Title: Barnyard Battle
Tagline: A field trip leads to battle of the year
Summary: High Stakes…
When Ms. Shepard becomes the student teacher in Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s social studies class, school becomes a lot more exciting. Ms. Shepard organizes a weekend field trip to a pioneer farm where the six th graders will have to live just as the pioneers did—with no modern conveniences.
The boys bet that the girls won’t be able to survive without their hair dryers. The girls insist that the boys can’t live without TV and junk food. The battle of the year is on, and both sides are determined to win!
Loving the cover. Purple dungarees! [Dove: This is one of my favourite covers. Wakefield Gothic.] [Wing: I love that plaid, too.]
One issue: I am led to believe these girls are identical twins. The books, I feel, are pretty clear in this regard. Why, then, do these two girls look so palpably different? Dungers-Twin has a thicker and more Were-Pig nose than Plaid-Twin. Plaid-Twin has a wider mouth than Dungers-Twin. And NEITHER twin has a FUCKING dimple in her left cheek.
They’ve been lying to us, people!
We start by the lockers of Sweet Valley Middle School, with Jessica suggesting the appearance of an as-yet-to-be-introduced student teacher.
“I bet she wears orthopedic shoes and glasses an inch thick,” Jessica Wakefield told her twin sister, Elizabeth.
“You’re exaggerating, Jess,” Elizabeth replied calmly, reaching into her locker for her books. “She’ll probably be really nice.”
So, we have Jessica being both ableist and, well, differently ableist, with comments about orthopaedic shoes and thick glasses (SPECSIST!), while Elizabeth perpetuates this by implying that Jessica’s claims will be inaccurate as the student teacher will “probably be really nice”… implying a specky no-mates with built-up shoes will “probably” be a canker on the arse of society. [Dove: I am belatedly offended. I never knew what orthopedic shoes were, but now Raven’s said “built up”… yeah, I wore them for the first twenty-three years of my life. And I have glasses. Guess this explains why I’m not nice.] [Wing: Oh god, we are absolutely going off on another glasses rant when we record the podcast episode for this book, aren’t we.]
I’m two lines in, and already I’m annoyed. This does not bode well.
After the usual WE ARE TWINS WE ARE THE SAME BUT WE ARE DIFFERENT nonsense, we meet the student teacher: Ms Shepard, who’s a drop-dead gorgeous “tall, slender girl who looked like a model.”
The girl leaned over Mrs. Arnette’s shoulder and began talking as she smoothed back a strand of curly blond hair. She was wearing a fuchsia zip-front shirt, tight black leggings, and funky black shoes.
I’ve just googled “funky black shoes.” Here’s the first image.
I’m pretty sure this sexy young teacher isn’t sporting shoes like this, unless we’ve stumbled upon Mr Nydick’s (Wet) Dream Journal.
[Wing: Considering he chose middle school, she’s too old for him.]
Class begins, and Mrs Arnette introduces her new colleague properly, as Lila and Jessica chat shit.
“While Ms. Shepard is here I will be observing from the back of the room. I want you all to give her your full cooperation. She has some interesting new ideas about education, and I’m sure you’ll all benefit from her presence.”
“I already am!” Aaron Dallas called out, and the class laughed.
Erm… hasn’t that twelve-year-old boy just macked on his teacher, in class? That’s not right, surely? He practically unzipped his pants and pulled out his turgid member. Jessica, your beau is a tool.
Laughing it off because she’s cool, Ms Shepard reveals what they’ll be studying in her classes: Pioneer Times!
Everyone groans. Apparently, Pioneer Studies is something they do every damn year.
As an Englishman, I can confirm we learned jack-diddley-shit about Pioneer People over here in my Blighty-bound school days, but I suppose you lot didn’t learn much about the Tudor Kings or the Elizabethans. [Dove: *sings* Ten-sixty-SIX. Ten-sixty-SIX at HASTings. That was our go-to project in primary school. (I really hope someone else was forced to watch the show about the battle of hastings and has got the jingle still stuck in their head, thirty years later.)]
On reflection, I think I’d’ve preferred studying History in America. The syllabus would be much shorter as there’s much less history to go around, especially if you factor in that you don’t believe in The Rest of the World. [Dove: Yeah, but they have that whole history according to a white dude named Jesus thing… I went to a church school and I’m pretty sure I got less God than most Americans.]
[Wing: Aaah, but you are forgetting that we have at least a hint of separate of church and state. Unless you go to a religious school, you get very little actual religion, minus things like parties and concerts and things around Christmas. Which baby!Wing was not allowed to do thanks to the cult church in which I grew up. We got a little European history, but it was that, European history, so a whooooooole lot of shit crammed into about nine months. And schools have changed a lot since I went through, and I was in a small town school, and different parts of the USA are very, very different, so don’t take my experience as everything.]
Ms Shepard then does some cool prop-based teaching. She decrees that they won’t get no fancy book-learnin’s from her, no siree. It’ll all be show, not tell. Lila is then ritually humiliated with a shepherd’s crook. No, not like that, Steven.
“Lila, step back a few feet and I’ll show you how it works,” Ms. Shepard said. She lightly hooked the curved part of the stick around Lila’s ankle and tugged.
“Yeow!” Lila cried, almost losing her balance. The class erupted in laughter.
“See how it works?” the teacher said. “If a sheep starts to wander off, its owner pulls it back by tugging on its leg.”
“Lila’s a sheep!” Winston shouted. “Baa! Baa!”
That’s so sad. I actually liked Winston. His death at the hands of Lila’s hired goons will not go unmissed.
Chapter Two cuts to Casey’s Place, and the Unicorns are discussing the wild lessons of Sweet Valley Middle’s latest recruit. It seems she’s a hit with the student body. I’ll give her a month before she cracks, she leaves, or she dies. Of course, in Sweet Valley Time, a month is basically between three and three hundred books.
In class, the Unicorns had learned historic makeup techniques, and panned for (fool’s) gold in a big metal tub. Sounds neat. Of course, Janet soon put a stop to all this talk of school, as talk of school in a non-school setting will only reflect badly on the Unicorns.
Soon, talk devolves into the usual Unicorn bragging session of one-upmanship. Lila’s getting a new car, Janet’s got a new house on Lake Tahoe, Ellen is getting a full room makeover, Tamara Chase has a new solar-powered sex toy, blah blah blah. Jessica tries her best to join in – she’s got a copy of the new Coco video, Testify – but Lila takes the piss out of the Wakefields’ tiny television and Jessica feels sad that she is not rich. [Dove: Coco’s new song doesn’t have a chocolate-related title?] [Wing: Coco came back to the USA and now sings religious songs.]
Poor Jessica. Poor, poor, actually poor Jessica.
Back home, we discover that Steven is making Jessica’s life a misery by hogging the phone, in order to have rampant phone sex with his new girlfriend, Cathy Connors. [Wing: Still, right? Wasn’t this the b plot of the last book, too? Why must you drag this on, ghostwriter?] On top of all this, it’s Jessica’s turn to set the table. Seriosuly, has anyone ever been so hard-done by than out psychotic heroine? Her life is literally the worst, I tell you.
Thankfully, the grey monotony of existence is about to be pierced, as Alice has a big surprise to share with everyone at dinner.
That’s right, she’s finally admitted there is a problem, and checked herself into rehab!
If only that were the case.
No, as Jessica dreams of a trip to Europe and a winning lottery ticket, Mama Wakefield tells everyone that she’s got a big bonus at work… big enough to buy something cool for the family!
Jessica immediately spends it all on clothes and CDs, in her mind at least. Steven naysays that, and Alice confirms that the bonus should be spent on something fun for the whole family.
Sadly, before the Wakefields mire themselves in the usual incestuous filth, Jessica suggests a big-screen TV. Not a bad call, Jess… and Steven agrees. Alice mulls the idea over, and asks Elizabeth for her input.
Elizabeth shook her head. “I think we should get a computer.”
Steven and Alice are right behind this, as it’s fun AND educational (Alice) and full of hardcore pornography (Steven and, presumably, Ned). Jessica is aghast; trust her fucking SISTER to shit in the breadmaker!
Girls, I’m afraid you’re both wrong. You want one of THESE:
It’s a MOTHERFUCKING THERMOMIX.
It can perform the task of twelve appliances in one by mixing, steaming, blending, weighing, stirring, grinding, whipping, emulsifying, heating, kneading, cooking and chopping.
It costs ONE THOUSAND POUNDS.
The family votes, and the computerites have it. Jessica flounces off in a purple huff.
We cut to Saturday afternoon, and Jessica is still moaning when the family are ACTUALLTY AT THE MALL TO BUY A FUCKING COMPUTER. Apparently, if any of her friends see her, they’ll think she’s a computer nerd.
Erm… why? Because she’s with some people while they buy a computer? I’ve been with someone while they bought a food processor, does that make me Gordon fucking Ramsay?
She then goes on to say all she needs is her specs to complete the nerd ensemble. Yeah, get fucked you drama-strewn canker. #SpexyAndIKnowIt [Dove: Fuck off, Jessica. You’re not smart enough to hang around a spec-wearing computer nerd. Take it from the motherfucking source.]
During the Big Computer Shopping Trip, Jessica checks out the available games:
She bent over a display case with a wide selection of games: Invisible Invaders, Vanishing Shadows, Phreaky Phantoms. Kid stuff, she thought dismissively.
For FUCK’S sake. Has the writer done any research at all?
This book was written in the nineties, and presumably set sometime in the eighties. Both the NES and the Sega Master System were released in 1985, systems which spawned CLASSIC games that still inform games creators today. Games such as Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest, Metroid, Mega Man, Metal Gear, Castlevania, Phantasy Star, Megami Tensei, Ninja Gaiden, and Bomberman. [Dove: Wing, was this actually a thing in America in the early 90s? Where someone looked at a kid using a computer and thought “nerd”? Because in England, if we saw a kid using one of the school computers, we would sit and eyeball the kid in the hopes she would sod off and let us use the computer instead. They were a limited resource, and they were a luxury item. Anyone who didn’t like computers simply didn’t use them.] [Wing: Using the computers at school was a fun thing and a part of rewards (I mean, we’re called the Oregon Trail generation for a reason). I don’t remember there being any sort of judgment around using or not using computers, even all the way into high school. And video games were a huge deal. Of course, I wasn’t a part of a Unicorn-style group (and I’m not sure I could name who might be, actually), so who knows if it was going on and I didn’t know about it.]
I understand that the writers look to avoid real-world references, but the “games” listed sound PROPER SHIT. I mean, maybe I’d check out Vanishing Shadows, but Phreaky Phantoms? Get to fuck.
(I used to design videogames. They are important.)
Of course, Jessica perks up a treat when she realises there’s an offer on: free portable stereo cassette / CD player with every computer purchased. She tries to feign interest and claims the stereo as her own, but Alice slaps her down on the journey home. Like the computer, the portable stereo is for the entire family, not just Jessica.
BAM! In a flash-cut to the following Tuesday, we finally get to the meat of the book. Ms Shepard has arranged a field trip for the class… a three-day stay at a local Pioneer farm! Everyone is amazed.
“Are there cows and horses there?” Aaron Dallas asked.
“Yep. The pioneer farm is run just like it would have been in the middle of the last century. So there aren’t any tractors—we use horses to pull the plows. The caretakers and college students do all the chores. We work as the pioneers did: raising crops, milking cows, baking bread, pumping water, chopping wood, and lots more. It’s wonderful.”
Fucking hell. I can’t see this flying with the Unicorns. It’s just forced labour, by the looks of it. It sounds absolutely wretched. I’d tell them to strongly do one. I have an IMAGINATION, why the fuck is it important for me to chop wood for three hours in order to truly understand something?
Yeah yeah, I know. “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” Because then, when you judge him, he’s a mile away, and you have his fucking shoes.
[Wing: This is really fucking late to be springing a field trip on parents, especially a multi-day trip. I will suspend a lot of disbelief for this series (I swear, I do, even though I shout about so much, too), but this is pushing it.]
At lunch, all talk is of the upcoming trip, and in particular the permission slip that accompanies it. Basically, it’s a litany of What Not To Bring To The Pioneer Hellhole.
Brooke Dennis peered over Amy’s shoulder. “Blow dryers, radios, junk food, curling irons, makeup… aren’t we allowed to bring anything?”
“I guess the point is that since we’re going to an old-fashioned place, we can’t bring anything modern,” Maria said.
Amy seizes her chance to be a MASSIVE troll and spill the beans to the unsuspecting Unicorns. And they are Not. Happy. Campers.
“Ms. Shepard can’t be serious,” Lila complained. “Three whole days without any of this stuff? No way!”
“I don’t have an appetite anymore,” Jessica grumbled, pushing away her sandwich.
The worst thing? No electricity means no chance to enjoy the Aid the People concert that coming weekend.
Aid the People? Fucking hell, that’s weaksauce. Although I would like to see the Sweet Valley Music Massive club together on a Charity Single. Do They Know It’s Nydick, by Bland Aid. [Dove: Pointless. Everyone knows it’s Nydick.]
After discovering that non-attendance on the trip leads to a 25-page assignment on Pioneer life, and confirming with Ms Shepard that there would not be any electricity at all (not even static electricity), Jessica is proper fuming. You can literally see the fume.
As Liz and the Sixers leave the canteen, they are approached by Todd Wilkins and a slew of assorted male classmates (including the violent bully Charlie Cashman). After a lively discussion, with Elizabeth and Todd at the head of opposing gender-assigned sides, a wager is proffered… [Dove: Dear Todd, get fucked.] [Wing: WHY ARE WE DOING THE WHOLE BOYS VERSUS GIRLS THING AGAIN? WHY?]
- The boys believe the girls will not last one day without the finer things in life.
- The girls believe the boys will crumble without snack foods.
The bet is made! Fun, approved.
That evening, Elizabeth designs and prints the Bet Contract on the family computer. We learn the forfeit for the bet: a representative from the losing gender must make a speech in the cafeteria when they return to school, outlining why the opposite sex is superior in every way. Again, this is fun, and I like it. [Wing: I love how even Jessica is impressed by how Elizabeth can make the contract look, which also makes me laugh because (a) how boring is the Sixers if this font change is so big for her and (b) it’s a fucking contract and that’s what she makes pretty? Oh god.]
We then cut to what’s passing for the B Plot in this book, and see more of the Unicorns boasting. Jessica sits and listens, wishing she had more to contribute to the massive wankathon other than part-ownership of a “boom box” (ha!), when Aaron Dallas and Jake Hamilton rock up and ask questions about the Wakefield’s new computer.
Oh, great, Jessica thought miserably. Thanks to my big-mouth sister, everyone, including Aaron, will think I’m some kind of nerd.
FUCK OFF, JESSICA.
Predictably, Aaron and Jake are super-interested in the new tech, and invite themselves over after school to download pornography.
Lila, suddenly interested in the computer too (because boys, not because porn) also invites herself over after school. As does Ellen. And Janet. And every fucking Unicorn in the county. FUCK YOU, Tamara Chase.
Jessica, once again the eye of the attention storm, is ecstatic.
Unfortunately, Liz has invited her Sixers crew to see the computer too… I sense a double-booking scenario, with hilarious consequences!
Sure enough, Jessica sashays into the Wakefield Compound with her gaggle in tow, only to find the Sweet Valley Sixers working on the latest edition of the school newspaper. Jessica, being Jessica, threatens to pull the plug unless Liz and her Sixers Gang up sticks and fuck off into the sea. Voices are raised, and the Alice Kraken awakes to sort things out (the Kralice!).
Alice, stinking of gin and livid at being interrupted mid-jill, hurls all non-Wakefields off the roof. When left with her screeching twin-sprogs, she forbids them from computer use until they can work out how to co-exists in digital harmony.
After Mrs. Wakefield had left the room, Jessica turned to Elizabeth. “I can’t believe you did that in front of my friends,” she whispered.
“I can’t believe you,” Elizabeth whispered back. “I wasn’t the one who started the fight!”
“You did so,” Jessica said stubbornly.
“I did not!” Elizabeth cried.
World War Wakefield had begun.
So, that went well.
It seems that this book is one in which I will be hating Jessica. Sorry, Jess, but Liz has you all ends up here.
- Elizabeth was there first.
- Elizabeth is the twin who’s previously showed an interest.
- Elizabeth was working on school stuff.
- [Dove: and Jessica was the moron who was going to yank out the plug, rather than shutting down properly. Yeah, same here. I’m not on Jessica’s side during this book.]
Such a shame. I usually love Jess, but she’s being a right cow in this book.
It’s Thursday, and Jessica and Lila are shopping at the mall. Jess wants a belt, Lila mocks the belt, Jess leaves the belt, Lila buys the belt. Standard.
Back at home, after packing, she decides that Elizabeth and the Bet can get to fuck, and decides to take the boom box to the Pioneer Farm. The Aid the People concert, in which people who have donated are entered into a draw for Johnny Buck tickets, is too good to miss, especially as Jessica has donated in order to get her name in the hat.
So, after what seems like an ice age, the girls are now finally setting off for the Pioneer Farm.
On the bus, Liz sits with Liz’s friends and Jess sits with Jess’s friends. Jess is still fuming at Liz, and the whole thing is giving me Class Trip flashbacks so I need to go lie down for a few minutes.
When they arrive, Ms Shepard press-gangs them into action.
When all the students had gotten off the bus, Ms. Shepard introduced the two women as Ms. Emburg and Ms. Swaine, the pioneer farm’s caretakers.
“College students like myself are here for only one semester, and school groups stay for the weekend, but Ms. Emburg and Ms. Swaine live here year-round,” Ms. Shepard explained.
“Are the other college students here now?” Elizabeth asked.
“No,” Ms. Shepard answered with a grin. “They have the weekend off, and you will take their places running the farm.”
“By ourselves?” Jessica asked.
Ms. Shepard nodded.
What the actual fuck?! So the farm is usually run by college-age kids, but for one weekend it’s being run by twelve-year-olds?! This sounds like some hideous forced labour scam. I’ll bet Shepard is making money hand over fist.
Still laughing at this:
Boss: Business is bad, we are losing money hand over fist.
Employee: *hands over fist*
Boss: Thank you, I shall sell this fist and make money.
Twelve-year-olds running a farm… THIS WILL NOT END WELL.
[Wing: … that is a surprisingly apt picture of how I feel about cows and their stares.]
The girls are then divided into groups – Liz and the Sixers with Shepard, Jess and the Unicorns with Arnette – and shown around the place. There are bunks, and a wood-burning stove, and a well for fresh water.
Best of all for Elizabeth: there are eight horses. Yay horses! [Dove: Yes. And it is specified that they are work horses. And yet everyone is allowed to ride them outside of chore time. Because that’s healthy for the horse, to drag a heavy plough all day, and then drag some kid around for a few hours in your break time. But sure. Liz gotta ride, I guess.]
Sadly for Jess, she takes the same information in a wholly different fashion. Work, more work, more work, sleep. No electricity, no luxuries, no fun. To be fair, Mrs Arnette does a fuck-awful job of selling it to her charges:
“You’ll be cooking, cleaning, and cutting wood, among other things,” Mrs. Arnette was saying to her group of sixth-graders as she led them around the farm. “From the minute you wake up until it gets dark, farm chores will keep you busy. Pioneer children were very hard workers.”
“Didn’t pioneer kids ever have fun?” Jessica asked. She was beginning to worry. So far Mrs. Arnette had talked only about work—and work was not exactly her idea of a good time.
“Of course they had fun,” Mrs. Arnette said. “But only after all their chores were done.”
Know your audience, Arnette. At least give them a crumb of hope.
At lunch – meat and potatoes, provided by Mandy Miller and Aaron Dallas – a tired Elizabeth discusses how great the farm is with her gaggle of Sixers stalwarts. They discuss the chores, and milking, and pitchforks, and it’s all fucking riveting, I can tell you. Jessica, eating with Lila and Ellen, is roundly mocked by Elizabeth’s friends for being a workshy Unifop. And here’s me thinking it’s the UNICORNS that are bitches.
At the pitching that afternoon – Liz and Any forking pitch in a barn – Liz falls of a ladder while carrying a pitchfork.
Seriously. Health and Safety just wasn’t a thing in the Eighties, apparently.
Boys run in to help upon hearing her screams, only to mock her for being unable to do “man’s work.” Have a word with yourselves, lads. You’re fucking twelve, and not exactly working on the oil rigs.
There’s some pretty decent banter, held along gender lines of course, before the air is turned blue by Lila as she is attacked by a goose.
Apparently, the goose was angry as Egg Collector Lila had collected one of its eggs by mistake. When questioned, Lila answered in pure Lila fashion.
“Lila,” Jessica called, “do you have any goose eggs in that basket?”
“How should I know? I just picked up whatever eggs I saw lying around. It’s not like they were labeled or anything. Aaaaaaaaah!” Lila shrieked again as the goose flapped its wings and pointed its sharp beak directly at her knee.
Poor Lila. I’m not surprised she couldn’t recognise a dumb old boring goose egg. Her pet goose’s eggs are all made of gold, after all.
Once the egg is returned to the goose, all is good in Lila’s world once more… at least, once she has fallen into the mud and made everyone laugh.
Cheer up, Lila. It could be worse.
[Wing: Why — why is that labeled Lost World with Jeff Goldblum when it is clearly Jurassic Park III with Sam Neill? Also? RAPTORS I HAVE HEARTS AND STARS IN MY EYES.]
Amy and Elizabeth spend the day tending for the horses, with one in particular (Slug, a chestnut gelding [Dove: What fuckwitting waste of humanity would call a horse slug? Aside from it being a particularly ugly name, naming an animal after a completely different species is just fucking weird.]) being particularly awesome. [Wing: I actually like the name Slug, especially if he’s one of those grumbly horses who drag around before they are actually taken in hand and put to work.] Once done, they go help Ginny-Lu and Julie milk the goats.
As Elizabeth is taking udder lessons from Ginny-Lu, up rocks Charlie Cashman and Aaron Dallas. There is yet more Boys vs Girls banter, which culminates in Elizabeth using the goat’s udders as a rudimentary weapon.
“Move over,” Charlie ordered, coming over and kneeling down next to Elizabeth. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”
Elizabeth ignored him. Concentrating, she continued moving her thumbs as Ginny Lu had taught her. Out came a steady squirt of milk—right into Charlie’s face!
Yeah, I’m pretty sure the Charlie Cashman of Booster Boycott, who actually twatted Winston for even thinking of becoming a cheerleader, wouldn’t take this milk-based slight lying down.
We cut to bedtime, and Jessica prepares for sleep by the waxy light of an oil lamp. The Unicorns chatter sleepily about their awful, chore-filled day.
“I miss light bulbs,” Mandy said with a sigh.
You tell ‘em, Mandy.
Jessica, of course, has a boom box up her sleeve. Not literally, as that’d be spotted immediately. Eager to put a smile on her friends’ faces, she unveils it with a flourish. Everyone is pleased, alarmed, and cautious at the same time.
“Hey, isn’t that going to make us lose the bet with the boys?” Mandy said.
Jessica shrugged. “Who cares? It’s a dumb bet.”
Before they can fire up some hardcore Johnny Buck, Liz and the Sixer crew return from their pitching / milking shenanigans. And Elizabeth is LIVID when she spots the boom box. She drags her sister to one side and gives her both barrels.
Jessica, to her credit, doubles down and fires right back.
Elizabeth glared at her sister, and then turned and stormed out of the bunkhouse.
“It’s just a dumb bet,” Jessica muttered, but she couldn’t help feeling worried. She had never seen that look in Elizabeth’s eyes before.
Gentle reader, if you want to see that look in Elizabeth’s eyes more often, may I recommend Dove’s highly entertaining Hunger Games / Sweet Valley crossover fic? It starts here.
As Jessica mulls over the situation she’s in, and almost (almost) regrets bringing the boom box, the Unicorns pile in with insipid musical requests. Amy tries her best to quell the rebellion, but it falls on deaf ears.
Almost as soon as her remorse appeared, it disappears just as quickly. She spots the obvious opportunity.
“You’re going to let me listen to Johnny Buck because I’m your best friend, aren’t you?” Lila asked.
“That all depends,” Jessica said, her eyes sparkling.
“On what?” Lila said.
“On what you’ll do for me. I’m assigned kitchen duty tomorrow, but I’m sooo tired…” Jessica stretched lazily on her cot.
Lila stood up angrily. “You want me to do your chores?”
Yup. There’s the Jess we all know and hate. The workshy Jess. Meh. [Wing: But also the manipulative Jess we actually love.]
After a final pang of guilt, that’s swallowed down like bad brisket, Jessica trades away all her chores for access to her boom box. That sounds a lot dirtier than I intended.
We cut to the peach orchard, and Elizabeth wanders aimlessly, in a funk over Jessica’s betrayal. Come on Liz, haven’t you got used to it by now? Bizarrely, she comes across Mrs Arnette, up a ladder, picking peaches. Arnette comes up with some bollocks about being behind on her chores, but we all know she’s just scrumping.
I just looked up Scrumping on Urban Dictionary.
Apparently, it means something entirely different in America.
When she arrives back at the bunk, she’s astounded and appalled to see Lila fetching Jessica water, while the rest of the Unicorns haggle over the turn order in which they can listen to the boom box through headphones.
“Sometimes I absolutely cannot believe Jessica is my twin,” Elizabeth said angrily. “She’s gone too far this time.”
This is the final straw is it? Not abusing a dog and running away, or terrorising the New Girl on any given day, or even breaking into someone’s house with cousin Robin? This is the final straw? The shit she does with you every fucking day?
Thankfully, the scene is interrupted by a scream from the peach orchard. Mrs Arnette has been sting-fucked by a cloud of wasps. Or has she? No she hasn’t. She’s merely punched their nest and laughed at them.
Also, I love it that when a teacher nearly gets stung by a wasp, the whole crew come running. There’s Shepard, and Coach Cassels, and Ms Emburg the caretaker, as well as a host of girls. But when Elizabeth falls off a ladder and nearly guts herself on a pitchfork, all she gets is Charlie Cashman and chums. [Dove: Possibly an indication that the spell is lifting and the characters are becoming aware that the wicked queen(s) are forcing them into roles? Just realised that Sweet Valley is Once Upon a Time only without a saviour.]
Later that night, Amy, Julie, Maria and Elizabeth decide to sneak over to the boys’ bunks, in order to spy on them in the hopes they are breaking the rules and have therefore lost the bet. Of course, the boys are behaving themselves, discussing basketball by lamplight. They complain and grouse like motherfuckers, but it’s all well within the boundaries of the bet.
The girls return to the bunk, defeated. When they get there, the discover the worst.
It’s a naked Mr Nydick!
No, it’s Jessica, listening to the boom box through her headphones.
The girls had lost the bet.
The next day, it’s pissing down. At first, the Unicorns are ecstatic, as rain means no chores, right?
Wrong. Mrs Arnette soon sets them straight. The Pioneer life never sleeps, ladies.
Of course, Jessica is happy enough, as the majority of her chores have been palmed off on her friends for a brief moment of musical madness the previous evening.
Over a breakfast of jam on biscuits, the sixth graders learn that the following morning (Sunday) would see them all pitch in for a great Sunday breakfast, followed by a hayride. Sounds thrilling.
As the assorted throng scoff Arnette’s scrumped peaches (kinky), they mock their teachers for looking dishevelled and out of sorts. What did you expect, Sweet Valley Middlers? Your teachers haven’t done an honest day’s work in their lives before. I’m unsurprised they look like hell on toast.
We cut to the one chore that Jessica couldn’t persuade her friends to take – feeding the pigs. She and Lila, and assorted others, are slopping them with gruel from a battered bucket.
To Jessica, it ain’t all bad. The big pigs are noisy, but the babies are totes adorbs. She holds one, enthralled in its little face.
Jessica cuddled the piglet, who had stopped wriggling. “Look! I think he likes me!”
“Yeah, he likes you all right, Jessica,” Charlie called out as he and Winston pushed a wheelbarrow past the pigpen.
“Jessica’s got a new boyfriend,” Winston called out loudly.
“And he’s a real pig,” Charlie added with a laugh.
Sorry, I call bullshit.
Actually, I call pigshit.
In Booster Boycott, Charlie Cashman bullied Winston over his desire to join the Boosters. There was real violence there, fists flying by the lockers. And here they are laughing it up?
Charlie climbs the pigpen fence, and grabs the piglet out of Jessica’s hands. He and Winston then torment the poor thing, until it wriggles free and runs to its mother, and Winston falls in the pig’s trough. My, how everyone laughed.
GET FUCKED, JAMIE SUZANNE.
I did not appreciate this section. Poor fictional piglet! That’s not cool. [Dove: Everyone is such an asshat in this book.] [Wing: Personally, I’m shocked mama pig didn’t try to destroy Charlie for that. Pigs are tough as hell and smart and protective.]
Also, Winston is a good guy, right? At least, he has been thus far in the SVT Canon. Charlie Cashman acting like a bellend, sure, I’m down with that. But Winston?
This whole section smacks of ‘no research.”
Before we move on from the pigsty, here’s something to watch.
Back at the main house, Ms Shepard is in a quandary. Some cows have escaped, and she requires twelve-year-old horse-adjacent cowpokes to help round them up. It’s all very prepubescent City Slickers. Elizabeth and Maria offer their services.
Of course, Elizabeth is a great cowgirl, and Maria shines too. However, as the weather changes (as it ALWAYS does when the girls are outdoors, for fuck’s sake… cave floods, barns on fire etc), a nearby tree is struck by lightning (REHASHED PLOT, I SEE YOU THE BIG CAMP SECRET) and scares a cow into the other cows.
(That’s STAMPEDE: A rushing herd of cattle, not STAMPEDE: A stammering paedophile.)
Luckily, the cows are most sanguine about the rain. Not the horses, of course. More lightning nearby spooks Elizabeth’s horse Slug, and it bolts! Elizabeth clings on for her life. Will she die? [Dove: This is what happens when you put a kid on an unschooled horse, whose primary purpose is dragging a plough. FFS.] [Wing: Eh, even a horse generally used to herd can be startled and run, especially with an inexperienced rider.]
They’d have to change the series title to Sweet Valley Daughter if she did.
Back at the Pioneer Farm, as the storm rages, Mrs Arnette and the girls are getting concerned for those out in the rain.
Suddenly, the door bursts open. It’s Maria! She’s piss-wet through, and bricking it.
“Where’s my sister?” Jessica demanded, hurrying over to her.
Maria started to cry. Mrs. Arnette put an arm around Maria’s shoulders. “Elizabeth’s horse got scared and bolted toward the woods,” Maria explained between sobs. “And Ms. Shepard went after her!”
Jessica felt dizzy all of a sudden. She sank down onto a cot. She felt terrible for having been so awful to Elizabeth lately.
Yeah, don’t pretend to give a pimply fuck now, Jessica. She was pretty much dead to you for the majority of this book, so being actually dead to you ain’t that big of a fucking leap.
Back with Lizzie… she manages to slow the terrified Slug after ten minutes of frantic full-speed galloping. Thankfully, as the horse stops, the storm stops too.
Liz is scared, and lost. Slug, however, has a fucking Sat Nav built into him or something, as he manages to guide a frightened Liz to a nearby farmhouse. [Dove: Yeah, this is a thing, actually. My pony used to run off all the time. She either used to run to the riding stable half a mile to the right, or the other horses two miles to the left. She found the cows incredibly boring. She was delighted when we moved her to a riding stable – but not the one she kept running to. She stopped running off then.] [Wing: I don’t blame her for finding the cows boring, really.]
It transpires that the farm to which Slug has dashed is in fact the farm on which he was foaled and raised. The owner, a thin and bearded man called Ed Lowes, is very friendly. He offers to help Elizabeth in her time of need, inviting her inside to meet his wife.
I’m really hoping this guy is Mr Nydick in disguise, a la Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Of course, it’s no such luck, and the Lowes family are lovely. Mrs Lowes supplies Elizabeth with a change of clothes, as she has a daughter called Melinda that’s Elizabeth’s age. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s also Melinda’s birthday today! And she’s having a party, and Elizabeth is now invited! In fact, it’s just started!
It was at this point I actually thought that Elizabeth might have died in the storm, and this whole thing was actually her spirit arriving into Heaven.
But no, it’s a real party, and a real Deus Ex Machina. Melinda and her mates are from Corona Valley Middle School. They are friendly enough, although I reckon if the discovered Liz was of Sweet Valley Middle School stock they’d fucking stab her because SVMS win all the state-wide contests every fucking time. [Dove: Corona? Never heard of it. These are Big Mesa bitches in disguise.]
Back at the Pioneer farm, and Elizabeth has now been missing for three hours. The other sixth graders are out doing chores, and Jessica can’t stomach her lunch. There’s no sign of Mrs Arnette.
WHAT THE FUCK?!
Why isn’t there a fucking SEARCH PARTY out, or something? Why the hell hasn’t Mrs Arnette done anything to find Elizabeth? This is FUCKING LUDICROUS. [Dove: It’s still better than the time that Jessica gets lost at sea, and Alice is like, “Welp, there’s nothing we can do for her now. Coffee anyone?”]
In The Big Camp Secret, when Barbara goes missing in the storm, at least they send out a bloody search party. This time, a student and a student teacher are both missing, and what do they do? Feed a fucking chicken and make a fucking sandwich.
Thankfully for all involved, a bedraggled Ms Shepard returns, with Elizabeth in tow. Hooray!
Before Elizabeth can explain what she’s been through, Jessica ups her Drama Queen Defcon Level to 3 by apologising for everything ever, and promising to be the best sister in the world going forward. I’m surprised that she finished the sentence without cracking up, to be honest.
Over a mug of tea in the farm kitchen, Elizabeth recounts her adventure. Jessica is astounded, and her Sixer friends are enthralled. However, all agree that, as she’s used electricity, the bet with the boys is well and truly lost.
Elizabeth groaned. “This is going to be so humiliating. But a bet’s a bet. Well, I guess there’s only one thing left to do.”
“What?” Jessica asked.
“Go to the boys’ bunkhouse and admit defeat,” Elizabeth said.
Now that the storm has conveniently subsided, the girls head to the boy’s bunk. No one had bothered telling them about Elizabeth and Ms Shepard being missing, because it seems as though they are having a fun-filled party of their own. There’s laugher… and music.
The girls gather around the window…
Inside, a dozen boys were gathered around a portable TV. And everyone was drinking soda and snacking on pretzels and potato chips—even Coach Cassels!
“To think that I was going to go in there and admit defeat!” Elizabeth said with a laugh.
“I can’t believe this!” Jessica said. “Do you realize what they’re watching? It’s the Aid the People concert!”
So, the boys are caught red-handed, at first they try and weasel out of it, but when Jessica accidentally reveals that she has a boom box, the bet is declared null and void.
And they all watch the Aid the People concert!
[Wing: But who won the Johnny Buck tickets?]
In the final chapter, we have a hay ride that results in a hay fight, the declaration that the twins have learned how lucky they are to have their lifestyle (pffft), and the return to the Wakefield Compound (in which Ned inexplicably bogarts the boom box for a few WEEKS… what happened to “this is to be shared by the whole family,” you prick?). [Dove: This is the only part I sided with Jessica for. Ned: It belongs to all of us. And as a part of sharing it, I will be taking it into the office for two weeks straight. Because you guys need to learn to share things without having them at all.]
Then there’s the tag for the next book. Something about a foreign exchange student.
I liked this, mostly. The premise was fun, and everyone got to have a laugh with it.
But some things pissed me off royally. Winston and Charlie being friends. Workshy Jessica. The re-used ‘lost in a storm’ plot. The fact that NO ONE GAVE A FUCK ABOUT A MISSING CHILD. Oh, and the tormenting of a piglet.
I won’t be returning to this one.
[Dove: I always think I like this one, but when I read it, it’s not as good as I think. I think the problem is that I’m really charmed by the front cover, and it helps erase how much of it annoys me.]
[Wing: I’ve been looking forward for a long time based on the cover, because every time I see it on the site, I smile. It wasn’t the worst book we’ve done this year, but it wasn’t great, either. I really wanted them all in period garb, too, on top of having to do chores, and there were, of course, a tonne of continuity issues that Raven pointed out, and also huge chunks are repeated from previous stories, so — it’s not a good story, either.]
Looking back at things I’ve enjoyed, and smashing them to pieces with the Snark-Hammer. Lover of games of every stripe and hue. NOT A REAL BIRD.