Title: Ciao, Sweet Valley!
Tagline: Just how welcome is Giovanna in Sweet Valley? [Dove: Well, given how well they usually take outsiders, I reckon it will go: 1) excited and welcoming; 2) cool and snooty as soon as she doesn’t bow down and worship the perfection of Sweet Valley; and then 3) EVERYTHING IS AWESOME.]
Summary: Jessica Wakefield and her twin sister, Elizabeth, are looking forward to having an exchange student named Giovanna come and live with them for three weeks, Jessica can’t wait to show the Italian country girl all the great things about Sweet Valley. But when the Wakefields finally meet Giovanna, Jessica is in for a shock. Giovanna is gorgeous and sophisticated—and Sweet Valley bores her to death!
When Giovanna arrives at Sweet Valley Middle School, she’s rude to Jessica’s friends in the Unicorn Club, she talks constantly about how great Italy is, and she flirts with the cutest boys in school. As far as Jessica is concerned, Giovanna has worn out her welcome. How will she ever get through the next three weeks?
I hate this book. I don’t want to read it. There’s a reason I never bothered to buy it back in the day. I borrowed it from a friend and decided I didn’t need a copy. It was one of the last ones I bought when I was filling in the gaps in my collection.
I utterly loathe this book. The only reason I didn’t swap with someone is because: 1) Raven knows better than to swap with me after he got burned by The Class Trip; and 2) despite my deep desire to not recap this, I thought Wing would like The Ghost in the Bell Tower (and I thought she’d probably burn our servers to the ground on this one), also; 3) I was pretty sure that Wing wouldn’t swap with me unless I made a very good case for it. My co-recappers are (rightly) very suspicious when I try to swap.
Note from the future: When I rage at Giovanna’s attitude, I am aware that the rage should be (and is) directed at the current Jamie Suzanne’s lack of knowledge about Italy and apparent xenophobia. But for shorthand, I rage at Giovanna.
Note from even further into the future: I completely forgot the Rizzo family is Italian. It’s ok, so did the author. You’d have thought Giovanna might have approved of them, especially with Mrs Rizzo speaking Italian as her first language, but yeah, no, that never happens. Giovanna never even meets Sophia.
Apology to any Italian readers: Hi. I’m really sorry that this Jamie Suzanne is being so offensive about your country with pretty much every sentence Giovanna utters.
[Wing: Why are we doing yet another foreign exchange student story? Why are we doing yet another New Girl story? Why are we doing — huh, I guess the next question is why are we doing the recapping at all, but I have an answer for that one.]
We open with the most sickeningly Wakefield Saturday morning breakfast ever. The main players are:
- Steven: eating everything in sight.
- Elizabeth: being chipper and early-morning-y
- Jessica: being grouchy and amazed anyone’s up so early.
- Alice and Ned: out for a jog.
Oh, fuck off, Wakefields. And I’m certain the parents aren’t out for a jog. I bet they left a note on the fridge last night and have been at a key party or something. [Wing: That would make them far more interesting.]
The twins are very excited because they have received a letter from GO, I don’t know what it stands for because this book refuses to tell us, it expects that we’ve read the previous one. Or maybe the last one doesn’t explain it either, and GO doesn’t stand for anything, they just think capital letters are rather swish?
Anyway, GO is the foreign student exchange programme, which Elizabeth and Jessica wrote for information on a few days ago. They are not eligible to go to another country like France, Italy, etc. because they don’t speak the language. Jessica starts to come up with a way to sidestep that issue, but Steven and Elizabeth quickly remind her of the last time she pulled that shit. And ok, Jamie of the week, I do like that you bothered with continuity here.
Why isn’t England/Scotland/Ireland/Wales/Australia/etc., an option? Same language, different culture. [Raven: Hah! I’d love to see the Unicorns doing an exchange with a Scottish Comprehensive School. “Aaah, ney mind tha’, ya wee gadgie, it’s anly a jobbie. It’ll poot hairs an yeh bawbag.”] [Dove: I would pay good money to see that.]
Alice and Ned arrive back at this moment, rode hard and put away wet. I mean, that’s not in the text, but I’m just assuming. They suggest that if the twins can’t go experience the culture abroad, why not become a host family. All they have to do is fill in a form and go through an interview.
On Monday, Jessica excitedly bubbles to the Unicorns how exciting it will be having someone stay with them. They quickly join in, thinking of all the things they can show her: pizza, hot dogs, milkshakes – do I have to fucking rant about milkshakes again? – blue jeans, MTV, rock music, music videos, etc. Dudes, the kid is visiting from Europe, not the 1700s. I guarantee that they have those things in France, Italy and almost anywhere else in Europe. Not least of all because Guns N’ Roses was doing a world tour around this time (1992). For that matter, Michael Jackson was massively popular back then (pre-Jordy Chandler…), and his concerts were filled with people wearing – you’ve guessed it – jeans, and doing his moves, that they learned by watching his music videos *coughs* “short films”. [Raven: Also, considering Lila has been going on and on about how great Italy is, this is a mental disconnect too far for me.]
Honestly, it’s insulting that this book assumes that Europe is so cut off from America that we couldn’t possibly comprehend denim.
(Also, I get that England is not what they mean by Europe. When Sweet Valley (or Point Horror) people say Europe, they mean Paris.)
Hasn’t every previous book used “Europe” as a shorthand for sophistication and culture? All of a sudden that has stopped and it’s like, “Let’s teach the backwards morons the ways of french fries and MTV so that we can educate them.” I had to create a new tag for this, “massively offensive twaddle”. It took me ages to come up with something that wasn’t filled with swearwords.
Mandy then says, what if the exchange student is a boy? This makes all of the Unicorns salivate in anticipation of the cute European boy they can fawn all over.
On Thursday, Jessica takes a call from Mr Lane, who asks to speak to one of the twins – not a parent – to confirm the name of the exchange student and when they’ll be arriving. The organisation of this whole thing is very shaky. Mr Lane tells her the name is Giovanna, but Jessica hears Giovanni. He says he’s mailed some information about where to pick up the kid from, and it should arrive the next day. The mail, that is, not the kid. The kid arrives Friday… wait, that is tomorrow. So the information about where to pick a lone child up in an unfamiliar country is coming by post, due to arrive the same day as the actual kid. And Mr Lane tells a child, not an adult, of the plan. Holy fuck, dudes, do not let your kids use GO for the foreign exchange programme. They might just vanish. This could end up like My Little Eye (which I will totally recap for Nostalgic Bookshelf at some point). [Wing: God, I love that movie.] [Raven: Nothing surprises me about how the adults supervise the children in these fucking books.]
Jessica then panics. Sure, this kid is a boy, but what if he’s fugly? Then she’ll be stuck with some nerd for three weeks. She calls Lila for reassurance, and Lila says there’s no such thing as an ugly Italian boy. She would know, she spent two days in Venice and one day in Rome. (Where, presumably, no Italian in either of those places wore jeans, ate pizza or listened to rock music.)
Over dinner, Jessica announces their exchange student is a boy and will be here – oh, next Friday. Ok, that’s better. The text really should have been clearer on that. The Wakefields say they’ll turn the den into a bedroom for Giovanni. [Wing: Why don’t they do that no matter what? I would want a space of my own.] [Dove: Same.]
Elizabeth says maybe Giovanni will be a prince in disguise, just like their last exchange student, Arthur. Ok, I’m giving points for continuity, but deducting them hard for reminding me of one of the most stupid plots so far. [Raven: Yeah, because ONE prince-in-disguise plot isn’t enough.]
Jessica asks if they can throw a swimming party and a cookout to celebrate hosting a (potentially regal) cute Italian.
“Of course,” Mrs. Wakefield agreed. She smiled at Jessica and Elizabeth. “I wasn’t expecting our exchange student to be a boy. But now that I’m getting used to the idea, I think it will be sort of interesting, don’t you?”
Keep it in your pants, Alice. And step away from the underage boy.
The next day, Amy comes home with Elizabeth, and they find that GO has mailed them their exchange student’s details, and OMG, SHE’S A GIRL!
They break the news to Jessica just before dinner and she wonders how on earth she will live down the humiliation of mishearing a name that is not common to her, and not knowing the difference would swap the gender. Yes, it’s always frightfully embarrassing when that happens. (If she had social anxiety, I’d definitely empathise, but she’s just being a dick. And I hate this book. So, nobody’s getting out of this alive.)
Elizabeth says that Giovanna can stay with her in her room (KOALAGATE PART 2???), and Jessica realises that she’s going to miss out so says she’ll tidy her room and Giovanna can stay with her instead. They agree to five days each, starting with Elizabeth. Jessica agrees, but warns Elizabeth that she will kill her and bury her in the Mercandy backyard if Giovanna is even a second late in moving to Jessica’s room. [Wing: In this book, Alice and Ned claim they don’t own a cot, but didn’t they use a cot during KOALAGATE? Did you break it at a sex party, dudes?] [Raven: Also, why the hell are GO allowing host families to be host families if they havent got a fucking bedroom spare for the visiting student? Surely that’d be one of the first questions: “Do you have a spare bed for the visitor?” … Well, I guess the second question, after “Are you on a register?”]
Over lunch the next day, Lila teases Jessica for getting the name wrong and pretends to be an expert on Italy.
Lila spoke up before Jessica could answer. “Ah, Firenze,” she said, sighing. “The City of Seven Hills. Bello, bello. That means ‘beautiful,’ you know.”
“I thought Rome was the City of Seven Hills,” Ellen said innocently.
“Well, Florence has a lot of hills, too,” Lila replied, narrowing her eyes. “Everybody knows that.”
*blinks* Ellen? How on earth do you have a piece of knowledge from outside Sweet Valley? Did you and Amy start dating again?
[Raven: Elllen is basically Phoebe here.
Mary and Mandy ask Lila what Italian girls are like, and Lila says she doesn’t know, she was too busy eyeballing the Italian boys.
They also talk about how all the classes are taking an Italian slant, watching a video of Madame Butterfly in music, studying Leonardo Da Vinci in art, etc. And then they wonder why Mr Seigel (science) is having lunch with Ms Wyler (maths).
Apparently the Wakefields do not have a cot for Giovanna to sleep on and the twins are sent begging around the neighbourhood for one after school. Uh, didn’t they set up a cot in Elizabeth’s room when Amy stayed? What did Chrissy sleep on? With Chrissy, I’ll allow they could have a sofabed in the den, but I’m sure they’ve set up a cot multiple times before. Mostly because it’s a daft word that means crib over here, and in the age before the internet, it made tween Dove very confused. [Wing: Ha, I should have kept reading. Also, now I have a hilarious image of Jessica trying to decorate a crib into something cool enough to sleep in.]
One of their neighbours points them in the direction of Mrs Dalone, who is “a plump woman in her sixties”. DEAR GODS GET THAT FAT OLD LADY OUT OF SWEET VALLEY! Doesn’t she know that everyone has to be young, thin and sexy here? [Raven: Don’t worry, she’s also ethnic, so she’s allowed.]
The twins introduce themselves and explain the situation. Mrs Dalone is delighted to lend them her cot, especially when she hears that Giovanna is visiting from Italy. Her family immigrated from Sicily. She doesn’t know much about Italy though, only the few bits of the language her mother taught her, and she’s never visited, but she has pictures, which she shows the twins.
She offers them spumoni while they look at the pictures, which turns out to be Italian vanilla ice cream. If this was any other place but Sweet Valley, I’m pretty sure Chris Hansen would walk in at this point and ask Mrs Dalone to take a seat.
Jessica squinted at a brown tinted snapshot of several children with long, stringy hair. They were all barefoot and their clothes were ragged. One girl was leading a goat, and another was carrying a chicken.
Jessica stared at the picture, suddenly apprehensive. “Elizabeth,” she whispered, “do you think all Italian kids look like this?”
First of all, of course the funny foreigners are something out of a Michael Jackson Heal the World video, and second of all, of course the whole of Italy looks like that, Jessica. Don’t you know that America is the only country in the world that has luxuries and scientific advancements like washing machines, and taps, and above-ground swimming pools? [Wing: Aren’t all the pools in Sweet Valley inground? I doubt Jessica even knows what an above-ground pool is.] [Raven: I’m sure someone’s been pushed into a pool somewhere in one of these books. Pretty difficult to push someone into an above-ground pool.] [Dove: I am sure someone’s pool has been described as “above-ground”. Maybe even the Wakefields’ at some point. Rosey? She’s usually good with odd little details.]
Mrs Dalone explains that the kids had to work full time, which is why her parents moved to the US for better opportunities (♫ FOR THE LA–AAAAAAAAND OF THE FREEEEEEEEE! AND THE HOME OF THE BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAVE! ♫). There was more chance of an education in the USA, and where her family was from didn’t even have indoor plumbing.
Jessica worries that while times may have changed since the photos were taken, what if they’ve not changed much, and Giovanna is some Raggedy Ann wanting
to come over here and steal our jobs to live in the “land of opportunity”.
Mrs Dalone asks them to bring Giovanna over when she arrives, so she can try out her Italian on a native speaker. She’s very excited to speak to someone who really lives in Italy.
When they get home and start setting up the cot, Jessica asks Elizabeth if she thinks Giovanna has a goat like the kids in the pictures. Elizabeth laughs at her for that one and says that Giovanna lives in a big city, which would make owning a goat hard. Jessica starts to worry about the differences: different language, different clothes, different hair (what the fuck, Jessica? Literally everyone but Elizabeth has different hair to you, it’s called genetics, you fucking dickhead), different thought and speech patterns.
She decides Giovanna will get a makeover from Jessica as soon as she arrives (apparently she’s forgotten the last time she did a makeover, she had to kill Sandra Ferris for the greater good). After all, if Giovanna looks anything like the kids in the pictures, “she’ll need one.”
The next day, Lila is bragging about her trip to Italy again. Ellen loudly and rudely announces that she’s fed up of non-stop learning about Italy and hearing about Italy, and listening to Jessica go on about her Italian guest.
She storms off and Mandy tells Jessica not to take Ellen’s outburst personally, they’re all fed up with Lila’s bragging. Jessica says she’s worried nobody will like Giovanna because she looks so different, but Mandy cuts her off, saying everyone will like her just fine. Then they spot Wyler/Seigel in deep talks again.
On Friday, the Wakefield clan takes the van to the airport. Elizabeth is bursting with excitement at the prospect of a new girl to take under her wing (whether she wants it or not); Jessica is freaking out about Giovanna’s otherness; and Steven doesn’t know why he’s involved, she he couldn’t care less about the exchange student.
Jessica sees a bunch of girls who “looked completely normal” and hopes that Giovanna is one of them. What the actual fuck is up with this book? Obviously, to draw out the suspense, Giovanna is the last one off the plane, and this is how she is described.
Giovanna smiled and walked toward them. She was as tall and elegant as a fashion model. She had beautiful olive skin, clear hazel eyes, and long dark hair that swung around her shoulders. To top it off, she was wearing a black leather jacket that Jessica had fallen in love with when she’d seen it in Image magazine.
Jessica swallowed. She could forget about the makeover, and about teaching Giovanna what clothes to wear. Giovanna could probably teach her a thing or two!
Are you surprised? I was surprised. I thought she’d arrive carrying a goat. Because everyone except for Sweet Valley is so provincial they ought to just move to Sweet Valley and praise the Sweet Valley gods. [Raven: A sacrifice to the Sweet Valley Gods would explain the goat, to be fair.]
When Giovanna introduces herself, she speaks in broken English and takes several attempts to understand and make herself understood by them. As they walk to baggage claim, Jessica and Elizabeth discuss it in low tones. How awful if they were going to waste the next three weeks trying to make themselves understood. Elizabeth says maybe Giovanna’s tired, she’s had a long day, and even if she isn’t quite so fluent, it’s going to be much harder for her than them. Thank you, Elizabeth. And honestly, I feel dirty just saying that. I hate it when Elizabeth is the one I agree with.
The next morning Elizabeth is relieved that Giovanna speaks English. She asks if Giovanna wants to hang up her clothes before breakfast. Does Elizabeth know how to have fun or what?
Giovanna then proceeds to be a complete dick about breakfast. In Italy they do not eat eggs. They do not comprehend pancakes (a cake from a pan, what madness is this?). They like fruit. Not that fruit, you fuckwits, it must be FRESH. And what are these? Berries made of straw? Not in Italy! What are these flakes of corn? I no understand.
She grudgingly takes the pancakes. This character is a dick. Well done, Jamie Suzanne.
[Wing: If I set aside the ridiculousness of her knowing nothing, I cut her a lot of slack. She’s young, she’s alone in a new country, she doesn’t even have her own space to decompress, and she had to deal with the entire Wakefield family the night before.] [Raven: Did she, though? I agree about the no-space thing, but she basically got to the Compound and crashed out.] [Dove: I would like to remind you of our first trip to Vegas, which took 28 hours of travel. I crashed out as soon as I spotted the bed. I woke up four hours later demanding chips (which was an impossible ask, even in Vegas) at around 5am, I made you get up, buy me breakfast. I ate about three mouthfuls and immediately reported I was exhausted.]
The twins then explain the words for knives, forks, spoons, coffee makers and microwaves. Jessica wonders if they even have microwaves in Italy. Giovanna then clarifies of course they do, for their cook. I hate literally everything in this book, and I’ve got 50 pages to go.
She finally perks up with Ned rocks up and starts mainlining the coffee. She says she’ll have some too. Only babies don’t drink coffee. This makes the twins feel about three years old. (Of course she doesn’t like the taste of American coffee.)
She then makes small-talk with Steven about basketball, and it’s absolutely hilarious because the funny foreigner keeps taking the clever Americans literally. So when he talks about hoops, she thinks he means they will make a hoop, not play basketball. Isn’t that hilarious? Aren’t you just laughing yourself sick? You’re not? Well, that’s a problem, because it’s been going on since she first started talking and I bet it will keep going until the end of the book. [Note from the future: Yes. It did. It really did.]
Giovanna leaves most of her breakfast, which hurts Elizabeth’s tender feelings. Jessica sasses that the pancakes probably taste better in Italy.
Then Mandy and Mary rock up and they take Giovanna for a walking tour of Sweet Valley. She notes how big their cars are (jeez, they really are. I needed a run-up or a boost to get into the car that Wing and Ostrich rented), [Wing: Awww, and that was significantly smaller than the SUV Ostrich drove for a few years. Plus my beloved muscle car is much lower to the ground but still too wide for a lot of the narrow streets.] and then says that in Florence big cars would make jelly of the traffic. She means traffic jam, and it’s hilarious, right? Also, I would have thought that an Italian learning English would learn British English (because we’re closer) over American English, and jam and jelly aren’t the same things. Oh, I don’t even care. [
Giovanna is rather surprised they don’t have scooters to get around, she and all her friends have scooters and ride them everywhere. After a quick google, I found that in Italy fourteen year olds can ride scooters without licences, providing their parents pay the insurance. I have no idea how old Giovanna is, I assumed she was twelve just like the twins. I could not easily find out if the law was different in 1992 when this was written. So there are three options: Giovanna is older than the twins; the law was different back then; or Jamie Suzanne made shit up. [Wing: I found that as of at least 1986, 14 was the limit still and the engines had to be 50cc or less to be considered a moped. I think scooters and mopeds would be considered the same thing.]
Jessica points out some buildings, several are being built – ha, as if anyone does such a working class job as being a builder in Sweet Valley – and Giovanna asks where all their ancient buildings are. Jessica points to the oldest building in town, it’s over 200 years old. Giovanna sneers at this.
“Two hundred years?” Giovanna asked with amusement. “The Pantheon is over two thousand years old.”
There was a long silence.
“It’s about time you built a new one,” Jessica said finally.
Ordinarily, I’d say “never change”, but Jessica’s been uncomfortably judgemental about Italians so far in this book, so instead I’ll just say that I smirked. [Raven: At this point, I liked Giovanna. I thought the whole “a cake from a pan” schtick was a bit thick, but I enjoyed the way she was unrelentingly scathing about anything and everything. The whole “our history is actually historic, not just kitsch” thing is on point. NOTE: This warmth does not last long.] [Dove: If I didn’t have a zillion programmes open, I’d share a screencap of his text message. The first one read “I like Giovanna.” The second read, “I don’t like Giovanna.” They were sent about ten minutes apart.]
Giovanna’s mind is blown by a “sky scraper” which is actually a fifteen-storey office building. Apparently there’s not a single thing in Italy as tall as that. *blinks* I’ve never been to Italy, but there’s this tall leany towering thing that’s a bit famous. [Raven: “Cortana, how many floors has the Leaning Tower of Piza?” … “Eight floors, Dove.”] [Dove: You actually used Cortana?] Also, there’s a fair few tall buildings in Italy and sure, this was a pre-internet age, but if Giovanna’s going to speak for all of Italy, that’s a bit crap if she doesn’t really know about the rest of Italy, isn’t it? Gosh, it’s almost as if this Jamie Suzanne knows fuck all about what she’s writing about and it has resulted in something that’s boring, insulting and offensive all round.
On their walk, they bump into Aaron Dallas, and he pays attention to Giovanna, and Jessica immediately fumes. She offers to introduce Giovanna to some other cute boys.
That evening, the twins attempt to make a traditional Italian feast for Giovanna. Naturally this dies on its arse. In Italy we use fresh tomatoes, not canned; the garlic bread is French; parmesan cheese does not come in a shaker pot; the spaghetti is not so soggy; and we drink wine with dinner. Oh, and that Italian flag Jessica drew for the centrepiece? It’s backwards.
Well, gosh. That’s an elaborate way to say “Thank you for making the effort.” [Wing: But were there giant meatballs?] [Raven: What do you think Stephen uses for Hoop Practice? Also, still liking Giovanna here. God forbid anyone has standards.]
On Monday Elizabeth meets Amy at her locker. Amy asks for an update on Giovanna, and Elizabeth reports that it’s going fine, except for Giovanna’s English isn’t that great (it’s fine, fuck off); everything they do for her isn’t good enough; and she’s more messy than Jessica.
Jessica introduces Giovanna to the Unicorns and Lila introduces herself in Italian (Ellen says she’s been practicing all weekend), and then quickly sneers at Lila for going to see Pisa and spending the day in Rome. All the tourists do that. She should see the real Italy one day.
Lila is rather cross now. When Jake comes over and starts talking to her, she seethes. Jessica says Jake plays basketball and Giovanna asks for “a hop lesson” (see, it’s a callback to that earlier hilarious misunderstanding about basketball and hoops, except now we’ve escalated it from hoop to hop, isn’t it funny?), and Lila says maybe she’d do better with an English lesson. Giovanna hits back saying her English is better than Lila’s Italian.
Jesus fucking Christ is everything toxic in this scene?
Jake and Giovanna arrange to grab a sandwich at lunch (“is this not stealing?” HA HA AREN’T FOREIGNERS FUNNY FUCKING KILL ME I HATE THIS SHIT FUCK GRAMMAR PUNCTUATION AND ALL THAT SHIT) and then have a basketball lesson.
When Lila and Jessica are alone, Lila is furious that Jessica threw Giovanna at Jake. Jessica denies everything. Lila basically slut-shames Giovanna for dressing so pretty, and Jessica says Italian girls are more mature – Giovanna has a scooter. Lila says that it’s against the law, and Jessica has fallen for a pack of lies. Jessica snaps that Jake’s the one falling.
(So… what’s the truth on the scooter thing? That’s literally the only thing I’m interested in, and it’s a mild curiosity at best. I’m about 2% interested.)
Giovanna reads a poem in Italian during English class, and Mr Bowman asks for her thoughts on America. She says she has stage fright – god, I’d be terrified. I hate public speaking, let alone a bunch of strangers I’ve literally just met, talking about their country in my second language. Fuck that. Mr Bowman gives her a week to prepare something and read out.
Guess he’s on with the “ALL HAIL SWEET VALLEY” assignment that all newcomers must complete.
Lunch is fun for Giovanna, but nobody else. In the lunch line Jake is very attentive to Giovanna. Then Bruce appears to brag about his Italian racing bike. Jake counters with talking about his uncle who races cars. They spend the rest of the lunch period vying for Giovanna’s attention, while Jessica, Ellen and Lila fume. Lila asks her about the scooter, and Giovanna produces a picture of her and her brother standing in front of a scooter. Bruce then asks Giovanna if she wants to play tennis with him, she says yes, so Jake quickly invites himself, and Jessica gets invited to make up the numbers.
On Wednesday evening, Alice asks Giovanna how she’s doing at school. Giovanna smugly says that the classes are very easy, because in Italy she is a year or two ahead of the Americans, she understands everything perfectly but can’t explain herself in English well enough. I’m calling bullshit on that. [Raven: Starting to go off her a bit by this point.]
In my firm, I’m the smartest person when it comes to Excel. However, there is a certain person I do work for regularly, and I can never get it right. He is absolutely impossible to understand. He’s of the “No, not that,” … “Not that either,” school of instructions, where your only option is to keep taking wild stabs at what he wants because he cannot or will not explain what it is he’s looking for.
I know when it comes to languages, most people have a higher reading comprehension than writing, but I’m pretty sure the teachers do not slow down their explanations to cater for someone who is listening, translating and then responding. In fact, I know they don’t, because there’s a later book called Won’t Someone Help Anna? that addresses this very fact.
So, she’s either being cocky to hide her worries, or Jamie Suzanne is being a clueless knob again. Also, why the fuck is she even bothering? None of our exchange students had to keep their grades up at our school. They didn’t even have to participate in the lessons, other than show up. What’s the point? We’re doing a completely different curriculum and, for us at least, it was only for a week. [Raven: “I’m sorry, Giovanna, but you’re NOT in Italy now. This is BIOLOGY. We do NOT accept ‘evolution’ as an answer in this school. The correct answer is “from the rib of Adam.” Ten points from… what’s Italian for Hufflepuff?”] [Dove: Ten points to Ravenclaw for that.]
Jessica feels a bit defensive and points out that they do loads of other stuff, rather than speeding through the curriculum, such as Boosters and the Sixers. Giovanna sneers that Italians are too busy studying. Alice tries to interject tactfully that it probably balances out. Maybe not, Alice, since your daughter is so clueless about Italy, she thought that Giovanna would arrive carrying a goat. Then again, Raven has a lot to say about the teaching practices of SVMS, so maybe he’ll have something funny to say here. [Raven: Nope. The school is enough of a joke itself.]
Also, it’s Wednesday, which means Giovanna should be swapping rooms. Elizabeth can’t wait to get shot of her because of the mess. However, Jessica does her standard shirk and Elizabeth just bends over and takes it. Then Giovanna orders Elizabeth upstairs to help with her vocabulary homework. And Elizabeth positions herself so both Jessica and Giovanna can take advantage of her. Jessica promises Giovanna will swap into her room on Friday.
After science class, Mr Seigel asks Elizabeth to drop a note off to Ms Wyler and tell her the date has been set. Melissa McCormick, who’s with her, wants to know what it’s all about, and Elizabeth says all will become clear by next Tuesday, because apparently they’ve reserved a full page in the Sixers to announce whatever it is. Well, I suppose it’s refreshing that Elizabeth doesn’t know all about it.
On Friday, Jessica invites Mandy Miller to spend the night so they can spend the next day cleaning the yard before the pool party. She must really hate Giovanna if she’s willing to do yard work instead. (Well, we all know Elizabeth will be lumbered with it.)
Oh, then it just skips to the party, so I guess we’ll never know if Jessica actually did the chores or shirked. The Unicorns are either jealous of how Giovanna looks, or hate her for all the attention the boys are giving her. Giovanna is wearing a “skimpy” red bikini and it’s implied she has big boobs, which makes every other girl at the party feel frumpy in their swimsuits, even the non-Unicorns. She’s surrounded by the boys.
Lila rocks up late, with Janet in tow, because she was searching for the perfect swimsuit. As it turns out, her one-of-a-kind bikini is identical to Giovanna’s. Lila is furious. As they walk on to the patio, Lila says that Giovanna is throwing herself at Denny Jacobson (no, not the dyslexic track star, that’s Danny Jackson. This is Pamela-heart-condition-Jacobson’s perfectly healthy brother). Denny Jacobson has been tagged as Janet’s boyfriend, and she will cut a bitch who talks to her man (whether he knows he’s her man or not).
Janet notes that Giovanna is talking to all of their boyfriends Jake (Lila), Denny (Janet) and Aaron (Jessica), and Jessica needs to distance herself from that slutty bitch. Jessica whines that she can’t because Giovanna is moving in to her room that night.
Later, when Lila has borrowed one of Jessica’s bikinis, and Giovanna takes a break for some snacks, she takes a moment to tell everyone that nobody in Italy has ever eaten junk food in their life because it gives you bad skin. Elizabeth feels particularly bad about this, because she has a pimple right this second (Really? A Wakefield has a pimple?) [Raven: It’s called Steven.]. They change the subject to the Wyler/Siegel secret, and Giovanna loftily explains that the secret is obvious. In Italy, when two people talk to each other, it clearly means they’re in love. Just fucking die, Giovanna, and take your version of Italy with you.
The kids quickly realise that if the Seigel/Wyler ship is sailing, then the big announcement must be their wedding. OMG.
“This is fantastic,” Amy said. “My two favorite teachers, getting married next Friday!”
Elizabeth looked at Amy. “I didn’t know that they were your two favorite teachers.”
“They are now,” Amy replied with a sigh. “This is so romantic!”
I bet Elizabeth is going to stab her later. Everyone knows that Elizabeth’s favourite teacher is Mr Bowman, and she’s not going to be impressed that Amy has picked a different teacher to be her favourite. This will come up in Amy’s end of year review.
After the party, Jessica feigns a cold to put off Giovanna moving to her room. Alice is completely taken in, but Elizabeth is not. But still, Giovanna stays with Elizabeth.
At school, the Unicorns decide to get Seigel/Wyler a present for their wedding, and give a speech and presentation before the announcement. Ellen says she hopes such a kind act will be reflected in her math grade.
After dinner, Elizabeth reminds Giovanna that they’re going to see Mrs Dalone, who is very proud of her Italian heritage. Giovanna quickly points out that people from Sicily are more Sicilian than Italian, and she should pronounce her name correctly, Dalona, not Dalone. Giovanna might be one of the most unpleasant dickheads in this entire series, and that’s really saying something. [Wing: I’m still cutting her a lot of slack, both in how awkward this whole thing would be, but also because of potential cultural differences. I had an employee awhile back who was French, and she was one of the bluntest people I’ve ever worked with. I found it refreshing as hell, but I know a lot of our coworkers were upset sometimes because of it.] [Dove: I have a German co-worker, in fact, she’s my favourite person in the firm, and she is blunt too. But she’s never rude. Although I will add she’s been working in England long enough so “I no longer dream in German,” is her default state, so her English skills are significantly better. However, I really didn’t like Giovanna.]
Elizabeth points out the family may have wanted to sound more American, [Wing: Or they were forced to change it when they arrived, which happened a lot.] and she’s quite peeved at Giovanna’s attitude. Jesus fucking Christ, I’m on Elizabeth’s side again. If this was better written, it could well provoke many discussions on immigration, culture, and so forth. Instead it just rams down your throat over and over again that basically anyone who’s not from Sweet Valley is a completely asshat, and that’s just how other countries roll.
Giovanna asks Elizabeth for help with her speech in front of Mr Bowman’s class. She says she will help and once Giovanna is upstairs, Elizabeth turns to Jessica and takes no shit about Giovanna moving. Jessica has a “bad back” now, and Elizabeth gives absolutely no quarter. It happens so rarely, but it’s nice to see her eventually grow a spine.
When they visit Mrs Dalone, Giovanna is rude. Shocking, eh? Mrs Dalone tries to greet her in Italian, and Giovanna asks the twins what the heck Mrs Dalone is on about. She says that Mrs Dalone is saying everything all wrong and corrects her.
Finally, Giovanna nodded. “That is close enough,” she said. She turned to Elizabeth. “Mrs. Dalone’s parents come from Sicily, from the south of Italy. Sicilians speak Italian differently. It is not pure Italian, as we speak it in Florence.”
Oh just fuck the fuck off, Giovanna.
Elizabeth asks if there is really such a difference between Florence and Sicily’s languages. Giovanna says do they sometimes have issues understanding people from the other end of the country. Elizabeth says sometimes, but one is not more pure than the other.
With that out of the way, Mrs Dalone offers them dessert in the hope of smoothing things over.
Giovanna leaned forward and poked a cake with her finger. “I do not recognize them,” she said. “Perhaps they could be Greek.” She turned to Elizabeth. “Sicilian food is similar to Greek food,” she said.
Elizabeth makes an excuse that they have to leave and Mrs Dalone is visibly relieved, although she pretends otherwise. On the way home, Elizabeth asks why Giovanna why she was so rude. Giovanna says she couldn’t understand the language and didn’t recognise the treats, was she supposed to lie? [Raven: Yes, Giovanna. You are supposed to lie. She’s truly awful here. Mrs Dalone is nothing but lovely, and Giovanna is blatantly offensive. She’s beyond blunt. Seeing Mrs Dalone’s excitement wither and die is heartbreaking. Fuck you, Giovanna, you hideous prick. Also, why is bluntness taken to be refreshing, to be applauded? “Calling a spade a spade and not a garden tool” is just granting yourself a permit to be an arsehole. Being nice to people greases the wheels of society, and that sometimes means not pointing at the guy with the big ears and laughing in his face. From Downton Abbey…
Lady Rosamund: I’m sorry Mama, but you know me. I have to say what I think.
The Dowager: Why? Nobody else does. ] [Dove: I think our Englishness is showing.]
God, this Jamie really wants us to hate Italy, doesn’t she?
The next day, Jessica goes shopping with the Unicorns, and complains about living with Giovanna. The mess is getting to her. Jessica. She even lampshades how ridiculous that sentence is. She feels like Elizabeth. Janet and Lila complain that Giovanna is throwing herself at all the boys, including Aaron. Jessica says that actually, the boys are throwing themselves at her, and follows it with one of the most sensible things in this whole book, which is astounding.
“Oh, come on, Janet. So he was sitting with Giovanna. Big deal,” Jessica said. “Listen, I know Aaron likes me, so I’m not going to get all nervous about this,” she added confidently as they walked into the card shop. “It’s not like he and Giovanna are going out on dates or anything.”
They buy a nice photo frame and get it gift wrapped, and as they’re passing the frozen yoghurt stall, they see Giovanna and Aaron sharing a table, staring into each other’s eyes.
And then we cut to the next day. We don’t even get a reaction from Jess (kill her, bury the body in the Mercandy backyard). It’s lunchtime and the Unicorns are giving the gift. They’re going to approach, and yell “Congratulations on your wedding!” Janet notes it’s excellent publicity for the Unicorns. Uh, dude, it’s school. Everyone knows the Unicorns exist. *shrugs* Whatever. [Ravem: Genuine LOL from me. Janet is absurd.]
So, the Unicorns approach Mr Seigel and Ms Wyler, shout their congratulations, and are quickly informed that they’re not getting married. Actually, they’ve been working on a science/math programme called SOAR! (Science Offers Awesome Rewards). The Unicorns are suitably humiliated, despite Ms Wyler being really nice about it.
They decide it’s time to kill Giovanna, who told them the teachers were in love – and all the other stuff, the rudeness, the boy-stealing, the mess, blah, blah, blah. The Unicorns are coming up with a plan.
After school, Lila swings by, and when Aaron calls to invite Giovanna bowling, she and Jessica offer to go through Giovanna’s speech about America. When Giovanna gets back from bowling, Jessica tells her that Lila has taken it home to type up neatly on her typewriter. (Lila has a typewriter? She didn’t when they were running a newspaper. Also, surely she has a computer and a top-of-the-line dot matrix printer that can print a sheet of paper in about six weeks.)
The next morning, Lila gives Giovanna the speech seconds before class starts, leaving Giovanna to read it on the fly. The speech raves about how awesome ‘Murica is, with its yummy food, awesome buildings, big cars, and anything else she’s bitched about. Mr Bowman is surprised that she has nothing but compliments for the USA. This is surprising. Most foreign exchange students adore America – remember when that German kid wanted to defect? Or when Prince Arthur bought a confederate flag and a Frisbee?
Giovanna is furious and calls the Unicorns “lock-minded”. She means closed-minded (it’s sooooo funny). I don’t actually think they’re being close-minded. Usually they are. In fact, any other book I would absolutely agree with her. But in this one, they’re just being petty and spiteful. Why? Because she’s been rude to them non-stop. [Wing: I disagree that she’s been rude to any of the Unicorns. They’re upset because she’s trying to “steal” their boyfriends, which is bullshit on all sorts of levels, and because she’s prettier and more fashionable than they are, which is bullshit in different ways.] [Raven: I’m more aggrivated by the awful payoff of the plan itself. It’s SO shit. I don’t know why I expected anything more, as they have form in this regard – the plan to sabotage Amy’s Booster tryout being a case in point.]
When I’m in the USA, I tease Wing and Ostrich about the fact that most Americans don’t have kettles. I do not understand how the USA can function without tea in the morning (even Wing enjoys the odd cup of tea in the morning, if I make it and tell her she wants it, because TEA, DAMNIT!). Pretty much the first few days of holiday are about somehow getting a cup of tea into me so I can function. However, the rest of the topics are “Oooh, I fucking love air-con. Why don’t we have air-con?”, “There’s freakin’ snow in the desert here!” [Zion Park, Nevada] And “Oh, Oreo chocolate that sounds… wow, that’s pretty good.” It’s fine to notice the difference (I’m sorry, but Cadbury’s chocolate will always win), but Giovanna has done nothing but slam America every time she opens her mouth. [Wing: Trying to get Dove tea in Vegas is an adventure, I have to say. Much easier when we rent a place and buy a kettle. Also: Cadbury’s chocolate will ALWAYS win. God, I love it. However, Cold Stone (and Marble Slab, which is the lesser-known brand that actually predates Cold Stone) will win for ice cream. Also: I am drinking tea right now. Iced tea, to be fair, but tea.] [Dove: God damn you, Wing! I had just forgotten about the awesomeness of Cold Stone. Also, since then I had developed an allergy to ice cream. I’ll be crying in the bath. Hey, why don’t you and Ostrich come over here and set up your own Cold Stone (preferably with a gelato option for me)?]
Wing and Ostrich took me for breakfast one morning, and they were delighted to take me to the American institution known as IHOP. (One day I’ll return the favour and take them to a breakfast carvery and load them up on soft bacon, sausages, eggs and baked beans.) [Wing: I am so looking forward to eating both my and Ostrich’s servings of bacon and sausages, unless we can find a non-pork option. Poor man is allergic to pork. I know, life’s really not worth living, etc.] [Raven: Hah, “both my and Ostrich’s servings”… breakfast at a carvery is All You Can Eat, so your serving is literally infinite.] I noticed several families at other tables praying before they ate. I literally don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone pray before a meal before. My brain registered it, I said nothing (I may have mentioned it to them on the drive home as an example of the differences). Giovanna would have hopped up and yelled “IN ITALY WE DO NOT DO THAT! SILLY AMERICANS!”
Also, Wing and I go back to 2001, I’ve known her longer than my husband. So our language can be a bit more sassy and play-fighty about which country is “better”. It’s a bit rude to do that constantly to a family you’ve known for a week. [Wing: Agreed, actually. I’m still cutting her a lot of slack because of the situation, but she has at times been pretty rude to the Wakefields and Mrs Dalone.]
After school, Elizabeth finds Giovanna packing. She has spoken to Mr Lane and he’s sending her home tomorrow. She tells Elizabeth to ask Jessica why she’s leaving. Jessica admits that she did change a few things in the speech. Giovanna is upset because they made it sound as if she was not proud of being Italian.
Jessica said she was sick of hearing how Italy was better than America and wanted Giovanna to say a few nice things. Then she rounds on Elizabeth and points out that even Saint Elizabeth is fed up, especially after Giovanna’s rudeness to Mrs Dalone.
Giovanna says she had no idea she was rude. Her English is bad, she had no idea she was being rude. For fuck’s sake, Elizabeth confronted her on the way home from Mrs Dalone’s. I know it’s this Jamie Suzanne’s ineptness with the subject, but honestly, this reads as if Giovanna is a complete piece of shit who loves being an absolute bitch to everyone about everything and then falls back on her “my English is bad, I no understand” to excuse it. [Wing: Again, disagree. Elizabeth didn’t really confront her in a way that I would have read as a confrontation rather than a conversation, and I only took away the fact that Elizabeth was upset because we the readers are told she’s upset. Elizabeth the Spineless did a crap job of confronting it head on.]
Jessica admits that she’s envious of Giovanna’s flirting. And also she kind of put off having Giovanna stay in her room because it’s a game she plays to see how much shit Elizabeth will take. I KNEW IT! [Wing: #bestjess]
Basically, most of it is envy and a misunderstanding. Then Jessica pulls back to the Italy brags.
Giovanna shook her head. “About America,” she said, “I like very tall buildings and loud rock music and basketball. I like old blue jeans and hot dogs with mustard and soap operas on television and skateboards at the beach. And I like the Wakefield family and this nice house.” She gave Jessica a serious look. “What do you like about Italy?”
(Wakefields aside, I’m pretty sure Italy has all of those things.)
The twins admit they know fuck all about Italy, and don’t know what they like. Giovanna explains that she talks about Italy so much because she’s homesick. And yay, everyone likes each other now.
Oh, also, Giovanna wasn’t on a date with Aaron, she was shopping for a gift for the twins. She got Elizabeth a picture of Florence and an Italian/English dictionary, and Jessica the hot red bikini. [Raven: Lila’s gonna be LIVID.]
She then goes to apologise to Mrs Dalone, who says she’s bought some tapes to brush up on her Italian because she’s bought a ticket to visit. Giovanna says come see her if she goes to Florence, and Giovanna will show her around.
Then we have the lead-in to the next book, which is an assembly about SOAR!, which actually happens off screen.
Interestingly, Giovanna is not put on a plane back to Italy, so I’m pretty sure Jessica killed her and buried her in the Mercandy backyard.
And I’m fucking done. Fuck this fucking book with the power of a billion angry suns.
What have I learned from this book:
- Foreigners, when they’re not dirty and ragged, are funny because of their hilarious lack of knowledge about slang.
- When a girl talks to a boy you like, rip that slutty bitch’s face off.
- Everyone in Italy is much better than you. (Or me. Obv.)
- Sweet Valley is the greatest place in the universe. Donald Trump would agree.
- I hate this book more than words can say.
- This is the worst book in the series, including fucking ithig.
[Wing: I was going to say something here about how I didn’t hate the book, and I don’t think it’s anywhere near the worst in the series, but I can’t stop watching that gif, so never mind.]
[Raven: Not even CLOSE to the colossal shit-fire that was Ithig. This one wasn’t great, but it didn’t make me order Brain Bleach from Amazon again. Giovanna was fun for a bit, then awful. The whole “we are now friends” denouement seemed forced. Jessica was annoying, forever dodging responsibility and avoiding sharing her room (despite what she says about only doing it to piss off her sister). The boys were drooling idiots, the girls were screeching harpies, the adults were completely useless, and for some reason the B plot was actually the foreshadowing for the next book. The writer feels out of their depth, to be honest, which is a bit rich considering the fandom. Overall, not one I’d consider revisiting.]
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.