Sweet Valley Twins #56: The Wakefields Strike It Rich
Title: The Wakefields Strike It Rich
Tagline: Now they can buy anything!
Summary: You can’t be too rich… or can you? When Jessica, Elizabeth, and Steven Wakefield’s great-aunt Helen arrives in Sweet Valley, she brings a big surprise: one hundred dollars in cash for each of them!
Now the Wakefield kids are faced with a problem: how will they spend all this cash? [Dove: #FirstWorldProblems]
Jessica shows off by showering her friends with presents. When the money runs out, how will she explain she is broke? Elizabeth buys an autographed copy of her favorite author’s latest mystery, and her money madness leads her to believe there’s a mystery right under her nose! Steven takes beautiful Jill Hale on a dream date to an expensive restaurant. But when the dinner bill arrives, Steven realizes he is not so rich after all.
Can money buy the Wakefields friendship, mystery and romance?
Let’s get this out of the way before we start:
EXTENDED, y’all! Two minutes of amazement. If you’ve not watched Orphan Black, you’re missing out. Seriously. [Dove: I think Orphan Black was inspired by Sweet Valley High, when so many people looked like the twins/stole their lives/twin switches/etc. Also: EXTENDED SCENE FOR THE WIN.]
Next… one hundred dollars. In cash. Each. DAMN, that’s a pretty hefty sum for a tween in the late Eighties.
Only two Wakefields on the cover? I’ll be generous and say it’s Steven and Elizabeth. Jessica’s obviously out of shot, having spent her cash on drugs, now earning Steven’s cash in a time-honoured fashion.
[Wing: I am thrown by the FUCK YOU TAMARA CHASE tag, so this is going to be interesting.]
I’ll let you in on a trade secret: Usually, when recapping a Sweet Valley Twins book, I read it a few days (if not weeks) beforehand. Then I revisit the text when writing the recap. That was so, I kid myself to believing, I can add a little structure and theme to what I’m bringing to the table.
This time? GOING IN BLIND.
This is by design, I promise you. I think it’ll be fun. Or it’ll be rubbish. Either way, it’ll be different.
We start with the twins heading home from school, on the day that their Great-Aunt Helen is coming to visit. That means one thing: cleaning, at the Elder Wakefield’s behest, before the arrival of the Grand Poobah (Hereafter Known As GAH).
In a nice piece of continuity, Jessica complains that they just cleaned the entire house that weekend, after their exciting party sans-parents that almost ended in disaster.
“We’ll have to polish the silver or wax the floors. There’s no way I’m going home before Aunt Helen gets there.”
Never mind, Jess. At least you’ll learn karate while you work.
She believes the best way to shirk work is to persuade her saintly sister to ditch dinner and creep to Casey’s Place with a plethora of scornful Unicorns. Liz agrees, as her spine is marshmallow as usual.
There’s an exchange about twins being the same but different. This is the same as in other books, but different. But in this one, we learn that Elizabeth is interested in ONE BOY (Todd Wilkins), while Jessica is interested in BOYS, plural. So fuck you, Aaron Dallas.
After hooking up with Team Unicorn (with no Ellen?! Sacrilege!) the girls hit Casey’s Place and discover that Steven is there too, with a bunch of his friends. For ice cream? Unlikely. To perv on his sister and her friends? Probably. Get your hands out of your pockets, Steven!
But wait! Steven, it seems, only has eyes for a mystery blonde…
[Jessica] looked over at Steven’s table. “Who’s that girl with the blond hair? I’ve never seen her before.”
“Beats me.” Elizabeth pulled out a chair and sat down.
“That’s Jill somebody-or-other,” Janet said.
Jill somebody-or-other… thanks Janet. I’m betting that JSOO ain’t atop the list of prospective Unicorns.
Steven is besotted, so much so that he fails to notice his giggling sisters. This blonde bombshell has him firmly in her thrall. Then Janet reveals a potential fly in the pie: her brother, Joe, who is sat with Steven, also likes this JSOO girl. And to make matters worse for poor love-struck Steven, Joe has skills (what you gonna do about it?).
We skip into Steven’s head, and discover that JSOO is actually Jill Hale. And we discover that Joe does indeed have skills. He’s telling stories, making Jill and the gang laugh, coming across as a fun guy and prospective lover. While Steven sits with his metaphorical balls in his hand, feeling powerless and alone.
In a weird exchange, Joe conducts a perfectly acceptable group conversation with everyone at the table, which Steven tries to hijack to impress Jill. Steven then concludes that because Jill didn’t laugh at his non-jokes about wrestling, Joe must be a cunt.
It’s all Joe’s fault, Steven thought. When it came to girls, Steven felt that Joe took over every conversation. Girls always laughed at Joe’s jokes, and it seemed that he could talk to them easily. Steven, meanwhile, always ended up feeling like a fool.
Steven vows to ask Jill on a date, figuring that once they are alone together she would see the Real Steven and not this bumbling cretin. And while he’s on the date, he would have a perfect alibi to cover himself over Joe’s disappearance… being related to Jessica the psychopath does have its benefits. [Dove: The first time I read this, it came across as shady but feasible. I thought that Joe and Jill were dating, and in my group of friends, if you kissed someone then you and that person were coupled up, exclusively, with no need to discuss. So if Joe had dated Jill, and Steven wanted a date with her too, he was stealing Joe’s girlfriend. Shady. But also the boys I knew back then would definitely pull something like that on their “best friend”. Tween Dove was very confused by the whole concept of romance based on the idiots she hung out with.]
[Wing: During this scene, I got horrible second-hand embarrassment for Steven and wasn’t sure if I could finish this story.]
We cut back to the Unicorns. And Elizabeth. Which is weird, now I think about it. I guess that’s why the ghostie(s) ran with Mary Wallace, Brooke Dennis, Janet Howell and Mandy Miller, and not some of the screeching harridans we usually see. I’m looking at YOU, Tamara Chase. [Dove: *blinks* What did Tamara do? And how can you tell the difference between Tamara Chase and Kimberley Haver?] [Raven: Picked her name out of a metaphorical hat.]
The bill for the ice cream arrives, and the girls discuss tipping etiquette.
Jessica discovers that – shock horror – she doesn’t have the two dollars and fifty cents required to cover her share of the bill. What she DOES have, however, is fifty cents. Fifty cents and two dollars’ worth of hair ribbons. Hair ribbons, which as we all know can make a stylish and devastating garrotte.
Elizabeth only has her share, so can’t help cover, although I’m surprised she doesn’t offer to pay for Jessica’s sundae and then try to sell her shoes to cover her own.
Jess turns to Lila, who lectures her on the perils of being a spendthrift. Money does not grow on trees, except on the money tree in Lila’s private orchard. Jessica thinks that Lila’s being a Grade A Beeyatch for not just paying the shortfall, but Lila has a point. She has an allowance too, even if adults call it a ‘credit limit.’
Eventually, Lila caves and loans Jess the two dollars. She then belittles her in front of the rest of the group. Everyone laughs except Elizabeth, who is SUCH a saint she’s opening an orphanage in Calcutta by chapter three. At least that would solve Jessica’s cash flow problems. SATIRE.
Jessica vows revenge on Lila, as she seems to do every fourth book or so. Get a grip, Jess. Lila’s amazing.
Back at the Wakefield Compound, we see the Wakefield Siblings meet GAH, who has her arm in a cast. Probably because of her nieces and nephews using her as a 100%-payout slot machine.
Miraculously, the twins and Steven appear genuinely pleased to see her. There’s some sweet small talk about Coco and the Sixers – nice continuity there – before GAH produces three envelopes, and we get into the story proper.
One envelope each, for Steven, Elizabeth and Jessica.
Each envelope containing TEN ten-dollar bills.
One Hundred Dollars.
LET’S MAKE IT RAIN!
The kids are suitably impressed, while the elder Wakefields are predictably shocked. GAH is generous, but she didn’t have to do that, blah blah blah. Who fucking cares, LET’S GO SHOPPING!
Naturally, the Twatted Alice punches the Magical Fantasy Fairy right in the fluffy gusset.
“Maybe you three should think about putting it in your savings accounts,” Mrs. Wakefield said.
Jessica turned to Elizabeth and mouthed, “No way!”
“Yes, that sounds like a very good idea,” Mr. Wakefield said. “You could put it toward your college education. If you deposit it in the bank now, it’ll earn lots of interest by the time you need it for college.”
Oh, GET FUCKED, Elder Wakefields. One hundred dollars will earn zippetty-fuck interest in six years. Not everything has to be a life lesson. Sometimes you need to waste it on hookers and blow, because THAT’S a life lesson too. Given that Ned and Alice grew up in the Sixties, I’m pretty sure they’ve spent far more than $300 apiece in one sitting on soft drugs and hard porn. And I’m sure Great Aunt Helen isn’t a stranger to a speedball. That twinkle in her eye is probably a needle scar. [Dove: Also, even in the 80s, exactly how much college eductation would $100 buy? A fabled number 2 pencil? Also, what is a number 2 pencil? Over here, they were HB (your standard) and then 1B, 2B, 3B, etc., the higher the number, the fatter and softer the lead for drawing.]
[Wing: Quick research says that on average, for a 4-year public school, tuition/room/board/fees would average around $10k to $15k in the late 80s and early 90s. For me, $100 would have covered about a semester’s worth of books or so, because we rented our textbooks still. It wouldn’t have covered a single book for law school.]
I researched how much interest they’d each make on their $100 investment over six years, at the US savings rate of 8.2% (average in 1990, apparently).
Their $100 would become $163.28.
Pretty decent, I guess, but I’d rather have a thousand-dollar memory than a sixty-three-dollar payment.
So fuck it, Wakefields. Piss it up the wall.
GAH reiterates that they can do whatever they like with the money. Elizabeth says she wants to save for a camera, which I’m totally down with. Jessica vows to “spend it”, which is suitably vague, and Steven doesn’t even get a mention. Probably gonna buy Viagra or something… THAT’D impress Jill, and at the very least he could use his erect penis to club Joe into unconsciousness.
After dinner, Jessica calls Lila to gloat. Lila’s all like, “Big whoop, my gardener wipes his cock on Benjamins,” and Jess is like, “Why you fronting?”
Lila’s just lonely.
Instead of taking notes on her reading assignment, Jessica wrote down a list of things she could do with her money.
#2. Compact Discs.
#3. A party for all my friends.
But then she crossed the last one out. The last party she’d had turned into a disaster.
Of course, she could pay back some of the money she’d borrowed from Elizabeth. But Elizabeth didn’t need it—she had a hundred dollars, too.
Gotta say, that list is SUPER-cute. And fuck Elizabeth and her historic debt.
On the way to school the following morning, Amy and Elizabeth brainstorm on how Liz can spend the money. Amy tries to convince Liz to spend the money on, well, AMY. Get fucked Amy. [Dove: Amy, the only reason I don’t hate you as much as I hate Elizabeth is because of those five pages where Ellen thought you were brilliant.] [Wing: *pours one out for Amy/Ellen TRU LUV 4EVA.]
We cut to the Steven plot, briefly. Our poor greedy fourteen-year-old horndog is waiting for Jill to enter the classroom. Apparently Jill – a new girl who joined school a few weeks earlier – was love at first wank for Steven. And English Class was his morning glory, in that it represented the first time he’d see the object of his spiffy affection each day.
Jill enters the classroom, and Steven squeaks at her. Literal squeaks. Jill smiles and sashays off.
Jesus, Steven. Get a fucking grip, lad.
As he sits and daydreams about impressing Jill with Roses, his teacher calls him out and belittles him. Everyone laughs, including Jill. Steven is mortified. Isn’t this how school shootings happen? [Dove: It’s ok, if any town is filled with thoughts and prayers, it’s Sweet Valley. They have Elizabeth.]
Next, it’s lunch in the Unicorner. Jessica is bursting to tell the her friends all about her stoke of good fortune. Happily, she doesn’t have too long to wait. In front of all of the Unicorns – that’s right, ALL of the Unicorns – Jessica makes her big announcement.
“I was thinking of going to the mall,” Jessica said. “I thought maybe you’d want to come.”
“Why, do you need to borrow more money?” Janet asked. She and Lila laughed.
“No,” Jessica said slowly. “I’m going on a major shopping spree!” She looked around the table at everyone and smiled. “I have a hundred dollars—in cash.”
Dove has helped me determine exactly what is meant by “all of the Unicorns.”
I picture fifty, sixty, ONE HUNDRED purple-clad harpies, gaggling round Jessica like a cabal of melons.
Apparently, it’s ten. A little underwhelming, if I’m honest.
Jess could give them all ten dollars each, then we could head to book 57.
Everyone is suitably impressed. Except Lila, obviously.
“Wow, a hundred dollars,” Mandy said.
“You can buy a lot of stuff with that,” Kimberly added.
“Not really,” Lila said. “I mean, it’s not really enough for a shopping spree.”
“It’s not?” Mary asked.
“I could spend a hundred dollars in an hour,” Lila said.
“Yeah, but that’s because you practice,” Jessica replied.
Now THERE’S a book I’d read the shit out of… Brewster’s Millions, but with Lila Fowler at the helm, trying to spend $30,000,000 in thirty days.
I mean, if Lila spent at $100 an hour, for 24 hours a day, for 30 days, she’d rack up a tab of £21,600.
Even so, I reckon she’d smash it.
[Dove: *wibbles* I think we have your NaNoWriMo project this year.] [Raven: I may be persuaded.]
Lila demands her two dollars. Because why not.
We cut to a bookstore at the mall. Elizabeth and Amy are there. As anyone who reads this series knows, Elizabeth loves a mystery, especially the works of Amanda Howard. Amy, on the other hand, likes Johnny Buck all of a sudden.
Does she? I mean, she’s never really had an opinion on the Buckster one way or another. This feels like the author jamming in a slew of new facts. Either way, she and Liz spend a great deal of time pointing to pictures of Johnny Buck with slightly different hair in an unauthorised biography and laughing maniacally.
Eventually a shop assistant, who I TOTES thought was doing the “excuse me, ladies, but this is a shop and not a fucking library” schtick. But no, she’s there to point Elizabeth to the latest hardcover Amanda Howard mystery, about which Liz is oblivious (OBLIZIOUS!). As luch would have it, Amanda Howard herself is due to do a signing in the bookstore the following afternoon, and she’ll sign copies of the book on the production of a receipt.
Are we expected to believe that Elizabeth Wakefield, Amanda Howards BIGGEST FUCKING FAN, has NO CLUE that a new book by her FAVOURITE AUTHOR has JUST BEEN RELEASED?!
I call bullshit.
Okay, I can let the whole signing-at-a-local-store thing passing her by slide. I have missed a few gigs / comedians in my home town due to that. But missing her latest BOOK? Nope.
Liz buys the book ($22) and the Johnny Buck Hairstyle Pamphlet for Amy, and they head off to Casey’s Place, which I believe must be a major sponsor of the series considering the amount of time it gets name-dropped.
By the way, Casey’s Place exists. But not how we know it.
On the way, they spot Steven outside a jewellery store, and deduce he’s going to buy something for Jill. A diamond cock-ring would be a nice gift for the girl you love, I suppose.
The girls bug him, and he fucks off.
Amy and Elizabeth burst out laughing. “He was so nervous!” Elizabeth said. “I’ve never seen him act so weird about a girl.”
“Do you think he was meeting her here?” Amy asked.
Elizabeth shook her head. “He probably wanted to go into the store, only he couldn’t, with us here.”
Amy laughed. “Can you imagine Steven buying some girl jewelry?”
“If Steven picks it out, I feel sorry for her!” Elizabeth said
FUCK YOU, you pair of giggling twats. Poor Steven! [Wing: I find it too cute. Younger sibling + friend giggling away.]
As they enter Caseys, Jessica exits with a bunch of Unicorns. The twins compare spending notes. Liz has bought the books. Jessica has bought sundaes for her friends. Which is, again, SUPER CUTE.
Later, we see the Unicorns shopping. And Jessica starts flashing her cash, helping her pals buy things they want through a sense of generosity and as a pointed snark at Lila’s perceived meanness.
I’m actually surprised at the Unicorns here. They aren’t being manipulative bell-fruits, their shopping habits seem genuine and not ruses to part Jessica from her money. I think I enjoyed this scene a little more than the words warrant.
Overall, like Elizabeth, Jessica spends roughly thirty dollars. Even though she has nothing to really show for it other than the grateful smiles of her fellow Unicorns, she’s happy enough with that.
At five pm, we cut to a browbeaten Steven, waiting for the girls to leave the mall so he can buy something shiny to impress Jill. In an exchange with a marvellously snooty salesman, he’s offered a $300 pair of earrings, then a $200 pair, before eventually settling for a $28 pair. The salesman isn’t impressed.
Steven watched him put them in a black box with the Precious Stones logo on it. At least Jill would know that he bought them at an expensive store. The salesman wrapped the box in shiny gold paper and tied a black ribbon around it. He couldn’t wait to see Jill’s face when she opened the box—she was going to be so impressed.
She’s not going to be impressed.
So! Four chapters down, and each Wakefield Sibling has spent around $30. How very structured!
Back at the Wakefield Compound, Aunt Helen interrogates the siblings about their purchases as they are force-fed scalloped potatoes by their gurning parents. She ooh and aahs over their spending habits, although Steven is understandably silent about the earrings for JSOO to avoid the mockery such and admittance would ensue.
Talk turns to GAH’s mysterious cast, about which she’s being pretty tight-lipped. Does it have something to do with her generosity, perhaps? Did she fall down the stairs and think she was going to die, and vowed to spend her money as life is fleeting? Yeah, I’ll bet that’s it.
NO! Actually, this is AMERICA. Has she amassed a huge medical bill for spraining her wrist, and is frantically giving her savings away in order to qualify for Medicaid lest they repossess her house or send in the bailiffs to forcibly acquire her titanium hip? [Wing: Don’t think it would cover pre-existing hospital bills, though I’m not certain. Also, had to double-check her age; at 64, she’s less than a year from qualifying for Medicare, which provides better coverage. So close, GAH. SO CLOSE.]
After dinner, the girls quiz Steven on his spending habits. They tease him about spotting his window-shopping at Precious Stones, the inexplicably-not-named-in-the-system-way jewellery store at the Sweet Valley Mall. He denies being there, of course, but the twins deduce he must’ve bought something for Jill, and that he luuurves her, and that this is somehow hilarious. Jessica actually gives him some romantic advice, laying out that she’d expect a kick-ass date and flowers and jewellery and at least seven inches, preferably on the slack.
Later, as Liz enjoys her new book – she hopes to finish it before meeting Amanda Howard the following day – she overhears GAH talking to Ned. A mystery is afoot!
“Don’t worry, Helen, we’ll make sure you get a good lawyer,” Mr. Wakefield said. “If one of the people I’ve recommended can’t help you, I’ll fly out there and help you myself.”
Aaaah, so that’s what’s happening. GAH’s ‘medicinal’ herb garden has been raided by the cops, and she’s frantically laundering the profits through her nieces and nephew. [Dove: Why can’t Ned represent her? We all know he’s doing about a zillion different disciplines of law.]
Or, I guess, she was involved in an accident and there’s a dispute over the blame.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate yet another area of Ned’s legal expertise.
The man is indeed a Lawyer With Many Hats.
Elizabeth ends the section awash with the mystery in her house, and the mystery in her new book. Will she ever discover what’s happening. Yeah, I’ll wager she’ll have gotten to the bottom of it in another six or so chapters.
We cut to Steven, who’s been practicing lines for his next performance: the role of possible suitor for Jill.
“Hi, Jill, this is Steven. How are you? I was wondering if you’d like to go out with me this Friday night. I thought maybe we could go to dinner, say, around seven. How does that sound?”
“That sounds like you’re a total dweeb!” Steven answered himself.
Naturally, this makes me think of the below:
Why? Because I’m really tired.
As he heads to phone Jill and carom towards his certain romantic doom, he trips over a magazine that Jessica has slipped under his door. It’s not porn: it’s a description of a so-called “Dream Date.”
Happily for Steven, it all seemed roughly what he’d been planning. Apart from dancing. In the Dream Date, there is more Dancing.
Fighting back the fear, he calls Jill… and blow me down with a fucking feather, he manages to secure a date for that coming Friday!
Although, if I’m being totally honest, she doesn’t really seem that keen…
“I was wondering if you’d like to go out with me Friday night,” he mumbled.
“Sorry. What was that about Friday?” Jill asked.
“Are you doing anything?” Steven asked.
“Probably,” Jill said. “I don’t know what yet.”
“Well, would you like to go out?” Steven asked. “To dinner?”
Jill didn’t answer right away, and for a second Steven was afraid she had hung up. “I guess that would be OK,” she finally said.
Not exactly frothing at the gusset, is she, Champ? Well, who can blame her after such Wildean bon-mots as this:
“Oh, hi, Steven,” Jill said. “What’s up?”
“Not much. Just working on my English homework.” Steven laughed nervously.
“We didn’t have any,” Jill reminded him.
“Right,” Steven said. “That was a joke.”
“Oh,” Jill said.
Fucking hell. That’s some weak shit right there.
Nevertheless, a date is a date. After a tiny bout of self-doubt, Steven basks in the glory of his accomplishment.
Next morning, Elizabeth dresses to impress Amanda Howard, who she will be meeting. She invites GAH, who continues on the nervous route. The Wakefields comment that she is usually so full of life, and she laughs nervously. I’m definitely calling shell shock after a crash at this point.
Steven and Jessica enter shortly after, and the banter continues apace. Steven, it seems, has been tossing all night.
Next, GAH takes delivery of an envelope. As the kids watch, she puts the envelope unopened on the window sill. Elizabeth wonders if this has anything to do with her overheard conversation from the previous day.
OF COURSE IT DOES, you cleft. I’m guessing summons.
After school, Amy and Liz arrive at the mall in fine time. Liz is nervous, and Amy tries her best to chivvy her best friend along.
They join a queue of twenty fans, all waiting for a moment with their literary heroine. After a ten-minute wait, she gets a few moments with the author.
“How shall I sign it?” Amanda asked.
“To Elizabeth,” she said.
“My biggest fan,” Amy added.
“No, you don’t have to write that,” Elizabeth said. “Just ‘to Elizabeth’ is fine.”
GET FUCKED, Amy. This is not your moment. I actually hate Amy in this book thus far, and usually I’m the recapper with the most time for her.
Liz and AH share a few minutes of small talk, of which THIS is the most likely important part:
“Can I ask you one question, before we go?”
“Sure,” Amanda said.
“How do you come up with the ideas for your books? I mean, you’ve written so many,” Elizabeth said. “How did you think of all those plots?”
“Elizabeth’s a writer, too,” Amy said, “so she needs to know this kind of thing.”
“Well, it’s simple, really,” Amanda said. “Most of the time, there are mysteries going on right under our noses. We just don’t notice them. I pay attention, that’s all.”
Basically, Amanda Howard just gave Elizabeth Wakefield the permission to snoop into her Great Aunt’s private affairs. Way to go, Aman-Duh. [Dove: Damn, that woman’s got a lot to answer for. Although Liz has been doing this for 55 books without permission, so…] [Wing: She gave a really kind answer to one of the questions most authors I know find terribly boring.]
Also at the mall, we discover that Jessica is still treating her friends. This time, it’s frozen yoghurt. And she has to delve into her shoe safe to fish out the wonga to do it. She hands it to the cute boy server.
He held it a few feet away from him and wrinkled his nose, as if the money smelled. Lila and everyone else in their group cracked up. The boy slid it into the cash register and got out Jessica’s change. “Here’s your change. If you want, you can just hand me your shoe and I’ll put it in.”
Poor Jessica. Even when she’s being nice, she gets the shitty end of the butt plug. [Wing: I don’t blame him. That’s super gross, and sweaty money from customers is a horrific part of retail.]
The Unicorns thank Jessica for their delicious frozen treats, then Tamara and Lila do the nice thing: they tell Jessica she needn’t keep treating them to iced products. Tamara, I take it all back. Maybe you’re not such a cunt after all.
Lila warns her not to go spending like a lottery winner, lest she run out of funds. Jess, being Jess, attributes that to Lila’s jealousy.
Later, Jessica spies a flouncy blouse of many colours. Thing is, it’s $40, which would pretty much clean her out, thus fulfilling the Lila Fowler Prophecy, So Mote It Be. So she holds back.
“Hey, Jessica, while you’re thinking it over, can I show you a T-shirt I want to get?” Tamara asked.
Actually, Tamara, you ARE a proper cunt.
Later that afternoon, at the Wakefield Compound, Elisabeth hears someone crying… and, after following the sound of sobbing, she comes across Great Aunt Helen, weeping alone in the living room. Liz asks her what’s wrong, and GAH evades the question with lies.
Aunt Helen pointed at the television. “It’s embarrassing, really. I was crying because of that silly thing.”
Elizabeth glanced at the television. At the moment, a commercial for diapers was on the screen. “What do you mean?”
“One of my favorite people just died,” Aunt Helen said, sniffling. “I was watching ‘Days of Turmoil.’”
Really, Aunt Helen? REALLY?
I call bullshit.
To be fair, even Liz calls bullshit, although she doesn’t say it out loud.
For some reason, Elizabeth had trouble believing that Aunt Helen—reasonable, dependable, witty Aunt Helen—could get so concerned about a soap opera character. It didn’t make sense.
Liz goes on to question GAH on the mysterious letter from that morning, but the wily pensioner no-ma’ams the whole thing. So Liz trots back to the kitchen to tell Amy. They head to the bedroom, and Liz spills what’s occurring.
Amy jumps to the ludicrous.
“Maybe the letter was a threat or something,” Amy suggested. “You know how people cut letters from magazines and send notes to people?”
“You mean like a ransom note?” Elizabeth asked.
“Right! It could be a ransom note,” Amy said excitedly.
Considering that not TWENTY BOOKS AGO, so like three days ago in Sweet Valley Time, the girls were embroiled in an actual kidnapping plot with an actual snippy snippy ransom note, I find it hard to believe that Liz needs the concept of ransom notes explained to her.
After a little more asinine deduction, Amy reaches the conclusion that someone is after Great Aunt Helen. The same someone, in fact, that broke her arm.
Y’know what, maybe Amy’s right. Maybe Great Aunt Helen actually HAS wandered south of the tracks, and gotten herself involved with some of Trump’s Bad Hombres.
Maybe Great Aunt Helen has broken bad.
Liz decides the only way to help her aunt is to get hold of the mysterious letter. Nothing like a maguffin to focus the mind (and the plot).
We cut to Steven with his friends at the Dairi Burger. He’s sitting next to Jill, and unable to stand because of his raging boner. Also there are a bunch of others, and the love rival that is Joe Howell.
Joe, as usual, is displaying his skills.
It’s pretty clear that Jill only has eyes for Joe. Even when Steven cracks a semi-respectable joke regarding Joe’s outfit, which has the rest of the party in stitches, Jill simply sits and stares into Joe’s baby blues.
“You look like the skipper on a cruise ship,” Steven said. “Welcome aboard the SS Howell,” he added and saluted Joe. Cathy Connors, Megan Moore, and Larry all cracked up. Steven looked eagerly at Jill for her reaction. She was gazing at Joe.
Eventually, Joe leaves the table, and Steven tries some more bush-league chat, which is horrible (in universe, at any rate; it’s actually well written and suitably awkward). Joe returns with free fries for Jill, and Steven kicks himself for missing such a great opportunity. HE could have fetched fries for Jill!
He fetches ketchup instead. And more fries for everyone. But it appears that he can’t even fetch ketchup correctly…
Steven slid back into the booth and ripped open a ketchup packet. “Here you go,” he said, handing it to Jill with a smile. But his hand slipped, and ketchup squirted out onto the table, just missing Jill’s arm.
“Hey!” she cried. She grabbed a napkin from the napkin holder and started cleaning up the mess.
“Is that one of those trick ketchups they advertise in the back of comic books?” Megan asked, giggling.
Joe laughed. “Way to go, Wakefield.”
I actually like nervous, klutzy Steven. Embarrassed, ham-fisted, jealous, pubescent teenager. Pretty well handled.
Now, if he were ripe with acne, unable to modulate the pitch of his voice, and furiously masturbating whenever no one is looking, we’d be looking at a well-rounded kid.
It’s now Thursday, and Jess is down to her final fifteen dollars. She forlornly does her accounts, convinced that the sums don’t add up. Surely she can’t have spent fifty-five dollars in a single afternoon?
She begins to think that Lila was probably right all along. OF COURSE SHE IS, JESS. For a particular definition of the word “right,” of course.
We cut to Elizabeth, again quizzing Great Aunt Helen on what exactly was bothering her. And again, GAH tells her to politely fuck the fuck off. Seriously, Liz, you have zero emotional empathy. Read the room, kid. Maybe Great Aunt Helen doesn’t want to spill her personal shit to a fucking twelve year old.
Next, it’s Friday, and Steven has a real-to-goodness conversation with Jill at the lockers at school. Jill is off to an algebra test, but she still has time to cement the details for the evening’s date: dinner (dressy), 7pm, taxi.
Jill also shows her true colours re: dating boys. Apparently, cars are sexy (unlike most instruments).
“I was thinking I’d pick you up around seven,” Steven said.
“Pick me up? You don’t drive, do you?” Jill’s eyes suddenly lit up, and she smiled at him.
Steven had never seen her look so interested in him before.
Maybe she’s looking for some parking action [Dove: The make-out place is called Miller’s Point, and everyone goes there, but they only kiss, and only when they’re at least sixteen.], a little under-jumper over-bra fumbling. Steven can only hope.
At lunch, Jessica faces a barrage of questions from the Unicorns, who seems to be growing greedier by the second. They ask if Jess is going to the mall again, and when Jess says she’s not up for it, they decide they don’t want to go without her and her bottomless purse.
It’s nice that the Unicorns doing the cajoling are the old-school uber-bitch squad of Janet, Kimberly, Ellen and Lila. It’s wise to avoid signing a lot of cool peripherals to the Unicorns in one book only to follow it by trashing their reputations in the book after.
Eventually, Jessica is persuaded to drop by the mall the following day. But she silently promises herself that she mustn’t spend her last fifteen dollars on anyone but herself, and vows to leave the tiny wonga at home.
On the walk home, Elizabeth and Amy chat shit about Aunt Helen. Amy thinks GAH could be a retired spy, and waxes lyrical about how the logistics of spyhood would be easier to maintain than a rogue grandma spreading state secrets because she doesn’t know how to send a coherent email. Rightfully, Elizabeth thinks the whole scenario is ludicrous.
Back at the Compound, they devise a plan: distract GAH, then rifle through her belongings for the letter / further clues. Fucking hell, girls, it’s no wonder she’s not visited for a while if that’s the way you treat house guests.
While GAH selects an outfit for Elizabeth’s forthcoming School Dance, Amy searches her room and suitcase to no avail. Then, in the face of Elizabeth’s protestations, she looks through Great Aunt Helen’s purse. Dirty little tea-leaf!
In the purse, she finds a picture of a stern-looking man.
Okay, so that’s a bit weird. Who’s this chump? The person who she had the accident with? Her lawyer? Bit odd to have a photo of them.
Maybe she IS a spy. Is it her handler?
Down in the kitchen, Steven is preparing for the date. Jessica enters, and mocks him for having a box of flowers. She then quizzes him on his plans for the evening, and in a nice bout of brotherly / sisterly affection, she helps him dress to impress.
Eventually, Steven confides in Jess that he’s bought Jill some nice gold earrings.
“Did you spend your whole hundred dollars on this date or what?” Jessica asked.
“Practically,” Steven said. “Actually, I think I’ll have some left over.”
“Really?” Jessica said. “In that case, how about some money for your fashion consultant.”
Steven gives her ten dollars, and Jess dashes off before he changes his mind.
The next section has Steven, dressed to the nines, heading out for his date. As his family mock / support him, he takes his corsage and takes a taxi over to Jill’s house. We establish that she’s looking wonderful in a green sleeveless dress, and Steven is all thumbs when trying to pin the corsage. Eventually, they head to Jacqueline’s, the posh restaurant, which makes me smile as I only know one person called Jacqueline and she’s quite possibly the worst cook in the world. [Dove: Food poisoning. Three times.]
The issue I have with this section is likely to do with me being British. This whole thing is the quintessential Prom story. Corsage, awkwardness, nice clothes, family involvement… we’ve seen it writ large in movies and books since entertainment began. It really feels odd to me that this ISN’T a story about Steven’s Prom, especially since I presume there are a slew of Prom-related stories in the books to come. [Dove: It might be though. When we get to Sweet Valley High, they have a dance every third day, so today might actually be a Sweet Valley prom day.]
But, as I said, maybe I’m just so very British here. Maybe this is the USA’s version of a twee date, and that’s just manifested itself in Prom Tales because of that. Wing, care to elaborate? [Dove: On our first date, Raven took me to the pub. On our second, he took me to see the Potter movie of the moment and bought me Haribo. Then we moved in together.] [Wing: This sort of date really does feel more like a pre-dance kind of dinner, though that’d often be with a group of friends. My high school friends and I didn’t really do the dating thing so often; you were boyfriend/girlfriend, but mostly there were parties and making out and hanging out and sneaking out, but not these sorts of formal dates. Maybe rich people do it differently, though. My first date with Ostrich was to watch a local band practice and then in a boat out onto a lake under a pretty (though not full) moon. And then I managed to tip the boat when we were almost back to shore. This was the time I learned about drive-through liquor stores and heard my first Live song (“Lightning Crashes”).]
We cut from the date to head back to the Compound. Elizabeth is about to head to Amy’s for a ninja sleepover, and Jessica is irritated by that, as she’ll have no one to annoy while her sister is away. Jess asks Liz if she’s got any money left, to which Liz replies in the affirmative. Maybe Jessica is shaping to steal cash from her siblings? I wouldn’t put it past her.
Elizabeth asks if Jessica has noticed anything weird about Great Aunt Helen, and Jessica claims to be completely oblivious. Of course you are, Jess, you magnificent self-centred sociopath. Jess convinces Elizabeth that she’s worrying over nothing, and that GAH is fine. Let’s face it, Elizabeth has form in this regard.
Oh, and apparently Amy and Liz will be watching a movie before enjoying the comedy show Staying Up With Bob. Apparently, the school is abuzz with how brilliant it is. I smell foreshadowing.
We now cut to Steven’s date. Of course, it’s a disaster.
- The waiters are snooty. Well, they’re French. I think if I went to a French restaurant and the waiters weren’t snooty, I’d complain to the manager. [Wing: Very low chance that they are actually French.]
- The meals are super-expensive, and Steven only has forty-five dollars after the cab fare. Luckily, Jill orders the cassoulet, which is cheap. Steven orders the same. What the fuck is a cassoulet? Oh, some sort of bean soup / stew. Looks pretty good, actually. Hell, at least it’s not Donuts Flambe. [Wing: BEST. DESERT. EVER.]
- Steven is rubbish at being suave. He confuses the maitre d for a waiter, and has literally nothing of interest or import to say.
- They do some dancing to a jazzy tune, on the restaurant’s dance floor. Wait, what? Posh restaurants have dance floors, do they? Either way, Steven is completely shit and injures Jill, and she hobbles back to the table.
All this happens before the food arrives. Nice work, Steven, you melon. What are you going to do before desert, Steven, shit in her fucking handbag?
The chapter ends at Amy’s house. Elizabeth and Amy are watching Don’t Talk, a crime and courtroom caper in which someone is witness to a murder, a witness who the killer saw… just like the character on Days of Turmoil that Aunt Helen was crying over!
The girls put two and two together, and make a fucking cassoulet. [Dove: I recently finished the game, Orwell. One of my achievements was “2 + 2 = 5”. It kind of killed my buzz.]
Apparently, Great Aunt Helen is in danger, as she’s hiding from a murderer. A murderer who’s broken her arm, sent her threatening letters, and is likely to pounce any second to finish the job!
Liz and Amy rush to the Compound. GAH must be warned!
Back at the date, Jill orders a seven-dollar portion of chocolate mousse. Standard. The bill comes, and it’s a total of fifty dollars… Steven has forty-five.
If only I hadn’t given Jessica that ten dollars! How did I let her talk me into that, anyway?
In a brazen attempt to stall, while frantically looking round the restaurant for a family acquaintance or friendly face, he decides to give Jill his gift: the plain gold earrings bought from Precious Stones.
Jill unwrapped the package and lifted the lid off the box. “Oh,” she said, taking out the earrings. “These are nice.”
“Do you like them?” Steven asked. Then he checked to make sure Jill had pierced ears. She did, all right. The earrings she was wearing were the same as the ones he had just given her!
“Yeah, I like them a lot,” Jill said. “I have some that are kind of like them, but they’re not exactly the same.”
“I noticed,” Steven mumbled. “Sorry.”
“That’s OK,” Jill said. “I can use them. Thanks.”
Again, lovely. I particularly like the final line… “I can use them. Thanks.” Just what any gift-giver wants to hear.
As the scene fades to black, Steven looks to solve his lack of funds the only way he can think of… he asks his date if she has any cash.
Poor Steven! I do feel for him. Although I reckon if Jess was in the same predicament, she’d pick up a butter knife and mug someone before admitting defeat. [Dove: If you think Jess has ever paid/will ever pay for anything on a date in her life, I don’t think we’re reading the same series.]
At this point, I think it’s safe to say I enjoyed this “B” plot more than the A-Plot(s) of Great Aunt Helen’s Mystery and Jessica’s generosity. Maybe it’s the teenage boy in me, but I did feel for Steven throughout the date. The whole “unrequited love” angle, with Jill OBVIOUSLY crushing on Joe, was also nicely handled.
Completely not caring about GAH and Liz, and even Jess is boring me. Ah well.
Next, we have the denouement of the GAH saga. Elizabeth rushes into the compound, and promises to protect GAH fro evildoers or somesuch nonsense. The trutch comes out immediatey.
- Great Aunt Helen was in a car accident. CALLED IT, motherfuckers.
- She is being bullied by the insurance company, who are refusing to pay because they claim she missed her last policy payment. Sounds about right.
- She’s been quiet and “not herself” because the accident took a lot out of her.
- The stern looking man in her purse-picture is her boyfriend. To be fair, that did make me laugh.
Steven then returns home, and runs through the greatest hits of the Date From Hell. Aside from all the crap I’ve already outlined, Jill was collected by an irate father (who called him an irresponsible jerk), he borrowed fifteen dollars from his date to cover the cost, and he had to take the bus home like some goddamn HOMELESS PERSON. [Dove: I’m the last person on this site that would defend Steven, but fuck off Jill’s dad. Boo hoo, you had to pick up your fourteen year old on a Friday night – that’s a Friday night for a parent of a non-driving kid with a social life. Calling a kid an irresponsible jerk is a little harsh. Isn’t it bad form to shout at someone else’s kid? If you’re that offended by him misjudging the cost of two taxis and an expensive dinner, have a quiet word with his folks, but don’t just yell. Dick. On the topic of irresponsible, I know Sweet Valley only has Tony Rizzo as the criminal element, but I think I’d be cross with a parent who saw two fourteen year olds stranded at the mall, an only picked up their own child, leaving the other to make their way home by themselves.]
Everyone laughs at Steven. He’s an idiot!
Jessica gives him the ten dollars back, which is a little out of character but we can forgive that. Especially because she says “here’s your ten dollars so you can pay (Jill) back tomorrow.”
Steven borrowed fifteen dollars, love.
So, the romance is dead. All that’s left is to deal with Jessica’s super-generous spending spree, and the ensuing fallout…
At the mall the following day, the bratty entitled contingent of the unicorns – FUCKING Tamara Chase (and Kimberly and Ellen) try their damndest to convince Jessica to buy them more purple tat. Jessca, however, refuses to play ball. Partly because she’s sticking to her guns, and party because, well, she’s almost broke.
As the puzzled Unicorns trail Jessica from shop to shop, desperately hinting that Jess should buy them this thing or that thing, Lila is shrewd enough to get a handle on the truth.
“You ran out of money, didn’t you?” Lila whispered. “That’s why you didn’t buy that necklace for Kimberly. It’s OK, I won’t tell anybody. But they’re going to find out pretty soon.”
“No, I didn’t run out of money,” Jessica said. Not completely, anyway—she still had her fifteen dollars.
“But you don’t have a whole lot left,” Lila said. “I know. I saw all that stuff you bought for everybody. It adds up. And the worst thing is, they don’t even care.”
“You’re right, it does add up.” Jessica shrugged. “Well, easy come, easy go.”
“Huh?” Lila stared at Jessica.
“I got really upset when I realized I’d spent so much money on everybody,” Jessica explained. “But then I figured, I was just kind of passing it on. Aunt Helen gave it to me, so I’d give it to everyone else.” Jessica smiled at the puzzled expression on Lila’s face. She liked watching Lila go crazy.
Nicely handled, ghostie. I do like Lila’s telling line “And the worst thing is, they don’t even care.” I suspect she’s been there plenty of times herself. Poor little rich girl, she just wants a hug. [Wing: Buying friendship doesn’t work, and Lila would know. This is such a subtle and yet heartbreaking through-line of this book.]
Liz and Jess hook up with their remaining cash (Liz has bought her camera), and they buy a present for Great Aunt Helen: a silver photo frame for the stern looking boyfriend picture. Nice, now Helen can stand the picture up and use both hands while fapping. They also buy some clothes after some peculiar horse trading over sweaters and somesuch, all very confusing. At the end of it, it seems that Jessica’s got loads of cool stuff for some reason.
Next up, the Unicorns make amends for spending all Jessica’s money by gifting her a set of polka dot earrings. Cute, I guess. Still a bunch of bitches. I notice that it’s Mandy who hands over the gift. Gotta get the nice Unicorns back out for the happy stuff, right? Again, FUCK YOU, TAMARA CHASE. (New tag!)
The book ends with Steven, standing in the rain outside Jill’s house, apologising for his behaviour and repaying the money he borrowed. Jill isn’t particularly interested (or interesting), but Steven vows that he WILL convince her that they belonged together. DUDE, TAKE THE HINT. I thought the romance was dead after the date?
No, hang on, the next book is Big Brother’s In Love. So the B Plot was actually the foreshadowing? What the hell was all that crap about Staying Up With Bob?
I didn’t really like this one.
For a start, I really couldn’t care less about Great Aunt Helen. Or Elizabeth. Or Jess. Or the Unicorns. Or even Lila, although I did feel for her a little at the end. Steven? Yeah, his story was decent enough, aside from the weird Prom vibe. But even then, Jill can pretty much fuck right off.
And it transpires that the only part of this book I bought into was mere foreshadowing for the next? That’s just odd.
I think the recapping-as-I-read-it thing didn’t do the text any favours. I don’t think I’ll do that again… back to reading ahead, and re-reading to recap. I enjoy the books much more that way, as I can polish them off in an hour and don’t have to piecemeal them up across multiple writing sessions.
So yeah. Disappointing.
[Dove: This book throws me because the most interesting plot is Steven’s. And I hate Steven. I have no idea why he likes Jill so much, she’s a completely bland non-entity. I do actually like the Jessica plot, and I couldn’t care less about the Liz plot. Not sure if it’s because it’s boring, not my thing, or because I really don’t like Liz and/or Amy. Probably all three.]
[Wing: Steven’s awkwardness killed me, in a way that I think really works for the story that is being told but that I don’t much want to read, right up until the end. Take a fucking hint, dude. Back. Off. I enjoyed Jessica’s story quite a bit, and found Liz and Amy’s part kind of fun in a ridiculous way that I’m not sure works for kids their age.]
As a kid, I always got really REALLY excited when Wakefield family members were invited to guest star in a book. Because, although Twins was my series of choice, I was obsessed with the Saga’s – the family histories. These books had family trees in the front of them and I loved working out where people fitted in.
ANYWAY, I tell you all this so you’ll understand the real mystery-under-Elizabeth’s-nose-that-she-isn’t-observant-enough-to-notice: GAH isn’t their Great Aunt at all! She isn’t even related to them! WHO IS THIS INTERLOPER?
No? Damn. I need a GAH that I’m not related to that gives me the equivalent of $100 in the late 1980s.
Who the hell is GAH then?
Also, I will never forgive the sagas for saying that the Wakefields are originally from Yorkshire. And, just a little, you for telling me that. 🙂
Dove brought the Yorkshire point up AGAIN while we recorded this weekend, that is how big an impact you’ve made, Rosey.