Title: A Christmas Without Elizabeth
Tagline: What if Elizabeth had never been born? [Dove: The series would merely be called “Sweet Valley Kid?”]
Summary: The strangest gift of all…
Elizabeth Wakefield is in terrible trouble. She was in charge of keeping all the money that Sweet Valley Middle School raised for a Christmas party. But Elizabeth secretly lent the money to a homeless family so that they would have a home over Christmas. [Raven: Of COURSE she did.] Now Elizabeth has been caught without the money and without an excuse. Everyone is furious with her.
Elizabeth decides to run away. She thinks Sweet Valley would be better off if she’d never been born. On her way out of town in a terrible storm, Elizabeth meets a mysterious girl who claims to be her guardian angel—and shows her just how important she is after all.
This book is based on one of my favourite films: It’s a Wonderful Life. If you’ve not seen it, track it down and give it a watch. It’s from 1946, and likely available via number of streaming services. It’s one of only two films to make me cry*. The first was Watership Down when I was six, the second was this when I was twenty-two. [Wing: God, Watership Down, not an okay heartbreak in that one.]
(*Then I hit mid-thirties, and they released Up. Downhill from there. Nowadays? Shit, I well up if I can’t find my fucking socks.)
[Dove: The cover. Why does Elizabeth have a bob? Their hair is always long on all the other covers.]
A Sweet Valley book, based on its central premise? I’ve an open mind. I’ve no beef with such chicanery. Cows aren’t sacred. I present the following video link as Exhibit A… a song about my favourite film, by my favourite band, which is legitimately one of my favourite things ever.
Seriously, if you can’t spare 2 hours 10 minutes for the film, spare three minutes for the video.
“Jessica Wakefield, I want you and your friends out of my bedroom now!”
I’m guessing that’s not Steven.
We start at the Wakefield Compound, where Jessica Wakefield is hosting a Christmas Party Planning meeting with the usual gaggle of purple vapidity. There’s Lila Fowler, and Ellen Riteman, and Kimberley Haver, and Tamara Chase (FUCK YOU, TAMARA CHASE). Apparently, Jessica has been appointed Chairperson of the Sweet Valley Middle School’s Official Christmas Party Committee. And in fine SVMS tradition, they half-arsed the selection process by pulling names from a fucking hat.
In an uncharacteristic show of insight, Principal Clark made Elizabeth Wakefield the treasurer. She is holding the three hundred and eighty-six dollars that the student body raised to fund their tawdry little festive shindig.
This is a perfect moment to compare and contrast the twins…
Here’s Jessica. She likes parties.
Here’s Elizabeth. She can be trusted with money.
Actually DEMONSTRATING their differences through PLOT. On page fucking ONE, y0! [Wing: Who is this ghost writer? I must know!]
Elizabeth has a gripe with her sister’s meeting: namely, that Jessica is holding it in Elizabeth’s bedroom rather than her own. I don’t blame Jessica, to be honest. There’s the mess, of course, plus the sound of Steven wanking on the other side of the peephole must be super distracting. [Dove: Not to mention that Lila refused to go in there again after it failed the blacklight test.]
As the grumbling Unicorns decamp to filthier pastures, they share their grand ideas for a Christmas party theme. We have:
- A Mistletoe Dance. Which I presume is just an excuse for a snogathon. And…
- A Come-As-A-Christmas-Ornament Party. Which I think is fucking GENIUS. I would be all over that shit. “What are you dressed as?” … “Lametta.”
Also? PLUG BOY!
As she departs, Jessica asks why her sister is being such a temperamental assbutt. Apparently, Liz has just received a B-minus on an English test, which I call EPIC BULLSHIT on. A B-minus for Elizabeth would be the fucking PLOT of a standard book. Liz also has a massive zit on her chin, which I also call out as being false.
I just googled “Big Zit Chin”, hoping to find a cool and mildly wrong image to slide into the recap.
Yeah, not going there.
Jessica recommends a proprietary skin cleanser, and scene.
Elizabeth heads to the homeless shelter. “What homeless shelter is this?” I hear you ask. Well! It’s the Homeless Shelter that Elizabeth has recently been volunteering at, presumably since the conclusion of the previous book because it’s the first I’ve heard of it. Of course, it is ENTIRELY in-keeping with Elizabeth’s Saintly Agenda, so I guess it gets a pass because it’s obviously integral to the narrative this week. [Dove: *crosses arms and glares* Oh. Fucking. Really?]
[Wing: Is it Sweet Valley Homeless Shelter or would that besmirch the name Sweet Valley too much?]
Liz rocks up to the shelter armed with crepe paper in festive colours. She’s ready to Yulify this mo’fo. Connie, a shelter worker, comments that the place could use some perking up.
Elizabeth turned to see two of her very favorite shelter residents rushing toward her. Suzannah and Al—short for Alexandra—Glass were sisters. They’d been staying at the shelter ever since their parents had lost their jobs.
Susanna and Al. Elizabeth’s Cause of the Week. Down on their luck, but with hearts of gold.
This is a spoiler, but I FUCKING HATE AL.
I get that she’s only four years old, but I can’t stomach her baby talk. It’s all “Lizbet” instead of Elizabeth, and “’partment” instead of apartment, and “bafroom” and “firedog” and for fuck’s sake I’m going to throw up [Raven: Not really, Dove].
I know that the Glass family are the sympathetic catalyst for Elizabeth’s dubious choices, but I think I’d probably let them rot in the fucking shelter, to be honest. In fact, I’d kick them out of the shelter if Al couldn’t buck her fucking ideas up and speak proper like wot I does.
[Dove: Be thankful you’re not recapping My Little Pony with me and bat. The baby ponies talk exclusively in baby-talk and “cutesy-wutesy” voices. bat and I hate it.]
Al is cute, and Suzannah is stoic yet approachable. Suzannah tells Elizabeth that her mother has acquired a part time job, and that they might soon be getting an apartment.
“I’m so happy for you!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“We’re getting a house! We’re getting a house!” Al sang, dancing in a circle with a crepe-paper tail streaming behind her like a snake.
“Not a house, an apartment,” Suzannah corrected. “And it’s not for sure, Al. Understand?”
“We’re maybe getting an apartment, we’re maybe getting an apartment!” Al sang, and soon several of her friends were joining in. [Wing: Wait, she can sing this song but it’s Lizbet and bafroom and partment otherwise? Never mind, ghostie, I don’t want to know you.]
Elizabeth laughed. “This calls for a celebration,” she said. “Extra jelly on our sandwiches, and glasses of milk all around!”
I have very mixed feelings about the quote above.
LIKE: Al’s “We’re maybe getting an apartment” schtick.
HATE: Al in general.
LIKE: The jolliness of the exchange.
HATE: Elizabeth’s totally Blytonesque “Extra jelly for all!” exclamations.
Meh. Whatever. I reckon this won’t be the last time that Al and / or Suzannah get on my wick.
We cut to dinner at the Compound that evening.
“What do you think about a reindeer party?” Jessica asked at dinner that night. “You know, where everyone comes dressed as a reindeer? Rudolph, Prancer, Dancer… um, Blister, Goner, Cuba… you know. All those reindeer guys.”
Hahahaha, AMAZING! “All those reindeer guys.” Floundering, but trying to style it out. Glorious, still laughing.
The dinner scene is really well done. We have all the usual elements: Steven being annoying, the Elder Wakefields being passive, and the entire table partaking in gentle banter. But this time, the banter is deft, the conversation realistic, and the writing assured. I think I’m going to like this book.
Elizabeth laughed, listening to her family tease one another. She gazed at the table filled with food, at the warm, inviting kitchen, at the cozy family room.
She thought of Al and Suzannah and crossed her fingers. If only they could have what she had. That would be the best Christmas present in the world.
Oh, fuck off.
Chapter Two starts at the Unicorner, with Jessica ruling the roost thanks to her Official Party Planner status. [Wing: I’m so tired that I originally read that as “rolling a joint thanks to her Official Party Planner status.” God, I wish.] Apparently, she has thirteen ideas in her special notebook, and she’s even listening to the nerds. Good job, Jessica. You know the nerds will have the best ideas, and not just “let’s have Santa, but purple!”
While the fringe Unicorns banter and bicker, tiny little Ken Matthews and Winston Egbert approach Jessica with a party idea: a Christmas of the Future party!
Basically, it’s Christmas, but “all high-tech and computerised.” Santa has a sci-fi sleigh, and a gift list on a computer. It’s pretty much a load of monkey spunk.
“A very, um, unique concept,” Jessica said. On her list she wrote #14—Christmas of the Future—Winston and Ken. Next to that she drew a small candy cane.
“What’s the candy cane for?” Winston asked.
“That’s my own private rating system,” Jessica explained. “The more candy canes, the better the idea.”
Intriguing… [Wing: Dirty. And yet also adorable.]
Lila grabs the notebook, and the Unicorns discuss the rating in relation to their own submitted ideas.
Suddenly, Denny Jacobson appears. He’s no longer drowning. Nor is he smitten by Janet… I guess the last book has worn off.
A while before, Janet had run into Denny and knocked him down right before he got knocked down by a huge, speeding papier-mâché tooth. He had seemed pretty grateful at the time.
Hah! At least they mentioned it. [Wing: I will forgive a lot if ghosties keep bringing up the tooth.]
Denny has an idea for a Christmas Party. And it SUCKS BALLS.
“I have a great idea for a Christmas party,” Denny said. He took his soccer ball and spun it on the tip of his index finger. “A big Christmas soccer game.”
“Brilliant!” Jessica cried. “Why don’t you sit down next to me, and I’ll write down all the details.” She reached for her notebook while Denny straddled the chair next to hers.
Jessica flirts shamelessly with Janet’s crush, which is a but fucking rich after the last book’s shenanigans. You’d think that since Janet made Jessica’s life a misery when she thought Elizabeth was macking on her man, Jessica’d be pretty wary of flashing her knickers at Denny right under the nose of Queen Unicorn, but I guess the previous book is a light year away. [Dove: Also, she was fed up with his stalker antics, and now she’s into him? She has a goldfish memory here.]
Despite a Christmas Soccer Game being quite literally the LEAST festive thing imaginable outside of a World War One trench, Jessica gives Denny’s idea TEN candy canes. Because she’s warm for his form.
Back at the Homeless Shelter, Elizabeth and Amy discover that Suzannah and Al have some more good news. Their father, looking for work out of town, has some construction work up north and can hopefully get an advance from his boss to enable the family to move into a local apartment. Everything’s coming up Milhouse for the Glass family, that’s for sure.
Al nags Suzannah to take Elizabeth and Amy to see their prospective new apartment. They go check it out, and it’s every cliché in the book. Lovely spacious kitchen, hardwood floors, sunny and bright, swing set, firedog. I mean, what apartment is complete without its own firedog, right?
Apparently, a firedog is a dalmatian. No idea why. Some American nonsense, not doubt. To be fair, I’ve just googled “firedog” and it’s dalmatians all the way down.
[Wing: I was just about to google what the fuck a firedog was, so … weird. I mean, dalmatians are the kind of dog you’ll see pictured with a firetruck, but I’ve never heard anyone actually call them that, wtf.]
Back at school, it’s Brooke Dennis’s turn to share her thoughts on Christmas Party Ideas. She hits it for six with a Hollywood-style party, come-as-your-favourite-celebrity.
THAT IS OPEN TO ABUSE.
Still, best idea yet, and number 43 in Jessica’s notebook. [Wing: I am actually impressed that she’s actually taking down all the ideas.]
Sophia Rizzo is next. Her idea? A party with actual food and decorations, instead of sullen expressions and stolen tellys. KIDDING!
Her idea? A Christmas Luau. [Dove: 1) Wing is really sick of explaining why Hawaiian tradition is not a party theme. 2) We’ve already had a Hawaiian Christmas this year, Sophia. Keep the fuck up.] [Wing: She’s too poor to know about the Hawaiian Christmas.]
Jessica continues fielding ideas, and we head to chapter three. And great, we’re back at the Homeless Shelter.
As the insufferable Al cuts snowflakes with Elizabeth, Mama Glass receives some bad news. Daddy Glass’s boss, it seems, cannot give Daddy Glass an advance on his wages, so there’s no money for the apartment deposit. They need three hundred and seventy-five dollars to secure the apartment with the walls and firedog. And the landlord won’t hold it for them any longer.
How much, do you say? Three hundred and seventy-five dollars? Why, that’s a scootch under what Elizabeth is currently holding for the Sweet Valley Middle School’s Christmas Party! What a massive coincidence. Of course, I doubt that will be relevant at all.
Al and Suzannah are predictably upset, despite Mama Glass’s assurances that there’ll be other apartments with walls and firedogs. Probably not in time for Christmas, though.
That evening, back at the Wakefield Compound, Elizabeth stares at the three hundred and seventy-five dollars in her closet like some creepy cash-obsessed zombie. Jessica stumbles into the scene, and Elizabeth acts all, well, Jessica-like to cover up her altruistic avarice.
Did Jessica notice that her sister was preoccupied, with theft on her mind? Did she Vas Deferens. (That’s like “did she balls,” but fancier.) [Wing: Fancier until you had to explain it, maybe.]
She immediately turns the talk to herself. Mary Wallace has suggested a Cookie Party, and Jessica hates the idea. Elizabeth suggests they can give the leftover cookies to the Homeless Shelter…
“That’s exactly what Mary suggested!” Jessica groaned. “Those people don’t even have homes, Elizabeth. What do they want with a bunch of leftover cookies?”
“Jessica, sometimes you can be amazingly self-centered,” Elizabeth said in annoyance.
Jessica grinned. “You’re just now noticing this?”
Elizabeth eventually evicts her sister, but not before we learn Elizabeth and Amy’s party idea… Christmas Through Literature.
Jesus wept, this Ghostie is so #TeamJessica, she’s not even giving Liz a crumb.
That night, Elizabeth dreams of swing sets, and homelessness, and awakes to find a wet pillow.
*shakes fist* STEEEEVEEEEEEEN!
Nope, it isn’t brotherly jizz, it’s tears. How very earnest. All through breakfast and her journey to school, she can’t get the Glasses out of her mind. Jessica enquires about her sister’s foul mood.
“Sorry,” Elizabeth said. “I guess I had a bad dream last night.”
“So did I,” Jessica said. “I dreamed I was the hostess at a huge ball. There was a soccer game going on in the middle of the ballroom. One team was wearing hula skirts, and the other team was dressed as reindeer and carrying computers. It was horrible.”
Jessica’s getting all the best lines… I’m sure that will change once the story kicks in proper and we have the whole It’s a Wonderful Life structure living large, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts.
Elizabeth bumps into Todd at his locker, and they have a cute exchange in which Liz apologises for not returning his phone call the previous evening (Jessica missed the message). Elizabeth then asks Todd a very pertinent, if rather cryptic, question.
She lowered her voice. “Do you think it’s OK if someone does something wrong, but for the right reason?”
Todd blithers, and vacillates, and the final bell rings for class before he can give any actual advice. Way to go, Todd. Top class boyfriending there. From now on, I dub thee Spod Wilkins.
Flash to Chapter Four, and it kicks off with a blast:
The hardest part, Elizabeth realized, was figuring out a way to carry the money. She couldn’t just put it in her backpack. Jessica was always nosing around in there for gum.
Good work, Ghostie. No more dithering. Elizabeth is giving the money to the Glasses for their deposit, and we’re off to the races.
Elziabeth considers how to smuggle the large pile of low-denomination bills out of the house under the gimlet gazes of the other Wakefields. She decides the best method is to fill the two large front pockets of her blue windbreaker.
Apparently, this is a windbreaker:
For us Little Englanders, it’s a goddamn anorak. [Wing: Oh that’s an anorak! I’ve always pictured it as something heavier.]
See, this is where it pays to be fat. Apparently, Elizabeth can’t hide a wad of cash because it’d bulge out in an unsightly manner? Pfft, try putting on a few pounds, love. You can literally hide ANYTHING up your jumper or down your pants if you’re of the larger persuasion. Pretty sure I could sneak a whole roast ham into a fucking cinema if the need and opportunity arose.
As Elizabeth tries to leave the house with the “stolen” money strapped to her chest, we run the usual fakeouts and fantasies. Steven calls her a thief, only to reveal he’s accusing her of stealing his last pair of clean socks.
Really? Elizabeth stole your only clean socks? I’ve two issues here.
- It’s canon that Jessica is constantly “borrowing” Elizabeth’s clothes, something which Elizabeth either tolerates or complains about depending on her mood. However, either way, I’m pretty sure such sisterly thoughtlessness on Jessica’s part would make Elizabeth a complete zealot when it came to borrowing the clothes of others. She either wouldn’t do it full stop, or she’s be very particular in maintaining a fair and transparent chain of custody.
- Dude, if you’ve got no clean socks, try not wanking into them.
[Dove: Also, why are they all sharing socks? I love Raven. But I would not wear his socks, aside from sock-sharing being grim, his feet are much bigger than mine. That said, I do take socks rather seriously.]
Jessica also regards her saintly twin with suspicion, but it’s nothing to do with theft…
Jessica stared at Elizabeth’s windbreaker, her eyes narrowed. “Wait just a minute,” she said. “How did you manage that?”
“I know it’s hard to understand, Jess,” Elizabeth began. “I just wanted—”
“You are definitely more… boobular than usual,” Jessica cried.
Elizabeth sneaked a glance at her chest. The money!
Literally lost my shit.
Did NOT expect that. This Ghostie is something else. I never thought we’d have Zits and Boobs in Sweet Valley Twins, although there was a whole book on periods so perhaps I’m being naïve. [Dove: Raven sent me a screenshot of his kindle at this point. This ghostie is trying to make the kids seem a bit less Blyton than most were in the 80s-90s.] [Wing: I am dying over that exchange and Raven’s reaction to it.]
Elizabeth does manage to escape the Compound with the cash eventually, and maker her way to the shelter. In an awkward exchange, she offers the loan to Mrs Glass. At first, Mrs Glass does the honourable working-class thing of stoic refusal. She quizzes Liz on the source of the money.
Elizabeth winced. She’d known this was coming. “From my savings account,” she said.
Ooooh, a liar and a thief. Slippery slope, Liz. You’ll be on sucking off dogs for Quavers by chapter twelve at this rate.
Of course, if Mrs Glass continued to refuse the money, we wouldn’t have a damn book. She caves eventually. (What are Mrs Glass’s dimensions?) [Wing: I snorted, this surprised me with such a hard laugh.]
Elizabeth gives her the money, and the deal is struck thusly:
- It’s the final Saturday before Christmas.
- Carl (Daddy Glass) is hitching home for Christmas on Monday, after being paid.
- He can then pay the whole amount back to Elizabeth on Tuesday.
“Still—” [Mrs Glass] frowned. “I’d feel better waiting. We can find another apartment. And what if something went wrong and I couldn’t pay you back right away?”
“Nothing will go wrong,” Elizabeth assured her.
Prediction: SOMETHING GOES WRONG. [Dove: This book is like 3,000 pages long. Imagine if things didn’t go wrong and you were just stuck with Elizabeth’s smugness for the rest of those pages. *shudders*]
Once Elizabeth gets back to the Compound, things go wrong almost immediately. Jessica and the Unicorns are there… and they want the money. It’s shopping time, bitches.
Elizabeth thinks on her feet. How can they be ready to shop for decorations when they’ve not settled on a party theme?
“We’re just going to buy some of the basics,” Jessica explained. “Crepe paper, balloons, that kind of thing. Face it, whatever theme we pick, red and green are pretty safe colors for a Christmas party.”
Fair enough, I guess.
[Wing: Lies, there will be purple everywhere, don’t front, Jess.]
As most of the Unicorns are actually watching television, we cut to a quick aside from our beloved Ellen:
“Could you two hold it down?” Ellen called from her position in front of the TV “We’re trying to concentrate.”
“On a cartoon?”
“It’s a very complicated plot, Lila,” Kimberly explained. “See, Wile E. Coyote just bought a rocket backpack—”
[Dove: Oh yes. This ghostie can write Ellen. And the rest of the Unicorns too. Who knew I’d enjoy anything Kimberley Haver had to say?]
As Elizabeth stalls and vamps for an answer, Mrs Glass calls to confirm that the landlord of the sunlight-swingset-firedog apartmenrt has let the Glass family take the place. They can move in tomorrow, and pay the full rent money deposit when Daddy Glass rocks up on Monday or Tuesday.
After Mrs Glass hangs up, Elizabeth feigns that she’s still deep in conversation. Eventually, Jessica and the Unicorns tire of waiting for her to finish. Lila, in a fit of pure fabulous, decrees that she’s tired of waiting, and offers to front the cash for their shopping trip on the proviso that Elizabeth repays her when it’s sorted.
Good work, Elizabeth. Perhaps a little bit of Jessica has rubbed off on you after all. We all know that Steven has rubbed off on Jessica countless times.
Chapter Five cuts to Sunday, and Elizabeth is searching for a Christmas tree to gift the Glasses as way of housewarming. Apparently, trees can be bought from the parking lot of the elementary school. What the hell? More American nonsense, I assume. Wing? [Wing: I’ve not seen them in an elementary school lot, but Christmas tree sellers do pop up in parking lots. Where I live, there’s a couple of grocery store parking lots that have them starting late November (right before Thanksgiving, usually, because a lot of people have a tradition of setting theirs up that weekend).]
Trees cost thirty-eight dollars. Elizabeth has six dollars and an emergency quarter. [Wing: I did a quick search because I’ve never bought a live tree before and have no idea what they cost. I did not find pricing in California, in part because I got distracted when I learned there is a noble fir shortage last year and for the next few years. A noble fir is one of the most popular Christmas trees in a lot of places and prices are soaring now because growers stopped planting them during the last recession (in the late 2000s; I guess they cost more than other trees to plant) and so we won’t see the supply return to normal for another four or five years. And this is your weird Wing aside for the recap.
That being said, readers who know the price of live Christmas trees in California, hit me up.]
The tree seller, on being informed of the purpose of the tree, finds a two-foot-six-inch pine tree and gives it to Elizabeth free of charge. Because SWEET VALLEY. I’d love to see Jessica using this power for evil.
“What’s the grenade launcher for? Erm… it’s for the local cancer wing at Sweet Valley Hospital. The terminally ill kids just love launching those grenades!”
She arrives with the three as the Glasses unpack their suitcases. As she is getting the tour, the landlord turns up. He is old, and has intense blue eyes behind thick glasses.
In a section that shows a bevvy of mixed messages, the landlord proves himself to be a bit of a cleft. I’ll quote it verbatim for reference.
“All settled?” an old man asked. He had intense blue eyes hidden behind thick glasses.
“Just about, Mr. Thorsan,” Mrs. Glass called. “Come on in, please. Elizabeth, this is Mr. Thorsan, our landlord. Like I told you, he was nice enough to let us move in with only half the total money.”
“Nice or foolish,” Mr. Thorsan said. “But I did want to remind you, I’ll need to see the rest of that money Tuesday at the very latest.” He shook his head. “I’m a dang fool, letting you move in without the full amount, especially when I could have had plenty of other tenants, but this little lady—” He patted Al on the head. “—seemed to have her heart set on the place. What can I say? I’m an old softie.”
“You are,” Mrs. Glass said. “And I promise we won’t let you down. Carl—that’s my husband, the one who’s working construction up north—will be here by Tuesday afternoon at the latest, and then I’ll have the rest of the money. You’ll see.”
The old man pursed his lips. “I hope so.” His voice took on a darker sound. “The last time I let someone in like this, they took advantage of me and I had to have them evicted. I wouldn’t want that to happen to a nice family like yours. Not right before Christmas. But I’ve got to eat too, now, don’t I?”
“Of course,” said Mrs. Glass. “Don’t worry, Mr. Thorsan. We’re not going to take advantage of your kindness.”
“Well.” Mr. Thorsan turned to leave. “I’ll be off, then.”
So the landlord is both welcoming (ruffling Al’s hair) and vaguely threatening (eviction if no cash in full by Tuesday). Peculiar. I’m assuming at this point that this guy is the film’s Potter, the antagonist that drives the Glasses out on the street and Elizabeth into the arms of the angels (NOT DYING!). [Dove: I hate him. The fact that he said “I could have had other tenants…”, well, fuck you, dude. It’s your fault you chose the broke people who couldn’t pay the full amount. If you had other offers, why not take them? I hate people who do a favour, only so they can hold it over your head for the rest of your life and make themselves out to be a nice person who was taken advantage of.] [Wing: That’s an apt description of this.]
One thing I must say, however, is that if the guy can wait until Tuesday for the cash, I’m sure he can wait until after Christmas. I’m pretty sure that no one else will be wanting to move in on 23rd of December, or whenever it is. That close to Christmas? Everything closes down at this time anyway, good luck getting movers at short notice unless you pay triple nipple, Barbara. [Wing: Oh, god, I wish everything closed down that close to Christmas. I’ve spent many a Christmas Eve working.]
In It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr Potter drives George to the brink of despair through a large bout of anal chicanery. He really fucks poor George, and the town, over. I can’t see this guy being anything other than passively awful, evicting the Glasses due to non-payment when Daddy Glass inevitably gets delayed rather than stealing their money and hoofing them out into the street. That’s a shame if so, but I guess we’ll see.
I watched the film with a friend of mine about twenty years ago, at the end of which I was my usual blubbering mess. His response?
“Yeah, it was okay. It would have been better if Potter had died.”
Missing the point SPECTACULARLY there, fella.
Once the evil slumlord has departed, Suzannah shows Elizabeth her room and reading nook. Standard.
Back at the Compound, Elizabeth muses that she only has to keep up the deception for fort-eight hours. Then Daddy Glass will arrive, pay off the debt, and all will be well in the world. Forty-eight hours of lies? Pfft, Jessica can tell forty-eight hours of lies in six fucking hours. Piece of piss, Liz.
Jessica tells Elizabeth of Patrick Morris’s idea for the Christmas shindig: a Jazz Party! Patrick loves to play that Saxamaphone.
During foreplay – sorry, HORSEplay – Steven squirts Jessica with a hose. While she changes her clothes, she tries to ascertain Elizabeth’s hiding place for the party fund. For her part, Liz tries to deduce exactly when Jess will need the money. Both enquiries are in vain.
The dialogue in this book is pretty good. Even the short, throwaway scenes like this one have a certain spark and sparkle.
Nice work, Jamie Suzanne!
After a quick scene in which we discover that Jess is no closer deciding which party plan / cute boy idea she’s going with, we cut to the office of the Sweet Valley Sixers. It’s a slow news day, and Amy / Sophia debate whether Caroline Pearce’s gossip column about Lila’s newly-redecorated bedroom has a place in this week’s edition. It does, of course, because reasons.
Talk turns to the upcoming party, and Elizabeth gets serious.
“Did you ever think—” Elizabeth hesitated.
Amy peered at Elizabeth. “Think what, Elizabeth? You look so serious all of a sudden.”
“I was just wondering if maybe we could have put all that money to better use somehow.”
“What’s better than a fun party for the whole school?” Sophia asked.
“I don’t know,” Elizabeth said. “A worthy charity or something.”
“I like that idea,” Amy said. “Maybe next year we could do that. But we’d have to get everyone to agree on it since we’d all chip in to raise the money.”
Elizabeth stared at Caroline’s column, but the words blurred together on the page. “You’re right,” she said quietly. “That would be only fair.”
Poor Elizabeth. Her conscience is weighing her down.
Next up, we see the problems that Elizabeth’s nefarious actions are causing her. First, she bumps into Todd, who is angry as he’s been stood up by our air-quotes heroine: they agreed to go shopping together that Saturday. Apparently, he’d called all weekend, but the phone was engaged while Jessica waffled on to her cabal of purple pillocks.
After school, things escalate. Jessica has been waiting for hours for Liz’s return. She’s under immense pressure from Janet and the Unicorns to go ahead and choose a party theme. Without decisive action, they vow to overthrow Jessica’s regime and take the Christmas Funds and party planning into their own hands!
Elizabeth looked up in alarm. “They wouldn’t really do that, would they?”
Jessica looked worried. “They might. I wouldn’t put it past them to try to overthrow me. Of course, first they’d have to find the money. I told them you’d hidden it and that even I didn’t know where it was. They didn’t believe me. Janet even threatened to torture it out of me. Something about fingernails.”
“I know. Bamboo shoots under the nails.”
“Worse.” Jessica shook her head. “They were going to paint them a really putrid shade of orange.”
Hah! Lovely stuff. I’m really enjoying the dialogue in this one. Sure, we haven’t yet gotten to the actual interesting parts of the plot, but what we lack in pace we make up in sass. [Dove: How does Elizabeth know about torture? Has she been watching Jessica again?]
Liz, under the cosh and needing to woman-up, casually suggests Jessica sleep on her final choice. The threats of mutiny from the Unicorns? Hollow.
Jessica is dubious, but agrees that Elizabeth has never let her down before. Her advice is good… usually. Happy that she’s thrown Jessica off her scent, Elizabeth ponders her predicament. Again.
She went into the bathroom and stared at her reflection. What kind of sister was she, anyway?
A conniving, lying, manipulative one, her reflection answered.
This was terrible. She was turning into Jessica.
Really? Jessica wouldn’t spend so many pages wallowing in self-pity, Liz. And she’d never give the cash to the homeless… she’d buy tickets to see Johnny Buck, or a new purple blouse, or a hitman to kill Steven.
Next morning – the fateful day in which Daddy Glass should pay back the loan – Elizabeth has multiple bad feelings.
First, she has a bad dream. Again.
Next, she has an argument with Todd. Again.
Then she has a stand-up row with Lila. Agai- … wait, what?!
Lila stalked up to her, her face set in a scowl. She was clutching a copy of the Sixers in her hand.
“I’ll sue you for this, Elizabeth Wakefield!” Lila screeched. Traffic in the hallway came to a standstill. Elizabeth could feel dozens of pairs of eyes boring into her.
“Lila,” she began, “what’s—”
“My father doesn’t have just one lawyer,” Lila continued. Her face was nearly as purple as her blouse. “He has seventeen! Do you hear me? Seventeen lawyers!”
“Lila,” Elizabeth said in a soothing tone, “what are you talking about? Sue me for what?”
“Libel!” Lila cried. “No, I mean slander!” She threw her arms in the air. “You know what I mean! You’re the A-plus English student! You’re the editor in chief of this slimy rag you call a paper.”
Hahahaha! SEVENTEEN Lawyers! And I bet not one of them is Ned Wakefield. Actually, I guess Ned could be seventeen lawyers all by himself, as he’s obviously multi-disciplined. Never change, Lila, you perfect monster!
Apparently, Elizabeth, in her fugue state brought on by criminality, missed a couple of typos while editing Caroline Pearce’s hard-hitting expose of Lila’s redecorated bedroom.
Instead of Lila Fowler has completely redecorated her room, we get Lila Fowler has completely redecorated her broom.
And instead of Fortunately, Lila’s rich enough to afford it, we get Fortunately, Lila’s wich enough to afford it.
I mean, the scene is completely pointless, but it’s damn funny nonetheless.
It ends with Lila claiming she’s ordered the Unicorns to destroy every remaining copy of the Sweet Valley Sixers in circulation, along with suggesting a reputable plastic surgeon to help Liz remove the massive zit on her chin. Glorious! [Dove: Lila is fabulous.]
Back to the bad feelings…
Finally, Elizabeth has a bad feeling when talking to Jessica after homeroom. Apparently, the Unicorns want to go shopping for party supplies straight after school.
Elizabeth looked away. She had to think fast. “Jess, you can’t go shopping right after school.”
Good question. “Because,” Elizabeth said slowly, “because this morning I asked Dad to put the money in the bank for safe-keeping. And the bank will be closed before he can take it out.”
Wow. Bare-faced and bold. A complete lie. You go, Elizabeth Wakefield!
Jessica is wide-eyed, and asks why Elizabeth would do such a thing.
Elizabeth hesitated. “There’ve been a lot of burglaries in the neighborhood.”
Burglaries? Not a problem. Go arrest Tony Rizzo. Bosh, job done.
Burglaries in Sweet Valley… yeah, I’m going with ‘no’.
Jessica continues with the questions, and Liz bats them away. Can Ned go to the bank after work, before it closes? No, because he has that big case. Y’know, the big one?
Eventually, Jessica is convinced. [Dove: I love that when Liz mentioned the “big case”, Jessica just took her word for it – it was a great moment of Liz would never lie/Jess doesn’t listen to the boring stuff. Basically, a good example of showing, not telling.] And Liz has all the time she neds to retrieve the cash from the Glasses that evening, to present it to her sister the following morning. Who can then by party supplies for a party the following day.
Jesus, this plan is really cutting things fine.
I know this is a long-ass book, and I know Elizabeth has to fall a long way from grace for the premise of It’s a Wonderful Life to take hold, but is anyone else getting a bit hacked off with the repetition of this?
We’re FOURTEEN THOUSAND WORDS into the book, and we’ve not yet got to the angel intervention.
I am enjoying it… I just wish it’d get there a bit faster.
After school, Elizabeth rushes to Chez Glass, where the Glass family – sans Daddy Glass – are preparing to welcome their father’s arrival that very evening. Ominously, rain lashes down and she runs through puddles in a darkening storm.
THIS WILL NOT END WELL.
The Glasses, all cliched peanut-butter-choc-chip-cookie and hand-crafted-welcome-home sign, eagerly wait for their patriarch, with Elizabeth’s dread darkening apace. [Dove: Only a small amount of cookies, because they couldn’t afford many ingredients, which causes Liz to check her privilege.]
And they wait.
Two hours… then, a knock on the door! It’s Daddy Glass!
Wrong. It’s Mr Thorsan, the landlord.
“Mr. Thorsan,” Mrs. Glass said, opening the door to a gust of wet wind. “You’ll catch your death out there. Please, come in.”
Mr. Thorsan tramped inside. He was wearing muddy red galoshes and a black slicker. He took a white handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his steamed-up glasses. “You got the rent?”
“Carl seems to be running a little late,” Mrs. Glass said. “The radio said they’re having quite a lot of snow up north. Maybe his ride got slowed up—”
“Or maybe he’s not coming,” Mr. Thorsan snapped. He shook his head. “Typical of you kind of people. The man runs off, leaves a wife and kids behind to fend for themselves.”
Fucking hell, Thorsan. Don’t hold back.
Despite Elizabeth vouching for them – and who doesn’t want a voice from a twelve-year-old? – Mr Thorsan is unrepentant. He eats a cookie, evicts the Glasses, wipes his cock on the curtains, and fucks off.
The Glass Family has until 3pm the next day to leave his property. And to show that he’s serious… they have until 10am the next day to leave his property. Boy, he’s not messing about.
As for Elizabeth’s deposit? Banked. He’ll mail her a cheque. [Wing: To be honest, I’m shocked he’s returning the deposit. Also EVICTIONS DO NOT WORK THAT FAST.]
With the Glass family set to return to the shelter the following day, and no chance of the Christmas Party cash being returned, Elizabeth is in a mighty pickle. She trudges home in a daze. Then it hits her!
She can ask the Elder Wakefields for some cash to help!
Of course, for some reason, she thinks she needs cash to help the GLASSES, not to help HERSELF. Give up the altruism, love. Just deal with your own shit now, before you end up in the Mercandy backyard.
Before she can ask the Parental Units for help, she overhears them discussing their own Christmas finances. Money is tight, apparently. They’ll be repaying their Christmas excesses for the next few months. Elizabeth, on hearing this, decides it’s best not to ask her folks for cash monies at this time.
Erm… why not?
Daddy Glass is on the way with enough money to cover the deposit and the rest of the rent. Unless he’s dead in a ditch as the result of a mugging, it’ll all be good before the Wakefields need to pay any post-Christmas bills.
Also, isn’t the best course of action in these fucking books ALWAYS TELL AN ADULT? So much needless bullshit could be avoided with a well-placed word in an adult’s ear. Not Mr Nydick’s ear, though.
Elizabeth still has some misguided faith that Daddy Glass will arrive in time, the following morning, before 10am. If he does, things will be fine for everyone. Apart from Jessica, of course, who will have to shop for an entire school’s worth of fucking Christmas Party HAPPENING THAT EVENING.
On cue, Jessica wanders over. She casually kickstarts the apocalypse.
Jessica strode into the living room. “Dad?” she said. “Are you busy tomorrow morning?”
Mr. Wakefield turned around. “I’ve got some last-minute shopping to do. Why?”
“I was wondering if you’d mind going by the bank first thing.”
Elizabeth nearly swallowed her tongue. “Jess!” she hissed.
SHIT’S GOING DOWN, Y’ALL!
The Elder Wakefields, and Jessica for that matter, are rightfully confused. While Ned and Jess talk at cross purposes, Elizabeth does her best to distract her sister and drag her away, stretching her sleeve in the process.
For a moment she considered telling her sister the truth. But why upset Jessica when Mr. Glass might still come through?
“What?” Jessica asked. “What are you looking at? My ape arm?”
“I was just thinking about all the times you’ve gotten yourself into trouble and how you always somehow manage to get out of it.”
Jessica grinned. “Not without your help.”
“How do you stand being you, Jess?” Elizabeth asked wearily. “Isn’t it exhausting?”
Jessica assumes that Elizabeth is worried about the party planning. She assures Liz that things always work out in the end. Bless her!
Next morning, the rain continues apace. Elizabeth dashes to Glass Residence – or rather, to the apartment that isn’t likely to be the Glass Residence for much longer. Has Daddy Glass made it through the wind and rain to save the day?
The Glasses are distraught. Partly because they have to head back to the shelter, but mainly because their father is missing. Which is fair.
Elizabeth heads home, knowing all is now lost. And indeed, back at the Compound she finds her sister and a bunch of angry Unicorns. Jessica has spoken to Ned about the money in the bank, only to uncover Elizabeth’s lies.
Lila, Ellen, Jessica… all wade in with accusations. Finally, Janet asks the one question that matters.
“Be quiet, everybody,” Janet commanded. “I’m sure Elizabeth has a logical explanation for this. Don’t you?”
Elizabeth gazed around the room. She couldn’t tell them the truth. She’d made the Glasses miserable enough. What if she got them into even more trouble by revealing that Mrs. Glass had accepted stolen money?
“I… “Elizabeth’s voice faded away. “I can’t explain.”
There is an UPROAR. And leading the charge? Jessica Wakefield.
“I don’t understand, Elizabeth. You’re the responsible one. You’re the one everyone counts on.” Her voice wobbled. “How could let us all down this way? How could you let me down this way?” She brushed away a tear.
“I didn’t mean to, Jess,” Elizabeth sobbed. “It just happened. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you planned. I was just trying to help.”
“Help who? You’re not helping anyone. All you’ve done is ruin everything,” Jessica cried, her face flushed with emotion. “I wish you weren’t my sister, Elizabeth. I wish—I wish I’d never had a twin!”
[Wing: Wrestling means you’ll never not have a reference to hand.]
Elizabeth, crushed by those words and full of self-loathing, runs off through the rain into the night.
Eventually, she finds herself at the Sweet Valley Mall, at the establishment’s Santa Grotto. The queue is long. Santa, flanked by mechanical figures at his rear and plastic Angels strung from the ceiling, dispenses festive cheer. Little Drummer Boy plays through the mall sound system.
She stared at the line of fidgeting children who waited for their turns to tell Santa their wishes. I know what I wish, Elizabeth thought as a tear trailed down her cheek. I wish I’d never been born.
Lights dim. Time slows. The song fades.
And from the ceiling, descends an Angel.
This is almost 7000 words of recap, and we’re hitting the actual plot now.
I get that we need to see Liz fall into desperation, but man, that took a while. [Dove: I agree with that, but the problem is that Liz is so perfect and always happy that it does take a lot to destroy her life.]
As the girl descends from the ceiling, Elizabeth is confused. The girl waves, and Liz helps her escape from her harness.
Elizabeth stared, first at the girl’s hand. Then at the girl’s face, as pale and translucent as a new moon. Then at the girl’s clothes, her torn, shredded blue jeans, her Beatles tie-dye shirt, the peace-sign earrings dangling from her ears.
“What are you staring at?” the girl said irritably. Suddenly her huge gray eyes went wide. “Oh!” She reached up and pulled off the tinfoil halo still sitting at a cockeyed angle on her head. “Puh-lease,” she said, looking it over skeptically. “Nobody wears these anymore.”
“Wh—who are you?” Elizabeth whispered.
The girl put her arm around Elizabeth’s shoulder. “I’m Laura,” she said. She gazed around the cavernous room and let out a satisfied sigh. “It’s groovy to finally meet you, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth blinked again. How did this girl know her name? It was groovy to meet her?
“How do you know my name?” she asked. “And what were you doing hanging from the ceiling, pretending to be an angel?”
“What do you mean, pretending?” Laura demanded. “I am an angel. In fact, Elizabeth, I’m your guardian angel.”
Sixties throwback hippy angel! I think I’m going to like Laura.
At first, Elizabeth is disbelieving. Laura, however, doesn’t seem to mind. She’s more interested in corn dogs, as she’s not had any decent junk food for twenty-five years. She frees Liz’s frozen legs, and tries to explain a few things while the world is in freeze-frame around them.
Here’s what we learn:
- Laura has been watching Elizabeth for a very long time.
- She knows all about Jessica, and Suzannah and Al.
- Despite Elizabeth’s insistence, she is not an hallucination.
- She’s actually pretty bad at being an angel, having flunked some basic angel classes.
- She can’t let Elizabeth out of her sight… rule number eight in the Angel Handbook.
Elizabeth decides, after lengthy discussion and much soul-searching, that this must be a dream. Oh Liz, did Prince Adair teach you nothing? In Sweet Velley, if it’s a dream, it’s probably NOT A DREAM.
Eventually, Laura reveals her purpose and reason for descending from heaven…
“It’s time,” Laura said.
“Where do you think we’re supposed to go?” Elizabeth asked.
“We’re going where you wanted to go,” Laura answered mysteriously. “I’m going to make your wish come true. That’s what this is all about.”
Before they depart for Stage One of Make Elizabeth’s Wish Come True, Elizabeth does what Elizabeth does best. She Thinks of Other People.
She looked back over her shoulder. “Are you just going to leave all these people frozen like this?” Elizabeth waved her hand toward the throngs of motionless shoppers.
Fucking hell, Elizabeth. At the height of despair, in a fucking hallucination, you’re still worried that Jenny won’t get home to cook Alphabetti Spaghetti for her crotch rats.
The pair walk through the foggy day, making Sweet Valley look like Silent Hill. Apparently, the fog is only there until the changes to reality have been fully processed. Elizabeth, still confused about her predicament, assures Laura that her wish was that the Glasses we all cool and the money wasn’t missing. Laura puts her straight pretty darned quick.
“Actually, you wanted not to be born,” Laura corrected. “That is complicated. You’ll see just how complicated it can be.”
There’s some prolonged chatter about how Elizabeth doesn’t believe, which contains this gem:
“Wait a minute. Why am I following you? I’m the dreamer here. You’re just the one getting dreamed. I should be telling you where to go.”
Laura snapped her fingers. “Oh, so you’re in an I’m-In-Charge-Here phase. My instructor Clarence told me this would happen. It comes just after the Stunned-and-Disbelieving phase.” Laura chewed on her thumbnail. “Man, I wish he’d let me bring my cheat sheet.”
Elizabeth is adamant that Laura should fuck off, as it’s all a dream and yadda yadda yadda. She starts crying, and Laura slaps her down like a fucking boss.
“Oh, man, not the crying again!” Laura moaned. “You sure can blubber. I don’t remember this in your file. I know your whole P-3 by heart, and blubbering was not mentioned once.”
Elizabeth wiped the tears from her eyes. “P3?” she repeated.
“Personality Problems Profile. Elizabeth can be very self-critical. Occasionally she takes on more responsibility than is age-appropriate. She can be stubborn and exhibits a tendency toward self-righteousness.”
“I am not self-righteous!” Elizabeth said defensively. “I am—” She stopped midsentence. Why was she arguing with a hallucination? She shrugged. “Maybe I am a little self-righteous.”
“Sure you are. You’re a major goody-goody. I used to hate nice girls like you. You give bad girls like me a complex.”
Lovely! This Jamie Suzanne is no fan of Liz, and that’s the truth. While I do have reservations about how much this book is dragging on, there’s no denying it’s very well written. [Dove: I loved the assessment – especially the bit about age-appropriate responsibility. And the self-righteousness.]
The girls stop at Point 1 – a yoghurt shop near the Mall. Here Elizabeth learns that no one can see her. Because she doesn’t exist. Also, because she doesn’t exist, she can’t interact with anything a la Patrick Swayze in Ghost. No one can see Laura either. But Laura, however, does exist, so she can interact with things. She proves this by poking a hole in a diner’s dessert. [Wing: I love Laura.]
Elizabeth still clings to the misguided notion that this is all a dream, despite all the available evidence. She snaps, and screams for Laura to leave her be before fleeing the yoghurt shop into the fog. In doing so, she runs straight through some passing boys. Literally.
Eventually, Laura catches up with her. She admonishes Elizabeth, and tells her that she’s actually just a trainee angel. I think that even Laura is getting a bit sick of Elizabeth’s refusal to accept the situation, because she attempts to logic it out. She also pokes more fun of Elizabeth. The dialogue between the two is great fun, and Laura feels like a breath of fresh air… at the moment. I suspect her schtick might start wearing a bit thin. [Dove: She’s a bit Manic Pixie Dream Girl for me. But since I read more YA/tween books than Raven, it makes sense I’d get fed up with that trope sooner than him.]
Laura decides the next step in saving Elizabeth’s soul involves flight. Apparently, that’s something a trainee angel can do. She and Elizabeth hurtle through the sky in some angel-fuelled nightmare travel catastrophe, ending up next to an old cinema playing a Sophia Loren movie.
“Laura, you fool,” Laura moaned. “Sophia Rizzo, not Sophia Loren.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I was supposed to take you to see Sophia Rizzo,” Laura said apologetically. “But me with my lousy sense of direction, me, flunkee of the century, what do I do? I take you to see a movie star instead.”
Random. I guess it does allow Elizabeth to reference her mother’s favourite movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.
What, what? In the Sweet Valley Universe, It’s a Wonderful Life is a movie, yet the story It’s a Wonderful Life is somehow true? Laura has already referenced Clarence, so does that make It’s a Wonderful Life a documentary? Or, at the very least, “based on true events”…? [Dove: Also, it was on TV during The Magic Christmas, but the twins skipped watching it because they were in a fight.]
[Wing: Hello, the real important thing here is that Raven and Alice have the same favourite movie.]
After some bickering, Elizabeth and Laura decide to walk to Chez Rizzo. Exactly how far it is from the Pointless Sweet Valley Cinema That Shows Old Crap to the Wrong Side of the Tracks remains to be seen.
During the long walk across town, Elizabeth notices that something isn’t quite on the money. Eventually, she puts her finger on it. The east side has always been seedy, but today the seediness has hit peak Jeremy Kyle.
Laura explains why. Apparently, it’s the Sweater Effect. Which is pretty much the same as the Butterfly Effect, only warmer.
“Everything will seem a little off, even familiar things. They tell me there are millions of little changes involved in something like this. You change one thing and an endless number of other changes have to be made. Everything is tied together, you know, sometimes in ways you’d never understand. They call it the Sweater Effect. You know how it is—you start yanking just one little loose thread on the sleeve of your sweater, and pretty soon you can unravel the whole thing.”
Elizabeth shows yet more asinine scepticism, vowing to call Alice, before she spies Sophia and Mama Rizzo! Unfortunately, they are not the Rizzos she knows and loves. Sophia looks downtrodden and angry, while Mama Rizzo almost looks destitute.
As Elizabeth watches, the Rizzos are turned away from a grocery store because they are poor. Sophia is accused of being a shoplifting brat. Next, they head to Sweet Valley Reform School.
Wait… did we know that Sweet Valley had a reform school?! I know that Tony Rizzo was threatened with something along these lines, but I thought it was an out-of-town establishment. At the very least, I expected it to be in Big Mesa. [Dove: This. There is no way a “nice” place like Sweet Valley would have a reform school.]
As the Rizzos file into the grim barbed-wire-and-concrete structure, Elizabeth vocalises her confusion for the B3s and B4s.
“I don’t understand this,” Elizabeth said again, wringing her hands. “My father helped Tony get counseling. He’s been doing much better at school. Everything’s been going so well for them. Sophia’s mom is—”
“Not without you, Liz,” Laura said solemnly, cutting her off. “Without you there to befriend Sophia when she was an outcast, her reputation got worse and worse. And Tony got into so many fights defending his mom and sister that he ended up here.”
Hmm… okay. This is more like it!
The premise of the book is established. The Ghostie has trawled the SVT archives to kind key events, and repurposed them without Elizabeth’s involvement to create a nightmarish altered reality. There’s a plethora of sob stories to focus on, I guess. I wonder what’s next?
Elizabeth and Laura watch the Rizzos silently scream at each other in their lonely anguish. Finally, visiting time is over.
“Time to go, Mrs. Rizzo,” the guard called again.
“Why is he calling her Mrs. Rizzo?” Elizabeth demanded. “She’s Mrs. Thomas now. She and Sarah Thomas’s father got married. They just got back from their honeymoon in Hawaii.”
“Wrong again. Not without you, they didn’t.”
For some reason, Laura seems more sympathetic to Tony that I’d expect. Probably because she likely has a tortured past… either that, or it’s the “every girl likes a bad boy” cliché writ large.
Once the Rizzos leave the Reform School, Elizabeth reels from what she’s learned while Laura plays the giddy fool. Again, she tries to convince herself it’s all a nightmare, and that she’ll wake up to find all back to normal. Mama Rizzo will be Mrs Thomas, with Sarah Thomas and Sophia Rizzo half-sisters and great friends.
Sadly for Elizabeth, Laura has some rather shocking news.
“Liz,” Laura called. “Listen to me, Liz.” Her voice echoed down the empty hall. “Sarah Thomas is dead.”
Like, I know this is the way to go with the story. I just didn’t expect it to be so… brutal, I guess. [Wing: Goddamn. I love this book.]
After catching up with a horrified and fleeing Elizabeth, Laura persuades Elizabeth to head to the cemetery. On the way, she explains exactly what happened to the now-dead Sarah Thomas. Not only did Sarah Thomas die that fateful day when she fell down the stairs, she also left a grieving father who descended into depression and a reclusive lifestyle. Now heartbroken, he lives like a hermit. [Dove: Does this mean that Annie’s in jail for neglect/involuntary manslaughter? I mean, they just breezed past that in the book because Sarah survived, but if Sarah’s dead, surely someone had to be held responsible?]
At the graveyard, Elizabeth received the confirmation her crumbling reality so desperately required. Sarah Thomas’s headstone.
Sarah Lynn Thomas
Beautiful Daughter, Loving Friend
She Will Live Forever In Our Hearts
Elizabeth, understandably, is aghast. But Laura isn’t finished. As well as Sarah’s grave, there’s a further unpleasant surprise for our second-favourite twin. It’s not just Sarah Thomas lounging in the afterlife due to Elizabeth’s voidage.
Because if there’s no Elizabeth Wakefield, there’s no Denny Jacobson either.
A great bit of “contemporary” continuity here. Denny’s surfing accident is the plot of the previous book, and given the turnaround required to maintain their hectic schedule, these two books were likely written in parallel.
I guess we did have an oblique Giant Tooth reference earlier, so it shouldn’t come as that much of a shock. Either way, I like it.
Elizabeth stays in denial about Denny. She saved him. She saved him. SHE DID. When Laura offers to prove that Denny is dead, Liz doubled sown and demands to see the evidence
For a moment Laura just stood there, chewing on her thumbnail. “I was afraid you’d say that,” she murmured. She paced back and forth next to the grave. “I’m not really supposed to do this, is the thing. After all, I only have my learner’s permit.”
“To do T-2s.”
“What’s a T-2?” Elizabeth asked wearily.
“Time Travel. It’s a very tricky maneuver, especially without a good map. One wrong turn and we could end up hanging with the Flintstones for eternity.”
Time Travel… it‘s Back to the Future meets A Christmas Carol. And because it’s a T-2, it meets the Terminator franchise as well.
Elizabeth is in for a shock…
After a stock footage montage of the sun rising in the west and setting in the east in blurred line of colour, Elizabeth and the Angel arrive in the past with a crash. Looks like Time Travel isn’t Laura’s strong point either. I like the fact that Laura is a bit crap at this Angelic nonsense, it rings true to Clarence from the film.
Their destination? The beach. Near a fast food trailer at which Amy and Maria are chowing down on lunch as the storm clouds gather.
Elizabeth, still not on Page 1, asks what day it is.
“This is the day Denny died, Liz. Unfortunately you weren’t here to suggest that you and your friends collect shells for your art project. See?”
Elizabeth followed her gaze. Amy and Maria were heading across the parking lot toward home.
Having this book reference a number of interactions from past books is your bread and butter of the trope, I guess. But having this book placed as the book AFTER Denny nearly drowned is a masterstroke.
I presume that a series such as this has different levels of fans. There’s be the Die-hards (or “Recappers”, as I like to call them) that read everything, the Dippers that pop in and out on the whims of a good cover or synopsis, the Newbs who are just starting out on this rollercoaster of shit, and the Returning Heroes who’ve missed a chunk of the books but have been drawn back into the fray through the vagaries of fate.
To appeal to the most people, referencing a big event from the previous books captures those people who’ve recently joined the party, and trawling the back catalogue for other events hits those long-time fans of the series.
While Elizabeth dawdles, Laura calls her to the shoreline, where the real action is about to take place. Sure enough, Denny and his brother are out in the rising waters, neon wetsuits pinpricked against a blackening sea and sky.
Events unfold as per the prophesy of the last book. The wake takes him. The surfboard concusses him.
But no Wakefield saves him.
Elizabeth watches with a mounting horror. Eventually, Laura gently interrupts.
“He’s washing up over there,” Laura said grimly, pointing down the beach.
Elizabeth looked and saw them. A hundred yards down the beach, Sam Jacobsen was cradling the limp, white body of his brother in his arms.
Wow… bleak and hard hitting. No punches pulled. I’m really surprised that this book is going all in. To the hilt, and it’s exciting. [Dove: And just think, as I mentioned in that recap, the entire Jacobson family is focussed on Pamela’s heart condition (providing the ghosties remember she exists). To see their healthy vibrant son dying is going to catch them off-guard. Either death would be heartbreaking, but this one will come out of nowhere too.] [Wing: No, really, goddamn. I love this book.]
Laura eventually convinces Elizabeth it’s time to move on, but not before hammering home the point of the little lesson.
“I don’t want to go,” Elizabeth sobbed. “I don’t want to see any more. I just want Denny to be OK.”
“He can’t be OK,” Laura said. “Not without you. It’s amazing when you start thinking about it, isn’t it? How many lives a person touches one way or another?”
Surely you’d think this would be enough, and that a megabrain like Elizabeth would take the hint by now. But no, there’s still a third of the text to go. Two hundred pages to show Elizabeth the error of her ways… if Laura was Ellen’s guardian angel, we’d be doing this for an entire encyclopaedia’s worth of action before she got the fucking memo. [Dove: I think you picked the wrong person there. I think Ellen would just take everything at face value. As long as someone’s nice to her (and they’re nowhere near the stables), she’ll go along with whatever they say. Ellen’s version of this would be a page and a half. “Oh, life sucks without me? I’m sorry. I take it back.” Boom. Done.]
Also, I’d love to read a version of this about Mr Nydick. He’s touched a number of lives, one way or another.
Before Laura and Elizabeth leave the scene, we learn more about Laura. Her clothes and speech quirks point to a child of the sixties, and she confesses that she was a troubled youth.
Oh god… Elizabeth’s going to fix an angel, isn’t she?
First, more time travel. Back to the Present. In fact, back to the presents, as they wind up in the Sweet Valley Middle School cafeteria on Christmas Eve, in time for the party.
Laura’s time travel navigation is off by a hair, and she winds up embedded in a chocolate cake. Elizabeth laughs, but when Brooke Dennis sees the ruination of the cake (but not Laura or Elizabeth, of course), she’s not happy.
And she’s not the only one…
Just then Lila and Ellen sauntered in. They were wearing tough-looking black leather jackets. That’s strange, Elizabeth thought. They weren’t wearing a speck of purple.
“The cake!” Lila screamed. … She turned and glared at Brooke. “You did this, didn’t you, Disgusting Dennis?”
While we’ve honed in on the explanation immediately, Elizabeth takes her usual sweet time to get there.
“Tell me why they’re being so mean to Brooke. I mean, the Unicorns have never gone out of their way to be nice, but still—”
Laura shook her head. “They’re not Unicorns anymore. They’re the Sharks.” [Wing: YES OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS GODDAMN BOOK. Where are the Jets? (Interesting that rich white girl Lila is a Shark, though.)]
They’re not the Sharks. They’re the Jaguars!
They’re not the Jag-wahs. They’re the Goth Kids!
Liz then spots a shy and pointless Mary Giaccio. Not Mary Wallace, because without Elizabeth she never found her real mother. [Dove: You missed Robinson. Also, presumably, her mother is not a Wallace either. But since Mary got all obsessed with Alice, how did this not happen anyway? Why didn’t Mary still stalk Alice, by befriending Jessica, and then didn’t Mrs Robinson just randomly walk down the street and find them all? I could be remembering the last part wrong.]
She spots Todd Wilkins. He looks different, somehow. No reason why for this. Random.
She spots the Morrisses. Without Patrick. Because Patrick ran away, taking his sexy saxamaphone with him.
Twice in one recap! NOT EVEN SORRY.
Elizabeth asks if Jessica is coming to the party, but Laura tells her to mingle. Well, as far as she can while not existing, naturally.
In three excellent scenes, we have snippets of life from the party people, in a land where Elizabeth Wakefield doesn’t exist.
First, we have Amy, Maria and Billy (Belinda) [Dove: It really bugged me that this book got so much backstory right, but then spelled “Billie” wrong.] discus the latest edition of the Sweet Valley Sixers, which now appears to be little more than a Sharkicorn puff rag. Quite how the Sixers was invented without Elizabeth, I’ve no idea. In Lila’s gossip column, there’s some pretty poor baiting of the “tomboy” Amy and her upcoming destined-to-fail audition for the Boosters. [Wing: Wait, if this is the Christmas party, why are auditions being held so late?] The three girls then try to ingratiate themselves with the Sharkicorns leadership, to no avail.
Next, Winston and Ken get a kicking from an emboldened bully-squad of Charlie Cashman and Jerry McAllister. They ask for help from Todd, who no-sirs the scene and plays a video game instead. [Dove: Did Dennis Cookman die in the cave? That was Aaron Dallas’ plan, so it could have still gone ahead, but without the Unicorns forcing Grace to do pledge tasks and befriend him, there was no-one to coax him out when it flooded. Despite the improbable dimensions.]
Finally, the Sharkicorns gather outside the party and discuss their nefarious plan to fuck up Jessica Wakefield’s shit good and proper. Apparently, they all like to pick on Jessica, and plan to allow her to become an “associate Shark” on the proviso that she does something as-yet-undecided that’s dangerous, embarrassing or both.
And there’s a smoking – smoking! – Tamara Chase! FUCK YOU, TAMARA CHASE. [Dove: Why are the Unicorns smoking? Does Elizabeth’s saintly prescence prevent them from taking up the habit? Did she do an exposé on shops that sell cigarettes to underage would-be smokers in the Sixers? Explain this shit.] [Wing: Why are they the Sharks?!]
Having seen all these things unfold, Elizabeth is frantic. She pleads with Laura to help her, to come with her while Elizabeth somehow warns Jessica of her impending Shark Attack. Come the fuck on, Liz. YOU CAN’T INTERACT WITH ANYTHING.
While dashing to the alternate-universe version of the Wakefield Compound, Elizabeth finds herself passing a seedy bar. Laura protests, but Elizabeth spots someone in the window and her blood freezes. Before she can be stopped, she darts inside.
Elizabeth took a step closer to the man. She remembered that coat. She remembered the wide belt and its smooth collar. She remembered tugging on the sleeve when she was little. She remembered the smell of fresh air it had carried when her father had come home from work and she and Jessica had run to greet him. “Dad?” she whispered.
Ned Wakefield. Drinking in the daytime. Haunted, depressed… and divorced.
Mr. Wakefield took a long swallow of his drink. “Every day is tough,” he said, twisting his mouth into a smile as his eyes grew, moist.
But it wasn’t his eyes or his bitter smile that Elizabeth was staring at in horror.
It was the fourth finger of his left hand, where his wedding ring used to be.
Blinded by tears, Elizabeth flees to the Wakefield Compound. Laura follows, trying to talk Liz from the ledge, but by now, Elizabeth is pretty far down the rabbit hole. She runs, past Amy’s house, past Janet’s house, past the Mercandy house, past Lila’s estate. She runs straight past the Compound, because… well, see for yourself.
Elizabeth felt something inside her go taut like a rubber band about to break. She stepped onto the lawn. It was overgrown with weeds. The paint on the house was peeling. One shutter hung at an odd angle. An upstairs window—her bedroom window—was broken. There wasn’t a single twinkling light, not a bit of Christmas greenery, anywhere in sight.
Inside, the house is a catastrophe. Dirty clothes, trash, dust… but the most depressing thing of all is the spindly depressing Christmas tree in the corner.
Don’t be sad, Liz. Even the older trees need to fulfil their Christmas Destiny.
Alice is looking tired and haggard in the kitchen. No change there, then, Gin is the great equaliser. Laura explains that Ned and Alice have divorced due to unproven rumours of Alice’s infidelity weighing on Ned’s mind, after Jessica Jumped to Conclusions and Elizabeth wasn’t there to be the voice of reason.
Wait… in Jumping to Conclusions, Elizabeth wasn’t so much the voice of reason as a willing co-conspirator trying to uncover her mother’s shameful lustings with her client Fabio. I’m pretty sure that it was only the ridiculousness of Jessica’s plan that saved the day, which is something Elizabeth had no hand in. [Dove: Also, if Ned and Alice don’t know how to talk to each other without the intervention of their children, their relationship is doomed anyway.]
Steven enters, doing a very credible impression of Tony Rizzo.
Steven was slouched against the doorjamb, his arms crossed over his chest. At least; Elizabeth thought it was Steven. The sullen-faced boy was wearing a ripped black T-shirt, faded jeans, and black boots. His shoulder-length hair was tied back in a loose ponytail, and dark strands of hair hung in his eyes. In one earlobe a diamond earring glittered. On his right arm, half-hidden by his T-shirt, were the ugly red and blue marks of a new tattoo.
Damn, Steven. Edgy. [Wing: Ah, so Steven’s gang is the Jets then, got it.]
Elizabeth watches and Alice and Steven have a terse, Rizzoesque conversation. It’s Christmas Eve, and Alice wants one nice night with what remains of her family. Steven, hurting and so very very edgy, wants to go hang with his “new friends” instead. I say “wants,” but it’s pretty clear that Alice has no control over this brooding delinquent. And as with all delinquents, his friends are delinquents too.
Steven storms off once Alice tells him she can’t afford to buy him a CD player. Come on Steven, what sort of delinquent can’t source himself a fucking CD player? Pull your finger out and get stealin’!
Mrs. Wakefield slumped onto the couch in the dark living room. The little music box tinkled sweetly. Silent night, holy night…
“Oh, Ned,” she whispered, and then she began to cry.
I’ve glossed over a lot of great atmospheric description in the latter half of the book, as I’m aware that this recap is rather long.
Let this aside serve as testament to the great efforts made by the Ghostie in this regard. I’m very impressed by a lot of things in this book, and the descriptions of Bizarro-Sweet-Valley are right up there.
Elizabeth, in tears, makes her way upstairs. She checks out her bedroom. It is bare of familiar things. Gingerly, she approaches Jessica’s open doorway, with a warning to expect the worst from Laura ringing in her ears.
Elizabeth pushed past her down the hall. Jessica’s door was open. She was lying face down on her bed, sobbing loudly. Her hair was a mousy dark blond, as if she hadn’t been outside in the sunshine in a very long time. But that was the only change Elizabeth could see. She waited, hoping Jessica would move, wanting to get a better look to assure herself that Laura had been wrong. But Jessica just lay there, her head buried in the crook of her arm. Every so often she let out another shuddering sob.
When Jessica finally rises, Elizabeth gasps. She is almost unrecognisable.
“No!” Elizabeth cried. “That’s not Jessica!”
Laura nodded. “She’s changed, huh?”
Changed. That wasn’t even the word for it. Not like Steven, not like her mother or father. With them, somehow, Elizabeth still sensed a glimmer of their old selves lingering somewhere beneath the despair.
But this Jessica could never have been the Jessica Elizabeth knew and loved. Her short, greasy hair hung limply in her eyes. She wore thick glasses and an ill-fitting plaid jumper. Her skin was sallow, her eyes red from crying.
But it wasn’t her looks that made Elizabeth ache. Those were just the surface changes. It was the desperate sadness in those blue-green eyes, a sadness that told Elizabeth Jessica didn’t trust or love anyone anymore—not even herself. [Wing: So why the fuck hasn’t she gone on a murder spree then? I fully believe she is a serial killer in the making with or without Elizabeth.]
Elizabeth stares, aghast at the transformation. The doorbell rings… it’s the Sharkicorns.
Bizarro-Jessica is surprised, and eagerly pleased to see them. She dashes downstairs, as Elizabeth impotently shouts at her disappearing frame.
The Sharkicorns lay on the fake praise and camaraderie pretty thick, as Alice listens on. They persuade her to allow Jessica to go carol singing with them on Christmas Eve, for an hour. Jessica is excited to go, as she’s obviously starved of friendship. This is now making me sad.
Out on the street, the Sharkicorns meet up with Charlie Cashman and Jerry McAllister, and begin to show their true colours. Every line from their twisted mouths spits venom and spite. It’s great stuff, through and through. They try to force cigarettes on Jessica – smoking’s bad, y’all. To her credit, Jessica begins to smell a proverbial rat, and tries to pull out before things escalate, but the pressure of the peer is too strong. She agrees to go to Lila’s for “a little party.”
What can possibly go wrong?
Elizabeth and Laura watch as Jessica and the Sharkicorns head to the Fowler Estate. Our non-existent heroine feels the pull of the undertoad, the dark foreboding of things to come. She can’t shake the feeling that Jessica is heading for disaster. And Laura can only confirm this hypothesis.
At the Fowler Estate, the action moves to Lila’s bedroom. No, not like that. The Sharkicorns and assorted retinue, still brimming with spite and bile, offer a naive and pliant Jessica the supposed chance of a lifetime. She can become an Associate Shark… as long as she does a “little initiation.”
This is all depressingly familiar. The Unicorns had similar rites of entry, back in the very early books. Although with the Sharks, I doubt their instructions will be quite as tame as getting three girls to use the boys’ bathroom. First part of the initiation? A Shark-tastic makeover, which includes dressing like a Shark, in Ellen’s jacket.
While I’m here, a word on the Sharks.
Why does Elizabeth not existing impact on the Unicorns in such a negative fashion?
I’m guessing the hand-wavy answer is “because of the Sweater Effect.”
The slightly less hand-wavy answer is probably “because Elizabeth makes Jessica a better person, and Jessica has influence on the Unicorns.” That’s unfortunately bullshit, as Jessica is pretty bitchy when in Purple Mode.
Janet, the president of the Unicorns, is in the Eighth Grade. The Unicorns surely existed before Elizabeth and Jessica rocked up to Sweet Valley Middle School. And I’m sure they weren’t the Sharks before the Wakefields arrived, only to see the error of their ways once they clapped eyes on the Perfect Twins.
I realise the Bizarro-Sweet-Valley hook needs something institutionally bankrupt to drive both the comparison with It’s a Wonderful Life and the desperation of Elizabeth’s plight, but what works for George Bailey of the Bailey Building and Loan, pillar of the community responsible for the financial wellbeing of an entire town, does not ring totally true for Elizabeth Wakefield, twelve-year-old wannabe journalist and treasurer of a Christmas Party Fund.
I think this is a structural mis-step by the Ghostie, sadly. It’s not the writer’s fault. It’s the limitations of the premise.
One more thing: NOTHING reflects badly on sharks. Sharks rule, Unicorns Drool.
Throughout the Sharkicorn pressuring and cajoling, Jessica is so painfully un-Jessica. She lacks belief, self-love and swagger. It’s heartbreaking to hear. While the shock factor of Sarah and Denny’s death drag us onto the rollercoaster of Elizabeth’s journey, the plummeting stock of Elizabeth’s best friend – and the series’ best character – is what roils and boils the pits of our stomachs.
As the Sharkicorns (and made-over-associate-Sharkicorn) head out to implement Jessica’s Initiation Phase 2, Elizabeth rescues Laura from a food coma in the Fowler Estate’s sumptuous kitchen. True to her form throughut the book, the Heavenly Laura is doing all she can to partake in Earthly delights such as ice cream, turkey, corn dogs and cake (not all at once, mind).
Elizabeth demand to know what’s happening, so Laura transports her to the centre of the action… City Hall. Actually, she transports them to the roof of a two-storey building nearby City Hall, so Elizabeth is very much action-adjacent. [Dove: I’ve played so much Stick of Truth over the past three days, I’m just imagining this taking place in South Park. Oddly, it seems like a fine map to use for Sweet Valley.]
As they wait for the Sharkicorns and Retinue to rock up, Laura spills the beans re: the nature of Jessica’s trial ahead.
City Hall is decorated for Christmas. The crowning glory? A three-foot-high star, made of wire and lights, sat high atop the building’s peaked roof. Jessica’s task? Climb up and retrieve the star for the Greater Glory of the Sharkicorn Empire!
In the brief paragraphs leading up to the cinematic conclusion of this story, we have a slightly annoying scene in while Laura finally divulges her backstory. After her parents divorced, she, her mother and her sister moved into a shelter as money was tight. One day, near Christmas, she ran away while mired in self-pity. Ending up in an abandoned building, sharing floor space with two other kids and a stray cat.
That night, they cooked noodles (Noodles was NOT the name of the cat) in the living room. The place burned down while they slept. Laura managed to get out, thankfully. Well, the first time, at least. She then went back to save the cat… and that was that. Angel. [Wing: GODDAMN. I love this book.]
Throughout the book, I actually like Laura. She’s fun.
She has a mischievous quality, and a can’t-be-arsed attitude, and she can put Elizabeth back in her box without a second glance.
She died rushing into a burning building to save a cat?
Elevated from “likeable peripheral character” to “motherfucking legend.”
In an emotionally charged bookend to Laura and Elizabeth’s journey, we learn that while Elizabeth’s wish was to have never been born, Laura’s wish was that she’d stuck around. After her death, her little sister sank into depression, became hooked on drugs, and died of an overdose.
*checks the book’s cover*
This is still a Sweet Valley book, right? It’s as bleak as fuck. Who’s the Ghostie, Irvine Welsh?
Laura piles on the cautionary Tale vibe, beseeching Elizabeth to see the error of her ways. All people are important. Everything matters.
The Sharkicorns arrive, with Jessica is tow. Showtime!
“Janet,” Jessica said in a quavering voice, “I’m not so sure about this. I don’t think I’m really cut out to be a Shark.”
Bless you, Jess. It’s not too late to step away. But if you don’t, look on the bright side. Even if you fall to your death with a purple splat, you’re only a construct in Elizabeth’s Bizarro-Sweet-Valley, and as such you’d be ceasing to exist in a few minutes anyway, once Liz snaps out of her self-inflicted ennui.
Through a combination of guile, style, bile and denial, the Sharkicorns browbeat our timid little sociopath into climbing a precarious pine tree adjacent to City Hall, in a quest to retrieve an ornamental star that can only be described as arrogantly big.
Jessica reached for one of the lower branches. She pulled on it, testing to see if it would hold her. Then she looked back at the Sharks with a determined smile. “OK,” she said. “Here goes nothing.”
“Wait!” Ellen cried, rushing forward. “Take off my jacket first!”
“Ellen!” Janet scolded.
“Well, what if she falls? That jacket cost a fortune.”
Hahahahaha! Never change, Bizarro-Ellen!
Jessica, eager to pleased, makes a damn fine fist of things. The Sharkicorns look on impassively, only breaking the silence to bark orders and criticise. The tension builds delightfully as Jessica climbs higher, and Elizabeth watches on, open-mouthed.
Soon, Jessica is level with the roof. But she’s too far away to pull herself up. She clings on for safely, and the thinning branches bend to her weight.
“It’s too far,” she yelled down to the Sharks. “I can’t reach it.”
“Don’t stop now!” Charlie called. “You’re almost there.”
“I don’t know, Charlie,” Tamara said. “I don’t think she can make it.”
“Try swaying back and forth,” Lila suggested. “You know—to get some momentum.”
Ellen shook her head grimly. “I’m glad she took my jacket off.”
Elizabeth felt panic rising in her throat. She grabbed Laura, glaring into her eyes. “I don’t want to see this, Laura,” she cried. “Don’t make me.”
“This is what you wanted, Liz,” Laura said. “This is what you wished for.”
Jessica takes a deep breath, and begins to swing. One hand on the trunk, the other desperately grasping for the edge of the roof. Closer, closer, the tree groaning, straining, lurching.
CRACK! A branch snaps as Jessica’s fingers brush the roof. She grabs with all her might, and is left hanging, suspended over the pavement, dangling by one hand.
Suddenly, a bright light shines from a passing car, and a woman’s voice calls out. It’s the police! The Sharkticorns scarper. Fucking cowards.
Jessica’s fingernails scraped along the shingles.
“Please!” Elizabeth screamed with all her might. “Please, Laura! Don’t let it happen! This isn’t what I wished for. This isn’t what I want!” She sobbed helplessly. “Please, please, let me go back. I’ll do anything to get back!”
The policewoman turned her flashlight on the front of City Hall.
“Please,” Jessica whispered in a strangled voice. “Someone help me.”
“Please let me go back,” Elizabeth sobbed again.
The beam danced over the red brick building just in time to catch the look of pure terror on Jessica’s face as her fingers slipped the last few inches.
Tumultuous, heart-pounding, exhilarating stuff. The definition of crescendo.
The world around Elizabeth begins to spin and flicker. With a whirl and a wail, she crashes back to reality. Outside the Sweet Valley Middle School Auditorium.
“Elizabeth? Is that you?”
Someone could see her! Someone was talking to her!
Elizabeth turned. There in the doorway were Sophia and Sarah. Sophia, smiling radiantly. And Sarah, alive and well.
Yay! All is well. Thank you, Sweet Valley! Thank you, Middle School! Thank you, Auditorium! It’s a Wonderful Life after all!
In the final pages, we have the neat conclusion that is pretty much guaranteed with this series. I won’t dwell on it much, as to be honest it does take a little shine of the book as a whole, but all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.
First up, the Christmas Party is going ahead. Everyone from Bizarro-Sweet-Valley is there, back to a glorious normal. The Sharks are now Unicorns, and Purple is the New Black. And now that Elizabeth has arrived, the party can start in earnest, because she’s the Guest of Honour.
Second, everyone knows what Elizabeth has done. Yay. Suzannah had called to the Compound to tell her that Daddy Glass had finally battled through the adverse weather and made it to Sweet Valley. She’d mentioned the money to Jessica, who put two and two together and, for once, came up with four.
Third, once Ned and Alice found out, they both thought Elizabeth was absolutely whizzer for stealing the from the Christmas Rich to give to the Homeless Poor like some sort of Aryan Robin Hood. They even knew someone renting a three-bedroom apartment, with all the swings and sun and fucking firedogs that any family could want. Because why the fuck not.
Fourth, everyone raise a shit-ton of money for the homeless shelter.
And fifth, someone painted a sickening banner for the party…
Elizabeth stared in disbelief at the bright red letters. Merry Christmas, Elizabeth! Sweet Valley loves you!
Yeah, that bit can get fucked.
“I’d like to make a toast to Elizabeth Wakefield,” Jessica said, “the very best sister in the entire world!”
The crowd cheered, but Elizabeth wasn’t listening. She was staring intently at the bottom tier of the cake. Someone had decided to take an early taste and had left behind a nice, neat, finger-sized hole.
Laura. “I understand now, Laura,” Elizabeth whispered. “You did get it right after all.”
A sweet and fitting ending… or maybe Steven stuck his cock in the cake.
I enjoyed this book a great deal. As a homage to It’s a Wonderfui Life, it did a pretty bang-up job.
Things I liked? The dialogue was especially spicy. And the tension built terrifically. The characterisation was largely fun too, especially Laura. The writer pulled no punches with the whole Bizarro-Sweet-Valley schtick, and I can’t believe I’ve written thirteen thousand FUCKING words and only NOW thought about how this book accurately captures the spirit of Bleak Valley. Wasted opportunity! (If you don’t know what Bleak Valley is, check out our podcast.)
Things I disliked? I thought the beginning dragged a fair bit, and Elizabeth’s constant holding of the Idiot Ball was slightly galling. More could have been made of the Landlord Antagonist, Suzannah and All pissed me off, and the whole logic of Daddy Glass paying back the money on his immediate arrival did undermine the premise (as did the whole Elizabeth-Wakefield-Is-Not-George-Bailey thing I mentioned earlier). Lastly, while there were some direct nods to the source material, I think some sort of bell-ringing-wing-receiving reference was missing, as that is one of the keystones of the original.
Would I read this again? Yeah. If it were fifty pages shorter, I’d read it once a year. Approved!
[Dove: When I first read this, I wasn’t particularly impressed. Basically, about five years ago, I decided to complete the Sweet Valley Twins collection, and I started reading the specials as they came in. I found it too much “isn’t Elizabeth whizzo?”, so coming back to it to read for a recap wasn’t high on my list of things I wanted to do with my spare time. However, having read all the books in order now, and paid far more attention to the plots, this book is so much better. I don’t think it works as a “drop-in” book. It’s not exactly continuity lock-out, but Elizabeth’s importance reeks of Mary Sue if you haven’t read a lot of the books it references. Overall, it was quite enjoyable. The dialogue was sassy, everyone was on top form, and everyone knows I love a Jamie who gets Ellen right. I found Laura a bit too irritating to really like her (although Raven’s right, anyone who tries to save a cat is a fucking rock star), Elizabeth was exhaustingly dim, and some of the alternate universe didn’t work – namely the Unisharks. Why were they smoking? Why were they so mean? How did Elizabeth’s absence cause this. Still, it was a fun holiday book, and much better than I remembered.]
[Wing: There are some fantastic moments, and it hits Bleak Valley harder than we do, sometimes! The ghostie did a great job with dialogue, especially, fun snark and the Unisharks were delightful, even if they didn’t actually make sense. Neither did the Ned and Alice divorce, though, or Steven’s fall into his own T-Birds (a much better fit than the Jets, really). But if I take a handwave of why things happened that way without Elizabeth, I love the hell out of Holiday Bleak Valley.]