Title: Tug of War
Tagline: May the odds be ever in your favour. There can only be one winner!
Summary: The halls of Sweet Valley Middle School are buzzing. Identical twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are running against each other for sixth-grade president! It’s sure to be the most dramatic event of the year – because each one will go to any length to win.
The candidates disagree on everything, right down to how they should make use of the sixth-grade class money. But all this fighting can’t go on without taking its toll. Both sisters know that if they want to remain friends, one of them will have to drop out of the race. But which one will it be?
This is a story I don’t like, because it comes hot on the heels of Buried Treasure, which again has Elizabeth running for another student council position, and it feels way too early in the series to be reusing plots.
The Cover: Jessica is two seconds away from thwapping Elizabeth’s smug face with that sign. And I’m ok with that. Also, Elizabeth, are you eight? I swear I wore that dress to Selina H’s birthday party when she was eight. We played murder in the dark. [Wing: I would like more details on this game, because I am unhappy to be back to a Wakefield book after my surprise joy during my last recap.] [Raven: Ah, Murder in the Dark. One of the sexier games when I was a kid.] [Dove: Were you playing with Mr Nydick?] [Wing: On the one hand, this sounds like way more fun than Heads Up, Seven Up, which is what we played in school all the time. On the other hand, if I’ve found the right game, I much prefer the version called Werewolf. Shocking, I know.]
Also, they’re in Lib Dem and Tory colours. Not a good sign.
We open with Linda Lloyd’s leaving party. Who is Linda Lloyd? Gosh, you know Linda! She’s been mentioned all the time (during the last few pages of the last book) and isn’t at all a brand new creation in the series as the plot requires!
Linda is sixth grade president but she’s moving to Texas, so Mrs Arnette is letting her class glut themselves on cookies, cupcakes and other sugary, high fat treats (and it’s ok, because there’s no mention of Lois the fatty, so all of the eating is the attractive kind).
For some reason, Jessica isn’t in Mrs Arnette’s class in this book, despite the fact that she clearly was in the first book, so Elizabeth steals the final cupcake and gives it to Jessica at lunch. Now Linda’s going, Amy thinks Elizabeth should be class president, but the Unicorns think that one of their tribe should be in charge. I personally think this would be a bad idea, as Jessica’s first port of call would be to build a wall around the Unicorner and ban all fatties from entering the school.
While they’re discussing this at the Unicorner, Jim Sturbridge wanders over and asks what they’re talking about. He thinks the class president should be a boy (cool your boots, Jim, that book isn’t until next month!) and then for a joke points at the nearest nerd and says it should be him.
Nerd de jour is Randy Mason, who is shy and studious and likes computers more than people (I can empathise with the latter). Jim calls over that, ha ha, he’s going to nominate Randy for president, and what does Randy think of that? Randy politely and sincerely thanks him for the nomination, then excuses himself from the conversation and walks away. And yes, I will always love Randy for this. [Raven: I called the election result right here.]
Julie Porter then comes running over to announce that BIG NEWS! The sixth grade will be running the book fair, and EVEN BETTER, this means they can decide how the profits get spent.
Naturally the Unicorns want to spend the money on the big old party, whereas Elizabeth and Amy think the money should go back into the school, and they should buy a VCR for the library. (I’m on book 99 and I have never seen these kids watch a video for school; I have seen them attend a gazillion dances, so I know where I’d put the money.) Jessica counters that the party could be book-themed, but Elizabeth has the moral high ground and won’t give. Julie says she’ll tell Mr Bowman both ideas and see what he says. Which makes me think even Julie wants a party.
As soon as Julie left them, Jessica turned to Elizabeth. “Are there any famous books about twins? Maybe we could dress up like them!”
I see you trying to be all meta, book. You’re about a decade too early. [Wing: Also, Elizabeth says she can’t think of any, but at the very least, there’s the Bobbsey Twins, which while fraternal are still popular twins around this time.] [Dove: Excellent point, since I’m pretty sure Steven refers to the twins as the Bobbsey Twins in book 1.] [Wing: Psh, what’s continuity anyway?]
In the next chapter, Elizabeth is just finishing her riding lesson… why we couldn’t see a riding lesson in the actual horse book I don’t know. But this raises several issues for me:
Some day, she vowed, she’d have a horse of her own. But for now, a handsome stallion would do nicely.
I don’t know why non-horse-people keep insisting on kids riding stallions, but this is a very bad idea. Stallions tend to be a little wild until they’re gelded, and even if they’re not, they’re breeding stock and not something you want to put a beginner on. I guess using the word “gelding” would be too horsey? Also, the second sentence is way too porny for a tween book.
[Wing: But considering how many times this site has been flagged, just porny enough for our recaps.]
Trotting along the field on a horse, with the wind in her hair, was the best feeling in the world.
No, moron, it’s not. The trot is the least comfortable pace. If you’re aiming for a “faster than a walk that isn’t too fast/show-offy” then what you want is a canter, which is a very comfortable pace. Also, the wind shouldn’t be in her hair because she should be wearing a hard hat with it neatly tied up and out of the way.
The instructor that day was Donna, who had ridden in dozens of shows.
Because that’s what’s important. How much pot-hunting you’ve done. Someone with a few horses and a free summer can ride in “dozens of shows”. I’d rather learn from someone with years of experience.
“You’re developing real form,” Donna continued. “You know, Elizabeth, I think you’ve got the makings of a real horsewoman.”
Keep up, Donna. Elizabeth is already the BEST RIDER EVAH. She taught herself to jump.
When Elizabeth gets home, she rushes up to Jessica’s room to tell her that Donna has figured out how utterly Elizabeth has mastered equitation, but Lila and Ellen are there, discussing what book character to go as to the party (that still hasn’t had the green light).
Elizabeth realises that she’s completely invisible to them and goes to her room to feel sorry for herself. Look, she’s wearing riding clothes and nobody asked how her lesson went. Seriously, Elizabeth, woman up. You just asked the three most selfish dickheads on the planet to care about you? Especially since you despise Lila and Ellen and find them shallow.
Thankfully Amy and Julie (who is apparently Elizabeth’s backup friend, since Nora, Brooke and Sophia are no longer issue-riddled) [Wing: Don’t forget Mary, the only Unicorn besides Jessica that Elizabeth claims, sometimes, to actually like. Though she certainly goes back and forth on hanging out with the Unicorns from book to book.] show up, and they do ask her how her lesson went, so she can boast about it. Julie says that Mr Bowman liked both ideas, and he’s going to let the class president decide, so now it will be part of the campaign.
Team Boring are stumped by this, since the Unicorns are so popular and they’ll go for a party. For some reason Amy and Julie are not considered as potential candidates, I can only assume because all three of them know that only Elizabeth is popular enough to appeal to both the boring and the fun people at school. Amy brings up the fact that Elizabeth is student council treasurer, and can she do both?
Amy? Bringing up the fact that two books ago we had a very similar plot isn’t going to help me get over the laziness of plotting here. [Raven: See, I didn’t mind this, as the Student Council Treasurer Elections were such a small part of that book, and not fully realised. While in this book, the elections ARE the story.] [Wing: I suppose it could be worse, too. At least there’s a reason for the new election. They could have just written another one with no explanation other than Sweet Valley Time.]
Amy and Julie suggest they tiptoe through the bathroom that connects Elizabeth and Jessica’s bedrooms, and eavesdrop on what the Unicorns are talking about. Elizabeth is scandalised! That’s naughty. Also, what exactly do Team Boring expect to hear? The Unicorns have already said they want a party, do you honestly think they’ll have any more campaign ideas than that?
Later Jessica enthuses about Gone with the Wind and how she wants to dress as Scarlett O’Hara, and this is just daft. Jessica has the attention span of a gnat. As of book 6, she adored a film with a name as insipid as Car Capers, and in the last book she adored Dream Chaser, these titles are the kind you see written in “wacky” fonts in the £1.99 bin at Mozzers. (That’s “Morrison’s” to the southerners. Or “the supermarket” to the non-English.) Gone with the Wind’s running time is two minutes shy of four hours. I find it impossible to believe that Jessica would sit still that long. Or comprehend a story that ran that long.
tl;dr: in a desperate attempt not to date this book, the fleet of ghost-writers picked a classic movie. And it really doesn’t fit.
[Wing: However, Scarlett O’Hara is exactly the kind of character Jessica would love: self-centered, selfish, spoiled, and refuses to take “no” for an answer. Also racist as fuck, though since Sweet Valley is so far Whitey McWhiterson, I suppose we shall never know about Jessica.]
[Raven: I had this on VHS video, back in the day. It had a fifteen-minute interval. On the video. If I recall correctly, it was a picture of some flowers, overlayed with organ music. They definitely don’t make ’em like that anymore.]
[Wing: Now you’re making me all nostalgic for movies with intervals. I think one of the copies I had of The Sound of Music growing up had one, too.]
The next day at school, there’s an assembly to get the nominations for student president. Before it starts, Amy says she feels bad about supporting Peter DeHaven for treasurer. Elizabeth asks if Amy knows who to nominate, and Amy’s all coy, and like “maybe, dunno, teehee.”
And then Elizabeth, moron extraordinaire, is shocked when Amy nominates her.
Doubly so when Lila nominates Jessica, and it’s twin vs twin. Two enter the battledome, only one leaves, etc.
Then Jim nominates Randy, and Elizabeth forgets that she’s in a twin vs twin deathmatch, long enough to patronisingly think, “Aww, bless poor stupid Randy. He doesn’t realise everyone’s having a laugh at him. He’s actually pleased.”
Or maybe, precious pumpkin, he does realise that Jim’s having a laugh at his expense (because we socially awkward types are always aware of shit like that), and actually wants the job regardless, and a nomination is a nomination. To quote Raven: Get fucked, you twinny bellend.
As they moved out of the auditorium, Mr. Bowman stopped her. “Congratulations, Elizabeth,” he said. “So you’ll be running against your own sister! This should be an unusual experience.”
Unusual wasn’t the word for it, Elizabeth thought. She couldn’t even think of a word that would describe the way she was feeling. She wondered if Jessica was feeling as odd about all this as she was.
This was literally set up in the first chapter. Stop acting like you never saw it coming. You had the discussion with the Unicorns at lunch, and then Lila and Ellen came to the house to repeat that conversation… this is not shocking news, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth talks to Jessica, and asks if Jessica’s feeling all these emotions about being in competition with her dearest darlingest twin, and Jess is like, “lol, nope. We’ll see who has the most friends.” And if you don’t love Jessica for that, then you really don’t hate Elizabeth and her feels as much as you should. Elizabeth starts laying the groundwork for Raven’s favourite line in these books, asking Jessica to make sure the fight doesn’t come between them, and they’ll always be best friends.
And once again, Jessica’s like, “lolz, bitches. I’m gonna win, so as long as you’re ok with that, I’m ok with that. Laterz.”
At dinner, they discuss the situation, and Daddy Wakefield makes an observation which couldn’t make it any clearer that he’s never met either of his daughters ever.
Mr. Wakefield nodded in approval. “I expect both of you to have a healthy and friendly competition. No back-stabbing or anything like that. And whichever twin wins, I’m sure the other will be happy for her.”
After dinner, Elizabeth worries that she’s not going to win. Or that Lila might do something mean to her.
She knew how mean Lila could be – and if Lila was handling Jessica’s campaign, there was no telling what could go on.
Don’t be ridiculous, she told herself sternly. Jessica would never do anything sneaky or nasty to win – not to her own sister.
Elizabeth, have you met Jessica? As Wing repeatedly says: SHE STOLE THE SHOES OFF YOUR FEET. She told everyone you were teacher’s pet (well, actually she had a point there). She bullied Nora Mercandy to bits. She terrorized Amy when she wanted to join the Boosters. She stole your new dress, shoes and jacket and your mother’s birthday present in order to look pretty at a concert. She created a third twin to bully Brooke. She blabbed about Mary’s pending adoption, even though Mary wasn’t sure and wanted it kept quiet. She… well, actually she didn’t do much in the horse book, but neither did anyone else. She helped blackball the entire play because Sophia is poor. She made herself a martyr because she hurt her ankle. She stole money. She blabbed the sithigecrithiget so she could go to a party. And… well, last book she actually behaved herself, which was unusual. But to surmise: we’re thirteen books in and she’s only been nice for one book, and that’s because she was largely off screen. You’re fucking doomed.
[Wing: To be fair, last book focused very little on the Wakefields, and was all about a Unicorn, so Jessica didn’t have a lot of time to be terrible. I’m sure she was off frolicking around Sweet Valley making everyone’s lives miserable. We just didn’t have to see it. God, I miss that book already.]
[Raven: Don’t forget, she left a dog to die too. She’s evil to the core.]
The next day, Jessica invites the Unicorns over to plan her campaign, and Elizabeth goes to Casey’s with Amy and Julie to do the same and eat ice cream. Amy and Julie point out that Jessica is a monster, but Elizabeth stoutly believes that Jessica’s monstrousness is only targeted at non-Elizabeths. Elizabeth is a barely functioning moron.
Elizabeth’s campaign is:
- An award for the best teacher, with a trophy paid for by the students.
- VCR for the library.
“These are great ideas,” Julie said, looking over the list with approval. “I bet the other kids will think so, too.”
Those are two ideas, Julie. And to be honest, not everyone adores their teachers the way you do. So a sizeable chunk of students will resent the idea of paying money to praise a teacher that they do not give a shit about. Also, they sneer about how Jessica’s campaign is probably “have more parties”, and yet they only have one more idea than her.
To be fair, they also say that they’ll do something about getting better cafeteria food, but Elizabeth upfront admits that she wouldn’t actually be able to do that. She’s taking to politics like a duck to water.
Randy walks up and congratulates her on being nominated. She returns the congratulation, while secretly thinking “Aww, poor Randy. He’s a nerd. He’ll never win. He doesn’t even know he’s a nerd.”
And it’s shit like that that will always make Jessica my favourite. She may be a monster, but at least she’s open about it.
When she gets home, she writes her three ideas in block capitals, drafting up a flyer. Jessica comes in and says that the best teacher award part is boring, and “who’s going to read a dumb flyer anyway?” Elizabeth hits back that it’s better than a pool party. Jessica accuses Elizabeth of spying, and two can play at that game and…
The next day Team Boring run off their flyers, but get distracted when new books come into the library, so leave their flyers on the copier and go look at the new books. Their flyers are missing when they come back, and Team Boring foolishly assumes that someone walked off with 150 flyers by mistake.
Randy’s got a flyer on the bulletin board, it reads thusly:
in advocating rights and issues
pertinent to all sixth-grade students,
vote for Randy Mason
Team Evil naturally stole the flyers and dumped them in the fountain. Elizabeth and her friends are on detention to clean up the fountain because she’s too scared of the school secretary to tell her what happened, even without naming names, since she’s still convinced Jessica would never do something like that. But then when Amy and Julie ask who knew about the flyers, it becomes apparent that actually, even if Jessica didn’t do it herself, she did have her harpies do it for her.
At the pool party, we discover that Jessica didn’t say zip about the flyers and it was a crime of opportunity. Ellen saw the flyers and acted. Jessica worries that Elizabeth might retaliate, so she confides in Lila, who suggests that she snoop around Elizabeth’s room to see if she’s planning anything.
When Jessica gets home, Amy and Julie are just leaving and talking cryptically about their plan. Jessica asks what they’re talking about, but Elizabeth says it’s campaign talk. Jessica then snaps that she hopes that Elizabeth didn’t get too wet fishing all the flyers out of the fountain and Elizabeth stomps off.
With Elizabeth out of the way, Jessica raids her room and finds that Elizabeth is planning a rally after the soccer game. She calls Lila and asks what to do, Elizabeth’s a good talker, they won’t be able to top it. Lila says no need to top it, they just need to stop it.
Which they do by handing out free singles of Johnny Buck’s new song (courtesy of Lila’s dad’s bigwig contacts) in the parking lot after the game [Raven: Johnny Buck’s new rap single, Buck The Police, is available in all good record stores.], leaving Elizabeth with around ten people to talk to, instead of… the entire football field?
Elizabeth gets home in tears, and Steven tells her to woman up. If Jessica is going to be a dick, then Elizabeth should do the same. He shows her Jessica’s new poster, featuring a large picture of her, and suggest Elizabeth deface it. Initially she doesn’t, because DOORMAT. But then she thinks about how Jessica has fucked everything up so far, so she grabs herself a sharpie and draws a big moustache on Jessica’s smug face.
You know any of us recappers would have draw a massive cock and balls. Especially Raven. [Raven: Obviously. Although what you call a cock and balls, I’d call Steven and the Twins.]
Jessica finds out quite quickly and confronts Elizabeth and the pair of them have a shouting match over who started it. Because twelve year olds. Mama Wakefield rouses herself from her gin stupor long enough to investigate the source of the row. She suggests they drop out of the election, but both kids veto that idea, so instead she just asks them to play nice and stop the “nasty little tricks” – the latter is said whilst eyeballing Elizabeth, so we have confirmation that Alice has never met either of her daughters either.
The twins are now only speaking to each other when in the presence of their parents. Elizabeth wonders if she should drop out, but ultimately decides not to. She has time to think a patronising “Aw, bless the little nerd, who has no idea he won’t win,” every time she sees Randy.
“He’ll probably say he wants to spend the book fair money on computer equipment,” Julie said. “And since we’ve already got loads of that stuff, I don’t think anyone’s going to get too excited about that idea.”
Excuse me? It’s the 80s and you have “loads” of computer equipment, but you can’t afford a VCR? What the fuck is going on in the funding of this school? In the 80s, my school had one computer for the entire school (it was one a wheelie desk and had to be moved from classroom to classroom), but we also did have a VCR. And I come from a very wealthy area. Like, millionaires live there affluent. Or, to put it how Raven put it, “Everyone here has a Barbour jacket and a shooting stick, don’t they?”
Also, if you have “loads” of computer equipment, why on earth are you manually typing the newspaper on typewriters and running it through some ancient inking device, the name of which escapes me? Why not just type it up on one of your “loads” of computers, and print (but in the 80s, the era of dot matrix printers being the norm and there being that one Cannon inkjet printer that you’re only allowed to use on special occasions, print once and photocopy).
[Wing: We had multiple VCRs in my very poor school in the 80s. I don’t understand Sweet Valley at all.]
[Raven: I think you’ll find that all the VCRs in Sweet Valley have been stolen by Tony Rizzo.]
[Dove: In that case, I think they should buy a cheap second-hand VCR from Tony, and have a party with a few less streamers. Win win.]
Team Boring patronisingly decide to go to Randy’s rally, since they’re convinced that nobody will show up, so at least he can talk to them. There actually are a couple more people there when the get there.
Randy’s ideas are actually really smart, and he has more than two. His plans are:
- Putting school activities on a computer, so they can be looked up easily.
- Charity work as a sixth grade project: sponsoring a child in a foreign country.
- Competitive activities for people who don’t like/can’t do physical sport. (I guess since Jessica’s ankle healed, Pamela has ceased to exist and the disabled can go fuck themselves if they want to be included. So Randy, you’re adorable.)
- Book fair money: use the money to throw a party, but charge admittance, so the proceeds of the party can be used to buy a VCR.
[Wing: I’m voting for him.] [Raven: Obviously. Team Peripheral Character FTW!]
Team Boring walk home together, and Amy and Julie encourage Elizabeth to steal Randy’s idea, because he’s a nerd, he can’t possibly win, and Elizabeth can with her popularity, so it’s the best thing to do. Elizabeth tentatively says that she’ll take the idea, but tell everyone it was Randy’s idea, but it doesn’t feel right. Team Boring, aren’t you supposed to be the “better” ones? The ones that aren’t dickheads?
After a discussion with her mother, during which Alice has to ask if Elizabeth would be stealing Randy’s idea, because we know that Alice isn’t too clear on what is and is not theft, Elizabeth still feels shady about idea theft. AS SHE SHOULD.
The twins make up and clear the air, and it’s all awesome, because this time tomorrow, one of them will be student president.
The next day they all have to make their pitches at assembly. Jessica goes first, and has nothing to say except she’s going to be throwing a party. When asked what else she plans to do as president, her response is best summed up as, “lolwut?”
Elizabeth goes next and announces she’s dropping out because Randy’s ideas are much better.
And just in case you missed how fucking generous and brave Elizabeth the Fucking Saint Wakefield is:
“Wow,” the girl sitting next to her whispered. “That took real guts.”
And again, just in case you still don’t understand why Elizabeth dropped out:
“Why did you do that?” Amy asked.
Elizabeth smiled. “He had the best idea, and he ought to win. But I knew he couldn’t win against both me and Jessica. So I figured by dropping out and throwing him my votes, he might have a chance.”
This book is really scared we’re thick, isn’t it?
And naturally, Randy wins. He puts Jessica in charge of organising the party. [Wing: Because Randy is both a fucking genius compared to everyone else in Sweet Valley, and also the only person who appears to have figured out the way both twins work. Four for you, Randy Mason. And none for any of the fucking Wakefields.] And the Wakefield parents gush over how proud they are of Elizabeth’s brave sacrifice and how well Jessica is taking defeat and I just want to stab things with forks.
And the next chapter is the lead-in to the next book, where Jessica wants to date an older boy, because he could drive. Elizabeth points out that not many sixteen year olds want to date twelve year olds, and to paraphrase Streewise/American Heart, “Twelve’ll get you twenty” is why.
She goes rollerskating with Lila and what do you know? She meets a sixteen year old boy called Josh Angler, in a sickening meet-cute where someone cuts her up and she stumbles and he catches her. [Raven: Sixteen year old boy called Josh Angler, or disguised fifty-something Teacherpede Mr Nydick? Join us next week to find out!] [Wing: Chris Hansen will be our guest recapper.*]
To be honest, this book isn’t that bad. My problem with it is that only two books ago we had Elizabeth running for some student council position – and that book sucked, so this one has to wash off the plot-reuse and the stench of bad writing from Buried Treasure.
Elizabeth was insufferable with her patronising little thoughts about Randy dotted throughout. I just wanted to slap her smug little face. Especially after she magnanimously dropped out for him and was so damned proud of herself. But, to be honest, that’s always how I feel about Elizabeth.
[Wing: Mostly, it’s boring, with some random fat hate thrown at Lois who doesn’t even appear in the damn book. If it didn’t come right after Stretching the Truth, it would have just been bland and boring and repetitive, but since it did, I’m mostly annoyed we’re back focusing on the Wakefields.]
[Raven: I actually quite liked this one. Having the twins at serious odds with one another was refreshing, and I thought showing Randy as both competent and confident (and successful!) while being branded a nerd was quite progressive. I’d have preferred Liz to stick in the vote and still get beaten by Randy, but I suppose that would grant their classmates with more credit than they’ve had in the preceeding books. So yeah, this month Jamie Suzanne is two-for-two with me… let’s see if the third can keep the streak alive, or if it bolsters Meat Loaf’s assertion that 66.6% is perfectly acceptible in most circumstances.]
[Wing: That’s a good point about the twins being at serious odds, especially with Elizabeth finally admitting they’re at odds. Usually Jessica is full tilt hater, and Elizabeth is making excuse. And Meat Loaf is always correct.]
[Wing: *Lies. I wish Chris Hansen would be our guest recapper.**]
[Wing: ** Also lies.]
I am Dove (she/her). I am: Team Jessica (Sweet Valley); Team Bad Guy (Point Horror); Team Geiger (Making Out); Team Nina/Lucas (Making Out); and I am the voice of a claymation cow named Daisy, and I was in an advert for Fairy Liquid in the 80s.