Title: Don’t Talk to Brian
Tagline: Brian Boyd has a horrible secret….
Summary: The news that rocks Elizabeth’s world… [Dove: Yes, Elizabeth. This is all about you.] [Raven: It’s always about Elizabeth.]
Elizabeth Wakefield has always thought that Brian Boyd, the class bully, was bad news. He’s mean and loud—nothing but trouble. As far as she’s concerned, Sweet Valley Middle School would be better off without him! Then she learns a terrible secret about Brian: he’s been taken away from his parents because they physically abuse him.
Elizabeth and her friends are horrified, and so are some Middle School parents when they see how scared and upset their kids are. When Brian is sent to a school closer to his new home, there’s a big sigh of relief.
Now Elizabeth has finally got her wish—the school is rid of Brian. So why does she still feel so rotten?
Why does Elizabeth feel so rotten? Because she’s intruding on someone else’s life again, I bet. I’m already angry at this book, and I haven’t read more than the summary and the tagline. I have no faith that ghostie will handle child abuse well at all, I have a feeling they are going to try to blame his Nazism on his abuse, and I’m primed to burn Sweet Valley to ash.
So let’s do this! /falsely chipper
Brian’s got a black eye and when Ken and Todd tease him about it (“when did you start wearing makeup” Todd asks), he blames it on a fight he got into with a dude who couldn’t handle Brian beating him at Super Combat, which is apparently a game he plays all the time, per Aaron. [Raven: Pretty good name for a game.]
Elizabeth’s annoyed that any of the guys talk to him after that whole Nazi game (which, wtf, book, I’m still enraged at that bullshit), and that one of his most offensive ideas is that some people are born better than others. [Raven: I was so surprised they didn’t just handwave his Nazi-ism away. I mean, they sort of did, but snippets like this made that effort half-assed.] Which is fucking offensive, but not much better than you, Wakefield. Stones, glass houses, have you heard this one before? Or maybe pot, kettle, does that work better?
She also hates the way Brian is bragging about being good at fighting, as if hurting someone else is okay. Again, considering how many people you’ve emotionally hurt, you don’t have any room to talk. Also: fighting has its time and place, but she isn’t wrong that using it to hurt someone else outside of those times and places is a shitty way to behave.
Mr Bowman has a new English assignment for them, even though it has less to do with language and more to do with people, because there’s a new statewide focus on parents and families. Now, on the one hand, studying people is a core part of writing for some people. On the other hand, this isn’t exactly a writing class and also how fucking convenient for them to study this topic now. [Dove: I was actually joking when I wrote a NaNo using that as a plot. I think it’s incredibly obnoxious to force someone to write about their home life. If your home life isn’t perfect, the idea of getting graded on it by someone other than the person/persons who already make you feel inferior is just fucking terrific, isn’t it? For fuck’s sake.] [Raven: I was just pissed off that this was simply not an English assignment. Social studies at best.] [Wing: Wait, don’t they take home ec? Because home ec would be the perfect class for something like this. And yes, yes they do: Jessica and Lila gossip about the Billy-Jim-Sally love triangle; there was that whole marriage project; Jessica made those amazing cookies; and cooking class led to the Hawaii trip. And those are just the four I remembered off the top of my head.]
Jessica and Lila think it sounds boring, and Elizabeth is amused because Lila normally likes nothing better than gossiping about people, as does Jessica. [Raven: I was hoping this was Lila with a little self-reflection about her own imperfect home setup, but no. It was usual Unigibbon bullshit.] We get the whole look the same, act different spiel, even though this many books on, we’ve found plenty of times when they act like each other, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not, sometimes as a good thing, sometimes bad.
But no, Mr Bowman says they’ll be talking about the concept of good parenting and what makes up the contemporary American family.
Oh boy. This book is going to be even worse than I thought, and my expectations were dead and buried already.
The unit will include discussions, role-playing skits, and an essay-writing contest with the winner reading their essay at a special reception for all the parents. That is not a good prize. Also, this sounds like the kind of unit I would have hated in school. Fuck skits. If I wanted to act, I’d be in drama (and I was! I just don’t enjoy skits turning up elsewhere because they are always cringey and terrible). [Raven: Are these forms of role-play actually called “skits” in the US? Huh. “Skits” in the UK are comic sketches.] [Wing: Here they can be comedic, but they aren’t always. And yeah, I’ve always heard little projects like this called skits.]
At home, Jessica is suddenly thrilled over the unit and teases her family that they’d better be on their best behaviour because they never know what she’ll write about them otherwise. Steven gives her shit over the idea of her winning the essay contest because Elizabeth’s in her class, too, and so of course Elizabeth will win. Jessica argues with him over it, claiming that Elizabeth isn’t a better writer just because she spends all her time reading books.
Inside, though, she’s worried because she thinks Elizabeth is a better writer and since they’ll be writing about the same material, it will be hard to stand out. (I’m not so sure Elizabeth is the better writer, actually, despite what we’re told. Jessica sure did a good job during that whole Unicorn newspaper thing.) [Dove: Seconded. Liz has no imagination. She may be a fair reporter, but then, so’s Jessica, but she is completely flummoxed when writing fiction. I suspect Jessica would be terrific at fiction – if she could tone it down. If this was in the now, Jess would be writing self-insert RPF about the Johnny Buck fandom, and she’d be a BNF. Liz would be correcting grammar on Reddit. (Thanks, Janine.)]
And it was true that Elizabeth was a better writer. But did that mean she knew more about being part of a family? Did that mean she was a better daughter, or sister?
What do I care? Jessica thought. As far as Jessica was concerned, everyone ought to be worrying about living up to her expectations. She was the one who was going to be studying them. And if they didn’t measure up, she would have even more to write about in her essay.
I love you, Jessica Wakefield.
They have about a week to write a 5-6 page essay; Jessica thinks that’s far too long, but Elizabeth is thrilled and sure it will be an easy essay to write because her parents do such a great job. (a) It’s not just about your parents. (b) I don’t know if Mr Bowman will be too thrilled with Wakefields: A Tale of Adultery and Gin (With a Side of Incest). [Raven: Sounds a perfect report for a Nydick class, however.]
In order to inspire the kids, Mr Bowman leads them in a discussion of what being a parent is all about, what are the basic requirements for the kids, what makes a family a family, what is important in a parent. (Throughout this conversation, Brian interrupts, shoots a spitball at Amy, and interrupts Maria until Mr Bowman sends him to see Mr Clark.)
Maria Slater: Rules.
Brian: Cash and lots of it.
Amy Sutton: Listening to their kids.
Maria: Something her grandmother says that she got from some book or movie. “Home is the place where they have to take you in.” Which means that no matter what you do or say, your family will still love you and if they’re a real family, they’ll never abandon you no matter what.
So on top of everything else, we’re going to get a facile look at “good” families and how you have to love your family no matter what, which is complete and utter bullshit, and I hope Dove tears the shit out of this part. [Dove: I’m with Brian at the principal’s office because I flicked a lighter and threatened to burn the blinds on the window. This is such bullshit, and I’ve always hated that quote. First of all, to a functional family, it’s an insult. Hi, fam. You’re my last fucking resort, so here I be. To a terrible one, it’s worst. Hi, fam. I know I’m the worst person in the world, and I’m sure you’ll join in listing all the ways that I am the worst, but nobody else loves me, so please can we re-start this cycle of abuse again?] [Raven: Blood is thicker than water. But custard is thicker than blood. Does that mean we should be nice to trifles?] [Wing: Yes. Trifles are delicious. Also, and this is not aimed at Raven’s joke but at people who use it seriously, I hate that blood is thicker than water phrase. People use it to mean blood-related family is more important than anything else, but there’s a really fucking strong interpretation that it is about blood of battle being thicker than the water of the womb, i.e., things forged elsewhere are thicker than family bonds that are tied specifically to coming from the same womb.]
Over to the Unicorns, Ellen says she wants to ask Brian to “that” dance. What dance? Who fucking knows. Jessica says she can’t possibly ask him because he’s a jerk and the rudest person in the entire school. Which, yes, he’s terrible, but so is Bruce and you fuckers seems to swing back and forth on whether he’s hot enough to date despite being terrible.
Sure enough, Ellen thinks Brian is cute and he was popular when he first moved there, so of course it’s worth putting up with him. Oh, Ellen, honey, you’re better than this. [Dove: Also, Ellen, weren’t you heartbroken as the only Unicorn not to be allowed to join IN? This Jamie doesn’t get you. Walk away, pumpkin.]
Lila sighed impatiently. “That was before—well, you know, before it became obvious what an obnoxious bully he is.”
…yeah. Obnoxious. That’s one word for it.
ALSO, YOU ARE ALL FUCKING BULLIES. We’ve gone through this before, one of the problems of having a bullying plot with some side character as a bully is that they do the exact same things the Unicorns and Team Boring do and yet it’s terrible bullying when the side character does it.
Janet puts her foot down and says taking Brian to the dance is a bad idea. Jessica goes on to say that Brian will probably get kicked out of school before the dance anyway and Ellen should focus on someone nicer — which is basically anyone else.
Talk turns to what they’re going to wear to the dance. Jessica’s dreading it because she has no idea. (Her inner thoughts include a tutu and a barrel, and I laughed out loud. She’s great sometimes.)
Lila is wearing the coolest new dress, one of those with tiny straps and then you wear a white t-shirt underneath.
Oh. My. God. When was this published? 1996! I knew it! Late 90s fashion for us all!
In looking for a specific example (which I could picture in my head but couldn’t find), I learned that it is apparently in style again. I knew the 90s were back (and had maybe gone again, I thought), but not that the slip dress/t-shirt combo had returned. [Dove: Soon we’ll hit the Doc Marten era, where Jessica inexplicably can’t stop going on about how cool Docs are, even though they were more alt than popular… at least that’s how it was in the UK.]
ANYWAY, that is the coolest dress, per Lila, and I love her.
(Yes, I owned one, but I would have worn it without the t-shirt, because I love sleeveless things. Alas, church cult rules meant I could not.)
Ellen: New dress her mom got her for a big family party last week, deep blue with gold and white flowers.
Janet: Cool black and white dress from San Francisco.
Jessica says she needs to buy something new but she doesn’t have any money, which, Lila points out, is nothing actually new when it comes to Jessica. TRUE. She spends money even before she has it.
When the others tease her about her parents not really understanding fashion and also she already owes them like three months of allowance from the last time she took an advance on it, she decides the best thing to do is ask them to raise her allowance because it has been forever since it went up. The raise will cover what she owes them so they’ll give her another advance on her allowance.
Forever, huh. I know there was an allowance b-plot not too long ago, but a quick skim of the book titles didn’t lead to the correct one catching my eye, so I have no link to offer. [Dove: I don’t remember one about an allowance raise, but I also couldn’t remember how many Halloweens there were this year, so I am a flawed lexicon.]
Oh, fun, a Brian point of view chapter. He’s glad to be out of detention but not eager to get home because his mother is furious over getting called about his detention and his father will be even worse. When he gets home, his mother shouts at him and tells him that when his father gets home, he’d better have a good excuse.
Brian used to love waiting for his father to get home. They used to play basketball or just sit around talking. They don’t do that now, and Brian is scared to death of seeing his father because his dad hits him.
Tuesday night, Elizabeth is distracted from her science homework by something crying in the alley behind the Wakefield house, which has stray cats that Jessica regularly feeds.
There is so much wrong here. 1: I do not for a second believe Jessica would feed stray cats, which generally look dirty and torn up. Yes, she was hardcore into rescuing that seal (I can’t even confirm it was a seal because I can’t find the book on a quick read through the book list. Perhaps I will come back to it. Perhaps Dove or Raven will have it to hand.), but she’s also terrible to dogs. [Dove: I raised eyebrows here. Jessica is not a pet person, much less strays, which are smelly and dirty.]
2: I do not for a second believe there is an alley behind the Wakefield house. [Raven: So. Random.]
…I guess that really covers all the wrong.
Elizabeth thinks that cats don’t cry like humans. People who think a panther sounds like a woman screaming would beg to differ. In this case, though, she’s right. She finds Brian sitting in the alley sobbing.
He snaps at her when she asks if he’s okay, and she’s annoyed with him. Both believable reactions.
Elizabeth is certain he got hurt in another fight, and if he wants to be a bully and start fights, that’s his problem and he deserved whatever happens to him.
Damn, Wakefield. I thought you were supposed to be the nice one and the fixer.
Jessica sucks up to Alice over her new suit and silk blouse that she picked up on sale last week. She talks about inflation and how things are more expensive all the time and then she asks if she (and Elizabeth, she rushes to add) can get a raise on their allowance.
(Alice at first thinks Jessica is going to ask if they can get their ears pierced again. I can’t tell if that again is tied to asking again or to getting their ears pierced another time. I thought they had pierced ears at this point, but in this series, who knows? They have multiple first kisses, after all, and we’ve had about a billion Christmases in one school year.)
Steven claims he deserves it more than they do because he’s older and things are more expensive for him. I don’t know, Elizabeth Amanda Howard mysteries and Jessica’s purple clothes add up, dude.
Alice says that she’s not sure they can afford to give anyone a raise on their allowance. Can’t cut into the alcohol budget, you know.
Ned figures out that, of course, this has to do with the coming dance, but Jessica swears it doesn’t. She tries to get Elizabeth to back her up, but Elizabeth isn’t paying attention to the conversation, and when Steven gets an answer out of her by borrowing $5 from her, Jessica snaps that Steven’s out of money, too, proving her point, and also Elizabeth doesn’t give a fuck about clothes and never buys anything, so that’s the only reason she has money.
Ned says they’ll consider the raise, but for now it’s all the same and also, Jessica already owes them three months of allowances anyway. Jessica’s annoyed with everyone, and thinks about how the way things are going no one, not even Elizabeth, will look good in her essay.
She writes a quick note about all of it. Important in a family: Supporting each other especially when somebody really really needs something.
Back in English class, Mr Bowman introduces their next activity (after asking about their essays and Elizabeth being surprised to hear that Jessica is making all kinds of notes for hers): role play.
Not quite the kind that would bring Nydick running, though.
Bowman has written up a few situations and wants them to act out how they think a parent and child would react to it. No one wants to volunteer, not even the ones who like acting normally, so Mr Bowman chooses Maria, Elizabeth, and Brian. [Raven: Straight to Child Actor Maria Slater as pick one, there.]
Brian tries to get out of it by claiming stage fright, but Mr Bowman says that Brian is the least shy person he knows. Are you sure? Because I think Jessica and Lila and Janet, at least, could give him a run for his money. And Bruce.
Elizabeth notices that Brian’s eye is still a little black and blue and there’s a yellow-green bruise on his forearm that he covers the second he notices her looking. She wonders why he keeps getting into fights if he’s losing them so badly. Just because he’s bruised doesn’t mean he’s losing the fights, Elizabeth, it’s not like most of them are one punch and done. Him crying in the alley does lead to the idea that something’s wrong, at least.
Maria and Brian are the parents and Elizabeth is the kid. She’s got an 8 p.m. curfew but she wants to go to a party and she’s not going to take no for an answer.
“Oh, I get it,” Elizabeth said without thinking. “All I have to do is act like Jessica!”
“What?” Jessica sat up in her seat. “What are you saying?”
Elizabeth giggled, and the rest of the class cracked up laughing.
Mr. Bowman cleared his throat. “Resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental.”
“I certainly hope so,” Jessica declared in a snooty tone. Everyone laughed some more.
LOL and also, don’t even front, Jessica, you know you appreciate how you refuse to take no for an answer.
Anyway, Elizabeth snuck out to the party and got busted when she got home, and now Brian and Maria have to figure out how to be parents doing the right thing.
Brian acts bored and stares at the ceiling. Maria asks where she’s been, why she’s late, what she has to say for herself, and Elizabeth does make the same sort excuses that Jessica would make about not missing the biggest party of the year for some curfew.
When Maria tells Brian to say something because Elizabeth is his daughter too, he looks uneasy and asks whether it was a good party.
Legit LOL here, too, I’ll admit. That’s an A+ response.
Maria and Elizabeth do not agree with me, and especially not when Brian says rules are meant to be broken. Mr Bowman tells him to get into the role a little more, to try to imagine that he’s a parent. [Dove: This should be a flag, people! FFS, Bowman. The kid constantly gobs off, and won’t be pinned down on any answer about parenting. FLAG. My school was exactly the same. I mentioned things dozens of times that should ping with an adult and nobody gave a shit, which only added to the feeling that I was being parented perfectly normally and the problem was me.]
Elizabeth finally decides to ignore him and asks Maria if she’s grounded; Brian pops up then and snaps that she’s grounded for life.
On the way home that afternoon, Elizabeth sees a police car race past her, and she watches it pull into Brian’s driveway. There are two other cars already there, official-looking cars with the California state seal on doors and license plates.
Elizabeth thinks about how she’s sensed something was wrong with him over the past week. Have you? HAVE YOU REALLY? Because we haven’t seen one goddamn sign of that, even when you found him crying.
Jessica and Elizabeth gossip about why the police are at Brian’s house, and eventually Jessica suggests that they were robbed. After all the Boyds are rich and Brian’s always bragging about all the stuff he has.
You know, for a series that tries to make it seem like the Wakefields are just this normal family who aren’t all that rich, they sure do live in a rich fucking neighbourhood. You’re rich! Fucking own it!
Elizabeth isn’t so sure, but admits a robbery is better than some things that could have happened. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW? A few hours ago you were thinking about how terrible he is and just the other night that he deserves whatever he gets. You have not had any sense that something serious is wrong with him. You have not had any sense that something might be wrong at home.
FUCK YOU, GHOSTIE, YOU HAVE WRITTEN NONE OF THAT AND YOU DO NOT GET TO PLAY IT OFF AS IF YOU HAVE. FUCK. YOU.
That evening (I think), Lila asks Jessica if her parents decided to give her a raise. She assumes that them taking it into consideration means no, and she’d probably be right if we didn’t have the Wakefields Must Win.
Lila says her parents are nice and sweet but they have no concept of finances.
Like — like you do? Oh, Lila, you are ridiculous.
She goes on to say that even though her dad is gone all the time, at least she gets whatever she asks for. Which isn’t really a concept of finances either, my dude.
And then Jessica goes all in and says that Mr Fowler might buy her things but that doesn’t make him a perfect parent because parenting also means being there, communicating — and Lila of course shuts that down immediately, because we know she has feelings about it.
They talk a little about how weird it is that Jessica has thrown herself into a homework project, which it is and she knows it. Jessica says she’s using the essay to rate her family and she’s recording their behaviour to make that easier. And, of course, she hasn’t found one good thing yet and they’ll sure be embarrassed when she reads her essay in front of all the other parents.
That sure is some confidence there, Wakefield.
Lila calls her on it, too, but more in the way that it seems she doesn’t understand why Jessica would want to win in the first place, but then she’s distracted by the fact she needs to put on more toenail polish immediately.
Talk turns to the police at Brian’s house and Jessica passes on her theory that his house was broken into. The Fowlers had best be careful, there might be a big-time thief looking for mansions to steal from. She’s pretty sure of her hunch at this point.
Lila isn’t shaken by this, because they have security guards. Of course they do. [Raven: While I can believe they do, why haven’t we seen them at any point before? Unless the Fowler Crest security detail consists of that old gardener and his hot nephew, or Mrs Pervis with some nunchucks.]
She then invites Jessica over to maybe borrow something cute from last year, stuff Lila never even wore, and that’s actually pretty damn kind, but Jessica hates it and finds it humiliating that she can’t buy her own things. Oh, Jessica.
Brian isn’t at school the next day, and Elizabeth is pretty sure he’s just playing hooky and of course English is calmer without him, so it’s good he’s gone.
But you’re not judgmental and snobby at all, are you, Wakefield.
Saturday, Elizabeth plans to go on a bike ride with Amy and Maria. First, though, she reads the newspaper and finds that a twelve-year-old was removed from their home in response to the police being called in for the third time in six months.
It seems very unlikely that would be enough to trigger a call to child services or that anyone would have actually called in the abuse in the first place, but sure, let’s roll with it. [Dove: We (my entire road, including myself and Raven) called the emergency services on a neighbour who was being beaten. They probably came out eight times in a year, but we live in a street with terraced houses that share walls.] [Wing: Yeah, based on the size of the houses and yards (and apparently fucking alleys), I don’t think they’re actually hearing anything going on in the house. Though later I had the thought that maybe Mr Bowman (or, I guess, one of the other teachers) called them after finally noticing something might be wrong.]
Elizabeth is horrified that some parents could be that mean to their children and how it just isn’t fair.
Fuck you, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth figures out pretty quick that the child in question is Brian, and she freaks out. Jesus, Elizabeth, literally yesterday you were thinking about how much better it is with him gone.
She doesn’t want to tell Jessica, but Jessica figures it out pretty fast, too, and Elizabeth confirms that’s what she thinks, too. Jessica swears that she won’t tell anyone else because she doesn’t want to even think about it, much less talk about it.
Yes, I can see how this has caused you harm. Absolutely.
The Unicorns try on clothes at Valley Fashions and then go for ice cream at Casey’s. Jessica’s going to pay for herself, she swears, so long as she hasn’t lost any of the change out of her pocket, change she found under the rugs in her room that morning.
You know, considering what a mess her room is all the time, she very well could have hundreds of dollars in change strewn about.
While they’re talking about how Jessica is always broke, Joe Carrey, one of their favourite waiters, comes to take their order. Joe, the waiter we’ve never heard of before, is one of their favourites, of course. (I’m sure Dove will tell us if we actually have seen him before, but I don’t remember him.) [Dove: I’m coming up with no. This is a brand new tradition we’ve always had. Usually it’s Casey himself that serves them. But maybe he’s still ticked off over the littering that IN did on Brian’s watch?]
Jessica gets so tired of their teasing (and the fact that she can only afford a small sundae) that she mutters something about how money isn’t everything, just look at Brian. And, of course, they question her about this and she spills the fucking beans.
“Look, I don’t know the whole story,” Jessica said quickly. “But something happened at his house, and the police took Brian and put him in foster care or whatever. And now the whole family’s being, like… investigated. And charges might be filed and stuff.”
“Wow,” Janet said. She looked completely stunned.
Lila dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin. “Well, I’m not surprised. Brian’s always been in trouble.”
“Yeah, but this is different.” Jessica frowned.
She doesn’t feel good at showing up Lila and Janet, though. They don’t really seem to understand what she’s really saying, and also she probably shouldn’t have told them in the first place, but oh, at least she got them to stop talking about her.
Stop talking about you by insinuating that Brian tried to kill his fucking parents or something, good god. [Dove: How very Jessica.] [Raven: I know it’s standard Jessica-forwards-the-plot schtick, but damn, she’s cold on this one. Not cool, Jess.]
Elizabeth waits for Brian on Monday before school and asks if he needs anything, someone to talk to, a place to stay. He, understandably, takes this badly and snaps that he doesn’t need any help from her or anyone else. [Dove: Oh, I’m all interesting now I’m abused, am I? If I was just a regular kid, you wouldn’t care, but now the whole school’s talking about me, you have to weigh in, do you? (Brian’s thought process.)]
Amy and Maria are watching them, worried, and she’s afraid that everyone knows about what’s going on with Brian. She tries to get upset that he is acting like nothing is wrong, that he rejects her help. Which for Elizabeth Wakefield is basically as bad as killing someone. [Dove: This is why I told people my dead father was alive and well and living in Milton Keynes. I hate it when people emote your life because of all their ~empathy~ (that was never there before).]
She doesn’t hear about the rumours until English class when Maria tells her that everyone is talking about how Brian has to live somewhere else now. Elizabeth says she feels sorry for him, but Maria doesn’t and that’s when Elizabeth realises that the story is that he’s had to move because he’s uncontrollable and constantly in trouble and he’s done bad things, not his parents.
When Brian arrives, all the students are quiet and ignoring him. Mr Bowman’s voice shakes, even, and Elizabeth knows he feels as nervous and upset as she does. Jesus christ, Wakefield, this isn’t about you.
Monday’s lesson is supposed to be about blended families and the role of foster families, but he decides to stick with just blended families. His excuse is that they can’t cover all of it in one day, and he’s probably fucking right.
Back to Brian’s point of view, we get his memories about his father shouting at him that he doesn’t deserve anything, he’s good for nothing, etc. And then he hit Brian and shoved him against the wall.
Whenever Brian walks into class, he hears people talking about him, and he’s really tired of being the topic of everyone’s conversation. Which is fair! I hate that this book is making me feel sympathetic toward him. You don’t get to go all Nazi in one book and then make him a misunderstood guy dealing with abuse a few books later. [Dove: Just to point out, I never once embraced any kind of supremacy due to my abusive childhood.] [Raven: I dunno, you’re pretty militant when it comes to Excel.] [Dove: It’s not my fault that nobody can accurately action the instruction “Paste as Values. VALUES. This is IMPORTANT.”] [Wing: Yeah, I could not accurately action that. Of course, I wouldn’t need to do so, either.]
He’s having a hard time sleeping at the children’s center with all the other kids. Worse, they want to know what his story is but he doesn’t want to tell them and he doesn’t want to hear their stories, either.
At lunch, Ken, Todd, and Aaron call him over to sit with them. Their conversation is awkward at first but then gets slightly more normal when they talk about video games — right up until Ken invites Brian over that afternoon. Brian can’t go, obviously, and won’t admit why, either, so things get uneasy again.
They guys finally just flat out ask if he’s okay and if there’s anything they can do. Brian snaps that everyone needs to quit talking about it and basically flips a table, though he didn’t actually mean to do that.
Which, of course, gets him even more attention and Mr Clark coming over to him. Back in Mr Clark’s office, he tells Brian that he’ll have to notify “someone” though it’s not clear who that would be. Brian starts to explain that he hadn’t meant to hurt anyone, he just wanted to escape, but he decides that Mr Clark, that no one, would believe him after the way he’s been acting lately.
Fuck off, book. You do not get to redeem this fucker. [Raven: Agreed. Hand-waving this prick isn’t cricket.]
Over at Team Boring, they talk about how shocked the boys look and everyone but Maria gives him some benefit of the doubt, maybe it was an accident, etc., and book, you’re sliding too close to Angry Black Woman here, especially when it comes to a white boy who has been horrible to her.
Elizabeth is working on the Sixers and needs to confirm the date for the school trip to the aquarium, so she oh so conveniently goes to Mr Clark’s office and overhears a couple of mothers talking about Brian. One of them urges compassion, but the other one doesn’t want Brian in the same school as her daughter.
The secretary, Mrs Knight, is fielding a bunch of calls about it, too. At one point she says that child abuse is a terrible crime, and that echoes in Elizabeth’s head over and over.
Child abuse. Child abuse. The words made Elizabeth feel sick to her stomach. When she’d read about it in the paper on Saturday, it sounded so formal and unreal, like something that would never touch her life. And now everyone was saying it, over and over, and she couldn’t get the words out of her head. Abuse. Brian’s being abused.
Elizabeth stepped away from the counter, trembling. She walked unsteadily down the hall, then she started running, as fast as she could, straight out the front door, without even collecting her backpack from the Sixers office.
IT’S NOT FUCKING ABOUT YOU, YOU JACKASS. I just — I fucking can’t with this book. I’m only like halfway through and I just can’t. Elizabeth making it all about her, the book trying to redeem a fucking Nazi, the bullshit with how parents are so shitty about kids they don’t want in their school, I just cannot.
- APPARENTLY THERE IS A SHOW CALLED SNOB HILL 90214. Are you — are you fucking with us, ghostie? Anyway, Lila’s going to have a season finale party and a sleepover for Snob Hill Night. Jessica’s embarrassed because she can’t go to sleepovers on school nights, but no one else seems to have that same problem. [Dove: Thank god they didn’t reference Beverley Hills 90210, because otherwise this reference would be super-dated, but now it’s way contemporary.]
- Brian avoids going back to the “safe house” and thinks about how his dad started changing a few years ago after a big business deal went wrong and his company in Los Angeles first put him on probation and eventually fired him. When they moved to Sweet Valley, he took a lower level job and is furious about it. He takes it out on Brian instead of doing anything about it. His mom stays drunk and doesn’t even try to stop his dad anymore.
- Elizabeth dreams about being chased by Brian’s parents — until they reach her and they’re actually Alice and Ned. She wakes the house up screaming and tells them everything that she knows about what’s going on. [Raven: I am SO FUCKING SICK of dream sequences in these bloody books. Can we not have ONE FUCKING BOOK without one of the twins dreaming something fucking poignant? Fucking bollocks.] She, of course, doesn’t know that Jessica is the one who started the rumour about him being the perpetrator, which is why so many kids at school think he deserves what’s happening to him. Ned says that he sees custody cases all the time where the parents mistreat their kids and then get them back. Now, he doesn’t say that he’s the lawyer in those cases, but I’m taking this as a sign that today he practices family law. Elizabeth is basically worrying herself sick over whether he’ll end up at a good foster home or whether the judge won’t believe him and will send him home and no matter how much they reassure her, she feels terrible.
- And then she overhears them talking about how they have to help him, he needs people on his side. Oh god. On the one hand, he does. On the other hand, I guess this is where Elizabeth learned her interference. At least adults stand a chance of doing something actually useful.
- Jessica tries to talk her way into going to Lila’s Thursday slumber party and eventually Alice snaps that she wants the girls home with her the next few days. Jessica doesn’t understand why she’s so worried and why Elizabeth doesn’t even try to defend her. [Dove: As a side note, I am sure that at some point the twins have slept over a friend’s house on a weekday before now, which is the excuse given: weekend sleepovers only.] [Raven: “Sleepover at your best friend’s house on a THURSDAY? Nope. Fly to Paris with no chaperone to be collected by an unknown old woman while the city houses an old woman Serial Killer who preys on blond American girls? Sure.”]
- Brian goes to the library to work on his essay, which is now due the next day. No one is talking about him anymore, but no one is talking to him, either, and things are very uncomfortable. Elizabeth also comes into the library and he’s worried she will stop and talk to him, but she doesn’t. He can’t think of anything to say in his essay. Not all families work like the Wakefields, everyone loving each other, and he’s certain that Mr Bowman, for all that he’s an okay teacher and really smart, doesn’t understand that sometimes families are terrible. After all, he never noticed Brian coming to school with all those bruises. No one did.
- Mr Clark calls an emergency Parents and Teachers Association meeting and pretty much every family comes. Elizabeth and Maria are serving as the student reps for the meeting. Or maybe for the PTA period. Not clear. They are talking about the abuse situation, of course. The preliminary investigation has finished and the child will not returned to the home and the parents will be charged with endangering “his life.” Way to keep the details obscured there, jackass. [Dove: Surely this is one meeting that could have skipped the tweens in the kid’s class attending? Y’know, like at work when it’s so serious the lawyer takes their own minutes instead of inviting their PA in?] [Wing: Wait, lawyers don’t take their own notes? I’ve been lawyering all wrong!] [Dove: Not regular meetings, team meetings. Write your own damn notes when the clients are there!] [Wing: But I take my own notes at team meetings, too!]
- And then the parents go off. The child is trouble, no foster family will take him, and no one should take him, blah blah blah. And then they flat out say that they don’t want Brian, calling him by name, in the school with their kids anymore. Mr Clark defends him saying that he’s not responsible for the situation, but the parents don’t care, they don’t want their kids hanging around someone from a destructive home. Jesus christ.
- Mr Clark goes on to say that the state knows this is an emotional issue and so they are placing Brian in another school district away from his parents. Mr Clark actually thinks it would be best for him to stay in Sweet Valley where people know him and can help him — and hate him, Maria mutters. Elizabeth doesn’t understand how she can hate somebody who has suffered so much. WELL, WAKEFIELD. You sure as fuck were fine judging him not too long ago. And BOOK, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING TO MARIA HERE?! [Dove: I have to say, a fresh start in Big Mesa could have done him the world of good. Anywhere away from either Wakefield is a good start. And it’s not like he’s got great friends here.]
- Elizabeth is glad that Mr Clark wants to help Brian as much as she does. In fact, he wants to petition the state to let Brian stay at SVMS. He asks who will sign the petition, and only about half the people raise their hands, because parents in Sweet Valley are fucking terrible. AND THEN she sees that Alice and Ned don’t have their hands raised.
- Elizabeth is so upset at her parents and at Maria that she walks out of the meeting, which for once is a legit response. It’s not about her, and she’s not mad in a way that makes it about her. I like it.
- Elizabeth runs into Brian on the way home and this time he talks to her a little, though she knows he’s lying about having this great new foster family. They briefly talk about the essay, too, and how they both don’t like what they’ve written. Elizabeth now because she’s disappointed by her parents and their response to the situation. Of course, once again she’s reacting without knowing what’s going on, which is exactly what she does every fucking time and I am sick of it.
- Alice and Ned come talk to Elizabeth that night and she blows up at them for voting differently and they claim they are just trying to do what’s right for everyone. And they let her just shut the door in their faces, because what the fuck is parenting.
- Brian’s not in class the next day and when Elizabeth asks Mr Bowman about it, he says he doesn’t know and he’s not sure anyone at school knows except maybe Mr Clark. I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t be giving away even that much information about one student to another student, you jackass. [Dove: The faculty sucks and Elizabeth Wakefield is the glue that holds this town together. He absolutely would.]
- Mr Clark holds an assembly that afternoon. On the way, Elizabeth and Amy are both sympathetic to wanting Brian to stay and Maria isn’t. Elizabeth disapproves of her reaction quite a bit, because of course she does. Look, white girl, Nazi Brian maybe is even more of a shit to Maria than to you, did you ever think about that? And while the abuse is horrific and he shouldn’t ever have to go through that, it’s also not an excuse. [Raven: Why did this have to be Brian? The whole Nazi shadow is too much to shake off to make me care. Couldn’t they have written this book about, I dunno, Charlie Cashman or Dennis Cookman?] [Dove: Charlie Cashman would have been an excellent choice, if I’m remembering SVH recaps accurately.]
- Mr Clark gives an actually decent speech about how it is never acceptable to hold a child responsible for their parents’ actions and how the child is never at fault when it comes to child abuse. I’m impressed, Mr Clark. He’s also brought in a psychologist, Dr Pam Delgaty, to talk about the situation. Well damn, my dude, even more impressive.
- Dr Delgaty is kind of amazing, reiterating that the child is not responsible for the parental abuse, never, ever, even if they’re bad kids or did something wrong or said something they shouldn’t have. She also talks about how kids can lash out, and some of the other ways they might react (acting calm and burying everything, being quiet and withdrawn, trying to be perfect), and explains that you have to try to understand the child before you can help them. They love their parents and their parents betrayed their trust. Dealing with them takes patience and love.
- Amy and Elizabeth are shaken by the depth of this even though Amy, at least, has kind of heard it before. Maria’s looking a little puzzled when Elizabeth checks in on her, and if Maria has to motherfucking apologise for her anger, I’m throwing this book across the room. Metaphorically, at least, since I also have to finish the damn recap.
- Mr Clark finishes by making three announcements (and seeming extremely nervous): the repair work in the south wing will be finished in a few days (did we even know it was going on? Why is it being thrown at us now? Will Elizabeth try to rescue someone from a dangerous location yet again?), the pep rally that afternoon is postponed to next week, and Brian was transferred to Big Mesa. I’M PRETTY SURE YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO SHARE INFORMATION ABOUT ONE STUDENT WITH A BUNCH OF OTHER STUDENTS. You were doing so well, too, Mr Clark.
- Elizabeth and Maria fight over whether Brian should be kept in Sweet Valley and Elizabeth brings her to tears. What the fuck, Elizabeth! Also, part of her argument is that he shouldn’t have to be taken away from everyone he knows. You — you remember he’s new in Sweet Valley, right? And also, he’s been horrible to everyone. A fresh start might be exactly what he needs, especially out of reach of his parents.
“I don’t know, Maria.” Elizabeth looked into Maria’s eyes and felt a tear trickle down her own cheek. “But if this town doesn’t do something to help kids in trouble—if Sweet Valley actually makes their lives even harder—then I’m not sure I even want to live here anymore!”
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU AND YOUR FEELINGS, ELIZABETH FUCKING WAKEFIELD. [Dove: MILTON FUCKING KEYNES.]
- Jessica decides to do one final test of her parents, and if they pass it, she’ll use her essay to talk about how they are the best parents ever, and if they don’t, she’ll be forced to tell everyone how thoughtless they are when it comes to her. Her plan? She’s going to see if they trust her enough to promise her a car, just for her, when she turns sixteen. JESSICA. That is perfectly her, ridiculous and over the top.
- I would really enjoy this b-plot a lot more if it was in a different book. The a-plot is horrible in a lot of different ways, and the b-plot is way too lighthearted to go with it.
- Lila — Lila — says that money isn’t everything and her dad isn’t just a good parent because he buys her whatever she wants, he’s a good parent because he looks out for her, he takes care of her, and he treats her well. I see everyone is taking this time to be grateful for their parents, except for Jessica. Like I said, this could be a super fun b-plot in a different book.
- Elizabeth goes to talk to Jessica that night, and flat out asks her how she feels about Brian, whether it is bothering her. Elizabeth also confronts her about starting the rumours about Brian being removed from his home because of something he did, not his parents’ abuse, and she’s furious over it. Which, fair, but also, did you really, truly expect anything else from Jessica?
- Thursday morning, Jessica has finally finished her essay. She got a brief extension from Mr Bowman, and she has to read it aloud in front of the class, just like everyone else. Jesus fucking christ, Mr Bowman, even with the whole parental abuse situation right now, you still think it’s a good idea to have all the students read their essays in front of their peers. What the fuck is wrong with you. As if only one family in Sweet Valley could possibly have any problems. [Dove: If this was a project at my school back in the day, I would just not turn up to lessons. Or I’d lie. But probably I’d just bunk off school for a week or two until the project passed.]
- Again, Jessica’s essay could be an excellent b-plot in a different book. Her essay is titled Parenting Made Easy and she lists common errors parents make and possible ways to correct them. Also a blank page at the end with Epilogue: The Final Story as the title of that section because Alice and Ned didn’t give her an answer about the car issue. What, they didn’t laugh in your face?
- Mr Bowman has read all of the other essays and there are several excellent ones. Elizabeth doesn’t look happy when she gets hers back, though, and Jessica is worried because how could Elizabeth be bad at an essay?
- He’s changed his mind about having them all read their essays (and claims his reasoning for doing it in the first place was that they’ve all worked hard and not everyone can read theirs at the ceremony Saturday), but instead he’s going to read one essay in particular that impacted him greatly when he read it. It’s one page and though Mr Bowman claims it will be anonymous, it’s clearly about Brian. It makes Jessica cry and hate that she’s been upset about not getting her favourite meal, not getting extra money, etc. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.
- It makes Elizabeth cry, too, and when she sees that the entire classroom looks devastated, she decides to use that for her project. [Raven: I mean, it was okay, I guess. I thought that Brian would be reading his essay for the denouement and making everyone have a tearful face turn, but no.] She’s going to hold a meeting to brainstorm how they can help Brian since their parents won’t help and she doesn’t think it’s fair for him to be sent to another school for something that’s not his fault. Jessica’s the first one to say she’ll be there, followed by Amy, Todd, and Maria. Mr Bowman says he’ll be there so they can use the gym.
- Jessica tells Mr Bowman she needs time to rewrite her essay because she made some major mistakes and needs to include things she learned today. [Raven: I thought this was cute.]
- We jump to Saturday and the First Annual Family Reception. What, you couldn’t get Sweet Valley in that name? Elizabeth and friends have come up with a plan and instead of Elizabeth reading her essay, because of course Mr Bowman asked her to read her essay, she’s going to read a letter from the students instead. Basically, they think the parents made the wrong decision when they wouldn’t sign the petition to keep Brian in Sweet Valley and it seems like the parents just want him gone because it’s like he’ll take all the problems away with him and removing him from his school is blaming him for something he didn’t do.
“Transferring Brian to Big Mesa won’t make child abuse go away. What’s worse, it might discourage another kid from seeking help if he’s in the same situation, because he or she wouldn’t want to be sent away, either. What kind of a community are we to turn our backs on people with problems?”
“What we would like is for all of our parents to take responsibility for Brian. Mr. Bowman taught us once that when you become a parent, you’re not only responsible for your own child, but for children everywhere,” Elizabeth said carefully. “We all strongly believe that while you have succeeded in your first job… you have failed in your second. Please, give Brian another chance. He needs you. He needs all of us.
- That is actually fairly decent, but I can’t get past the fact that (a) Something Must Be Done has been used for so many petty little things, too, that this doesn’t come across like Elizabeth actually giving a fuck but that she always has to fix things that go against what she believes should be right. I guess at least this time she’s not trying to reunite him with his parents. And (b) BRIAN WAS A FUCKING NAZI. And (c) I disagree that keeping him in the same community where his parents live and where he’s being hated and then pitied by his classmates, a community where he’s lived only a short time and hasn’t made real connections, is the best place for him instead of a fresh start. [Dove: This so hard. I’m concerned about the proximity to the parents. All it takes is one meeting (not arranged, they just “bump into him”) where they say vaguely the right things, then trail off ominously as they remind Brian that he’s a problem child and… yeah, here we go again.]
- Mr Clark and the parents go to the auditorium to discuss their reply to Elizabeth’s letter, led by Ned, because, you know, Wakefields. When they come back, Ned is the spokesperson, and he says that they want the kids to know why they did what they did. It may seem they acted uncharitably but their main concern was always being good parents. Sometimes they fail at teaching their kids right from wrong and the kids teach them instead. This is one of those times, and they’ve decided to sign the petition and as long as he’s willing to seek help for his problems, they’ll help him as much as they can. Elizabeth is thrilled and hugs both her parents and Mr Clark. [Raven: Just fuck off.]
- You know, this made me realise another thing I have a problem with here which is that Elizabeth overheard Ned and Alice talking about how they absolutely had to help Brian and yet then we see them doing nothing. I know that was setting us up for Elizabeth’s disappointment in them, but it feels like a complete 180, and I don’t actually buy it. [Dove: “We have to let Liz think we’re helping him. But honestly, get rid of that rotten kid.”]
- Mr Clark says that Brian hasn’t officially moved yet because the foster family in Big Mesa is still waiting for their current foster child to move on to their adopted family, and so he needs them to help find a foster home in Sweet Valley. OH MY GOD. Okay, first of all, WHY ARE YOU TELLING THEM ALL THIS PRIVATE INFORMATION?! Second, since the foster family has to have been approved and certified by the state, this really isn’t something the parents should be handling. [Dove: Also, can we stop perpetuating the myth that fostering is solely a waystation for kids before their adoptive parents sign on the dotted line? Yes, that can be how it works, but for the most part, it’s not.]
- AND, OF COURSE, ELIZABETH KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT TO DO. Her neighbours, Mr and Mrs Hubler, take foster kids in all the time and so she can help after all. What. the. fuck. [Raven: RKO OUTTA NOWHERE.]
- Jessica apologises to Alice and Ned for being awful and making stupid demands and tells them they are great parents and they give her everything that counts, love and patience and understanding, and she’s crying when she mentions Brian. Ned asks how she’s feeling, because she hasn’t said anything and of course neither of them fucking asked her before this point. She says she tried not to think about it because it was horrible and scary.
- They lighten the mood by telling her all the research they did about her car request but now that she doesn’t care about such things, she’ll just have to be surprised when she turns sixteen. Well that’s something to look forward to. [Dove: Spoilers! It’s a Fiat Spider. Or a Jeep, depending on which release you read. And a gold lavaliere necklace. Further spoilers: Steven didn’t get a car.]
- Brian POV and he gets a call from Mr Clark telling him about everyone changing their minds about him leaving and they signed the petition for him to stay. He gets choked up over this and can’t believe that they care about him and want him to stay and he suddenly wants it, wants to hang out with people who like him not just because they pity him or fear him. Mr Clark goes on to tell him they’ve found a foster family eager to take him in as soon as the state agrees to the petition. THIS IS NOT YOUR PLACE TO TELL HIM THESE THINGS. AND WHAT IF THE STATE DOESN’T ACCEPT THE PETITION? WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!
- Elizabeth has Alice put together a last minute party because everyone needs to relax. The Hublers show up, even, with Brian, and everything is going well. He’s got a fresh start with the Hublers and that’s just what he needed. WHAT THE FUCK. You mean a fresh start exactly like he would have had in Big Mesa? What the fuck.
- Maria offers to walk home with Brian after the party because she lives near the Hublers. UM, where have the Hublers gone? [Dove: Don’t they live next door to the Wakefields???] They were at the damn party. Elizabeth tags along, because of course she does, and Brian thanks Elizabeth for helping him stay in Sweet Valley. She demurs, but Maria gives her all the credit, and I hate this book so much.
- When Elizabeth gets home, she finds Steven in the driveway working on basketball with the basketball hoop Ned put up over the garage. Recently? Hasn’t that been there for awhile now? Also, he apparently put it kind of low, so it’s not actually useful for real practice anyway. Elizabeth makes a couple of good shots and wonders why she’s never played basketball before because it’s so much fun. Welp. Okay then. [Dove: ALL MY RAGING ABOUT HOW THE TWINS HAVE NEVER PLAYED BASKETBALL BEFORE HAS PAID OFF!]
I hate this book and its treatment of Maria and its attempt to redeem Brian and Elizabeth in all her Elizabeth-ness and how it wasted a funny b-plot and just everything. Fuck Sweet Valley. Fuck it right up the nose.
[Dove: I kind of liked this one, but I had to divorce Brian from Nazi Brian, because obviously I can’t help but side with a child who is abused. Especially when the other options are the fucking Wakefields. Elizabeth was insufferable. It’s a trope I hate when someone who is not in the same situation as the victim (can’t think of a better word on the fly here) is constantly crying about the victim’s situation. I’m sure pretty much everyone knows that about me. It makes me actively angry. Like, flip tables angry. It’s the victim’s situation, it’s their emotions, not yours. Sure, empathise, but constantly crying over it? Woman up, Liz. Also, the faculty was bloody awful about constantly blabbing Brian’s personal circumstances. Oh, and Wakefield parents? Die. Die in a gin fire and take your fucking kids with you.]
[Raven: Yep, this book was a pimpled shit. I HATED Elizabeth from beginning to end, and I couldn’t divorce NaziBrian from AbusedBrian. The whole “let’s save Brian by getting him to stay in Sweet Valley” didn’t ring true considering he’s only lived there for a couple of fucking weeks. The faculty were decent in places (Mr Clark and the psychologist) and awful in others (EVERY OTHER PART). Overall, I just couldn’t care less about Brian, and this book did nothing to change my mind. Don’t Talk To Brian? Okay, I won’t. Bosh.]