Title: One of the Gang
Tagline: Is Jessica really as perfect as she thinks she is? (No. Jessica is a barely functioning sociopath – used in the literal sense, not the salacious.)
Summary: Jessica Wakefield has always been the center of everything at school. And Pamela Jacobson has always spent her time on the sidelines, especially in gym. When Jessica hurts her ankle, she starts to feel left out, too. Suddenly, the two girls have something in common.
Jessica, who is chairman of the Mini Olympics, can hardly get to and from class, let alone run the committee meetings. And bossy Lila Fowler begins to take advantage of Jessica’s injury to gain more power so she can run the Olympics her way! That’s when Jessica comes up with a plan. With Pamela’s help, it might just put both of them in the winner’s circle!
I actually asked for this one. I was due to do Buried Treasure next week, but we have agreed between the three of us that at any point you can request or suggest books that you’re not assigned, based on your experiences or interest. For example, if it hadn’t turned it out that way naturally, I was quite determined Wing should get the books with the adoption storylines, because she is very outspoken on adoption. Raven will be recapping A Christmas Without Elizabeth, because It’s a Wonderful Life is one of his favourite movies of all time [Raven: Every time a fatty is mocked, an angel gets its wings.].
And I wanted this because it deals with physical disability in school. Something I have oodles and oodles of experience with. And now’s probably a good place to explain everything, so you don’t have to wonder which disability I have.
I have Congenital Hip Dysplasia. The name changes every few years as trends change – back in the 80s, it was known amongst my mum’s friends (other mums with kids who had it) as “clicky hips”; in the late 90s it was trendily known as “CHD”, which also overlapped with Congenital Heart D… something beginning with D. It’s also known as Developmental Dysplasia, but mostly, around me, I prefer the “hip thing”. It’s what Wing, Raven and I call it, and I prefer it that way. Thanks to a strange phenomenon that floats around me, I didn’t know what it was called until the late 90s when I got online and started asking around. Nobody in the medical profession had ever told me, and nobody in my family could keep up with all the name changes. Because I didn’t have a clinical term to use, nobody believed it was real, even though I can go on at length, describing the state of the ball and socket joints of my hips, using my hands to demonstrate.
Long story short: born with dislocated hips. Not noticed until I was walking (18 months). Operated on a couple of times – pins/screws holding my hips in place (I still have the screws in a jar somewhere). Aged 14 I was informed I’d have to have a hip replacement “soon”. Age 26 I had a hip replacement, and that was ten years ago.
What this means: I have a 1.5” difference in the length of my legs. When it’s bad, I have strong pain in my hip socket radiating down to my knee and across my back. Even if I’m not in pain, I can’t run fast and I walk with a limp. As a child I was very unbalanced and fell over a lot. I can’t walk up or down stairs without something to balance – so stairs without railings are out. Carrying stuff downstairs is impossible. I have to bump down with the laundry basket even now. After the hip replacement, life got significantly better, and I was far more able-bodied, but still there are issues.
To sum up, using the worlds of an able-bodied eight year old to my twelve year old self, “It’s not a real disability. If you were really disabled, you’d be in a wheelchair.” Everyone present, including adults, agreed with the eight year old’s assessment.
So, long story short: I’m bringing the vitriol.
[Wing: Oh, good, it’s finally time for Dove Goes Boom.]
We open with Jessica trying to copy Elizabeth’s maths homework, and Steven being obnoxious, which is par for the course. Steven’s latest thing is that he’s got ESP, and he foresees everything before it happens. Yes, Steven, so do we. It’s because this universe is predictable. Shit happens, Jessica is ruthlessly selfish, Elizabeth forgives her because “she could never stay mad at her twin”, and it all repeats until forever.
Steven says he foresaw that Jessica would be elected chairman of the Mini Olympics committee, and she says that was obvious.
Apparently every year the sixth grade organise a day-long festival for the younger grades. Why? Why doesn’t the school below them take care of them, and the eighth graders throw an event for the middle school? Are the high school freshmen going to throw an event for the seventh and eighth graders? Which imbecile came up with this convoluted idea? [Raven: At my secondary school, it was traditional for the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th forms (grades 8 to 12) to put on a “review” for the 1st and 2nd forms once per year, written by the pupils and lampooning (and often starring) the more open-minded and fun-loving teachers. At least, it was a tradition until our 4th year, at which time our review was so badly received and offensive to the staff that the whole idea was purged from school history and never revived. Why am I mentioning this? Reasons.]
Steven leaves to go to basketball practice, and Jessica and Elizabeth agree that they’re done with his ESP bullshit. Alice comes home mid-conversation and says that he’ll get sick of it soon enough. When the twins complain that that day can’t come soon enough, Alice encourages them to find a way to get him to stop. Troll parenting. And usually I’d applaud that, but Alice is the worst mother ever (a truly impressive achievement, given that it’s coming from me – see PointHorror.com for my mother issues), so it’s just bad parenting.
Elizabeth goes to the library to stock up on Amanda Howard mysteries – might as well mention that here, this is the series that Elizabeth loves, and quite often the ghost writers remember this. While she’s there, she bumps into the “new girl”, Pamela Jacobson. (How many new girls do they get a year? I’m starting a counter.) They share their love of Amanda Howard, and then Elizabeth asks if Pamela’s looking forward to the Mini Olympics. Pamela says that she has a heart condition and she used to go to a school for “special kids”, which even in the 90s wasn’t a great way to describe the disabled. It was commonly used, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely tactful.
Pamela’s condition is not named, but she’s not allowed to exert herself.
“That’s why I left Ridgedale,” Pamela told her. “Because everyone there was ‘special,’ I started to think of myself that way too.” She frowned. “Some of my teachers thought I was making a mistake when I said I wanted to try a regular school. They thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up – that I’d feel left out.”
I really don’t like this phrasing. Either it’s saying that she found herself to be “special” in the snowflake variety, where she demanded her every whim be catered to, just like all the other special kids there (???) and became indulgent/lazy; or she started thinking of herself as disabled and wants to be normal. Either way, nope. I get the intent, which is they want Pamela to be plucky, to manage her disability without the crutch of a dedicated environment, and we are to root for her. The wording does not convey it. The wording conveys: Eww, I’m being treated as a real disabled person, when I’m far more normal than them. Not cool.
Also, this book constantly uses “normal” as a reference to non-disabled people. Pamela wants to be normal, normal people will do fine at the Mini Olympics, etc.
Pamela says she doesn’t want any special treatment, and there will always be something she can’t do, but Elizabeth thinks to herself that it’s unfair and Pamela should be included in the Mini Olympics too.
The next day, before gym, Jessica is talking to the Unicorns about the Mini Olympics. Also, today Lila has auburn hair, instead of the light brown that is canon in every other book in this universe. Janet is proud of Jessica for being chairman, and this puts Lila’s nose out of joint because she’s only assistant chairman, and everyone craves Janet’s praise. Jessica says she’s going to make this year’s event far more competitive. Lila says that Jessica’s just adding events she’s good at, and it’s not fair, and Jessica says that the contest is the whole point, it’s no fun if it’s easy. Foreshadowing.
Hop over to Pamela, who is sitting out gym class, and this is the worst part of her day, apparently. She just wants to be treated normally, but the fact that she had two operations (at age two and seven) and is only daily medication doesn’t help. Also, her father is a doctor, so his concern is more overwhelming. He’s very overprotective. Her brothers, Denny and Sam are “normal”. Normal. Meaning non-disabled. *seethes*
Pamela’s actually finding SV Middle a bit harder than she thought. There are stairs, not ramps; the building itself is much larger, which means more space between classes, which means she either goes slow not to stress her heart and arrives late, or she runs to class and dies, but the teachers understand this. [Raven: Why on earth doesn’t Pamela milk this situation to her advantage? “Terribly sorry I’m 40 minutes late, Mr Bowman. My achy breaky heart doesn’t permit any speed setting faster than Insolent Saunter.”]
Pam’s beef is that she feels completely left out, she wants to join the Boosters or the gymnastics club (there’s a gymnastics club? Why isn’t Amy in it? Why aren’t the Boosters in it? Why isn’t Jessica president of it?). My response to that is a bit heartless: if it goes against specific medical orders, then you just can’t do it. Why not try a less stressful place, like the Sixers, or chess club, or… well, fuck, I went to an English school with no clubs, but I’m sure there must be at least one that doesn’t require running around to be part of it. I’m sure there’s got to be another non-athlete in this school.
I get her next beef, which is that she’s the only person sitting out gym, whereas at her last school, everyone had something they couldn’t do. All the same, if SV Middle is that big, surely there’s someone else with some reason, like asthma or even a broken ankle or something?
Tamara, one of the background Unicorns [Raven: A Whonicorn!], asks Pam to join in their volleyball game, but Pam says she can’t.
Tamara frowned. She didn’t say anything, but her message came through to Pamela loud and clear. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes. I’m such a weakling, she thought, feeling completely disgusted with herself. The tears spilled over, and Pamela got to her feet. She stumbled blindly to the door of the gymnasium.
To be honest, I bet Tamara’s frown is less “What a wimp!” and more “Why can’t you?” The Unicorns are hardly the most empathic creatures, and they don’t care about gossip unless it’s about popular people, so I bet Tamara has no idea that Pam’s got a medical reason not to play, she’s probably just thinking Pam’s a standoffish weirdo.
Next up, Elizabeth and Amy see Pam in the lunchroom and decide to pity her. Elizabeth thinks to herself that she really must bully Jessica into making the Mini Olympics more inclusive.
At home, Jessica has come up with a plan to make Steven sick of his ESP thing. They pretend that he really does have visions. Every time he tells them he had a premonition of something, they make up a story that fits it perfectly. This freaks him out a bit, and he excuses himself.
With him out of the way Elizabeth asks why Pam can’t be involved in the Mini Olympics. Jessica says she can, she can design posters or do an article for the Sixers. And although Jessica is callous about it, she’s not wrong. As it stands, if Pam truly wants no special treatment, then this is it: if you are medically prevented from doing athletics, then I’m afraid you can’t do it. It sucks, but she’s not being treated “special”. And I think this is my beef with this book. Mostly, it comes across that Pam wants to do athletics, but she can’t. And that sucks. It does. But it’s hard to root for her, when her only aspirations are things she’s physically incapable of doing, and she turns down other stuff (like the Sixers, etc.) that she could do. It feels like Liz is the one rooting for change to include events for people with limitations — which is a good thing — while Pam is just hoping that one day she’ll magically be able to be a cheerleader/gymnast/marathon runner. [Raven: I never wanted to be a barber anyway… I always wanted to be a lumberjack…]
Elizabeth suggests she add in a talent portion or tents with puzzles and stuff, which would also engage the younger kids too – which is a good idea. But Jessica has already organised it and can’t really be bothered to re-do it, especially since she’s so good at all the events that are already in place. She says she’ll consider it if Elizabeth helps her with another trick on Steven.
Over dinner, Jessica says that people with ESP often have visions at night. Then when everyone’s in bed, the twins sneak outside the house, set up a ladder against the wall. The idea being that Jessica will put a sheet over her head, scare the life out of him, and stop him “predicting” everything. Elizabeth justifies this by recalling the time on “Halloween night” when Steven scared Jessica when he dressed as the creature from the black lagoon. This wasn’t actually Halloween night, that was the night they hit the Mercandy house. Steven tried several costumes on Jessica from Teacher’s Pet onwards.
Unfortunately Jessica falls off the ladder and hurts her ankle, necessitating a trip to casualty. She hasn’t broken it, it’s just a sprain, but it’s such a bad one she needs crutches for a few weeks. Why didn’t they just break the ankle? Spoiler: she’s on the crutches throughout the book, so what difference would it make if it was sprained or broken?
The next day at school, Jessica is the centre of attention – people carry her books and want to know what happened and can they try her crutches, which kind of balances out how long it takes her to do everything. Hey Jessica, try making yourself a cup of tea when you’re home alone and physically unable to move without crutches and you don’t have a thermos flask but you need to sit in a certain chair because everything else is too squashy. (#ProTip: Decant your husband’s fizzy pop into mugs and put them in the fridge. Wash the bottle out. Make your tea in a mug. Pour the mug of tea into the bottle. Put the bottle and your mug in a plastic bag. Tie it to one of your crutches – preferably the dominant side. Use your crutches to get to the designated chair. Pour tea back into mug. Enjoy. For extra bonus points, take wet wipes with you, so you don’t feel all sticky from the drips of tea that escaped.)
Lila comes up and pretends to be all sympathetic, and says that she supposes that Jessica can’t be chairman of the Mini Olympics now. Jessica retorts that it’s only a sprain and it won’t affect her thinking. And this scene is… not exactly wrong. I’m sure it’s purely by accident. I once watched two people argue over whether or not I liked brown bread. A was pretty sure I hated it, and B didn’t know either way, so it was probably best to buy white bread, rather than asking me, since I was actually there. Eventually, I just snapped, “Dove likes brown bread just fine, actually.”
As Jessica makes her way to her desk, Pam gives her a “sympathetic smile”.
She didn’t like what Pam’s smile seemed to mean. After all, there wasn’t anything really wrong with her – this was just a temporary thing.
Not even going to give the benefit of the doubt. Fuck everything. WHERE’S MY EXPLODING GIF?
During gym, she and Pamela sit together and discuss who has it worse: Pam for never being able to do sports; or Jessica for having known how much fun it was, and now being unable. And for once, Jessica empathises with someone else, and admits that it’s worse for Pam. Wow. Just wow. I never once thought Jessica could think about someone else’s feelings. Although it doesn’t last long, because she can’t wait to be back to normal.
At the meeting for the Mini Olympics, Jessica can’t get her footing. Lila has gone behind her back and met with Mr Butler to finalise everything before the meeting. She has nothing to work on now.
Afterwards she complains to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth sympathises and convinces Jessica that if she made a more inclusive Mini Olympics she’d get all the glory for being so nice. Elizabeth points out that it’s not just Pamela and Jessica that won’t do well, there’s Lois (but fuck her, she’s a fatty, “She needs exercise”, say Jessica), and the fifth graders and the little kids below them (seriously, how many grades below middle school are attending this? Which genius came up with this in the first place?).
Elizabeth feels smug and self-righteous, and can’t wait to call Pam to tell her all about how she’s so inclusive and diverse.
Pamela’s voice sounded funny when she came to the phone – almost as if she’d been crying. “Oh, hi, Liz,” she said, not sounding very excited.
BY GOD, PAMELA JACOBSON, YOU WILL BE FUCKING ECSTATIC IF A WAKEFIELD CALLS YOU.
She’s crying because her dad came home early and found her there. He’d assumed that she was doing after school clubs or friends’ houses every day, and now he knows she’s not a social butterfly, he wants her to go back to Ridgedale. Jesus fucking Christ, Dr Jacobson, what the fuck? I thought the deal was that she kept up at school, not that she became the fucking prom queen/editor of the yearbook/mathlete/spelling bee queen/other American club thingies I’ve seen in movies?
Then we hop over to Pam’s head to see the conversation at home. The parents have found out about the Mini Olympics from Denny, her eighth grade older brother (who pops up in loads of books after this one, but Pam is never heard from again), and they want to know if she’s being excluded. Denny, for the record, thinks Pam should fuck off back to Ridgedale, because having a sister as wimpy as Pam is embarrassing. [Raven: Denny is a total prick.]
Pam says that the Mini Olympics themselves are athletic, and she’s thinking of helping with the special edition of newspaper about it. (That’s a big fucking lie, Pam. You’ve turned it down already.) The parents feel that Pam is isolated, and if she’s making friends, why hasn’t Pam invited them over? Pam says she’s shy and it takes time to make friends, and the parents counter that they think it’s too stressful, and she should go back to Ridgedale, despite the fact they agreed one whole school year. That’s just moving the goalposts. Maybe if Pam knew you said a year, but meant a month, she’d have found a temporary BFF by now just to prove she could. And Pam, to be honest, you could invite Elizabeth and Amy over, Elizabeth is your BFF for this book. Next book, sure, she’ll drop you, but right now she’s all about you and your interesting disability.
Elizabeth and Amy are like a couple that likes to swing. They’re BFFs, but they also like to invite new blood in for a short period of time, just to liven things up when they get stale. [Raven: Each Sweet Valley Sixers meeting starts with car keys in a bowl.]
Pam goes to her room to cry. Then she goes to the library to cry. Then Elizabeth rocks up, and rallies hard, you can do this, Pam! Clap your hands if you believe! I believe in the disabled! Yes I do! Clap-clap-clap!
Pam does not clap. Pam thinks she needs to be with other disabled kids.
And then we hop into Elizabeth’s head for the last two sentences, as she decides she must make sure the Mini Olympics are inclusive.
So, Elizabeth goes home and talks to Jessica, and Jessica basically says, “You know what, I’m gonna take Pam with me to the next meeting. They’ll have to say yes with a cripple standing next to me.”
So off Jessica goes to Pam’s house, where she asks what kind of events Ridgedale had at their “Special Olympics”. Pam says there were wheelchair races and the incredibly specific “whole bunch of contests that anyone could do. You know, things involving brainpower more than strength.” Thank you, ghost writer, for not bothering at all to think about stuff like this. At the time this was written, pretty much every Saturday night game show (aside from Gladiators) had a solid mental agility section – you could have stolen from there, but why bother, right?
They do some off screen planning, and then go to an evening meeting (seriously?) and blow them away. Jessica makes a “stirring” speech about equality and disability discrimination – which is off screen also. One of the teachers is so moved, he thinks both girls deserve recognition. Then immediately follows it by saying that Jessica will get the PTA Civic Service Award. I imagine the rest of the conversation went:
Pam: And what about me?
Teacher: Well, you’re disabled. It’s not really a big deal if the disabled stand up for the disabled, is it? That’s just ruthlessly self-serving.
After the meeting, Lila points out Jessica’s hypocrisy, and Jessica just smarms about how it’s all for the good of the school.
At school, everyone worships Jessica for bravely standing up for the little guy. Caroline suggests she runs for Student Council (good foreshadowing), and Jessica imagines herself as first woman president of the United States. Which, I should imagine, would be exactly like things are now: a blond, ruthless, spiteful, prejudiced, privileged, vindictive wazzock at the helm with access to the nuclear codes, and a hair-trigger sensitivity every time someone pokes fun in their direction.
[Wing: America! America! America!]
Pamela says to Jessica that she’s really enjoying being at school the past few days. Jessica immediately hopes that Pam doesn’t think they’re friends, she’s a Unicorn, after all. It’s more Elizabeth’s style to befriend boring studious types – which is not really what Pam has been drawn as. To be honest, what she’s been drawn as is a non-entity who’s disabled-but-not-too-disabled. She wants to do athletic things, and doesn’t seem to wrap her head around the fact that not all hobbies are athletic, and she could take up plenty of things, which would get her socialising, without making her heart explode. Basically, she’s a non-entity who needs to be saved by a Wakefield.
That evening, she invites Janet and Ellen over, and Lila shows up too. Jessica outlines the new Mini Olympics.
“See, we’ve completely reorganized everything,” Jessica said proudly once her door was closed and they were all out of Steven’s earshot. “We’re still going to have four teams. But no one will be allowed to sign up for a specific event. Say you have someone like Winston Egbert on your team, who you know is a good runner. You can’t sign him up for the three-legged race. The way it’ll work is this at the start of each event a representative from each of the teams will draw a slip of paper out of a hat. Each team member has a number. If your number is called, you’re in that event. That way it’s completely fair – everyone has an equal shot at the event.”
See, that makes no sense to me. Let’s say, for example, you’ve got Pipsqueak, who is great at logic puzzles, and Bulk Biceps, who loves to lift weights, on your team. Pipsqueak pulls the weight-lifting, and Bulk Biceps pulls the logic puzzle card. They both go home feeling like a failure, because they were still crap at the Mini Olympics.
I think the better idea would be to have inclusive events so that instead of Pipsqueak wearily resigning himself to coming in last in every athletic event, Pipsqueak could be excited about the logic puzzles part of the games. With Jessica’s roulette way of choosing, Pipsqueak is still going to be worried he’ll get picked for the athletic events. Which there still are: there’s a bed-making competition (side note: this is one of things I had to do in front of Social Services to prove that I was disabled: show that I had problems making a bed, other things involved taking my shoes off and putting them back on, and walking without leaning on things), there’s a wheelchair race, the water events have been changed to skill-related (balancing things on backboards – I guess that’s a “float”, if you’re English), and crutch croquet. Lila, who is utterly savvy to Jessica’s bullshit, predicts that Jessica will pull her own name for that event. [Raven: I pretty much hated all of these “inclusive” events. They all seem made up and contrived, which makes no sense if you think about it because it’s not as if the Triple Jump sprang forth from the soil naturally like a fucking sapling.]
That night, the Wakefield parents tell Jessica how proud they are of her, and how she’s made a different for the future as well as the present, and they’ve told Elizabeth and Steven how proud they are of her too. Ten seconds later, Steven bursts and accurately predicts the future:
“I can’t believe what a snow job you’ve done,” Steven said a few minutes later, when Mrs. Wakefield had gone back downstairs. He and Elizabeth came into Jessica’s room looking indignant. “You’ve sure fooled them! I told them that I’m having the strongest signal ever from my ESP – that the minute your ankle is better you’re going to forget all about the handicapped. But they didn’t believe me.”
The next day, Pamela talks to Elizabeth about how she doesn’t understand the difference between disabled and normal kids, and this whole experience has taught her a lesson. She expected everyone to fall over themselves to invite her to join stuff, and because they didn’t, she’s been sulking about not being able to join the booster club. I just hate this ghost writer.
Pamela comes across as a brat and a moron. “I know my heart will explode, but damnit, I want to cheer. And because I can’t, I won’t join any non-athletic clubs.” WTF? It just feels like the ghostwriter needed her to refuse to join non-athletic clubs, so that her father could express concern that she’s not fitting in, but if Pamela wanted to stay at SVMS as much as the text is telling us, surely she’d have joined a few clubs she was only marginally interested in, just to calm down her father. Unless she’s depressed, and can’t muster the energy, but we’ve no evidence of that either, really.
Then we have a scene between Elizabeth and Jessica, where Jessica explains that she was only pretending to be a good person, because she was sick of being left out of the games. And Elizabeth feigns surprise. And this is news to us? Literally every thought in Jessica’s head is IT’S ALL ABOUT ME! SOMEHOW IT’S ALL ABOUT ME! And Elizabeth talked her into it, so… why is this scene even here?
[Wing: So Elizabeth can be charmed by her sister finally being honest and amused that she knows her sister better than her sister wants to admit — and, of course, to make you go boom, because everyone is fucking terrible.]
And then we have the Mini Olympics. There are three parts to the day: Talent, Brainpower and Activities. [Raven: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff. All planned by Jessica Wakefield, a Slytherin. #MindBlown #SweetValleyHogwarts #ElizabethWakefieldAndThePrisonerOfMrNydick]
The talent part of the Mini Olympics went extremely well. Parents had been invited to come for the whole day and were sitting on the bleachers surrounding the lower school baseball diamond, where each team would perform its skit and song. Jessica thought the Blue team had it all wrapped up. Their skit was called “The Butler Did It” and made fun of Mr. Butler’s lower school volleyball coaching. And their song, “The Blue Team Blues,” was really catchy. Pamela wrote the lyrics.
None of the other teams came close. The Red team had a really silly skit, which Jessica suspected Lila had made up because it was mostly making fun of a bed-making contest and really didn’t make any sense. Their song was silly too. It was called “Dread the Red” and sounded like a Booster cheer. The Black team was pretty good – their skit definitely showed Elizabeth’s touch, as it was all about news reporters trying to find out who was winning the Mini Olympics. Their song, “Black Magic,” was cute, with a nice rhyme on “tragic” and “magic.” The White team was the worst. Jessica felt embarrassed for them. A fifth grader did a stand-up comic routine instead of a skit, and their song was really a chant without any of the rhymes in the right places.
See, that’s what I mean about picking people randomly. First of all, it sounds like the sixth graders did most of the talent part, except for the White team, who had a fifth grader in charge. This kid might be excellent at spelling, but completely unable to rhyme, but there may be someone on their team who would love to write a skit, but they’ve been drafted for the puzzles part of the day.
They do have a nice varied set of events though – walking across the shallow end of the pool with an egg on a spoon (nice and easy), pineapple bowling, Untie Yourself (two people of each team are tied together and have to get untied – I believe Mr Nydick may not be the only worrisome adult as “The spectators seemed to especially enjoy this event.”). Jessica draws herself on Crutch Croquet, and wins by a landslide. [Raven: I hated the events. One of my most vivid school memories is going from School Sports Day at primary school (up to age 11), which had Egg and Spoon, Sack Race, Three-Legged Race and so on, to School Sports Day at secondary school (age 11+), which had classic sport athletic events a la the Olympics. I remember missing the old events, but realising pretty quickly that the “real” events were much more appealing and, well, mature.]
Then comes the wheelchair race, and Pamela’s name gets called. Ok, let’s just think about this for a second. The girl has a heart so weak that she’s not allowed to walk fast to get to class on time. And suddenly it’s ok for her to race wheelchairs? Dear ghostwriter, in case you missed it, wheelchairs are made of metal, which means they are added weight, you muppet. This is worse than running, because Pamela is moving herself plus added weight at speed in a competitive setting.
She’s up against two fifth graders and Ken Matthew, who you may remember is a jock. A short jock, but an athlete nonetheless. He plays basketball. This means he should be fairly fit. Also, his heart doesn’t explode when he accelerates past walk.
[Wing: Also, Ken has previously been a pretty kind guy, but man, is he a dick here.]
So, Pamela’s heart explodes, and everyone’s like, “Well, at least she was treated fairly.” Including her parents, who are just like, “But for the last thirty seconds of her life, she felt like an athlete.” And everyone parties around her corpse, which they cover in marble, and leave on the school field to remind the disabled to stay the fuck out of Sweet Valley, because it’s only for thin, pretty, athletic people, ok?
[Raven: Another entry for the SVT Alt-Ending File. Love it!]
Wait. No. Sorry, that’s how it ended in my head. No, what actually happens is that Pamela wins the race because… convenient disability is conveniently absent?
Pam’s dad lifts her on his shoulders and everyone goes wild and Denny says “Way to go. I knew you could do it all along!” which is the exact fucking opposite of what he said before. But yay, Pam can stay at Sweet Valley Middle School. Except we never ever see her again, so maybe Denny killed her and told his parents that she went back to Ridgedale.
The next day, Jessica is all better and without her crutches and is officially over caring about anyone but herself. She goes over to Ellen’s house, and they’re talking about what to buy at the mall later when Mark, Ellen’s younger brother, comes in and says that Whiskers (their cat) at Leon (his parakeet), and he needs help to bury Leon. If Whiskers actually ate your bird, Mark, there’s nothing left to bury.
So, they hold a funeral, and dig a hole and find a box in the hole. Jessica hopes it contains buried treasure. And since that’s the title of the following book, I’d say that it probably does.
This book is stupid. It’s written by someone who has never met a disabled person in their life. Pam is a whiny brat (but she doesn’t come across as depressed, which would account for her “I’m not trying anything, I’m too busy being bitter about not being a cheerleader” attitude).
Jessica is a fucking monster, as usual. And somehow we’re supposed to be against Lila because she knows that Jess is only caring about inclusivity because she’s currently not able-bodied. Also, Lila taking over because Jessica was injured could have been a good point, plenty of people, myself included, have noted times when people have spoken to the bods pushing our wheelchairs, rather than us directly, but since Jessica and Lila are constantly trying to undermine each other, it’s just another round of pettiness between two spiteful hags.
Also, Pamela is never seen again. So this very special episode was totally worthwhile. Our next disabled person will show up in book 65, Patty’s Last Dance. And she’s never seen again either. After that we have book 69, Won’t Somebody Help Anna?, and Anna actually is seen again – in the book that both tackles the holocaust and raises a dead mother from the grave (book 86, It Can’t Happen Here). I’m not even emphasising this for humour.
[Wing: … I thought you said these fucking books got better as the series went on.
Also, Disability in Kidlit is a great resource if you want to read more perspectives on disability and more critiques of how it is portrayed in fiction.]
[Raven: Not really feeling this one, although it was a little refreshing to see through the eyes of a non-Wakefield for a change (when Pamela’s story took centre stage). The whole Mini Olympics thing left me cold, and Elizabeth’s overt manipulation of her sister is a move from Jessica’s playbook, not The Sainted Liz. And Competitive Bed Making… that’s pure weaksauce. Whatever next, Extreme Ironing? … … Wait a second… … well, fuck my hat.]