Title: Elizabeth the Impossible
Tagline: Has Jessica created a monster? [Dove: Well, evil begets evil, I suppose.]
Summary: Jessica Wakefield is convinced that her sister, Elizabeth, is perfect. Who else is as smart, friendly, and creative as her identical twin? So when Sweet Valley Middle School announces it will be choosing a Model Student, Jessica launches a secret campaign to make sure Elizabeth wins.
But Jessica doesn’t count on what happens. As soon as word gets out about the contest, Elizabeth takes becoming a Model Student a bit too seriously. She starts telling everyone what to wear, what to eat, and how to act. Elizabeth’s become positively bossy! Jessica would do anything to get the old Elizabeth back. What will it take to turn Elizabeth the Impossible back into the girl everyone knows and loves.
I deliberately swapped for this one. This is a book I love. I think it’s a joy to poke fun at Elizabeth, and this book really delivers.
Also, if you read it with a cynical eye, it’s actually a story of dysfunctional relationships, and someone with no power socially using one single pressure point to take over another person entirely, to the point where they drop their friends and change their life to appease this one person. Basically, Elizabeth/Pamela is one fucked up ship. And it’s hella interesting. And once I get to a certain point in the story, I will go into that a bit more in depth.
Warning: As above, I’m going to liken the Pamela/Elizabeth friendship to an abusive relationship. While it’s going to be light, I will use phrases used by emotional abusers that may act as triggers. It’s light, but exercise good judgement.
Note: I’m going to quote a metric fucktonne of this book.
We open with Pamela McDonald – who on my first read I always thought was the same Pamela as the heart condition girl. It’s not – gushing over how awesome Elizabeth looks in her new outfit which compliments her blue-green eyes “perfectly”. Elizabeth is embarrassed by the fawning, because usually the narrators do that. Pamela follows her around all the time, and has taken to dressing and styling her hair just like Elizabeth. [Raven: so far, so Single White Female.]
This amuses me, given that most new girls get adopted by Elizabeth, and she loves that. However, if they choose her, then she no-sirs that pretty damned hard. And sure, it’s weird when someone slides into your life without consent, I just find it funny that Elizabeth finds it squicky only from this angle, and is totes ok with borderline stalking other new girls, just so she can fix them. [Wing: Not so fun when someone’s trying to turn themselves into you rather than you trying to turn them into yourself, huh, Liz?]
Pamela continues to gush over what a genius Elizabeth is, because she won the Junior Journalist award, and nobody can be as clever as Elizabeth, no matter how hard they try. And I fucking love this. As we know that Michael Grant is Team Jessica and Katherine Applegate is Team Elizabeth, I like to believe that Michael Grant snapped one day and was like, “Dude, we’re giving Elizabeth a stalker that just spouts all the glowing praise that is usually reserved for the narrative!” and Katherine Applegate saw the potential for snarky dialogue and they ran with it.
That’s probably not what happened, but do not fuck with my headcannon. [Wing: My headcanon is that your headcannon explodes when people fuck with it.]
Amy and Sophia, who are also present, are hiding their sniggers behind their sandwiches. And that’s a nice detail. Sometimes Team Boring is so earnest and good and pure it makes me want to rip out the pages that feature them. It’s nice to see them laughing at Elizabeth.
Mr Edwards, the Assistant Principal – have we met him before? Is he new? I swear, I cannot keep track of the faculty of SVMS – steps up and makes a Very Important Announcement. This morning he received a call from Teen Scene magazine (say that three times fast, it’s very satisfying), to say that Saint Elizabeth has won their nationwide competition too. She submitted a thoughtful essay on the “challenge of being both a twin and an individual.” Naturally the entire school throws a parade of celebration that Saint Elizabeth has yet another accolade. As opposed to what would have happened at my school: half-hearted applause and a few whispers of “Who?” and “We care why?”
And I’m just gonna channel Raven for a bit here (we’ve been together for a decade and a half, I’ve earned that right). What the fuck? Why was this announced at lunch? Why wasn’t it announced at assembly? Is everything utterly half-assed at Sweet Valley Middle? Will someone please write Sweet Valley Middle vs Ofsted? (Or the American equivalent, whatever that is.) [Raven: Also, to channel Dove for a bit here, what the fuck? I thought Teen Scene was a Jessica magazine, full of glitter and boys and mascara? When the hell did they start running “thoughtful essays”…?] [Wing: Maybe it’s like Teen Vogue, which does amazing, thoughtful reporting on a wide variety of serious topics as well as fashion. As for the announcement, I’m not sure it would be announced at all, but if it was, I’d expect it through the overhead system during homeroom.]
Anyway, back to the wonder of Elizabeth: she beat thousands of people for the prize, which is $200 and an all-expenses paid trip for two to visit the magazine’s head office in LA, plus her essay will be published in the magazine. (Now I’m wondering if she won because she was geographically the closest to LA and it would cut down on the expenses of flying someone in from, say, Newark. Again, don’t fuck with my headcannon.)
Pamela sighed and clasped her hands. “Elizabeth, you are absolutely, without exception, the most talented person in the entire world.”
Pamela is a stalker with a crush. When she leaves – after threatening to walk Elizabeth home, before Amy provides an excuse – Amy comments that she’s “bananas” over Elizabeth. Todd drops by to remind us that he exists, and compliments Elizabeth, but Amy and Sophia beg him to stop, saying it will go to her head.
Next up, we see the Unicorns, and Jessica is a bit out of character. When Caroline Pearce tells them that Elizabeth has won $200 and a trip to LA, the Unicorns suggest she buy new clothes with her winnings, or buy Jessica some clothes/accessories. Jessica refuses to act like herself and says that she’s not telling Elizabeth what to do with her money, and she’s proud of her sister’s talent. Ellen grudgingly admits that she doesn’t particularly like Elizabeth, but she did deserve to win, because she mentioned Ellen’s name three times in her article. Never change, Ellen. [Raven: … And on the third mention of her name, Ellen appeared behind Elizabeth, brandishing a hook.]
Jessica then says the best thing about Elizabeth is that no matter how many trophies are thrown at her, she always stays modest.
Back at the Wakefield Compound, the parents and even Steven agrees that ELIZABETH IS A TALENTED MOTHERFUCKER AND PROBABLY THE BEST PERSON IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE.
Then they celebrate with pizza.
The next day, Mr Davis hands out booklets with “Are You a Model Student?” printed on the front page. There is a nationwide search for “the best middle-grade students in the country.” The boys make some snarky comments, and Caroline asks how to qualify to be a model student. Mr Davis coolly responds the answer is in the booklet. Caroline, I suspect you have to show initiative read instructions. #JustSayin’ [Raven: The whole Model Student schtick reminds me of this scene in Hot Fuzz. SUCH a great film.] [Dove: Same, I just couldn’t work it in to the recap.]
According to the list, a Model Student got good grades, was respected by teachers and fellow students, and was conscientious, friendly, cheerful, and trustworthy. And that was just the beginning.
Behind Jessica, Ellen leaned forward. “Are you a Model Student, Jessica?” she whispered.
“I don’t know,” Jessica said. “I haven’t finished the list yet.” She read on. A Model Student had a sense of humor and assisted teachers. He or she participated in the creative and/or performing arts or in sports. A Model Student was well organized, neat, and healthy.
After class, Jessica and Ellen decide they are not model students, as they’d have to give up junk food (wtf?) and get more organised. Give up junk food? That’s a requirement? Thank god they’re looking in Sweet Valley, where only Lois Waller has the audacity to be fat.
[Wing: What the fucking fuck, Model Student contest, way to fucking shame people with that whole “healthy” thing. Let me guess, a wheelchair would make someone ineligible. Being fat. Having food allergies. Wearing glasses should fall under that, too, because they’re adaptive devices.]
Ellen says you’d have to be a saint to be chosen. Nobody at school is that perfect. Lila joins them and says nobody in the world is that perfect. Jessica says that Elizabeth is.
“I’m going to nominate Elizabeth for Model Student,” Jessica said excitedly. “She’s perfect. In fact, she’s so perfect that she gives me an inferiority complex.”
Two things: a) Jessica basically says that she’s the second most perfect thing in the world, because even she gets an inferiority complex around Elizabeth (never change, Jessica); and b) this is actually true. There are multiple books later on where Jessica actually tailspins in the wake of Elizabeth’s perfection (actually, change on this, Jessica, you’re much better than Elizabeth).
Mandy (hi, awesome girl!) says that Jessica won’t be able to nominate her, the teachers have to. Jessica’s basically: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED, BITCHES!
Jessica then puts her plan into action. It’s very simple, it basically involves talking to every teacher and saying how perfect Elizabeth is. She starts with Mr Bowman, Ms Langberg, and Ms Arnette. All three agree with Jessica that Elizabeth is a fucking saint.
She meets the Unicorns for lunch and they ask how it’s going. She says pretty well. Lila says that she heard that Bruce Patman told Mr Clark that he should be nominated. Change, Bruce. Just change. At this point, the entitled brat himself walks over and says that Coach Cassels is thinking of nominating him. Jessica decides to double-down on her plan. There is no way Elizabeth should lose to Bruce.
… wut? Did Jessica just choose her twin over a boy? I’m tagging that (SISTERS BEFORE MISTERS). I don’t think it’s ever going to happen again.
Next up, she cons Nydick (probably with sexual favours), Ms Wyler and Mr Edwards into thinking of Elizabeth for model student. She thinks to herself that she’d make an awesome campaign manager. And I’m pretty sure everyone here agrees. Every time Jessica needs to do something PR-related, she knocks it out of the park. [Raven: She is the fucking puppetmaster.] [Wing: When she sets out a plan like this, she is amazing. Don’t undersell yourself, Jess!]
Elizabeth was getting some books out of her locker after school when Pamela came up to her. She was wearing neatly pressed khakis, a plaid blouse, and loafers. She had also tied her short dark hair into a ponytail. Elizabeth felt as if she were looking at a carbon copy of herself.
Ok, I get what they’re saying, but when I was at school, my group of friends went through a phase of all wearing black bomber jackets (don’t judge, it was 1994), and it’s not as if the preppy look is hardly unique to Elizabeth. Also, you literally have a carbon copy of yourself (visually, at least), you muppet.
But yes, actually, it’s a bit creepy. I do actually suspect that Pamela has a Elizabeth-shrine in her bedroom. The walls are papered with the Sweet Valley Sixers, Pamela has scribbled over Jessica’s face in the yearbook, and pasted her own head over Amy, Julie and Sophia, so that Pamela can be with Elizabeth in all the photographs. She probably has stolen a barette (and uses it to cut Big Mesa bitches) and has stolen the dead hair from Elizabeth’s hairbrush to make a dolly out of. At the very least. [Raven: Pubes in a matchbox?]
Anyway, Pamela is here to suggest that she do a petition insisting that Elizabeth be named GOD OF THE UNIVERSE. Or a model student nominee. Baby steps. Elizabeth tells Pamela to strongly do one, because she has no interest in being shilled by Pamela. She has the narrators and Team Boring for that. Elizabeth runs away from Pamela and bumps into Todd, who overhears the tail end, and says that actually, Elizabeth is perfect. Elizabeth gets all swoony over the compliment, and they go to get ice cream.
The next day, Jessica bumps into Aaron, who is listed here as “the boy she had a crush on”, rather than her “sort-of boyfriend”, which is the terminology they later settle on. Aaron tells her that Bruce has convinced Coach Cassels to nominate Bruce, and because Bruce is in trouble at home, this will go a long way to calming down his father. Thanks to Thirteen Reasons Why, I keep thinking that Bruce is Bryce Walker.
Jessica again decides that ELIZABETH MUST WIN. She heads over to Mr Davis and cashes in on Belinda asking about whether sports > creativity or vice-versa for the model student. Mr Davis says one is not better than the other, and a model student should be involved in multiple activities. So Jessica lists all of Elizabeth’s. And it’s kind of adorable. Especially when Mr Davis gives her a weary look and says he gets the point. The weary look isn’t actually specified, but I can definitely see it.
After class, Maria, Brooke, Julie and Amy get together to tell Elizabeth that they keep hearing rumours that she’s a shoo-in for the model student. Then they tease her a little.
“Right,” Amy said. “And I’ll bet Pamela would vote for you, too. In fact, she’s probably working on a big banner for you.”
Maria giggled. “I heard she’s taking out a full-page ad in the Sixers.”
“And I heard she’s renting a sky-writing plane to write ‘Elizabeth Wakefield Is the Greatest’ over the freeway,” Julie said.
Elizabeth tried to smile. They don’t know how close they are to the truth about Pamela, she thought.
I really need fic.
At the library, Jessica and Grace discuss Bruce’s bid for model student, and she sees the librarian watching them, so Jessica says that surely he can’t be serious, after all, he gets three or four detentions a month. Then as they check out their books, she bigs up Elizabeth one more time.
After school, Elizabeth drops by Mr Bowman’s office, but it’s locked. She hears her name and Mr Bowman saying that he’d nominate her. She feels guilty and embarrassed, and walks away quickly. She sees Mr Clark leaving and realises that Mr Bowman was suggesting her to the principal. She realises that she’ll have to read up about what a model student is if she plans on being one, and rushes home.
She tells Jessica and cautions her that it’s not official yet and they shouldn’t tell anyone. Jessica, on the other hand, wants to tell Caroline Pearce and let nature take its course. Elizabeth agrees to telling Caroline that she’s been nominated, but giving no source, so Caroline can make it up herself.
“Guess what happened to Elizabeth!” Jessica cried as she barged into the kitchen. Elizabeth trailed along behind her.
“She got a hundred on her history test,” Mrs. Wakefield guessed.
“Did you?” Jessica asked.
Elizabeth smiled. “Yes, but it’s something better.”
Mr. Wakefield began to stack the patties on a plate. “Better than a hundred on a history test?” he mused. “Well, it must be something really special. Did you win another writing contest, Elizabeth?”
“Better than that, even!” Jessica exclaimed. “Steven, what’s your guess?”
“She got named Girl of the Century?” Steven asked through a mouth full of apple.
I’m fairly certain that Grapplegate were enjoying poking fun at Elizabeth with this exchange.
Once again, they celebrate with food – this time ice cream.
I am deeply envious of the Super Duper Wakefields metabolism.
Elizabeth woke up early on Wednesday morning with goosebumps all over her arms. She had just had a crazy but wonderful dream. She had dreamed that she was standing on the stage in the auditorium at school, wearing her best dress and a lacy crown of pink and white flowers. In front of her were rows and rows of students and teachers, cheering and shouting, “Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” Ms. Langberg, with a huge megaphone in her hand, led the cheering, while the school band played “Hail to the Chief.” Mr. Clark had just handed her a big proclamation, printed on a parchment scroll. In fancy lettering it read, “We the students and teachers of Sweet Valley Middle School do hereby proclaim Elizabeth Wakefield as our Model Student. Long may she reign!”
Isn’t that just a regular Monday for a Wakefield? [Raven: Someone’s fallen asleep in front of the Mirror of Erised.]
Elizabeth gets up at stupid o’clock and foolishly tries to encourage Jessica to get up too. Jessica sensibly points out that it’s pitch black outside and she’s not getting up until the morning. Elizabeth then turns her attention to her outfit. She had originally chosen a suitably Elizabeth-like outfit (corduroys and a striped shirt), but decides it’s not right for a model student, instead she wears a navy blue skirt (used for a choir concert – continuity!), navy flats, and ties up her hair in a bun with a navy ribbon. See the front cover for this very prissy outfit. She then reads every inch of the model student pamphlet, and finally heads downstairs for breakfast.
Jessica is eating cornflakes and wants to know why Elizabeth is dressed like a librarian. Elizabeth remembers that the model student is friendly and cheerful, so thanks her for the insult, which Jessica finds baffling. Steven then enters the room and asks whose funeral she’s attending. Elizabeth merely wishes him a good morning. There is one donut left over – donuts for breakfast? Sorry, America, but honestly what are you thinking? Donuts are much better suited to elevenses – and Jessica offers to split it. Elizabeth remembers that the model student eats a balanced diet and says Jessica can have it. [Wing: I’d say at least half our breakfasts are sweet and not savory. Also, elevenses, not really a thing here.]
Elizabeth bumps into Pamela at school, and Pamela has heard the rumour, and gushes that Elizabeth is perfect for the model student and she loves Elizabeth’s new look. Elizabeth warms to her over this, because Steven and Jessica had been a bit cutting. Amy and Julie rock up and ask what’s up with Elizabeth’s hair. Pamela immediately defends it before Elizabeth can say a word. Amy says it makes Elizabeth look like a bookworm. I’m not sure how that’s an insult. She is a bookworm. It’s one of the staples of the same-but-different paragraph in every book. Julie tentatively offers that the ribbon looks nice. Then Todd arrives and asks why she’s dressed like a librarian. (Todd and Jessica on the same page.) [Wing: Soon enough, Todd will love that librarian look.]
Everyone but Pamela walks away (bit rude), and Elizabeth sadly says maybe she should take her hair down as nobody likes it. Pamela bolsters her confidence and she’s glad that at least one person is in her corner. Throughout the day, people congratulate her and she always counters that it’s not for certain yet until Pamela says she shouldn’t do that. So from then on she says “thanks.”
During a Sixers meeting, Elizabeth has to take names and kick ass because someone mixed up the captions on two pictures. She feels that a model student would not let shit like this slide. The rest of the team find it funny, but Elizabeth snaps that it’s not funny AT ALL. [Wing: I am with Elizabeth here, actually. I get that it’s a sixth-grade paper, but I would have been mortified if captions were switched on any paper that I worked on, especially if I was the editor.]
She tells Pamela about it afterwards, and Pamela suggests that Elizabeth proofread every single character before it goes to print. Elizabeth thinks this is a perfect solution, even if it will be a big hassle for all of the writers/editors. [Wing: WHUT. This was not what was already being done? Because that’s basically what the lead editor does on a school paper. You make sure everything is correct once you have all the articles and photographs laid out.]
When she floats this idea – wait, so they had a meeting, went off and did something else, then had another meeting? – nobody likes it. Amy wants to know if it’s the big changes or the tiny ones. Elizabeth clarifies she means literally every single change – after all, whoever proofread the last edition “didn’t do a very good job.” Nora says she did the best she could, but it’s obvious she’s upset. Elizabeth tries to smooth things over by saying next time she won’t have the worry. Nora doesn’t like it, and Elizabeth ignores it. She also ignores everyone else’s objections, it’s important to get things right. Amy asks if it’s worth upsetting people over. Elizabeth is like, “Totes!” Amy decides she’s “impossible” and storms off. (Title drop, bitches.)
Elizabeth walks home and starts to worry that she went too far, and upsetting people wasn’t worth the precision she was aiming for. Then Pamela pops up and reassures her that she absolutely did the right thing. Pamela is the puppet master. [Raven: Pamela is Grima Wormtongue.]
Jessica gets home exhausted. She played hooky from ballet and went shopping with Lila and Ellen – not to mention all the work she did at school to ensure Elizabeth would be nominated as the model student. She tells Elizabeth this, and Elizabeth immediately lectures her for skipping ballet, stating that shopping is a waste of time. Ok, sure, be a bit judgey that she skipped ballet (does Elizabeth no longer take it?), but Jessica loves to shop, and anything you love is not a waste of time. Elizabeth then adds that she thinks Jessica is spending too much time with the Unicorns and doesn’t have any “enriching hobbies” – shopping does not count.
Jessica laughs it off and says no thanks, she doesn’t want to be model student material, but Elizabeth continues to hound her, suggesting she take up chess, or the cello or the harp.
Again, Jessica laughs and gives us an awesome beatdown.
“I’m myself, and I’m satisfied with the way I am. I like to waste time. I love shopping with the Unicorns and talking on the phone and going to parties. Remember that prize-winning essay you wrote about how important it is to be an individual? Well, maybe I don’t have a lot of self-discipline, and maybe I’m not the most cultured person in the world. But I’m an individual, and I’m happy.”
If this series contained this message as often as it did the fat/nerd/ugly-shaming message, there is a chance tween Dove would have hated herself just a smidge less. [Wing: This is a fucking amazing message and I cheered when I read it. Jessica is on fire in this book, in a good way.]
Elizabeth still can’t help but add that liking yourself isn’t good enough, you have to want to be better. Jessica again tells her to get fucked, because it would cause her to enjoy life less.
The apocalypse is coming. Jessica is the voice of reason. When it comes to accepting and liking yourself. Just the way you are. Jessica.
I think the world just divided by zero. [Raven: Jessica is amazing in this book.]
On Friday morning, Elizabeth wakes Jessica up at dawn to go jogging with her and Pamela (just 10-15 times around the block). Sticking to the theme of Jessica, she tells Elizabeth to fuck off. [Raven: Although I remember the book in which Jessica went on the fitness fad herself.] [Dove: True, but Jess had the manners to not insist everyone else join her on her fad.] [Wing: Also, she hated that fitness fad by the end. No wonder she doesn’t jump on this bandwagon.] When morning comes and Jessica gets up, she finds that Elizabeth has been jogging, fixed breakfast for Mrs Howard, their neighbour, who currently has the flu, and that she’s cleaning the kitchen, so that Alice doesn’t come home to any chores.
“Perish the thought,” Jessica dryly comments, but the latter could be pragmatism, rather than sainthood. After all, if there are any kitchen chores, it’s going to fall on the twins to do them, because Alice is tired, and Steven and Ned have penises, making them exempt from woman-chores, and it’s not like Jessica helps out.
After a Unicorn meeting, Jessica gets home late, knowing she might have stuck Elizabeth with setting the table, a chore Jessica detests. However, when she gets back, Elizabeth has set the table using the best china and silver, folded napkins, flowers and candlesticks. She’s also made a dessert.
Jessica feels a bit deflated, but does perk up at the idea of a mystery dessert. Until she finds out it’s brown-rice pudding with raisins. I don’t know if brown rice makes a difference, but rice pudding was a staple of my childhood. It was quite tasty. However, the Wakefield clan are utterly sickened by it, but Alice makes encouraging noises about how healthy it is.
The phone rings, and Jessica moves to get it, but Elizabeth gets there first, and firmly tells Aaron to fuck off and never call again during meal time. How he’s supposed to know when the Wakefields eat, I do not know. I mean, if it was set now, I’m sure it would trend on Twitter every day without fail, but back in the 80s, what’s he supposed to do other than call and hope it’s not dinner time? [Raven: And with Steven in the house, it’s always dinner time.]
Elizabeth swans back in and announces the new rule that their friends can’t call during dinner. Jessica asks if she read that in the model student handbook, and Elizabeth gawps at her for a second before panicking that she missed it on her read through. Steven sniggers and the Wakefield parents exchange a look. Everyone is noticing that Elizabeth is becoming terrifying.
Jessica leaves unbreakable instructions that Elizabeth is not to wake her up at all on Saturday morning – and that’s adorable. And smart. When she gets up, having decided to watch some old Delores Dufay movies, loaf around and then call Maria to talk acting (not sure how well that will go, since Maria is Elizabeth’s friend now), she and Steven find Elizabeth clearing out the fridge.
And by “clearing out the fridge”, I mean throwing anything delicious in the bin, regardless of how much of it is left. Steven has a meltdown and sobs into his sleeve for the loss of all the tasty food. Jessica smirks. Then Alice walks in. She initially thanks Elizabeth for her help in the kitchen, until she realises that Elizabeth has binned the coffee and replaced it with herbal tea. This is the point when Alice snaps. She is trying to get through a rotten gin hangover, and a lack of caffeine isn’t helping. [Raven: If Elizabeth had done the same to the Gin Cupboard, Alice would have been in the papers.]
She tells Elizabeth that she can help plan the meals for next week, to ensure that everything is nutritious, but there will be desserts. Because what’s the point of having a fictionally high-functioning metabolism if you don’t indulge? (I totally would.)
This doesn’t really deter Elizabeth, who finds Jessica eating popcorn and watching Delores Dufay movies (continuity again, I love you, Team Grapplegate), and firmly lectures her twin on wasting her life and suggests Jessica go with her to the museum to look at the new fossil exhibit.
Say it with me: Jessica tells her to fuck off.
On Sunday, Amy turns up and Jessica lets her in. Elizabeth bossily calls down to send her up, and Amy and Jessica quickly check in with each other on how obnoxious Elizabeth is being so far. Amy adds that she was invited to the museum, but said no because she doesn’t like to listen to Pamela’s constant gushing over Elizabeth.
Jessica suggests she find the Monopoly board and they all have a game. Elizabeth impatiently calls down to them again, and suggests Scrabble. Jessica tries to lobby for Monopoly, saying Amy would prefer it too. Amy feebly responds that she doesn’t care enough to argue, so they all end up playing Scrabble.
And this scene feels like a callback to Amy Moves In – and since that was Team Grapplegate, it probably was. Again, continuity.
After the first game, Pamela rocks up and fawns all over Elizabeth, saying she couldn’t possibly play Scrabble against someone as clever and brilliant as Elizabeth, Elizabeth should be in the National Spelling Bee, there should be a monument erected to Elizabeth’s excellent brain. And only one of those is actual exaggeration. Pamela is a joy to behold. If you’ve ever read a parody of these stories, Pamela is the inspiration. [Raven: Pamela is Parker from Friends.]
Jessica watches as Amy gets more and more irritated by Pamela’s compliments and Elizabeth’s eagerness for them, until she spells “baloney” and explodes that Pamela’s utterly sickening. Pamela gives a wide-eyed look and says she’s just telling the truth. This causes Amy to storm out. Elizabeth gets up to follow her, but Pamela stops her, saying that Amy’s just jealous that she’s not as perfect as Elizabeth, and she’s jealous that Pamela is her best friend.
Again, see my above note about this abusive relationship. Pamela is a very small person in Sweet Valley, she’s not even been background mentioned in any prior books, she’s not popular, the text doesn’t describe her as pretty (which is definite currency in this world), and she latches on to Elizabeth. Thanks to circumstances she’s been able to manipulate Elizabeth’s behaviour. Think about the implications of making a new girlfriend exercise with you – are you interested in her health or are you telling her she’s too fat? And this is a major scene, where Pamela just states that they are now best friends. Pamela is creepy as fuck.
And Jessica thinks so too, because she snaps that she’s sick of listening to it as well, and dumps her tiles over the Scrabble board.
Pamela then tells Elizabeth that Jessica’s jealous too. She’s the imperfect twin and it’s really hard for her to deal with Elizabeth’s perfection. She then suggests that she and Elizabeth plan Elizabeth’s clothes for the next school week. “My new partner wants to choose what I wear, is this healthy?” (loads of variations of that question on Quora, universally the answer is no. No, it’s really not.) Also, Pamela encourages Elizabeth to wear clothes and hairstyles that induce ridicule, so she can be the one to build Elizabeth’s confidence back up, driving a wedge between Elizabeth and her real friends, and ensuring that Pamela appears to be the only one who truly loves her. [Raven: Is Pamela creepier than Claire from The Carnival Ghost? Discuss.] [Wing: Immensely. Claire was a lonely ghost trying to murder people so she’d have a friend, and yet Pamela is creepier.]
Once Elizabeth and Pamela work out what Elizabeth is going to wear every day, Elizabeth realises that a blue blouse is missing, so heads to Jessica’s room to hunt it down. She uses this opportunity to lecture Jess about having a messy room. Jessica wishes the old Elizabeth would return.
On Monday, Steven ridicules Elizabeth’s outfit, which sends her running to Pamela for reassurance. Also, Elizabeth has now added a clipboard to her ensemble, which gives her an air of authority. She finds out the nominee will be officially announced on Friday, which seems a long way away.
During English class, Randy asks Elizabeth a question, then Winston asks for help with verbs (♫ Love, love is a verb, love is a doing-word ♫ – that’s how I remember it, Win), and Elizabeth tells him to stop goofing off in class, then he wouldn’t have a problem.
Also, if he asked the teacher, rather than the swot, he could at least get told off by someone qualified to do so. (Although Raven is at the top of a very long list of people who want to know what “qualified” actually entails for Sweet Valley Middle School.)
In social studies, Ellen says she hasn’t found a book to report on yet, so Elizabeth pipes up that she should read Tom Sawyer. Ellen says she’ll never be able to read it in time, but Elizabeth pushes her into it. Ellen is, understandably, fucked off. Elizabeth pitches it as a wonderful look at “nineteenth-century American life”. I’m turned off by that sentence, and I read a lot more than Ellen. Some people like to stay firmly on contemporary ground, Elizabeth. [Wing: Also, they’re likely to have to read that in class over the next couple years. Save it for them, read something newer.]
At lunch, Janet takes two pieces of cherry cheesecake and Elizabeth decides to fat-shame her. Let me quote:
Elizabeth moved a little closer. “Janet,” she said, “there must be zillions of calories in that cheesecake, not to mention all the fat and sugar. You’d feel a lot healthier if you lost a few pounds.”
But behold: in the hands of Team Grapplegate, body-shaming isn’t about making fun of Lois because she deserves it. Body-shaming is about making someone else feel like shit. It’s seen as a bad thing. I wish they’d done the whole run of books, to be honest.
Janet rightly tells Elizabeth to get fucked, and Elizabeth is embarrassed and excuses herself.
[Wing: The fact that Janet didn’t stab her where she stood amazes me.]
The Unicorns discuss it and all agree that Elizabeth is impossible. Jessica says it’s because of the model student thing, everyone takes out their anger on Jessica and stomps off. Jess wishes that she hadn’t done such a good job at campaigning for Elizabeth.
Elizabeth sees Todd in the halls. He quickly confronts her about being so blunt with Winston and hurting his feelings. Elizabeth tries to defend herself saying she was trying to help, but Todd sticks to his message: she was rude and hurtful, no matter what her intention. Winston asked for help with verbs, not how to be perfect. Elizabeth again flushes and excuses herself. [Wing: I love you here, Todd. Way to stand up for your friend even when it involves the girl you like.]
In maths, Elizabeth tells Ms Wyler how to run her class. She suggests more story problems, and says she can write some up if Ms Wyler’s too busy, oblivious to the hairy eyeball Ms Wyler is throwing in her direction.
Jessica catches up with Amy, Julie, Sophia and Maria, and they have a confab about the evil that is Elizabeth, trading war stories over who she’s upset now. They wish that Bruce were a better candidate for model student, because if someone else was picked, Elizabeth might stop being a dick.
At this point Caroline Pearce dashes up with the latest gossip: TODD WILKINS IS IN THE RUNNING.
Jessica feels a plan forming in her evil little mind.
It’s basically the same plan as before, except she’s also going to highlight Elizabeth’s rudeness while bigging up Todd. And it goes swimmingly with Ms Wyler.
Jessica then talks to Mandy and confesses that Elizabeth wouldn’t be so obnoxious if Jessica hadn’t pushed so hard to get her a nomination. She also divulges her new plan to fix things, but it makes her feel disloyal to her twin. Mandy says she’s not sure whether campaigning against Elizabeth is right or wrong, but it has to be done. And that it’s probably for the best if Jessica tells Elizabeth that Todd might be nominated, so it won’t come as a shock to her if she doesn’t win.
Jessica heads home and finds Saint Elizabeth doing laundry – apparently every single piece of fabric in the house has been washed. She tells Elizabeth that there are rumours that Todd is being nominated. Elizabeth laughs it off, saying even Bruce Patman’s name has been floated.
Jessica says that Todd is a serious contender though, because he’s smart and kind, unlike Bruce.
Elizabeth explodes, asking where Jessica’s loyalty lies, and actually, Todd’s not as good as Elizabeth and, generally speaking, Elizabeth is right and Jessica is wrong, so shut up. Jessica is too shocked to say a word, but Elizabeth continues as if she did speak, and starts listing Jessica’s more recent fuckups (Chrissy, Brookette) and says that Jessica’s “bright ideas are usually pretty dim-witted.”
Which is probably just as offensive as that time she called Amy a slob.
At this point, Jessica strangles Elizabeth with a neatly-folded pillowcase and buries her in the Mercandy backyard.
Ok, she doesn’t, she calls Elizabeth a jerk and storms out. But if there were any cannon moment where Jessica got soooooo close to murdering her twin, it’s this one. [Raven: To be fair, I loved Elizabeth here. Reeling off Jessica’s multiple failures was pure gold to a recapper like me who has been mainlining the books for the best part of eighteen months.]
Liz feels smug at having won (god, she’s really horrible in this book) but worried that Todd’s actually a better candidate than her. He has plenty of extra-curriculars, he’s well-liked and he’s smart. She realises that she’s jealous of him. She wants to win more than anything.
Her thoughts are interrupted by the phone ringing. It’s someone from the Sweet Valley Tribune, saying they want to interview her because of her Junior Journalist win. They want to see her at school, so they can interview her friends and take photos of Elizabeth with her friends.
This calms her down a bit, and she decides she’s not jealous of Todd.
The next day, she talks to Pamela about Todd being nominated, but Pamela scoffs. There’s no way Todd could be as good as Elizabeth, but for every activity of Elizabeth’s that Pamela lists, there’s one for Todd too. Elizabeth says she’s trying to be realistic, if Todd’s the better candidate, then she’ll be pleased for him.
“But he’s not better!” Pamela interrupted. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to Sweet Valley Middle School!” Pamela spoke loudly, and several kids gave her a curious look as they walked past.
I’m honestly surprised that this kind of blurt doesn’t happen on a daily basis, given how many lives Elizabeth has changed/saved. [Raven: Also, “best thing that’s ever happened to Sweet Valley Middle School”…? Not much competition there. All very “Best Looking Man in the Burns Unit.”]
Elizabeth finally realises that nobody’s talking to her. Nobody says hi, and people that were previously having fun conversations until she walked in, lower their voices and huddle up, ensuring that she is not invited to join them. She asks Pamela about it, but Pamela merely reassures her that she’s here. (Who else do you need? Don’t I love you best? Are you thinking of leaving me? Is that why you need other friends? You don’t love me. How can you treat me this way? I LOVE YOU, HOW DARE YOU NEED ANYONE ELSE!)
Pamela then adds that everyone will flock around as soon as they see her being interviewed – again, abuser. Does not understand emotions, only power. Even Elizabeth realises this is clearly bollocks, but doesn’t know what to do about it.
She catches up with Todd and congratulates him for his rumoured nomination. He’s very polite, but brings up that she’s not being very nice at the moment, hurting feelings left, right and centre, and he misses the old Elizabeth. Elizabeth worries that he’s breaking up with her, but before she can ask what he means by that, Pamela collects her for her interview.
Pamela says she hopes Elizabeth isn’t giving up if she’s talking to Todd, and Elizabeth realises that Pamela is always interfering with her friendships. She tells Pamela to leave her alone, and despite her protests, walks away.
Elizabeth meets the interviewer, and looks around for a set of friends to be interviewed with. There’s no sign of Jessica, and she dryly notes that Jessica must be really furious if she’s willing to pass up getting her name and picture in the paper. She spots Amy, Julie and Sophia, and asks if they can join them. Amy makes the decision and says why not, but it’s very stilted. They answer the questions, but Elizabeth feels awful.
The reporter’s last question is about how it feels to have an over-achiever for a friend. Amy says it depends, if the friend is an arse about it, you hate them. If they’re humble, it’s fine. When asked jokingly which one Elizabeth is, Amy says, “Time will tell.”
A burn as fierce as the one at Amy’s old house. [Raven: BOOM!]
Jessica is not in the lunchroom because she’s busy shilling Todd to any adult in a 10 mile radius. Unfortunately, Pamela overhears her talking to Coach Cassels, and snaps that she’s going to tell Elizabeth.
(Your friends don’t like you. Not like I do. What would you do if you didn’t have me? Nobody but me cares about you. And you don’t even care for me. WHY DON’T YOU CARE FOR ME! TELL ME YOU LOVE ME BEST!)
Elizabeth shows the reporter out and heads towards the Sixers office to do some work. Mr Bowman’s door is locked once more, and she hears voices inside. She hears Todd’s surname and has to know more – will he be the model student? She leans closer to and the door opens and she falls into the room and into Mr Clark’s arms.
Mr Bowman and Mr Clark are stunned that Saint Elizabeth is eavesdropping. She gets walked silently to Mr Clark’s office, and during that short walk, she recalls all of the dickish stuff she’s done over the past week, and is utterly mortified.
She gets a week of detentions for eavesdropping, and has a slip for her parents to sign which explains the reason for the detentions. Mr Clark makes it clear that he’s shocked he cannot trust her. [Wing: I am actually surprised by this punishment. Considering everything else people get away with at SVMS, this seems drastic.]
She realises that this has sunk her chances for being nominated for model student.
She further realises that it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is her friendships, so she decides to apologise to everyone she’s hurt with her silly and horrible behaviour.
I will give her this, when she realises what she’s done, she owns it.
On her way to class, she bumps into Pamela. She tries to avoid a conversation, but Pamela blurts that Jessica is lobbying for Todd. Elizabeth is fucking thrilled about this. She then tells Pamela that she’s blown her chances by eavesdropping and she’s got detention.
This lack of perfection bothers Pamela and she readily agrees when Elizabeth suggests they don’t see each other anymore.
(This would be the point where it turns into Sleeping With The Enemy or Single White Female or any other $person from hell movie if Pamela was truly abusive. Again, fic please?)
[Wing: Oooh, Elizabeth has fallen from the perfect pedestal, now is the perfect time to slice her up and wear her as a skin suit. Meet the new, improved Elizabeth Wakefield. Call her Pamabeth. Don’t mind the blood.]
Jessica and Elizabeth catch up after school – and after detention for Elizabeth – and Elizabeth thanks Jessica for putting Todd forward for model student. This astounds Jessica, but she quickly adapts, mostly because she’s delighted the old Elizabeth is back.
Elizabeth spends the next few days making apologies to everyone, including Todd.
At the assembly, the nominee is finally announced.
Actually, there are two nominees: Todd and Elizabeth. Shocker.
Yet again, despite all the shit behaviour, Elizabeth still gets to win. That’s why we have a tag for it.
Winston Egbert leads a cheer for the two awesomest kids in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD.
Then we have the buildup for the next book. The Boosters are squabbling over their routine. Grace Oliver – remember her? It’s ok if you didn’t, she joined the Unicorns in The Bully, but was then pitched as predominantly Elizabeth’s friend in The Big Camp Secret – jokes that Winston should join after the cheer he did at school, and the Unicorns immediately decide he’s a nerd. Amy is frustrated and says that it might help to have boys on the squad. Janet firmly says over her dead body.
So next book: Janet ends up buried in the Mercandy backyard?
I like this book. I like it for what it is on the surface: the story of a girl who gets too big for her boots; and what it is with a rather dark reading: the story of an abusive relationship.
I feel like on the surface, the writers were just having fun with Elizabeth’s perfection, and it’s really satisfying for people who don’t like Elizabeth to see other people reacting negatively to her busybody ways.
Overall, really liked this book.
[Raven: I liked this book too. Elizabeth is a proper wrongun, and I could happily hoof Pamela into fucking space. I think I’d have liked some more time spent on the final scenes, with some reactions from the many offended people to whom Elizabeth apologised, but either way it was pretty good.]
[Wing: I agree, the ending felt rushed and I wanted to see more of her making amends. Also, her not winning that goddamn award after all that shit. I loved Dove’s insight into abusive relationships throughout.]
I am Dove (she/her). I am: Team Jessica (Sweet Valley); Team Bad Guy (Point Horror); Team Geiger (Making Out); Team Nina/Lucas (Making Out); and I am the voice of a claymation cow named Daisy, and I was in an advert for Fairy Liquid in the 80s.