Title: Claim to Fame
Tagline: Which twin will go down in history? [Raven: Jessica, of course. Murder One.]
Summary: For its 25th anniversary celebration, Sweet Valley Middle School is burying a time capsule – and a special school-wide contest will decide what goes inside. Identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are each determined to win. Jessica is teamed with her fellow Unicorns, and Elizabeth and her friends are with George Henkel, the shyest boy in school, who is without a mother and hardly ever sees his father.
With the race just about even, Elizabeth stumbles on the one thing that will definitely make her team win – an old football that belongs to George Henkel’s father! It’s the football that was used to score the winning touchdown at Sweet Valley’s first state championship. Now, there’s more at stake than just winning. Maybe Elizabeth can also bring George and his dad back together again… if Jessica doesn’t get to the football first!
Thrilling cover. The twins. Being twinny.
What the hell has this got to do with fame? Maybe a promo shot for whatever fame-related escapades occur in the narrative. Either that, or it’s an advertisement for a specialist massage parlour.
Hopefully the book will have a happy ending.
Elizabeth Wakefield and Julie Porter discuss Sweet Valley Middle School’s upcoming 25th anniversary. SVMS: Celebrating 25 Years of Suckitutde. Apparently, some sort of contest is planned, the rules of which are shrouded in mystery. Let’s brainstorm some ideas:
- The Mr Bowman Prize for the crappiest clothes in school.
- Madame Andre’s Close Combat Ballet Battle – Plie to the Death!
- Unicorn 24-hour non-stop Mockathon.
- A One-on-One Nydick Perv-Off.
It seems the other kids in are also totally John Snow on the whole affair: they know nothing. Jessica, however, believes Lila knows more than she would care to admit, which I guess is true, as we all suspect Lila knows how to have her enemies assassinated.
Liz’s friends start criticising Lila, calling her snobby, and mocking the Unicorns by extension. If only Lila could hear them, such backbiting would see them fast-tracked to Unicorndom quicker that she could say “purple muff rabbit”.
Don’t Google “Unicorning.”
Elizabeth sticks up for Jessica and her choice of friend, and we lurch wearily into the Stock Paragraphs describing the twins and their uncanny similarities and differences. As is my custom…
“Elizabeth Wakefield is destined to rule America as a just and noble leader. Jessica Wakefield is destined to rule Cell Block J with an iron fist and a sharpened toothbrush handle.”
“In the West, there shines a star. It is bright and true. It is hope, and it is love. It is called… Elizabeth. In the East, there swirls a vortex. It is black as tar, powerful. It swells, and it devours. It is called… Jessica.”
“Liz is a whizz! Jess is a mess.”
Suddenly, the SVTMS teaching staff summon the student body to Assembly. Apparently, the staff have ceased huffing paint for a few minutes and decided that their 25-year avoidance of being shut down for child neglect needs some sort of orgiastic binge of hedonism, heroin, and Horlicks.
There’s going to be a dance! With a Sixties theme! Yay!
More importantly, Mrs Arnette has the real news of the day…
Under the soon-to-be-freshly-made softball pitch, the school plans to plant… a Time Capsule!
The contents of the capsule are to be determined by a contest. In groups of four, participating students must source three items that symbolise the Sixties, preferably with a school connection. In two weeks, a panel of teachers (i.e. whoever happens to be sober) will choose the team with the best collection, which will be placed in the Time Capsule. The winners will be appear in the local press, and – this is the kicker – the photo will be placed into the Time Capsule too! [Dove: Why oh why are they planting a time capsule from “now”, that sums up what “now” thinks sums up 25 years ago? WTF, idiots?]
Jessica, Lila, Tamara Chase and Ellen Riteman vow to win the contest. The photo in the capsule, it seems, is the icing on the cake. The legacy of the Unicorns must live on forever, in Time Capsule Photo form. Lila vows that they will find the best pieces of Sixties memorabilia, even if they have to kill someone to make it happen (I may have overstated her zeal here).
Elizabeth, Amy Sutton and Julie Porter join forces for the contest, and immediately begin discussing options. Julie’s dad was a hippy, apparently, although he’s obviously abandoned his bell-bottomed principles and burnt his dreamcatcher to chase the perfect life and American dollar in Sweet Valley.
The following quote is presented without context or comment:
“Love beads!” Elizabeth tried to picture Julie’s father.
As the girls chat about Sixties sex toys, Mrs Arnette notices that the three girls are not a group of four. This is a mean feat considering she’s likely seeing double through her vodka haze. As a result, she foists a sadsack classmate on them: George Henkel, a confirmed friendless loner.
Amy and Julie mumble their agreement as Liz plays the Brave Little Booster and asks George to join them.
He stared at them, as if he wasn’t sure if he’d heard [Elizabeth] correctly. “You want me on your team?”
The girls nodded.
Poor George. Don’t worry, Saint Elizabeth is on the case, championing the downtrodden and disillusioned. A spit-and-polish and a mental spruce and he’ll be ankle-deep in thrown panties.
Liz mentions her neighbour, a strange reclusive gent in a wheelchair named Howard Henkel. Is George a relation? Yes, Howard is his father. Liz is surprised, as she’s never seen George there before. Not as surprised as we are, you twinny bellend; we’ve never seen you there either.
George glosses over things. He lives with his aunt and uncle.
“Where’s your mother?” Amy asked bluntly.
“She’s dead,” George replied.
BOOM! Fuck you, Amy. You go blunt, George goes OPTIMUS BLUNT.
The group agree to meet the following day, and Elizabeth spends the rest of her school day ignoring the teachers and idly wondering why George doesn’t live with his father. I hope it’s something hideous… maybe Howard Henkel fiddles with dogs or something. I’d love to read the Sweet Valley take on some proper deviance.
Also, I’d take Liz to task about daydreaming in lessons, and marvel that she can maintain good grades despite being a flaky cock, but with the teaching staff in this insipid school are about as useful as Anne Frank’s drum kit. She’s probably flunking everything while the staff mix up her results with Winston Egbert’s.
We cut to Jessica the following morning, lying in bed and dreaming of the future hunks fawning over her beautiful picture as they crack open the Time Capsule. At breakfast, we learn she is meeting her Unigibbon cohorts at the mall, and that Elizabeth rose early to visit Mr Henkel. This is NOT AS SURPRISING AS IT SHOULD BE, simply because the entire series has Liz latching onto the Peripheral Of The Week like a lovesick limpet every other fucking book.
After spouting an expected “creepy old guy bleargh” line, Jess asks her mother is she has any Sixties Sweet Valley Middle School crap she can bogart for her Time Capsule Team. When Alice replies in the nugatory, while Stephen listens, Jessica explains the contest and lets slip that her sister is on a different team. This, she believes, gives Stephen the ammunition he needs to take sides and tease her mercilessly, which is surprising as we all know that Stephen would definitely root for Jessica. No hang on, Stephen would definitely root Jessica. Yeah, that’s it.
Mummy promises to search through some bags o’ crap. Go Alice.
At the mall later that day, the Unicorns discuss options. After a few lame-ass suggestions such as scrapbook pictures or old clothes, the girls take their task a little more seriously and decide to tread the mall floor in search of the perfect purveyor of capsule chattels.
As they linger outside a poster shop, Bruce Patman boasts of his team’s successful find: the hood ornament from his father’s first car, a Corvette Stingray. Bruce being Bruce, he’s not asked his father’s permission to put the hood ornament into the Time Capsule, so the Unicorns are underwhelmed by the whole exchange. This, of course, mirrors my feelings on the book thus far.
In the poster store, the Unicorns finally buy the first piece of their contest entry: an original movie poster for something called Bikini Beach Party.
Yeah, that’s pretty shit right there.
I’ve just looked up Bikini Beach Party on IMDB. Sure enough, there was something with that name, filmed in the Sixties.
However, it was filmed in the Philippines. Over multiple volumes. With gaudy covers that are NOT AT ALL tasteful.
I’m pretty sure it’s porn.
Go check it out, tell me what you think.
There is, however, a Bikini Beach, filmed in 1964, which looks more promising. Here’s the poster:
I’m choosing to go with this one. Much better.
On the way back to Lila’s house, the Unicorns promise to pump their parents for possible paraphernalia. Lila also tasks Jessica to spy on Elizabeth’s contest progress. This is strangely unappealing to Jess, who has thus far showed no compunction in undermining Elizabeth in everything she does.
Back at Chez Lila, the Unicorns find the second piece of their contest entry: a vinyl copy of Meet the Beatles.
Yeah, this one exists.
Lila gasped and whirled around. “The Beatles! They were big in the Sixties!”
To be fair, I quite like this section. The whole ‘pre-teens discovering music that’s not Johnny fucking Buck’ shtick is pretty charming.
“It’s perfect for the time capsule,” Ellen said happily. “Would your father mind if we took it?”
“He’ll never even notice that it’s gone,” Lila replied.
Poor Lila. [Dove: Which is, incidentally, the title of book #63.]
The Unicorns, happy with their progress, end the chapter by browbeating Jessica into doing everything she can to spy on Team Liz in order to maintain the upper hand. This shows incredible naivety on their part, as Jessica is sure to take things too far. There are simply NO LENGTHS to Jessica’s evil when it comes to getting her own way. If no Sweet Valley books have a scene in which Jessica is disposing of a body, I’ll be very disappointed.
We cut to Camp Henkel, where Elizabeth is doing a good deed: she’s assembling shelves for Old Man Henkel. If only she knew those shelves were destined to hold Howard’s extensive hardore pornography collection.
After some awkward small talk, in which Howard moans because he has fuck all to do and Elizabeth turns down the offer of payment for her time – something that Jessica would never do – Elizabeth mentions that she knows Howard’s son, George.
Howard no-sirs the whole exchange, and Elizabeth leaves.
Downtown, she meets Amy, Julie and George outside the pharmacy. She tells young George about her visit with Howard.
George no-sirs the whole exchange too. For a George, he’s not very Curious. He changes the subject to the contest.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, IS curious about George and Howard’s relationship, but is happy to put her meddling aside to work on finding things for the time capsule. So THAT’S how you make her leave you the fuck alone… you distract her with a metaphorical shiny.
“Hey,” said Elizabeth. “Why are you robbing our house?”
“Look!” said the robber. “I’ve made my own six-point robbery schedule in my day planner. Wanna see it?”
“I surely do!” said Elizabeth, eyes full of excitement.
Something like that.
The Val Pals decamp the The Olde Junque Shoppe (a new venue in the mall! Will wonders never cease?). After trawling for Sixties tat, turning down a Day-Glo minidress, talk turns to the upcoming Sixties-themed school dance. [Dove: They might sell My Little Ponies! 😀]
“I’ll bet we can all find some clothes here for the dance,” [said Amy.]
“I’m not planning to go to the dance, “George said stiffly.
As our troubled peripheral shuffles out of earshot, the girls discuss his ‘issues.’ Elizabeth, naturally, believes there’s more to the situation than meets the eye. Of course there is. Wouldn’t be much of a fucking book if there wasn’t, right? [Dove: This is why 90% of fandom wants Liz to fuck the fuck off. She’s so pushy.]
The group turn their attentions to searching the Shoppe. In a dusty box marked Americal Literature, Elizabeth finds a school textbook dating back to the first year of Sweet Valley Middle School. Everyone agrees it’s perfect for the Time Capsule. They buy it for a dollar.
First up, this shop needs to improve its cataloguing system. A ratty old textbook can hardly be described as ‘Literature’.
Second, and I’ve literally only just realised this, why the HELL are they filling a fucking TIME CAPSULE with stuff from twenty-five years ago?!
I thought the whole point of a Time Capsule was to present a slice of life for future generations opening the capsule in, I dunno, Sweet Valley 2137.
I realise it’s an anniversary celebration, but opening the capsule from the late Eighties to find it full of Beatles records and bell bottoms is going to cause major headaches for future archaeologists and social historians. [Dove: Don’t worry, I’ve read The Sweet Life. There’s no mention of opening a time capsule. The drunks on SVMS staff forgot to tell the future that they’d buried owt in there.]
After promising to return at a later date to mine the Shoppe for Sixties clothing, the Val Pals head back to the Sutton Residence to ask Amy’s mother for her input. Over home-made cookies and ice cold milk, Ma Sutton talks about President Kennedy’s assassination. Keeping it light there, Jamie Suzanne.
This conversation does bear fruit, however, in the form of a signed photo of the Dead Prez, obtained by Ma Sutton and doubtless used to fuel many an adolescent masturbatory fantasy session. Amy’s mother is happy to hand it over to subterranean posterity.
So, two awesome artefacts down, and one more to go. Our intrepid historians promise to reconvene on Monday after pumping their relatives one more time. For some reason, they think finding a third item will be difficult, even though they found the first two items in roughly two pages of text. Have some confidence in your process, you idiots. You’ll smash it.
That afternoon, Jessica puts her spy plan into action. She ascertains the location of her brother (holed up in his bedroom with a sandwich, a sock and his sister’s sports bra), and nips into Elizabeth’s room to search for Sixties tat.
She is caught immediately, of course. While searching under Elizabeth’s bed, the Saited One herself walks in and catches Jessica purple-handed.
Through coy smiles and cagey conversation, Jessica discovers that Team Liz have two items nailed down, and they are being stored at the Sutton Residence. The sisters emptily boast about the standard of their memorabilia as an amused post-wank Stephen listens in. Eventually, he offers up a Sweet Valley Middle School item that’s actually pretty sweet: a school yearbook from the very first year the school opened. This would be of a time in which the teaching staff weren’t dead behind the eyes.
The twins are agog, and begin offering their brother bribes in order to prise the prize from his warm spaff-spattered hands.
Jessica thought rapidly. “I’ll bake you a dozen brownies tonight. No I’ll bake you two dozen. With nuts.”
Stephen turned to Elizabeth. “Care to top that?”
“I’ll make your bed for the next two weeks,” Elizabeth offered.
Ladies, ladies, ladies… there is a simple and definite way you can win this book, and we all know it.
Alice Wakefiled appears through a cloud of parenting, and after questioning her crotch-rats about the book’s back-story. It turns out the book belongs to the mother of Stephen’s friend, and Alice vows it should be returned to its rightful owner. Of course, her gin-addled mind doesn’t bring her son to task for theft, other than a cursory “you have no right to auction off someone else’s property.” Way to parent, Alice. I’d have called the police on the little shit.
At school on Monday, Liz and the rest of the Val Pals have had few ideas. That important third item is tantalizingly out of reach. George gets everyone’s hopes up by suggesting they send off for a newspaper from a famous date in history, as he knows of a service which provides such things, before dashing everyone’s hopes by telling them it costs twenty-five bucks and takes three fucking weeks.
Literally useless. Thanks for wasting everyone’s time, George. No wonder your dad hates you.
Liz, seeing the silver lining on a mushroom cloud, offers to source an old paper from the local public library, or at the very least check out the old papers for some more ideas. Predictably, the other Val Pals abandon Liz to search on her own, because no one wants to spend any more time with the school’s most sanctimonious asshat than is strictly necessary.
After a day filled with rumours of the successful tat-hunts of other teams, Elizabeth dashes to the library straight from school. At first, she is confused by the microfilm archiving system (IT’S THE FUTURE, PEOPLE!), but soon she’s skimming like a pro.
After a few hours of fruitless research, she stumbles upon a golden headline…
SWEET VALLEY WINS STATE JUNIOR HIGH FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Intriguing, I’m sure you’ll agree. But the icing?
“… and the winning touchdown was caught by Howard Henkel. The crowd went wild, and the team carried Henkel off the field on their shoulders. Later, Henkel was presented with the football as a memento of Sweet Valley Junior’s first Championship season.”
BOOK PLOT PROGESSION…….. ACTIVATE!
Also, it’s nice to see that the journalistic standards in Sweet Valley were just as terrible in the Sixties as they are in present day (well, the Eighties). Flabby paragraph ftw! (Flabbagraph.)
Predictably, Elizabeth’s mind begins to race. Howard Henkel is a sporting hero, with a cool football. Howard Henkel is George’s father. George and Howard are not talking. Maybe she could reunite the father with the son, and nab the football into the bargain! [Dove: Just die, Liz. Some people are estranged from their families for good reasons. As in it is literally better, mentally and physically, for those people to not be around each other.]
Pausing only to check out a New Mysteries book – Howard’s favourite series – in a naked display of manipulation that would probably stick in Jessica’s throat – she dashes home and calls Amy and Julie. Both agree the football sounds perfect for the contest, so Elizabeth calls George immediately.
George is unaware of his father’s footballing fame. Figures.
“You didn’t know your father was a football hero?” Elizabeth was bewildered. Wasn’t that the kind of thing a father would share with his son?
And it didn’t sound like he cared very much, either. Elizabeth didn’t know what to say. She tried to collect her thoughts. “Well, could you ask him about the ball? If we get it for the time capsule, George, we’d have the best three items.”
Erm… isn’t this Jessica’s schtick?
Isn’t Elizabeth meant to be the nice one?
I hope this continues, if only so we don’t have to sit through those inane ‘the twins look alike, but are so so so so different’ paragraphs.
George no-sirs the whole exchange, informing Elizabeth that he and Howard are not on speaking terms.
Bewildered, Liz seeks advice from her own father, which is totally scraping the bottom of the barrel and Ned’s the prick that taught her fucking Ithig.
Ned tells Elizabeth about Howard’s history. How he was once a great athelete. How he went to war against the Viet Cong. How he came back injured, in both body and spirit. How he was angry at the world. How his wife died, and how George was taken in by his maternal aunt.
When the FUCK did this become Born on the Fourth of July?!
Happily, as Elizabeth decides Something Must Be Done (new tag!), Ned is overcome by a fugue of parenting, as Alice was before him.
Her father put his arms around her. “That’s sweet of you, Elizabeth. And I know you mean well. But I really don’t think there is anything any of us can do. You can be a friend to George, and you can be a friend to Mr Henkel. But as far as their relationship goes, they’ll have to work that out between themselves. Getting involved in other people’s family problems isn’t always a good idea.”
“I know,” Elizabeth said. “I should mind my own business.”
Good work, Ned. Now go and tell it to the twin that actually needs telling.
At school the following day, Liz spills the beans to Amy, who’s sympathetic, but also questioning of George and his reaction over the phone. George approaches, and Amy removes herself tactfully.
George apologises for his rather curt conduct the previous day. HE doesn’t like talking about his father. Elizabeth, doing her best Gryffindor impression (No Student Left Behind!) chivvies her downcast Val Pal into attending the Dance that coming Friday. George actually turns his frown upside down, and his smile keeps Elizabeth sane for the rest of the day.
Back at the Wakefield Compound, it has transpired that the Sweet Valley Postal Service is as useless as the Sweet Valley Teaching Staff: they have delivered a letter for Howard Henkel to Ned Wakefield instead. Liz offers to deliver the letter to its rightful recipient.
Upon her arrival, Mr Henkel seems listless. Staring at the gogglebox and only offering the scantest of answers to Elizabeth’s smalltalk. In desperation, Liz turns the talk to Howard’s sporting triumps.
Howard warms to this line of enquiry, and happily jabbers on about the championship game, its relevance to the newly-built school, and the winning play itself.
I really like this section, as it humanises Howard in a way that’s sorely needed. It also feels pretty real, with the aging and wounded hero recounting past triumphs with a twinkle in his eye. Nice work, Jamie Suzanne!
At the end of some pleasant reminiscence, Howard fetches the ball that is OBVIOUSLY DESTINED FOR THE TIME CAPSULE his prized possession. It is signed by the rest of the team from back in the day.
Elizabeth tries her luck.
“This would be perfect for the contest,” she began, but Mr Henkel stopped her.
“I’m sorry Elizabeth,” he said, taking the ball back. “But I can’t give you this. It’s all I’ve got.”
And that should be that. End of book, roll credits, go about your business. George and his dad still aren’t speaking, but hey, I want to be taller but life’s a shitter.
Of course, that’s not the end of things. We’re only 50% in (thanks Kindle!)
I’m really missing Jessica in this book.
Yeah, she does feature a little more later, but it’s not enough.
At least Jessica’s FUN. Liz sucks the life out of everything.
Back home, Jessica quizzes her sister on her whereabouts. Liz confesses she’s been visiting Mr Henkel, but decides discretion is the better part of valour and neglects to mention the cool time-capsule-destined football, proving once again that she might be boring but at least she’s genre-savvy.
Jess and Liz share some banter about their prospective chances in the contest.
“You can’t win, Liz,” said Jessica. “You may think you can win, but you surely can’t.”
“You are too quick to dismiss me,” said Elizabeth. “After all, I have one special thing to put into the capsule that you will never have.”
“What’s that?” enquired Jessica.
“Kindness,” said Elizabeth. “We’re putting kindness in the time capsule.”
“The capsule is for objects, not concepts,” complained Jessica.
“I can do what I like,” said Elizabeth. “I’m Elizabeth fucking Wakefield.”
“You know what our third object for the capsule will be?” said Jessica, unsheathing her machete. “Your severed head!” And with a primal scream, she charged.
[Dove: Why isn’t that how this book ended? That’s so much better than what happened.]
Back in the actual world of Sweet Valley, Elizabeth calls Amy to tell her the Good / Bad News.
Good: The football is real, y0.
Bad: Howard is a dick.
Amy suggests that they ask George to ask his father for the football. At first, Elizabeth heeds her father’s wise words about meddling in the lives of others. Then she thinks “fuck it, maximum effort,” and plans to do it anyway. Top shelf prickery there, Liz. Way to ruin lives.
Next, we FINALLY shift back to Jessica. It’s the day of the dance, and she surreptitiously irons her hair, aiming for the straightest look imaginable.
Mama Wakefield appears and wrestles the iron from Jessica’s grasp. The twins, desperate to achieve Peak Sixties, then persuade their mother to aide them on their quest for opposite hairstyles: Elizabeth puffed and wide, Jessica’s long and straight. The following scene is a nice bonding session between a mother and her daughters, so fair play again JS.
More banter ensues over the contest, and Liz insinuates she has something really special lined up the Item Number Three. Jessica vows to discover exactly what it is. Good work, Jess.
At the Dance that evening, the student body have pulled out all the stops. Kids in bell bottoms, kids in long wigs, kids with peace medallions. The music is suitably dated, and the teacher chaperones attempt to teach the kids dances such as the twist. Mr Nydick in particular has some very impressive moves that he’s more than willing to teach the female students privately in on-on-one classes held in the supply closet.
George, it seems, has scrubbed up well. Not only does he look the part, but he feels fantastic too! He cracks a few self-deprecating jokes, and manages to dance with perennial peripheral, Nora Mercandy. With his self confidence soaring, he seems primed and ready to be manipulated into obtaining the football from his father.
As the dance ends, Elizabeth makes her move. She asks if he’d be willing to speak to Howard on the subject of footballing memorabilia.
Naturally, Liz’s plan works a treat, and the plot progresses. George will do it!
(Gotta say, it’s weird writing about Elizabeth’s actions in the style of Jessica. I feel as if I’m writing a recap in Opposite World, and Jess is planning to swoop in and save the day.)
The following morning, Elizabeth is full of vim and vigour. She tells her father about the wonderful dance the night before, and happily confesses she may have solved the problem of George and Howard’s failing relationship.
To his credit, Ned does not that the news without reaction. He warns Elizabeth that there may be consequences to her incessant meddling. Nevertheless, Liz is convinced her plan is a winner.
Later that day, she spies George heading for Howard’s house. Gleefully, she begins daydreaming about the perfect father / son reconciliation meeting.
Seriously, when did Elizabeth become Jessica?
It’s not just in the weird machinations and plans to meddle in the lives of others. It’s the gleeful belief that her course of action is right despite all the available evidence. It’s the failure to listen to advice, even when it’s obviously good. Hell, it’s the way Elizabeth starts daydreaming about things conforming exactly to her will.
Have I missed this in previous books? Are the twins actually more alike than I’ve realised? In fact, is this intentional?
Man, I’m confused. I honestly don’t know if this is good or bad characterisation.
I’m going with “bad.” Fuck it, that’s what it usually is.
The doorbell rings, snapping Liz from her daydreams. It’s George, and he’s not happy. Apparently, the great reconciliation did not go to plan. It seems Howard is unwilling to part with “the most important thing in his life.”
George jumped to his feet. “He doesn’t care about me,” he said passionately. “He’s a hateful person who just wants to sit around and feel sorry for himself!”
George leaves, apologising that he couldn’t nab the football. Elizabeth, NOW with a sudden fit of remorse, is just sad that she fucked it all up for the newly confident and outgoing George. Nice one, Liz. You’re a tube.
We cut back to everyone’s favourite sociopath, who’s spilling the beans of the Val Pals and two of their three objects (the Kennedy picture and the school textbook) to a sneering Lila. Apparently, she overheard Liz and Amy talking at the Dance.
Despite Lila’s confidence, Jess knows that Elizabeth has something very special planned for the third object. However, when she checks her twin’s room to find a despondent-looking Liz, she perks up. Liz wouldn’t look so down if she’d sourced the contest-winning object, after all!
Suddenly, Elizabeth remembers something that can once again advance the plot! She’s forgotten to give Mr Henkel the library books we discussed some three thousand words ago. Now she has no interest in visiting the wheelchair-bound war veteran who can’t give her a football, she begs Jessica to take the books over in her place.
Again, another example of Elizabeth being Jessica in this book. Is this a Body Swap tale? If so, a Body Swap tale involving IDENTICAL TWINS is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard!
Also, I’m smelling a HUGE dose of Twin Magic coming over the horizon!
Sure enough, when Jessica visits Howard the Creepy Weirdo, Howard mistakes her for Elizabeth. And guess what? He’s changed his mind about the football.
At first, Jessica channels Elizabeth and tries to correct his mistake (the Body Swap is catching!). However, as the story of the ball and its meaning to Howard become crystal, Jessica becomes Jessica and sees the object for what it is…. A contest-winning addition to the Unicorns other tat!
Yeah, this bit is the same as all the other Twin Magic bits in this series. But I do like it, for one reason:
Howard constantly references his son George, and the pain of their difficult relationship. Jessica hears NOTHING of this. She’s all about the contest, and the idiotic backstory can fuck right off.
Damn straight, Jess. Eyes on the prize.
Monday morning, and Jessica is beaming. She has the football, and is ready to smuggle it to school. Stuffing a tote bag with sweaters to disguise the shape of a hidden football, she rushes through breakfast and escapes into the morning breeze.
Hooking up with the Unicorns at school, she tells them of her triumph, plucking the football from the hands of Elizabeth in a most deceitful and “Unicorny” way. All three of her friends are delighted. They hide the football in Jessica’s locker… but the school gossip, Caroline Pearce, has heard everything.
Why hasn’t anyone punched Caroline Pearce in the face? Surely her gossip has pissed off the wrong person more than once? In any ordinary school, she’d likely have started as a gossip before being at the business end of a stout kicking. Then, quiet as a church mouse.
Cutting to Elizabeth, we see our apparent “heroine” is not happy. The contest deadline looms, and still the Val Pals are down an item. Elizabeth, however, ain’t the Gloomiest Gus in the team, as that honour falls to the mentally crushed George. Nora in particular is taken the sudden change in her Sixties Dance Romance Partner the hardest.
While chatting to the Peripheral (Go Nora!), Elizabeth learns the worst…. Team Jessica has completed their contest entry, with a final exciting object. One that’s shaped like a football.
At first, Elizabeth is confused, as if she’d never heard of her sister before. Why on earth would Howard giver Jessica the ball?
Whatever has happened, Elizabeth is ready to KICK. ASS.
Holding court in the canteen, Jess is basking in the praise from every Unicorn that passes by. As usual, it appears her ego will be her downfall. All she needed to do was keep as quiet as possible until the contest deadline passed, before revealing the football with a flourish when it’s too late for Liz to react.
Seriously, with a little less showboating, and a little more concentration, Jessica could be running that entire fucking school within a week.
Elizabeth storms to the Unicorn Table and demands to know the origins of the football. Jessica, the brilliant Jessica, starts with the phrase “I didn’t steal it, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Subtle, Jess… subtle.
In the ensuing argument, it’s revealed that Howard gave over the football while thinking Jess was Elizabeth.
The Unicorns say “hahaha who gives a fuck” and Liz says “I’m gonna call howard and snitch on you bitches” and the Unicorns say “don’t do that okay here’s the ball” and Elizabeth says “damn straight here’s the ball” and everyone is happy yay.
Clutching her newly-retrieved ball, Elizabeth runs into George. She reveals the ball with the aplomb of a wardrobe malfunction. Ta-dah!
George, of course, doesn’t want it. His dad’s an arse, he reasons. Why should I take this mouldy old pigskin? Why give him the satisfaction? In fact, George has a petty ultimatum: if Howard wants him to have the damn ball, the Howard needs to tell him to his goddamn face.
Elizabeth, once more thinking of the ball and the contest instead of the real feelings of a family in pain, dashes to Howard’s Den to relay George’s message. She senses she’s almost there… I wish I could say the same about this book. [Dove: Someone needs to kill Elizabeth. I hope it’s Jessica.]
In order to pad the word-count and string out the plot a little further – it’s wafer-thin already, people – Howard does not take kindly to an ultimatum from his wayward son. Reacting badly, he says that George can take the football and ram it up his arse. While unspecific of the orientation in doing so, George would be advised to go point first, although even then the stitches could cause a ribbing chafe.
Back at school, Jessica is now officially a disgrace. The Unicorns believe she capitulated too easily, declaiming that she should be ready to do anything in order to win. Bizarrely, I agree with them, because that’s Jessica’s USP and entire modus operendi to date. However, as she’s Jessica, she manages to deflect the criticism and talk everyone round to her point of view.
Later that day, the Unicorns meet at the Wakefield Compound. Lila takes advantage of Jessica’s fall from grace to remind everyone of the awesome objects they already had, sourced – obviously – by Lila herself.
Crunching the emotion maths, the Unicorns deduce that while Team Elizabeth have a winner with the football (so they think), their other items are a bust. While the Unicorn collection of Film Poster, Beatles Record, and emergency addition Fashion Magazine may still be good enough for victory.
No one else has a choice, of course. Because no one else has received anything but a nominal mention in the book.
As Jess fetches drinks for her catty friends, she bumps into Elizabeth, who, once again, has a face like a slapped arse. Elizabeth informs her sister that Mr Henkel has taken back possession of the football – intercepted the ball, if you will.
Jessica, always one to revel in misfortune, is ecstatic. She’s off the hook!
Over the next few days, the Val Pals search high and low for a suitable replacement for the football. They fail. It seems as though in the high-stakes game of Time Capsule contests, a World’s Fair souvenir plate doth butter no parsnips.
[Dove: Here’s a thought, why don’t they just get each group to submit a single item, and put everything in. It’s their fucking field, they’re not limited to a shoebox-sized area. Dicks.]
Thursday rolls around. It’s the deadline for submissions, as the judges need to examine the entries before Saturday. Still an object shy of an entry, the Val Pals give up. They turn in two entries, and spend the rest of the day trying to cheer up a despondent George. George feels as though he’s to blame. In a very real sense, he actually is. The bellend.
Time spins forward to Saturday, and we approach the home stretch and Howard Henkel’s inevitable Face Turn. The sky is bright, the school is buzzing, and it’s time to see the entries. All eyes are turned to the school field, where the contest ceremony is taking place.
Team Unicorn are sure they will win.
The Val Pals are not so optimistic.
Everyone else can get fucked.
Just ONCE, I’d love something to be won by an entry that’s totally off the radar. Some random Eighth Grade team rocking up with loads of Beach Boys memorabilia or something. Putting the Wakefields in their places good and proper.
Not gonna happen, naturally, but a guy can dream.
The student body examine the lesser entries on display as Mr Clark calls for order. It’s time to unveil the contest winners, and find out who will be immortalised by a photograph in a time capsule. The headmaster witters on about the contest being difficult, and how every team did their best – usual boilerplate nonsense – and finally beckons the judges to the stage to reveal the winners.
Before they cast their verdict, there is a commotion in the distance. A lone figure in a wheelchair is approaching the ceremony… who on earth could it be?
PLEASE please please let it be Stephen Hawking.
It’s…. Howard Henkel! And he’s carrying a football!
After conference with the teaching staff, George Henkel is summoned to the stage.
Mr Clark hand the mic to Mr Henkel, who clears his throat and begins.
“I hope you will all excuse this interruption. But I have something important to say, and I want everyone to hear it.”
Cue the X Factor Sob Story.
“This is a football. It’s an awesome football. But you know what’s better? MY SON!” said Howard.
“I love you Dad!” said George.
“I love you Son!” said Howard
“Whoo, yeah, this is awesome,” said the crowd. “Let’s all hold hands!”
(If you haven’t guessed, I am not particularly gripped by this story.)
Naturally, everyone is moved to tears by the whole debacle. And, after a frankly pointless speech, the contest winners are revealed…
Elizabeth Wakefield, Amy Sutton, Julie Porter, and George Henkel.
Well, fucking shitpips.
The Val Pals take to the stage and give a ludicrous speech about how worthy the entire process has been. Plaudits are given, photographs are taken, and things are wrapped up neatly. Blah blah the end.
(Apart from a chapter that teases the next book, and hints that the Elder Wakefield marriage isn’t the idyllic wonderland we’ve all been led to believe… but I’ll save that for the next recap. That book is fucking EPIC.)
So, what have we learned?
- Love conquers all.
- Nora loves George.
- The Sixties happened.
- No one in Sweet Valley knows the real purpose of a time capsule.
- Elizabeth can be a right prick.
Did I like this book? No.
Did I hate this book? Not really.
Did I recap this book? Yes!
See you next week.
[Dove: This book was fucking stupid. Pointless. Aside from the fact that we’re commemorating now with tat from 25 years ago, why didn’t each group just find one item, take a picture of everyone involved, and maybe give a prize (the usual boring shit, gift tokens to the Dari Burger or Casey’s) for the most original item. Also, fuck Liz and her inability to recognise that some families need to be apart for everyone’s sake. I can just see her reuniting toddlers with their meth-head parents, who originally sold them for a hit, because family is soooooooooo important.]