, and the fact he’s stuck in a job where his boss is an asshole. But, y’know, he gets to run in a race. Cool.] [Raven: … a race that could set him up for College…? I mean yes, Pendergast is still an asshat, but the ghostie does show that in the book, and the race IS important for Roger’s future. The whole “wow, he’s still a shitty boss” isn’t breaking news here.] [Wing: It’s the comparison the book makes between Pendergast’s response to Roger trying to take care of his mother and his response to this race in a good ol’ boy way.]

Roger then tells Coach about all the rumors that he’s leaving because he’s sick. Coach is healthy as anything, though, and has no plans to leave. He throws a tantrum in front of the school board about once a year and always gets the money he wants.

Fuck you, Coach. I’m sure there’s no way that money could have gone to something else each year. You manipulative little shit.

Roger runs to thank Liz, she tells him her dad did the talking to Pendergast. It’s not that Ned’s a sports fan (…though I would have sworn he was), but he loves the law, and Pendergast has to give him vacation time and sick days. [Raven: I thought it was Pendergast who wasn’t really the sports fan, and that Ned was a sports fan…?]

Uh. I’m not sure that’s true for part-time workers back then even in California. (It’s not true in all states for part-time workers now, last time I checked.)

Next Roger goes to apologize to Liv and tell her he’s missed what’s been right in front of him all this time.

I just heaved a deep, deep sigh.

He babbles at her, she accepts, I am not invested enough in this to care because there’s been so little character building that I have no reason to give a fuck about their relationship.

Liv comes up with her own devious plan: Lila will tell the entire school that Roger isn’t running in the race. Coach should have him practice on his own so he can be a surprise entrant on Saturday and throw Bruce off his game.

Jess and Dennis continue to spend their evenings alone in the office, Jess finally realizes he’s hiding something, she asks him to the Bart and he turns her down, Jess snaps at him for wanting to keep her a secret, she must be his side piece, etc.

He tells her the truth: He’d love to take her out, but he doesn’t have a car. He doesn’t even have his driver’s license. He’s only just turned fifteen.

Jess likes him a lot, but god forbid she be seen with someone who can’t drive.

Jessica fucking Wakefield, you’re only a year older than him. Why do you even fucking care? You drive a hot little car (so the ghosties tell us often), this shouldn’t fucking matter. He’s hot. He looks older. You like that about him, and you like him.

Who. Fucking. Cares.

There’s no way she can let Lila know about this, though, the mocking would be too much. And, god, Dennis has been lying to her this entire time, how dare anyone lie.

I fucking hate you, Wakefield.

She runs off, hiding her tears.

I still fucking hate you, Wakefield. [Dove: This. All of this.]

Jess quits her job, Liz and Todd gossip about the truth of her secret boyfriend, Jess struggles to forget about Dennis even while she’s warming up with the cheerleaders, Annie Whitman tries to get Jess’s attention as she tries to make sure she gets all the moves down because cheerleader tryouts are coming up (…the timing seems off, but I’m letting it go. For now), Bruce wins his heat, Roger rocks up to almost everyone’s surprise, Lila takes over as his number one fan again, Liz breaks the news to her that Coach isn’t leave and there’s no point in having her party, Roger wins his heat and Tony comes in third, so all three SVH qualifiers will be in the final race, Joe Epson trips Bruce in the final race, Bruce forces himself to get up and keep running even though there’s no way he can win, Roger and Joe fight their way to the finish line, and Roger wins.

He sets a new Bart record, too, at 3 minutes, 59.8 seconds.

Goddamn, Roger.

Roger looks for Olivia, Lila finds him first and kisses him, he’s disgusted by her attitude and leaves her behind, finds Liv and proclaims his affection for her, Jess is upset that Liz didn’t tell her the gossip about Roger and Liv (and why the fuck would she, you complete asshole), Jess has a new guy already, Kevin Borden, one of the Springbrook cheerleaders, Annie Whitman again tries to talk to Jess about the cheerleader tryouts and Jess nastily thinks that tryouts are open to everyone, “[e]ven easy girls like you.”

Fuck. You. Jessica. Wakefield.

Fuck off into a goddamn fire, I hate you so goddamn much.

“Why?” Jessica said angrily. “So she could use her cheerleading uniform as an added lure for the boys?”

“Annie’s not like that,” Elizabeth said.

Jessica snorted. “Where have you been, big sister? On Jupiter? That girl’s got to hold the school record for most dates! If ‘date’ is the right word for what Annie does.”

“I didn’t know you were keeping track,” Elizabeth noted.

“I keep my eye on every girl who expresses an interest in joining the squad,” Jessica said. “Every single cheerleader is a public representative of our school, and it’s my job to make sure they’re deserving of the honor.”

“And you think Annie’s not deserving?” Elizabeth asked.

“Think, nothing! I know that girl is just a whole lot of bad news,” Jessica declared.

Oh, good, another vulnerable girl Jess can bully into oblivion (or an unbelievable life change) while being a total fucking hypocrite. I’m totally looking forward to that.

Final Thoughts

To give credit where it is due, ghostie handled the Roger is Poor storyline much better than I anticipated.

And that is the last good thing I can say. As usual, Jess is petty and conniving and cruel, Liz is an idiot when it comes to her sister, there’s a goddamn love triangle that is quickly resolved, there are absolutely no fucking friendships between any of the girls no matter what ghostie tries to tell us, and it all wraps up with a nice bit of slut-shaming to prep us for what I’m sure will be a rollicking good time next book.

Francine Pascal, you are a motherfucking hypocrite.

[Dove: This book was fine to read, but a bit less fun when I thought more about it during the recap. I quite enjoyed it. The pacing was fine, the story moved and while it wasn’t fine literature, it was goodish. Jessica’s side-story and boyfriend was fun… until it all became a malevolent plot to destroy her best friend and she was deeply ashamed of snogging a boy a few months younger than her. Why does everything revolve around destroying people? Is it too much to ask that these spiteful assholes just get along with each other, in a non-bitchy way, for one book?]

[Raven: I think I liked this book a touch more than my fellow recappers. But I also liked it when I recapped it last week, because it’s pretty much the same story as Heart Breaker. Boy fancies Girl A, who strings him along when she thinks it’s to her benefit. Girl B fancies Boy, but they are “just friends”. Boy eventually falls for Girl B after some enlightening revelation.

I knew the series would likely double dip in the plot salsa, but by Book 9? Damn. [Wing: Damn, you’re right, it really is the same plot.]

I did like stuff. I actually liked the running descriptions, as they were fun. And the Jessica / Dennis plot was also nice, and had a surprising ending. But overall, there was too much weirdness for this to be a good book. Bruce, for example, started by being a bad sport but by the end he was cheering for Roger and holding him aloft. Elizabeth becoming a super spy was so far outta nowhere that it was vintage Orton, and the palpable absence of any friendships whatsoever was exhausting.

Overall, it’s another “meh” from me. Which I’m positive will be much much higher than my rating for the next book…]