Title: Choosing Sides
Tagline: Is Elizabeth’s best friend more important than her own twin sister? Answer: According to the previous three books, her best friend is her twin sister, but pretty much everyone should be more important than Jessica. Jessica is horrible.
Summary: Amy wants to be on The Boosters, but Elizabeth learns the Unicorns will do anything to keep her off the squad, including Jessica! Whose side should she take? Answer: Jesus fuck, she should take Amy’s side! She dislikes the entire point of the Unicorns and knows how mean and terrible they are. Why would she support more bullying and exclusivity from them?
I hate everything about this series, these main characters, these books, this writing — everything. The only good thing is waiting for Raven or Dove to go boom.
Also, Dove made me do this for my birthday, because she hates me. *drinks* [Dove: Yeah, but on our other site I gave you a month of werewolves for your birthday.] [Wing: I am as yet undecided whether that makes up for this fiasco. The month of werewolves will end, but I’m scheduled to do these recaps until 20-fucking-21.]
We open on Elizabeth setting the table for dinner even though it’s Jessica’s turn. When Mrs Wakefield calls her on it, she makes excuses, mostly that Jessica is so excited about the cheerleading stuff that she’s upstairs practicing and far too busy to do her own chores. STOP ENABLING HER, ELIZABETH.
(Just going to get this out of the way: The Boosters is a terrible name for a sixth grade cheerleading squad. For schools, “boosters” usually mean parents and other community members who work to raise money for certain activities, like marching band and football.)
Mrs Wakefield sends Elizabeth upstairs to get her sister, and even though Elizabeth tells us that her mother doesn’t like it when Jessica ignores her chores, she’s, of course, not going to do anything about it. The Wakefield parents never do anything about their horrid children.
Upstairs, Jessica does a perfect stag leap in front of the mirror. This is how you do a stag leap, apparently:
Blah blah blah, looking at Jessica is like looking into a mirror, perfect bodies, blue-green eyes, blond hair, graceful, matching dimples, Elizabeth is four minutes older, blah blah blah. [Dove: Also that Liz “privately” calls the Unicorns the “snob squad”, no Liz, it’s not private if you use that name in public, which you have done.]
There’s a momentary pause in the story for the twins to have a tickle fight in Jessica’s bedroom, where they “tickled each other to exhaustion”, which is just another example of why our site keeps getting flagged as a dangerous site. Thanks, Wakefield twins, for making us sound like a bad porno. [Raven: “So, Bruce, what makes you think you’re qualified to join the Unicorns?” … *zip, thud* … “Oh, my!”]
Down in the dining room, Steven greets Jessica with a wolf whistle and asks who the babe in the leotard is. Oh, goodie, I’m so glad that incest thread followed us from Point Horror to Sweet Valley. That is truly what I’ve missed in my reading. *drinks* [Dove: Spoiler: it gets worse. Steven definitely has a thing for Jessica.]
Jessica claims that no one ever thought about having a middle school cheerleading team before the Unicorns. Sure, Jessica. Whatever you say. (Cheerleading starts at a very young age, especially in football towns, and there are middle school age cheerleaders all over, but you’re just that special, Wakefield.)
Jessica again tells her parents about how wonderful and popular and beautiful the Unicorns are, and then how many gross girls signed up to try out for the Boosters; she talks about fat Lois Waller, of course, “so fat she’s really two people,” because Jessica Wakefield wants to be the first fictional character I figure out how to extract from a book and set on fire, and even “that icky tomboy Amy Sutton.” Who is, of course, Elizabeth’s other dear friend (and per the summary of this book, her best friend). Again her parents do nothing about the growing snobbery and elitism in their daughter. I’m not surprised, considering where they live, how they live, and the fact that Mr Wakefield is a lawyer. So, so typical. At most, Mrs Wakefield is worried that Jessica has hurt Elizabeth’s feelings. FUCK OUT OF HERE, WAKEFIELDS.
“Elizabeth loved her twin so much that it hurt to think of her as cruel in any way. But it seemed that ever since Jessica had joined the Unicorns, Jessica’s nasty side came out more and more often.”
I have my doubts about that. I think she’s been nasty forever, and so have you, Elizabeth Wakefield, and I hate your entire family.
And mere seconds later, Jessica talks her way back into Elizabeth’s good graces by doing the dishes. The dishes that are already her chore. Oh my god, Elizabeth. And then she wonders how she could ever think Jessica would do harm to her friend. Um, well, the previous three books would explain that, BECAUSE SHE IS TERRIBLE TO YOUR FRIENDS IN EACH FUCKING ONE. [Dove: And was a part of a group that intended to damage the Mercandy house in the last book. She’s gone from body-shaming in book one, bullying in book three, any minute now she will escalate to hurting a person.] [Raven: This series will suffer the same flaw as the X-Files. Scepticism is one thing, Scully, but after ten seasons you’ve gotta just throw up your hands and say “fuck me, it is aliens!”]
Lila Fowler calls to talk to Jessica about the disgusting girls who signed up; she doesn’t recognise that she’s talking to Elizabeth instead of Jessica, and is her true terrible self. Elizabeth finally tells her the truth after she says that they have to think of a way to get rid of the gross girls.
On the way to school the next day, they walk with Nora Mercandy who has continued to forgive Jessica and the Unicorns for all the bullshit they pulled at Halloween. I hate everyone in these books. Well, I don’t really hate Nora, I just want her to be away from the terrible Wakefields. And I really like her grandparents.
Elizabeth goes to the auditions that afternoon, to wish Amy good luck. Then Lila gets everyone started, even though she is absolutely terrible at it. Her first command is for them to, “Get in a line, or something, all right?” You’ve never run a tryout in your life, kid. She also acts snobby and mean to intimidate them, and it works; a few run off even before they learn the cheer.
Jessica teaches them a really basic cheer (“Tom, Tom, he’s our man! If he can’t do it, no one can!” with a few arm and leg movements, ending in a triumphant leap). Elizabeth, of course, thinks her sister is the most graceful, clear, and confident, and that she inspires the other girls. I am going to vomit.
All the other girls seem to struggle to learn the cheer, which already has me rolling my eyes, because of course no one can be written as more competent than a Wakefield and/or a Unicorn. God, the people who created these books are fucked up.
Ellen then teaches a few of them how to twirl a baton, and based on the description, she’s not super great at it, but not terrible. Elizabeth watches, and is surprised to see Amy pretend like she doesn’t know what she’s doing.
[Raven: What exactly was the Grand Unigibbon Plan here? I thought they had something cunning up their sleeves to weed out the “undesireables.” Instead they just act a bit aloof and make it a bit hard? So weak. When Elizabeth thought Amy was pretending she couldn’t do the baton twirl, I presumed that Lila had tampered with the batons and made them unbalanced or something. At least that would have been inventive.]
Oh, apparently Elizabeth is actually there to write a story about the two different tryouts. The girls are trying out to be cheerleaders, the boys are trying out for basketball; the girls are all trying to look good and do a good job, the boys are serious and yelling and athletic. I’m seeing the bias in the writing here.
Then Ken Matthews comes into the gym and hesitates, as if he’s not sure he wants to be there. In my dream story, he’s there to try out for cheerleading and break some boundaries [Dove: That’s book #52.][Wing: Every time I complain about these books, Dove tells me the later books are much better. And yet, here we are, dealing with all the crap books.], but since he’s the guy they always tease about being short, I’m guessing he’s really nervous about trying out for basketball, which is often considered a tall person’s sport.
[Raven: Short people can obviously be good at basketball, but it’s fair to say that height is a definite advantage in the game. So why aren’t there height classes for basketball, like there are weight classes for boxing or wrestling? They have lightweights and heavyweights, so why not have basketball leagues for people under five foot six? Serious question.]
[Wing: I will check with Nephew and report back. He’s a basketball guy, he should have some sort of answer. He’s also not particularly tall, but he plays well.]
Sure enough, he talks to Elizabeth about it briefly, and Ken admits how hard it is to deal with their teasing. She encourages him to go on, and I want to know why everyone is a dick in this school. Even the ones who don’t go around bullying other people (and there are a rare few of them) don’t do anything to stop the bullying when they notice it.
He joins the guys, and the coach actually singles him about, because his dad, Scott Matthews, was one of his all-time greatest players: great at offense, great at lay-ups, great at foul shots, great ball handling, and great at not fouling out. Very graceful for being so tall. I’m sure that’s going to go over well for Ken.
YUP. Coach is actually talking to Tim Davis, who is the tallest boy in the lineup, thinking he is Ken. He’s shocked when he sees how short Ken is, because of course he is, because pretty much everyone in Sweet Valley is a total bag of dicks. [Raven: I’ve come down heavily on the teaching staff of Sweet Valley Middle School, but I’m giving Coach a pass here. First, his heart is in the right place, even if his brain is in a jar. Second, he tries to buck up Ken in a typically brusque manly fashion, which is believable. And thirdly, in the UK at least, PE teachers are used as the butt of many a joke for actions just like this.]
Elizabeth walks home alone because Amy is staying to practice the cheer and Jessica is going to the Dairi Burger with some of the Unicorns. She feels completely alone, and sad that her closest friends are choosing the Boosters over her. [Dove: OMG, Liz, grow a pair! People are allowed a day off from sucking up to you.]
She ends up seeing Ken again after his tryouts, and the guys are making fun of him. She tells him to ignore them, but he says he was a joke in there and he’ll never make the team. Elizabeth offers Steven up to give him some pointers because he’s a great player on the junior varsity team at the high school. Ken is reluctant, but gives in when she pushes him. (And Jessica is supposed to be the one who never takes no for an answer.)
They talk about their families on the way home; Ken really admires his father and wants him to be proud of him, which is pretty sweet, actually. They have a snack when they get to the Wakefield house, while they’re waiting for Steven. He finally gets home, and gives Ken some pointers, but it does not go well. Eventually, Steven gives up (though he claims he just needs to do homework), and Elizabeth takes over. When they were younger, apparently the twins played basketball with a tennis ball because Steven always hogged the real basketball.
This turns out to work, and Ken has much better luck with the tennis ball. Not sure how it’s going to work for him when he needs to start using the basketball again, but sure. He asks her to keep their help a secret, but unfortunately, Bruce Patman rides by on his bike and sees them. Ken runs off and Bruce leaves just as Jessica arrives home. Elizabeth does not talk about what a dick he is, because of course not.
[Raven: See, I’m a bit confused by this story. I thought that Ken would actually be pretty good at basketball, but his nerves had gotten the better of him at the tryout. But it turns out that no, Ken is actually pretty bad at basketball and mainly wants on the team to bond with his dad (which is nice). I know it’s too much to ask that we get a message that just wanting something sometimes isn’t enough, but that’d be much better than “omg super perfect Elizabeth is a ninja sweet basketball coach lol”.]
Jessica encourages Elizabeth to convince Amy to drop out of auditions because she was so clumsy, and that night, when Amy calls, Elizabeth does ask if she still plans to try out, and she does. Then Amy asks Elizabeth all about why she was talking to Ken in the gym, but not in the same way Jessica would, all judgmental, more like Amy has a crush on him. Elizabeth notices this, and is happy.
The next day, Ken thanks Elizabeth for her help, and Bruce teases them about being such a great, short couple. Ken says that by the end of the day, everyone will think they’re engaged because Bruce is such a gossip. (Pretty much everyone is a gossip in this school, damn!) Jessica freaks out, because everyone is talking about them, and it puts her in such an awkward position. Fuck off, Jessica.
She confronts Elizabeth after ballet class that afternoon, and Elizabeth blows her off a little. Jessica says that if the rumors were about her, she’d kill herself. Jesus fucking Christ, Jessica and author, everything is terrible.
Jessica begs Elizabeth to think of her for once and tell everyone it’s not true. I have rolled my eyes so hard I almost snapped my own neck.
The next day, Amy and Elizabeth walk home from school alone together because Jessica is meeting with the Unicorns. They see some graffiti that has Elizabeth’s and Ken’s initials inside a heart, and Amy gets sad over it, until Elizabeth reassures her that there’s nothing going on between them. They run into Ken, there’s a little light flirting as they talk about doing what they love even when people try to talk them out of it (i.e., basketball and cheerleading), and it’s all kind of cute, except for how much I hate everything about Sweet Valley.
Elizabeth tries to write her article about tryouts, but Jessica is playing her music too loud while she practices cheerleading. Elizabeth turns it down and watches her sister a minute, and then smiles at the striped cap on display on one of the speakers; apparently, she got it from Johnny Buck the last time he had a concern in town. He threw it into the crowd, and Elizabeth caught it, but Jessica swore he threw it to her and so Elizabeth handed it over because it was more important to her. As usual. You are such a pushover, Elizabeth, when you’re not being a bag of dicks.
Jessica again asks Elizabeth to stop hanging out with Ken because it is humiliating Jessica, and I again want to set everyone on fire. [Raven: Yup.]
Ken practices more and more with the tennis ball, thinking back over what Amy said to him, and decides that he is ready. He moves on to his father’s old basketball, and does a lot better with it now after so much practice with the tennis ball. I am just tired of the head hopping.
Which, of course, we then head hop to Amy’s point of view. She’s working on her baton routine, and doing a great job of it. I’m annoyed she pretended to be bad at something she is really good at, but at least she plans to bring her all to the final audition.
Lila and Ellen Riteman call her, though, and she starts to feel angry and anxious. With good reason, too, because they’ve called to tell her not to try out, because there were plenty of girls better than her. She refuses, even though they keep pushing at her, and sort of threatening her a little.
The next day, Jessica complains about the pizzaburgers at lunch, which do sound kind of terrible, but Lila tells her not to eat it because she’ll get fat, and I hate Lila even more than I already do. Jessica is ashamed and reaches for Lila’s carrot sticks instead. Fuck off, Unicorns. Fuck off into the damn sea.
Lila also brings news that Johnny Buck is doing another show in Sweet Valley, and tickets go on sale in a couple of days, for $25 each. Jessica thinks that’s a lot, especially because she needs a new outfit and to buy all the concert paraphernalia. First of all, your parents are well off and bend over backward to give you everything you want, why the fuck are you worried? Second, even I could have pulled $25 together for a ticket back then, because I had a job. (I baby-sat.) Third, you don’t need a new outfit or to buy things at the concert, where they are over-priced. Fourth, I won’t even admit to how much I spent on tickets to see the Guns N’ Roses reunion tour last year.
Ellen and Janet interrupt their conversation to say that they need to figure out what to do about Amy, who is really ruining things for them. Jessica is briefly worried about whether they will hurt Elizabeth, too, but quickly pushes that aside, because Elizabeth will never know what they’ve done and she’s a Unicorn and has to go along with what they want to do. But I thought you were the girl who never took no for an answer, Jessica. I hate everyone.
They decide to send Amy some “fan mail” and prank her by writing her a letter from Ken that tells her all the other girls are much better than her and he thinks she should quit now, because he likes her and doesn’t want her to be hurt, and “when you’re up against competition as awesome as the Unicorns, you shouldn’t even bother. Even Elizabeth agrees with me.”
UMM. You really think that is believable? REALLY? [Raven: Or is Jessica subconsciously self-sabotaging her own plan as she doesn’t really want to hurt her twin / best friend? No, she isn’t.] [Wing: I like how you just immediately answer your own question because it’s just that obvious.]
Jessica isn’t satisfied with this one note, though; she wants to stop Elizabeth, Amy, and Ken from being friends at all. She suggests writing a note from Amy to Ken, and Lila backs her on it. They decide to make it super gushy to embarrass him. The note is all about how Amy loves him but is too shy to say anything even though Elizabeth encourages her to do so, so she’s telling him in the letter and all he has to do is smile at her next time and she’ll know.
Jessica is convinced that these two letters will end those friendships, and I can’t even begin to follow the logic. Maybe, maybe between Ken and Amy, and if Amy believes that Elizabeth said she was bad, maybe between Amy and Elizabeth, though I think that is unlikely, but how, exactly, is this going to stop the friendship between Elizabeth and Ken?
Jessica also doesn’t believe that Elizabeth really wants to be friends with them, and that she’s just nice to them out of pity. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate everyone in these books?
Later, Amy tells Elizabeth that the Unicorns have struck again, and shows her the letter from “Ken.” As I suspected, she doesn’t believe Ken would write something like that, and doesn’t blame either him or Elizabeth at all. I’M SHOCKED I TELL YOU.
When they see Ken, however, he runs off. Elizabeth says it can’t be the letter bothering him, and maybe it is Bruce, but no one considers that the Unicorns are fucking with him too, because why would they? It’s only the logical thing to do, and they can only be logical for a few seconds at a time.
Amy takes off after him to find out what’s wrong (and to make sure he didn’t write the letter). He refuses to talk to her, though. She decides that maybe he heard the Unicorns were trying to scare her off and thought she’d given in, but she refuses to do so even more now.
We head hop to Ken, because of course we do, for two whole paragraphs while he thinks about Amy spoiling things with her letter. He likes being friends with girls and hates when they get all mushy.
Ellen and Lila talk about the letters in the bathroom and then Lila says they’re not done with Amy yet; if she shows up at the final auditions, they’re going to do something else to her. Ellen wants to know what, but Lila says she’s waiting until the auditions to say something. GEE I WONDER IF PERHAPS THEY WERE NOT ALONE IN THE BATHROOM.
Oh, I am shocked when Elizabeth walks out of the last stall, having heard everything. She’s furious at Jessica, and desperate to stop Amy from going to the auditions before something terrible happens. God forbid you involve an adult and that adult punish the bullies. GOD FORBID.
Elizabeth runs into Ken before she finds Amy, and tells him that Amy didn’t write the letter. He doesn’t believe her at first, until she asks to look at it. He still has it for some reason, and she says it’s Jessica’s handwriting. Ken doesn’t understand why the Unicorns would do something like that, and Elizabeth can’t really explain it to him. She does apologise because she feels partly to blame for it as “one of the consequences of being a twin.”
No, Elizabeth. You should be sorry for all the dick moves you do, including not getting adults to help stop Jessica’s bullshit, not because you are responsible for the things your twin does just because you are twins. *chugs liquor*
They clear things up, Ken says Amy must think he’s crazy (fuck you, Ken), and then Elizabeth finally finds Amy right before auditions. They both catch each other up on what they know about the Unicorns, and Elizabeth assumes Amy will have to quit now, but she refuses. This makes me love her a little, because she’s so stubborn and smart and kind of wonderful in this moment.
Elizabeth does not agree with me. She’s too worried about Amy to let her make her own choices, and even when Amy points out that Elizabeth has been encouraging Ken to ignore everyone trying to stop him while telling Amy to give up, Elizabeth doesn’t really get it. Elizabeth, I thought you were supposed to be smart.
Ken tries to quit, Elizabeth talks him out of it because of all the good things Amy said about why she’s not quitting, and he agrees to go back to tryouts.
Ellen leads the girls through baton twirling, starting simple and then becoming more complicated. Amy focuses hard on what she’s doing, ignoring everyone else so she doesn’t freak herself out. We learn there are four spots on the squad, and the other four have automatically gone to the Unicorns. How the hell is that fair? [Dove: Because even Ms Langberg understands that the Unicorns are the “prettiest and most popular” girls in the ENTIRE DAMNED UNIVERSE?] [Raven: Don’t they get a few places by default as they came up with the idea and are setting the whole thing up? #devilsadvocate.] [Wing: They didn’t invent the idea of cheerleading, Raven. Everyone should earn their spot on the squad. I judge.]
The boys then rush in, loud and energetic, for their tryouts, and distract some of the girls with their loudness. This sounds like a terrible combination, and also, wouldn’t the guys need the whole gym for tryouts? None of this makes sense.
Amy makes it through the baton section, and then has to do a cheer. Ms Langberg is there; she’s the gym teacher who is also going to sponsor the squad and is overseeing auditions. So far, she has said jack shit except for the fact they have to have auditions in the first place.
The girls do the “he’s our man” cheer, which is ridiculous. A couple others go through it, one drops her baton the other doesn’t, and when it is Amy’s turn, I’m sure you’re shocked to learn they choose Ken’s name. The Unicorns are supposed to be doing it with her, but I’m sure you’re also be surprised to learn that when it is time, she ends up shouting it alone, because they are terrible. Amy pushes through though, because Amy is awesome.[Raven: Much love for Amy. Go Team Peripheral Character!]
She also distracts Bruce, who has been giving Ken so much shit; he starts laughing and pointing, Ken uses that distraction to steal the ball, has great work taking it down the court, and his teammates jump in to join him. Amy cheers harder, Ken dodges all the players, and then makes the basket.
Meanwhile, Amy finishes the cheer and goes off into a super complicated baton routine, much harder than what the Boosters are supposed to do.
Jessica and the Unicorns are suddenly nicer to Amy and tell her she’s on the squad. They are super impressed by her, and I hate them. Ken makes his team, too, and the coach tells him they’re proud he’s carrying on his father’s tradition. This is such a pat ending, and I hate Sweet Valley too much for it to be satisfying, but it’s not terrible.
They then talk about Johnny Buck’s upcoming concert, and Elizabeth says last time, their parents didn’t let them go. But they did go to his hotel and get his hat. UM. That is not how I remember that story going a few chapters ago, and why the hell would you sneak off to his hotel instead of sneaking off to the concert first and then the hotel, if you were going to sneak off at all? GOD.
Story ends with Elizabeth saying that she knows Jessica will do anything to go to that concert. I hope no one gets to go, because they are all terrible, but I’m sure that’s not what will happen at all.
God, I hate this series and these characters so much. Amy and Ken grew on me a little this book, but our alleged protagonists are so terrible I want to set them on fire. There’s not been a Wing Go Boom moment in this one, but I am tired of their snobbery and bullying and bullshit.
I hate you, Dove. Why did you subject me to this?
[Dove: And the moral of the story is: do whatever makes you happy. Unless you’re a girl, in which case, bow down to peer pressure. Wing, I honestly don’t known why I love these books. I was talking to Raven last night, and said that all the characters are pretty much evil, and still I enjoy this nonsense. I guess it got to me too early to be cured of, unlike Point Horror, which got me a few years later.]
[Raven: I’m actually enjoying the series, but I’m coming to loathe the sentence “Elizabeth could never stay mad at Jessica for long.” Why not, Elizabeth? Your sister is a complete tool.]
[Wing: And these are my best friends. I need to drink more.]