Title: Jessica’s Lucky Millions
Tagline: Getting rich quick! [Wing: Fitting. So very fitting.]
Summary: Jessica Wakefield is going to be rich! As soon as she learns about the legendary Irish pot of gold in a social studies class, she vows to find it. And when her older brother, Steven, discovers a treasure map, Jessica can almost feel the diamond earrings dangling from her ears.
But Jessica’s practical twin sister, Elizabeth, suspects that Steven’s treasure map is a big fake. And when Jessica and Steven both begin digging for gold, Elizabeth has a good laugh. Of course her brother and sister will come up empty-handed.
But what if the phony treasure map isn’t so phony after all?
I’m not going to do this book justice, and I can say that with confidence even though I haven’t read a single word beyond the blurb and tagline. We as recappers (as authors) (as people) bring our experiences and emotions to any project, of course, and I am in a strange, removed place between mental health and family emergencies and the ongoing situation that was 2020 and is 2021. Even if this is the greatest Sweet Valley book I’ve ever read, I’m not in a place to enjoy it or bring humour to my reading of it or even to rage (though, as always, that will be the easiest response for me to reach).
All of that being said, here’s to my first recap of 2021! I’ve missed you, readers and fellow recappers, and I look forward to the mess of Sweet Valley carrying us through this year.
Oh, and an initial thought about the book: I do love Jessica when she’s obsessed with wealth and has madcap adventure schemes. [Raven: That’s the best Jess.]
We open with Jessica thinking about her good luck in rolling 7 on a pair of dice, like she’d just seen in a movie about Las Vegas and the characters who struck it rich playing dice. She can’t really afford to go to Vegas, she knows, and oh, yeah, she’s probably too young to gamble, but surely she can find a way to make luck work for her.
Oh, of course! The lottery! Which of course isn’t at all gambling and therefore she definitely wouldn’t be too young for it. Oh, Jessica.
She asks Elizabeth for help coming up with numbers for her lottery ticket, and Elizabeth points out what I just did. Jessica is certain that she can convince Alice to buy the ticket for her, and she’s probably not wrong; pour her some gin and you’ll get your way.
Elizabeth teases Jessica until she leaves Elizabeth in peace and then Elizabeth sets aside her homework (social studies assignment to read about Irish legends) (scandalous to set it aside, Elizabeth) because she’d rather read “Fool’s Paradise” by Irish writer Maggie Sullivan. Aunt Helen gave Elizabeth a collection of short stories for her last birthday and Elizabeth thinks this particular one is the “saddest, most romantic story she had ever read.” She wants to make a play out of it for extra credit in social studies.
…shouldn’t writing a play adaptation of a short story really be for extra credit in, oh, English?
Anyway, here’s the saddest and most romantic story Elizabeth has ever read:
In the story, which is set nearly a hundred years ago, a teenaged boy and girl want more than anything to leave Ireland and move to America. They finally achieve their goal, stowing away on an ocean liner. But once the ship lands in the United States, they become separated in a crowd and never see each other again. The story ends with the girl standing on the corner of a busy street, looking at every face that passes, realizing she’s lost everything in coming to America.
Oh, god, Steven. He’s checking out his muscles in his full-length mirror; he’s been doing special strength-building exercises for a week and is certain he’s already seeing improvement. I am certain I have no interest in reading about him.
The only good part is that Jessica catches him making body-builder poses and mocks the shit out of him for it. (He’s obviously not going to the Olympics, he’s going to the “O-Wimp-ics” which is both ridiculously childish and absolutely perfect for Jessica teasing him.)
She’s come to lure him into helping her with her quest to become rich, but he throws her dice out into the yard, because he’s an asshole. [Raven: Hey, maybe it was a seven.] He’s also determined to get back at her for mocking him in his own bedroom. Come the fuck on, Steven, it’s not like she was insulting your dick or something. And even if she had, this is still not the time for another goddamn sibling war. I don’t want to read it. I don’t want to recap it. I refuse.
Monday in social studies, Jessica ignores Nydick talking about Irish traditions and instead daydreams about winning $500,000 (and getting asked out by the man who comes to tell her she’s won, because you might as well daydream big if you’re going to daydream at all. Oh, Jessica Wakefield, sometimes I hope you never change).
I think she’s going to be disappointed in how fast she’ll spend $500,000. That’s not actually going to make you the kind of rich you want to be, Wakefield. (Which is in itself a terrifying thought.) [Raven: Still pretty good for the early Nineties, no?]
Jessica suddenly decides that there should be a computer program to figure out lottery odds, because after all, if people wrote programs to play solitaire and other card games, surely they can compute how to win the lottery. And it’s a very clever idea she has going for her. She’s even trying to figure out whom she should ask to join her in this project.
Alas, Nydick can’t stand any student’s attention wandering from him, and he calls her out. We get another cheesy as hell response from Jessica and, again, it made me laugh.
“Have you heard anything I’ve been saying about Irish legends?” Mr. Nydick asked.
Jessica cast a hopeless glance across the classroom at her twin. “Uh… that they’re legendary?”
He assigns her a 1 page, single spaced essay about the legend they’ve been discussing, the pot of gold.
God, who would want to write one whole entire page about a pot of gold, Jessica wonders, and it is to laugh.
Amy and Elizabeth talk about the play Elizabeth is writing (adapting, Wakefield!) and when Amy learns it’s called “Fool’s Paradise” she jokes that it must be about “the Unicorn Club going to the mall. And they find this big sale, and it seems like paradise at first only the clothes turn out to be really ugly.”
This ghostie has a good grasp of cheesy kind of childish humour, and I don’t hate it. [Raven: The sass is real here. I approve.]
In addition to being obsessed with becoming rich, Jessica is also up to her old flirtations. She and Aaron Dallas are “sort of going out” but since Rick Hunter is so cute with his blond hair and blue eyes, she doesn’t see “why she should be tied down to one guy when someone as cute as Rick was around.” [Dove: Don’t get your hopes up. Nothing comes of it. And the ghostie has no clue they’ve already kissed.]
No, really, never change, Jessica Wakefield. Never. Change.
(Rick outfit, since we aren’t getting much fashion in this one: baggy blue jeans, black-and-gray striped t-shirt, black suede skateboard sneakers. Pretty cute outfit and something I would still wear to this day.)
Rick casually suggests she and Lila should join him and some of the guys at the basketball game at Sweet Valley High that night, maybe hit up Casey’s first. This is kind of adorable.
Right up until Nydick walks up and reminds her of her essay and how she’s not free that evening. Okay, couple of things here: one, the fuck are you doing eavesdropping on your students, goddamn Nydick. Two, the fuck are you doing trying to control when she does what with hom, goddamn Nydick. Three, the fuck do you mean she has to write at least 250 words for her 1-page, single-spaced essay? 250 words does not make up one single-spaced page, goddamn Nydick. [Raven: And he did all that with his cock out! Goddamn Nydick.]
Elizabeth struggles over adapting the short story into a play, in large part because writing a script focuses mostly on dialog and the short story was far more description and detail than dialog. I highly approve, Sullivan. Highly approve.
She decides she wants to hear it read out loud and tries to recruit first Jessica and then Steven, but neither of them will stop doing their own thing to help her. Which, fair.
Over with Jessica, the legend of the pot of gold is that whoever finds it will be rich forever but no one ever has. The textbook suggested that the pot of gold was a metaphor for something else, maybe even that the search itself is more important than finding the gold.
Jessica is, of course, skeptical that anything could be more important than finding the gold.
She decides that the pot of gold hasn’t been found yet because the right person hasn’t started looking. And her ancestors came from Sweden, not Ireland, but the legends don’t say the finder has to be Irish. And it’s almost St. Pat’s Day after all. And she has lovely green clothes she can wear…
Steven is struggling with exhaustion from his workout and, on the way to the bathroom, he overhears Jessica on the phone with Lila, talking about how sad Rick was when Jessica said she couldn’t go to the basketball game. Oooooh, ghostie, what have you done? (a) I’m surprised Rick didn’t ask Lila to go since he’d already mentioned her before, or that one of the other guys didn’t, so why is she home? (b) WHY THE HELL IS STEVEN AT HOME?! He’s on the goddamn high school basketball team, and he’s been home with his sisters all evening.
He overhears Jessica tell Lila about the legend of the pot of gold and how there’s supposed to be a treasure map somewhere that can help find it. Since he’s so determined to get back at her for making fun of him the other day, he thinks this is the perfect chance.
I do not want Steven anywhere near this plot or any other, but clearly I am out of luck.
Jessica next tries to recruit Lila to help her, which is an interesting thought considering how often Jessica is determined to get money so she can be richer than Lila, but I do like seeing their friendship. They argue about where the pot of gold might be, if it’s even in America, if it’s on an island because of the description in the book, etc.
I was about to say I wish I was enjoying this more, but then this happened:
Jessica nodded. “Trust me. Now, where would you hide a pot of gold?”
“In my closet,” Lila said. “In a fireproof safe. No, correct that—I’d keep it at the bank.”
Jessica frowned. Robbing banks wasn’t exactly part of the Irish legend.
Yes, good. I love Lila’s practicality and the fact she’s clearly thought about where to put money, and I love love love the idea of bank robber Jessica.
“No. Lila, I’m looking at the big picture here,” Jessica said. “And what I see is you and me finding the pot of gold. You donate it to me, of course, since you already have all the money you could ever spend.”
“Wrong!” Lila cried.
“Wrong what?” Jessica asked.
“I don’t have all the money I want,” Lila said. “Why do you think I’m here helping you in the first place?”
“Because you’re my best friend?” Jessica guessed.
“No. Because my dad put a limit on my credit card,” Lila said with a loud sigh. “If you can imagine the gall.”
LILA FOWLER NEVER EVER FUCKING CHANGE. [Raven: Lila is Goals in this book.]
Lila wants a new leather jacket that costs $350 but she’s been cut off. It brings a tear to the eye. Her eye, actually, not mine.
They talk about whether the map would even still be intact after so long, whether it would be written on green paper, whether it would be written in “Irish” but hey they don’t need to be able to read it, they can follow arrows and stuff, and on and on. It’s pretty cute.
Steven has, of course, overheard the talk of the map and that night, at dinner, he tells everyone (including Lila, who has stayed) that after playing basketball at the park he found an old book lying on the benches by the fountain. And when they moved it, an ancient piece of paper fell out. He saved it from going into the fountain and saw that it had lines and a giant X and it looks like some sort of treasure map or something. It had the name “Erin” written at the top, so it must have belonged to some girl like that.
And Erin, Jessica realises, stands for Ireland. Apparently.
Lila’s so excited she nearly spills the beans to everyone, but Jessica stops her. They try to casually ask Steven to get a look at it, and he says he’s locked it into his desk drawer because he thinks it might be valuable.
Alice suggests he call the Sweet Valley Historical Society because it might be of value in that way, and Steven says he’s game, but Jessica isn’t about to let “a bunch of boring old nerds get their hands on that map.” Jessica Wakefield, I love you. [Raven: However much he’s hated, I think Steven pitches this one perfectly.]
Elizabeth decides she wants to track down Maggie Sullivan, who moved to southern California and then lost her husband, and Alice suggests she talk to a local writers’ organization. And I’m sure this is going to work for her, because Wakefields Must Win, even though this is an absolutely ridiculous premise.
Steven gives Elizabeth shit about this obsession of hers, and she decides she wants to get back at him. This cycle of sibling vengeance should entertain me, but god am I bored.
Jessica sneaks into Steven’s room once he leaves the house and finds a key on his desk, not hidden at all, but she’s not suspicious of this fact. She steals his treasure map and daydreams about going to any mall in the world once she has her money.
She stubs her toe on one of the metal barbells and shouts in pain, which lets us skip over to Elizabeth hearing Jessica’s scream. Jessica admits that she’s taken the map and though Elizabeth is skeptical about any buried treasure existing (you’ve apparently not thought much about, say, archaeology for just one example of buried treasure existing), she does agree to keep everything a secret.
Jessica and Lila work through all the clues they think they have, including the map, and eventually work out that it should be at Sunset Beach because of all the images of sand and dusk and the ocean. Sure, why not, that makes about as much sense as anything else does.
Jessica says figuring out the location is like solving a word problem in math, and Lila points out that Jessica hates word problems. Not when they’re going to make them rich! Or at least that’s Jessica’s response.
Elizabeth continues to struggle with her play and in an urge to distract herself, tells Amy about the secret treasure and the map. She feels a little bit of guilt over breaking her promise to Jessica to keep it secret but reassures herself that Jessica tells her secrets all the time, which, fair, but also not a good reason to break your own codes. Not that I think Elizabeth actually has codes, but theoretically the story thinks she does.
They join Jessica and Lila for lunch and after arguing quite a bit, they decide to team up — but when Elizabeth looks closer at the map, she realises that Steven must have forged it. Jessica assumes she’s trying to steal the gold for herself, because of course she does, but Elizabeth holds strong. Of course, Jessica holds strong, too, and we all know she’s far more stubborn than Elizabeth.
Rick shows up to ask Jessica and Lila to go to Casey’s after school since they couldn’t make it to the game. Jessica is thrilled, but Lila steps on her foot (while wearing Doc Martens and I zero percent believe that Lila Goddamn Fowler is wearing Docs; negative percent believe, there is no way) and reminds her that they have a thing that afternoon.
So much for the importance of being rich, because Jessica immediately wants to postpone their treasure-hunting plans so she can meet Rick at Casey’s. This really should be called Jessica’s Got a New Boy AGAIN.
Back to Elizabeth and she’s ecstatic when Maggie Sullivan calls her at home and promises to help her with whatever she needs. Elizabeth asks the most inane question, which is where she came up with the plot for Fool’s Paradise and almost immediately Maggie’s Irish accent slips toward American. She gets lots of things wrong, and when she laughs she sounds more and more and more like — STEVEN. I’m sure you’re shocked.
Though I will say, I’m pleased with this part of the story. It’s far more likely that she’d be dealing with a prank call rather than Maggie actually calling her, and for once Steven’s prank wasn’t something ridiculous that was going to hurt the person without a lot of collateral damage. [Dove: The problem is, he’s already done the asshole pranks, so I can’t give him a pass now. He’s shown he can be toxic, and the fact that he’s continuing the same actions doesn’t help. Just because this one’s not toxic, doesn’t mean the next one won’t be. tl;dr: Steven Wakefield needs to fucking die. Soon.]
Elizabeth and Amy go to the beach while the Unicorns are at Casey’s, but they spend quite some time gossiping and trying to talk things through and there’s already so many times this has turned me off my feed.
Elizabeth is there for vengeance, and I am kind of delighted by it. She’s brought a handful of things to make Jessica think she’s found the treasure, including a fake Blarney stone. I was going to say that it’s ridiculous to think that Jessica would care about a fake Blarney stone but actually, the kissing part could be right up her alley. [Raven: Another well-pitched scheme. Nice work, Ghostie.]
Joe Howell and Steven talk about the practical joke he played on Elizabeth, because Joe is just as immature and ridiculous when it comes to pranks, but he’s also still being a solid friend to Steven, more of a friend than Steven deserves, and I can’t hate that, not entirely.
The boys have a brief exchange with Jessica at Casey’s and when they’re done, and Jessica thinks she’s really gotten the better of Steven, she and Rick talk about it a little, and she loves that he’s starting to see how wonderful she is. (Poor, poor Aaron, already forgotten.) [Dove: In theory, Jessica’s First Kiss should be the next book, and we’ve already established that she ditched him again – no care for Rick – in favour of Dennis. So… nobody cares about Aaron. Seems about right.]
Lila is determined that they go to Sunset Beach immediately because the way Steven talked to them made her think that people are after the treasure even as they speak. Lila even wants to tie up Steven until it’s all over; Steven would likely love that.
Alas, Jessica points out they’re not cowboys, they can’t be tying anyone up. Plenty of noncowboys would disagree with you there, Wakefield.
As much as Jessica wants the treasure (or wanted it, at least), she keeps offering to delay when they go retrieve it just in case Rick asks her out again. JESSICA. TREASURE. FOCUS.
Elizabeth continues her quest to find Maggie Sullivan (which is looking a little stalkery every single day it continues); before she manages, though, she gets a call from Gwen Bramblyhedge (…BRAMBLYHEDGE) from the Southern California Writers’ association; Elizabeth thinks that Gwen sounds genuine and surely Steven wasn’t clever enough to make up a name like that. (BRAMBLYHEDGE)
Unfortunately, if she is the real thing, Gwen has no information about Maggie Sullivan.
Jessica and Lila dig around the beach, just the two of them. Jessica is annoyed she didn’t bring Elizabeth with her because Elizabeth would have at least been able to help her with digging while Lila complains and complains and complains.
Nearby, Elizabeth and Amy watch Jessica and Lila fail over and over again.
Jessica and Lila do find a chest, Elizabeth and Amy reveal themselves, and Elizabeth and Amy are entertained as hell.
The treasure in the first chest directs them to a second location, but Lila won’t let them get started on it because it’s nearly dark and they need to get some rest.
Jessica gets in trouble when she gets home so late Thursday, late and covered with sand and salt and bits of sea trash. Steven is highly entertained. Elizabeth is highly entertained.
Jessica is certain that she found real treasure and this small bit will only be her future.
Elizabeth finally breaks down and tells the truth about the map to Steven, that Jessica stole it and has already found the first treasure. This convinces Steven that it’s all true, including the fact that his mystery map is real. [Raven: I mean, how thick can you get?]
Jessica and Lila go back to the beach to try for the third spot (I think), and Jessica is getting tired of being run around. Jessica is getting tired of digging but is suitably impressed when the third spot is at Keystone.
Steven rocks up while Jessica is working, he threatens to take back all of the treasure. It’s Jessica’s treasure, she whines, and they snark at each other some more, and I am literally falling asleep while typing this. Sorry if I go off on a tangent. Sleep typing is apparently a thing now.
When Elizabeth and Amy show up, Jessica is furious that Elizabeth told Steven the secret. Bit rich for Jessica to be annoyed someone broke a promise to keep something a secret.
Elizabeth and Amy are finally driven out from the group but they linger, always watching and taking pictures of the downfall of their siblings and friends. Though Elizabeth is starting to feel a tiny bit of guilt over how hard Jessica is working on such a hot day, digging frantically and sweating hard.
She decides to buy Jessica some bubble bath the next day so she can soak her aching muscles. I’m starting to think all three Wakefield spawn have some unhealthy feelings toward each other, but I’m sure if nothing else, Steven will appreciate this thought.
Then Jessica finds a small purple velveteen bag attached to a string, and Elizabeth is shocked because she did not plant anything there.
And when Jessica opens it, she pulls out gold jewelry.
Well isn’t this delightful.
Elizabeth, of course, gives her game away by exclaiming that she didn’t bury anything there, she just buried everything else. You really need to take a page out of Jessica’s book when it comes to subterfuge — and when it comes to not getting yourself into trouble. (Though, to be fair, Jessica does get herself into quite a bit of trouble. She’s just also good at getting herself out.)
Anyway, Jessica found a locket and there’s a small card in the bag, too, that says Maggie Sullivan with a Sweet Valley address. Of course, Steven refuses to give her the address and Jessica and Lila go along with it because Elizabeth convinced them they found other things. [Raven: I almost noped out here. How damn ridiculous.]
Elizabeth promptly turns around and throws Steven under the bus, telling Jessica that he drew the map to trick her in the first place.
Jessica is angry at Elizabeth but sometimes wonders if she was acting greedy and selfish over finding the gold and that’s why Elizabeth did what she did. Look, you’re all bags of dicks and this layered pranking thing was, while one of the better sibling pranking, I’ll admit, still annoying as hell.
Jessica then starts to feel guilt that Elizabeth isn’t there with them to see Maggie’s house and meet her (if she still lives there).
Maggie does still live there and is thrilled to see her locket again (why is it always a locket) and invites them in for shortbread. She convinces them to tell her the full story of how they found the locket, including the faux map and the fake treasure, etc.
And then Elizabeth shows up, spying from outside the house. Maggie loses her cheery mood when she finds that out, and Steven starts to feel guilty, too, so he and Jessica finally tell Maggie about how big a fan Elizabeth is and how this isn’t her fault at all.
Maggie welcomes her, then, and offers to talk to her about the play she’s writing based on “Fool’s Paradise,” which is rather kind of her. [Dove: Since most authors aren’t massive fans of fanfic…]
She tells them that the locket was a gift from her late husband, Patrick, on their wedding day back in Ireland. Shortly after he died, she went down to Sunset Beach to try to distract herself by swimming and the bag with the locket was gone when she came back to her things. Why in the world would she take it with her to the beach in the first place? It’s okay not to wear it when you are, you know, going into the goddamn ocean.
Maggie tells Elizabeth that Gwen Bramblyhedge (no, seriously, I am still not over that name) is “overbearing, self-indulgent, stupid” and should not be the VP of a writers’ group.
They all four love her and want to hear stories about her time writing in Hollywood and her life in Ireland and her life writing in solitude in Sweet Valley and on and on.
When she leaves the room to get them something, they fall all over each other to apologise, and I am bored. It’s not like their apologies will change anything! And also, this really wasn’t the worst of the prank wars we’ve seen, so maybe I’m willing to cut them more slack than I should.
Maggie gives them each a gold coin from Ireland; legend says that they’ll bring their lives luck and good fortune as long as they keep them.
Everyone is utterly charmed by this, and okay, so am I.
Later that day, Rick calls Jessica to ask her to get a pizza and go to a movie with him that night; Jessica marvels that the gold coin worked fast! Though, not that she needs any help when it comes to Rick. Oh, Jessica, never ever lose that confidence.
Also, have you so completely forgot about Aaron?
Lila calls right after to tell her that her dad has given her a gold credit card, because sure, why not, just what a pre-teen needs.
Steven makes a new person record in bench pressing, and he, too, credits the gold coin.
Elizabeth is going to meet with Maggie to talk about the story and her play, and she thinks the gold coins are lucky despite the fact that Maggie already made that goddamn offer before she gave them the coins. Come on, Elizabeth.
Monday, Elizabeth has nearly finished her play, and she and Jessica squabble a little over who should play Siobhan in it. Jessica then teases her that she’d better cast Jessica because she never knows when Jessica will end up on TV.
(a) You’ve already been on TV. (b) Oh good lord, the subtlety of setting up the next book. I cannot believe how subtle it is. So subtle. Much wow.
Yeah, I was not in a place to enjoy this even if it was charming. And a couple spots were! And it certainly wasn’t the worst book, not even the worst Steven, we’ve read (in the earlier years of recapping or more recently). I’m just very disconnected right now.
Still, sibling prank war being done again aside, it wasn’t terrible. Lots of convenient occurrences to drive the plot the ghostie was given, but not terrible.
[Dove: I’m just done with Steven, so I now resent him in any major part, no matter how normal he acts. I will say that I thought the book was sassy, and the sibling relationships seemed to be perfectly normal (for Sweet Valley), and significantly less creepy than usual. The constant pranks were low level enough not to hurt anyone, but like I said, I’m done with Steven. The Nightmare Mansion series just killed him for me, and I really can’t tolerate his existence any more.]
[Raven: I enjoyed the sass of this book, and both the twins were well-rounded and fun. Lila was pure gold, and even Steven wasn’t that obnoxious. But the ludicrous nature of the ending, in which Steven’s map and Elizabeth’s follow up ACTUALLY LED to a lost necklace that JUST SO HAPPENED to belong to the B Plot McGuffin? Yeah, get on your horse and fucking do one. It would have been so much better, after Steven pranked Jess and Elizabeth pranked Steven and Jess, if this locket was planted by Amy to prank Elizabeth. Alas, that cracking ending was just not meant to be.]