Title: Sisters At War
Tagline: Trouble at turkey time…
Summary: What’s on the Thanksgiving menu? Turkey, pumpkin pie… and the biggest fight the Wakefield household has ever seen!
For identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, Thanksgiving has always meant food, family, and fun… but this year it means fighting! As their relatives arrive from out of town for a huge Wakefield reunion, Elizabeth and Jessica are bickering big time.
The twins’ mother tells them that enough is enough—Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful. So the girls call a truce… just when Mrs. Wakefield and her sisters start to wage war! [Wing: Oh, good, what would we do without family hypocrisy at Thanksgiving, especially in this family.]
This is an odd title. The Wakefield Sisters are pretty much at war is at least fifrty percent of these books.
Of course, when you dig deeper, you discover that not only are the twins at war, but Alice and her sisters are also at war. Frankly, I couldn’t give the bluest of two shits. I mean, does anyone give a rat’s ass about the Elder Wakefields?
I enter this recap with an ominous feeling of dread. Will it be warranted?
[Dove: I have literally no interest in the Wakefield parents and their family. This is why I’ve never bothered to buy the Sweet Valley Sagas. Also, Alice and Ned are terrible parents. I feel certain they are terrible to their siblings too.]
[Wing: On top of all of that, the Wakefield family tree is always such a mess that I don’t want to touch any more of it than we already have. (On the other hand, we’ve just had a call, and I’m delighted to get to reading this recap.)]
Yes it will.
*Theme from Neighbours plays, fade to grey*
Honestly, given the chance, I’d end this recap now. Because when weighed against The Eternal Balances, this is not a Sweet Valley Twins book. Well, yes, it is a Sweet Valley Twins book, but as it doesn’t really feature anyone outside the Wakefield family, and as the action is largely centred on Alice and her sisters, it’s nothing like the Sweet Valley Twins books we’ve come to know and tolerate.
So, while it may be a spoiler, I’m happy to begin this recap with the following sentence: I Did Not Enjoy This Book.
To the text!
We start with a sleeping Jessica, rudely awakened from her holiday slumber by some illicit banging. Sounds like Steven’s making a withdrawal from his Wank Bank. But no! A peppy Elizabeth informs her sister that… today’s the day!
Before our imaginations have time to run riot, [Wing: MURDER DAY.] we learn it’s the day before Thanksgiving, [Wing: Oh, it’s the day before the ANNIVERSARY of MURDER DAY.] and The Cousins are Coming. We discover that Alice Wakefield’s sisters are coming to stay, bringing their offpring Robin and Stacey (from Aunt Nancy) and Kelly (from Aunt Laura). We’ve met Robin and Stacey before. Robin is the same age as the twins, and a one-time member of the Jag-wahs, while Stacey is her eight-year-old sister. As for Kelly, she’s an unknown quality. She’s the same age as the twins, who’d moved to Tucson with her mother some four years earlier, with this visit being her first triumphant return. [Dove: Double Love podcast informed me that Kelly shows up again in Sweet Valley High, but thus far they have not seen Robin or Stacey at all.] [Wing: Tucson is amazing, everyone should visit when we can safely travel again, I recommend the velociraptor in the botanical gardens and the t-rex at a McDonald’s. (What, I don’t give a fuck about the sisters and cousins, I have to take my entertainment where I can get it.)]
A host of characters that I don’t care for, at all. Let joy be unconfined!
The twins are excited at their cousins’ imminent arrival, and talk about fun things that they’d done together in the past. We also learn of Uncle Kirk, Robin’s father, who I don’t believe we saw in Robin’s previous books [Dove: He was vaguely present in Jessica’s Secret, in much the same way the Ned is.]. We also have a little continuity, with Robin’s crush on Todd Wilkins from The Cousin War being dragged front and centre for a sentence or two. [Wing: Ghostie has already cleared the very very very low bar I set when it comes to continuity, so congratulations, ghostie.]
There is a knock on the bedroom door. It’s the Sainted Alice, who is in full-on Kim and Aggie mode and ready to scrub every last inch of the Wakefield Compound with caustic soaps and acidic pumices. She press-gangs the twins into helping, and both naively presume that it won’t take long. On the contrary, it takes up a full quarter of the fucking book.
[Wing: I call bullshit that Alice wouldn’t have hired a cleaning service.]
During the non-stop chore-athon, Alice gets her sainted knickers in a twist that the only way she can deliver a perfect Thanksgiving dinner is if she hand-crafts each diner an individual Pumpkin Tart. Jessica, shell-shocked by the sheer number of chores undertaken thus far, and actually longing for time at school, somehow thinks that she will have to make these tarts for her mother. She suggess serving up shop-bought Pumpkin Tarts, to which Alice is aghast.
“Buy them?” Mrs. Wakefield stared curiously at Jessica. “No, honey, I want this Thanksgiving to be just perfect, and store-bought pumpkin tarts are not… appropriate.”
I mean, if there’s another sentence in this fucking shitshow that better highlights exactly how far from the norm this book is, I don’t want to read it. [Wing: I can’t believe I’m about to say this RE a Sweet Valley book, but Alice’s panic and obsession with Doing Thanksgiving Right are completely believable. Excuse me, I have to go burn my brain for that terrible moment of understanding.]
Jessica muses about how her Thanksgiving thus far has both sucked and blowed, and how much she’s missing Aaron Dallas, her sometime boyfriend, who is off skiing with his family over the holidays like an inconsiderate jerk.
This book has a lot of musing. Just saying.
Alice tells Jessica that “tarts are her speciality”, despite the word tart never appearing in one-hundred-and-ten Sweet Valley Twins books to date. Eventually, the subject is changed to the tidiness of Jessica’s room, which I’m sure that long-time readers of the series will agree is a thorny subject. Jessica assures her mother that the room is clean, hiding the fact that it’s Jessica clean and not Elizabeth clean.
Elizabeth arrives, and the twins compare their chore-lists thus far, getting surprisingly tetchy with each other in the process. At this point, we also get a small paragraph that highlights the similarities and differences between the two sisters, something akin to the below:
- Elizabeth is an Editor. This means she’s always armed with a pen and paper, ready for the next school scoop. Jessica is a Unicorn. This means she’s got a stabbing weapon permanently grafted to her body, ready to run her enemies through. Or of that fails, she can hoof them in the skull.
- Elizabeth’s favourite drink is holy water. Jessica’s favourite drink is the still-warm blood of her latest victim.
- Jessica is friends with a bunch of vapid bitches with no redeeming features at all. Elizabeth is friends with a bunch of sanctimonious spunkwaffles who can bore the socks off a mannequin. To be honest, I don’t know who wins here.
[Wing: No matter who wins, we lose. (Or, we win if we base it off your ongoing Twin Differences lists.]
Talk migrates toward films, specifically, movies they’d like to rent for Robin to watch with them. Of course, Elizabeth wants to watch some artsy-fartsy period drama, while Jessica wants to watch some knockabout throwaway toss-nugget farce with zero artistic merit that everyone has already seen. Now, while I like a good popcorn flick, I have to say I’m siding with Elizabeth here. I’m even surprising myself. Maybe if I’d never discovered Downton Abbey, I’d have a different opinion, but I did, so I don’t. [Dove: As always, it’s as if these are the only two options. Is there no other new fun movie available? I know it’s the 90s, but a trip to Blockbuster was a multi-hour task for me. Rent The Mighty Ducks, for fuck’s sake.] [Wing: Aww, movie rental places. I miss them. We had a local one for a long time, but it just closed in the last few weeks. Another era gone.]
Tempers and voices rise, as the argument between Sweet Valley’s Siskel and Ebert reaches fever pitch. Elizabeth claims that Robin wrote to her to specifically request they watch her choice, while Jessica doing her usual “lalala I’m not listening” routine and hoping to asset her authority through repetition and volume. Alice does her best to interject, eventually threatening them with the following:
“Girls, stop it right now.” Mrs. Wakefield’s voice was firm. “No fighting. We have far too much to do.” She glanced at the list. “Jessica, unload the dishwasher. Elizabeth, scour the sink. And if you two can’t get along—” The sentence hung in the air, unfinished, but Jessica had no doubt that her mother meant business.
The girls continue their arguing for the rest of the book. As with this argument, it’s completely pointless.
This is one level of The Sisters being At War.
The other level is, naturally, Alice and her Sisters also being At War. And – spoilers – while their arguments are a little more tangible, they are boring too, and outside the usual scope of this series.
I didn’t like this book.
Cleaning and preparations continue, during which time we learn that Jessica and Elizabeth have to share a bed while the Aunts and Uncles and Cousins infest the Compound. We also learn about Uncle Greg, which is much more important. Uncle Greg, it seems, is Aunt Laura’s ex-husband.
Apparently, Uncle Greg – Kelly’s father – was a handsome, charming, irresponsible flake. He never helped with the housework, was never home much, that sort of thing. Kelly loves him to pieces, but as he was utterly undependable and unable to be a good father or husband, he was kicked to the curb.
There’s some intrigue here. Alice says that she always thought Aunt Laura would have been better off with… before stopping herself short. Detective Jessica is on the case!
“With what?” Jessica wanted to know, trying to keep the exasperation out of her voice. Her mother had no business starting to tell her all these juicy and exciting details, then backing away. “She would have been better off with what, Mom?”
Mrs. Wakefield smiled broadly. “Never mind,” she replied. “But don’t be surprised if something very interesting happens over the weekend.”
So, it appears that Alice is primed to meddle in her sister’s affairs. That’s a Jessica Wakefield tactic if ever I saw one. Or maybe even an Elizabeth Wakefield tactic, as we all know she can’t leave well alone when presented with a Worthy Cause. [Dove: Maybe it’s more Jessica. Remember Liz likes families to get back together and power through, regardless of trauma?] [Wing: It’s weird how Jessica goes with “what” as her question instead of “whom” considering how interested she is in other people’s relationships.]
We cut to later that day, with more chores. The twins seem at peace with each other, but then we discover Jessica has used Elizabeth’s new book on rock and mineral collecting to prop up a wobbly desk. So, more arguments, more raised voices, more massive yawns from the reader. They make up, in a fashion, and we’re on to Chapter Two.
The chapter starts with more chores, which I’m sure is what excites every pre-teen reader. The twins are vacuuming, and arguing about the provenance of sweaters. As is likely the C- or D-Plot of every book in the series, Jessica has borrowed Elizabeth’s clothing and treated it with disrespect, before denying that she ever did such a craven thing. But, as this is Sisters at War, instead of Elizabeth shaking her head with a sigh and a smile, she’s actually angry. Because they have to argue about something, amirite?
From another room, Alice shouts at them to shut the fuck up, threatening them with the onerous task of ironing the dish towels. [Dove: For fuck’s sake, Alice, get a grip.]
Later, while Elizabeth helps her mother polish the silver, she enquires where Aunt Laura and Kelly are sleeping. It’s t-minus 60 minutes until The Invasion of the Extended Family. Apparently, they are sleeping in the den.
Steven arrives. Which is fucking thrilling. The last few books, we’ve done without him. If only that streak could continue. He immediately grosses people out by drinking milk directly from the carton. When admonished, he uses a mug, and sloshes the milk on the counter multiple times.
I mean, what the fuck? I know he’s meant to be a slob of sorts, but that’s just shit. He’s made to look like a fucking idiot. [Dove: This is why I hate Steven. His grossness is always dialled up to eleven, and written as if “Oh, boys, aren’t they funny”. Fuck. Off.]
While he makes a mess, we learn that he’s been tasked with an English project. After regaling the room with a boring tale about being paged at the store to buy onions, he mentions that he’s compiling a paper on Family History, which includes a Family Tree and a bunch on associated stories. At first I thought that his Aunts and Cousins visiting was a helpful fucking coincidence in this regard, but I guess it’s Thanksgiving and thus a decent time to give kids such assignments, so they can all chat over the turkey and individual homer-cooled Pumpkin Tarts. [Dove: And this Steven is actually decent – not good or anything, but fine. He was more human when talking about being paged, and his dull homework assignment. I still think his existence is completely optional, but if he’s not being gross or breathtakingly stupid, I can live with it.]
Steven fires of some sample questions that he’d like answering for his project.
“I need names, dates, places. And dirt. Like, why did Aunt Laura marry that jerk Greg? And whatever happened to Grandma’s cousin, the one who ran the so-called gas station that never sold any gas? And what was the dumbest argument you and your sisters ever had? Juicy stuff like that.”
[Wing: To be perfectly honest, I’m interested in that gas station not selling gas story.]
Predictably, Alice is tight-lipped about everything, merely asking Steven not to mention Greg when Aunt Laura arrives, and that she and her sisters had an idyllic upbringing in which they never fought and they always loved each other and their collected farts smelt like gooseberry jam.
The Wakefield Siblings call bullshit, but Alice is adamant.
Eventually, Alice lays down the law.
“Kids.” Mrs. Wakefield held up a warning hand. “Please. I’m serious. This is a very important weekend to me for—for, well, for a lot of reasons. I want an old-fashioned family Thanksgiving, and so it’s critical that you get along. And if you can’t, fake it. Steven, I’ll certainly help you with your project, but now’s not a good time. Go clean the bathrooms, please. And, Elizabeth, keep polishing; I need to get started on the pumpkin tarts.”
Chapter three starts with Steven beavering away at his Family History report, hiding from his mother in the scant seconds before the family descend. He’s making the Family Tree, which he wants to title Steven the Great Wakefield’s Family Tree, because he’s a FUCKING MORON.
Elizabeth enters, and Steven shows her his working. Elizabeth marvels that the majority of the cousins – Elizabeth, Jessica, Robin and Kelly – were all born in the same year. Why that’s worth a fucking comment is beyond me, frankly, as loads of people are born every year. I mean, just look at the amount of kids in a single school year. [Wing: I do think it’s kind of weird that a bulk of the cousins were born the same year, but then, my older sister is nearly 20 years older than I am, I have no real concept of normal age ranges.] [Dove: Raven’s siblings were born roughly a year apart, and I was born in the middle of them. I bet Elizabeth’s mind would be BLOWN by that. OMG hOw DOeS YEaRs WoRK?!1!]
Talk turns to Greg Bates, Aunt Laura’s ex. Steven mentions that, apparently, he has a bad temper. He lives close by, travels to Europe a lot, and is the reason that Aunt Laura has not returned to Sweet Valley for four years.
Greg Bates does not appear in this book.
Personally, I find that a shame, as it’d be interesting to see how the plot would handle him. He sounds like a genuinely awful prick, but that might make for a compelling story. It’s also weird, because this whole section leads the reader to believe that he’ll play a larger active role in the narrative to come.
Instead, he’s simply a cautionary tale, a mcguffin to inform our knowledge of Aunt Laura and Kelly. While people incessantly ramble and reminisce, rather than actually doing anything of fucking note.
Yes, I definitely don’t like this book.
Next, we’re back on the ground floor, with Alice answering a phonecall from Ned while a choring Jessica listens in. Apparently, he’s picking Aunt Laura and Kelly up from the airport, and has called to let his wife know that all is running on time.
As Jessica smooths the rug, Alice converses with her husband in a rather clandestine manner. We get the following:
“Oh, Ned,” Mrs. Wakefield spoke softly into the receiver. Jessica could barely make out the words. “We’ve been through this before. I just think it needs to be a surprise for her.”
Jessica froze. A surprise? A surprise for “her”? Who was “her”?
Mrs. Wakefield listened for a moment. “I know, sweetie, but you just can’t talk about it,” she said. “He said he’d be delighted to see her and—” She broke off.
Jessica held her breath and lay low on the rug, hoping her mother wouldn’t notice her. She could feel her heart thumping like crazy. “He”? Who was “he”? And who was the “her” that “he’d” be delighted to see?
Mrs. Wakefield turned so that Jessica could just make out her profile. “It will mean the world to her, Ned,” she argued, “but I don’t think we can spring it on her now.”
Of course, of course, OF FUCKING COURSE, Jessica leaps straight to the conclusion that “her” is Jessica, and “he” is her beloved Aaron Dallas. The surprise is that Aaron would be forgoing his family skiing holiday to join the Wakefields for Thanksgiving the following day. I mean, who else could it possibly be.
We all know that Jessica is self-centred, but COME THE FUCK ON NOW.
This is ludicrous. For one hundred and eleven books, at least, the Elder Wakefields have not given a single lonesome FUCK about ANY of the twins’ love interests. Not ONE. Jessica being convinced that she’s the centre of everyone’s universe? Standard. But at least give her something credible to work with!
As she eavesdrops, she overhears the following line, which apparently confirms her suspicions…
“That’s what I told Aaron,” Mrs. Wakefield muttered into the receiver. “I said he shouldn’t expect—”
Jessica coughs in delight, and her mother is startled by the sound. Spotting Jessica, she concludes her call and breezes away.
We skip to the twins. Arguing. Again.
This time, it’s over the soundtrack CD to Elizabeth’s period drama. Jessica doesn’t even want the disc in her room, never mind on her stereo. Tempers begin to flare, but they dial it back before Alice hears and assigns yet more chores.
Elizabeth tells her sister that she’s worried about Kelly, which is patently ludicrous and Kelly hasn’t even arrived yet., She’s basing her ridiculous notion on the fact that Steven mentioned that Kelly probably misses her deadbead divorced dad, and Jessica (and the collective readership) mock Elizabeth for believing a single thing her asinine ballsack of a brother would say. Unperturbed, Elizabeth suggests that she and Jessica make a special effort to befriend Kelly, and she hopes that Robin will do the same too. Of course, Jessica distorts things to her personal advantage, and suggests they manufacture the conditions to enable Robin and Kelly to become best of friends.
Elizabeth is unconvinced, so Jessica pouts. Standard. Of course, Elizabeth has no spine, so she soon caves to Jessica’s way of thinking. Jess vows to make Robin and Kelly best of friends, and Elizabeth need not worry her pretty little head about the specifics. Apparently, all they need do is get Robin and Kelly together, after telling Robin about all the things she and Kelly have in common.
Next, Aunt Nancy, Robin and Stacey arrive. The twins are suitably excited to see their once-Jagwah cousin, although the Jagwahs are not mentioned for the duration of this book. There is small talk -the journey was boring, everyone has grown etc. Alice greets her sister warmly.
During this inane chatter, we have the first mention that everyone looks remarkably like everyone else.
Elizabeth blinked. She’d always known that Aunt Nancy and her mother looked alike, but somehow they looked even more alike now than ever. Both had long dark blond hair and blue eyes, and their facial expressions seemed exactly the same. Just like me and Jessica, Elizabeth realized with surprise. The two women almost could have been twins, except that her mother was a few inches taller than Aunt Nancy.
Yes. That’s genetics.
I suppose in series centred around Twins, there’s bound to be a focus on such things, but even so.
The youngest cousin, the eight-year-old Stacey, is the outlier, as she’s the spit of Uncle Kirk, with curly red hair and freckles. So it seems that Stacey doesn’t have a soul. Nice. [Dove: Is this where we learn that Kelly looks just like the twins. What she doesn’t mention is something that we already know: Robin also looks just like the twins. EVERY FUCKER LOOKS LIKE THE TWINS.] [Raven: It’s because the Cover Artist can only draw one face.] [Dove: One face? *points at the ugly geocites cover first, then the new cover, which has a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MODEL ON IT FROM THE PREVIOUS 100 OR SO BOOKS* #NotOurWakefieldTwins]
Apparently, Stacey fancies herself as a playwright, because why the hell not.
Jessica arrives on the scene to greet people, and immediately, like I’m talking LINE ONE, suggests that everyone watch her insipid movie choice, which I guess I should now give a name: Too Cool for High School. Elizabeth is angry as she thought they’d had that argument, but Robin shuts the whole thing down. She’s seen and enjoyed Too Cool for High School, apparently, and has been looking forward to watching Elizabeth’s choice, which I’ll also name now: View From The Hotel Windermere.
Elizabeth is happy, and tells Jessica that she can watch too. Jess goes all cryptic and says thanks but no thanks, as she might be too busy later that weekend. It’s a veiled reference to the apparent arrival of Aaron, which is blatantly not going to happen.
We’re on Chapter Four now, of ten, and not one fucking thing has happened. Other than chores, and bickering. Spoiler: noting really happens in the following six chapters either. Christ, this book is dull.
This chapter starts with a Kelly POV, as she and her mother (Aunt Laura) arrive at the Wakefield Compound. So, this new cousin is likely the focus of the cousins for this book. Gotcha. She’s feeling awed while her mother vamps with Alice and Steven.
There’s more talk of my-how-you’ve-grown and how-was-the-trip, as Kelly muses that she’s never seen her mother smile so much while outside of Sweet Valley. It appears that Kelly has a soulful sadness, likely centred on her parents’ divorce. Okay then, I guess this will be a Very Special Episode, when all I really want is a knockabout romp with the Unicorns doing something ridiculous. I guess I’m Team Too Cool for High School rather than Team View From The Windermere Hotel.
Kelly’s demeanour is cemented with the following exchange:
“Kelly, how are you, my dear? It’s so wonderful to see you. How are you enjoying Arizona?”
Kelly turned pink as Mrs. Wakefield crossed the hall to the doorway and wrapped her in an embrace.
There was silence.
“Answer the question, sweetie,” Aunt Laura said.
“She must be the strong silent type,” Mr. Wakefield joked.
Kelly looked down at her white tennis shoes. She felt a little overwhelmed. It was very strange to be back in Sweet Valley. Everything is the same, she thought. Steven is taller, but he’s the same Steven. Aunt Alice and Uncle Ned, this house, the streets we drove down… it’s all the same. How can my life be so different when everyone else’s hasn’t changed at all? Kelly blinked hard and raised her head. She tried, weakly, to smile
“Arizona is very pretty,” she murmured. She made a real effort to sound cheerful. “I’m… glad to be here, though.”
I guess I should be empathising with Kelly, as the poor girl is in a shitty situation that’s not of her own devising, buy frankly I don’t give a toss. I’ve given a lot of time to this series, and want to read stories centred on the characters I already enjoy, not random newbs that turn up a few books from the end of the series.
The twins, plus Robin, are summoned, and Kelly’s joy at seeing everyone makes her melancholy melt like morning frost. She’s missed her family, her friends. Sweet Valley is where she belongs. As a reader, however, I’d be happier if she fucked off back to Arizona.
The four twelve-year-old cousins are shown to get along famously. They talk about makeup, and haircuts [Wing: So they’re acting just like the Snob Squad then, are they, ELIZABETH.] – Jessica and Elizabeth are due to get theirs cut in an hour, which seems like ludicrous timing on Alice’s part – and Kelly says she wants some time at Elizabeth’s Thinking Tree. So off they go.
In a short scene there, we learn that Kelly is missing Sweet Valley something fierce. She also muses that she never wanted to leave, and that she never wants to leave again. That’s all monologue, though I suspect Elizabeth will suss it out in due course.
Back with Robin and Jessica, we see Operation Pair The Spare in full flow. The girls chat, but Jessica’s focus is on how great Kelly is, and how much she and Robin would get along. Like, doesn’t Robin KNOW Kelly or something? They’re cousins too. This whole conceit seems badly thought out.
Robin is interested in French and in poetry. Jessica gushes that Kelly is fluent in both, despite not knowing either way. I’m sorry Jess, but for a certified Machiavellian genius, this plan is weak fucking sauce. Literally one second together, and it’ll be blown out of the water. [Dove: Sigh. Still waiting for literally any plot to show up.]
Robin is thrilled to learn that she and Kelly are so alike.
Once the girls are back together, the twins head off for their haircuts, and Robin and Kelly go for a walk around the neighbourhood. This is likely the nicest scene in the whole book. The girls do actually bond warmly, although Kelly is quick to admit she knows zip-diddly about either French, Poetry, or French Poetry. Instead, they have a shared appreciation of comedy, and the work of Lucy Billy. [Wing: Lucille Ball stand-in?] [Raven: Seems an old reference, but entirely plausable.]
The walk, however, takes a darker turn, as it inadvertently concludes at the gate of Kelly’s old house, which causes Feelings. But before she disappears into a fug on ennui, Kelly rallies and brushes it off, and the girls head back to the Compound with a giddy laugh.
Back at the spit-level ranch house, Stacey finally makes her eight-year-old presence felt. She informs Kelly and Robin that the twins are arguing inside. We overhear them bickering about listening to film soundtracks, and borrowing lip gloss without permission. Standard, asinine, pointless, boring shite.
The cousins decide to interject themselves into the debate with a smile, to hopefully snap the twins out of their irritation. Happily, it works, and the chapter ends with the girls all sat in a circle, French-braiding each others’ hair, like the Human Centipede by Vidal Sassoon. Kelly, in particular, is loving it.
Chapter five! Halfway through the book, and we get the first meaningful interaction between the Elder Wakefield Sisters. Nancy, Laura and Alice are looking through old family photos, reminiscing. It’s all “wow look at Baby Alice”, or “remember when we did X and Y?” Lovely, I guess, but not particularly thrilling, and certainly not what I want to reading in the Sweet Valley Twins series.
Takeaways? The youngest Laura was full of madcap schemes, aka Jessica. The eldest Nancy was the level-headed voice of reason, aka Elizabeth. And Alice was in the middle, Best of Both Worlds. It’s all light, frothy stuff, obviously a precursor to something more argumentative down the line.
Steven, our favourite character, is skulking behind a metaphorical fern, trying to pick up interesting nuggets for his Family Project.
Talk between the Elder Sisters turns to their prospective children, and here things become a little more combative. It seems each sister is determined to out-do the other with tales for their children’s general excellence. Robin is great in school, Elizabeth is editor of the school paper, Jessica is a Unicorn (loving that the Unicorns are an example of Jessica’s excellence), Stacey is a budding champion diver, and so on. The one fly in the ointment is Kelly.
There was a pause. Then Mrs. Wakefield began again, “So, Laura, tell us something about Kelly.”
“Oh—” Aunt Laura paused. “Well, Kelly’s managing. Thanks for asking.”
Talk quickly turns to a recap of Laura’s failed marriage, solely for us in the cheap seats. Alice suggests that Greg left Laura around Thanksgiving, but Laura sets her straight: she dumped him, not the other way around. Nancy warned Laura about her first marriage, and had Opinions about the break up too. We also learn about Darren Caruso, Laura’s high school sweetheart that apparently ghosted her after she received her acceptance letter to Notre Dame. Steven takes notes all the while.
Darren is likely important, so lets dwell on this backstory. On April 17th, apparently, she called him to tell of her University acceptance. His parents were away for the summer, but he was supposed to be home. Only he never answered, and though she called multiple times over the coming days, he never answered. She never saw him again. He’d apparently run away to join the army (“Marines,” says Alice, as she obviously knows something), but by the end of the summer, she was over him. She never even asked his parents where he’d gone. Then boom! Greg, Marriage, Kelly, Divorce, Arizona. [Wing: APRIL IS NOT SUMMER EVEN IN CALIFORNIA.] [Raven: Yeah, it took her a few months to get over him. So, summer.]
In the final section of this exchange, we learn that Alice is fucking done with Men. It’s all about sisters, and family, and Thanks-fucking-giving. And that’s it.
So it seems that the “surprise,” which Jessica believes is the reappearance of Aaron, is likely the reappearance of Darren into Laura’s life, likely orchestrated by Alice. Laura, however, seems to still hold a grudge, so it’s destined for failure. At least, it would be in any self-respecting universe, but in Sweet Valley, all bets are fucking off.
And Alice’s plan? It’s a scheme in the Jessica mould, with a whiff of sanctimony in the Elizabeth mould… Alice truly is the Best of Both Worlds. [Dove: And you can see where the murderer and the gaslighter get it from.]
Back with the cousins, everyone is cracking up over Stacey’s rendition of her latest puntastic play, The Girl Who Loved Pickles. Even Robin, who’d likely sat through it many times before, is enjoying herself.
However, it’s soon apparent that Kelly is nowhere to be found. In fact, she’s been missing for half an hour.
The cousins make a cursory effort to find her in the house, asking the adults and all that responsible shit. Apparently, she’d wandered off to the bathroom, and never returned.
Just as things become more fraught, Kelly walks in through the front door. She’d gone for a walk, and lost track of time. And by her appearance, she’s been crying. Under duress, she confesses that she visited their old house, and apologises.
Aunt Nancy chimes in with the most ridiculous sentence of the entire series to date.
“You know,” put in Aunt Nancy, “it’s never a good idea to wander around all by yourself, Kelly. Not even in Sweet Valley.”
Pfft, as if. Sweet Valley is entirely safe. [Dove: Not at the Riccoli house, where you can be haunted by a not-ghost who died young but didn’t die, and I guess we’ll never know what happened… #StillBitter]
Laura asks Nancy to please step back, and Nancy wanders off in a huff. This is the first crack in Elder Sisters’ veneer of unflappable jollity, into which I expect someone will thrust a screwdriver and wobble back and forth frenetically.
The chapter ends with Elizabeth hoping that the Elders will all calm down in time for dinner that evening.
Chapter Six! We’re cooking on gas now!
We’re in the middle of a rather fraught meal, in which it seems that only Stacey is talking. She’s regaling the table with the plot of her latest play, which sounds suitably ludicrous. She is eight, I guess. An irritated Robin asks her to skip to the end, and she is in turn admonished by a po-faced and still-brooding Nancy. Robin doubles down, and eventually snaps at Stacey.
“Nobody cares about your stupid play!” Robin yelled.
“Robin!” Aunt Nancy was shocked.
Nancy sends her to her room. The table laugh it off, awkwardly. Elizabeth offers to go talk to her, as apparently she would confined in her. Jessica scoffs at that, as Elizabeth is acting like the family’s Great White Saviour, and suddenly the TWINS are at each others’ throats. Alice isn’t standing for it.
“Stop it right now.” Their mother’s voice was deadly serious. “Jessica, go to your room. Elizabeth, you go to Steven’s room. Both of you stay there until I tell you to come down.”
Poor Elizabeth! Sent to Steven’s room. I bet Steven is ecstatic, although he’d rather have Jessica of course. [Dove: Even when I don’t like Liz, I feel for her here. Steven’s room is truly a punishment. I bet it reeks. Even after a full day of Thanksgiving cleaning.]
The dinner continues apace. Kelly is oddly silent. The Elder Sisters are on a knife edge, and Steven is fishing for stories for his Family Project. Alice starts on a story about donkeys in the Grand Canyon, but soon the Elder Sisters are squabbling about the details. Each tells the story in such a fashion to belittle the feelings of the other sisters, and soon the gloves are off and the insults are flying, with many a harrumph and a wounded glare.
Steven and Kelly attempt to lighten the mood and cease the acrimony by offering to clear the table, but this just turns into more arguments about the division of labour in the Elder Sisters’ childhood years. Eventually, Ned joins in with Kelly and Steven in clearing the table, happy to be out of the melee, as the debate over canyon-bound donkeys rages on unabated.
Chapter Seven starts with the twins arguing over which side of the shared bed they are sleeping on that evening. Elizabeth chooses a side, then Jessica demands that chosen side, then Elizabeth rightfully claims Jessica only wants said side because Elizabeth wants said side, and so on. It’s rubbish, and not really A- or B-plot worthy. Elizabeth claims the double bluff, saying she only chose the original side as she knew that Jessica would demand it, and that she really desired the unchosen side all along. [Dove: For me? This was the high point. I was proud of Liz for either outwitting her sister, or pretending to. It’s probably the only time. Also, I hate this. So, yeah, it’s all downhill from here.]
In bed, they squabble over the duvet division, as do every bickering couple in every piece of fiction or art since time immemorial. Seriously, there are cave paintings in which sabre-tooth tigers accuse woolly mammoths of hogging the bed-pelt. Then it’s arguing over the light before the story moves on.
In other parts of the house, Steven quizzes his mother, searching for more interesting stories for his Family Project. He points out that the Elder Sisters were fighting at dinner, but Alice disagrees.
“Oh, Steven.” Mrs. Wakefield managed a half smile. “That wasn’t fighting. We were having a… a disagreement.”
Sorry Alice, but I’m with Steven here. Wow, that sentence feels so wrong.
Eventually, Steven asks Alice about… Darren Caruso. Alice, on hearing the name, loses her shit and demands to know how Steven knows that name. Steven says he overheard Aunt Laura and, well, Alice talking about him. Alice is mollified, but refuses to elaborate on Darren or his importance to the plot. She sashays off with a withering look.
Back with the Bickering Twins, and it’s more duvet-hogging. This eventually spills over into shouting and pillow-fighting, which I’m sure Steven would absolutely love. Eventually, Elizabeth falls out of bed with a thump, and the girls come back to reality with a jolt. Realising that they’ll likely get into trouble for rowdiness and noise, they flop into bed and pretend to be asleep.
As they faux-snore, they are checked upon by Ned and Alice,who buy their ruse but also pause for a moment to further the plot with a reader-friendly aside.
Mr. Wakefield took a deep breath. “Well, honey, maybe this wasn’t the right weekend for the big invitation.”
“But I wanted it to be a surprise, and this weekend seemed perfect,” Mrs. Wakefield said with a sigh. “Oh, well. What’s done is done… I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”
Yes, I guess we will. When Darren comes to dinner. I’d just love it if he turned out to be a serial killer or something. [Dove: Why would you say that? Now I’m gearing up for a terrifically tense home-invasion story, and it’s not going to deliver.]
Chapter Eight starts, and it’s THANKSGIVING. So that’s Seven out of Ten chapters gone, and we finally get to the crux of things. The first four chapters? Chores. The next three? Arguments. These final three? Turkey eating.
We’re in Jessica’s POV, as she blearily opens her eyes. Immediately, she can hear arguments as the Elder Sisters gripe and grumble. Nancy has taken it upon herself to make the stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner, ignoring the fact that Alice had made the same stuffing every year since Steven’s birth. Frankly, I’m with Alice here. Get to fuck, Nancy, you meddling witch.
Laura thinks Nancy is overbearing.
Nancy thinks Alice’s kids are a menace. [Dove: Aunt Nancy is right. But her daughter smoked at age twelve. So, y’know, glass houses and all.]
And so on. And so on.
The twins listen in on the arguments, and as they do so, they start arguing themselves, again. God, this is tedious bullshit.
As they bicker like the infants they are, one of Jessica’s exaggerated movements manages to clatter Elizabeth’s shoulder, and she winces in pain. Jessica believes she it faking, but it all escalates into physical altercation, all handbags and elbows. Thankfully, they are interrupted in the carnage by the entire family, long before Jessica manages to pull out her shiv.
Jess tries to style it out, with a hearty “we’re just playing, folks!”, but Ned is having none of it.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Mr. Wakefield said darkly, staring down at the assembled crowd. He stood above the landing looking unkempt in bathrobe and slippers. “Let’s all try to get through the day without killing each other, shall we?”
Well done, Ned. Putting your foot down there.
Next, we have the youngsters watching View From The Hotel Windermere, and, predictably, Jessica isn’t taking such boredom sitting down. She loudly complains that it’s boring, that nothing is happening, and so on.
Now. I’m usually Team Jessica. But here? She can FUCK RIGHT OFF.
I hate it when people talk through films, or TV, or whatever, unless it’s been agreed beforehand that the viewing will be light and peppered with delightful snark. Jessica here is just being a bitch, and, frankly, if I were Elizabeth, I’d have punched her in the fucking mouth. [Dove: I’m torn. I totally side with you, about people shutting up during movies, but on the other hand, this movie sounds as boring as Fear X. (Fear X is the first movie we rented after we moved in together. Literally nothing happened the whole time. It is the benchmark for shit movies.)] [Raven: I get you, but Jessica isn’t even trying. She’s just “roll opening credits, aaaand…. WHAT IS THIS SHIT IT’S BORING TURNITOFFTURNITOFFTURNITOFF.” Appaling behaviour.]
Jessica wishes she were anywhere else, but apparently the girls have all been relegated to the Den while the Elder Sisters prepare dinner, and Ned and the newly-arrived Uncle Kirk discuss power drills in the garden.
As the film continues, Jessica pleads with Robin that they should be watching Too Cool for High School instead. Robin eventually caves and agrees, oistensibly because she’s not enjoying the current film half as much as she hoped. But how the hell could she be, with Jessica huffing and puffing and rolling her fucking eyes every five minutes. That shit really boils my piss. Jessica can fuck off into space for this.
Before Elizabeth has time to argue, Jessica ejects the VCR and puts Too Cool for High School on instead. Elizabeth fetches a book to read instead, somewhat hurt by the turn of events.
Eventually, the girls are called to the Thanksgiving table, diffusing the situation.
The food looks delicious. Uncle Kirk is tasked with carving the turkey. As the festivities commence, Aunt Nancy notices there are eleven people in the room… but twelve places set at the table.
Let’s do the maths, I guess…
Ned, Alice, Steven, Jessica, Elizabeth, Nancy, Robin, Stacey, Laura, Kelly, Kirk.
Yup, that’s eleven.
Of course, Jessica knows who the twelfth place is for. It’s for Aaron. As Alice declares to the room that yes, she’s invited someone else, Jessica smugly declares that the space is for her boyfriend.
“Told you,” Jessica said with a smirk. She elbowed her sister triumphantly in the ribs. “When’s Aaron coming, Mom?”
“Aaron?” Mrs. Wakefield stared distractedly at Jessica. “You mean your friend Aaron from school? I thought you told me he was out of town.”
“You mean, it’s not Aaron?” Jessica’s mouth opened and closed, and she blinked hard. “But—”
She stared at her mother’s face.
Uh-oh. It was obvious that her mother wasn’t kidding around.
No Aaron. The realization hit Jessica like a ton of bricks. Her hand flew to her mouth. She felt like crying.
How unfair. How completely, totally unfair.
Oh, FUCK OFF Jessica. It’s not all about YOU.
I properly hate her in this fucking book. Maybe that’s why I dislike the book so much… it’s taken a character I usually enjoy, and removed all the fun out of her.
Soon, the truth is out. Alice has invited Darren Caruso, who’s not to be confused with Daniel Larusso, more’s the pity. Apparently, she’d bumped into him a few weeks ago. They got to talking, and Alice eventually invited him to Thanksgiving Dinner. Which begs the fucking question: where the fuck is he? He’s talking the definition of “fashionably late” to a whole new level. [Wing: Also, does he not have his own plans? Does he not understand how weird and awkward this will be? Why would he want to do a surprise like this on one of the biggest family holidays in the USA? The fuck are any of the adults thinking.]
Naturally, Aunt Laura is incensed. How dare Alice do such a fucking thing? And honestly? I agree. This is such manipulative bullshit.
Aunt Laura tightened her mouth. “Why?” she asked. “Why did you do this to me?” She spun and headed for the steps. “No way am I eating Thanksgiving dinner with the man who broke my heart. Kelly!” she barked. “Pack your bags. Now!”
“B-B-But,” Mrs. Wakefield stammered as she wrung her hands helplessly, “if you would just listen—”
“The time for listening is long past,” Aunt Laura retorted.
[Dove: I feel like Alice is two seconds away from snapping “Ned, bring out the fucking cake!” Just you wait, that joke going to kill in *checks schedule* November 2030.]
She flounces off to pack her own bags, and we’re onto Chapter Nine.
For some reason, this chapter begins in Steven’s head, as he listens to his father’s apologies for what has happened that day thus far. The cousins, Steven, Ned and Kirk are all in the den, with Aunt Laura and Kelly upstairs packing, and Alice and Nancy swapping insults in the dining room.
We now get the story of Darren – who Jessica misheard as Aaron, which is actually pretty plausible – all off-screen and told through exposition, like so much of this fucking book.
First, Ned and Kirk share the story of Aunt Laura’s reaction to Darren’s disappearance. They had plans to go tocollege together, maybe getting married down the line. Then he’d disappeared, and she got over him, and when he tried to make contact down the line she’d refused his calls and tore up his letters. Apparently, according to Ned, Alice had bumped into Darren while shopping, and learnt the following:
- Darren had failed to get into college, because he was “learning disabled.” I guess this is an archaic term for dyslexic? [Wing: Broader than that, and still used in a lot of places, but dyslexia falls under it, yes.]
- Instead of speaking to Laura, he decided to run off and join the army, planning to work and get training and then enrolling college down the line.
- Apparently, he then immediately wrote to Laura to explain his intentions, but his learning disability meant he wrote the address as 5820 rather than 5280, and the letter was returned after he’d moved on. By the time he discovered the truth, it was months later.
- Now, years later, still single, and handsome, as a college grad and a well-respected marine, he is stationed near Sweet Valley, and looking to reconnect with Laura.
I get that he was young. But running off to join the fucking army, instead of making such a sweeping decision with the purported love of his fucking life involved in the process, a decision that would have profound repercussions on her own decision-making and choices? That’s SO MUCH BULLSHIT. And yeah, I know this will progress to the “they are destined to be together, wow look that’s amazing, erm hang on get a fucking room you two” stages in the next chapter and a half, but in my eyes, this guy is just as flaky as the aforementioned Greg.
Everyone hangs on Ned’s every word. Steven laps it up for his Family Project. The Twins don’t make the connection that Darren’s learning disability is rather like the dyslexia that their schoolfriend Danny had in Danny Means Trouble. Y’know, the stuff that Elizabeth helped him with? [Dove: If only Olympic Greg had been there for Darren.] Instead, they just think it’s romantic.
Next, we snap to Aunt Laura and Kelly trying to storm out of the house. As they do so, the doorbell rings, and it’s Darren! At first, Laura is angry, until Danny says something, and then everything is okay.
Laura shut her eyes and took a deep breath. “Darren,” she said in a tiny voice. “Go away, Darren. I’ve never forgiven you—” She clamped her mouth shut so tight that her neck muscles bulged. “Good-bye,” she said brusquely, and turned away.
“Laura.” A shadow seemed to pass over Darren’s face. “It’s been such a long time.” He paused. “And I’ve come such a long way, just to see you. Won’t you just talk to me for a minute?”
Aunt Laura was silent, staring at the floor.
Please say yes, thought Jessica. Please, please, please!
Finally, Aunt Laura looked up. “How could I say no to you, Darren? I never could.”
The ENTIRE PLOT OF THE BOOK IS WRAPPED UP IN ONE FUCKING PARAGRAPH.
I mean, FUCK OFF.
I am so fucking done with this crock of shit. It’s time to bullet-point the final pages, lest my sanity suffer and I go on a stabbin’ spree.
- Aunt Laura sends away the cab.
- Aunt Nancy apologises to Alice.
- Alice apologises to Aunt Laura.
- Jessica makes some placenames around so Darren can sit next to Laura.
- Everyone settles for dinner, but Kelly is nowhere to be found.
- Jessica, Elizabeth and Robin track Kelly down to the curb of her old house.
- Crying, Kelly tells the other three that she’s worried that Darren would disturb the Laura/Kelly dynamic.
- Stacey tells an asinine story about a ragdoll that’s apparently all deep and helpful and I fucking hate it.
- Kelly is cheered, and ready to return.
- Back at the Compound, the Elder Sisters are arguing again.
- Steven tells them to shut the fuck up, as Kelly enters.
- Kelly spins a thoughtful monologue about sisters, and mothers, and arguments, and family, and it’s too little too late to make me invest time or interest into this fucking story.
- Everyone apologises again.
- The family toast various things, including Sisters.
The end. Thank fuck.
I did not enjoy this book. You might have picked that up from the recap.
It wasn’t a Sweet Valley Twins book. It was all about Alice and her sisters. Everything happened offscreen. There was SO MUCH fucking exposition. Steven was in it FAR TOO MUCH. The first four chapters were about fucking CHORES. The twins were boring as fuck, and inconsequential to the “action”, such that it was. Jessica was the most annoying I’ve ever read. And the entire plot was wrapped up in a single spineless line from Laura.
It feels like a book written for another series, with a simple search-and-replace name swap and some simple editing applied. I fucking hated every minute. Bottom five of the whole series, not gonna lie. Appalling.
[Dove: Well, the A-plot finally arrived, admittedly in the last chapter, but, um, was anyone else missing a b-plot. This book was incredibly boring to read and must have been much worse to recap, but possibly it could have been spiced up a bit. This feels like a book where the kids could have wanted out of the house, and had to do madcap schemes in order to appear at home, while doing something (ANYTHING) more exciting, like hanging with their friends or whatever. God, this was dull.]
[Wing: On the one hand, I think some of the family dynamics were believable and interestingly painful for a Sweet Valley book. Even one sibling overstepping their boundaries is believable. On the other hand, there’s no way a Sweet Valley book has the time, space, or freedom to make that a compelling story. And then when Darren does finally show up, we get all that bullshit about what he did and how Laura responds and just fuck off.]