Title: Elizabeth’s New Hero
Tagline: Can the twins keep their new friend from making a terrible mistake?
Summary: When a team of East German gymnasts visits Sweet Valley, it’s one of the biggest events in the town’s history. Jessica and Elizabeth – and the whole Wakefield family – are right in the center of things. They’re playing host to Christoph Beckmann, a cute blue-eyed boy who happens to be one of the best gymnasts on the team.
As the days go by, the twins learn more and more about their new friend. He tells them that it is his parents who wish him to be a champion and that he just wants to have fun and be like other kids his age. [Raven: Didn’t we just do this with Prince Arthur?] So with the help of the Wakefields, he gets his wish. Between hamburgers, basketball and surfing, Jessica, Elizabeth, and Steven may have done too good a job. Now Christoph refuses to go back to his country. Can Jessica and Elizabeth make him understand all that he’ll be missing if he stays?
[Wing: Why is the underage boy in a foreign country not all that friendly with his country even making that choice?]
Cute Boys! Gymnastics! Defection!
This book promises everything!
Let’s look at the cover… Elizabeth Wakefield meets Ellen Degeneres. I swear the artists for these covers can only draw three faces, tops.
Also, GYM EQUIPMENT! It looks like Phys Ed is pretty underfunded at Sweet Valley Middle School. Explains why a lot of the girls have been spotted using a recumbent Mr Nydick as a pommel horse.
This one starts with a bang: The Unicorns are working after school on a purple banner that welcomes the undoubted non-Wakefield stars of this week’s offering: ten lithe and supple boys from the East German Gymnastic team.
Let’s get this out of the way right now.
GYMNASTS ARE FUCKING DEMONS.
Scary jumpy spinny twisty wriggly demons.
That is all.
[Wing: I love people who are flippy athletes. Gymnasts are badass.]
Apparently, the East German Gymnasts (hereafter known as EGG), are set to arrive the following day for a “week of gymnastic exhibitions and instructional clinics.” And the Unicorns, in their usual secondary colour style, promise a big purple welcome with the following banner:
“The Unicorns Welcome You To Sweet Valley!”
Despite the fact that she finds the banner too, well, purple, Liz gushes over their work. She praises the spiky horses thusly.
“If they were giving out prizes for banners, you’d certainly come in first.”
Hell, it’s good to have a skill, and this one will stand them in good stead when they inevitably go marching against the non-white visitors to their charming little burg. Banners, flags, hate-filled placards, same diff, right? Sweet Valley Super Edition #20: Far Right Frolics, coming soon to a bookseller near you!
Naturally, Jessica believes that the banner is perfect, and therein lies the drama inherent in the entire Sweet Valley series: the twins are, surprisingly, different. Let’s see exactly how…
When presented with a basket of mini-muffins, Elizabeth hand-delivers them to a local orphanage. Jessica secretes a razorblade in each muffin and gift them to her teachers.
When presented with a baby penguin, Elizabeth swaddles it in warm blankets and feeds it pureed fish from a tiny spoon. Jessica hoofs it into a weeliebin.
When presented with a cheese wire, Elizabeth hosts a cheese and alcohol-free wine party for her more studious classmates. Jessica uses it to garrotte Sandra Ferris. [Dove: Jess is right in this instance.]
Caroline Pearce, queen of the gossip nerds, has also made a banner. Hers, however, is awful. It displays, amongst other things, two “flags” that are nothing more than rectangles that look like spilled paint. An unhappy accident, Bob Ross style. Lila mocks them. Way to flag-shame, blondie. [Dove: Lila has “light brown hair”. How many times do we need to go through this? No, seriously. I fucking love Lila.] [Raven: I can’t help it! In my head, Lila is blonde. The Queen Bitch of all TV and Films in this style is ALWAYS blonde.]
Caroline, however, is bulletproof. She’s encased in the amour of immense smugness, as she is one of the lucky few chosen to house an EGG during their international vision. In a very real sense, Caroline’s house is an EGGbox.
I realise they are called egg CARTONS in the US. Don’t care. Eggbox is a funnier phrase.
Eggbox eggbox eggbox!
[Dove: You’re bored, aren’t you? This does not bode well.] [Raven: Eggbox!]
As there are only ten gymnasts, only ten students had received such a prestigious honour. Many had volunteered, but few were chosen. Well, ten were chosen. As I said earlier in this paragraph.
Was the Wakefield Compound one of the happy few?
The twins had added their names to the list, but unfortunately they were eleventh on the list.
Right. First things first. *cracks knuckles*
What sort of a fucking sentence is that?! Seriously, was that written by an adult? I mean, come on… any decent editor should have kicked the suckitude out of that turkey before it left the factory floor.
My next issue… the school likely asked for volunteers for EGGboxing, and handled it one of three ways:
- They allocated the gymnasts to the volunteers on a who’s-deserving-best-fit basis.
- They allocated the gymnasts to the volunteers on a first-come-first-served basis.
- They allocated the gymnasts to the volunteers on a names-from-a-hat basis.
Who’s-Deserving-Best-Fit Method: This obviously wasn’t the way things were done, because it’s unfair on the students, but more tellingly because the Wakefields weren’t chosen. They’d have been first on the list, because they are perfect and deserve everything in the world and more. [Dove: Alice’s gin addiction rears its ugly head.]
First-Come-First-Served Method: Again, not fair on the students, as it punishes those who were delayed in seeing the announcement. Also, it avoids the inevitable awkward conversation with Sophia Rizzo should she be quick of the mark in volunteering… can’t have an EGG dossing down amongst Tony’s stolen tellies.
Names-From-A-Hat Method: This was probably the method used. If so, why the hell did they draw an eleventh name from the fucking hat? There were only ten EGGs. Sweet Valley Middle School ineptitude strikes again.
I realised about halfway through writing this section that they probably drew a few extra names out of the hat as back-ups, so the families in question could prepare should things change at the last minute.
“Fair enough,” I’m sure you’re thinking. “Probably best to remove the previous section then, right? Seems a little redundant now.”
Nope. Leaving it in. Not even sorry.
Caroline is quick to gloat.
“I’ve got lots of plans for Christoph,” Caroline said.
When presented with a Christoph, Caroline takes it the movies and the mall. Jessica stores its head in her fridge.
[Wing: I took the plans statement to a much more perverted place which involved a dungeon in Caroline’s basement. (Everyone else gets creepy stories about them. Here is hers.) And/or, she gets all her info by taking people to that basement and making them talk.]
Apparently, Christoph is thirteen, from Leipzig, and a shoo-in for the East German Olympic Team (EGOT). Caroline is stoked about her situation, and yaps about it until she’s deposited at her door after a brisk walk home from school.
Back at the Wakefield Compound, talk turns to Steven’s prodigious appetite. Apparently, he can’t be trusted around roast beef.
When presented with a joint of beef, Elizabeth trims off a slice and nibbles it demurely. Steven puts his cock in it.
For once, Steven is not fixated on food (or Jessica)…
“Oh, he’s busy upstairs looking for East German spy planes,” Mr Wakefield said.
I’m old. I remember the Eighties, somewhat. I was born it 1973, so the arse-end of Cold War is something that dimly impacted my life. Mainly through the satirical puppetry of Spitting Image.
The wiki article on Spitting Image is here. It was proper water-cooler TV. All the cool kids watched it. It was truly special, back then. Now? Dated. But this is still great:
Bonus points for totally rad Eighties graphics. Fun fact: they are allegedly rebooting it now Trump is in office. Maybe satire is not quite dead. Here’s his puppet:
[Dove: Does anyone else desperately want Anonymous to hack his twitter and replace his icon with that image?]
As for East Germany itself, I remember the unification. I remember the Wall coming down. It was pretty huge (the event, not the Wall) (but the Wall was also huge). Of course, the main memory from the Fall of the Wall involves a lifeguard and a jacket full of lightbulbs.
So now we have the Sweet Valley take on the whole thing. I’m sure it’ll be handled with the nuanced and gentle touch we’ve come to love from Jamie Suzanne.
When Steven finally bounded down the stairs a few minutes later, he had a pair of binoculars slung around his neck.
“Uncover any secret agents yet?” Elizabeth asked when Steven sat down at the dinner table.
“All these East Germans coming to town are a matter of national security,” Steven said in a serious tone. “It’s nothing to joke about.”
[Wing: I was born in the 80s, and there was a ton of Cold War propaganda even in very early school classes. There was a real fear here about an attack that was fomented by Reagan and the conservative right as he pushed us harder into the arms race, which was driven at least in part by the fear stirring the constitents to support his actions. I’m not thrilled with how this book is going to handle it, and we’ve not even met the driving force of the plot yet.]
Elizabeth plans to write a Sweet Valley Sixers special edition interviewing the EGGs, which I’m sure will be thrilling. Talk turns to Christoph, and we learn that Caroline lives two blocks away from the Wakefield Compound. This is surprising, as the Gossip Queen of SVT would surely hear the screams if she lived that close, and then stories of abuse would be all over school.
EGG chat is interrupted by the telephone. Oh look, it’s the Sweet Valley Karma Mallet.
Caroline Pearce’s mother is ill. So Christoph needs a new place to stay. Looks like it might be with the Wakefields!
Elizabeth is worried. Poor Mrs Pearce!
Jessica is delighted. Cute foreign boys!
Steven is threatened. Rat commie pinko bastards!
When the news comes in, we’re given the following bon mot…
The twins leapt from their seats and cheered. Neither could believe how lucky they were.
I suggest that if they can’t believe their luck, they’ve not been paying much attention for the last thirty-five fucking books.
The EGGs were arriving that Friday. On Friday morning, Steven is gloomy. Why? Because the Elder Wakefields have given his room to the incoming Christoph. Steven has been banished to a pullout couch. Sounds like all his me-time will be Danger Wanks for the foreseeable.
The twins arrive at school, and are met by an enquiring posse of Unicorns, eager to build upon the excited phonecall from Jessica the previous night. Jessica basks, centre stage, and recounts her plans for Christoph. The other Unicorns soon join in with their own ideas, such as touring Sweet Valley or riding their bikes on the beach.
One for Dove and Wing:
And one for Raven:
[Wing: Both excellent choices.]
“How about going to the movies?” Janet Howell, the president of the Unicorns, added. “I’ll be they don’t have horror movies in East Germany.”
That idea sounded so patently idiotic, I pulled on my Mockin’ Britches and Googled East German Horror Films. Turns out Queen Unigibbon is actually fucking correct. Seriously interesting link right there. Check out the big brain on Janet! [Dove: *sigh* But given that it’s Janet, I think it was probably a racist assumption, which has now been validated. Still, interesting stuff.]
And it’s not just the Purple Twats that are stoked by the Downfall of Caroline Pearce. Team BabyPaper think that Christoph’s new arrangements will lead to the best edition of the Sweet Valley Sixers ever! They plan a special issue with profiles and topless pics and shit, man, it’s gonna be dope, yo. [Dove: It must be exhausting to be constantly riding the pinnacle of perfection. Every paper is the best Sixers ever!]
After school, the Wakefields head to the airport, and fight through the crowd. All life is here! Unicorns, non-Unicorns, councillors, even the motherfucking mayor. After a while, the EGGs sashay into the airport lounge, full of smiles. The mayor pontificates about how awesome they are, as Jessica grumbles. She just wants some Hot Christoph Action all by herself.
Eventually, the host families are paired with their Teutonic Acrobats. Blonde hair, blue eyes… Christoph is dreamy. Jessica is immediately smitten.
When presented with an East German Gymnast, Elizabeth interviews it about its heritage and customs. Jessica fucks it until it’s a desiccated husk.
At the Compound that evening, the Wakefields force-feed Christoph a typical American meal: Hamburger and French Fries. Steven is not extending his usual hospitality: he’s watching the East German Spy like a hawk.
Photographs are exchanged. Christoph has a house! He has sisters (Gretchen and Ingrid)! And East German schools are hellholes! The most important fact concerns the Elder Christophs, particularly Papa Christoph: he’s a gymnastic legend, and a strict taskmaster. He pushes Christoph (and the rest of his tumbling siblings) to be the best little demons they can be. As he reveals this, his eyes go all misty and he looks troubled. This is plot with a capital-sledgehammer P.
After dinner, Steven warms to Christoph over talk about basketball. It seems a bromance may be in the offing. So much for Steven the Ever Vigilant… it seems that Sweet Valley may be infiltrated by evil Communists after all.
Next morning, it seems that the bromance in full effect. The twins search for Christoph, but he and Steven rose early to hit the courts for Slam Dunk lessons. Christoph is very like Steven, in that his appetite is ridiculous and he probably masturbates into Ingrid’s knicker-drawer. When they finish shooting hoops, Steven reveals that he and Christoph have plans to watch a football game later that afternoon, plans that clash with Jessica’s intended schedule of visiting the Unicorns at the Dairi Burger at 1pm.
Despite the ham-fisted “spy-then-not-spy” crap, I actually like this bit. Christoph is the same age as Steven, and so it’s only right that he’d probably have more in common with the eldest of the Tiny Wakefields than with the Twinny Bellends.
The twins decide to tag along to the football game that afternoon.
When presented with a football game, Elizabeth thinks it sounds fun, and plans to interview Christoph in appropriate lulls in the action. Jessica uses it as an excuse to cling to her EGG romantic interest.
Of course, the football isn’t football. It’s handegg.
[Wing: No matter how often I see this or Raven references it, I laugh. Hand. Egg.]
Steven explains the rules. Six points for a touchdown.
“Six points!” Christoph repeated with amazement. “In my country, they only give one point. I like your game much better. You get many more points!”
Oh, get fucked, you pandering cockwomble. If you’re like sports with points, you’ll fucking love snooker.
The twins mock Steven the Spy (which should so be a Super Edition), conveniently forgetting that Jessica caught an actual spy a few months ago and was heavily praised for it. [Dove: That… had slipped my mind.] Also, football occurs, and Sweet Valley obviously win, because Yay Sweet Valley Go Sportsball.
Christoph loves it.
At the mall after the game, Christoph loses his pizza virginity.
Sigh. Not this again.
“What it this Earth thing called kissing?”
“Ooooh! What’s this mysterious shape? A ‘triangle,’ you say? How mystical! It’s like a circle, but pointy!”
Foreigners are stupid.
Also, from wiki:
“The first wave of foreigners coming to Germany specifically to sell their food specialties were ice cream makers from northern Italy, who started to arrive in noticeable numbers during the late 1920s. With the post-World War II contacts with Allied occupation troops, and especially with the influx of more and more foreign workers that began during the second half of the 1950s, many foreign dishes have been adopted into German cuisine — Italian dishes, such as spaghetti and pizza, have become staples of the German diet. The pizza is Germany’s favourite fast food.”
I’m unsurprised that the Germans love pizza. It’s so functional.
After eating, they plan a movie trip. Christoph, it seems, is lapping up Americana with gusto.
“This is terrific – a football game, the mall, and a movie all in one day. This is much better than practicing gymnastics!”
As they walked to the theatre, Elizabeth silently wondered why Christoph had made that remark about gymnastics. Didn’t he like practicing the routines? Could it be possible that Christoph’s first love wasn’t gymnastics?
Also, that quite? Three out of the last four sentences end with the word ‘gymnastics.’ Writing at its finest, right there (gymnastics).
The following morning (Sunday, for those following along at home), Steven and Christoph listen to music in Steven’s / Christoph’s room. Here, we learn that Christoph is a passable drummer. He really wants to be in a band, but gymnastics. Gymnastics.
He also loves both of Johnny Buck’s albums. Good ol’ JB has six albums, four remain unreleased behind the Iron Curtain. Fair enough, I guess. They want no Yankee Blue Jeans in Eastern Europe, dear me no.
When presented with a Johnny Buck album, Jessica memorises the lyrics to all the songs to impress the Unicorns. Christoph sells it to the bourgeoisie to buy bread for his ungrateful taskmaster father.
Jessica plays her EGG one of the Buckster’s latest offerings, and Christoph drums along happily. He shares that his father believes drums are the Devil’s Bedsprings, and that gymnastics are the only way to purge unclean rhythms from the adolescent soul. Elizabeth is sad.
Suddenly, two EGGmates appear. It’s Bruno and Konrad!
Bruno, it’s revealed, is this book’s Baddie.
[Dove: Much as I hate the book, anything that lets me watch that sketch again is probably a good thing.]
He barks the time of the following day’s gymnastic practice, claims that sitting is for the morally bankrupt, declares that Gymnastics Is Love, then glowers out of the room.
Konrad, on the other hand… well, no one gives a fuck about Konrad.
Monday morning, and the Unicorns are livid. They like, waited at the Dairi Burger, like, for three hours, y’know? It seems that Jessica neglected to call and cancel. Before Lila could tear her a new asshole, Christoph appears and makes everything okay.
“You must be part of the famous Unicorn Club,” [Christoph] said. “Jessica told me all about you. I’ve never heard of a Unicorn Club. I am anxious to meet you.”
Smooth, playa. Keep it up, you’ll be ankle-deep in purple panties.
The group plan another trip to Dairi Burger that afternoon. Christoph reveals the thing that’s most exciting about his trip is that chance to experience the American way of life.
Yeah, this guy’s defecting for sure. I mean, it’s literally the only plot for anything about East Germany, so I’m not surprised, but even so it’s being laid on a little thick.
That afternoon, the EGGs perform some spectacular and innovative exhibition gymnastics. I love it when EGGs are thinking outside the box. (Egg Carton… sigh) (gymnastics).
Each member of the team, under the gimlet gaze of their short, fat, moustachioed, clichéd coach, perform routines on the rings, side horse, horizontal bar and long horse. The twins lap it all up, especially Elizabeth it was 50% horse-based.
Both Liz and Jess agree that Christoph is the best.
For the final discipline – parallel bars – the coach has two gymnasts go head-to-head, so the Sweet Valley Kids can learn about scoring. Can you guess who?
Yup. Bruno and Konrad.
Kidding! It’s Bruno and Christoph. Fuck Konrad, fast and furious.
Bruno does his thang. It’s serious business. He scores 9.8, 9.8, 9.8, 9.9.
Christoph does his thang. It’s slightly better. He scores 9.8, 9.9, 9.9, 9.9.
Victory for the Goodies!
Coach Schmidt raises Christoph’s hand in victory. Bruno storms out. All is not well, it seems, in the EGG camp.
After school, at the Dairi Burger, Elizabeth and Amy Sutton interview Christoph for the Sweet Valley Sixers before the Unicorns arrive. In the hour they have, they learn:
- He’s been on the squad since the age of 8.
- He’s visited France, England and the Soviet Union (never seeing a fucking pizza, apparently).
- East Germany is shit.
- America is amazing.
- No really, America is fucking incredible.
Liz probes with a few “you sound like you hate your homeland” investigative journalism style questions before fucking off to type up her notes. Not a moment too soon, mind: as she leaves, the Unicorns arrive: Lila, Ellen and Janet. Soon, they are joined by three more EGGs: Viktor, Dieter and Hans. Then two more: Oskar and Max. Not Konrad, though. Fuck Konrad. [Dove: These are the most German names that ever Germaned. So why is nobody called Klaus?]
The party at the Dairi Burger is in effect, packed with frolics and fun and full-on frivolity. Then the bad EGG arrives: Bruno arrives. The crowd goes quiet as Bruno reams out Christoph in their native tongue.
Under his breath, Viktor spills the beans about the altercation. Bruno, it seems, thinks Christoph is wasting his time when he should be practicing routines. Apparently, Bruno is jealous of Christoph’s talent.
Jealousy in Sweet Valley over someone’s perceived superiority? Sorry Bruno, you’re late to the party. Step up to the counter and take a fucking ticket.
Christoph steps up to the plate and starts swinging.
“I train as hard as everyone else!” he shouted at Bruno. “You should spend more time worrying about yourself than about how much I practice. I am still better than you are, and I proved it once again today!”
*East German Mic Drop*
Bruno stares him down as the collected students gape. Eventually, Christoph apologises to the room, and marches away. Jessica follows smartly, glowering at Bruno as she goes. Yeah, I’m pretty sure Bruno will be buried in the Mercandy’s yard by the end of the book.
Once she catches up, Jess and Christoph discuss the fight, and Bruno. Apparently, Bruno is on Christoph’s case all the time. He believes that there’s nothing more important than Gymnastics, and he constantly threatens to rat out Christoph to his taskmaster father. Christoph is keen to progress his Olympic dream, but he also wants to enjoy his trip to America.
Apparently, the exhibition that Thursday is Important Olympic Practice. Christoph is determined to do well that day. But as he says so, he sees a drum kit in the window of a nearby mall store, and the misty dreams return to his troubled face. Then the moment passes, and a sadness returns. Jessica spots the telltale signs: Christoph is sad, and is looking to ensure his remaining time in America is fun.
Obviously he’s not going to be able to do it alone, Jessica thought. It’s now up to Elizabeth and me to help!
Of course it is, Jessica. Of course it is. Threesome?
Tuesday rolls around, and the EGGs are throwing an instructional clinic at Sweet Valley High. The gym is packed. Everyone wants to become a sweet backflipping ninja. And why not? They are cool, and by cool, I mean totally sweet.
Elizabeth, Jessica and Julie track down the gorgeous Christoph at the epicentre of a Purple Haze. The Unicorns are buzzing around him like fabulous bluebottles. They goad him into showing off, performing an intense backflip move from the parallel bars.
Even before the applause dies down, Coach Schmidt storms up, moustache all a-quiver. He is short, fat, and livid. His anger manifests itself with the following phrases:
- You are a show-off.
- I hear bad things about you.
- You need to be a team player.
- Do you like my moustache?
When presented with a moustache, Coach Schmidt wields it like a weapon. Steven uses it to obtain fake ID.
Christoph is suitably chastised, and performs some more perfunctory gymnastics in silence. Elizabeth feels bad, but doesn’t have a chance to defend Christoph’s actions before Coach Moustache storms away.
In celebration of moustaches, some examples of greatness:
And of course, the Forehead Moustache:
Yay for moustaches!
Part one of Operation Pleasure Christoph begins with a trip to the beach. Christoph, along with Max and Oskar, love it. Konrad’s not there, of course, because fuck Konrad.
Christoph lays on the defection foreshadowing with a trowel. He loves Sweet Valley lots and lots. Elizabeth tries to harsh his buzz by bringing up Coach Moustache, but Christoph has plans for that fuck-knuckle.
“Tomorrow night is the special exhibition at the middle school. All of Sweet Valley will be there. I’m going to do my new dismount on the parallel bars. Once he sees how well I can perform that move, he will see that I am taking this very seriously. A great performance always makes Coach Schmidt happy.”
A great performance always makes him happy… it seems that Coach Schmidt takes a leaf out of Mr Nydick’s playbook.
Next day, Christop shops for surfer clothes with Lila, Jessica and Ellen. Gnarly. Of course, any fun is sucked out of the room when Bruno appears. He has a message from Coach Moustache. The exhibition that night has been moved from seven pm to eight pm. [Dove: Clearly Coach Moustache and Madame André have the same views on timekeeping.]
“Great! That gives us an extra hour of shopping, Christoph,” Lila said. “Let’s go to the mall!”
Despite the obviously fabricated nature of this time-shift from Bruno, everyone buys it. Christoph decides that he will turn up an hour “early” at seven pm in order to perform extra practice routines.
At seven, the subterfuge is revealed. Christoph rocks up with the twins, to find the other EGGs about to begin the exhibition!
Man, it looks like Bruno lied about the time switch! What a total scumbag!
As the crowd settles to watch the spectacle, Coach Moustache tears a strip off the tardy Christoph. Explanations are waved away, and Coach decrees that Christoph should be disallowed from practicing that evening as punishment.
As a distraught Christoph looks on, Bruno rubs it in by performing magnificently.
After the exhibition was over, Bruno walked over and stood before Christoph. “It looks as if I am the best gymnast on the team now,” he sneered. “All I must do is win the competition tomorrow night, and I will be number one. Your father will be very disappointed in you. Too bad you were late, Christoph.”
I actually like the dialogue from the EGGs. It’s crafted well to be slightly stilted, as if delivered by someone in their second language. It’s all very Ivan Drago.
Well done, Jamie Suzanne!
[Dove: Of coures, it begs the question, why were they having a private conversation in their second language? If I was being a gloaty cockwomble, and didn’t want to look like a twat in front of the family/townsfolk/scary dead-eyed Unicorns that was hosting me, I would definitely revert to my native tongue to avoid it.]
Later that evening, the twins do their best to persuade Christoph to squeal to Coach Moustache about Bruno’s deception. Christoph will not. He believes the best course of action is to simply destroy Bruno in the exhibition the following day. In doing so, he’d put Bruno back in his box and convince Coach Moustache he was taking this spinny tumbly shit seriously. Actually not a bad plan, Christoph.
Changing the subject, he complements Elizabeth about her interview in the Sixers. And once again, he stresses that America is the best thing since sliced bread, and that East Germany can go fuck itself.
Steven, watching TV, turns up the Plot Dial to maximum by introducing an ACTUAL DEFECTING EAST GERMAN.
“Hey, take a look at this,” Steven said, pointing to the TV. “An East German ballet dancer defected to America yesterday. Do you know him, Christoph?”
A ballet dancer fleeing East Germany to join the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave… obviously, the poor fella hadn’t heard of Madam André (Fuck Madam André) (gymnastics). If he had, he’d surely have defected to less of a cultural wasteland.
[Dove: Also… does Steven think everyone in East Germany knows everyone else? Or is it just people who do athletic hobbies across an entire country that ought to be friends?] [Raven: “Wait… has he got brown hair? Yeah, I know him.”]
The throng start joking about defection, but Elizabeth is horrified. I guess it’s easy to be so confounded by the thought of leaving your home life when it’s so goddamn perfect. Christoph, too, isn’t joining in. Instead, he stares at a picture of the American flag and cries. Metaphorically.
Defection is coming, and it’s coming thick and fast.
At the exhibition the following day, Christoph still has Georgia on his mind. He stumbles and fumbles his way through the exercises, getting worse and worse as he goes. Adding insult to injury, Bruno is knocking it out of the park. Even Viktor is outstripping his blonde compatriot. But not Konrad. Because fuck Konrad.
Pouncing on a lull in the action between disciplines, the Wakefield Children speak deliver a rousing pep talk, which seems to do the trick. For the rest of the evening, Christoph is back to his imperious, clinical, stereotypical Germanic self. High scores come raining down again like drug money (holla holla), but his slow start saw him finish third overall, behind Bruno and Viktor.
The description of the gymnastics is pretty enjoyable, but I know what everyone else knows about gymnastics and scoring:
Christoph is mortified with third position, despite the adoration of the crowd. Father will not be pleased, and when Father isn’t pleased, then young boys get hurt.
The next night sees Sweet Valley Middle School hosting a dance for the EGGs. The gym is decorated with red, white and blue streamers, symbolising America, and red, yellow and black balloons, representing East Germany. Christoph will undoubtedly enter resplendent in Yankee Finery like Apollo fucking Creed…
The dance is your usual Sweet Valley fare. The Unicorns have a table in the Unicorner, the Principal gives a speech in honour of the EGGs, everyone dances to the local pop stylings of Johnny Gordon and the Waves, it’s a fucking dream. The EGGs are leaving the following morning, and the usual crowd are so sad to see them go.
The Unicorns present Christoph with a parting gift: a beautiful set of rosewood drumsticks, etched with a pithy Unigreeting. It’s all very touching and poignant. Christoph is touched by his gift, but believes his father will make him give up the drums in order to concentrate on somersaults. Christoph’s dream – to become the next Phil Collins – is in jeopardy because he’s good at backflips.
“I don’t understand,” Elizabeth said. “Can’t your father see that gymnastics is only a game?”
Fuck you, Liz, you judgmental prick. “Only a game?” It’s their family’s life. How dare you belittle their dreams. I hope the school paper folds like a cheap suit. [Dove: Also is it actually a “game”? Isn’t it more of a sport? (Or an art form, if you want to go down that route?)]
In an attempt to turn things around and make Christoph’s last night the Best Night Ever, Elizabeth sets up a treat for the most melancholy of all the EGGs. While Jessica distracts the boy with gyrations and leg flashes, Elizabeth sets up a treat: Johnny Gordon invites Christoph to the stage to take the place of the current Waves drummer on a popular Johnny Buck song!
Too many Johnnies in the Sweet Valley pop scene, if you ask me.
“So this is what you had planned! You’re a genius!” Jessica shouted enthusiastically. “Christoph will remember this night forever!”
As the song continued, the twins danced, looking at Christoph the whole time. He pounded away on the drums as though he had been playing with the band for years.
Dancing while staring intently at the drummer. Not creepy at all. [Dove: Says a drummer. Were you never stared at by a blonde sociopath?] [Raven: Only when you dyed your hair.]
Christoph pounds out a frenzy, to a rousing ovation. With shiny eyes and glistening muscles, he proclaims that playing in a band is AMAZEBALLS.
As he’s lapping up the adulation of the crowd, Bruno pulls on his coat and leaves the building. This can’t be good.
The next morning, and the Defection Plan swings into fifth gear. The flight to East Germany was scheduled for ten-thirty, but – AND THIS IS A HUGE SURPRISE – poor Christoph is ill and cannot fly.
Oh noes! Poor Christoph!
The doctor arrives, with Coach Moustache. Apparently, Christoph has a virus, and needs rest. What a surprise, the local doctor is terrible at his job. Sweet Valley Grown Ups, lowering expectations of adulthood since 1953.
The rest of the EGGs were to jet off that day, while Coach Moustache hung back to wait for Christoph to get better. Bless Coach Moustache, he’s like the father Christoph wished he had.
Later that day, Elizabeth takes some chicken soup to the recuperating acrobat. There is a bird with a broken wing living in her home, and goddamn it, Elizabeth will help it fly again.
When presented with an injured sparrow, Elizabeth nurses it to health. Jessica uses it for batting practice.
The illness lingers the entire weekend. Unsurprising… like Jessica’s emotions, it’s totally fake.
We get to Tuesday, and Christoph is still malingering. His appetite has returned – he’s crumbing up the bed with purloined oatmeal cookies (are they very American? Surely stolen Twinkies or Hotdogs would be more appropriate, given that he wants to be George fucking Washington or something) (Apologies to my American friends, I do get confused) (gymnastics).
Elizabeth has seen through the pretence, and shares her concerns with her loving sister. They confront Christoph in search of the plot money shot (the money plot!).
“You are right. I don’t feel sick anymore,” Christoph admitted. “I really was sick, but only the first day. I’ve been sneaking cake and cookies when no one’s around.” He looked at the twins. “The only thing I am sick about now is that I must go home. I don’t ever want to go back to East Germany!”
The twins looked at each other, shocked. “Christoph,” Elizabeth said, her heart pounding. “You don’t mean you want to–”
“That’s exactly what I mean!” Christoph interrupted. “I am going to defect, and no one can stop me!”
DING! We have a winner!
Defection is go, people! DEFECTION IS GO!
Suddenly, the door to Stephen’s room bursts open. Three men in grey suits stride in. Two of them brandish sleek pistols. The first barks orders into a tiny earpiece.
“We have eyes on the pelican. I repeat, eyes on the pelican.”
The twins stand agape as two burly men in body armour power through the door. Christoph makes to stand, but he is knocked back to the bed with a single swat of a baton. One of the suits unfurls a black hessian bag, and jams it on Christoph’s head.
“No more tumbling for you, monkey boy.”
As they bundle him from the room, Christoph starts crying. In German.
Yeah, that doesn’t happen. Unfortunately.
The twins confide in Steven. Predictably, he thinks defection is a great idea, but he’s a fucking mollusc and the twins shout him down.
[Wing: I know I should not be shocked by how this book treats a dangerous, painful, terrifying thing like choosing to defect, especially when real people, including children, really were dying as they tried to defect, but here we are, and here I am shocked, and here I rage.]
Coach Moustache is coming to collect a fully-fit Christoph on Thursday. They have two days to convince him that East Germany is amazing.
While they debate their next move, Christoph’s mother calls. She tries to talk her son down from the ledge, but he’s set on embracing the US of A like a boa constrictor. He’s tasted apple pie, and it is glorious. He slams down the phone and storms to “his” room.
Step One in Operation Rehome The Pelican: the Wakefield Children confide in the Wakefield Elders.
THIS IS THE CORRECT COURSE OF ACTION.
I was quite surprised by this. I fully expected the first thing to be done would be Jessica organising a Unicorn party in honour of East Germany. Or Elizabeth writing a letter to the East German Consulate. Or Steven eating a fucking pancake.
The Wakefields get their heads together. Step Two?
“Wait!” Jessica cried. “I’ve got an idea. It’s Christoph’s birthday tomorrow.”
“But what good is that going to do us?” Mrs. Wakefield asked.
“What if we throw a surprise party for him?” Jessica said. “If we do it right, we can make him feel so homesick he’ll forget about defecting.”
“We can remind him of his parents, his sisters, and his friends who are back home,” Elizabeth added.
Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield looked at each other for a moment. Finally, Mr. Wakefield nodded.
Wednesday afternoon, everyone chips in with the party prep.
- Steven liaises with the German teacher and obtains a poster of East Germany.
- Amy and Ken make a collage of EGG pictures.
- Julie, Brooke, Ellen and Tamara blow up balloons.
- Lila picks the perfect song for Christoph’s entrance.
In short, the sixth grade do the same old shit that they do in every book, albeit with a different theme and name. Yaaaaaawn.
The party works, of course. Christoph is charmed, and surprised, and a phone call from Papa Christoph seals the deal. Daddy promises to relent on the Gymnastic Overkill, and has even bought his son a new drum kit for his birthday.
When presented with a drum kit, Christoph practices 4/4 rock rhythms and jams to Johnny Buck records. Mr Nydick repeatedly slams his testicles between the hi-hat cymbals.
The last chapter sees Christoph fuck off back to East Germany, full of Johnny Buck records and memories and American foodstuffs. As he finally leaves, Elizabeth asks the million dollar question:
“Have you decided whether you’re going to continue with your gymnastics?” Elizabeth asked.
“I’m going to think about it for a while,” he said. “If I stay on the team, there may be a chance we’ll come back to Sweet Valley sometime. And as for reasons to stay on the team, that’s the best of all!”
Get fucked, Christoph, you colossal suck-up. I hope your plane home crashes into the sea.
This book was pretty boring. The whole Evil Bruno schtick was so Panto Villain, and the entire Defection angle was massively hackneyed. Randomly, I did quite like Christoph, and the actual gymnastic description was nicely handled, but overall I just didn’t care. At all.
Sigh. Here’s hoping the next is better.
[Dove: This book is a stand-out example of meh in the entire series. I personally dislike this more than ithig, even though there’s more story to it. I guess with it being hot on the heels of Princess Elizabeth, it’s hard to get enthused by another person coming to Sweet Valley and being blown away by how gosh darned perfect it is. I much prefer wacky shenanigans to “funny foreigner, who is so other they cannot comprehend fast food (despite its availability in their country), thinks Sweet Valley is just swell.”]
[Wing: I am filled with rage over this book, which was published in 1989, and I remember what the political atmosphere was here, at least from a child’s perspective. Way to turn something real into a light-hearted romp with a huge helping of MURICA THE GREAT. I am just too tired of raging at present day issues to drum up much energy to Go Boom.]
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.