Sweet Valley Twins #113: The Boyfriend Game

Sweet Valley Twins #113: The Boyfriend Game by Jamie Suzanne
Sweet Valley Twins #113: The Boyfriend Game by Jamie Suzanne
Sweet Valley Twins #113 The Boyfriend Game – Cover from Liz

Title: The Boyfriend Game

Tagline: All’s fair in love and war in part one of a special two-book Valentine’s Day miniseries.

Summary: Sweet Valley Middle School is celebrating Valentine’s Day by hosting a TV game show! The contestants choose their dream dates by asking funny and personal questions—in front of their classmates and a TV audience. The winners get a free trip to an amusement park, and the entire school will be treated to the coolest Valentine’s Day dance ever.

Jessica Wakefield can’t wait to be a contestant—and can’t believe it when her twin sister, Elizabeth, is chosen instead. Is it time for another twin switch? Sophia Rizzo and Patrick Morris decide to cheat so they can end up together. And Janet Howell is busy dreaming of her perfect guy. But everyone’s plans backfire big time! Will the dating game be a dating disaster?

Initial Thoughts:

This book is Part One of a Two-Part series. If I’m honest, that doesn’t bode well. [Wing: It was an unpleasant surprise for me, that’s for sure!]

Let’s look at the two other multipart series that we’ve lived through so far. By far the worst offender is the appalling Nightmare Mansion series, but the one-two punch of Deadly Voyage and Escape from Terror Island cannot go unpunished. After the sterling effort in Part One, every ounce of goodwill was washed away by the frankly hideous second book.

So I’m not excited at this one. If history serves, the best I can hope for is a funny story which will be ultimately undermined by the second volume, while the worst I can expect will be something so stultifyingly atrocious that it will literally give me a rage-induced aneurysm. How thrilling.

Ah well. I’m in it until the end. Onward!

[Dove: Since I’ve never read this before, I don’t really know what to make of it. The Geocities cover gives nothing away, except maybe a promise of crap music courtesy of a midi file (maybe something very now, like How You Remind Me by Nickelback), and then the American covers have totally abandoned the twins that we’re so used to. I probably should have mentioned this earlier, like when the first new twin cover showed up. So my initial thoughts are still stuck on “OMG, DOVE IS LIEK SO TRIGGERED BY COVERS”, which is where I’ve been for months.]

[Wing: We recorded a podcast episode the weekend Raven recapped this and we commented, and I was riding the high of that fun. I did not ride it long when I sat down and finally read the summary of the book. We’ll see how this goes.]

Recap:

Aside:

Let’s start with the conclusion. I enjoyed this book. It’s packed, fun, and it actually does something, which puts it leagues above some of the crap we’ve sat through lately.

However.

I will be spending a lot of this recap complaining. Some of it will be about the usual stuff: the characterisation, the threadbare story, the gratuitous leaps of logic needed to shoehorn a clusterfuck into the spaces usually reserved for a plot. But most of it will be about the completely awful version of Blind Date that the book showcases.

Blind Date, or The Dating Game, or Perfect Match, has a fifty-plus year pedigree. It was a staple of Eighties and even Nineties UK TV viewing, and has a format that we all recognise. One (traditionally) Bachelorette poses a series of questions to three (traditionally) Bachelors, who supply funny and fresh answers. The Bachelorette then choses the Bachelor with which she feels the best connection, and the two go on a holiday-date accompanied by a film crew. As the Bachelorette and Bachelors are separated by a screen, the Bachelorette’s choice is based on the answers given to the questions and not on physicality.

In the UK’s Blind Date, the questions and answers were largely flirty and dirty, and entirely scripted on both sides. Stuff like this:

Bachelorette: I love watching movies. Bachelor number one, what movie would we snuggle up to watch on our date night?

Bachelor #1: I’d treat you to a horror movie marathon. I’m a Hellraiser, and after one night with me, you’ll be Screaming for more. Play you cards right, you might even end up with… The Ring.

[Wing: What. Fresh. Hell. Is. That. I love terrible puns but that is just painful.]

So! That’s Blind Date / The Dating Game. I guess it’s time to head into the actual recap now, but don’t worry, I’ll be mentioning this game show A LOT today.

End aside.

We start in the offices of the Sweet Valley Sixers, as Elizabeth shares the front page layout for the upcoming issue. The headline story? NEW LOCKERS.

Fuck yeah, it’s new lockers!

Breaking News!

Donald Zwerdling is here, apparently in the position of “the best photographer in school.” I mean, I do like Donald Zwerdling, but he’s an odd one to feature near the end of the series. Maybe he’s more prominent in Sweet Valley High? Either way, he didn’t actually take the photos, as that was Elizabeth, who is apparently doing the photography for her paper alongside the writing, formatting and editing now. Has she mentioned this in any of the other 112 books? [Dove: I kind of hate to be that girl, but yes, she actually has. She got a new camera, which Jessica immediately bet against Janet’s Staying Up With Bob tickets. So, actually, yes she has. But not for like 50+ books. Amy gives Liz a hard time for asking Donald’s opinion on her picture-taking, but maybe, given later events, Donald should have taken the pictures?]

Zwerdling lays on the Nerd Flirt, complimenting Elizabeth on her photographic talents. Of course, Elizabeth only has loins for Todd Wilkins, her sort-of boyfriend. She’s due for a date with him at Casey’s Place that very afternoon.

Before she departs for some Ice Cream Fun, she asks the throng – Amy Sutton, Sophia Rizzo, Todd Wilkins and the aforementioned Donald – if they have any ideas for the following week’s major feature. There’s nothing, aside from the fact that Valentines Day is approaching. Also, does this mean Todd’s on the Sixers staff now?

This, I believe, is the fourth Valentines Day in Sweet Valley Twins history, after Yours for a Day, Lila’s Secret Valentine, and Big Brother’s In Love Again. Standard Sweet Valley. [Dove: You missed The Great Boyfriend Switch.] [Raven: And I’m sure these five won’t be the last.]

They decide to coordinate a sports team feature, which is predictably never mentioned again. We also learn that Lila had offered a front-page scoop on her recent trip to the new amusement park Dizzy Planet, something which she’s been boasting about all week. [Wing: Dizzy Planet is almost as generic description as Sweet Valley [Store] and yet I am charmed.] The throng roll their collective eyes and hard pass, of course, which means they miss the perfect opportunity to put a picture of Lila on the front page with the headline DIZZY BITCH.

Suddenly, Jessica bursts into the room, with her passably dramatic flair.

“Stop the press!” Jessica exclaimed. “I just heard some fantastic news!”

To be honest, you’ve gotta take opportunities like that when they come along.

Amy piles on the sass (!), before we learn Jessica’s plot news. She’s overheard, in detention no less, that Sweet Valley Middle School might get to be contestants on Young Love, the televised teen version of The Dating Game/ Blind Date!

Stop the presses indeed.

Breaking News!

Aside:

I had to be VERY CAREFUL Googling for that picture, let me tell you.

[Dove: Ironically, if you look at the search terms that lead to this site, people are not searching carefully, and they end up here. I’m not really sure what that says about Raven, this site, or people in general, really.] [Raven: I don’t know why I’m getting the blame here.]

End aside.

When pressed, we learn that the school hasn’t been chosen to be showcased as such. Actually, all that Jessica “knows” is that she overheard Mr Edwards, the vice principal, telling someone on the phone that the programme was looking for a middle school in the Sweet Valley area. I mean, we all know they will get chosen for the show, of course, as otherwise there’s no book, but just once I’d love it if the accolade / achievement went to Big Mesa.

The group bond over Young Love, which is, by all accounts, a wonderful show with a cute host in Byron Miller. Naturally, Elizabeth hasn’t watched it, and is rather critical of it from her pompous ivory tower. We all know she’d rather be, I dunno, reading Keats while frotting with her stuffed koala, but is it too much to ask for a little less sanctimony?

The girls, sans Elizabeth, are well up for it, as is Donald, but Todd decides to speak for the boys en masse.

“I don’t know,” Todd said doubtfully. He leaned forward in his chair “I mean, I’ve only seen Young Love once or twice, but the contestants usually ask a lot of embarrassing, mushy, romantic-type questions. I don’t think most of the guys in school will go for that.”

I guess that’s a fair worry, although the chance to be on telly would surely be a factor for some. Either way, Jessica sways the male vote (aka Todd) by highlighting the amazing prizes on offer. When pressed about them, she admits she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about. Happily, fans of the show wade in with their own favourite prizes on episodes they’ve seen, such as a trip to Hawaii (Amy’s favourite) and a visit to a candle factory (Donald’s favourite, because nerd). [Wing: Those are two very different levels of prizes, damn.]

As the throng daydream about the possible prizes on offer, Mr Bowman enters and confirms the news.

“So there really is a chance our school will be on that show?” Sophia asked.

Mr. Bowman nodded. “There’s a chance. The show is holding a contest in this area, and Mr. Clark and Mr. Edwards have decided to enter Sweet Valley Middle School.” Mr. Clark was the principal.

“Awesome!” Jessica cried. “We’re going to be on TV!”

“Not so fast,” Mr. Bowman cautioned. “Interested schools have to submit an essay explaining why their school is unique, along with a group photo. A lot of middle schools will probably enter.”

So there we have the build. Essay competition for a chance to be on the show. Standard plotty bollocks.

We also learn that the prized for the winning couples is a dream day at… Dizzy Planet. Of course, this goes down a fucking treat, and Todd declares that the boys will be well up for it. Also, as a thank you to the school involved, the entire student body, show winners or not, will attend a special Valentines Day Party thrown by the TV show’s production team.

Elizabeth immediately offers to take the group photo for the contest.

Erm… hello? Why the fuck is she doing that? On the first page of this book she stated that Donald Zwerdling was the best photographer in the school. Shouldn’t he be the one to take the photo? In fact, why don’t they pay for a fucking professional photographer to take the picture? Do they want to win or not? Way to take this thing seriously. [Dove: This was exactly my feeling. For fuck’s sake, Liz. Remember back in the day when you let others shine? Remember when Sophia was considered a better writer than you? Sigh. We remember.]

[Wing:

Yeah it does.]

His Plot Duties done, Mr Bowman tells all that the official announcement will be the following day during homeroom (which I guess is the US version of Registration), then fucks off completely.

Jessica also fucks off, to tell the Unicorns the incredible news. Elizabeth and Todd fuck off thirdly and fourthly, to the date at Casey’s Place.

Snap cut to the Unicorns, and Lila is boasting to the Unithrong about her trip to Dizzy Planet, much to Janet Howell’s annoyance. Jessica flounces into the meeting and tells the collected SparkleDonkeys all about this book’s plot.

Predictably, interests are piqued. But in a wholly unpredictable way.

For some frankly asinine reason, Janet thinks that she should be the one to write the essay for the competition, eliciting the help of the Unicorns. To their credit, even the rest of the Unicorns look flummoxed by that declaration, before they supposedly succumb to their glorious leader’s diktat.

The next morning, in Homeroom, before Mr Davis arrives, the excited classmates discuss their possible upcoming TV appearance. Talk turns to the essay, and Aaron suggests, with some merit, that Elizabeth should write it. She offers that maybe the collective Sixers staff should give it a go.

“Not necessary, Lizzie,” Jessica put in.

“That’s right,” Lila said. “Janet’s going to write it.”

There was a moment of silence. Finally Sophia spoke up, sounding amazed. “Janet?” she repeated. “You mean Janet Howell?”

I mean, I’m sure not even Lila and Jessica think this is a good idea, but they double down. Amy, who is legitimately super-sassy in this book, gets to the point in fine fashion.

 “That’s ridiculous,” she said bluntly. “Janet can’t write. Besides, the judges aren’t going to be impressed by an essay about makeup and movie stars.”

She goes on to suggest that the best group of student to write the essay are those that embody school spirit: the athletes. Because for some unknown reason, Amy is an athlete in this book, despite the fact that the school has a very real paragon of athleticism in Belinda Leyton. Amy and Aaron vow to focus the athletes into an essay-writing machine.

Sophia then chimes in, suggesting that the essay should be written by the real heroes of the school, she and her friends from the Science Club. Because for some unknown reason, the quiet and artistic Sophia is a science nerd in the book, even though she’s never shown an interest before and she wasn’t in SOAR back in Book 61. [Dove: However, Sophia is a fucking writer.]

Aside:

There’s a great deal to like about this book.

The dialogue between all parties is snappy and sassy, and a lot of thought has gone into the characterisation. I particularly love Amy in this book, as she’s a study in snark and she really hates Lila and pals.

But for every fine aspect here, there’s a foil. My complaints of the Young Love show itself are coming, and They Are Legion, but if I’m honest I’m more irritated by shit like this. I’m no ContinuiNazi, but it doesn’t take much to align things here.

You want an athlete? Go for Billie Layton.

You want a science nerd? Why not Donald, or Winston, or hell, why not ANY ONE of the students from SOAR? Maria Slater was in that group, she’d be such an easy switch for Sophia!

To me, it feels like a wasted opportunity, and something that is massively avoidable given a little gumption.

Bad form.

End aside.

As the varying groups bicker over their suitability to pen the contest essay,  Mr Davis sashays in. He tells everyone about Young Love, which sounds wholly inappropriate out of context. [Wing: Not all that appropriate in context, tbh.] Of course, everyone knows about it already, but the plot demands we have more concrete information about the rules and regulations.

  • The school photo will be take today (much to the unglammed Unicorns’ dismay).
  • If the school is chosen, all kids will have a chance to sign up. Successful signups will become Contestants (the ones asking the questions, aka “Bachelorettes”) or Candidates (the ones fielding the questions, aka “Batchelors”). Contestants and Candidates will beinformed before the show. (NB: Just using the gender normative words from the aging show, no shade plz.)
  • Contestants must supply several questions that he or she will ask each candidate. Based on the answers, the contestant will then choose one of the candidates as their Dream Date.
  • Those who don’t want to be on the show can sign up to be in the audience.
  • Everyone can submit an essay for consideration, the best of which will be chosen for submission by a panel of students. Which is fair, I guess.

[Wing: Why must everything be done on a last minute timeline? They should not be taking pictures today!]

After class, the Unicorns gather in the girls’ bathroom to prettify themselves for the looming School Picture. Lila has a pop at Elizabeth, which angers Jessica, and then our Rich Queen doubles down as Elizabeth sets up the shot outside the school a few minutes later.

“See? She’s not even close to being ready,” she complained. “She’ll probably make us stand out here in the hot sun for half an hour before it’s time to take the picture. I could have French braided my hair and still been here in plenty of time.”

“Forget it, Lila,” Jessica said. “I’ve seen you fixing your hair. The last thing we need is to show up for the picture next June.”

Lila scowled. “You’re one to talk,” she snapped.

Ah, best friends bickering. Standard.

Whispered talk turns to the essay contest, and we learn that Mandy has offered to be a judge, which delights Janet no end. The Unicorns plan to meet to discuss the contest. Jessica offers a poolside slouch at the Wakefield Compound, but Lila trumps it with a sojourn at Fowler Crest. Again, Jessica is nonplussed at Lila’s chicanery. As Elizabeth makes to take the snap, Jessica has her revenge.

“Good,” Lila said smugly. “Then it’s settled. We’ll meet at my place instead of roughing it at Camp Jessica.”

That was more than Jessica could take. Her elbow flew out, catching Lila in the ribs a split second before they all heard the whir and click of Elizabeth’s camera.

“Oof!” Lila exclaimed.

“Wha—?” Janet said, turning to see what was happening.

“Got it!” Elizabeth cried happily at the same moment.

Chapter Three opens with young lovers Sophia Rizzo and Patrick Morris heading into Casey’s Place for an ice cream date. She’s skint, but Patrick offers to split his sundae with her. Cute.

As they slowly nibble their hot fudge sundae, they discuss their desire to visit Dizzy Planet. Alas, this seems little more than a pipe dream, unless they manage to somehow win the contest. There are complications to that, of course. The school has to win the essay contest, and then both Sophia and Patrick need to get onto the show itself, and then there’s the pitfalls inherent in the format.

As they eat ice cream, however, a marvellous idea occurs to Sophia…

“I was just thinking about how that show works,” she said, picking up the cherry and popping it into her mouth. “I mean, the contestants ask questions and the candidates answer them. The candidates could probably figure out who the contestants are if they ask the right questions and pay attention to the answers. That means if one of us was the contestant and the other was one of the candidates…”

That’s right, folks… Sophia plans to get all Quiz Show on us.

In a scheme not dissimilar the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire scandal some twenty years ago, Sophia posits that they can somehow game the system and fix the outcome. Patrick outlines a litany of obstacles.

Patrick sat up straighter, looking thoughtful. Then a grin broke out across his face. “You’re right,” he said. “But what if something weird happened? The contestants only get to ask a few questions before they choose. And the contestant is blindfolded, and the candidates’ voices are altered by those trick microphones. What if we somehow ended up with the wrong person?”

Sophia gives no indication as to her plan here, but they both vow to do “whatever it takes” to get to Dizzy Planet.

INTRIGUE! I love it. Although, really? This should be Jessica’s plot, with Aaron. [Dove: Or any of the boys who aren’t Aaron that she’s had a crush in the past few books. Or a new boy entirely. No shade on her not having a life-partner at twelve, just shade on the ghosties for vanishing those boys right after she got with them. Or shade on Jessica for murdering them.]

[Wing: No shade on Jessica murdering anyone she wants.]

We cut to Lila’s pool, and Unicorn Essay meeting. Jessica and Lila are still sniping, and we learn there’s a planned photo reshoot the following day. Perhaps if they’d employed a professional, or even a Donald, [Wing: TOO SOON. (Yes, I know what you actually mean, but my brain went orange immediately.)] things would have gone a little smoother.

Soon, we get to the Essay portion of the narrative, but not before Belinda Leyton says something random. I guess as a Unicorn she’s not the best choice as an athlete for the other team? I still think she’d have been a better choice than Amy.

As we can predict, the essay writing goes very badly. Janet insists that certain words are underlined for emphasis, when every writer worth their sale knows that italics are the perfect example of this particular overused and entirely insecure crutch. [Dove: It could be worse, such as the wonderfully passive-aggressive workplace notice: Do not use speech marks for “emphasis”.]

Through the sniping and daydreaming, we also learn that Janet is a particularly atrocious speller. And while brainstorming for the essay, she does nothing more than wax lyrical on the dream Denny Jacobson.

With Mary Wallace notating Janet’s dictation, we get the following sublime paragraph:

“Other places might be cool, but not as cool as here. Our students know what’s hot and what’s not, and they’re not afraid to show it. Or wear it. And when it comes to hanging out, Sweet Valley is awesome. If you’re a pretty girl or a gorgeous guy, you’ll have no trouble finding someone right for you here.”

Absolutely appalling, and absolutely perfect. My favourite section, though, has to be the following:

“Take this down, Mary,” Janet said. “The crème de la crème of Sweet Valley’s cool kids are the members of the Unicorn Club, the writers of this essay. Not only are we the best dressed, the best liked, the best looking, and the best of everything.”

“But?” Mandy prompted.

“But what?” Janet asked.

“When you start with, “Not only are we the best blah, blah, blah,” Mandy said, “you have to say, ‘but, we are blah, blah, blah.’”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Janet said coolly. “All those bests speak for themselves.”

Janet’s a monster in this book. Loving it.

[Wing: All those bests speak for themselves should be one of the mottos for the Unicorn Club part of the series.]

Chapter Four cuts to Monday, and the school photo reshoot. An irritated Elizabeth needs a new lens, and Donald is setting it up. In doing so, he also appears to be perving on the Unicorns, who have positioned themselves front and centre as usual. Janet, in particular, has positioned herself forward to such an extent that she needs to be directed to take a few steps back.

As Jessica an Lila continue to bicker, the photo is take. Several times. So as not to screw it up like the previous day.

Next, it’s Science Club, where Peter DeHaven and Randy Mason have a clichéd debate about the merits of Star Trek TNG versus Star Trek OS. Randy is opining about the glory of the Original Series, and I’m sorry, but a twelve-year-old Trek fan in the early Nineties would have been ALL OVER the Next Generation. I’m pretty sure you’ll not meet many pre-teen Whovians today that prefer, say, Troughton over Tennant. Then Leslie Forsythe (who?) [Dove: Movie buff. Randy’s girlfriend. Actress in The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley. Also wore a red bra under a white shirt in Best Friends. FFS, how do you guys not retain this information?] [Raven: Probably because we’ve not got Sweet Valley Encyclopedias for brains?] [Wing: Dove would win the Sweet Valley ghostwriting challenge against all comers. My brain doesn’t work that way. Thank fuck we have Dove.] suggests that the movies are better than either.

Breaking News!

In this section, a tireless Sophia Rizzo corrals the nerds to write their essay. Let’s see who’s here.

  • Sophia Rizzo
  • Randy Mason
  • Peter DeHaven
  • Cammi Adams
  • Leslie Forsythe
  • Peter Burns
  • Winston Egbert
  • Donald Zwerdling
  • Lloyd Benson (at least, presumably. He’s just called Lloyd here. It could be Harold fucking Lloyd for all we know)

Being fair, that’s a chunk of nerdy peoples and SOAR alums (Mason, DeHaven, Adams, Egbert, Benson). I give it a cautious thumbs up.

The essay writing goes as well as can be expected. The nerds focus on writing their essay like a science report, making statements and then supplying the evidence to backup their claims. Surprisingly, it’s the multi-layered Donald Zwerdling that flags their efforts at being a little dry.

“Wrong!” Donald cried out suddenly. As the others stared at him in surprise, he leaped out of his seat and clutched at his hair. “This is all wrong. We’re supposed to be writing an essay about romance, not a statistical paper.”

Sophia reluctantly agrees. Donald has suggestions on how to improve things.

Donald didn’t seem worried. He smiled and his eyes took on a faraway look. “I would focus on romance,” he declared. “The theme, of course, would be young love. I’d talk about all the ways that Sweet Valley Middle School is the most romantic place on earth.”

“Yeah, right,” Lloyd muttered under his breath.

They make changes to their essay, as an obviously smitten Donald Zwerdling daydreams about a wonderful day at Dizzy Planet, arm in arm with someone special.

“Zwerdling—are you okay? I think you need to breathe into a paper bag or something,” Peter DeHaven broke in.

Donald didn’t even seem to notice the interruption. “And of course, my dream girl and I would go on all the really scary rides. Like that huge water ride, Monster Splash.” He closed his eyes. “When the ride starts going down that big hill backward, it will probably be so scary that we’ll have to hold each other tight and close our eyes to keep from being too terrified. But we’ll be so perfectly matched that we’ll trust each other totally. And I won’t even mind if she screams in my ear the whole way down.”

What a cutie! I hope he gets on the show. [Dove: I love that this actually lines up with Janet’s daydream of how her day will go. Except she’s imagining Denny as the boy who holds her.] [Raven: I legit missed this. Very nice!] [Wing: This is a surprisingly adorable part of the book. Did not see that coming.]

The essay, and the chapter, ends with a romantic poem about a satellite dish that feels unnecessarily tacked-on.

Chapter Five? The school darkroom.

The school darkroom?!

Pretty sure I know what goes on in there. Let’s just say that the surfaces probably need a good going over with a blacklight and some thick bleach.

[Wing: I am now regretting the times I spent in the school darkroom actually developing photos, or at least regretting not disinfecting it every single time I entered.]

Amy, Todd and Elizabeth are developing the latest batch of school photos, chewing the fat and shooting the breeze all the while. Amy bemoans her lack of success in press-ganging the athletes into writing their essay. She pans on meeting them tomorrow morning, writing the essay before school, and handing it in before the deadline that afternoon.

As that conversation continues, Elizabeth is dismayed to find that this set of photos is also completely ruined. Lila had brandished the bunny ear Vs behind Jessica’s head on every single picture.

Breaking News!

Through gritted teeth, Elizabeth declares she’ll have to persuade Mr Clark that another reshoot is in order. To be honest, I’d say fuck it and send the crap pics. And when the school doesn’t get picked, lay the blame at Lila’s feet.

At the Wakefield Compound that evening, as Jessica watches Young Love and sips lemonade, an irate Elizabeth storms in and berates her immature twin for the photo goofing. Jessica hand-waves her away, more interested in the show’s host, Byron Miller, who is super cute, sophisticated, and only a couple of years older than the middle schoolers (so, like, Steven’s age? Fourteen? Or maybe sixteen, if a couple of years older than Janet in 8th grade?) [Dove: In an episode of Boy Meets World, Eric (aged about 17) was working for a TV station, but as a gopher. And he couldn’t get a full time job, despite his good work and how well he was liked because they only hired high school graduates. So, basically, fuck knows.]. Great, we’re back to this shit again. So sick of thirsty fictional pre-teens.

When Jess learns of Lila’s nefarious actions, she pleads with her sister not to send those pictures to the Young Love people. Elizabeth acquiesces, obviously, which produces the following insightful exchange:

Elizabeth shook her head. “I wish I could,” she said grimly. “Maybe it would teach you both a lesson. But that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the school.”

“Good,” Jessica said. She had already lost interest in the topic. Besides, she didn’t know why Elizabeth was complaining to her about it. It was all Lila’s fault.

So basically, Elizabeth is a classic enabler. Just once, Jessica should feel the sting of her (and the Unicorns’) idiocy. [Dove: She has. On two separate Christmases. It still hasn’t taken.] [Raven: Third time’s a charm?]

Attention returns to the screen, and Byron Miller. Jessica declares he’s a consummate professional, but Elizabeth suggests that Byron can be scathing and mean.

“He’s really good at what he does, isn’t he?” Jessica mused out loud.

Elizabeth sat down on the couch next to her and glanced at the TV. “I guess so,” she said. “But I’d hate to have him make fun of me the way he does some of the guests.”

Jessica shrugged. “He only makes fun of the losers,” she said. “As long as you’re cool and witty enough, he treats you just fine. And he’s such a total babe that he makes even the cute guys who come on the show look like dorks.”

Aside:

I guess I should start cataloguing my complaints about the show. So this is Show Gripe #1…

It’s clear that – spoilers – Sweet Valley Middle School do win the essay contest and appear on Young Love. When they do, which is surprisingly late in this book’s arc, I’ll have more to say on the format, the mistakes, and the way things are handled. For now, I’d like to question the choice of host.

If we take the twins’ comments at face value, it appears that Byron Miller is a colossal prick.

What sort of game show host worth his salt would ridicule twelve-year-old kids on national television? Twelve-year-old kids who are playing adult games and likely out of their comfort zones. It’s massively bad form to go after your Joe Public guests in this way. It’s not the Weakest fucking Link, it’s Blind Date / The Dating Game. It’s supposed to be jolly, and light, and romantic, and fun.

Also, Jessica’s comment that the host completely outshines the guests is revealing. Sure, it’s likely hyperbole on her behalf; we know what she’s like, after all. But even if she’s half right, this asshat is woefully out of place as the figurehead of a show like this. The fucking host shouldn’t be scoring points against the kids in the fucking game. Let them have their fucking moment.

So. My first complaint about the show? At face value, the host can fuck off into space.

End aside.

Elizabeth shares the list of students selected to be on the Essay Judging Committee:

  • Elizabeth Wakefield
  • Mandy Miller
  • Denny Jacobsen
  • Cammi Adams
  • Tom McKay

Jessica approves, as both Denny and Mandy are shoe-ins for Janet’s work of genius. [Dove: She also thinks Tom’s a nerd, despite him being one of the cute boys they talk about in the Unicorner now and then… so, MOAR FAIL.] She goes back to daydreaming about riding rollercoasters with the fitty Byron Miller.

Chapter Six! It’s before school the next day, and Amy hits the school gym to write the Athletes’ Essay with Todd Wilkins, Ken Matthews, Aaron Dallas, Kerry Glen, Jo Morris and Danny Jackson. Who the fuck is Jo Morris? [Dove: She’s… *thinks* um, well, obviously she… FUCK, WHO IS SHE? WHO THE FUCK IS SHE? Oh wait, later it mentions that Patrick Morris has siblings that he’s never had before, so let’s just assume she’s one of them.]

The boys begin tossing a ball around, while Amy tries to get them to focus. Kerry Adams [Dove: Look, you can have Cammi Adams or Kerry Glen, you can’t have Kerry Adams, she doesn’t fucking exist. WHY IS THE GHOSTIE MAKING UP PEOPLE?] sympathises with Amy’s plight, but then starts chucking a basketball back and forth with Jo, “her friend and teammate on the field hockey and girls’ basketball teams.” So that’s who the fuck Jo Morris is!

Eventually, Amy confiscates their balls and press-gangs them into essay writing. They start with a co-opted bastardisation of a Shakespeare quote: “To be on TV, or not to be on TV? That is the question.” They then move onto listing what the school is the best at. The best athletes, the best artists, dancers, writers and so on. Not too shabby, I guess, until Danny ruins it by suggesting the following:

Danny nodded. “The best teachers,” he said. “And the coolest campus.”

The best teachers?! Give me a fucking break. I’d rather be taught by Robert Mugabe.

They add a little flannel about how they all love to rush home and watch Young Love after school, and round it off with a sweet-sounding pep-talk-style closer.

Honestly? The athletes have written the best essay, to the required brief. Fair play to them.

School Photo #3 is taken, and it’s a success. Next, Elizabeth and the other Essay Judging Committee Members gather to, well, judge the essays.

Before they get to reading, Mandy goes All In.

“Great,” Mandy said. She waved her hand at the stack of papers on the table in front of her. “Then all we have to do is figure out which of these essays we should send along with it.” She grinned. “And not that I’m biased, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up picking the one the Unicorns wrote.”

Cammi wrinkled her nose. “No offense, Mandy,” she said. “But I’m not planning on voting for any essay that spends more than a paragraph explaining that our school should be picked because we really know how to accessorize.”

Wow, look at the brass balls on Cammi! Good work. Mandy laughs it off, because she’s great. [Dove: Cammi has had two books now, and this is the most personality we’ve seen from her.]

As they read the collected essays, it’s clear that no one group has captured the essence of Sweet Valley Middle School. Probably because no-one simply supplied a harrowing photograph of a burning dumpster full of mannequin heads. We hear a little of the Science Club essay, and the Foreign Exchange Student essay, and the Drama Club essay, and of course the UniEssay, but there’s nothing that stands out.

Chapter Seven starts with the obvious: after reading all the essays, the Committee decide that the best way to go about things is to make a FrankenEssay from the salient parts of each of the submitted pieces. They set about this task with aplomb.

Sorry, I don’t buy it. That’s going to be bullshit. The essay, already the worst kind of Design by Committee, is now being parsed through a further level of dilution by a crew of self-appointed arseholes. I’m sorry, but Elizabeth, or I guess Tom McKay (he’s the other decent writer, yes?) [Dove: No. He was the director of that stupid skit about boys killing gorillas. His brother Dylan is the writer. WHY DOES NOBODY REMEMBER ANYTHING?!?!] [Raven: You’ve had years to absorb this world, like a fine wine. Wing and I are shotgunning it, like a can of cheap hooch.] [Wing: (Possibly thanks to all the other shotgunning I’ve done in my time) I would not remember these things even if I had years to absorb it like fine wine. I barely remember names of people I actually meet in person.] should have written the essay themselves.

We skip to Boosters practice, in which Lila and Jessica are still bickering. For some unfathomable reason, it appears that Billie Layton has given up being the best multi-discipline athlete at Sweet Valley Middle School and joined the Boosters instead. I mean, she had a whole fucking book about her, is it too much to ask that someone note down a few points about her character and pass it onto the Ghostie before they start?

[Wing: Wait, did Ghostie mix up Billie and Amy? Because for all that I would argue Boosters are athletes (because cheerleading is a sport), Billie’s far more a multi-sport athlete and involved in school sports as a whole than Amy and yet.]

After the practice, a few interested parties head to cafeteria, where the Committee had gathered to decide the winner of the Essay Contest. Once there, we discover that the winning essay is in fact… all of them.

The Committee have created a large poster, with the school photo in the centre and all the submitted essays pasted around it. Because all of the essays had something important to say, and thus choosing all of them as the entry would show the true diversity of the student body at Sweet Valley Middle.

Basically, the Essay Judging Committee abdicated all responsibility and made a half-arsed attempt to hand-wave their inadequacy.

Of course, everyone thinks it’s a wonderful idea, and the next chapter confirms it as we open with the following:

“I still can’t believe we won!” Elizabeth whispered to Jessica in homeroom the following Monday morning.

YAWN. Poor Big Mesa, overlooked once again. No wonder they’re pissed off all the time. [Dove: This might well explain all the fisticuffs I’ve heard about in Sweet Valley High. Elizabeth’s best friend shanked someone with a barrette. Oh, wait, no, that was in a fanfic.]

Signups for the show are now open. Once a name is put up, any individuals chosen by the show will be informed by mail, be they Contestants or Candidates. The filming is next Saturday, and Contestants should come armed with questions to ask the Candidates they’ll be paired with.

Naturally, Jessica dreams of being a Contestant, as they automatically get a trip to Dizzy Planet. The Candidates only qualify if picked by a Contestant. Again, she dreams about Byron, before catching Aaron’s eye and realising that he’s pretty cute too. [Wing: Realising for the 547th time.]

Later that day, both Todd and Elizabeth sign up, hoping they’ll get paired in the same segment. Amy signs, as does the arrogant Bruce Patman. [Wing: Joy.]

So! Sudden quick-snap to Thursday, and both the twins have received notification letters from Young Love. The letters swear them to secrecy, on pain of the whole filming being cancelled. No show, no dance, nothing. As Jessica is a notorious blabbermouth, things do not bode well.

We learn that Jessica has been selected for the show, but secrecy dictates that she doesn’t inform Elizabeth of her status. As we’re currently in a Elizabeth point of view scene, we learn that Liz has been selected as… a Contestant. Because of course she has, she’s a fucking Wakefield.

Next, we’re with Patrick and Sophia, who are planning their Young Love subterfuge behind the (presumably new) lockers. We discover that Patrick is a Contestant, while Sophia is a Candidate. So, if they are paired in the same segment, all they need do is seed the proceedings with a staged question and answer, so they can be sure to “recognise” each other despite the voice-altering microphones and blindfolds. They vow to work on it over the weekend.

Aside:

Okay, it’s time for Show Gripe #2.

Voice-altering microphones? Blindfolds? I’m pretty sure they never featured in Blind Date / The Dating Game.

This is a classic example of the writers shoehorning the cast into a plot that’s not explicitly designed for them, and making wild leaps and assumptions in order for it to make sense. Sure, let’s stick SVMS into Blind Date / The Dating Game, but at least have a realistic attempt in making the format fit the student body, instead of simply waving it away with an “erm… science, yeah.”

I mean, voice-altering microphones? That’s such a klutzy fix.

End aside.

Now we’re at… Monday again. So does that mean that, on the previous Monday, the phrase “next Saturday” for the filming meant “a week on Saturday”…? Is this a mistake, or a cultural difference? Because on Monday 1st, I’d expect “next Saturday” to mean Saturday 6th. [Wing: As would I, but I do know people who would expect Saturday 6th to be “this Saturday” and “next Saturday” to be the Saturday after.]

Jessica is watching Young Love, to pick up some tips on how to be a great… Candidate.

I wonder how they chose between the twins? Why did Elizabeth get the Contestant, while Jessica got the Candidate? Surely the show would have made them both Candidates, in the same section? I wonder if the show will mention their twin-ness? (Spoilers: it does not.) [Dove: For all that blather in every single book about how special it is being a twin… and the TV execs did nothing with it?] [Raven: So weak.]

On this edition of the show, a skinny boy asks his Candidates “what’s your favourite kind of flower?”

He receives the following answers:

  • “I don’t know, but I’m a big fan of flower power.”
  • “I’m not much of a plant person. I can’t tell one kind of flower from another.”
  • “I love all kinds of flowers, but I guess my favorite is probably the rose.”

Predictably, as the boy like roses himself, he chooses Candidate #3. [Dove: Jessica thinks answer #1 is hilarious. Can someone explain why please?] [Raven: Some sort of weak Hippy joke?] [Wing: I’m not sure of it as a joke — I don’t get it, I guess — but I agree it’s a reference to the 90s nostalgic resurgence of the 60s hippie flower power.]

Next segment sees a pretty and stylish girl posit the following to her three Candidates: “If you only had one day left to live, what would you do?”

Their answers?

  • “Gee, I dunno. I guess I’d go fishing or something.”
  • “I would want to be with my family and friends. And I’d probably try to eat as many of my favorite foods and listen to as many of my favorite CDs as I could.”
  • “If I only had one day left on earth, there’s no question what I would want to do. I’d want to spend it with a beautiful girl like you.”

Jessica is sure that the girl will select the romantic Candidate #3, and is shocked when she instead selects the “honest and sincere” Candidate #2.

Honest and sincere. Jessica thought about that for a moment. It was definitely an approach she wouldn’t have come up with on her own. But the longer she watched the show, the more she thought it just might work. How could she become more honest and sincere before Saturday?

Best paragraph in the book, not close.

[Wing: I LOVE HER. Also, Jessica’s immediate answer to the question: Kill all those people still on my death list.]

Jess decides she can fake honesty and sincerity, with a little help and guidance from her sainted sister. She dashes to Elizabeth’s room.

In a staggering display of self-awareness, Jessica cajoles her long-suffering sibling into helping her become a more honest and sincere person. It begins with this glorious exchange:

Jessica perched on the edge of her sister’s bed. “I need your help,” she said. “I want to learn how to be more honest and sincere. And I thought you could help me.”

Elizabeth dropped her pencil in surprise. “What?”

Jessica smiled brightly. “Honest and sincere. You know, more like you.”

“Why?” Elizabeth asked bluntly.

… and progresses to actual advice on how to be honest and sincere. Advice such as “always tell the truth” and “be honest with yourself”, although Elizabeth might as well be speaking in Swahili for all the good it does.

Predictably, Jessica thinks it’s all a little too much for her, and sojourns to the bathroom to imbibe an aspirin.

Thursday evening, and Sophia calls Patrick to clandestinely discuss their plans to cheat the Young Love team out of one pair of Dizzy Planet tickets. Sophia’s subterfuge includes her fielding the call while huddled in a hidey-hole… her hall closet.

It’s not just Sophia taking precautions, mind. A tense and shaking Patrick believes spies may be eavesdropping, and refuses to discuss anything over the phone. They vow to speak face-to-face the following afternoon once school is over. [Dove: “Spies” being those siblings he never had before this book. One of which might be a girl named Jo.] [Wing: The lack of logic behind this paranoia aside, I think Sophia hiding in the closet with the phone is adorable. Shades of Judy Blume characters.]

As she readies herself for bed, Sophia muses over her choses coded question. Patrick would ask this:

“What’s your favourite food?”

And Sophia would reply with this:

“Poetry, for woman does not live by bread alone.”

I mean, what a poncey response to such a simple question! If I sked that question, I’d definitely go for whoever answered with the far less prosaic “Maltesers.”

We’re in Chapter Ten now, and we’re not even at the game show. I realise this is a two-book series, but I’d have thought we’d have made it to the meat of this plot by now. But no, it’s still $NotSaturday. In fact, it’s Friday afternoon, and Amy is questioning why Elizabeth didn’t accept her invitation to watch a taped episode of Young Love with her best friends.

In the discussion, Amy inadvertently reveals that she will be appearing on the show, although she doesn’t reveal whether she’s a Contestant or a Candidate. She also tells Elizabeth about the hilarious Byron Miller, who spent a lot of the show bare punching down on a beleaguered and nervous twelve-year-old contestant, much to the delight of the braying masses in the cheap seats. And to the delight of Amy, naturally, who lapped it up.

Elizabeth frowned and thought back to the times she had seen Young Love. Now that she thought about it, the host did spend an awful lot of time making jokes at the expense of his guests—especially the contestants. “That doesn’t sound very nice.”

Amy shrugged. “I’m not worried. He mostly only picks on the contestants… oops.” She cast Elizabeth a sidelong glance. “You didn’t hear that, okay?”

I’m 100% with Elizabeth on this one. Bryon Miller is a prick. Also, Amy’s clumsy reveal that she’s a Candidate rather than a Contestant should mean instant disqualification for the entire school, but I guess she gets away with it this time.

Elizabeth, perturbed by the conversation, realises that she doesn’t want to be a Contestant on Young Love. She’d feel much happier being a Candidate, as they are away from the withering scorn of the third-rate Master of Ceremonies Mr Byron Miller. She also deduces, through Amy the Candidate’s use of the phrase Honest and Sincere, that Jessica is actually a Candidate too.

Through a series of well-actualised paragraphs, Elizabeth decides that the only decent course of action is to operate a little of the old Twin Magic, and switch places with Jessica, who she’s sure would relish the opportunity to flirt with Byron Miller for the comfort of a Contestant’s chair. Elizabeth does realise that this means she’s likely to miss her opportunity to snag a date with Todd at Dizzy Planet, but she’s smart enough to realise it was an outlier chance either way.

With a predictable twinge of conscience, she decides to put this plan into action. All she needs is Jessica’s tacit approval for the switch, which we all know will not be a problem for the conniving Fan Favourite.

Friday night, Casey’s Place. The Unicorns roll their collective eyes at Lila’s continued boasts about her trip to Dizzy Planet. Poor Lila, overcompensating for the fact that she wasn’t chosen to appear on Young Love. We also learn that Janet Howell has also been selected to appear on the show, which should reflect very well on the Unicorns.

As the chatter peaks and troughs, Jessica is dragged aside by a rather winded Elizabeth. In short, staccato bursts, Elizabeth aligns her reality with Jessica’s, and offers her sister the Contestant slot. Despite a few initial misgivings, Jessica jumps at the challenge. It would be her ideal chance to woo-and-screw young Bryon Miller. Maybe she could become the series co-host! [Dove: Typical Jessica. A+ for your wild daydreams. And a Z- if the ghostie actually makes it happen.]

A block from Casey’s Place, we have Patrick and Sophia’s furtive rendezvous. Patrick, it seems, is nervous from the get-go, and has immense difficulty focussing long enough to absorb the all-important code question to ask once they’re live on TV. Sophia plugs away, doing her best to get her beau to concentrate, but by the end of their meeting it seems that Patrick is heading for a clueless cock-up of epic proportions.

Just as things couldn’t get any worse for the clandestine plotters, a Young Love production van rolls into the mall parking lot, which draws the entire SVMS student body out of the surrounding shops and restaurants.

For some reason, the crowd that gathers is made up exclusively of middle schoolers, which is profoundly weird but I guess I’ll run with it. One of the van’s tinted windows slowly rolls down, to reveal the delicious Byron Miller lounging inside.

The crowd is understandably star-struck.

The game show host vamps with the crowd before the subject turns to the Secrecy Clause. Some students yell that it’s not fair, which sparks Byron to declare that the Secrecy Clause is deadly serious, and those that dare break it will be punished with Ordeal by Trebuchet. [Dove: That’s what this series lacks. A trebuchet. Someone make a note for when NaNo rolls around. Providing I’m not ill.] [Raven: I will hold you to this.] [Wing: Now I want an Ordeal by Trebuchet in all my fandoms.]

The crowd lap it up, basking in the show’s reflected glory. It’s all good fun… or is it? Byron fires out with a pre-taping play that is guaranteed to put the willies up all who hear it…

“Hey, go ahead and joke about it. That’s cool,” the host said breezily. “Just make sure you keep the secret, or you know what’ll happen.” He drew one finger across his throat. “It’s sayonara to your school dance. And nobody goes to Dizzy Planet.”

This supercilious shit-goblin is presenting as one of Fat Tony’s Goon Enforcers, with the SVMS kids being downtrodden shopkeepers forced to acquiesce to his protection racket. The warning hit Sophia the hardest, as her guilty conscience is playing on her mind. The consequences of discovery are dire indeed. She’s undeterred, but at least she’s no Ice Queen.

Aaron Dallas questions the veracity of Byron’s statement. Janet, being Janet, calls upon her memories of Quiz Show Cheating from the fifties, in which scandal resulted in FBI investigations and congressional hearings. This fizzes Sophia’s brain, who disappears to find Patrick to ensure there’ll be no catastrophic screw-ups tomorrow.

Breaking News!

We’re at Chapter Eleven, and finally backstage at the game show. Elizabeth is up in five minutes, which means, of course, it’s Jessica.

Jessica scans the room for the other Contestants. It seems it’s Janet, Patrick, Belinda Leyton, Rick Hunter, and Aaron Dallas. Okay then.

Jess is happy Aaron is a Contestant. This means that they will both be at Dizzy Planet, no matter what. And that they can ditch their dates if they prove to be duds. As Jess waits for her shot, Janet delivers a stinging and mean-spirited rebuke. She thinks that Jess is Elizabeth, after all.

Eventually, Elizabeth takes her place under the lights. The host, Byron, schmooses over, and Jessica becomes flustered. She flubs her simple greeting, and Byron, the shark he is, dives in for the kill immediately.

“W-W-What?” Jessica stammered. She was so busy staring at the good-looking host that for a second she almost forgot that she was supposed to be her twin. “Oh, I mean, hi.”

Byron winked at the studio audience. “I hope your candidates come up with better answers than that one,” he said with a laugh.

For some reason, Jess spends the entirety of her time being completely flummoxed and enthralled by Byron’s handsome features. Apparently, he’s the most handsome boy she’s ever seen. I call bullshit. And even is he were kidney-punchingly gorgeous, Jess has too much spit and vinegar to become such a cartoonish, dribbling mess. But I guess we’re here now, so we have to go with it. [Dove: I mean, she’s met Beau Dillon and Coco, she’s acted with Delores Duffay, and she’s related to an NFL quarterback, not to mention the other times she’s been on TV – Pea Pong, for example, or the Dance-a-thon – but sure, that same girl is floored by a good looking dude on TV.]

Jess tries flirting, badly, which results in yet another comedy jab from Byron the arsehole, and we head to the Candidate room as the show rumbles on.

In the Candidate room, the real Elizabeth watches in horror as Jessica makes her looks like a total buffoon. Her brilliant swapping plan did not account for Jessica behaving worse than Elizabeth ever would, and by abdicating her agency in this way, Elizabeth has left herself open for even greater ridicule. She prays that Jess will buck her ideas up and improve when she asks her questions.

We also see that Jessica’s Candidates are Todd Wilkins, Bruce Patman and Winston Egbert. Elizabeth kicks herself, as if she’d kept her cool and stuck with the original assignment, she’d have had a chance to earn a date with Todd.

Predictably, JessiBeth flubs her question:

“Candidate number one, what’s your favorite song? I mean, your favorite Johnny Buck song? Um, I mean, which one says what you’re looking for in a romance?”

Why the hell did Jessica and Elizabeth think that Elizabeth’s first question would be about Johnny fucking Buck?

Aside:

I guess it’s time for my main gripe about this show… Show Gripe #3.

In Blind Date / The Dating Game, it’s pretty obvious that the questions are scripted to an extent. I presume that the questions asked by the Contestants are likely written by the production team and assigned to the Contestant, and definitely handed to the Candidates before the filming so they can come up with some witty and romantic answers.

And that’s how it should be!

Because if it’s not like that, it’s FUCKING BORING TELEVISION.

Basically, this version of the show seems to give free reign to ask whatever they want, and answer off-the-cuff with whatever asinine flatulence that immediately springs to mind. How the hell is THAT good telly? At best, it’ll be incremental versions of “what’s your favourite colour? / I like purple”, and at WORST it’ll either be treading in weird copyright waters (“What’s your favourite Pokemon? / I like Snorlax”) or MASSIVELY inappropriate due to not being vetted (“I’m a huge fan of Racism. Candidate number one, what’s your least favourite ethnic minority?”)

This version of the game show is completely unfit for purpose.

[Dove: My gripe is even more simple. What’s the point of all the subterfuge with blindfolds and voice-changing microphones if they’re GOING TO USE EVERYONE’S REAL FUCKING NAMES? Haven’t they realised these kids go to school together?] [Raven: I was going to make the point that it’s only the Contestants’ names that are used, and the Candidates have no agency over the final decision, but Dove made the excellent point that Bruce knowing his Contestant was Elizabeth might make him throw the quiz in order to avoid a date with her, and so on. So yeah, it’s bullshit.]

End aside.

The candidates deliver to form. Todd is thoughtful and romantic, Bruce is arrogant and Winston is funny. We move on.

It’s the same story with the next question, which Jessica asks in a lifeless monotone that makes Byron the arsehole roll his eyes.

“Candidates, if you could be any kind of undersea creature for a day, what would you be?”

Todd? Dolphin (romantic).

Bruce? Shark (predatory).

Winston? Sea slug (humorous).

The final question is a complete horror show for the now floundering Jessica. She wants to ask “who is the most romantic man on TV?” … but what she actually asks is:

““Who thinks Byron Miller is the most romantic man on TV?”

I mean, fuck off! Proper cringe. I hate this Jessica, floundering and useless. I miss her gumption.

The candidates again answer to type. And in the aftermath, “Elizabeth” selects Candidate #1… Todd Wilkins. Hoorah.

Backstage, Jessica soon returns to normal. She’s glad she didn’t choose Winston (as the Unicorns would be mortified, despite the fact that Winston is a flippy Booster and likely pretty athletic), and she’s somehow disappointed that she didn’t pick Bruce, despite her having dates with him before this book and branding him a Grade Five Twatnozzle. As for Todd? He’s nice enough, it seems.

After a nice exchange with Aaron and another waspish barb from Janet, we move onto Sophia. She is is flipping out, imagining that Patrick will flub his part and they’d both be immediately arrested by the FBI. That’s pretty cute, especially when you factor in the Tony Rizzo flirting with jail time aspect of her life. [Dove: And the ghostie sobered up long enough to actually mention it.] Poor thing, no wonder she fears authority figures.

Next up, it’s time for Elizabeth to take to the stage, with the other candidates (Amy and Ellen). As she waits for her section to begin, she begins to consider Jessica’s now upcoming date with Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Todd. Would Jessica really go on a dream date with Todd?

I’m presuming this occurs more than once in Sweet Valley High. Something to look forward to, I guess.

[Dove: Readers: if any of you spoil the epic joy of the dating do-si-do that goes on after Twins, I will… well, do nothing. But you will have to live with giving spoilers to Raven. And you do not want that. I promise you. He’ll be really nice about it. But he’ll be disappointed. DO YOU WANT TO DISAPPOINT RAVEN?!] [Raven: I try to live life spoiler-free.]

She vows to warn Todd of the subterfuge, and settles in to her section. The Contestant? Aaron. OBVIOUSLY.

For some reason, she decides that instead of trying to win Aaron’s affections, and then swapping with Jessica when they both hit Dizzy Planet, the best thing to do is to make sure Aaron doesn’t choose her, as that would only make things worse? Damn, Liz, this is some stellar Idiot Ball bullshit right here. I thought you were the clever twin. [Wing: Ghostie sort of had them going well earlier but ever since Twin Magic, they’ve both become failboats.]

In a humorous scene, “Jessica” gives flat and uninspiring answers to Aaron’s passable questions, and in the end Jessica’s fucktoy selects Candidate #1… Amy. Go lank-haired spunkwaffle!

In the dull afterglow of the post-coital respite, Elizabeth realises what a terrible mistake she’s made. Of course, there’s no going back now. It seems that Jessica will be going to Dizzy Planet with Todd, Elizabeth will be staying at home. Sure, there’s the Valentines Dance to look forward to, but by them Jessica might be pregnant with Todd’s child. She’s a quick study, after all.

We snap to backstage, where Jessica is watching “Jessica” make a fool of herself on national TV.

Aside:

I’ve realised what winds me up most about this book.

I think, all things considered, that I’d have preferred reading a story in which the twins just legitimately appeared on Young Love, instead of one in which they appeared on Young Love with SHENANIGANS.

To use common wrestling parlance, this ending has been overbooked.

[Dove: This is now going to be a rehash of The Great Boyfriend Switch, which I unironically love. They didn’t need to have so much buffoonery going on. This could have easily been achieved by the random assignment of players, Jessica gets put into Todd’s group, she repeats something she heard on TV that makes her sound smart, so Todd picks her. Liz doesn’t want to be picked, so deliberately gives answers unlike herself, which makes her… I dunno, Bruce’s dream date. We could still have a dating mix-up, but it didn’t need to be so stupid. The characters didn’t need to be stupid.] [Wing: I would much prefer this plot.]

End aside.

There are two remaining sections of Young Love to discuss. In the first, Contestant Janet Howell selects the legitimately romantic Donald Zwerdling, much to his delight and her abject horror. I sense wedding bells in their future. In the second, we have the conclusion of the Sophia and Patrick arc, in which Patrick fluffs his code question, asking:

“Uh, I want to know—uh, that is—um—what do you like best about poetry?”

Sophia, inwardly groaning, readier herself to hopefully salvage things by mentioning “bread” in her response in an attempt to jog his memory.

Sophia took a deep breath. “I love everything about poetry,” she said, loudly and clearly. “Because after all, woman can’t live by bread alone.”

That should do it, she thought with relief.

Unfortunately, and amusingly, things don’t pan out that way. Or should I say… pain out? (That’s a quality French bread joke right there!) [Wing: NOPE.]

The answers from the remaining Candidates?

“A life without poetry,” Maria said, “is like bread without butter.”

… and…

Jennifer Norris cleared her throat shyly. “I love that it can be so romantic,” she squeaked out. “This is my favorite bit of poetry. ‘A Book of Verses underneath the Bough, A jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou.’”

Excellent work. Young Love, sponsored by Warburtons.

Of course, Patrick chooses Maria and not Sophia. Never mind, love. At least you’re not going to be arrested.

In the aftershow afterglow, Byron tells the throng that the cameras, and himself, will be at Dizzy Planet too, filming for the follow-up show. [Dove: Anyone else getting Jimmy Savile vibes?] This is the set-up to the second and final book of this series, I guess.

For the entirety of Chapter Thirteen, we have the couples backstage, bickering about their collective lots in life. No one is with a partner they remotely desire. As we’re winding up now, so it’s time to hit the bullets.

  • Byron tells everyone about their upcoming trip to Dizzy Planet, and the Valentines Dance.
  • Aaron speaks to “Elizabeth,” and mocks “Jessica’s” performance in her section, much to the real Jessica’s annoyance.
  • Elizabeth tries to salvage the situation with Jessica, only to have her ear bitten off by a Jess in no mood to back down.
  • Sophia is irate with a frankly incompetent Patrick Morris, and I for one agree with her.
  • Amy watches in amusement as Janet tries to wheedle out of her date with Donald by accosting a beleaguered producer.
  • Aaron, seeing Amy mock Janet, becomes angry and argues with the lank-haired spunkwaffle.
  • In the chaos, Jessica threatens to come clean about the whole debacle to a now casually gorgeous Byron Miller, but it pulled back from the brink at the eleventh hour by her hissing twin.
  • One by one, each couple decides that discretion is the better part of valour, and decide that they’d best stick to the script lest they get everything stripped away from them.

Byron has the last laugh here.

“If any of the couples back out of their dream date, the whole gig is off. Nobody goes to Dizzy Planet and nobody goes to the dance.” He shrugged again and flashed a smooth grin. “Welcome to show business.”

This, to me, smacks of the final scenes of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in which an apparently twisted Wonka tries to wheedle out of his obligations to Charlie claiming contractual discrepancies.

Aside:

This is my final Show Gripe… Show Gripe #4.

Where the BLUE FUCK are the adults?!

These are twelve-year-old kids appearing on national television, and you’re telling me there’s no safeguarding? No teachers, for this SCHOOL-DRIVEN appearance? No parents? No adults with any responsibility for the kids?

Of course not. Fucking Sweet Valley, man…

End aside.

And so, as the curtains close, we’re nicely set up for a second round of boyfriend chicanery. Should be fun!

Final Thoughts:

Overall? I liked this book. That may surprise you, but it’s true nonetheless.

I liked that a lot of stuff happened. I liked that the cast of peripherals was enormous. I liked the sass, and the structure, and excellent character work all round. I liked that Elizabeth was proven to be an idiot, and that not all plans work out for the best. I liked the build, and the setup for the second book, and the fact that there was no fucking Steven Wakefield.

But there were things I didn’t like. I didn’t like the show, or the logic behind it. I didn’t like Byron the host. I didn’t like the pacing, and I didn’t like the conclusion to the Essay section. And I didn’t like abdication of parental or guardianship responsibility.

But when all’s said and done, I am looking forward to the second instalment. So in that sense, this was a success.

[Dove: Me? I’m just happy we got away from the Wakefield dining table. After two books stuck inside the Wakefield compound, I’m bloody delighted to break free. This is obviously setting up a big old dating do-si-do, which I’m here for (not in actual romance books, but awkward silly tween, one of which is a murderer? Hells yes). Reading this book felt like a slow process. Having the actual dating show be wrapped up in a chapter and wasting god knows how many pages on the lead-up was tiresome. This book would have been a lot more charming if it had been paced better and roles assigned more sensibly. Still, stuff happened, and it wasn’t just about the twins arguing, so that’s a win. Let’s hope the next book is better paced. And books set in theme parks seem appealing, so I have hope for the next book, which is a nice (somewhat alien) feeling.]

[Wing: Though I haven’t yet read the next book, I don’t think there’s actually enough plot to need two books. This could have been trimmed (and the storyline modified per Dove’s earlier suggestion) and the entire show and group date could have been in a better-paced single book. Still, this one wasn’t terrible. I didn’t like it as much as Dove and Raven did.]

Looking back at things I've enjoyed, and smashing them to pieces with the Snark-Hammer. Lover of games of every stripe and hue. NOT A REAL BIRD.