Title: The Cousin War
Tagline: Guess who’s dating Robin’s dream guy!
Summary: The boyfriend battle…
Identical twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are delighted when their cousin Robin comes to Sweet Valley for a visit. They can’t wait for Robin to meet their friends—and maybe even find a date in time for the Girls-Ask-Boys Dance at Sweet Valley Middle School.
When Robin meets Todd Wilkins, she’s certain he’s the one for her. But she’s in for a big surprise: Todd already has a girlfriend—and her name is Elizabeth Wakefield! Will Robin have to fight her own cousin to win the boy of her dreams?
Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. I hate love triangles. I know, I know, this is not the series for that (at least when we get to SVH, I’ve heard), but god, I hate love triangles, I hate girls fighting over a boy, I hate the tagline and the summary.
I am not looking forward to this book.
[Dove: Well, I hate love triangles. I hate Robin. I pretty much hate Sweet Valley High’s format of using boy trouble as plots A, B and C in a single book. This is just going to be awesome isn’t it? … Or…?]
[Raven: Pretty much sick of love-centric stories in this series. They always devolve into everyone going “well, we’re not really boyfriend and girlfriend, even though we’ve been together for forty damn books. Look, I just wanna snog this hot newcomer, k?”]
As we learned at the end of the last book, the twins’ beloved cousin Robin is coming to visit because her parents are going to Europe. Not a specific country or anything, just Europe. (Point Horror trope time: Parents? What Parents? They’re in fucking Europe. They’re always in fucking Europe.) Cousin Robin Wakefield, and apparently we had a long discussion over why she’s a Wakefield in the podcast episode, but I do not remember a damn thing we said.
[Dove: Neither do I, but remember Rosey gave us a family tree that explains how totally not possible it is for them to have the surname Wakefield. Look at the bit under the pink circle.]
[Wing: But at one point during the last book with Robin, Raven pointed out that Robin could be their cousin on Ned’s side, not Alice’s. It is possible that Ned also has a Nancy (Wakefield) on his side and that’s where Robin and Stacey come from. It’s even possible that Ned married someone who looks just like his sister, since Aunt Nancy looks just like Alice. That’s a very Wakefield thing to do. And not just in our always with the incest head canon, I’m pretty sure the sagas set out that they always look the same as they do in the version of them we know, so there’s some sort of ~mystical tie between their appearances. Or laziness in writing. You know, whichever. My point is that unless we have a sentence that flat out says Nancy is Alice’s sister, it’s still plausible that Ned has a sister named Nancy and he married someone who looks just like her. And of course the ginger bloke (Kirk) would have taken the Wakefield name, because everyone wants to be a Wakefield. Ooooh, also possible, everyone wants to be a Wakefield so much that Alice’s siblings even took on the Wakefield name when she married Ned and then insisted their partners also take on the name.]
[Raven: The real question is where does Quakefield Wakefield fit into all this?]
Deets: Robin is Jessica’s favourite cousin (out of how many?) [Dove: Well, Robin has an 8 year old sister called Stacey, for starters.], she lives in San Diego, which is several hours away from Sweet Valley, and she hasn’t visited since before the twins got their own separate rooms.
Elizabeth and Jessica argue over with whom Robin will stay first (with Steven “joking” about her staying with him and painting their nails together, but you know he’s just angling for a sister sleepover — plus knowing the Wakefields, Robin looks quite like the twins, I’d guess. I honestly don’t remember), but of course Jessica wins even though her room is so messy that no one else thinks Robin will want to stay with her unless she cleans up.
Jessica is too busy to clean up because she’s got a social life, though.
Look at that. In addition to Robin, we have an actual new kid, Juan Valencia, an Argentinian exchange student staying with Aaron Dallas. Oh dear god, I do not trust a Sweet Valley ghostwriter with him at all.
Him staying with Aaron is a “slight problem” for Jessica because she wants to go with Juan to the next dance instead of Aaron. I love how boys are SERIOUS BUSINESS most of the time for Jessica, but now it’s just a slight thing getting in the way of what she wants. [Raven: For fuck’s sake. Here we go again.]
Steven’s not excited about Robin’s visit; it’s bad enough he loses his appetite, which is goddamn amazing. He already puts up with enough from his sister (pillow fights, silly crushes, practical jokes — are you trying to convince us you don’t like those things?), and he wants to move out for two weeks, but hasn’t been able to pull that off.
Elizabeth and Jessica wait in the bus station for Robin; Alice stays in the car. I don’t blame her for that. The twins talk about how they need to go on more trips. Because it’s not enough to have, at the very least, taken the following trips this school year: a trip to San Diego to see Robin, a class trip to a “fabulous amusement park”, a choir trip to Washington, D.C., summer camp (twice), and Hawaii (for Jessica, at least; Elizabeth went to a ski lodge). Clearly that’s not enough traveling. [Raven: They also went to a fantasy kingdom. That was thrilling.]
Fucking rich white girls.
Y’all, I’ve already had to look up almost 10 links and Robin hasn’t even arrived yet. Maybe I’d better pace myself.
Jessica says she’s always wanted to go to Argentina. Elizabeth first guesses Paris, which is correct, and then teases her that she didn’t even know where Argentina was before Juan. Who rocked up a couple weeks ago, apparently, because what are quarters and semesters and years and logical times for students to start a new school.
Elizabeth is going to interview Juan for an all-sports edition of the Sixers because he’s helped SVMS win the last couple of football games. You may know that I’m always trying to figure out where the hell we are in the school year at any given time (SO MANY CHRISTMASES AND SUMMERS), so I did some quick research on boys’ football season in southern California. At least one division plays boys in fall and girls in spring, which is what I remember, but there’s one that runs from November through February. [Raven: This is soccer, right? Like, they mention the World Cup, and the Argentinians are (were) a world class team. Also, Handegg.] [Wing: Yeah, I used your terminology. It’s soccer, not American football. I wouldn’t have had to look up seasons on that.]
So basically, this book could be set anywhere from September through February. A couple books ago, my analysis showed that we were probably in October in Steven Gets Even, so it’s logical that a couple books later we’re sometime between October and February. I’m going to guess either November or January depending on how close to championships they are (which might come up later because of that article she’s writing).
Oh, right, Robin STILL isn’t here. Moving on.
Suddenly, she spotted a tall, pretty girl with chin-length blond hair. She wore a black jean jacket, a bright striped T-shirt, and black jeans and was standing on tiptoe, peering around the crowd.
She hit a major growth spurt last spring and is now taller than Jessica (and I assume Elizabeth, aren’t the twins supposed to be the same height?) even though she’s the younger cousin.
Oh, wait, her parents went to Paris. Of course they did.
Robin and the twins hang out in Jessica’s room later that night for a good gossip session. Of note: Jessica shoved all her stuff into her closet to clean up, and apparently Elizabeth is fine with this gossip session despite thinking the Unicorns shallow because they gossip.
Robin’s not been dating in San Diego, but she is hoping to meet someone in Sweet Valley. Jessica loves the idea of a holiday romance, because she is both true to herself and delightful. Robin’s excited about the thought of finding a boyfriend but not sure she can ask a stranger to the dance. A boyfriend?! You’re in Sweet Valley for two weeks — you know what, never mind, moving on. I blew all my logic on figuring out the timeline earlier.
Talk turns to Jessica’s crush on Juan, and when Elizabeth “I told you sos” Jessica over lying about that crush earlier, Robin describes her as “smiling snidely.” GODDAMN, ROBIN. Want to come sit over here with the recappers?
Jessica plans to ask Juan to the dance on Monday at school, and acts like she isn’t worried about Aaron or anything, despite Elizabeth pointing out they’ve been on at least 10 dates so far that year. Really, 10 whole entire dates? [Dove: They went to several Lakers games together. And then that got reconned, when Jamie needed for only Brian to have the resources to go to live games. So… win?]
(Though I guess with the timeline wonkiness, that’s either impressive in a few months or sad because it’s been 84 years.)
Despite teasing Jessica, Elizabeth doesn’t want to say who she’s going to ask. Not because she’s found someone new, she claims, but because she doesn’t want to jinx it by talking about asking boys on dates. Oh, Elizabeth.
Steven interrupts a cheese curl fight to yell at them to keep it down because he’s trying to sleep. His room is right next door. Okay, now I want a layout of the house, because I did not picture Steven’s room as being next door to Jessica’s. I mean, it already goes Elizabeth, bathroom, Jessica. How many rooms are on this side of the house?
[Dove: I always assume it goes: Liz, bathroom, Jess, Steven, all along one side of the house (running front to back) and then parents along the back of the house. But I don’t think I have any evidence to back it up. Also, despite it being referred to as a split-level Ranch (which I’m not really sure what that means), I always assumed the bedrooms were upstairs, because we know Jessica’s room is above the den from The Twins’ Little Sister, and the twins are caught sneaking down the stairs from their bedrooms in both The Twins Get Caught and BIG for Christmas.
tl;dr: Despite the description given in a lot of the books, Dove assumes it’s actually not a split-level ranch house, and is in fact a very standard two storey detached house, with bedrooms upstairs and reception rooms downstairs. And Dove feels that some of the Jamies have done exactly the same thing.]
[Wing: Split-level ranch would have split stairs somewhere, often at the front door. So you enter and immediately have the option to go down to the actual first floor but called a basement, usually finished, or up to the second floor which usually operates as the main floor. These would be short stairs, not a full set of stairs. Then from the second floor main floor, there would be a full set of stairs up to the third floor. The first floor basement usually has a rec room or bedroom, maybe a half-bath, the laundry room, stuff like that. Second floor main floor would have kitchen, dining room, living room, and maybe a bathroom, full or half. The third floor would have the bedrooms and at least one full bathroom and probably also the ensuite in the master bedroom.
Basically, I’m not surprised that the bedrooms are all upstairs, but it would be a weird layout to have three bedrooms and a bathroom on the front side and one big bedroom and, one assumes, a private ensuite on the back side. Maybe another full bathroom, too, because where does Steven get ready? The girls share the bathroom between their bedrooms, does Steven use that one too? And if he doesn’t, does he share one with his parents? Are there two bathrooms on the back side of the upstairs? Does he have to go all the way downstairs?
This layout makes no sense, and I want a goddamn floorplan.]
[Raven: The book also says the twins have only had their own rooms since they started Sixth Grade. That’ll be fun to check up on when we hit Kids etc. And where the hell is Ned and Alice’s Sex Swing in all of this?]
Once he leaves them alone, they read horoscopes (Robin and Jessica love them, Elizabeth is, as almost always, skeptical). Robin’s: Prepare yourself, Leo, you may meet the guy of your dreams on a trip this month.
Or, well, that’s Jessica’s horoscope for her, and this delighted the hell out of me. Mademoiselle Jessica has returned!
Robin goes to school with the twins on Monday. They give her a tour, take her to their morning classes, and then split up at lunch. Robin goes with Jessica to the Unicorns and Elizabeth goes to eat with Amy. What, don’t want to introduce your cousin to your alleged best friend? Also, do the twins have the same classes all morning? That surprises me for some reason.
The Unicorns welcome Robin, which is shocking as hell (and a far cry from the Jaguars the last time the twins and Robin spent time together [Dove: To be fair, even Jessica later conceded that the Jag-wahrs were very different to the Unicorns – much meaner. And the Unicorns love the next exciting thing, which Robin probably is, by virtue of being a new temporary student — I know Juan is too, but it’s been long-established that the Unicorns fail quite hard at hanging out with boys at lunch because they flirt too hard and scare the boys off. So Robin is what they have access to.]). They talk about the dance and clothes for the dance and inviting boys to the dance. Then Grace says they’ve been talking about going bowling that afternoon. Lila, of course, is horrified by the suggestion that they go to a bowling alley.
Mandy has the best response:
“No, we’re going to try to knock people over with bowling balls at the mall,” Mandy said, rolling her eyes. “Come on, Lila, the Bowl-o-rama is a great place. It’s so tacky there that it’s almost cool. Anyway, bowling’s fun.”
They invite Robin to join them (…the Unicorns are this friendly) and joke around about how she can find a boy there, but make sure to find the one who wears the least polyester and doesn’t bring their own bowling ball and it’s surprisingly adorable. As is the fact that Mandy is so bad at bowling she once rolled it backwards onto her dad’s foot. I love you, Mandy.
Jessica decides to make sure that Juan goes bowling and drags Robin over to meet some of the boys. Even Jessica gets a little shy around the boys, which is unusual for her and delightful. Juan greets her warmly, and she goes gaga, even wanting to take Spanish instead of French. For one thing, it would be far more useful for you in southern California.
Jessica swoons over his accent and how nice it is to say his name and how it’s not nearly as fun to say Aaron’s and wow, this book is leaning into the preteen exoticism, isn’t it.
The boys are going bowling too, Jessica is flirty, Aaron is grumpy, Juan is friendly and, I think, being set up to like Robin, which might be enough to turn a boring, frustrating love triangle into a romantic farce.
Monday afternoon, Elizabeth freaks out when the computer screen goes blank. Oh no, she may have lost not just the article she wrote but the entire newspaper! WOE! (You’re a terrible editor if you don’t have a backup for the newspaper, woman.)
Todd shows up and asks if she’s going bowling still, but she says she’ll have to stay so she can call someone to fix it when Mr Bowman shows up. Todd takes off grumpily, but not before he tries to hint at her to ask him to the dance. She doesn’t get it, though, despite all the recent talk about the girls asking the boys, and instead asks him to hang out with Robin at bowling because she’s certain that Jessica will leave Robin alone so Jessica can go flirt.
Sure enough, Jessica’s disappeared even before Robin finishes putting on her purple and yellow bowling shoes. Mandy’s looking for her, too (while wearing a blue bowling league shirt she thrifted, and I bet she looks delightful), and they finally find Jessica flirting with Juan.
Robin is nervous about her first round of bowling, and a cute boy who seems good at bowling helps her find a ball that isn’t too heavy and fits her fingers. She, of course, throws a gutterball, and is delightfully self-deprecating over it. Mandy only manages to knock down half the pins even though she rolls it like a little kid, between her legs, and they joke around quite a lot. I’m delighted by this growing friendship. Mandy, you are wonderful.
Robin continues to flirt with the cute boy in the next lane, who is clearly Todd, so I’m going to keep calling him Todd even though Robin doesn’t yet know his name. He keeps throwing strikes and spares, of course, but also keeps helping her improve her game. He also gets her a drink and she’s absolutely breathless over it.
Fucking adorable, the way little things mean so much. They’re still important, absolutely (Ostrich surprised me with one of my favourite dinners Friday night because he knew I’d had a shitty
year week at work, which was sweet as hell.), but I love the significance they take on early in the flirtation, how every little detail is so powerful and so important.
He starts to tell her his name but one of the other guys shouts at Wilkins to go get their drinks, and so our comedy of errors continues.
Jessica keeps trying to get Juan to pay attention to her and help her, but he keeps watching someone else bowl. Gee, I wonder who he could be watching over by Todd. (I’d take back all my annoyance with a love triangle if he was crushing on Todd instead.)
Even Jessica thinks he’s watching Todd bowl, and she can’t figure out what’s interesting about watching another guy bowl. I mean, you are obsessed with watching Juan bowl, so by transitive property …
And then she realises that he’s probably checking out Robin instead. She tries to convince herself that he’s really just watching Todd for pointers, and that Robin would never fall for him because she knows how much Jessica likes Juan.
Comedy. of. Errors.
Apparently, if you make the love triangle into a more complicated shape, I’m far more interested. [Dove: And if one of those nodules is a psychopath… even better.]
Mandy and Robin continue to joke around about how terrible they are at bowling. Robin even knocked a pin down in someone else’s lane (and apparently helped the guy win). Random Wing fact: The first time I went bowling as an adult, it was around this person I had a crush on, and, of course, I managed to fuck up even more spectacularly than usual. I hated bowling growing up because I’m bad at it, and I don’t like to do things I’m bad at (working on that flaw, have been for years, slightly better now), and so I was prepared to be the worst bowler in the group. I was not prepared for them to use what was apparently league rules that meant we switched lanes every turn, and when I threw a beautiful strike, possibly the first one of my life, I threw it in the other team’s lane, right in front of crush. I did manage to see the humour in it, and they were nice with the teasing, but god, embarrassing. Still a funny story, though.
God, I love how Robin and Mandy joke around. I’d be here for a Mandy crush on Robin, too, to complicate this mess even further. (Also, I love you Mandy. I don’t say it enough.) At one point, Mandy even teases Robin that the trophies she jokes about having must say lowest score ever recorded, and I love them both.
Robin’s feeling to shy to ask anyone what Todd’s name is, but then she realises she doesn’t have time to be shy, not if she wants to ask him to the dance on Friday. Finally when they’re returning their shoes, she summons up all her courage and introduces herself to him. He already knows her name, of course, and she’s utterly charmed that he must have been asking his friends about her. She doesn’t recognise the name Todd Wilkins, which surprises me a little, but I guess Todd might be a common enough name. [Raven: Is Todd not mentioned in the previous Robin books? Not even in passing?]
Robin starts to worry that he might have a girlfriend who would be his date to the dance instead, but then reassures himself that if he had a girlfriend, she would have been there with him bowling. I’m going to cut her some slack here because she’s so besotted with him, but come on, they don’t have to do everything together. Goddamn. [Dove: Same. And it does feel like one of those Sweet Valley “We’re doing a boy-girl thing. Pair up romantically!” moments that are almost government mandated. Robin’s sense that Todd’s girlfriend should be here if she exists isn’t unreasonable. This is how Sweet Valley rolls.] [Wing: Robin isn’t even from Sweet Valley! Also, the boys and girls seem to be bowling in separate groups.]
Steven is still struggling with having three girls in the house giggling about clothes and boys and shopping and Johnny Buck. UH. Aren’t you yourself now a huge Johnny Buck fan, Steven?
Steven and Ned want to watch a basketball game on the big tv, but the girls are planning to watch a made-for-tv-movie, Passion in Paradise, that is about both falling in love in the Bahamas and solving a murder mystery. No lie, that sounds kind of great. [Dove: It sounds like a non-Christmas Hallmark movie to me.] [Raven: Sounds like Death in Paradise to me.]
The twins give him shit about his love life, Alice makes them promise to be nicer, and immediately after, Jessica gives him more shit so he storms off. SIBLINGS.
The girls do dishes together (apparently it rotates between Steven, Jessica, and Elizabeth, which is a shock considering how rarely Steven is asked to do inside chores, but Elizabeth takes on Jessica’s nights more often than she should. She’s happy to do it though, because NO SPINE), and then settle in to talk about bowling. (Elizabeth only lost her article, not the whole paper, it seems, so crisis averted.)
Robin tells them she’s found the guy of her dreams. Jessica demands to know who it is, but like Elizabeth, Robin doesn’t want to jinx it. Oh good lord, what a contrived setup. (And yet I kind of love it.) [Raven: And I kind of hate it.]
Robin agrees to describe him, but all she says is he has gorgeous brown eyes and is a great athlete. OH BOY HERE WE GO. Because that’s vague enough Jessica, of course, takes it as Juan. Elizabeth says she has a similar type and is about to tell Robin about Todd when Steven shouts at them to be quiet because he’s trying to study. Steven turns up his music so loud that the girls can’t talk anymore and Robin doesn’t hear Elizabeth say her guy is Todd.
I WONDER WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT.
Jessica grumps around certain that Robin has fallen for Juan because no other guy could possibly have gorgeous brown eyes and be a great athlete. I love you, Jessica. It’s completely realistic that she’d jump to the guy she’s focusing on all the time, and it’s great. She can’t believe that Robin doesn’t understand that families have to stick together all the time. Not only is that wrong for some people, but it’s pretty hypocritical for you, Wakefield. [Dove: <– THIS]
The next day, Juan is impatiently waiting for the prettiest girl in the world to show up. Thinking about her in description rather than name at first to try to drag out the suspense, but it is clearly Robin, and he clearly knows her name. He wants to focus all his attention on her, but knows that it’s rude to ignore Jessica who is always so nice to him.
They talk about how Robin spent a year in France when her dad was transferred and how when you’re in a country that speaks a different language, you pick it up faster than you expect. Juan thinks the fact that they’ve both spent time living in foreign countries means they are meant for each other, and oh my god, fucking adorable.
Juan has no idea how to make an American girl like him and decides to ask Aaron for advice. (a) I’m pretty sure you’ve got it down, sir, and (b) COMEDY OF ERRORS.
Robin even has her own temporary locker for two weeks, which is just — what the fuck. I know I haven’t really hit on this, but why the hell is she actually going to school with them every day for these two weeks? Why didn’t her parents hire someone to stay with her so she could remain at her own school and stay current with her work? The setup, as usual, makes no goddamn sense, and if I wasn’t finding this love dodecahedron so charming, I would be even more annoyed at it.
She finds a box of Jujubes taped to her locker door, the exact same candy Todd asked if he could get her while they were bowling. [Raven: For our English audience: Jujubes are actually a thing. They look a bit like Midget Gems or small Wine Gums.] [Wing: Wait, they are? I didn’t know that. After looking, I’ve seen them before but never knew what they were and also they look disgusting.] They are She’s certain this means he adores her because why else would he leave her candy. And that’s not a terrible point, actually, if Todd was the one who left it. There’s being nice and there’s doing things that look like flirting. Of course, most of the time I neither recognise when I’m flirting or being flirted with so I probably shouldn’t talk.
Robin goes off into a daydream about their long distance relationship after she goes back to San Diego, because that’s certainly going to work at twelve.
In history, Robin finds a note in her backpack. It tells her that they’re glad she came to Sweet Valley and look forward to getting to know her better. She’s surprised that Todd would use such formal language, but doesn’t really care how he phrased it because OMG HE WROTE ME A NOTE HE LOVES ME.
I tease, but god, this is adorable. A D O R A B L E. I had a history class with a crush back in high school, and we passed notes all class every class. Hundreds of them, pages and pages. We never did date, but we had a fraught friendship and it was a delight for the entire year. Then they graduated and we grew apart, as you often do. They were just delightfully smart and attractive.
(I did not expect this book to bring me such actual nostalgia. Well played, ghostie. Well played.)
Jessica and Lila go shopping together; Robin and Elizabeth are off riding bikes with Elizabeth’s friends. Gee, I wonder if Todd went with them. Lila doesn’t find anything, and they grumble about how there hasn’t been anything good at the mall all month. Lila decides she’ll have Mr Fowler take them into L.A. for a shopping trip next weekend, not that it helps them find outfits for the dance.
They go to Casey’s for ice cream and gossip, and Lila points out that Jessica needs to stop daydreaming about going to the dance with Juan and actually ask him. This is delightful, too:
“There’s only one problem with this picture,” Lila cut in. “Have you actually asked him to go with you yet?”
“Well… no,” Jessica said.
“Well, what exactly are you waiting for?” Lila demanded. “An earthquake? A sign? Courage?”
“I’m going to ask him,” Jessica said defensively. “Some things just can’t be rushed.”
“Well, the dance is only four days away. You’d better start rushing,” Lila recommended.
Jessica is not a fan of Lila questioning and pushing her, but they’re also clearly good friends, and you know how much we love that friendship around here. Lila encourages her to go after what she wants, not just sit around and wait for things to happen to her. She’s a Unicorn, for god’s sake. And also Jessica goddamn Wakefield who goes after what she wants all the fucking time. [Dove: The Unicorns have been awesome in this book. Mandy’s been lovely and welcoming to Robin, Lila is supporting Jessica, I wish we could have more books where they actually appear to like each other.]
DO THE THING, JESSICA.
Lila does tease her about waiting until 2050 to ask him, and I had to take a moment, because it is quite likely that your three intrepid recappers will not only see 2050 but possibly be recapping still (though not Sweet Valley, it’s not going to take quite that long). Good lord.
(Providing society doesn’t end before then, which I, personally, am hoping for daily. Down with homosapiens. Long live whatever comes next.)
Talk turns to Aaron, and when Jessica says she doesn’t understand what the big deal is, it’s not like they’re a couple or anything, Lila calls her heartless. This amuses Jessica, because of course it does. She’s not going to be tied to one boy for the rest of her life the way Elizabeth was.
S P O I L E R S. Thanks, Wakefield.
She decides to ask Juan the next day so she can get down to the serious business of planning their date, the first of many.
That night, Robin tells them all about how her dream guy left her candy and a note for her, but still doesn’t tell them his name. Elizabeth asks if she wrote him back and asked him to the dance; of course Jessica is also very interested in this information. Robin hasn’t, of course, and Elizabeth encourages her to do so.
Jessica’s getting a bad feeling, though, because none of the guys she knows would leave presents and send notes. I’m skeptical that we haven’t seen those exact things happen already, but I trust Dove to let us know if we have. I blew all my research energy earlier in the recap. [Dove: I’m drawing a blank, to be honest. The twins arranged for mysterious presents for Cathy, but I’m not sure any middle school boy has arranged presents for a girl.] [Raven: Nearest I’ve got is the book in which Mr Nydick had a wank into Caroline Pearce’s locker, but that might have been a dream.]
Elizabeth asks for another hint, and Robin says that he’s tall, has dark hair, and his first name is only one syllable. Jessica, of course, is certain this means Juan. Elizabeth has no idea because so far she’s described a hundred boys at school. [Raven: Not Ken Matthews though, Sweet Valley Middle School’s very own Midget Gem.]
Jessica doesn’t understand how Robin could possibly go after a guy her own cousin likes. Oh, honey, how little you know what’s going on in this love icosahedron.
She goes to Steven for help, because why not. He managed to get Cathy, who deserves way, way better than him. [Dove: He didn’t “get” Cathy. The twins orchestrated a situation in which Steven’s jealousy forced him to pull his head out of his ass.] [Wing: Did he manage to get to a place where Cathy is his girlfriend even if half the books seem to forget that? Yes. Does this make Jessica going to him make any sense? No.]
He wants to tell her that the situation is the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard of, which, again, is fucking rich considering that time he and his best friend liked the same girl or something like that, but decides to help her because (a) she looks genuinely upset and (b) she was smart enough to come to him for help.
Good god, the Wakefields are a cocky lot.
He tells her to remind Robin that she liked Juan first and that will make Robin back off. Not that it’s ever worked when Steven tried it.
Good god, the Wakefields are an unreasonably cocky lot. Fail.
Jessica accuses Robin about the whole thing later that night when they’re supposed to be asleep, and Robin actually has to scream at her to shut up before she can get a word in edgewise.
“Jessica!” Robin screamed. “Shut up!”
Jessica stopped talking and looked over at Robin. “What did you just say to me?”
Damn, Robin, you’re lucky she’s going to be so relieved that you don’t like Juan that she probably won’t put you in the Mercandy backyard.
Robin finally tells Jessica that Todd is the guy she likes, and Jessica is shocked, not so much that Robin doesn’t know about Todd and Elizabeth but that anyone besides Elizabeth would find Todd appealing.
She starts to tell Robin the truth and then we get this amazingly hypocritical, manipulative, and perfect decision:
“Well, actually—” Jessica began, then stopped abruptly. Wait a minute, she thought, as she remembered again how Juan acted around Robin. So she doesn’t like him, but there’s still a chance that he likes her. But if she went to the dance with Todd, Juan would see she was off-limits. He’d forget all about her—and start focusing on Jessica, the way he was supposed to.
Besides, Todd and Robin’s date would break up Todd and Elizabeth, which could only be good for Elizabeth in the long run. Elizabeth could do much better, and have a lot more fun, if only she’d start dating other boys. Only, Elizabeth couldn’t see that for herself. She obviously needed help.
So if Robin did manage to go out with Todd, Elizabeth would be minus one very boring boyfriend. Sure, it might hurt her twin a little bit to break up with Todd, but Jessica was looking at the big picture—something Elizabeth could never see.
Of course, that was just the bonus. The best part was that Jessica would get to go to the dance with Juan, the way she’d planned all along.
[Dove: This was the moment I texted you guys to say that this book was amazing! Jessica is a fucking monster.]
So Jessica tells Robin that not only is Todd not dating anyone right now, she thinks Robin and Todd will make a perfect couple. Robin makes her promise not to tell Elizabeth because Robin still doesn’t want to jinx it. Little too late for that, and wow really stretching to make this plot work, and also comedy of errors. I fucking love it.
On Wednesday, Todd tells Elizabeth that he misses her because she’s spending so much time working on the newspaper this week. More than any other week? I mean, yes, she lost her article, but not the entire newspaper, so … why is this any different?
He keeps hinting at her inviting him to the dance, she teases him that she doesn’t remember what’s happening then invites him to go to Casey’s that afternoon because maybe hot fudge will jar her memory.
This is — this is actually kind of adorable, good god how.
Robin gets another note, this time signed from her secret admirer, which she finds ridiculous because of course Todd must know that she knows. Jessica gives her a pep talk to ask Todd because she is even more certain that Juan likes Robin after she reads the note. She can’t find Todd, though, and when she asks Aaron, he says that Todd’s going to Casey’s after school, and so Robin heads that way hoping she and Aaron will get to share a sundae.
Oh boy, here we go.
Elizabeth and Todd are already there, of course, eating a Triple Brownie Tower of Fudge, and it sounds delicious even though I don’t actually like sundaes. They flirt over their shared ice cream, Todd wishes she’d had more time for him, he teases her about this great guy might or might not still be available for the dance, it’s actually kind of adorable.
And then, just as she’s about to ask him, Robin rocks up to do the same thing.
She is shocked to see him with Elizabeth, and furious that they’d welcome her after what they’ve done. Instead of saying anything, she runs off, certain that Todd hadn’t been playing with her feelings so of course it must be Elizabeth’s fault.
Oh, good, here we go with blaming the girl. They are both there flirting with each other. Good lord, kid.
Elizabeth thinks that Robin must have wanted to talk to Elizabeth without anyone else around and leaps from that to the idea that Robin must have asked her secret crush to the dance and he rejected her. Of course Elizabeth wants to rush right home to check on Robin, and I’m actually going to give this a pass. It’s not so much Elizabeth rushing to save random people, it’s her checking on a good friend, and I’m actually glad to see it. [Dove: Same. I was actually pro-Liz in this book. Most of the time, she’s reacting to a quarter of the necessary information thanks to Jessica’s machinations, and if what she believed was actually true, she makes the right decision.]
At the Wakefield house, Robin confronts her about Elizabeth stealing her boyfriend and now trying to act innocent about it. Elizabeth is rightfully confused, but finally figures out that Robin’s secret crush is Todd. Robin warns her not to keep flirting with Todd because she’ll never woo him away from Robin, and oh my god this is over the top and ridiculous and kind of hilarious. Yes, it’s still two girls fighting over a guy (sort of, really it’s been one-sided fights all over the place), but somehow it’s been fun enough throughout the rest of the book I’ll find a way to deal with it here. [Dove: This fight is so Wakefield. You can really tell that Robin is more Jessica than Elizabeth. It doesn’t even occur to her that the boy in question isn’t deeply in love with her… despite all the evidence that he was into Elizabeth ten minutes ago.]
When Jessica gets home, Robin immediately grabs her to tell her all about finding Elizabeth and Todd together that afternoon. Jessica really talks it up, too, saying there’s another side to Elizabeth that a lot of people don’t know, and encouraging Robin to win the war. She even offers to help with a couple little things.
Jessica tries to keep Elizabeth and Robin from fighting with each other at dinner enough that Alice and Ned figure out what’s going on. Even sober, they don’t always pay enough attention to even know that Elizabeth is dating Todd, but sure, maybe this is the book where they would.
Jessica’s a little sad to see Robin and Elizabeth angry at each other, and a little guilty, but decides that going to the dance with Juan is worth it all. Of course it is, you little terror.
Jessica and Robin walk to school together the next morning, Elizabeth going on ahead of them, and Jessica is feeling a little more guilt. Not enough to stop her from grabbing a red sweater so she can pull some twin shenanigans later, since that’s what Elizabeth’s wearing. Again, she focuses on Juan and how unfair it would be for her to lose the love of her life to Robin’s badly timed visit.
I love how suddenly these guys they barely know are the loves of their lives. Again, realistic. [Dove: This is how Jessica rolls. Except for with Aaron. Literally every boy except the one she regularly dates is the love of her life. The one she dates is her “sort-of boyfriend”.]
Jessica dresses as close to Elizabeth as she can get and pulls her hair back into a ponytail, though we know from the very first book that Elizabeth now wears her hair with only the top part pulled back and the rest down, so fail.
She heads straight over to Todd and he falls for her as Elizabeth even though he notices she’s wearing a different sweater (her excuse: spilled toner, borrowed from Amy), and she convinces him that he should go to the dance with Robin instead because she’s going to be too busy dealing with Sixers stuff.
WHAT SIXERS STUFF?! SHE ONLY LOST HER GODDAMN ARTICLE.
We do get this amazing bit from the conversation:
“Really?” Todd said. “Robin didn’t strike me as that lovesick type—you know, like Jessica.”
It took all of Jessica’s strength not to punch Todd in the face.
Jessica changes quickly and catches up with Robin over at the Unicorner. (That still makes me laugh.) She encourages Robin to ask Todd right now before Elizabeth does, and sure enough, this ridiculous plan works. I love it. I’ve fully drank the koolaid with this goddamn farce, apparently.
Todd runs after Elizabeth, but she’s furious at him for not even being brave enough to tell her to her face that he didn’t care about her as much as she thought, she had to overhear him and Robin together. She blows up at him and doesn’t really let him get a word in edgewise. All he manages is to tell her that he was only nice to her because she asked him to be, calling back to the bowling night, of course, but Elizabeth takes it to mean everything, snaps at him to leave her alone, and goes to hide in the Sixers office.
SO DRAMATIC. WORTHY OF JESSICA!
For some reason, even though she didn’t know about the dance, Robin brought a fancy cranberry-coloured dress, shoes, and jewellry with her. She just knows Todd will be swept away by her when he sees her.
And then she finds another note taped to her locker. This one has a tiny silver heart-shaped locket, and she is blown away by how romantic and sweet the gesture is, and again, absolutely certain it’s from Todd even though only Aaron, Juan, and a couple other guys are around. [Dove: Todd gave Elizabeth a locket, and then Veronica stole it. Lockets are Todd’s thing, and he’s the one advising Juan, so excellent (though suspected accidental) continuity there.] [Wing: But he’s not the one advising Juan! So apparently Todd has rubbed off on the other SVMS guys. Also, dirty.]
Thursday afternoon, Elizabeth watches a World Cup special trying to get ideas for the big Sixers sports article (little bit last minute for that, isn’t it?), but Jessica and Robin are talking so loudly about the dance that weekend that she can’t hear anything. [Raven: Must be soccer. The World Cup was in the US in 1994, with the final in Pasadena. This book was released in 1995.]
Elizabeth and Robin fight again about stealing other people’s boyfriends, Steven gets in on it, even, but Jessica rushes to stop him from talking about the boy they both like. Of course, he thinks Jessica and Robin like the same boy, so I don’t know why that would mean Elizabeth and Robin are fighting, but okay, whatever. [Dove: Even this I’m fine with. I can totally see a 14 year old boy not caring about the nuance of the fight going on between his 12 year old sisters and their cousin. High drama that’s not interesting to him.]
Thursday night Jessica finally calls Juan to ask him to the dance (speaking of doing things at the last minute, damn). She asks him to the dance, but he says he doesn’t know because he was hoping and expecting that someone else would ask him. Oh damn, that’s a little cold, actually. He does flat out tell her that he likes Robin, which is more straightforward than anyone else in the damn book, so kudos to him.
Jessica tells him that Robin’s going with Todd, though, and she’s upset that Juan is so infatuated with Robin so quickly. He then says that if she still wants him to go with her, he’d love to. And Jessica accepts this, as if she’d ever play second fiddle to anyone, god, ghostie.
Robin is thrilled for Jessica when she finds out and wants the four of them to hang out. Jessica puts her off by explaining it is more romantic if they stay as couples, which of course convinces Robin since she’s so besotted.
Jessica still feels guilty, especially because Elizabeth won’t be at the dance at all now, but again tells herself that it’s all for the best, and now Elizabeth will be free to date someone better than Todd. She’ll even thank Jessica later for setting up Robin and Todd. [Dove: And if this was Playa Todd from when he thought every girl in the school had the hots for him, I’d be with her. But nope. Bad Jessica! (This is so awesome. I love how life-ruiny she is.)]
Besides, she has to decide what to wear to the dance.
Todd overhears the Unicorns about the dance and ducks away, trying to find someone, anyone, who isn’t talking about the dance. He doesn’t really want to go with Robin; he’s very confused about what’s going on and why Elizabeth is being so weird.
Todd gripes to Aaron, Juan, and Ken that everyone is talking about the dance instead of caring that the football team made it to the state quarterfinals. (So that probably means closer to the end of the season than the beginning. I’m going to say January or February the way time is so weird in this series.)
Of course, conversation turns toward the dance anyway, because Aaron doesn’t yet know that Juan is going with Jessica. There’s a convenient bell that cuts off Aaron asking why Juan’s going with Jessica and not the girl he actually likes.
Todd decides that it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t understand what’s going on with Elizabeth, somehow he hurt her feelings by agreeing to go with Robin. All he can do is break his date with Robin and make it up to Elizabeth.
Todd tracks Robin down in the library to have this conversation, and finally someone tells Robin that he and Elizabeth have been going to all the dances together and they’re boyfriend and girlfriend. Don’t they usually say “sort-of” before that? I guess we’ve moved on to full blown dating now.
Robin is horrified to learn this, and absolutely refuses to believe him. She’s sure that Elizabeth must have been telling him terrible things about her. He has to like her, he left all those notes and gifts for her. [Dove: Again, so Wakefield. First instinct? “Yeah, no, Todd. I know you think you’re Elizabeth’s boyfriend, what with all that history you think you have, but no. You’re in love with me. Because of all of these things that have happened that I’ve attributed to you. No, it’s not my error. It’s yours.”]
Finally he gets through to her, and she freaks out, babbles apologies at him, and rushes off, embarrassed as hell. Poor girl. She can’t believe she accidentally stepped all over Elizabeth the way she did. Friends were too important to do that to each other. Family was too important.
That’s, uh, interesting considering thirty seconds ago you were fine with fighting her for him, but okay.
She finds one more note on her desk in the next classroom. This time, Juan actually signs it, because of course there’s no need to keep things secret this close to the end of the book and this certainly wouldn’t have been helpful days ago.
Robin feels even more terrible when she realises that she’s hurt Juan, too, and also ruined things because he’s also cute and nice and smart and polite. She wishes she hadn’t even come to Sweet Valley and hates that she has another week before she can go home.
Friday night, Elizabeth fumes in her room, angry that Jessica sounds so thrilled to be getting ready and furious at Robin. She’s avoided both Robin and Todd all day.
Meanwhile, Robin hides in the den, hoping no one actually sees that she’s still around. Plus she’s annoyed at Jessica because she can’t quite understand what’s going on, why Jessica encouraged her to go after Todd despite knowing the truth. She can’t trust Jessica anymore.
Welcome to the same lesson everyone else keeps learning and forgetting.
Robin calls Todd and asks him to come over and help Elizabeth finish the special edition of the paper. Elizabeth’s miserable and she needs help and all Todd can do is try to talk to her. Oh, Robin, I’m glad you’re trying to make things right.
Robin is the one who goes up to tell Elizabeth that Todd is there to see her. Todd tells them about Elizabeth asking him to ask Robin to the dance and Elizabeth denies it; Robin denies having her heart broken by someone else and admits that Jessica said Todd was available; and Elizabeth figures out that Jessica must have dressed like her to ask Todd to take Robin to the dance.
They all make up and decide to go to the dance anyway — and Elizabeth wants to pull some more twin shenanigans, even though she has no idea what Jessica is wearing. Until Steven conveniently has a picture of Jessica and Juan in his back pocket. Uh huh. For totally normal reasons I’m sure. [Raven: Yeah, I lolled at this one.]
And also conveniently, Jessica is wearing a dress that Aunt Helen bought for both of them, so Elizabeth has a matching one.
I’m annoyed by how conveniently this is coming together, but then again, ridiculous conveniences is kind of a part of the genre, so I guess I’ll roll with it since I’m enjoying the romantic farce so much.
They get to the dance with only ten minutes left, but Elizabeth is certain that they still have enough time to make this work. [Dove: Maths!Dove is back. The dance lasts a single hour. What the actual fuck?] [Wing: No it doesn’t. It’s scheduled to last from 7-9, which while on the short side isn’t too unbelievable for a middle school dance, especially when they let it run a half hour longer. Juan comes to get Jessica around 630. If anything, I would expect Jessica to want to show up fashionably late, so the dance may even start at 6, but I have my doubts about Juan going along with that. And when Todd shows up at 8, Elizabeth notes it’s pretty late for him to be picking up Robin if they’re going to the dance.]
Jessica is distracted by punch and Lila (not punching Lila), giving Elizabeth time to go pretend to be Jessica. She tells Juan that she knows he doesn’t feel the same way about her and that he really wants to be with Robin, and that Robin really likes him too and sends him over for one dance.
Todd comes to ask Elizabeth to dance, teasing her about being Jessica and waiting so long to ask him to the dance, and it’s, again, surprisingly cute. What the hell has happened to me.
WHAT THE FUCK IS IN THAT PUNCH, JESSICA?!
Jessica freaks out that Juan’s not dancing the sweetheart dance with her, which is, I guess, the last dance of the night. I’ve never heard it called that before. Even worse than it meaning he doesn’t like her, everyone else will know it, too.
She sees Elizabeth and Todd dancing, Elizabeth in the same dress as Jessica, and then Juan and Robin dancing — and then it hits her that Elizabeth pulled the same trick she did. If only she hadn’t gone for the second cup of punch, Elizabeth never would have gotten away with this dastardly deed!
Aaron comes up and teases Jessica with the knowledge that he’s been helping Juan woo Robin this entire time because he couldn’t just stand around and watch Jessica go to a dance with another guy. I mean, you could have told her you felt this way, but then again, it’s not like she would have listened.
Jessica’s not sure if she wants to punch him or hug him, and, uh, that’s one of my favourite relationship dynamics, and often how I feel about Ostrich (and how he feels about me). Damn it, Jessica.
She decides he’s cute when he’s jealous (hard disagree) and they dance the sweetheart dance together.
Later that night, Jessica keeps apologising to Elizabeth and Robin, which is shocking. Even moreso is that Elizabeth and Robin have completely forgiven her less than three hours after they found out what she did.
See this? This is why Jessica never has to fucking change. [Dove: Yeah, the wrap-up chapter is just filled with stuff like, “Oh, Jess, you are clearly a budding psychopath and most people would never trust you again after pulling such bullshit, but it all turned out in the end, lolz!”] [Raven: I wish Jessica had received a little more of a palpable comeuppance here.]
Mr Clark let the dance run a half hour longer, which was great right up until all the boys ran over to Bruce to watch the end of the Lakers game on the Watchman, like the basketball game was more important than anything else.
“I know,” Robin said dreamily. She turned to Jessica. “You’re not mad at me, are you? I mean, because Juan likes me?”
“You mean, because he picked you when he could have had the one and only Jessica Wakefield?” Jessica asked. “Well… if it had to happen, I’m glad we at least kept it in the family.”
I laughed until I cried at Jessica’s last line.
The girls have a pillow fight and get so loud they know they’re in trouble when Steven comes knocking. He’s decided that if he can’t beat them (ahem) he’ll join them (AHEM). They tease him that he’s not welcome, he’s generally hurt, they stop teasing and invite him in for snacks and gossip, and they’re clearly keeping it in the family all over the place. [Dove: I even thought this was cute. I’m so broken.]
We see nothing of the next week with Robin and get a few paragraphs setting up the next regular series book, which will be a ferry to a Pacific island known for beautiful wildlife. Considering the title is Deadly Voyage, I don’t think it’s going to go as well as they expect.
Also: Dove and I both love island disaster stories, so I hope this is great. [Dove: SO EXCITED!]
Somehow, somehow I ended up loving this goddamn book despite the love triangle and the girls fighting over a boy plot. It managed to be charming and funny, there were plenty of moments of real friendship and excellent flirting, a love pentecontagon was the great thing ever, and I had so much fun recapping this.
What the hell is wrong with me?
[Dove: OMG, I loved this book. I generally do not like Sweet Valley High books, and this is a Sweet Valley High book, set in middle school. Boy are the whole point of everything. Fighting over boys matters. And Jessica is a monster. However, the fact that Jessica is being this level of manipulative at the age of twelve just makes it work so much better. Jessica is terrifying. The shit she pulls to ensure she can go to a dance with a cute boy is amazing. She betrays pretty much everyone, and by the end of it, everyone just thinks it’s funny. Jessica might be the devil. A+ will read again and again as evidence for Jessica’s lack of morals.]
[Raven: Sorry to be sand in the collective vaseline here, but I didn’t care much for this book. As I’ve said before, the books that centre on the relationships largely leave me cold, and this was no exception. I particularly dislike the whole “well we’re not really dating” trope which allows such blase metaphorical bed-hopping, upon which this book leant until it fucking snapped. There was also a fuckton of contrivance needed to maintain the plot. Jessica’s machinations were truly eye-opening and monstrous, which was nice, and I was very engaged in finding out how things were going to resolve themselves… but again, I felt shorted at the denouement because the level of scheming deserved a much more fitting punishment rather than OH HAI AARON LET’S DANCE. I dunno, maybe I’m just a curmudgeon. I went to a single sex secondary school (ages 11-16), so there’s no real nostalgia for this sort of school-based love schtick (unless I read the classroom REALLY badly back in the day). Roll on the next book, glad everyone else loved it.]