Title: Steven the Zombie
Tagline: Steven’s in for it now!
Summary: Has Jessica’s joke backfired?
While reading a book about old New Orleans, Jessica Wakefield learns all about voodoo and decides to try it out herself, She knows exactly who she’ll make a voodoo doll of—her brother, Steven, of course.
Incredibly, the doll works. Poor Steven is lurching and leaping and writhing for days. Jessica is exhilarated by her powers… until she loses control of them. Steven’s still moaning in pain, but Jessica’s not doing voodoo anymore. Now Steven’s a zombie, and it’s all her fault!
Sweet Valley is known for its sensitive approach to everything, so I’m certain that this won’t be 130 pages of exploitation. Right? *wide grin*
Also, if anyone’s been creeped out by the way Wing’s been all “OMG! I LOVE THIS SERIES! IT GIVES ME THE FEELS! I LOVE THIS CHARACTER! THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD!” etc., fingers crossed that this is the book that returns her to form. I have my explosion gif at the ready. [Raven: Marshmallows on sticks are go, people!] [Wing: Oh, god, the pressure. THE PRESSURE.]
Important Note: For anyone who wasn’t here for One of the Gang or skipped my lengthy intro there, I have a mobility disability. This means I use words that are off-limits to able-bodied people.
[Wing: I’m going to share a couple links here before any Wing Goes Boom moments may or may not happen. These talk about Halloween, because that’s when a lot of these conversations happen, but the application is broader.
We open with Jessica doing a clichéd southern accent, complete with “y’all” and “little ol’ me”. This causes her family to fall about laughing at her new obsession. Can’t blame her, I love a southern accent myself – we’re talking USA. If we’re in the UK, the south can burn for all eternity. Can’t blame the Wakefield clan either, Jessica gets a new hobby every six minutes. [Wing: I can’t imagine how terrible all the fake southern accents are in this book and am glad I am reading and not listening, y’all. Which I say unironically.]
Jessica explains that she and Elizabeth have been studying the “Old South” in social studies. She’s been reading a “great” book about New Orleans before the Civil War. Now I’m British, so I know the nuance of the Civil War is somewhat lost on me, but I’m fairly certain things weren’t great for a subset of people before the Civil War, right? [Raven: I’m British too, and from what I’ve heard, the Civil War was anything but civil.] [Wing: I mean, life was pretty great for white plantation owners, which is exactly what appeals to Jessica.]
The twins acknowledge this and say they’ve been learning how bad things were for slaves back then. Elizabeth says that reading about their suffering makes it so real. Jessica, on the other hand, thinks the frocks the ladies had back then were super, so y’know, glass half full.
[Wing: There’s this brief exchange here where they both talk about how horrible things back then, as if racism isn’t alive and thriving and murdering people to this day, as if Sweet Valley itself doesn’t reflect a lily white southern California. I would have thrown the book if I could have.]
Steven says everything makes sense now, Jessica has been studying dresses and balls and not actual events. Jessica is sick of being seen as the stupid twin. Ordinarily I’d point out that Jessica is by far more creative than her incredibly dull twin, but anyone who walks away from a lesson about the times of slavery with the thought, “Gosh that dress is pretty,” really shouldn’t be defended.
Later that night, Jessica was reading in her book about New Orleans. It was actually really fun to read. Especially when she got to the section called “Voodoo in Creole Society.” She was fascinated by the detailed accounts of how people used voodoo dolls to torture their enemies.
Really? There was a section in her book about it? I’m genuinely curious. I can’t think of anything that would be equivalent in European history [Raven: Romany curses?]. Then again, it’s not strictly history, is it? Social studies sounds like it could cover anything at all. [Wing: Social studies around their age would have been more than history, yeah. Very, very high level look at the societal things going on around historical events and, for other countries, even higher level look at society and history. I don’t remember any of my textbooks mentioning voodoo, but this seems like a book she’s reading outside of her textbook, so it would make more sense for it to be there.] I think this book is wasted on me, we possibly should have borrowed an American to do this recap, although I think Wing would explode if we made her do three in a row. (Might be funny though.) [Wing: JESUS FUCKING CHRIST NO.] As a Brit, I think I’m just going to be asking a lot of questions about how likely it is that $thing is in their book/ok as a lesson.
Jessica slightly wigs herself out, and when she realises it’s 2am, she forces herself to put the book down and think soothing thoughts before she sleeps. Her eye falls on her Johnny Buck poster, and she notices that someone’s drawn a comedy moustache on him. She knows immediately it was Steven – that’s not exactly a huge leap, Alice passes out in a gin coma by 4:15pm every day, Ned is 90% absent, and Elizabeth doesn’t have the nerve to fuck with Jessica. Apparently he thinks The Buck is a terrible actor and singer. Did we know that Johnny Buck acts? I don’t think we did.
Jessica decides she will use her new knowledge of voodoo to get Steven back.
We skip to Monday morning, where Ms Arnette asks for volunteers to cook an authentic antebellum meal. Can she do that? We never did cooking as any part of our school work except home ec. [Raven: At University, I got involved with something called The Small School, which was a school in which the children were on a rota to make their schoolmates the school lunch every day, using ingredients grown in the school allotment. It was most eddifying, and it gave me a love for home-grown new potatoes. Totally unfeasable in a school with any more than thirty pupils, of course. Also, I had to google antebellum.] [Wing: We didn’t do anything this elaborate in middle school, but in Spanish class in high school, we did make “Spanish” dishes. One of the things I made was sangria. Non-alcoholic for class. Some alcohol for later consumption. I’ve heard of middle schools doing days where everyone brings food from their genealogical origins, but not where a couple of students prepare an entire meal for a class, which sounds like a horrific idea. Oh, I’ve also just been reminded that in high school, I once made a cake for my calculus class. It had some sort of equation on it, but for the life of me, I can’t remember which it was.] Anyway, Todd volunteers himself and Elizabeth. Elizabeth thinks to herself that she’s not a good cook, and she doubts Todd is. Elizabeth, unlike every reader and recapper, is not having flashbacks to every home ec lesson, after school dinner prep, or mother’s day gift part of any book, where Elizabeth is basically running the kitchen like a pro. Off the top of my head, there’s April Fool! where she makes a perfect soufflé and Centre of Attention, where Jessica orders her to make dinner all the time. I know this doesn’t mean she can make a perfect authentic antebellum meal, but it certainly implies she can follow a recipe rather well.
“Todd, thanks a lot for signing me up without asking me first,” Elizabeth whispered.
“Don’t be mad. I knew if I asked, you’d probably say no, so I decided not to give you a choice,” Todd whispered back, smiling. [Wing: ARE YOU MOTHER FUCKING KIDDING ME HOW THE HELL DID I ADORE YOU JUST LAST BOOK WHAT THE FUCK.]
When Todd smiled like that, it was impossible for Elizabeth to be mad at him. After all, this might be a good opportunity to spend some extra time with Todd. They were both so busy between her work on the newspaper and his basketball practices that they didn’t get to see each other as much as she would have liked.
And the truth was, Todd had gone through a hard time recently. He’d gotten interested in writing, and his father had put a lot of pressure on him to quit the writing class and concentrate on basketball. Things were much better now, but still, Elizabeth didn’t want to make Todd feel bad.
Todd… no. Just no. You don’t bypass consent like that. You’ve been hanging around Bruce Patman too much. And Elizabeth, no, you are not obligated to do what he says because he’s had a difficult time recently. I mean, I know we’re just talking about making a meal, but this series gives a lot of bad messages, and I’d be a lousy recapper if I didn’t point them out. [Wing: *raptor shriek*]
Elizabeth asks if he’s ever cooked before and he proudly tells her that he brought his mom cinnamon toast for mother’s day. Also, he helped cook hot dogs and burgers on the grill. Elizabeth feels that she cannot bring his manpride down. She hopes it won’t be a disaster.
Has anyone else noticed that all B-plots end in disaster?
Over at the Unicorner, the talk turns to Lila’s party, which is a costume party and is taking place on Friday night. Pretty much everyone is going as Scarlett O’Hara. I feel like this has already been a theme of one of their parties. Part of me wants to start a new tag (like I have for Elizabeth’s BFF, Jessica’s hobby, Ned’s law discipline, etc.), but if I do, where will this end? Will I end up with tags for literally everything? [Wing: Yes please.]
Janet says that she’s going as Melanie, so she’ll give a prize to the best Scarlett.
“Isn’t that a little out of character for you?” Ellen asked, giggling.
It was true that Janet could be loud and bossy, totally opposite from the sweet, naive character in the movie. But Jessica couldn’t believe that Ellen would actually say that to Janet’s face. None of the Unicorns wanted to be on Janet’s bad side.
Janet dropped her tuna sandwich and glared at Ellen. “What exactly is that supposed to mean?”
“Well, you just… uh… seem more like the Scarlett type. You know, since you’re so popular with the guys and everything,” Ellen said quickly, realizing that she had said the wrong thing.
Good save, Ellen. Also, good blurt. You are adorable. [Wing: Best part of this entire goddamn book.] Also, Janet snaps back that Ellen has nothing in common with Scarlett. Mandy helps move the conversation on by saying she’s dressing up as Harriet Beecher Stowe, and helpfully informs us that she was a preacher’s daughter who wrote a book that helped change people’s views on slavery. [Wing: Please, please, please, please, please do not end up with Mandy wearing blackface. Please, please, please, please, please.]
Jessica internally thinks that Mandy might be a bit too good and noble for the Unicorns – and she’s not wrong, Mandy is the best human being in the Unicorns – and briefly toys with the idea of dressing as someone who actually did something, but she’d rather go as Scarlett, as she identifies with her for being flirty and talking her way out of trouble.
Just gotta say, this kind of thing always died on its arse when I read these books as a tween. I hadn’t seen Gone with the Wind then, I still haven’t seen it now. I don’t even know anyone who has seen it. [Raven: I’ve seen it. It was okay. But, aside from the names of the two main characters, I can’t remember much about it, other than that my video copy had a 20-minute musical interlude over a still of some flowers, presumably to recreate the realism of the time and the need to swap over reels at the cinema. This book is massively presumptive that the readership both knows and cares about Gone With the Wind… and frankly, my dears, I don’t give a shit.] The Poseidon Adventure was what I thought of as an old movie. About ten years ago, I knew a teenager who refused to watch any movie made before around 2005 because “the effects look all crappy”. I asked what about non-special-effect movies, and he maintained that they looked all grainy and ugly too, so what was the point? I know #NotAllTeens, etc, but you’d think the snobby Unicorns would want the newest and hottest young actors, and the best HD that a TV the size of a house and VCR could produce.
[Wing: I think the US readership of this book, at least at the time of publication, probably was familiar with Gone with the Wind. It was massively popular to watch, I’d seen it around their age, even a little younger, and I think I read the book for the first time not too long after. There’s a romaticism about the pre-Civil War past that turns up a lot here, in part because of exactly what Jessica and the Unicorns are focused on: dramatic dresses, big parties, swanning about flirting and being delighted in their wealth and superiority.]
Tamara (FUCK YOU, TAMARA CHASE!) asks what everyone is doing for their social studies project – uh, Tamara, aren’t you a year older? Is the whole school doing this project? That sounds very disorganised – and Lila says her party is her project. Damn, Lila. Never change. Ellen will be doing a project about movie stars and the Unicorns laugh at her, because there weren’t any movies back then. Ellen clarifies she’s doing her project on the movie stars in Gone with the Wind. When Tamara asks Jessica about her project, on the spot she decides to perform voodoo on Steven, and tells everyone it’s a secret, but it will be awesome.
After school, Elizabeth and Amy stop by the day-care centre attached to the homeless shelter to check their privilege. Elizabeth’s homeless charity case of the week is Benjamin, an eight year old. But not just any eight year old, this one is sort-of disabled. He walks with a cane. Apparently Benjamin has seen many doctors, but nobody knows what is wrong with him, maybe a bone disease, which will probably get worse as he gets older.
I guess this explains why he’s homeless. I bet that cost a fair chunk of change to find out fuck all. But don’t listen to me, I live in a “socialist” country where my medical bills are non-existent. [Wing: *raptor shrieks of ineffectual rage*] Elizabeth asks about Benjamin’s symptoms, and he says he has pain in his leg and it won’t go away. Then he changes the subject. They talk about what they’re going to be when they grow up. Interestingly, Benjamin says he wants to be an astronaut or a baseball player, Elizabeth says she will be a writer. ♫ Crippled may be interesting, but Wakefields always win! ♫
When she and Amy walk home, Elizabeth pities Benjamin for not being able-bodied. Amy agrees that they are very lucky, and Elizabeth humbly says she takes so much for granted – like walking, in case you’d forgotten for a second that this boy is CRIPPLED, OMG, JUST KILL THE CHILD NOW. BETTER THAT THAN LIVE THIS PITIFUL EXISTENCE. Then they run home, grateful to their perfect working legs.
I can’t honestly say whether it’s my loathing of Elizabeth, or the ham-fisted way this is written, but I fucking loathe any time this comes up. I really want to tear Elizabeth’s face off over this. Just fuck off. We don’t need your pity. No, I won’t speak for all disabled, but here’s what I need: understanding and accommodation. I don’t need anyone to think “Poor Dove, she’s disabled,” I merely need them to think things like, “I’m hanging out with Dove today. Maybe we won’t do a walking tour of the Yorkshire Dales, maybe a coffee in the cat café would be better.” This is a good rule of thumb. Be Wing and Raven. Don’t be Elizabeth and Amy.
Elizabeth gets home and finds Jessica working on a G.I. Joe doll, that she’s given a brown wig (isn’t their hair brown anyway…?) [Raven: Yeah, but unless Steven has a buzz cut I can see the need for a wiggy top-up] and dressed in jeans and a bit of Steven’s favourite shirt. She demands to know what Jessica is playing at, and Jessica makes her promise to keep it a secret – and show her hands to prove she’s not crossing her fingers – before she fesses up. (Elizabeth, in a rare moment of spine ownership, crosses her toes. I suspect it was all that pity earlier, it boosted her self-confidence to know that someone wasn’t as good as a Wakefield.)
Jessica explains that she knows all about voodoo now that she’s read the relevant chapter, and she’s going to poke and prod the doll until she’s had vengeance for her poster. Elizabeth says she can’t really believe this, but Jessica points out that time she was psychic.
Now, I only did a light bit of reading on voodoo – I stuck to the one page on wiki – and it seems that it’s a religion with deep and spiritual roots, and in the slave days it was more about protective charms and amulets, rather than grab a doll and start stabbing. I’m pretty sure that Jessica has done the equivalent of sellotaping a Barbie doll to a lolly stick, painting on some red nail polish as blood, and calling it a crucifix that can be used to summon Jesus with an AK-47 to take down her enemies. Only more offensive, because the Catholic chruch have done a lot to deserve the disrespect it receives.
Let’s just move on. It’s not like any of us was expecting a Sweet Valley book to treat voodoo with respect. [Wing: It’s very Hollywood, which isn’t surprising but also this portrayal isn’t treated as ridiculous except for the fact that Jessica believes it’s real. Nothing about the actual damage such racist portrayals cause. Not that I expect something that nuanced from Sweet Valley.]
Once Elizabeth leaves the room, Jessica stabs the doll with a hat pin which, she presumably found in Malory Towers circa 1942. She waits for Steven’s cry of pain, but nothing happens. She goes into his room and he has no reaction at all. She makes an excuse and leaves again.
Over with Elizabeth, she’s going through the cookbooks and remembering fiascos past with baking cookies and cakes. Fiascos we’ve literally never seen, because up until this moment, Elizabeth could always cook/bake, and if anyone’s going to fuck up, it’s Jessica. She comes up with a menu of: “hush puppies, corn bread, black-eyed peas, peach cobbler, and something called fish gumbo, which she’d never heard of.” She thinks to herself that it seems pretty simple. And in the words of Top Gear:
This could well be my very specific brand of anxiety coming in, but I absolutely would not eat fish prepared by someone who’d never done it before. Especially if it was prepared the night before and taken to school. I feel like you’re just begging for food poisoning. (If my therapist is reading this: Hi, Sarah. Don’t put this on my list of things to try. I fucking hate exposure therapy. And I don’t like fish either.) [Raven: Also… hush puppies? Why are they eating shoes?]
[Wing: NOTHING about this meal food sounds simple. NOTHING.
I know you’re just waiting for me to break it down, so let’s have some quick notes. And keep in mind that I don’t cook, Ostrich does all the domestic things like that, but he, Sister Canary, and Brother Owl all cook a lot and very well, so I do have some idea of what it takes.
Hush puppies: Little balls of fried cornmeal goodness. The first recipe that popped up for “easy hush puppy recipe” was this one which includes frying in oil on the stove, the oil heated to 360 degrees F. Based on what happens in this book, Elizabeth and Todd should have burned houses down around them.
Cornbread: When done well, delicious and buttery and a little sweet. Probably not going to burn the house down, but maybe. This recipe actually does seem fairly easy. Not sure I’d want hush puppies and cornbread in the same meal. Cornbread is vastly superior.
Black-eyed peas: Realized when I looked up a recipe that probably Elizabeth and Todd just opened a can and heated the beans rather than buying dried beans and going through the soaking/cleaning/etc., and I was thinking more along the lines of this recipe, which is more complicated. I’m not a huge fan, but they’re not terrible over cornbread with hot sauce and some sort of pork in them.
Peach cobbler: Okay, this recipe isn’t as complicated as I was picturing, either, because it uses canned peaches, but you do have to make your own dough and whipped cream, which I can see going terribly wrong. Cobbler is like a pie without the crust; pie has at least a bottom crust (and often a top crust), cobbler is topped with some sort of dough. I don’t much like fruit in pies or cobblers, but peach cobbler can be pretty great. Often eaten warm with ice cream.
Why I’m going into this much detail for a Sweet Valley book, I have no idea, but I’ve gone this far, might as well finish it.
Fish gumbo: I have never, in my life, seen a fish gumbo. Seafood gumbo, yes, a million times, but fish as the only meat? What? I’m sure it exists somewhere, but it is not what I think of when I think gumbo. This recipe is pretty standard, and involves a lot of ingredients. There is no way Elizabeth and Todd aren’t poisoning people.
Finally, while all of these are things I’d expect to see with southern food, I’m not sure they’re all antebellum food choices. Cornbread, sure. Hush puppies, maybe. I’d expect to see more pork, collard greens, vinegar sauces, okra.]
We get a few nothing paragraphs about Jessica staring at dresses in a library book and wondering where she can get such a dress in Sweet Valley. For she must win the prize of Best Scarlett.
I’m sorry if I’m phoning this in, but this book is fucking dire. [Wing: No worries, I’m clearly bulking up the word count with asides about pointless b-plot details.]
Over dinner, Jessica appraises Steven to see if he’s starting to feel bad from the voodoo. Elizabeth changes the subject with the very clumsy phrase, “Speaking of legs,” then tells the story of poor crippled Benjamin, who needs everyone’s pity. Alice quickly realises that not being able to run like other children must be fucking terrible, and she and Elizabeth bond over the pity they feel for him. Ned gets in on the act and says that what that poor crippled boy needs is dinner with the Wakefields. That’ll fix everything.
DIE IN A FIRE YOU PATRONISING FUCKWITS.
Jessica doesn’t say anything, but wonders if voodoo can take pain away too as well as inflict it. Well, since I only read about six paragraphs about it, and most of that emphasised protection and curing ailments, I’d say Jessica’s book is woefully inaccurate if it didn’t lead with that.
After dinner, Jessica customises her doll to look more like Steven, and then does a Macbeth-style chant:
“Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble. Let my brother feel the pain, which I inflict into his vein.”
She goes downstairs, hides in the hallway, and jabs the doll in the stomach. Steven, who is in the kitchen with his back to her, doubles over in pain.
[Wing: No lie, if this wasn’t about voodoo, I’d be dying over her Macbeth-style spells, because that is ridiculous and adorable. The rest of the book is pretty shit, though.]
The next morning over breakfast, Steven is not his usual gluttonous self and complains that he didn’t sleep well last night. Jessica has the doll on her lap under the table. She tickles the it behind the knee, which is Steven’s most ticklish spot, and Steven starts giggling.
We cut to Elizabeth and Todd practicing cooking after school. They are on their third attempt at cornbread, because apparently two of the smartest people in all of Sweet Valley (not just the school) are completely unable to read and follow a simple recipe between the two of them. The third attempt looks like it turned out fine. Neither of them test it though, Elizabeth gets to take it home to give to her family. Why not cut it in half? Or why doesn’t Todd keep it. It’s his house, his parents’ ingredients.
At the Wakefield Compound, Jessica is watching TV when Steven rudely barges in and changes the channel without asking her. She goes upstairs and fetches the doll and hides it under a blanket where she stabs it in the feet with pins. Steven starts hopping around clutching his feet. He leaves and she gets the remote back.
(80% of the recap is going to be some variation of the above two paragraphs. The other 20% is going to be me bitching and moaning about how rubbish this book is.) [Raven: This book is so repetitive. I repeat: this book is so repetitive.]
Oh good, Benjamin is here for dinner. He gushes over how tasty the food will be. Steven offers to play checkers with him after dinner. Jessica, on the other hand, bluntly asks him specific questions about the pain he feels – where and when it strikes. This causes the entire family to clench in mortification. Good lord, Jessica, don’t you know that you can’t ask a disabled about their disability? You have to just pity them behind their back.
Alice changes the subject and offers round the cornbread, which leaves everyone gagging and spitting into their napkins. Apparently it’s like a glue texture. Not sure what went wrong there. Even I can make bread. It wasn’t great, but it was edible.
In a completely pointless addition, Todd calls, to have Elizabeth lie to him – this is covered in one sentence – saying it was fine, gotta go, bye. Then Steven says Todd should give up cooking, and Ned chimes in that everything takes practice. This is so badly written. The phone call was completely unnecessary, the same conversation could have taken place without the call, and since Todd got no lines of dialogue, Elizabeth could have just thought to herself that Todd can’t know how badly it went. Because male pride. I suppose you could argue that everyone’s tip-toeing around Todd because he ran away in the last book, but since it’s never brought up, anyone who missed the previous book would just assume that Todd’s is so unbelievably delicate that he would be torn apart to know that his first foray into cooking didn’t go so well.
We cut to Booster practice on Wednesday afternoon, where Lila is gloating about the Scarlett dress she got from a “museum shop” (what is that? Like an antique shop? Or is it a particularly extensively stocked gift shop in a museum? Or is the museum so hard up that it’s flogging old stock that doesn’t draw a big enough crowd?) and Ellen chimes in she’s found a great dress in a costume shop.
Jessica does not have a dress. Of course she can’t admit that, because 90% of her body weight is untruths (it’s why she’s so slender), so she says she has a perfect dress, and won’t tell them anything about it because it will be a surprise.
Mandy asks about the prize for the best Scarlett, and Janet says the winner gets to be acting president of the Unicorns while she’s in Aspen.
Tamara asks what the boys are dressing up as. I can’t see many 12 year old boys wanting to dress up as Rhett, but apparently that’s precisely what they’re going to do. All of them. [Raven: Never underestimate a twelve-year-old boy’s need for a false moustache.] I’ve thrown costume parties before, admittedly, not Lila Fowler level parties, but generally the turnout was: six people in a costume that is vaguely in the right arena; one guy or girl who is so super into it that you know they’ve had this costume in their closet for the past decade and have been dying for a chance to use it; everyone else wearing jeans and claiming it a costume you’ve never heard of, or that they’re (tee hee!) “an extra”. [Wing: My favourite costume I’ve ever worn. A typical Wing outfit (jeans, cute shirt, lipstick, fun shoes). It was a Halloween party. I was a werewolf. It wasn’t the full moon. It makes me laugh every single time I tell people about it. Including this time.]
Lila tells everyone that there will be square dancing at her party. Amy is thrilled, she loves to square dance. The rest of the Unicorns are horrified because it’s babyish. I’m absolutely certain that they’ve done square dancing as part of their PE course and several Unicorns found it fun. Looking at you, horrified Mandy. Don’t worry, we’ll be away from this terrible Jamie soon, and you’ll be back to being your awesome self.
When Jessica gets home, she finds Benjamin and Steven playing checkers, and Benjamin has won every time. She assumes that Steven is throwing the game. I’m astounded that he isn’t trying to eat the board. Jessica notices Benjamin’s cane, and suddenly remembers that he’s a pitiful cripple, not a normal happy boy. (Die. Just die.) She asks about his leg and he says the pain is really bad at the moment, and he can’t sleep. He’s trying new medicine, but it doesn’t seem to have started working yet. This, despite the Jamie’s clear ineptitude at everything else we’ve read, rings true to me. I was given so many different high-impact pain killers, including the ones they didn’t want to give me because they were so addictive, and not a single one of them worked. The only thing that even put a dent in the pain was regular ibuprofen. (A dent, not a fix.)
Jessica says she’s sure that his pain will go away soon.
She goes up to the attic and finds one of her dolls, she dresses it like Benjamin, and even snips off a lock of her own hair to make it look more like him. (You know what wasn’t in short supply in the 80s? White blonde dolls. #JustSayin’) She makes a potion out of rose petals, vitamin C, milk and honey and boils it up on the stove. She spreads it over the doll’s leg with her lucky rabbit foot and says:
“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Take away this boy’s pain, so he won’t ever need a cane,”
She makes the doll a safe little house out of a shoebox and makes a TV out of cardboard to keep him occupied.
That’s… actually a bit charming. I didn’t want to like anything about this book, but I do actually think it’s sweet that she’s trying to help – in her own Jessica way – unlike her sister, who just views Benjamin as a life-lesson on privilege, and think she gets points for pitying him. Jessica at least is trying do something pro-active, and I do actually like that she bluntly asks him questions. It’s not exactly uncommon for the disabled to be talked over – asking carers whether the disabled person is hungry, for example. This book is massively tactless, and I’m sure if I knew more about voodoo, I’d be even more uncomfortable with how it’s being used, but Jessica making a nice safe dollhouse box for her Benjamin doll is sweet, and it may be the one paragraph in this book that I don’t want to rip out of Sweet Valley cannon. [Raven: I also quite like the rhyming nonsense she comes up with for her voodoo chants. Apart from one, which she doesn’t bother with a rhyme for. Which really annoyed me.] [Wing: I, too, find this part surprisingly charming. Again, if the entire premise wasn’t around voodoo like this, I’d find this absolutely delightful. She believes she actually has powers. She’s trying to help this kid. She wanted doll!him to have a safe little house. Jesus, she’s fucking decent in this, except for everything else in the book.]
Elizabeth walks in, and Jessica has to explain why she’s suddenly regressed to playing with dolls. Because apparently Elizabeth isn’t smart enough to figure out this is more of Jessica’s voodoo.
“OK, you know how Benjamin has that horrible pain in his leg?” Jessica asked.
“Yes, of course I do. I’m the one who told you about it,” Elizabeth said.
Oh thank god for you, Saint Elizabeth! You own Benjamin’s pain. You are the patron saint of small disabled children.
Jessica explains her plan and Elizabeth laughs her head off.
At dinner, Steven doesn’t join them because he’s feeling sick. Alice and Ned comment that he must be coming down with something (astute observations, you superstar parents), while Jessica thinks to herself that her voodoo is working.
The next afternoon, Elizabeth and Amy go for ice creams at Casey’s. Elizabeth moans to Amy that she wishes she didn’t have to cook. She doesn’t want to discourage him, but he’s a terrible cook. Amy says she’s been reading diaries of slaves and is reworking them into a play. (Good thing Maria Slater, the only African-American in the sixth grade, can act, otherwise this play would bomb.) [Wing: I 100% trust Amy, who just last book admitted she didn’t even like creative writing and is a tried and true Sweet Valley kid, even if she thinks she’s better than, say, the Unicorns, to write a play based on slave diaries. 100%.]
Todd then rocks up and says he hopes Elizabeth can come over to his house to do more cooking. BTW, he’s enjoying it so much he might want to be a chef when he grows up, and go to a culinary school in France. Amy says that sounds like a terrific idea. Elizabeth says she’ll meet him at his house in half an hour.
Then Jessica turns up to complain she can’t find a Scarlett dress in Valley Fashions. Shocking. Amy reminds Jessica that Scarlett made a dress out of green velvet curtains in the movie. Jessica says the living room curtains will be perfect. Elizabeth says Alice will flip out of they remove the curtains. She likes to pass out in her gin stupor in the dark. Conveniently though, the Wakefield parents are going to a key party on Friday, so they’ll never know if Jessica borrows the curtains. And then she asks Elizabeth to help her make a dress out of curtains. Elizabeth’s spine is made of whispers and silk, so she obediently agrees.
We have a massively tiresome scene with Todd and Elizabeth, where Elizabeth says something very specific and Todd immediately does something else, and then tries to correct by adding more or less of the next ingredient in. Then he says he’s kinda making it up as he goes along, like all the great chefs. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but I’m so pissed off right now I just want to kick this Jamie as hard as my poor crippled and pitiable hip will allow. [Raven: Slapdash, Todd. Slapdash.] [Wing: I’ve seen you throw balls at clowns, Dove. You could take this Jamie down if you decided to. And maybe had a time machine.]
When Jessica gets home, Steven and Joe are playing basketball. She goes up to her room and uses the voodoo doll to make Steven dance. She is rather dazed by how powerful she has become. She reheats the healing potion she used on Benjamin and applies it again, while thinking of how she can use her super powers to heal the sick and solve crime.
She heads downstairs and finds Steven and Joe outside laughing their heads off. Steven offers to get sodas, and when he goes inside, Joe confides in Jessica that Steven’s been acting weird lately, kind of zoned out.
Jessica couldn’t keep herself from smiling. She was really turning Steven into a walking zombie.
STOP BEING SO FUCKING PROUD OF YOUR WALKING ABILITY, YOU FUCKING TWAT WAFFLES.
The next morning, Jessica bounds out of bed and draws a pimple on doll-Steven’s face, because he has a big date with Cathy tonight. (Don’t do that, Jessica. Pen doesn’t come out of plastic. You’ve stained it forever now. Even the collector in me can’t work up any rage over this, just weary resignation.) She later hears a yell from the bathroom, and Steven flies out of there, covering his face.
Not sure why this is cloak and dagger, because in the next sentence, they’re eating breakfast and Steven’s big old cheek zit is clearly displayed. [Raven: It’s shit like this which makes the whole book so unsatisfying. I mean, we all know that Jessica’s voodoo nonsense is just Steven pranking his sister, but when she’s apparently pulling stuff like this, you just KNOW they’ll simply hand-wave all the unexplainable stuff away with a weak shrug. And that’s just lazy writing.] They bring up Lila’s party and Alice asks whether Jessica found a dress. She says she’s borrowing something. Elizabeth says she’s dressing as Sojourner Truth. Jessica has no idea who that is – Elizabeth is rather scornful about this, but doesn’t explain either. I know she shouldn’t have to in universe, but not everyone who reads these books is American, and therefore did not grow up knowing about the Civil War, or the names involved in that era. For those, like me, who did not know, she was an African-American woman born into slavery who was very prominent in various movements, such as woman’s rights and the abolition of slavery.
I suppose it’s good that Elizabeth is not using studying the Civil War and slavery as an excuse to buy a sexy frock and watch Gone with the Wind for the eight-billionth time, but on the other hand, is it ok that she goes as a woman of colour? I really don’t know the answer here, so I’m not going to be offended about it. I’m not American, I’m not a person of colour, and I hate it when people tell me how disabled people should feel about things, so I’m not about to do the same here.
[Wing: Can a white child dress as a Halloween character from another race? by Osamudia James over at The Washington Post. One black person can’t speak for all of them, but here’s one voice: The answer: It depends. Like most issues involving race in our country, avoiding offense at Halloween requires thinking not just about stereotypes or discrimination but also about white supremacy.]
Steven makes a (not entirely untrue) observation that unless it’s about Johnny Buck or clothes, Jessica will never pay attention. In return, she stabs her doll with her fork (it’s on her lap under the table). Steven clutches the correct body part and groans. (That last sentence could be Ikea Erotica.) [Wing: I have never heard this name. I am dying.]
After this, Elizabeth actually does explain who Sojourner Truth is. Apparently she’s “a runaway slave, like Harriet Tubman.” Which sort of implies the two of them took off in the night and headed for the border for jello shots with strippers, which even this ignorant Brit knows is massively offensive. Even The Ms Scribe Story better explains how important Harriet Tubman is than this book.
We cut to school, where Aaron is asking Jessica whether she’s going to Lila’s party. He will apparently be dressing up as Rhett Butler, even though he thinks the costume idea is stupid. Lila comes over and tells Aaron that the winner of the best Rhett costume gets a dance with Lila. Jessica mentally marks out an area of the Mercandy backyard for Lila’s boyfriend-stealing corpse.
Then she suggests that the best Scarlett dance with the best Rhett, just as Janet walks by. Janet loves this plan. Then for no sensible reason, Jessica flirts with Bruce. As if she hasn’t already discovered that he’s a boring self-obsessed wazzock and that she likes Aaron best. She thinks it would impress the Unicorns if they saw her dance with Bruce. Why? They already have. And she dumped him for Aaron. Why doesn’t that give her kudos? Why am I even questioning it?
On Jessica’s way home from school she passes Sweet Valley High (does she? That’s new), and sees her brother talking to Cathy Connors. She hides behind a tree and turns the doll upside down. Steven immediately does a handstand. Cathy asks what’s going on, and he says it’s a spell – uh, a dizzy spell. Then he looks over and asks if that’s Jessica behind the tree. Jessica says she came by to see if he wanted to walk home. Then she has absolutely nothing to say to him, and is completely suspicious.
I’m so cataclysmically bored. This is literally the worst book I’ve read in the series. Yes, it’s worse than fucking ithig. [Raven: NO IT FUCKING ISN’T.] [Wing: …yeah, I’m with Dove here. This is boring and obnoxious and offensive as hell all at the same time.]
At home Jessica is getting ready for the party, and is using a “temporary permanent kit”. I know that non-permanent perms are a thing, but the name is stupid. Jessica is questing for perfect curls. Apparently this Jamie has no idea that Jessica has been using hot rollers and curling wands with ease since the first few weeks of middle school, which was at least six Christmases and two Valentine’s days ago. Also, Jessica dyed her hair brown with a rinse. Elizabeth is quick to worry that what if it doesn’t wash out. Well, obviously, you two won’t be identical for a bit, and I’m sure you’ll have a fucking meltdown.
Elizabeth isn’t sure she’ll make it to the party, because she and Todd are still practicing cooking. For god’s sake, admit defeat and buy cornbread if you’re that utterly inept at following instructions. Jessica says why doesn’t Elizabeth do it and leave Todd out of it. Elizabeth says Todd would be devastated. (Why doesn’t she cook with Todd, then whip up a perfect batch by herself and never tell him?) Jessica then has a “brilliant” idea and, once again, this Jamie is crushingly awful at writing Jessica, because the most excellent plan Jessica can come up with is: anticipate Todd’s mistakes, and pre-emptively change the ingredients and measuring spoons around.
Again, Jamie hasn’t got a fucking clue about what she’s writing, because Elizabeth thinks this is a good idea. The same Elizabeth that is having a heart attack over Jessica using a brown rinse on her hair for fear of it going wrong. For fuck’s sake. Jamie, whoever you really are, I hope you never ghostwrote again, because you fucking suck at it. (This Jamie may be a fine writer in their own fictional world, but in somebody else’s she’s a dead duck.)
(I like to believe I’d be an awesome ghostie if Sweet Valley were to be resurrected. I would so be into that as a job. And boom, I already have a website-sized bible of what’s gone on so far. I’d be way ahead of the curve.)
Moments later, Jessica’s hair goes wrong. It’s bright orange. (Didn’t the Unicorns vote that orange was their least favourite colour awhile back?) Jessica won’t wash the colour out, because it’ll also wash out the perm, and a curling iron apparently won’t give the right curls.
Steven wanders into Jessica’s room, inexplicably wearing nothing but a banana hammock. He takes a moment to mock her about her hair and fall about laughing before heading off for a swim. (I get that he’s wearing trunks because he’s going swimming, it’s the fact he’s wearing nothing else, not even a towel, when he barges into his favourite sister’s room without knocking while he knows she’s getting ready for a party that raised an eyebrow.) [Raven: I think I must have scrubbed this bit from my mind with brain bleach, because I don’t remember it at all.]
Elizabeth announces she has an idea and she’ll be back.
Jessica takes the moment alone to torment the Steven doll, causing him to bellyflop into the pool. For a second she thinks she’s killed him, but he’s actually fine. Sigh.
tl;dr version of Elizabeth’s idea: it’s a fucking hat. Also, Jessica is now draped in the green velvet living room curtains.
[Wing: And allegedly this works. THIS WORKS. A dress. Of curtains. With no sewing, just wrapping and pins. NO.]
At the party, Jessica is jealous of Lila. Whatevs. Then boys pay attention to her and she feels validated. Whatevs. And that’s pretty much how the party goes. When you’ve seen one Unicorn party filled with petty jealous bitches, you’ve seen them all.
Oh, and of course Jessica wins the prize for best Scarlett, and Aaron wins best Rhett. She’s kind of put out that he actually wants to square dance with her. [Wing: How the fuck does her dress stay together during square dancing? Do you even know what the fuck square dancing is, ghostie?] He’s starting to bug her. But who cares when Patrick Morris (Sophia’s sort-of boyfriend), Denny Jacobson (Janet’s sort-of boyfriend), Bruce Patman (her own ex-sort-of boyfriend) and all the rest of the guys are queuing up to dance with her? [Raven: A curtain, a gardening hat, and orange hair. Of course she wins. Fucking Wakefields.]
(I’m not slut-shaming her, I’m just pointing out that either these guys forgot they have sort-of girlfriends or this Jamie has no fucking clue about this series. Also, only the epically suicidal would dance with Janet’s sort-of boyfriend, surely?)
Then the twins have to rush home to get the curtains back on the runner before the elder Wakefields are back from the key party. Obviously they get away with it.
Oh, holy fuck, the party is done, so why is this book still going? Nobody cares how it ends, they just care that it does end.
We are treated to a scene where Jessica wakes up early to announce that she’s washed her hair several times and the rinse came out successfully. I’m so glad that made the cut.
Over breakfast, Jessica asks about Steven’s date with Cathy, and he says that he didn’t go, because he wasn’t feeling well. Jessica has the doll on her lap again, and spills milk on the doll’s shirt (how??) and Steven does the same. She repeats the process with honey. Steven tells them he’s been having odd pains and blank moments recently. The adults write it off as growing pains.
We cut to the mall where the Unicorns are shopping. Apparently after Jessica left, Bruce and Aaron were fighting over Jessica. We had this plotline already. And it was so much better back then. The Unicorns ask where she got her winning dress, and for no reason at all, Jessica lies and says she found it in an attic along with loads of other period dresses. Why not own it? Scarlett apparently wore curtains in the movie, and Jessica won a competition that beat other period and custom-made dresses wearing her mother’s living room curtains. If that’s not something to brag about, I don’t know what is. [Raven: This also pissed me off something chronic.] [Wing: Same. IT’S COMPLETELY IN CHARACTER. For Jessica and for Jessica-as-Scarlett. She would brag the fuck out of this.]
Jessica heads over to the pizza place (it’s called Guido’s, Jamie, since you clearly don’t know), to meet Elizabeth and Benjamin. Benjamin doesn’t even have his cane today, and his doctor doesn’t even know why the pain’s gone and he’s able to sleep. Jessica knows, of course. Her voodoo. [Wing: Aside from everything else, WHERE THE FUCK IS BENJAMIN’S FAMILY FOR ALL THIS?]
As they walk away later – everything in this book is about three paragraphs of arriving somewhere, and then cutting to leaving. It’s not as bad as First Place, but it’s really bitty – Jessica reminds Elizabeth that her voodoo is working.
They then go to Casey’s for an ice cream and we have more fucking voodoo on Steven who’s there. He ends up with his ice cream all over his face. I may get even less detailed than this feeble sentence at this point. It’s so fucking repetitive.
We cut to bedtime, and Jessica does more voodoo. She can hear Steven “squirming all around on his bed”, but it goes on after she’s stopped voodooing. I’m too tired to make a joke here. He calls out to her to say goodnight and says she’s a wonderful sister. Jessica wonders if she’s gone too far.
The next morning Steven doesn’t look well and complains he feels awful and didn’t sleep well. At this point, Alice decides she’ll take him to the doctor tomorrow and he must stay off school. He then compliments Jessica’s blouse. Given that he delighted in pointing out her boobs last book, I’m not sure it’s a sign that she should worry, but worry she does.
When Jessica gets home from school, Steven’s nice to her again.
That night, she can’t sleep because of the panic that her voodoo powers are getting out of control. She’s not even damaging the doll, and Steven is lying in his bed moaning. Insert your own joke here.
She dreams that she’s drowning in the ocean, and Steven pulls her out. Suddenly she’s back on the beach, but Steven’s drowning. She can’t make any move to save him, then it cuts to Steven’s funeral, and Jessica sobs that she’s sorry and she didn’t mean it.
She wakes up and decides there’s only one thing to do: STOP HER VOODOO IMMEDIATELY.
So she goes back to sleep. Sure, she’s sorry.
The next morning she actually gets around to trying to make her Steven doll comfortable. She puts him next to a radio set to easy listening, which is playing “Feelings”, the song mentioned in Yours for a Day. It sounds a bit tortury to me.
Apparently Steven is so ill he can’t get out of bed for breakfast now.
On the way to school, Jessica confides in Elizabeth that she’s worried that her voodoo has gone too far. Elizabeth says nah, it’s probably the flu. Jessica tells her about her scary dream, and Elizabeth’s response is “lol, well, you do hate him enough to wish him dead,” which brings Jessica to tears. Isn’t Elizabeth meant to be the nice twin? Apparently she remembers that at the sight of her sobbing twin and reassures her that Steven will be fine.
Jessica bungles her math quiz, and then a booster practice because she’s so worried. Eventually she just gives up and leaves practice early.
When she gets home, she finds Steven lying on the sofa humming “Feelings”, while he twitches and winces in pain. She panics and uses her healing potion on the Steven doll. Elizabeth comes home and catches her and still won’t take her seriously.
By the way, the cooking b-plot is still going. Todd’s coming over tonight. Elizabeth has managed to switch the spoons by labelling them. Apparently Todd has managed to get through twelve years of life without being able to tell the difference between a tea spoon, a dessert spoon or a table spoon on sight. [Wing: Um. Is this … is this a US vs UK thing? Because a tea spoon, dessert spoon, and table spoon set is a lot different than a teaspoon and a tablespoon set used for cooking.]
Jessica goes into Steven’s room and he looks pitiful. He’s nice to her again, which causes guilt – a brand new emotion for her.
Down with the boring cooking plot, Elizabeth is losing track of all the pre-emptive changes she’s made. Obviously this plan was doomed from the start.
The next day in class, Ms Arnette takes a big bite and rushes to the bathroom to throw up. Everyone else gags and spits into napkins. Mr Clark, the principal, has to wade in and dismiss the class early because Ms Arnette is too sick to teach. Elizabeth feels terrible. She blames herself for all of two paragraphs before remembering that it was Jessica’s brilliant idea and completely forgetting she decided to go along with it.
That night, Jessica sings a lullaby to the Steven doll and worries that he’s going to die. She dreams of being burned at the stake for being a witch, and wakes up thirsty. She finds the Steven doll face down in the sink. She’s now terrified.
She wakes up the whole house, screaming and checking on Steven, convinced he’s going to drown. She screams that she’s killed him, and this makes the adults start asking for clarification.
Actually, this is the chain of events:
Jessica: I KILLED STEVEN!
Parents: *arrive outside Steven’s room* Explain?
Jessica: *recounts entire book*
Parents: *go back to their bedroom, put on slippers and robes*
Jessica: HURRY UP!
Parents: *vague and unhelpful reassurance to Jessica*
Jessica: I SAID I KILLED STEVEN!
Parents: *establish Steven is not, in fact, dead*
Steven: *laughs his head off*
Then we cut to the next day after school, because why both dealing with these things as they happen?
In fact, let’s have a really boring side-scene where Lila is boring and irritating (just walk away, Jamie, you don’t get this universe) and keeps going on about how Elizabeth gave everyone food poisoning yesterday. Then more people come over and repeat the same until Jessica threatens to murder Bruce Patman. Gosh, she’s changed her tune from wanting to dance with him at the party, hasn’t she?
And we have another scene where the twins stop by and visit Benjamin. He’s running and playing with the other kids as if his disability has magically disappeared. They ask him about the pain and he doesn’t know why it’s gone, and neither does the doctor, but he thinks he’s totally cured. (Because y’know, that’s how disability works.)
Elizabeth goes to Todd’s and explains what she did. He thinks it’s funny. He thought he was a failure, but he’s not. It’s all her fault. That doesn’t really explain why everything else he cooked was fucking awful, does it? But sure, let’s go with that.
Finally, over dinner, we get an explanation of the voodoo. I’m agog. I bet you all are too.
Elizabeth told Steven as soon as Jessica made the doll. Steven apparently saw or overheard every single thing she did to the doll. I have no idea how he saw what she was doing under the table with the doll, or how as he was diving into the pool he managed to look behind him and upstairs into a bedroom window to see what Jessica was doing. But who cares about details? Not this Jamie. She can’t even write the character true to the universe, so why should details matter? [Raven: SO MUCH FUCKING BULLSHIT. So many inconsistencies with this explanation. At one point, Steven explains away the impossible unexplanable stuff by saying he “just worked it out”. FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK OFF.]
Oh, also Steven has the flu. I’ve ranted on this previously. The flu is not a mild bout of tiredness and the occasional sneeze, it’s fucking brutal. But sure, he could totally go swimming with the flu. And do handstands. And dance around. All of those things are so easily done when your entire body refuses to be awake for longer than eight minutes in a row.
[Wing: Recently, oldest sister, who does not yet have a name here, was hospitalised because of the flu. People die because of the flu. Fuck off, ghostie.]
Also, when Jessica was in floods of tears over this, did nobody think it was going too far? Did nobody wonder whether they should stop when Steven showed real signs of being ill, so the he could take care of himself? Whatever. If the Jamie doesn’t care, why should I?
Next up, we have Jessica back to her usual selfish self, worrying that she’s going to fail her project now she knows her voodoo doesn’t work. Alice actively parents and chastises Steven for letting it go so far that Jessica was frightened. He apologises. Then Elizabeth, never one to let a martyring go by without getting involved, says she’s to blame too. And Alice points out that there should be no circumstance where he kids try to hurt each other. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, JAMIE, EVERYONE IS OUT OF CHARACTER HERE. ALICE WOULD NEVER SAY THAT. ALICE COULDN’T CARE LESS.
Then when the parents are out of the room, Jessica convinces Steven to show up to her class and put on a performance of voodoo.
She fakes an excuse note from Alice for him, and they have a code in place. Steven is blindfolded and Jessica stands behind him. She harms the doll in various ways, and Elizabeth coughs x amount of times depending on where the damage is, and the performance goes very well.
This leads to her having to see Ms Arnette after class, where she is told that Ms Arnette doesn’t believe in voodoo, nor does she believe what Jessica did was voodoo. However, the performance deserves a good grade. Jessica dreams of getting an A, but ends up with a C.
At lunch everyone gushes over Jessica, and then she goes over to Todd and explains the scheme was her idea, so he shouldn’t blame Elizabeth. (He wasn’t. *sigh*) [Raven: Bizarrely, the last chapter or two were actually pretty good. I loved the whole unflappable way Jessica schemed and plotted to fix her report for Mrs Arnette, even if the Steven-Secret-Code schtick is straight out of Psychic Sisters. Of COURSE she can forge Alice’s signature! And the whole sixth grade asking Jessica to teach them voodoo, while Mrs Arnette no-ma’ams the whole thing? Why the hell wasn’t THAT the A-Plot of this fucking book?!]
They have dinner made by Todd, who can suddenly follow a recipe without fucking up every single step of the way. It’s apparently delicious.
The next day Aaron stops by Jessica’s locker and uses the word “groovy”. She decides she’s over him. Which is the lead up to our next book. It can’t be any worse than this one.
Jessica is a psychopath, so is Elizabeth, Steven can see through solid surfaces and I liked it better when disability was exactly like a sprained ankle.
I hate this book more than words can convey. An absolute pile of shite.
[Raven: Complete tripe. Repetitive, uninspired, bullshit. Literally no redeeming features. Seriously, this book wasn’t just a cockwaffle… it was a Belgian cockwaffle.]
[Wing: I think I’ve made my feelings clear, but in case I haven’t: I learned to throw axes this weekend. I made a bunch of bullseyes. I was practicing for how I’m taking out every single person in Sweet Valley.]
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.