Title: Jessica Goes for Gold
Tagline: How far will Jessica go to win the gold? [Wing: This is the girl who has a graveyard in the Mercandy backyard. You tell me.]
Summary: Anything to win…
For Jessica Wakefield, the upcoming California Games are the chance of a lifetime. Jessica’s always known she’s a super athlete, and now that she’s earned a place on the school’s gymnastics team, she’s ready to prove her acrobatic skills to the whole state.
Jessica’s sure she’s good enough to win a gold medal—until she comes face-to-face with Dawn Maven, the star gymnast of a rival team. Dawn is strong, graceful, and ruthless. She’ll do whatever it takes to win—and that includes sabotaging Jessica’s performance!
The first of two special Team editions as Sweet Valley shoots for the stars… at the California Games!
DOVE I HAVE A VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION: WHEN THE FUCK DID JESSICA BECOME A GYMNAST?
That sums up the entirety of my initial thoughts.
(Oh, wait, I will say it’s kind of fitting that we managed to recap this little duology during an actual Olympic year, because last year’s Olympic Games were postponed until this year due to Covid. That being said, the Olympics are making fucked up decisions all over the place right now, so fuck that.)
[Dove: Don’t care. Don’t care. Don’t care. I have literally no interest in this little duo of aren’t-sports-terrific? books. Don’t get me wrong, play Stick It! or Bring It On and I’m there, but the Wakefields being awesome at sports? No. Just fuck off. And when you’re done fucking off, fuck off some more. And if you end up back here because you fucked off so far, fuck off even more. I’m sure that nobody’s surprised that the mobility-impaired girl doesn’t want to read about the twins being awesome at something they’ve literally never tried before. So see above about fucking off.]
[Raven: I presumed this new hobby was foreshadowing for Sweet Valley High, but apparently not. Jessica’s gymnastic skills are a one-and-done thing. How fucking terrible.]
Random: There’s a cute little gymnast sketch with each new chapter. I find that charming. [Dove: And that’s it, readers, we’ve peaked. It’s all downhill from here. (Today the part of Wing will be played by Dove, in case you hadn’t noticed.)]
We open with Caroline Pearce demanding to know where the hell Amy Sutton is as they’re waiting on an after-school meeting of The Sweet Valley Sixers; Caroline gossips with Sarah Thomas that Amy’s been getting chummy with Ken Matthews lately, and Elizabeth Wakefield has to defend her co-editor (no word on bff though) who is at gymnastics practice because god forbid anyone think she’s with the boy she sometimes dates. [Raven: THIS is the standard of Caroline’s gossip?! She’s gossiping about Amy and Ken, something that’s been canon since book fucking FOUR.]
If you think that’s quite a few names thrown together, you are correct! This opening reads as if it is for someone completely brand new to any Sweet Valley series ever but especially someone who has not read a single SVT book. [Dove: I remember we looked this up before or after one of our podcast recording sessions and decided it was released to coincide with the Olympics, and it probably exists to hook in sporty girls that would usually thumb their noses at the silly girly pastel books in the main series. Because girls are one dimensional. So the tone of the intro probably is deliberate.]
Anyway, Elizabeth called a special Sixers meeting and asked Todd Wilkins and Aaron Dallas to help out because the Sixers are doing something big for the California Games, which are “the middle school equivalent of state championships […] because of budget cuts, they were only held every other year.”
You’d think we would have heard at least one passing reference to something so huge coming up, but okay, sure, more than 100 books without a mention, I’m game.
The Sixers will focus on all the SVMS sports teams even though no one knows if any of them will qualify for the games.
Aaron: Will write about the soccer team and bets they will go to the games; he’s captain of the team. He should not write about his own team.
Maria Slater: Bets the volleyball team will go; she and Elizabeth are on that team. I know we have at least seen some of the characters play volleyball, which is something, I guess, though I don’t remember if they were on a team. I think yes, because I vaguely remember thinking it was another team skill that came out of nowhere. Dove will set us right. [Dove: Nope. Dove is being Wing today. Dove doesn’t care. Actually the truth is that we haven’t noted it as the main hobby, so it may have been mentioned as a sport they did at school, but not something they were in teams for, like softball or basketball. Maybe Liz has seen something and can chip in?] [Raven: Also – spoilers – no other team is either mentioned as attending, or mentioned as missing out. The subject is simply dropped.]
Elizabeth: Isn’t sure the volleyball team will go, but does think the girls’ gymnastics team does; they only need one more win. Elizabeth knows this because Jessica’s on the girls’ gymnastics team. “Some people might even say she was the girls’ gymnastics team. Her experience on the Boosters (the middle school cheerleading squad) and ballet lessons had really paid off for her.”
By some people, do you mean Jessica might say she was the team? Because that sounds like a Jessica thought and not at all like something someone else would say about her considering how new she is to this and how cheerleading and ballet do not make for guaranteed gymnastics skills.
Elizabeth claims she never really liked dance classes. Sure, Jan. [Dove: Actually, she didn’t. They were fine, but it was very clear that she never loved to dance, she just liked being told she was the best.]
The twins look alike but are very different, and in this recitation, loving gymnastics is one of the things that separates Jessica from Elizabeth.
Apparently Jessica’s very good on the uneven parallel bars the other day; Sarah talks about her doing a handstand and then turning around on her hands. Elizabeth calls it a pirouette, Aaron brags that Jessica probably does a lot of the same moves they do in the Olympics, and he and Elizabeth agree Jessica will take the entire team all the way to the California Games.
This combination of one player carrying the entire team and Wakefields Must Win already has me both bored and exhausted.
I’m going to stop commenting on this for the most part, but just know that ghostie continues to write this book as if the reader has never heard of even the Wakefield twins much less Sweet Valley or any lesser (heh) character.
WAIT A FUCKING MINUTE HERE. Lila is also on the gymnastics team? LILA IS ALSO ON THE GYMNASTICS TEAM?!
Do you know what gymnastics does to your body? The rips on your hands? The bruises and broken skin and impact on puberty? The time it takes away from everything else in order to be competitive?
I already call bullshit on Jessica dealing with any of that, BUT LILA FUCKING FOWLER IS CERTAINLY NOT. [Dove: We have seen far more evidence that Lila does not like intense sports – to the point where everyone including Lila was surprised about how much she liked basketball. And while I get cheerleading is pretty intense, I have always assumed that the Boosters were more about a dance routine and chanting than the likes of the routines from Bring It On, especially since they’re twelve and don’t have spotters or a coach.] [Raven: Not only are these girls suddenly gymnasts, they are good enogh gymnasts to make the school team, and to make the fucking California Games. We understand and acknowledge that COntinutiy Is For Other People, but this is a slap in the face. This book is literally pulled from the Ghostie’s arse.]
Anyway, Jessica and Lila have to tell Janet that they’ll be missing the next few Unicorn Club meetings because they are prepping for the California Games. They’re both worried that Janet might slit their throats for wasting precious Unicorn time, but lucky them, bringing home gold and silver medals from the games will make the Unicorns look good.
WAIT A FUCKING MINUTE HERE AGAIN.
“Yeah, well, I’m only going to get the gold medal,” Jessica pointed out. “They don’t give the same person both a gold and a silver medal. At least, not in the same event.”
Lila snorted. “She meant you’d bring home the gold and I’d bring home the silver,” she said, rolling her eyes.
There is no way that Lila just rolled with the idea of Jessica getting a gold medal instead of her. NO FUCKING WAY. Even if Lila had never done a gymnastic trick in her life, the way they compete means she would be absolutely certain, at least to Jessica’s face, that she would get the gold and Jessica would get the silver.
NO WONDER YOU’RE DROPPING CHARACTER NAMES AND DETAILS AS IF THIS IS THE FIRST BOOK IN THIS WORLD, YOU’VE NEVER READ A SINGLE DETAIL ABOUT THIS, HAVE YOU, GHOSTIE? HAVE YOU?
AND THEN WE GET THIS
“Oh,” Jessica said, rolling her eyes in response. Lila was good, but she wasn’t good enough to get a medal. Jessica was the only one on the Sweet Valley team who was good enough to get a medal, and the whole school knew it. But if she said so out loud, Lila would only get mad, and Janet, who was Lila’s first cousin, would take Lila’s side. Then Janet might order Jessica to attend all Unicorn Club meetings.
Jessica couldn’t worry about Unicorn Club meetings when she was supposed to be concentrating on winning a gold medal for her school. So, for the good of the school, Jessica kept her mouth shut.
On the one hand, this is both in character and rather charming (for the good of the school indeed). On the other hand, JESSICA COMES OUT OF NOWHERE TO BE THE ONLY ONE ON THE GYMNASTICS TEAM GOOD ENOUGH TO MEDAL?! THE EVER LOVING FUCK IS THIS?
First of all, if she’s the only one good enough to medal, this team is not going to the games. Second of all, WHAT THE FUCK SINCE WHEN IS SHE THIS AMAZING GYMNAST?
I hate everything.
Donald Zwerdling is trying out for the boys’ gymnastics team for the second time this season, but he doesn’t make it even though Coach Ingram is desperate to replace a guy who moved away only a few weeks before the games.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!
A few weeks from state championships and you want to add someone to the team? Not even an alternate who would have been working on their skills and routines all this time, but someone who has never made the team before? WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK IS GOING ON IN THIS BOOK?
I’m not sure I’m going to survive this recap.
Bruce Patman gives Donald shit about not being good enough and tells him to try out for the girls’ team, though so far it sounds like they’re a lot better than the boys’ team anyway. Donald is sure he’ll never be an athlete and therefore will never be popular. And a guy has to be athletic somehow. Gymnastics would be his sport, too, except for those rings.
He stops to watch Jessica working on her uneven bar routine and as he’s looking at all the equipment, and the lack of rings in particular, he wonders if maybe joining the girls’ team would be a good idea.
Oh. No. Oh no oh no oh no. Please tell me that’s not where this is going. [Dove: My thoughts at this point were, “Oh, I liked this book when it was Booster Boycott” but then a whole bunch of not-that happened.] [Raven: I hate Donald in this book. He’s not the nerdy yet charming Donald we’ve met before. He’s just a gamboling twat.]
WAIT A FUCKING MINUTE, MARY WALLACE AND AMY SUTTON ARE ALSO ON THIS TEAM? And apparently not good enough for Amy to even manage a handspring vault or for Mary to spot her successfully.
Donald tries to impress everyone with his talk of his tricks and Coach Arlin actually says he’d consider letting him on the team if the school didn’t have a boys’ gymnastics team. Which, fair enough on that point (and why the hell does SVMS have gymnastics teams?), so long as what we’re not going to do is to get into him pretending to be a girl to do this and it having unintentional (or potentially intentional, depending on the ghostie) presentation of strict ideas of who can compete. (See, e.g., Namibian cis women ineligible for their races due to testosterone levels or all sorts of talk about trans athletes competition.)
In the end, Donald doesn’t impress with what little skill he has but Coach Arlin allows him to become their towel boy and practice around them.
Thursday afternoon, gymnastics meet against Weston, Elizabeth is covering it for the Sixers, the gym is crowded with people. [Dove: Another check in the “ghostie hasn’t got a fucking clue” — why aren’t the big rivals Big Mesa?] [Raven: And Big Mesa are actually mentioned in passing too, at the California Games denouement.]
Jessica’s nervous but trying not to be when she’s up for the uneven bars, which is her favourite part of the competition. If she does well in this meet, they go to the games. (Again, this should not turn on one fucking competitor.) If she doesn’t, they have two more meets where they can win.
Now ghostie gives us a bunch of gymnastics terms which is pretty much as useless and annoying as the name dump earlier but also kind of cute because it’s gymnastics.
If there was any noise in the gym, Jessica didn’t hear it. Her body seemed to be on autopilot, flowing naturally from one move to the next. She did a perfect kip to handstand, then a glide kip, squat to a stand on the low bar. She leaped to the high bar, swung, then came back in a blind back-straddle over the low bar. She’d never felt so strong.
Then Jessica leaped to the high bar for her big move. She did a long hanging kip, then casted to a full handstand on top of the high bar and did a pirouette. The crowd went wild.
Jessica’ heart raced as she performed her final steps: a turn, two giant swings, and her flyaway dismount. She landed cleanly, with no extra steps. Perfect!
Of course, it’d be nice to have actual description around what her routine looks like. I’m tempted to find a video of each move, but I’m already so annoyed with this recap I know I’ll spend all my time doing that rather than finishing, so it will have to wait. If you read this and there are videos, I came back later to ease my frustration with research because I love research. [Dove: I just told my brain “remember the cool bits from Stick It — ALL of them? That. Only better. The best in the world evah.”]
She gets a 9.7 which is a personal best for her, a team best, and she’s certain that no one on the Weston team could possibly score higher.
ONCE AGAIN, AN INDIVIDUAL SCORE LIKE THAT MEANS VERY LITTLE WHEN IT COMES TO THE ENTIRE TEAM ADVANCING. Jessica cannot carry the entire team herself, not when it comes to team scores, and — why am I bothering? Why?
Fuck it, why isn’t the ghostie bothering? They can throw all sorts of moves into a paragraph but not give two seconds to consider how team competitions would actually work and whether it makes sense for Jessica to be the only one with talent on the team? Fuck. This. Noise.
Dawn Maven is Weston’s Jessica Wakefield, tiny and elegant but, Jessica thinks, with the flair that Jessica herself has, which is what the uneven bars are all about. Uh, no, they’re also quite a bit about strength among other things.
Despite her good performance and Jessica’s nerves, Dawn only scores a 9.4 and so SVMS is going to the California Games all because of Jessica, because that totally makes sense.
We do get this perfect little bit from Jessica during the medal ceremony:
“Nice job,” the judge told her.
Nice job? Jessica repeated to herself. She couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed he didn’t say something more. Something like, “In all my years of judging gymnastics meets, yours was the most incredible bar routine I’ve ever seen.”
Oh, well, Jessica told herself. So what if he doesn’t recognize pure genius when he sees it.
Other students start asking Jessica for her autograph (one of them in her science book because she doesn’t have her autograph book handy, which, okay, is cute), Jessica wants Elizabeth to write about how Dawn refused to even congratulate her before the medal ceremony, Elizabeth wants to write about the history of the games, and we cut to the next meet which is also against Weston, this time at Weston.
Which brings us to a Dawn point of view. Weston now has to win either this meet or one more on Thursday, both against SVMS, and Dawn has to carry them to the win. Weston’s supposed to be one of the top teams in California but though Dawn’s almost always winning blue ribbons (MEDALS THEY GET MEDALS), the rest of the team hasn’t been pulling their own weight. [Dove: Also, not sure if I mentioned this, but over here, red means first, blue means second. They can change carousel to merry-go-round, but not rosettes (also: rosettes, not ribbons). There is no logic to this book or the series it comes from – for reference, all of us are reading the UK releases.] [Raven: And why the hell are SVMS’s last three meets before the California Games all against Weston? Is that a thing, multiple meets in the same week? And are these meets just head-to-head against other schools? TOO MANY QUESTIONS.]
Dawn sees how pretty and popular Jessica is on top of being a good gymnast and decides to fix her. Fix her by putting baby oil on the uneven bars. She sneaks the baby oil onto the competition floor in an ace bandage around her ankle. I have no idea how this would actually work, but I’m going to roll with it. [Dove: It’s written as if the oil is a solid blob until Dawn needs it to be liquid. Which, y’know, impossible.]
Coach Arlin tells Jessica to watch Dawn carefully because she might learn something about Dawn’s grace. Jessica, of course, is offended at the thought she might be able to learn anything from anyone else, she’s already great. I like her confidence most of the time, but this is as obnoxious as hell.
Dawn goes first on the bars this time, and Jessica does watch her closely, looking at little things Dawn does wrong (but that won’t cause a deduction, and I doubt that’s true, things like the hands being the wrong place on the bars would be a deduction, I think) and being unimpressed, though Dawn gets a 9.5.
Jessica struggles from the moment she starts her routine; her hands feel sweaty [Raven: Mom’s spaghetti.] and she wishes for more chalk, and the more it gets to her, the more she starts losing control of her breath which doesn’t help. She has to do a far less difficult dismount and she doesn’t stick that landing, either. She’s in tears by the time she salutes the judges the final time.
And that’s when she notices her grips are coated with oil.
The team turns on Jessica while she’s waiting for her score. She doesn’t say anything about the oil to her coach, just hopes the judges will know it wasn’t her fault, will be lenient on her, and this may be the least Jessica thing she’s ever done in this series. Jessica Fucking Wakefield would be all over this shit.
She gets a 5.3 and finally blows up about the oil on the bars and no one believes her even though she can show the oil on her grips. As if she’d have gone up with oil on her grips, she dips them into chalk before she ever mounts the bars and — why? Why am I hoping for realism still? I know better than to do that this far into the series much less this far into a book that has no interest in getting things correct. [Dove: This was just fucking weird. Everything was backwards in order to move the plot forward. Just fuck this fucking book.]
Jessica remains in a terrible mood (which is understandable) when Elizabeth comes home with excellent news that the volleyball team beat Weston and is only three wins away from making the California Games. [Raven: NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN.]
Jessica spends some time asking her siblings how they would cheat at their respective sports: Elizabeth doesn’t know why anyone would cheat at volleyball; Steven says there are a lot of ways to cheat at basketball including putting sugar on the other team’s towels which when mixed with sweat leads to sticky hands.
She carries two 5-pound bags of sugar to her bedroom but doesn’t know how she’ll get it on Dawn’s hands. She could have Donald try to get a sugar-coated towel to Dawn, but she doesn’t want to take the risk of bringing in someone else (and also why would Dawn take towels from the opposing team in the first place). Finally she decides that she’s going to put the sugar in the chalk tray so that Dawn’s grips would have a sticky mix of water, chalk, and sugar.
Thursday’s meet is back at SVMS, so Jessica does some experimenting to see how she can make the sugar and chalk work. Donald tries tricks on the floor and no one believes in him — except for Jessica who believes that he’ll be a great test subject on the uneven bars. She has to add so much sugar you can start to see it in the chalk if you look too closely but she thinks it’s just fine. Of course she does.
At the next meet, Jessica gets a 9.5 on her uneven bar routine, and she thinks her routine was nearly perfect. Uh, except two meets ago you got a 9.7 and that still wasn’t a perfect score, so — nope.
Jessica “accidentally” knocks over the chalk tray and replaces it with her own mixture.
Dawn struggles through her routine, Jessica is very proud of herself, and then Dawn falls trying to do a handstand. Her coach has to carry her to her team bench because she’s at least apparently hurt her ankle and she gets a 2.0.
And then Lila is up on the bars. Jessica completely forgot that other people will use the bars after Dawn. She frantically tries to replace the chalk, the judges call her on having replaced it once already, she says she never put more in there was already enough left but now it’s really low and instead of fucking looking, they let her go. Despite the fact she replaced the chalk and immediately a competitor fell and now that someone on her own team is up she wants to replace it again.
I don’t think I can go on, readers. This is it for me. It’s been a good few years, but Sweet Valley may have finally killed me. [Dove: On any other book, I’d make an empassioned plea for you to think of the children and keep going. Instead I’m going to send you this book so you can rip it up and use it as an art project.] [Raven: So contrived.]
Jessica wants to add a new move to her routine for the California Games but Coach Arlin thinks she should wait to add it until next season because the games are only a week away and it’s a bad idea to change a routine that close to the competition. Coach Arlin gives in when Jessica refuses to back down. She manages to get it down, too, very quickly, and she’s certain she’ll bring home the gold.
Jessica hears that Dawn is probably out of competition because of what happened to her ankle. Jessica doesn’t want to believe it and for a moment feels guilty but then convinces herself that nothing actually bad happened.
At dinner, Elizabeth tries to refill the sugar bowl but there’s no sugar in the pantry even though Ned bought two bags just last week. Jessica tries to distract them from it by talking about something she saw on television recently, Mysterious Disappearances of Household Goods, a common phenomenon.
Seriously, Jessica? SERIOUSLY?
[Raven: Also? The parents don’t push this further. If sugar had gone from the cupboard at home when I was twelve, my mother wouldn’t have shut up about it until I was at least fifteen.]
She has bad dreams about Dawn chasing her through school screaming that she knows what Jessica did. Jessica also gets paranoid ever time the phone rings, worried that someone knows what she did and is calling to kick her out of gymnastics forever. Since this has been a long-held dream and she’s spent years of her life working for these championships, I’m sure that will hurt.
Conveniently, Elizabeth is writing an unbelievably short at only 500 words essay on whether she agrees with the phrase “an eye for an eye.” Unsurprisingly she does not, and Jessica disagrees because “if you poke my eye out, you don’t think I should have the right to poke yours out? What else am I supposed to do?”
For a ghostie who is annoying me to no end because of their failures in this book, that is an absolute perfect response for Jessica.
Elizabeth of course suggests that someone could just walk away, and Jessica’s all upset over this even when Elizabeth points out it’s a hypothetical situation.
Finally the guilt gets to be too much and Jessica calls to check on Dawn (as Elizabeth Fowler, which is adorable). Dawn is hurt, she hasn’t been able to make practice, and no one knows if she’ll be able to compete in the games.
Jessica’s guilt grows and she asks if anyone knows what happened at the meet. Coach Wykoff says that she just slipped and offers her Dawn’s phone number so Jessica (or Elizabeth Fowler) can check on her directly.
What the fuck? Do not give out other people’s phone numbers like that! Especially to someone you don’t have any idea who the fuck they are! Fucking adults fail all over the place in this damn series. [Raven: I’m a constant complainer about the standard of adulting in this fucking series, but this stunned me into silence.]
Donald continues to try to teach himself gymnastic tricks, continues to be mocked for it, and continues to fail, but I could not care less about this subplot even when it keeps bringing Lila and Donald together. [Dove: It should be noted, Donald is frequently underfoot and taking up time on the equipment while the actual teams are trying to practice for the upcoming games, or sometimes even causing accidents, and the coach is just like, “that’s fine”. Just… fuck everything.]
Jessica does eventually call Dawn, who talks about spending five hours in the emergency room, using crutches, not being able to practice, and maybe not even go to the games. When Jessica asks if there’s anything she can do, Dawn freaks out that there’s nothing anyone can do and hangs up. Which is a totally valid response, to be honest, especially with some fucking stranger calling you.
Jessica puts together a care package that includes a Johnny Buck cd, grapes, a Snapple, the latest Teen Dream issue, and an Ace bandage. That’s kind of a ridiculous mix of things but it’s completely adorable that she wants to take a care package to Dawn (even though it’s her guilt driving everything) [Raven: Also, Snapple? Has this series suddenly got a sponsor?].
She rides her bike over to Dawn’s house planning to leave the basket on the porch, but Dawn’s sitting out there. (The neighbourhood is not nearly as nice as where the Wakefields live, Jessica is quick to notice.)
Dawn tells Jessica that she knows Jessica did something to her bars routine; Jessica says she knows about the oil. They sabotaged each other and at least Jessica has the guts to come over to Dawn’s house. Not that she’s apologised or anything. Jessica decides Dawn has an attitude problem and she won’t spare her another thought.
Jessica is late to practice but determined to give it her all now that they have a week before the games. When she gets ready to do her uneven bar routine, though, all she can picture is Dawn falling and getting injured. Jessica’s now terrified that she might be injured before the game, too. She does some work on the bars, but Coach Arlin notices that she’s acting weird, like she’s scared, and wants Jessica to face her fears head on, but Jessica goes to do her floor routine instead.
Coach Arlin, you remember that you are the coach, right? Not just some random person watching but someone responsible for training and protecting and helping these girls? Okay then.
Elizabeth tries to interview Jessica about the games for the Sixers but Jessica is pretty flat about everything and when she admits it’s because of Dawn, Elizabeth talks about how if Dawn doesn’t compete, Jessica will never know whether she really deserved the medal or not because there’s no way to know if Dawn would have beaten her or not.
Damn, Elizabeth, that’s cold. I love it.
Jessica decides that she’ll check in on Dawn the next day and make sure she’s going to compete. Only so Jessica’s win feels earned, of course, not because she feels guilty.
Sure, Jessica, whatever you need to tell yourself.
Donald keeps being annoying and knocks Lila off the uneven bars. This makes Jessica even more worried about getting injured right before the games. [Dove: Just fuck off, Donald. You’re the towel boy, not a gymnast, and why isn’t an adult – any of them, since the coach isn’t gonna bother – telling him to get the fuck down and if he’s really keen to learn, private lessons after the games, but stop getting underfoot, slowing down practices and injuring the fucking team. For fuck’s sake.] [Raven: I was waiting for Donald’s moment of awesomeness throughout this book. Spoilers? He doesn’t have one.]
Jessica decides that she’s not afraid, not really, she’s having a sympathetic reaction and as long as Dawn can’t perform, she can’t either, so she’ll get Dawn back on her feet.
This convoluted refusal to face her own feelings is perfect and I’m shocked to see it in this book.
Jessica visit Weston Middle School and though she’s been there before, she’s shocked by how run down it is, how there’s a metal detector at the entrance, etc. Oh, Wakefield, you fucking mess. [Raven: To be fair, that did surprise me. Not that there was one, but that it was mentioend in this book.]
Jessica tries to talk to Dawn and admit she wants to offer help, Dawn and Jessica fight and draw Coach Wykoff’s attention, and he thinks that she’s Elizabeth Fowler because of course he does.
They continue to argue over whether Jessica will help Dawn or not and in the end they get no work done that day but Jessica swears she’ll return the next day.
The next day she does not manage to pull off the double flyaway dismount she had down and, in fact, takes a solid fall. Coach Arlin again tries to talk to her about how normal it is to develop a fear after seeing something go badly, but Jessica refuses to talk about it and also leaves practice early AGAIN DESPITE THE FACT THAT ARLIN IS THE FUCKING COACH GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER AND COACH, WOMAN.
Dawn’s surprised to see Jessica actually show up, though it’s after practice is over. Dawn gets onto the uneven bars and works through some moves. Jessica gives her advice. Dawn doesn’t do her normal dismount because she doesn’t want to land and stress her ankle. Which is perfectly fucking logical AND ALSO WHY THERE SHOULD BE A COACH AROUND WHEN SHE’S GETTING BACK ON THE EQUIPMENT FOR THE FIRST TIME AFTER AN INJURY.
God I hate so much of this book. When the core premise is handled in such a failed way, it’s hard to find the good.
Dawn struggles with her handstand and after Jessica asks whether she ever gets afraid up there (obviously dealing with her own issues, though Dawn doesn’t know that), Dawn realises that oh, shit, she is afraid. Not of falling, but of failing.
Good times good times good times.
Lila tells Jessica that her driver saw Jessica on her bike far away from where she should have been and she needs to save her energy for the games on Saturday. (Now just three days away counting the day they are on, and Jessica still hasn’t managed a clean routine on the uneven bars, I’m sure none of this will actually matter come Saturday.)
Donald manages a squat vault and is incredibly pleased with himself. Everyone applauds him except for Lila. When he sees Jessica again refuse to do her bar routine, he goes to talk to her. He demands that she go back to the bars, they attract enough attention that not only Coach Arlin but everyone in the gym is watching her, and finally she goes through her routine and though it’s not great, she manages it and sticks the landing. [Raven: See, this was the opportunity for Donald to earn his keep in this book. It was even presented as such. Donald had realised that Jessica had the Yips, and was now going to be the catalyst for her to get her game back. But no, he just got in the way again and eventually the eyes of the crowd persuaded her to try the routine again. Why the fuck is Donald here?]
Coach Arlin offers to take them all out for pizza after practice which sounds like a terrible idea less than three days from the California Games, but whatever, I’m trying to let logic go.
Jessica waffles but finally decides to skip her practice with Dawn and stay later the next day to make up for it. Dawn’s grumpy when she shows up on Thursday and demands that she leave her alone. Jessica refuses to admit that she feels guilty over not showing up too, not just about the injury.
Dawn falls, Jessica catches her, they bond a little.
Friday! Last practice before the games! Jessica and Lila get into a chalk fight. Coach Arlin wants Jessica to stay late and work on her bar routine after practice, but Jessica wants to go help Dawn. She knows she should work toward perfecting her own routine and stop worrying about Dawn, but — but she just can’t.
Wow, Jessica being a supportive friend and worrying about someone else is a delightful part of this book that otherwise annoys me to no end.
Dawn and Jessica argue about why Jessica’s helping her, whether Dawn will ever get the pirouette down, how to relax, etc. Dawn finally breaks down and Jessica doesn’t understand how one little problem with her routine could push her over the edge like this.
Really? REALLY, WAKEFIELD? You don’t know what it’s like to fly off the handle over some small thing? YOU ARE A GODDAMN LIAR.
Dawn talks about how gymnastics is all she has, she doesn’t even have friends, and then Jessica not only accuses her of being afraid of the bars but admits that she was, too, after Dawn’s fall. She goes up on the bars to show Dawn how to get through it but lands badly on her ankle.
She makes Dawn go up and do the trick herself, Dawn manages it, and they bond over practice and facing your fears and now they’re both injured when it comes to their ankles. Jessica tries to hide how injured she is.
At home, she ices her ankle and hides in bed when Elizabeth gets home and stresses over everything. Oh, honey.
Elizabeth interviews the gymnastics team on the bus ride to the games, and Jessica’s been grumpy all morning. She admits she’s nervous, but she won’t meet Elizabeth’s eyes when she talks to her.
Jessica’s up first on the uneven bars and goes through her warm up [Raven: She’s first up, on her most important event? What a coincidence. That way, the Ghostie doesn’t have to, y’know, write about any of the other gymnasts or disciplines. Why waste a page on colour, when it can be ALL PLOT ALL THE TIME?]. When she gets ready to dismount, she realises she’ll never manage her double flyaway dismount with a sprained ankle. She eases herself onto the mat instead and tries not to cry.
Dawn comes to check on her. They are awkward, here, on opposite teams again, and I think they are adorable. I’d happily read about girls on opposing teams falling in love. [Dove: This was a bright spot in an otherwise dire book.]
Finally it’s time to compete. Sweet Valley isn’t doing so well when it’s time for Jessica to compete on the bars. Amy got a 9.2 on floor but a girl from El Carro got a 9.3 and Dawn a 9.4. Jessica needs to do well on the bars to make up for it.
The routine itself goes incredibly well, right up until the dismount. She doesn’t even try the double flyaway, does a single layaway instead, but she can’t even stick that with her ankle and falls to her knees.
She needs a 9.3 to beat the girl from Big Mesa and despite the dismount, she gets a 9.4, which puts her in the lead, but Dawn’s up next [Raven: A 9.4 for a routine in which she collapsed at the end? Not feeling it.]
Jessica pays more attention to Dawn’s routine than Mary Wallace who is on the floor at the moment. I love that Jessica can’t help but cheer for Dawn and even hop over to hug her when she manages a beautiful routine and a solid landing.
Jessica’s entire team loses their shit but not over her hugging a competitor (no, seriously, I ship them hard now) but because of her ankle. Dawn is envious because her coach helped her when she got hurt but none of her teammates did.
Dawn knows she’s not like the rest of her teammates but she still gets sad when they exclude her. They do gymnastics for a season but she does it year-round, four hours a day five days a week because her dream is to go to the Olympics. I’m not sure that’s enough practicing at her age if she’s trying for the Olympics, to be honest.
Dawn wants to go talk to Jessica, but doesn’t know what to say.
Jessica gets the silver medal, Dawn the gold, and Jessica is not all that upset in the end. (Alena Walker from Big Mesa gets bronze.) [Raven: I really felt for Alena, for some reason.]
When Dawn gets the bouquet of roses after her gold medal, she holds Jessica’s hand and tells her she couldn’t have done it without her. They are holding hands and whispering together in front of everyone, oh god I love them together, please be friends and date and have all sorts of gymnast adventures.
…yes, I know I want a completely different series than what we’re actually reading.
The final award of the day is the Most Promising Gymnast given to the gymnast who has the highest overall score on all four apparatuses and includes a gym bag from Maurice, a gift certificate from Sports Are Us for apparel, two weeks at an intercollegiate gymnastics camp, and $10,000 scholarship money.
And there you go, that’s why Dawn couldn’t fail.
She wins, and I’m thrilled for her.
She returns to the podium and thanks her coach, her team, and her parents, but then thanks her “opponent and friend”, Jessica.
Before the teams leave, Dawn gets Jessica alone and apologises for rubbing oil on the bars. Jessica finally apologises for sugar in the chalk, too.
Then Dawn anxiously asks if she’ll ever see Jessica again. Of course, Jessica says, their schools play each other all the time, they’ll see each other next season, and Jessica will beat her. Dawn rises to that challenge.
This is not a book about a competition, nor is it a book about Jessica learning to face her fears and to make right what she did wrong. This is a goddamn enemies to friends to lovers romance and all we need is the sequel which takes it from this enemies to friends part of the trope and on to the friends to lovers part of the trope.
Fuck, I want that story so damn bad. Bad enough that despite hating a solid chunk of what actually happened in this book, I ended up loving it because DAWN AND JESSICA ENEMIES TO FRIENDS TO LOVERS I WANT TO READ A MILLION WORDS.
That being said: fuck the writing, Donald was pointless, and I hate that I still can’t let go of logic.
[Dove: This book was fucking awful. I could grudingly set aside the fact that Jessica isn’t a gymnast and there are other more athletic girls in the school, and by this point the series was called (in the US at least) Sweet Valley Twins and Friends, so it didn’t need to be a Wakefield at the helm, but fucking Donald.
Literally, what was the point? I kept waiting for his presence to have merit, I thought at first he’d have a talent that would be suited to girls’ gymnastics, and it was a rehash of Booster Boycott challenging gender expectations or whatever. But no. Then I thought he was going to realise that he was a better coach than a player (like Charlie in D2: The Mighty Ducks), and would be able to give advice, particularly to Lila, who seemed to have a personal beef with him. But no. And then I thought maybe he was just going to realise that doing something as “small” as being the towel boy means something to someone (like the pride Akeem takes in mopping floors in Coming to America), but that didn’t happen either. The only thing he contributed was a creepy “nice guy” thought about how happy Jessica was with her result (before the fear), and she was hugging the team, and he might get a hug too. He did not, and I was glad, because no, you don’t get rewarded with a hug for existing near a girl.
Also, I hated his constant failing at sport. Obviously I failed a lot of sport, and the shaming received was never helpful, “Everyone else can vault onto the horse, Dove. You’re just not trying.” And just reading half a book about him failing, only to fucking win at doing something feeble like a fucking forward roll was not the big win the book wanted me to think it was. Especially when there was no point to it. He wasn’t trying to impress a parent, live up to a sibling, get up the courage to talk to a girl, I have no idea what his fucking motivations were, and I’m angry enough to write paragraphs and paragraphs about it because my time was wasted, and I’m pissed off.
Spoilers for the podcast in about ten years when we get to this one: KILL IT WITH FIRE. BUY A FLAMETHROWER. TORCH ANY HOUSE CONTAINING THIS FUCKING BOOK.
Pretty sure I can’t follow that. Instead, here’s Lee Mack on gymnastics.
I too hate this book, for all the reasons mentioned, and also because they never mentioned Belinda Leyton, who is the school’s acknowledged Best Athlete. I know she’s not a gymnast, but she should have made the California GAmes for something.]