Title: It Can’t Happen Here
Tagline: It’s just a game… isn’t it?
Summary: The most dangerous game…
Social studies class gets a lot more exciting when a visiting teacher, Mr. Levin, comes to Sweet Valley Middle School to teach the students a game. The rules are simple: Mr. Levin tells the pupils what to wear the next day, and they get points for obedience and demerits for disobedience. They get extra points for ratting on anyone who disobeys.
Everyone loves the game, especially Aaron Dallas, who is determined to be the best player of all. But Elizabeth Wakefield thinks that something is fishy. Why is it so important that everyone dress the exact same way? And if it’s just a game, why is everyone taking it so seriously?
Sweet Valley tackles the Holocaust.
I’m sure this will be sensitively done.
My only thought is that I’m glad Wing isn’t doing this one. Our servers can’t take two back-to-back explosions from her.
I only remember one thing about this book, and it isn’t the plot, so I will guess that despite the touchy subject, and the historic fails Jamie Suzanne(s) has with tackling sensitive subjects with grace and tact, that this was so bad I forgot everything about it. Kind of like Steven the Zombie. I remember it being offensive. I also remember that it was boring as fuck. I can’t actually remember the book.
Also, here’s my cover. I used as much tact as this Jamie Suzanne did:
While on the subject of my 3D renders, JC of Oh God Why?! Nostalgia and I got into a conversation on Twitter about how it really couldn’t happen here (Sweet Valley) because it’s perfectly aryan and middle class. This culminated in us agreeing it’s probably the town slogan. So, this was born:
We open not at the Wakefield Compound, but with Aaron Dallas, who’s on the phone to Ken Matthews. They’re planning to go to the mall and hang out with the new coolest boy in school, Brian Boyd. Aaron appears to have a crush on him, and really wants to get to know him. This tickles me. (Not because gay is funny, but because Sweet Valley is funny.) They decide to head out now, and say goodbye.
He’s just on his way out when his grandfather, Mr Kramer, calls to him. Aaron says he’s about to leave, but Grandpa says Aaron must have forgotten they were having Sabbath dinner. This is very much true.
In fact, it’s news to all of us that Aaron is Jewish. To be fair, religion is barely mentioned, beyond the twins occasionally going to church on one – but not all – of their eight billion Christmases per year, so it’s not completely out of the question. Apparently Aaron is a common Jewish surname, so maybe that’s why he was picked. Overall, my feeling is that Aaron is not known for his deep thinking. So he was an interesting choice for a POV character when thinking about the Holocaust. [Raven: This is my first issue with this book. Suddenly, Jews! It feels so pasted on. Aaron (And Randy later on) are Jewish, apparently. Fine. It’s a shame that the Ghosties never thought about promoting this diversity in any of the one hundred or so books prior to this one.]
Aaron’s mum says he can see his friends later, but Sabbath dinner is important. Aaron counters that they never do Sabbath dinner. His parents are firm though. Grandpa has been cooking all day.
We skip over to the twins, and we’re back on firm and familiar ground. Jessica is questing for clothes, and raiding Elizabeth’s closet in the process, and Elizabeth is reading. Despite the fact that Elizabeth dresses like a librarian (and not the hot kind), Jessica is still helping herself to Elizabeth’s clothes, pausing only to berate her twin for reading on a Friday evening.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and closed her book. “I guess I’m getting really into this week’s social studies reading. It’s about the beginning of World War Two.”
(Elizabeth is a very apt pupil. She wants to know everything. The examinations. The experiments. Everything. All the gooshy stuff.)
And now we have the same-but-different bit, which, if you’ve noticed, I never bother with because Raven is far funnier with it. Elizabeth adds that she’s going to Amy’s house to watch a movie with her and Maria. Jessica has far more exciting plans, she’s going to the mall for pizza and a movie, and the new hot guy, Brian Boyd will be there. Seems like both Aaron and Jessica are hot for him. [Wing: No wonder they’re sort of dating. They have the same taste.] [Raven: Threesome!]
Jessica thinks the way he wears his baseball cap backwards is so cool. As is the way he “uses really hip expressions”. Gee whiz, this Jamie is down with the kids, isn’t she? She knows all the happ’ning slang that all the cool cats use.
This Jamie, however, is aware of the previous book, and has Elizabeth internally muse that she had tried to be “cool” and it hadn’t worked. She much preferred being herself.
Back with Aaron, he has no interest in the Sabbath dinner. He’s asked to read the prayer, but can’t because it’s in Hebrew, so he’s asked to read the English translation, which he does without paying attention and keeps asking if he can go now (at this rate, he’s going to miss the movie, it’s nearly 8pm). His parents tell him to sit still.
It feels like the Dallas parents haven’t explained to their son why Sabbath dinner is so important to Gramps, but they feel free to keep reprimanding him as if he does know how important it is. [Raven: Well of COURSE they haven’t explained the importance of Sabbath dinner to their son. They didn’t know they were Jewish until earlier that morning.]
(Note, Gramps is either referred to as Grandpa or Mr Kramer. But since he seems like a cool dude, I’m going to call him Gramps.)
[Wing: …Dove, are you trying to be down with the kids?]
On the other hand, when Mr Kramer starts talking about how the Jews were persecuted, and you remember this book is set in the 80s, and this is a grandparent with a German* accent talking… maybe sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.
* The book specifically says it is a German accent. That’s important later.
“But that’s all in the past,” Aaron said, squirming in his seat. “What’s the point in remembering all of that now?”
Yeppers. That shit was done over forty years ago. Let’s just forget it, shall we?
Am I supposed to empathise with Aaron here? Because no.
Grandpa says that they have to remember the past, it’s the only way to make sure it could never happen again.
I wonder if Wing is weeping yet.
[Wing: Little bit, yeah. Tears of rage. Though it’s layered on too obviously as the book continues, I actually buy Aaron’s reaction here, both in that forty years ago feels like a long time ago and in not really understanding the sheer atrocities that happened. Well, I’d buy it if he wasn’t supposed to be our insight into Jewish characters, because I cannot believe he hasn’t been taught more about this. Even if his father’s side of the family isn’t Jewish (and it seems likely they’re not), his mother’s side is, and based on Grandpa Kramer, actively so, and I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t have learned more at home than at school at this point. Even if his mother doesn’t practice her religion, I’m surprised he doesn’t know more about the family history. Yes, even at twelve.
And, of course, antisemitism continues to this day, along with racism and homophobia and locking kids in cages and tearing apart families and and and and and. So basically, we learned jack.]
I guess Gramps would be disappointed to learn that there is a very plausible-sounding (yet completely unverified, according to snopes) meme going around that Mein Kampf (or My New Order, depending on the article) was a great inspiration to Trump in his political career.
[Wing: But unsurprised. I bet he would be very unsurprised.]
Aaron dismissively announces that it could never happen in the grand old US of A. After all, gramps is the only person he knows who even talks about the Holocaust. (There is so much wrong with that logic, I’m not even going to waste the page space.)
Gramps gives the title drop:
“It could happen anywhere at any time,” Mr. Kramer said as he folded his hands on top of his prayer book. “It could even happen here.”
And chapter end. TEH DRAMAZ
After dinner, which ends at 7:50, so probably about four seconds after the above quote, Gramps offers Aaron a lift to the mall so he can get to the movie on time. He’s surprised that Gramps is into horror movies (Dead Thing, Part Four – Jesus Christ, ghostie, how shit is that title?). I feel you, Aaron. I came home one day, and my stepdad, who pretty much only liked war movies, westerns and documentaries about war, announced that he had watched my copy of The Blair Witch Project and it was probably the best film he’d seen in decades. Could he borrow it and watch it again. I gaped. Then I was dead pleased, because we had a favourite film in common.
[Wing: I love that story. Also this one: My parents hated horror movies. Hated them. The mere sound of them terrified my mother. So imagine my surprise when they start talking to me about this movie they watched, what was it, oh yes, Silent Hill. I boggled, readers. Boggled. And they said it was a little scary for my mother, but they liked it, too. MIND. BLOWN.
Dad did show me my first horror movie, but he doesn’t remember doing so at all. We were watching movies at a truck stop. It was The Howling. I have loved werewolves ever since. And now that I’m done distracting myself from all the other shittiness, I guess it’s time to get back to the story.]
Gramps offers to come with Aaron and then take his friends out for ice cream after the movie as a treat. This doesn’t fly with Aaron, because being seen with a grandparent is the kiss of death. (Though, weirdly, these kids don’t seem to feel the same about their parents. I remember being horrified at the idea of being seen with my mum when I was around the same age.) Aaron sees how excited his grandpa looks and can’t say no to him, so he feigns exhaustion. Gramps offers to rent a movie at “the tape store” and Aaron gets irritated that he uses the wrong terminology (for those too young to know, it’s actually “the video store”), and snaps at Gramps and goes to bed.
[Wing: It’s a video store full of tapes, Aaron, chill the fuck out.] [Raven: I’m sort of with Aaron, as it’s a bit weird for Gramps to randomly invite himelf to the movie. I fully expected him to be trolling Aaron with an twinkle in his eye there. And yeah, “tapes.” Pfft. Old people suck.]
Over with Jessica, she, Lila and Janet are getting an ice cream at Casey’s after the movie – so, are the Wakefields ok with their adorable little angel socialising with seventh and eighth graders at around 10pm in this book? – and they’re talking loudly to get Brian’s attention. Lila thinks the monsters were having a romance of some kind that included throwing donuts at each other in something she describes as a dance. Jessica says no, no romance.
- Why is it always monsters? The 80s and 90s was the slasher era, but somehow Sweet Valley is in this time bubble where even though it’s the 80s, everything behaves like the 50s.
- Lila, you are fucking adorable. You ship those donut-hurling monsters if you want. Never change you strange fabulous little diva.
[Wing: I am utterly charmed by Lila’s certainty that the donut-hurling, dancing monsters were in love. Lila, fandom’s right over here, you’ll have a good time. Even though you’ll also be a snob about it.] [Raven: Those monsters were OBVIOUSLY playing Donut Cock Hooplah.]
Brian hears them and joins in their conversation, siding with Jessica and then asking what Janet thinks. Janet for once abandons her cousin, and sides with Brian, because he’s cooler. Brian asks if this is all Sweet Valley has to offer on a Friday night, movies and ice cream? (Don’t judge too harshly, kid, you might later become lactose intolerant like me and deeply miss ice cream.) When Jessica admits it’s not the greatest evening ever, Brian says he’ll just have to liven things up. [Raven: Brian reminds me of Amy’s new boyfriend Rob. Both bellends.]
Back with Aaron, he’s still disappointed he couldn’t hang out with Brian, but he’d have no chance of impressing him with Gramps around. Gramps is old-fashioned, has an accent and uses words wrong. Fucking loser. (Ok, he’s not that harsh, and does concede he loves his grandfather, but still, recappers gotta recap.)
The next day, Aaron is ready to watch the Lakers game on TV when Gramps comes in saying he has something to show him. Aaron says he’s about to watch the game, and Gramps says he loves basketball. Aaron says he didn’t know they had basketball in Austria, and Gramps points out they have it in New Jersey, where he’s lived for forty years.
Ok, so would this mean that Gramps doesn’t have a German accent, but an Austrian one? Or will we later find out that Gramps is from Germany, fled to Austria, then to New Jersey? Or does this ghostie just assume that Austria is in Germany? Ah, fuck it. It’s all in the country of Europe, right, ghostie? We’re just a big blob of Not-America, and it would be easier if we just unified under one banner, probably the stars and stripes with a big line through it to denote that we are not Americans.
[Wing: On a meta level, my guess would be that ghostie and/or publisher thought that young readers in the USA wouldn’t know what an Austrian accent would sound like but would have at least a broad idea of a German accent. Or that because Austrian German and German are mutually intelligible that means both countries also have the same accent.] [Raven: Maybe they were also thinking about Arnie, who was pretty huge in the early Nineties, and who had and still has a thick Austrian accent.] [Dove: On the subject of Arnie, he’s not allowed to do the German dub of his movies because his accent is not tough enough for any of the characters he plays. So, there are differences!]
Aaron forgets that Gramps lives in the USA because his accent is so strong. Raven and I have both got hybrid accents from living in Leeds for 15-20 years, so… maybe Aaron’s just othering here.
[Wing: It’s possible that his grandfather still has a thick accent. My maternal grandfather was German and had a strong accent even after living in the USA for decades. It’s far more likely that ghostie is just failing here, though.] [Raven: Some people just don’t lose their accent. Arnie is a good case in point.]
Gramps comments that he watched a lot of basketball in hospital while he recuperated. From what, we’re not told, but Aaron remembers it was so bad he nearly died, and is struck by a pang of Jessica’s least favourite emotion, guilt. He asks Gramps about the book he brought into the room.
It’s a photo album he found in the attic in with Aaron’s mother’s stuff. It’s actually Gramps’ mother’s album, and it’s covered in dust. Aaron realises that he’s not going to see the game at this rate.
Gramps goes through the album, Aaron isn’t interested, and turns the volume up on the TV.
Gramps points out a picture of his sister Rachel, who was a great beauty and got a lot of attention. She died during the war, along with their two other sisters and Gramps’ parents.
Aaron was dimly aware of that, but didn’t want to know the details because hearing about sad things bums him out. I’m suddenly thinking his final partner is a perfect fucking fit as I read this line. Nobody ruin it for Wing and Raven, ok?
Aaron keeps an eye on the game as Gramps tells him about Sarah, a sister who loved her doll named Greta, and a house that Aaron thinks isn’t as nice or as big as the houses in Sweet Valley, and isn’t all that impressed. Gramps thinks it was a special house, but they had to leave it when the Nazis came to Austria (yeah, ok, so it is an Austrian accent, fuck you, ghostie). Aaron doesn’t want to think about WWII or Nazis, because, again, it bums him out.
Fuck me, Aaron’s a bit of a waste of humanity, isn’t he?
Ok, I get not understanding all the full ramifications of WWII and the Holocaust at the age of twelve, but when the Gulf War was announced on TV, my friend and I (aged 9) locked ourselves in her bathroom and prayed. We fucking prayed. We’re English. And while we went to a religious school, we weren’t religious. God is pitched like some wizened grandpa in England. You know, frail, feeble, gets your name mixed up with your sister, but fundamentally means well. Not who you call on for help, but more of someone who was once an active caretaker, but nobody has the nerve to fire him even though he’s not up to the job any more. But we prayed because we were frightened because we understood that war was bad. We didn’t have any relatives involved in WWII, although the timelines are nearly close enough, I guess we were very lucky, but given our terror in reaction to the news announcing we were at war, I suspect we would have been very fucking respectful to someone who had lived through a war in the warzone, and that’s not even covering he holocaust aspect of things.
On Monday, Brian says to Aaron that they missed him on Friday, and was he scared of the movie. Instead of saying that he couldn’t get out of it because of relatives visiting, he makes up a stomach bug, which Ken and Brian accept.
Brian says the movie was ok and they talked to some hot girls, including Jessica.
Jessica and Aaron were sort of girlfriend and boyfriend. Basically, they danced together whenever there was a boy-girl party and they talked on the phone every now and then. It seemed weird that Brian was kind of bonding with him over Jessica—but in a way, it made Aaron feel really important.
Aaron appears to be so into Brian he’ll share his girlfriend.
Talk moves on to the Lakers game, and Brian complains that his tickets fell through at the last minute, so he had to watch it on TV, but live is so much better. Ken says he’s never been to a game. Aaron “lies” and says he’s been to a lot of them, just to impress Brian. The “truth” is he’s only been to one game. Uh, no, Aaron, you’ve been to a few. Your parents take you regularly, and you took Jessica on your first date there. You’ve been with Jessica a couple of times. [Raven: Yup, I picked up on this one too. Weak.]
Ken says Aaron’s never mentioned it. Well, Ken, I guess you missed the Unicorns going on and on about it. I’m pretty sure it was the b-plot of a whole fucking book. [Wing: Pretty sure the only time he actually listens to the Unicorns is at Boosters practice and even then only a little.]
Aaron then actually lies and says he was there at the most recent game. Brian says he should get them tickets some time. Aaron knows that’s impossible. Because the ghostie hasn’t read the previous books. Also, I seem to remember that Brian is super rich, like Lila or Bruce rich, so why rely on someone else to get you tickets?
Urgh, this book. I’m on chapter 3, I’m 3k words in, and the plot hasn’t even started yet. (Or has it? Is this actually Sweet Valley Twins #86: Aaron’s First Kiss, and they’re going to use Nazi Germany as a metaphor for homophobia?)
We cut to the twins in Social Studies class. Mrs Arnette introduces them to Barry Levin, who is here to help them prepare for their studies on WWII. Jessica thinks he’s totally cute. He’s described as having curly brown hair and specs, aged approximately 28, so I’m mentally casting Matt Stone, back when his hair was gigantic.
Mr Levin asks them to put their hands up if they have heard the word Holocaust before. Half the class raises their hands. He asks them if they know what actually happened during World War II.
Jessica sort of knew what happened, although she couldn’t really give an exact answer. She knew it had something to do with a horrible man in Germany named Hitler who killed people because they were Jewish, but that was about it. She looked around the room and saw that only a few people had raised their hands.
I think that’s a fair understanding to have before they have studied it – especially for Jessica, who doesn’t really have an interest in things that aren’t the latest trend. And I think, if we assume all the kids in the grade (aside from Elizabeth, obv) have this understanding, we can all agree that Aaron is a bit of an arse to his Gramps, if he knows this much and still doesn’t give Gramps the time of day.
Mr Levin says that they’re going to learn by playing a game. Brian Boyd tells him to get to the point, and even Jessica is shocked (though impressed) at how ballsy/rude that was.
Mrs Arnette immediately calls Brian on his rude behaviour, and Brian whispers a faint “sorry” while grinning. He’s a twat too.
Mr Levin takes a few moments to talk to Brian and ask how long he’s been in Sweet Valley, which is one week, before turning back to teaching. The first thing they have to do is show up wearing a white shirt tomorrow.
Veronica Brooks asks what that has to do with the Holocaust, and Mr Levin smiles mysteriously and says they will find out. He wants to see how good they are at following directions. If they fail to follow directions, they lose points. If they report anyone else not following directions, they gain points.
Elizabeth mutters to Jessica that it’s “the craziest thing I ever heard”, which, ableism aside, is a bit rich from someone who visited a magical realm over Christmas. And whose twin lied about being related to an NFL player, only for it to be true. Or whose schoolmate’s mum is a pop star. Basically, of all the shit in Sweet Valley, I find it odd that Elizabeth finds wearing a white shirt to be A STEP TOO FUCKING FAR. [Wing: GHOSTS. GHOSTS FUCKING EXIST IN THIS UNIVERSE. G H O S T S. BUT EVERYONE WEARING A WHITE SHIRT, GOD NO. I mean, they might think she’s like the Unicorns and their daily purple.]
Jessica comments that Elizabeth will be a natural at this game because she lives for following rules.
The next day, everyone arrives wearing their white shirt. Elizabeth has clearly read ahead, because she feels that this is an ominous portent of DOOOOOOM. She comments to Jessica it’s like they’re in military school or something. Child’s Play 3 has shown me that military school is nothing like Sweet Valley Middle School.
Jessica made a horrified face. “Don’t even joke about something like that, Elizabeth. Can you imagine if we did have to wear some military-looking uniform every day? I’d have nothing to live for.”
Jessica, never change, you vapid wench.
Mr Levin congratulates them all for following the rules, and Brian asks if they get to wear blue as their next task. Jessica gets rather fluttery at how Brian keeps mouthing off to the teacher. And even more so when he smiles at her.
Mr Levin calls him to the front of the class and announces that Brian will be a key player in the game. Then he points at Brooke, asks her name, then asks her to stand next to Brian. He asks Mrs Arnette how many people in the class (24 total), and then tells Brian to pick eleven people and have them stand against the wall on the right. Any eleven, choose at random.
Yeah, as if any kid chooses at random. Hell, I wouldn’t choose at random. He chooses Aaron, Ken, “the Wakefield girls” (which is probably a term that has never been used – they’re twins, damnit!), Lila and Mandy, which is only six. The other five are not mentioned, but Jessica notes that he’s choosing the coolest kids in the class.
Elizabeth shot Jessica a look as they stood up. “Do you see how he’s staring at us? I think it’s creepy,” she whispered.
Jessica was staring straight back at Brian, smiling brightly. “Lighten up, Elizabeth. He thinks we’re cute. Can’t you take a compliment?”
Elizabeth has a vibe. And you know what, I’d really love to see this flipped for once. I bet out of the two, Jessica has great intuition, whereas Elizabeth is more reasoned and logical. I’d love to see Jessica getting a vibe from someone and backing off, despite their coolness, and Elizabeth being all reasonable saying, “Oh, but what has he done to you? Nothing. You’re being silly, Jess.” [Raven: To be honest, I’d love it if this whole book was flipped. Spoilers: Jessica gets caught up in the hype and hyteria, while Elizabeth sees through the bullshit and keeps a level head. Jessica’s assertion that Liz is great at following orders is not wrong… I think it’d be much more impactful if Elizabeth was all “I was just following orders” while Jessica led the Sweet Valley Resistance.]
The remaining eleven people now belong to Brooke’s group. This motley crew includes Amy, Maria and Winston. Jessica notes that they are losers. Uh, yeah, except Maria’s been in more movies than anyone else at Sweet Valley Middle School. But, also, she is black. If this was deliberate, it’s a definite statement, but once we get to the biggest continuity error of all time (it’s coming – it’s the only thing I remember about this book), you’ll see that we really can’t trust this ghostie, and she probably just got lumped in with the losers because she’s Elizabeth’s friend, ergo, boring.
Also, Brooke’s father is a movie director and her mom’s Coco. So that should win cool points by Sweet Valley logic, shouldn’t it?
Mr Levin says that now each group has to follow the rules set by their leader.
“This is your group, and you can do whatever you want to with them,” Mr. Levin said. “The rules can be about what to wear, what to do, or what not to do. One more thing: If you decide someone can’t be in your group anymore, then they’re out.” He turned to Brooke. “And the same goes for you. You’re in charge of your group, so you can make up your own rules.”
Mr Levin says the game starts now, and they need to make up their first rule. Brian immediately say his group needs to wear a black t-shirt tomorrow. Brooke gets flustered and says she needs more time to think.
As mentioned above, I remembered nothing about the plot of this book, but surely the brown eyes/blue eyes experiment would make the point better than a free-for-all. With no rules or guidance, you just have to hope that you’ve picked a power-hungry bastard as a group leader in order to prove the point. [Wing: To be fair, I’m pretty sure Levin clocked Brian as a budding sociopath from that first exchange. Or at least someone who was outspoken and willing to cause trouble.] With the wrong people at the helm, you’re going to end up with people speaking ithig for a day, or hopping to classes on a Tuesday and other wacky shit that they think is funny.
I mean, I heard about a sleepover where one girl at my school encouraged her pals to hold down a girl and shave off her eyebrows. But on the other side of it, I went to zillions of sleepovers and never once did it turn nasty like that. While kids can be cruel, most of the time, they won’t. [Raven: While I get Wing’s point about Levin spotting Brian’s sociopathy, I’m totally with Dove here. There needs to be more guidance on this game, else the whole thing devolves into farce.]
Over with Aaron, he’s doing the dance of joy because the hottest boy in school picked him first! (Oh boy, Aaron is going to love the internet when it arrives. He’s gonna be one of those assholes who just post “FIRST!” on every post/vid/whatever.) He’s going to be really disappointed when he realises he’s going to compete with his girlfriend over Brian.
And things are getting better. Brian asks him to be his Special Assistant. I’ll admit the emphasis is mine, but the title is verbatim. Brian doesn’t really know anyone, so picked people at random, so he may have to ask Aaron about them – or Aaron may have to find stuff out for him. Aaron is flattered that he’s now Brian’s sneaking flunky.
Over at the Unicorner, Mandy, Lila and Jessica are talking about the first club meeting when Janet arrives. Jessica quickly realises that Janet will not like the idea of them being in a club she’s not in, so delightfully asks Lila to explain it. Lila counters that Mandy will do a better job of explaining.
After a period of silence, Jessica is stuck with explaining the club. She says that it’s a school project, and that they’re in two groups. As she lists of the names, Janet realises that Brian is stockpiling popular people. They don’t know what the point of the club is, their first meeting is this afternoon.
Janet says if he’s trying to build a cool club, he’ll want kids from older grades. Someone really ought to suggest that. Jessica thinks to herself that if she sells it right, Brian will think this is a brilliant idea, and she’ll get the credit, so she agrees to bring it up.
On the way to Casey’s, Aaron bumps into Gramps, who’s on his daily walk which is good for his heart (presumably that was why he was in hospital). Gramps is here to walk him home. Aaron finds that embarrassing if other people will see, but thankfully he has the meeting. He tells Gramps about it, who seems very interested, asking who’s in the club, is it led by a nice boy (Aaron doesn’t think nice is a word that describes Brian, but Gramps wouldn’t get “cool”), what does the club do, what about the kids who aren’t in the club, etc.? He then warns him to be careful, as clubs can be dangerous. Aaron is dismissive, assuming that his Gramps is a total “downer” because he’s old.
Apparently the meeting takes place in a grassy field next to Casey’s place. I always assumed it was either in the mall or a strip-mall, so… uh, ok. There’s a field. Everyone is sitting in a circle around Brian, who is wearing a black leather jacket.
[Wing: There could be a field next to a strip-mall, but this does make it sound like Casey’s is more of a stand-alone building.] [Raven: Continuity Fail!]
Aaron asks Jessica if he’s late, and she distractedly replies things will start any minute now. He asks if Brian’s just been stood there the whole time, but Jessica doesn’t respond because she’s eye-fucking Brian. Aaron isn’t jealous. He agrees that Brian is awesome, and Jessica will be totes impressed if she finds out that Aaron is Brian’s BFF.
Aaron preens when Brian asks him to take attendance – he’s “thrilled that Brian was giving him so much responsibility”. Dude, chill. I know he’s hot, but taking a list of names is not that big a deal. You’re like A-Ri carrying The Miz’s Money in the Bank briefcase. And where is A-Ri now? Nowhere. Shhhh. [Wing: And we’ve just alienated the majority of our readers. I don’t even know this reference. I know the Miz, and I know Money in the Bank, but otherwise, I got nothing.] [Raven: While I heart Dove for this reference, obv.] [Dove: Still, I made my point, didn’t I? Who’s A-Ri? Nobody knows any more. Despite his very important task.]
“Now, I want to talk a little bit about what’s going to be expected of all of you,” Brian said as he paced back and forth in the center of the circle. “We are going to have the reputation for being the coolest group of people in the school, and we all have to live up to that. You’re expected to dress in only the hippest kind of clothes and listen to the hottest new music.”
“Wow! It’s just like the Unicorns, only bigger!” Jessica exclaimed in a whisper. “And including guys!”
Aaron smiled. In his opinion, the club was already seeming way cooler than the Unicorns—it just seemed more important and powerful somehow.
“For this reason,” Brian continued, “I’ve come up with the perfect name for our club—IN.”
“That’s really great,” Jake Hamilton said enthusiastically. “In like as opposed to Out.”
- Jake, honey, if you need to explain the cleverness of it, either you, it, or both, are not that clever.
Brian then adds that being in the club is a privilege and everyone needs to take care not to lose their membership. Elizabeth asks what would cause them to lose membership. Brian says he’ll decide that.
Aaron hears Ken whisper to Lila how are they going to know if they do something wrong if he doesn’t tell them. Lila whispers back they just have to try super-hard not to do anything uncool. This I like. Instead of the pages and pages of Jessica and Aaron internally gushing about how cool and hot Brian is, two characters have made the point better. Ken expresses worry, and Lila is so concerned about it that she whispers back they’ll have to try hard. If Lila, who is fabulously wealthy, dresses like a supermodel, and is probably the beating heart of this series (take that, twinsies), is a bit worried about keeping up to the point she talks to a boy she considers a loser, now I understand how cool Brian is.
(He’s still a twat, but they’ve shown instead of told.)
Jessica asks if seventh and eighth graders are eligible, and when Brian says yes, that will make the club more desirable, she offers to put together a list of people interested. Brian says no, he will observe people and make assessments. The requirements are very complex.
Melissa asks how they will know who is in IN once the club expands. Brian asks the group for suggestions. Aaron suggests bandanas. Lila suggests a club colour, mentioning the Unicorns and purple, but Brian says it’s too vague. Jessica, frighteningly, suggests armbands. Just out of interest, who actually does wear armbands, outside of pro-wrestling, alt-right clubs and sports teams memorialising the deceased? What I’m saying is, has anyone worn them for fashion reasons? Have they ever been in (or IN?) [Wing: Sometimes for some subcultures, I think, like leather. And maybe the 80s, though I guess that was more wrist bands.]
Brian says yes to black armbands and they still have to wear black t-shirts.
Actually, not sure if this is a thing all over, but I remember not being allowed to wear black until I was about thirteen because the colour was “too old” for me. Actually, I kept being told that even when I did wear it, but I went through a Goth phase not long after, so that was a losing fucking battle. Did anyone else’s parents have such bizarre notions about the colours of clothing? I know I saw it in a Kirsten Dunst TV-movie once, so I know that my mum and my friends’ mums weren’t the only idiots making such daft rules. [Wing: I have never heard of such a thing, but I would love to hear more about it. What other colours were too old? Did colours eventually become too young? Growing up in the church cult, we were more focused on things like not wearing short skirts. Or knee-length skirts.] [Raven: From about thirteen, I was METAL. Black, back-patch and bullet belt. Everything louder than everything else.]
Mandy asks what kind of activities they will be doing, and Brian retorts that it sounds childish. The only activity they will be doing is hanging out and being awesome. Oh, and he’ll be setting little tests for people to secure their membership. Elizabeth asks what kind of tests, and receives a glare in response.
After school, Aaron and Randy do their homework at Aaron’s house. Randy expresses interest in joining IN, which surprises Aaron because Randy’s interests are usually on the nerdy side of things. Randy asks for Aaron to recommend him, and Aaron thinks that he probably could, because he’s Brian’s BFF, but Randy’s not the kind of guy Brian is looking for. Still he says he’ll do it. Randy asks what the membership parameters are, and is surprised when Aaron says he doesn’t know.
Gramps walks in, Randy politely introduces himself, and Gramps says Randy can call him Grandpa, no need to formally refer to him as Mr Kramer. Aaron is mortified and tries to get Gramps out of the way. When that fails, he tries to relocate himself and Randy, but Randy says he’d like to visit with Gramps, then asks him about where he’s from. We like Randy.
Gramps says he’s from Vienna. Randy knows where that is, his grandparents were from Vienna too, they’re dead. Gramps asks their names, and offers that he used to know a boy with the same surname, perhaps they were related. Aaron gets antsy as Randy asks about Vienna and hurries them along. Gramps invites Randy to come back soon and they can talk again.
As Aaron shows Randy out, he apologises for Gramps bothering them. Randy is genuinely surprised, he’d been enjoying talking to Gramps. Aaron is a bit wrong-footed on this. He does love Gramps, but he’s so not cool. Randy comments that he misses his own grandpa, and Gramps has the same accent so it’s nice to hear. Aaron asks if Randy’s grandpa used to go on and on about dead people. Randy says yes, but he says it with fondness. Aaron doesn’t see what you can learn from dead people. Even ones who died in a pointless and brutal genocide. I mean, what’s that got to do with anything?
We cut back to the Wakefield compound, where they are eating fishsticks.
Jessica says that if all classes were like the current social studies class, she’d be an A-student. Elizabeth counters that if that were the case, she’d drop out. She hates following silly social rules. It would be lovely if she added philosophically, “It like being in seventh grade again.” But she doesn’t. Jessica again points out that Elizabeth loves following rules, and Elizabeth responds that she doesn’t like following Brian’s rules. Rules are only ok when Elizabeth is setting them. Duh.
At this point, Ned finally asks what the fuck his daughters are on about. They explain about the club and dissolve into an argument about Brian. Elizabeth says he’s creepy, but she can’t explain why. Jessica says she shouldn’t make snap judgments, which is a bit rich coming from her.
The parents are still clueless about everything, since all they know is that it’s “hip” – good god, stop using that word – so Elizabeth clarifies that it’s an intro to the Holocaust, and then the parents nod and smile and say they’d be interested to see how it turns out.
Probably a bit like The Hunger Games, given how terrible most of these kids are before a teacher gives the ok to their terrible behaviour.
We cut to Aaron and Brian at lunch, and the following exchange sums up Sweet Valley so perfectly, it needs quoting.
“Tell me about Bruce Patman,” Brian said to Aaron at the lunch table on Wednesday. “He seems like a good candidate for the club.”
Aaron looked across the cafeteria to where Bruce was laughing and talking loudly with Rick Hunter. “Well, he’s a seventh-grader and he’s the richest guy in the school,” Aaron began. “He’s also kind of on the obnoxious side.”
“Yeah? How’s that?” Brian asked.
“He’s just a real show-off,” Aaron explained. “And he makes fun of people who he doesn’t think are cool. That kind of thing.”
“I want him at the next meeting,” Brian said. “Make sure he’s there.”
Randy shows up and Aaron realises that he hasn’t pitched Randy to Brian yet. Randy asks how Brian likes Sweet Valley and offers to show him around. Brian is bored and dismissive and says that Randy can’t sit with them, the seat is saved for Jake Hamilton, who is demonstrably seated across the room with his friends. Randy is humiliated.
Over with Team Boring – update, Julie is out, Maria is in (but not IN) – Amy says that maybe Elizabeth should sit with the rest of her club, otherwise she’ll end up on Brian’s bad side. Elizabeth says fuck that, she’s just wasted a week or so in seventh grade and she’s not giving up lunch with her friends over a club. (Which, despite it being Elizabeth who said it, I really respect.)
Amy says, no seriously, her cousin went to his old school, and if you got on his bad side, he could be really toxic. Elizabeth asks for specifics, but Amy doesn’t have them. GO GO INVESTIGATIVE REPORTERS!
Maria asks if Elizabeth is a tiny bit flattered that she’s in the cool club? Elizabeth says no. The only silver lining to being in Brian’s club is that she can keep tabs on him. Maria asks if Elizabeth is going to do detective work. That is a very stupid question, Maria. Have you met Elizabeth? Didn’t you get thrown out of charm school for getting involved with her investigation? You know she’s gonna do this. In fact, it’s probably why you’re here instead of Julie.
[Wing: Except not a damn bit of sleuthing happens. Elizabeth lucks into everything she learns.] [Raven: This book could definitely have used a dose of Plucky Girl Detectives.]
We cut to a Unicorn meeting where all the Unicorns are wearing face masks and waiting for them to dry. [Wing: This is adorable. I love when they are shown doing friend things. It’s great.] Tamara, Mary and Janet have been invited to the next meeting. They all have, actually.
FUCK YOU BRIAN! FUCK YOU RIGHT IN THE EAR!
Sorry, but nobody messes with Ellen. [Raven: Yep, right in the feels.]
Lila says she’s sure it’s just a mistake, but it’s super awkward.
Then Steven bursts in and takes a photo of them. I bet he was hoping they’d be in their underwear pillow fighting, but the hilarity of mud masks will have to do.
We cut to Aaron who is at Brian’s house, which sounds fucking hideous. It’s gigantic with crystal chandeliers, gold leafing on the walls, and paintings of men on the walls. I don’t know why so many people go for the “nana’s attic” style when they have money, but gross. (I frequently window shop for houses that are not and will never be in my price range.) Aaron says the house is massive, but Brian says his last house was five times the size.
He has a British servant in a tuxedo that comes when Brian rings a bell. Brian orders munchies without a please or thank you. Once they’re set up with munchies (“six small chocolate cakes, four sandwiches, a basket of tortilla chips, little bowls of guacamole and salsa, and four different kinds of sodas”) they get to work on Aaron’s list of suggested new members for IN. [Raven: Brian’s a fucking cliche.]
Brian isn’t interested in having Randy in the club, saying he’s just not IN material, causing Aaron to wonder if he has less sway with Brian than he thought. Brian approves Jane Howell – in this book, we find out she lives in the mansion next door to Lila. Uh, if that’s the case, why is nobody squeeing over how rich she is? So does that mean Nora Mercandy lives next door but one to Lila? Because I’m sure Janet lived next door to Nora in book 3.
Next up is Amy Sutton, who Brian refers to as “that ugly girl”. She’s a nope. They have to keep their standards high, does Aaron agree? Aaron does.
The next day in social studies, Mr Levin asks for an update on the clubs. Brooke speaks first. She says that her club’s theme is the environment and is called Friends of the Land. They meet twice a week to clean up different areas around town. This afternoon they will be picking up trash around the parking lot at Casey’s.
(Uh, this is Sweet Valley, a white middle class suburban dream. I’ve lived in one of those places before. There isn’t a whole lot of trash, because presentation is so important. We didn’t even have homeless people. Well, technically, we did, but both slept at the farm in the barns, so as not to despoil the overall town with their begging and their bedraggled appearance.) [Raven: Maybe the fact that there’s minimal litter is what drew Team Brooke to cleaning it up. No point using a toothbrush to scrub oil off a cormorant for six hours straight if you can pick up a discarded pamphlet outside Casey’s Place then pop in for a sundae.]
By the way, Brian laughed, whispered and heckled throughout Brooke’s presentation. Then it’s his turn. He says he’s still working on membership at the moment. Mr Levin asks if anyone who wants to can join the club. Brian laughs in his face, and says actually he may end up cutting some original members. This alarms a few people. Mr Levin asks what he’s basing membership on, Brian eventually says it’s a gut feeling.
Mr Levin asks questions, and Brian says that at the moment, everyone is wearing black t-shirts and armbands, and he’s having no problem with people who violate those rules, because everyone is proud to be in the club.
“But if anyone does find out that a club member isn’t following the rules”—Brian looked around the classroom slowly and seriously—“that person should report the violation to me, and I’ll take it from there.”
Jessica shot Elizabeth a warning look, which Elizabeth pretended to ignore. Brian was seeming creepier and creepier to her—he sounded almost sinister.
Elizabeth wants Mr Levin to object, but he keeps smiling at Brian and asks if they have organised meetings. Brian says yes, there’s one today at Casey’s. Gosh, that’s where Friends of the Land are meeting. TEH DRAMAZ!
Brian ends with saying that there will be a list posted on his locker at the end of the day. Only people on the list are invited to the meeting.
Elizabeth wonders how any one person can have so much power. And in any other series, sure, let’s be worried. But from a Wakefield twin? Fuck you. You two do exactly what you want and always get your way. [Wing: But Dove, they’re the Wakefield twins. That’s two people with so much power, not one.]
After school everyone excitedly checks the list. Jessica, Lila and Janet are all on it, and take time to mock Winston and Maria for being so clueless they think they’d make the cut. Lila then comments that she’s surprised Elizabeth made the cut. Jessica gets all defensive and tries to say that her sister is cool, and has totally wild sides to her personality, but, dude, we just came out of a book that literally pushed Elizabeth to have a different personality and it didn’t work. I know Jessica’s competitive, but pick your battles.
Over with Aaron, both Bruce and Janet talk to him in the hallways, and he basks in the reflected popularity and coolness of being Brian’s friend.
Weirdly, there’s a section break here. But the scene carries on. I went and checked my hard copy of the book, and yeah, there’s a break. So, formatting fail.
Aaron decides that he’s a “big deal on campus” (I don’t think that’s the phrase, bud), and he starts strutting instead of just walking. For all of three seconds before Randy catches up to him and asks why he didn’t mention him to Brian. Aaron can’t admit that Brian doesn’t like Randy, so just says he thought Brian would invite him. He didn’t.
Randy says he tried really hard and even invited him to the synagogue on Monday for a special dinner. Randy, hon, nobody wants to be recruited by the lord when trying to make new friends. Also, I guess you’re Jewish too. Funny how we were completely religion free until some genius up there in Bantam decided to do a Sweet Valley/Holocaust crossover. [Raven: That concept meeting must have been a riot.]
I think I’d have rather had this book from Randy’s point of view.
Randy’s really disappointed, he thought it would have been a good way for Brian to meet people, since he’s new in town. However, he’s not holding a grudge. He asks how Gramps is doing, which makes Aaron feel like shit because Randy’s such a nice dude. And we all know how Aaron feels about complex emotions, so he makes an excuse and runs off.
We cut back to the Unicorns, who are at Booster practice. For the sake of plot, Winston and Amy both are not there. Jessica asks if they can finish early to go get ready for the meeting of IN. This is regarded as a very good idea. Tamara says that she’s heard Brian’s going to buy them all ice cream today, which will be so expensive. Janet says her dad told her that Brian’s dad is a movie producer. Jessica immediately says maybe he’ll put them in a movie. Lila replies wearily that it’s unlikely. Probably because Brooke’s dad never put them in a movie. Or maybe she thinks them being in one movie already is enough.
Ellen tightly asks if they can change the subject. Jessica tactlessly asks if she’s been invited, causing Ellen to angrily grab her things.
“Look, Ellen, if you come with the rest of us to the meeting, I’m sure Brian won’t care,” Mary said.
Ellen flung her backpack over her back. “Why would I want to go to a meeting where I’m not welcome?” she asked hotly.
“Maybe we could talk to him and get him to change his mind,” Mary offered.
“Look, if he wanted me in the club, he would have invited me,” Ellen said. “It’s pretty clear that he just doesn’t like me.”
Jessica tries to reassure Ellen that it’s not true, but she realises that it is. Ellen leaves, telling them to enjoy their ice cream.
Mandy says it’s weird that Ellen is the only Unicorn not invited, and even Lila agrees that it’s odd. Janet, however, just pushes on and says it’s a great honour that everyone else got invited.
Over with Elizabeth, Winston now apparently writes for the Sixers and is labouring over an article on computers. He’s upset though, and Elizabeth cannot let an upset student go un-shoulder-patted. It turns out that Winston is upset he’s not in IN. Apparently he and Brian got talking after Winston got an A in math. Long story short, Winston was so swoony that he found himself agreeing to do Brian’s homework for him. Twice. And he still didn’t get in the club.
Elizabeth doesn’t actually offer any advice, help or support, because she’s a self-righteous self-centred asshole. She just storms out, ready to avenge the weeping nerd… the same one she just left wallowing in his own misery. Alone.
She didn’t say, “Gee, that sucks,” or “Brian is an asshole.” She didn’t tell him anything supportive, she just stomped out. #SomethingMustBeDone
Elizabeth finds Jessica and tells her that Brian is bad news because he didn’t invite Winston to the club. She tries repeatedly to say that Winston is a good person, and Jessica counters that he’s not cool. When she finally gets to the homework bit, Jessica doesn’t want to listen. [Raven: This would be so much better if JESSICA was the one trying to covince her sister that Brian was a bellend.]
Yeah, Elizabeth sucks so much. It’s like she’s never met her twin. Elizabeth knows that Jessica thinks Winston is a nerd. Jessica has cheated multiple times, so is she really going to be all that upset when she finds out Brian got a nerd to do his homework anyway? This was a losing fucking battle, and the fact that Elizabeth started with morals and hurt feelings just proves that she has no idea how to reason with her sister. Fucking muppet.
Jessica doesn’t want Elizabeth to no-show the meeting though, it’ll reflect badly on her, so she agrees that if Elizabeth comes to the meeting, they can have another conversation about this situation, but right now she’s not listening.
Elizabeth says no. I thought she was pleased about having a way to spy on Brian? Apparently that’s over with. Elizabeth is jumping to the boss fight, without bothering to play the adventure and level up. Because she’s a tool.
Battle lines are divided. Jessica will never forgive her sister for letting her down. Elizabeth will never forget that Jessica didn’t listen to her advice about Brian.
Cut to the meeting, Brian, King of Douchebags, has made a decree. Everyone must take an item of litter with them when they leave to throw on the ground outside, so that Brooke’s club has twice as much mess to pick up.
I really wish this was taking place in Utah.
Ostrich scared the shit out of me in Utah. We stopped for a break on the way to Zion Park, and I lit a cigarette. Ostrich gave me his best stern glare (he’s like 2’ taller than me, so pretty intimidating) and said, “If you drop that: instant fine. Might even be arrested.”
Like, I don’t drop cigs, I always put them in a bin, but I got super paranoid that it would stick to my finger as I threw it away, or bounce back out, and I’d end up going to jail for a million million years.
[Wing: Jesus christ, Ostrich, chill the fuck out, this is Dove. She’s the least likely to litter out of everyone on that trip. Also: Dove is not really exaggerating about that height difference. It’s not really two feet, but it’s damn close.]
Bruce Patman thinks this is “fantastic”. Aaron feels awkward, but convinces himself it’s just like when they throw shit around at Halloween. Uh, that? Still fucking littering, dude.
Next decree: Party at Brian’s on Saturday night. Again, Aaron has misgivings. Why hadn’t Brian told him personally? Weren’t they BFF?
In true Sweet Valley fashion, this is the party to end all parties, with a band from LA and it being catered by La Maison Jacques. French food. For a kids party. Ok.
Melissa McCormick offers to help set up the party and Tamara quickly offers too. Then Brian asks who’s taking care of cleanup. Aaron thinks it’s kind of a dick move to expect your guests to clean up, but Kimberley Haver nearly pees herself in excitement to volunteer.
OMG, would this story please get going! If you call a book “It Can’t Happen Here” and then give me “The Unicorn Club: The Early Weeks”, I’m gonna be pissed off.
Outside, IN have a grand old time throwing shit around in the parking lot. Is no adult going to reprimand them? Maybe the owner of Casey’s, since they’re making his parking lot an eyesore? No. Ok then.
And here we have it. The only thing I remember about this book.
“Hey, who’s old wreck is that?” Brian asked Aaron. He was pointing to a beat-up old car that had scratched paint.
Before Aaron could answer, Melissa McCormick waved to her mother, who was driving the car, and hopped inside.
Melissa, you may recall, was the subject of the incorrectly titled, Elizabeth and the Orphans. Incorrect because only one parent died. Can you remember which one it is? IT’S THE ONE DRIVING THE MOTHERFUCKING CAR.
You only need to change one letter in there to two to make it work. Melissa is frequently picked up by her brother, and he does indeed drive a shitheap of a car. Fuck you, ghostie. Fuck you with bells on.
[Wing: D Y I N G. We’ve finally reached the moment Dove has shouted about for many years.] [Raven: *woo woo woo woo* CONTINUITY KLAXON!]
Brian wants to know what Melissa’s dad does for a living. Aaron doesn’t know. FYI, he’s a musician. He dedicates songs celebrating his reunion with his kids to Elizabeth Wakefield. Basically, he’s a professional twat. If he wore hip clothes, he’d be a shoo-in for IN. [Raven: Why doesn’t Aaron know that Melissa’s dad is a musician? Wasn’t he there for the reunion party / song?] [Dove: R and W both got out their guitars last time we went camping, and they are a religious minister and a teacher respectively. Singing at a get-together doesn’t necessarily mean music career.]
Finally an adult notices the mess. Casey comes running outside to rage at them. Brian says that Brooke and her friends made the mess, and he’d just corralled his pals into cleaning up after them. Casey gives Brian a hug and calls him “son”. That was easy. As soon as Casey heads back inside, Brian tells everyone to drop their trash on the floor and leave.
As they do so, Brooke arrives, looking horrified at the mess. Aaron says maybe they should stay and help, and Brian thinks he’s joking. Aaron pretends he was.
After the meeting, Brian catches up with Jessica, who says she had a great time, even though she didn’t see the point and hated touching garbage. He says Elizabeth wasn’t present, and Jessica lies about an important article for the Sixers. Brian says he’s not sure Elizabeth is IN material. Honestly, I’d have thought someone – like Bruce, for example – would have tipped him off to Elizabeth’s “uncool” reaction to the dare to kiss him. Brian basically implies that Jessica has to stop Elizabeth from breaking rules. So she has to be at the party on Saturday.
Jessica storms home and finds Elizabeth reading, obviously, The Diary of Anne Frank. Jessica wants to talk, but Elizabeth piously says that nothing she says will be as important as this book. Just to clarify, I’m mocking Elizabeth, not the book. I’ve literally just bought the book because I haven’t read it and I really should.
Elizabeth outlines the plot and Jessica takes it to heart, especially because Anne looks to be around their age. She decides that actually what she wanted to say to Elizabeth can wait.
At school, Elizabeth sees Brian call out to Anna Reynolds, and then ask Ken why she dissed him like that. Ken points out that she’s hearing impaired, but Brian prefers the word deaf. I don’t think the book that actually dealt with Anna’s disability used “hearing impaired” – which is now an outdated term, for anyone trying to keep up – deaf is actually acceptable in the UK, I believe – but times have changed between books.
“Sheesh, you’d never know it just from looking at her,” Brian said. “I mean, she looks so normal and pretty and everything.”
Elizabeth thinks to herself that he’s a major jerk. I also think he’s a four-letter word, but mine starts with a different letter. [Wing: Cunt, cunt, he’s a cunt. A cunty cunty cunt. Yes, I do hate this word as an insult, but the Brits have got me using it, too. I’m still debating whether to keep it in my vocab or not. As a pejorative. I love it otherwise. Best word.] [Raven: For fuck’s sake, I understand that they had to ship in a Sweet Valley Hitler for this story, but this guy is laughable. He’s such a caricature. I presumed that he’s being such a cunt that he MUST be expelled or moved along at the end of the book, but it seems that he’s in the series going forward (according to Dove). Which is weird.] [Dove: Retrospectively, I feel that Brian’s next book should have been a two-parter with this one. Because given the gap between them (11 books), it looks like they’re not related at all – which is probably the precise reason there are 11 books separating them.]
Next up, Brian gives Aaron a list of people invited to the party. Some people at the meeting yesterday are not on that list. It’s Aaron’s job to uninvited them. Melissa and Anna are examples of the uninvited. Aaron feels awkward, both girls are really nice, and they’ve never done a mean thing to anyone. He’s clearly missing the point of IN if he thinks that matters. Brian then asks if Aaron wants to go shopping with him, and Aaron’s totes fine with that.
At lunch, Elizabeth is amazed that Brooke’s club cleaned the entire parking lot. They say she’s lucky to be in Brian’s club, because they’re just garbage collectors. And she gets to go to the super cool super exclusive party on Saturday.
At this point, a puffy-eyed Melissa McCormick walks up and asks if she can join them. She tells them that she’s been uninvited to Brian’s party by Aaron and she doesn’t even know why. They see that Anna’s been crying too and wave her over. She joins them and tells the same story.
This time Elizabeth does not flounce off in a self-righteous huff and actually tells them not to feel bad about it, the club is stupid and he’s making decisions “in a totally random way”. Dude, he’s not. He’s being an elitist snob. Given that you loathe the Unicorns for the same reason and even understand what makes someone not Unicorn material, how are you missing that? And don’t counter with Elizabeth is trying to make them feel better. She’s not. If this was the Unicorns, she’d say something about them being vapid clothes horses.
Elizabeth decides to have her own party on Saturday night.
Over with Team Fuckwits, Brian says he’s found a new Flying Lizards CD just out. Either the ghostie was unaware that there actually is a band called Flying Lizards and decided to be a teensy bit creative with the band name; or this is set in 1984, which is when wiki says their last album of that era came out.
Brian also holds out a CD by The Jumping Jack-o’-Lanterns, who are a hot new group he saw in concert last month. Since they’re not real (light googling), I guess the Flying Lizards is not the same band who did the awesome/weird cover of Money.
Brian asks if Aaron’s managed to get the Lakers tickets yet, because he really wants to go to the next game. Aaron doesn’t tell him to fuck off and buy his own tickets, since he’s swimming in money, and instead just makes an excuse. He wonders if he could borrow some money from Gramps, then further wonders if he should spend some time with Gramps. Then he notices that Brian is stealing the CDs. He tries to leave so he’s not with Brian when they leave the shop, but Brian sticks with him and tells him to walk fast. When they’re a safe distance away, Aaron wonders if he should tell Brian he saw him steal. No need, Brian shows him and brags about what he did. Aaron sees the threat in his eyes and tells him that it’s awesome.
You know what would be interesting, is if Brian got the undesirables to do the nasty stuff his good club didn’t want to do. Get Melissa McCormick to steal. Make Anna Reynolds clean up after the party. Encourage his cool people to mock them, but still keep them just close enough to give them hope. If they’re actually out, there’s nothing stopping them from saying, “Fuck you, you entitled douchebag, die in a fucking fire.”
If you keep them just on the edges of IN, they’re enticed by the promise of truly belonging, and feel they can’t reject Brian because, despite all of their failings, like being disabled, poor, or not very suave, he’s keeping them. They’re special. They just need to be more special. And, y’know, if they do these tasks, maybe they will be special enough. Just… don’t keep disappointing him. He’s doing you a major favour here. Brian can have anyone in his club, everyone wants to belong, but you – you shouldn’t belong, but you’ve got something. Just do this thing that I ask. NO, NOT LIKE THAT. JEEZ, HOW CAN YOU BE SO AWFUL? But it’s ok. Do this other thing. FOR FUCK’S SAKE, LOOK AT WHAT A LOSER YOU ARE. Try harder. Be more special.
All the while, implying that at any moment the cool people could fall to this level. Keep everyone on their toes.
Actually chucking someone fully out is a fool move. When you sever ties, the loser suddenly realises they’re free, and you, Brian, can go hump a razor.
What? You guys know I come from emotional abuse. My brain understands this shit.
The next morning (Saturday) Jessica makes French toast for Elizabeth in an attempt to get her to go to the party. This leads to the parents and Steven wondering why it’s such a big deal to Jessica that Elizabeth goes. After a bit of flailing, Jessica says that Brian might throw her (Jess) out of the club if Elizabeth doesn’t go. The parents do that reasonable – but so annoying when you’re the kid in question – thing of saying, “Well, he sounds like a twat. You don’t want to be friends with a twat.”
Elizabeth bikes to Amy’s house, but for some reason goes by the rich neighbourhood. I’m sure that makes no logical sense, but the plot demands she does it. Obviously she runs into Brian, who informs her that she will attend his party tonight. Aaron stands beside him staring at the ground, as Brian grabs Elizabeth’s arm and asks her what her problem is. She shakes him off and says she doesn’t have a problem. He says it’s an assignment and she’s ignoring it. Elizabeth realises that she doesn’t care at all if it is a school project, and spits out that she couldn’t care less about him or his stupid club. Then comes the hyperbole:
The expression on his face was so evil, it made Elizabeth’s skin crawl. “Your threats don’t scare me,” she informed him, then she broke away, pedaling as fast as she could.
“Well, they should,” Brian yelled after her.
Elizabeth, you’ve literally met a tragic ghost that wanted to kill you so you could be BFF, with emphasis on the final F there. You have faced down someone who murdered a kid (or something, I can’t really remember Ruby Necklace). You’ve seen a lot more evil than some rich fuckwit upset because you don’t respect his club.
I know regular humans, even child-sized ones, especially ones that come from wealth and privilege, can be monsters, but “so evil” in response to turning down a party invite in Sweet Valley cannot be taken seriously.
By the way, I’m on chapter 10 of 13. I’m pretty sure this book will get going any minute now.
Elizabeth gets home and has to face down Jessica about the fucking party again. And while I utterly side with Elizabeth, her side of the argument is fucking rubbish.
Elizabeth: Nah, too exclusive! I like parties where everyone can go.
Jessica: Everyone’s parties need invites!
Elizabeth: Yeah, but those invites aren’t down to one person.
The whole world: They pretty much are, presh. That’s how hosting a party works. You fuckwit.
How to actually argue this:
Elizabeth: Nope. I hate the host, and if you keep on about this, I will beat you to death with The Diary of Anne Frank and bury you in the Mercandy backyard. The beat of Brian’s fucking party music will make the task go much faster.
Jessica: *suddenly remembers the Hunger Games and backs off*
But Elizabeth does say that she’s hosting a counter party to Brian’s for all the undesirables he rejected. And it’ll be heaps more fun than Brian’s.
Over with Aaron, Gramps is making dinner, and says he’s rented a boat so they can go fishing together tomorrow, just like they did when Aaron was younger. Aaron has plans to go to the mall with Brian, but he actually wants to go fishing – but it’s not like Brian is going to accept that. He makes excuses to Gramps saying that he’s doing a school project on the Holocaust.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Hey Gramps, you know that thing you endured that killed your fam? TOTES USING THAT AS AN EXCUSE NOT TO HANG OUT WITH YOU.
FUCK YOU AARON, FUCK YOU WITH SANDPAPER.
Gramps says ok, that’s fine, obviously the Holocaust is more important than fishing. He’ll tell him something about it over dinner.
Yeah, no, Aaron can’t stay for dinner. You know, that school project.
FUCK YOU WITH SANDPAPER, GLASS, AND BROKEN LIGHT TUBES.
Gramps starts bundling up food for Aaron and his friends as they study. Aaron feels sad (and you know how that bums him out) because he knows Brian will laugh him right out of the party if he shows up with food.
Smash cut to the party, where Brian is ordering Aaron around – current instruction, help the caterers pass the food around. Because nothing says class like having a catered party but asking the guests to serve. What the fuck, Brian? I know, power power power, but really, is it power if you just look like a tool. I hate to say it, but even Christian Gray has more presence than this wazzock.
Aaron tells himself that he’s being ordered around because he’s Brian’s favourite.
Remember what I said about emotional abuse? This isn’t it. This is someone blinded by admiration, doing all sorts of silly things (I think we’ve seen Jessica do this over a guy, or am I thinking of Sweet Valley High?) Brian does not withhold enough to really emotionally abuse. Aaron’s such a waste of space he just goes along with it. And that is a dig at the writing. If someone responds that they did a similar thing for an abuser, I’m pretty sure there was more fucking nuance than in this terrible book.
Remember Pamela, Elizabeth’s Single White Female BFF? She was AMAZING. She was queen emotional abuser. She built Elizabeth up, then knocked her down, she destroyed Elizabeth’s friendships and engineered a situation where she was the only person in Elizabeth’s life. Now that’s an abuse of power and emotion.
Brian is just some tool who shouts orders and for some reason, everyone does it. It’s not about charisma (he has none) or looks (everyone except Lois Waller is hot in Sweet Valley). It’s because the plot says so. [Raven: Brian is such a waste of space.]
And he hasn’t even done anything worthwhile with that power. Oh, he made everyone throw litter. Sooo edgy. By chapter 11 of Elizabeth the Impossible, Elizabeth had no friends and had no idea if she was the best thing on the planet or the worst human that ever existed, and the only person talking to her was her abuser.
FUCK YOU FOR DOING THIS BOOK/WRITER/PUBLISHER. YOU’VE ALREADY DONE THIS SO MUCH BETTER AND YOU DIDN’T NEED TO INVOKE THE MOTHERFUCKING HOLOCAUST TO DO IT. FUCK YOU WITH EVERYTHING I THREATENED AARON WITH. TWICE OVER.
Aaron ends up talking to Jessica, who says that she wishes Elizabeth could see the party. Then she’d understand that Brian’s just terrific. She’s got this wacky idea that Brian threatened her when she said she wasn’t coming to the party.
Aaron feels guilty about that and says that maybe Elizabeth should apologise for calling Brian’s club stupid.
Then Brian rocks up, tells Aaron to keep serving food, then asks Jessica to dance.
Cut to Elizabeth’s party, where actually she’s not throwing a party for the undesirables, just her own friends – Amy and Maria. Well, fuck you Elizabeth. [Raven: I never spotted that. That’s such bullshit.]
Is absolutely everyone a cunt in this? Sorry, Wing. I know you hate that word as an insult, but I’ve been pushed far on this. Everyone is such an asshole. [Wing: …uh, I might have blown this sentence out of the water earlier. Yeah.]
Brian is pointless. Aaron has less spine than Elizabeth. Elizabeth is basically a parody of an SJW, crusading for justice because she likes the fight, not because she cares. Jessica is Jessica, and normally that’s a good thing, but FUCK EVERYTHING. BURN EVERYTHING. JUST FIRE EVERYWHERE. WHERE’S MY FUCKING GIF.
Even that’s not doing it. I HATE THIS BOOK. And not because it’s offensive. Because it’s awful. It’s boring. It’s pointless. I’m 4,000 words away from the end of the book and it hasn’t even started yet. For fuck’s sake.
Whoever wrote this, I hope you’re ashamed of yourself. This is the worst book in the series so far. It’s one thing to be boring, pointless or offensive, but when it’s all three, everyone can just burn.
Oh. Wait. Others are there, they just waste page and a half with only Amy and Maria talking. I could edit that out, but I’m fucking tired, and I think all this rage at least displays that this book is badly written. [Raven: Ha! No wonder I never noticed that!]
Everyone talks about how they’ve felt self-conscious since Brian made his club and wondered what’s wrong with them that they weren’t invited to join/had to leave. Elizabeth gives them all a talking-to, saying that they’re great the way they are. And think about Brian, everyone says he’s great, but is he?
Obviously not. There’s literally no nuance to him. I really miss Pamela. She wasn’t even meant to be a villain, just a creeper.
Anna then admits that actually, aside from being not great, he’s a bastard too. When she walked into class yesterday he pretended to do sign language. She didn’t tell a teacher because maybe she was being over-sensitive and didn’t want to make a big deal of it.
Amy then says that he stood behind her in the lunch line barking – implying she’s as ugly as a dog.
Elizabeth decides that #SomethingMustBeDone (didn’t she think that about eight chapters ago when she left Winston alone to… something?). She’s going to start a whisper campaign about how Brian’s a complete shit.
There are two chapters left. We don’t have time for that. Just kill him and bury him in the Mercandy backyard, ok?
And the other characters agree. Nobody wants to get on Brian’s bad side. Elizabeth will do it alone then!
On Monday Elizabeth doesn’t wear a black t-shirt. She approaches Jessica, causing Janet and Lila to disappear at the speed of light, so they’re not seen with her. Jessica has already heard that Elizabeth is going against Brian, and is fuming. There was an emergency meeting this morning and nobody’s allowed to mix with Elizabeth. Jessica can’t ignore her because they’re twins, but she doesn’t want to be seen with her in public.
Elizabeth asks why Jessica allows herself to be controlled by him. (Uh, going by both previous and later books, because he’s hot? Like, that’s her thing.) Jessica tells her to keep her voice down. Elizabeth says that everyone’s being brainwashed by him.
Brian gives her a slow clap and calls her paranoid.
“Bravo!” Brian said. “That’s really impressive! I’ve never heard such a paranoid person before!”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Elizabeth said bitterly. She was aware that the crowd around them was growing bigger, though no one said a word. “I hope everyone else is just as impressed when they find out what you’re really like.”
“And what’s that?” Brian asked smugly. “What am I really like?”
Elizabeth’s heart was pounding wildly and she spat out the words. “You’re bigoted and elitist—”
“And a brainwasher, too, right? I kind of like that idea,” Brian broke in. “It sounds like we’re in a science-fiction movie.”
Elizabeth says that he’s turned a school project into something evil, and this again shows that Elizabeth is terrible at confrontation. She should have done one of her impassioned but reasoned “won’t someone think of the children” speeches, where she points out that he’s making people nervous at best and downright miserable at worst, and are people really happy with their choices? And because she’s Elizabeth Wakefield, they would believe her.
But also, “something evil” is a bit fucking strong. “Something spiteful” might be more accurate. I mean, I have a friend whose daughter is being cyberbullied and bullied (ah, social media, the gift that keeps on giving), and those kids are doing “something evil” (when there are physical threats, for example). This, so far, is litter and not inviting people places. It’s not even active bullying, it’s just a passive skimming over of the undesirables, and while I can see that it would wear thin after awhile, this has been what, a week? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
And because Elizabeth’s stance is so fucking weak and badly worded, that’s it. Brian wins. He basically says, “Ooh, she thinks I’m evil” and everyone laughs. Elizabeth is mortified and feels as if she’s in “a living nightmare”. Oh have a word with yourself, Wakefield. For the first time in your life, everyone listened to the other guy. Try being Lois Waller or Lloyd Benson for a day. That’s their reality. Fuck off.
Aaron’s in the library, finally reading up on the Holocaust, and is actually paying attention to how bad it was. He doesn’t seem to have actively linked the horrors in his textbook with his grandpa’s life, but, y’know, baby steps.
Aaron gets summoned by Brian. He needs help. He wants to “get Elizabeth”. Aaron says surely there’s no need, he humiliated her today. Brian says that she’s spreading stories about him and needs to be stopped.
Aaron shuddered as he looked at Brian’s face. It was handsome on the outside, but there was something evil in his eyes. Evil, Aaron thought. Just like Elizabeth said. Aaron looked away, hoping Brian would just leave him alone.
This book’s problem is that with the PG rating, and without Grapplegate pushing the limits of what they can get away with, all Brian can do is the standard shit. Which means we’re actually having a witch hunt for basically a male Janet Howell. Why is he evil? Why him? Why not the Unicorns? Why not Veronica Brooks?
If these books were from Lois’ point of view, every book would be this one. [Raven: Excellent!]
Brian tells Aaron to tell Elizabeth to meet Aaron at his locker at 3:30 for help with the class project. The plan is that Brian and a whole fleet of IN will be there.
Elizabeth, for some reason, isn’t even suspicious that Brian’s BFF wants to meet that afternoon, even though they’re not friends. They technically dated, I suppose. But since then they’ve only ever talked about/on behalf of Jessica.
Brian grabs her arms and tries to shove her in her locker face-first. She yells at Aaron to tell him to stop. Then Jessica appears. Everyone scarpers, leaving Elizabeth crying and cradling her arm. Elizabeth lashes out saying that Jessica’s “hero” just attacked her and what does she think of him now.
Aaron rushes home and cries in Gramps’ arms and tells him that Brian started a mean club and does his best to make it sound like something fucking happened in this book and that Aaron helped. Gramps says that Aaron “collaborated” with him, which is a word Aaron recognises from the book about the Nazis. He suddenly understands the point of the game.
“Grandpa, when you said something like the Holocaust could happen at any place, anytime—you were right!”
Yes. Elizabeth getting shoved in a locker is EXACTLY like what happened in Auschwitz.
Gramps shows Aaron the numbers tattooed on his arm, and Aaron finally understands. He figures out that is how Gramps lost his family. Dude, what the fuck did you think? Like, there was a really bad bout of the sniffles going around at the same time as the Holocaust and your Jewish Gramps was just super unlucky? WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU SELF-CENTRED CUNT?
Gramps was twelve at the time. Aaron decides he’s exactly as bad as those evil Nazis he read about.
This is shit.
We cut to a presentation at school. Aaron introduces his Gramps to the social studies class. He then tells a pointed tale about how the Nazis came to Vienna and the Jewish people had to wear gold stars to identify themselves as Jewish. After that, nobody would befriend them. They had to use a separate bathroom and in lessons they had to sit apart from the non-Jewish.
He came home from school one day and his mother was packing everything up. They were being sent to Bergen-Belsen, which is where Anne Frank was. At the concentration camp, they were separated by gender. He never saw his mother and sisters again. His father was sent to the gas chamber two days after they arrived.
Brian, btw, is unmoved by this story. Whereas everyone else gets how this is just like Nazi Germany.
Aaron confesses to throwing Elizabeth in her locker with Brian. He invites Brian to explain why. Mr Levin tells Brian to stand up and explain. Brian says it’s a lie. Aaron explains they did it because Elizabeth was telling the truth about Brian and his club.
He outs Brian as an elitist snob, which really is the default setting for Sweet Valley, so… why is it so bad when he does it? Everyone hands back their armbands to Brian.
Mr Levin explains that people went along with Hitler because they were impressed with his power, and frightened of what might happen if they didn’t go along with them. And AGAIN, why is Brian’s power trip any different than Jessica being terrified of being thrown out of the Unicorns for having to wear glasses?
“Hey, I’m not taking all the blame for this,” Brian protested hotly. “I was only doing what Mr. Levin told me to do.”
“Brian’s right, to a point,” Mr. Levin said. “He was doing what I told him to do. He just took things a lot further than I’d intended. Obviously, things got really out of control, and I didn’t realize it.”
“See?” Brian said defensively. “Even the teacher says I’m not responsible.”
Yeah, Brian, but the teachers are a lot of feckless wastrels, so of course they’re ok with your bullshit.
Mr Levin says – in front of everyone – that he’s going to have a conference with Brian’s parents about this. Yeah, sure bring ‘em in now. Don’t bother supervising the game you set up, just complain to his parents that he went too far. And also, if he’s so irredeemably “evil” at the age of twelve, they either don’t know and think he’s fine, so how can they guide him if they can’t see what’s wrong, or they just think he’s a boisterous boy and will just let him continue.
Aaron apologises to everyone, especially Elizabeth. He loves Gramps and Gramps loves him. Boom, we’re done.
Lead in to the next book. Something-something mother’s day.
FUCK THE WORLD.
Pointless. Boring. Nothing happens. Somehow super offensive. It’s the worst book in the entire series. Genuinely awful.
Teachers – completely absent
Action – completely lacking
Evil – completely comparable to any other bully in the school
The Holocaust – used as a cheap, nasty backdrop for this piece of shit.
I kept waiting for the story to get going, and it didn’t. Not even at the end. There were so many meetings about what they’ll do, but they didn’t do anything. I hate this book. I have so many thoughts, but I’ve run out of words. Hopefully Raven and Wing can articulate anything I’ve missed.
[Dove: Final additional note. I liked this book so much more when it was Boys Against Girls. They didn’t even need to invoke genocide to display that segregation based on someone’s prejudice is not just complete bullshit, but dangerous and seeps out into all facets of life.]
[Wing: Honestly, I can’t be articulate about this book. Dove went Boom, and she’s right. While a better written version of this story still might not have made an argument for using the Holocaust as a backdrop, it could have at least shown a stronger continuum from bullying to genocide. You know, by showing actual bullying and manipulation and evil, if they’re going to throw that word around. This is not that, it is not good, and Dove recapped it amazingly well.]
[Raven: First of all, great recap! Much better than the actual book.
I hated this one too. I think the whole idea was just terrible. Seriously, who green-lit this? As for the story itself… Jessica should have been in the Elizabeth role for this one, and Liz should have been swept up with the crowds. Brian can fuck right off. The school was appalling, as per usual. The game by Mr Levin was pretty much incomprehensible, and would have had zip-diddly-fuck connection with the Holocaust when played in 99 instances out of 100.
Complete bullshit from start to finish. Perhaps the only redeeming feature is that it’s such a departure from the norm that it it does instill a morbit curiosity in the reader, but apart from that? Bilge.]
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.