Team Sweet Valley #2: Win One For Sandra

Team Sweet Valley 2: Win One for Sandra
Team Sweet Valley 2: Win One for Sandra
Team Sweet Valley #2: Win One For Sandra (USA Cover) by Jamie Suzanne

Title: Win One For Sandra

Tagline: What happened to the dream team?

Summary: When friends become enemies…

Elizabeth Wakefield and her teammates on the Sweet Valley Middle School beach volleyball team are headed for the California Games! With fast volleys, killer serves and a great coach, Sandra Kimbali, the team has everything it takes to be champions—except that they are so determined to meet Sandra’s expectations that they begin playing worse and worse as a team.

Then the baby Sandra’s been expecting arrives two months early—and she’s forced to take some time off. Can the girls show Sandra her hard work and dedication weren’t wasted and put aside their differences to win their most crucial game?

The second of two special Team editions as Sweet Valley shoots for the stars at the California Games!

TRIGGER WARNING: In this book, a baby is born prematurely with weak lungs. It’s Sweet Valley so OF COURSE THE BABY SURVIVES. However, I treat this plot point with an irreverent bluntness because it’s Sweet Valley, and you know there’s no chance of something awful happening. Obviously if this were a real book or happening in real life, I would treat it with the respect and compassion it deserves. If you feel my callous tone will upset you, skip this recap. The book is terrible anyway. All you’ll be missing is a lot of swearing and side-tangents because I’m bored.

Initial Thoughts:

Don’t wanna do this.

I went boom last week on a recap that wasn’t my own.

In fact, I went boom so hard that I erased Wing. I told Raven that last week’s recap was mine!

[Wing: Not existing is quite an interesting feeling, I must say.]

Also, the only Sandra we’ve met so far is Sandra Ferris, which has prompted Raven to ask repeatedly why they’re winning for her. It’s not Sandra Ferris. I think I’d even be pleased to see Sandra Ferris again because I hate her so much that it would make it moderately interesting.

[Raven: Ah, so my complaining that the last book had no volleyball in it was due to this book having ALL the volleyball in it? Okay then.] [Wing: You’ve cursed us all.]

Recap:

We open with the most annoying twins in the world displaying their differences as they walk to the beach. Elizabeth is full of joy and energy, and Jessica is sulky and ready to stab a bitch.

They are talking about the California Games. Elizabeth is excited about playing volleyball because it’s a team sport. Jessica is relieved that while gymnastics are technically a team sport, they get individual scores, which proves that she is the best.

Jessica spots some boys and settles down near them. Elizabeth goes to practice volleyball with her twin.

That was a boring fucking scene.

We cut to volleyball practice – is this on the beach, is it the same day, are we now at the school? Fuck you for asking. It’s just practice and the team comprises Elizabeth, Ellen Riteman (hi, sweetheart, I was pissed that the “final” book in the series didn’t let you talk [Note from the future: *Dove sobs on the floor in the dark*]), Maria Slater… and probably some other humans. Or this is the smallest and pluckiest underdog story in the world? Or maybe having a Wakefield counts as a full team?

Their coach is Sandra Kimbali, who usually coaches women’s volleyball at Sweet Valley University, but is on maternity leave… and this leads her to coaching the middle school. [Raven: I’ll bet she’s no longer the coach when the Twins get to The Sweet Valley Univerasity books. I guess that’s fair, people change jobs over time.] I don’t think this Jamie understands maternity leave. Or maybe I don’t understand American maternity leave. I’m suddenly wondering if things are so awful in America it’s the done thing to take maternity leave from one job and immediately get another to make ends meet… but what’s the point? Do you get any money if you’re on maternity leave? I know you do over here, but I’m dubious about the generosity of the US benefits system then. On the other hand, Sandra is doing a wonderful womanly thing. She is gestating spawn. She is giving life. And we all know that America values life right until it plops out of the womb. Fuck, who knows what’s going on here?

[Wing: No, you are not guaranteed any money during family leave. A university would probably provide some, though, especially to a sports coach, and I was shocked that she got a job during maternity leave. It’d be more likely that she took the entire semester off and got a side job teaching middle school, but even that is suspect. She’d be a substitute teacher, most likely, and not the one coaching a team. Also, if she’s this far out from her due date, she’d likely still be working at the university in the first place. In short: Much like last book, ghostie don’t know shit.]

(Side note: This is the one book where Kimberly Haver gets to be a key player, and they give the new character the surname of Kimbali? Way to show imagination, Jamie.)

Elizabeth thinks she’s fantastic. Even if she has a “funny habit” of rubbing her belly. *blinks* Really? You think it’s odd that a pregnant woman touches her stomach? I’d say that’s the “default” and those that don’t are regarded as oddities.

We find out this book seems to be running in tandem with the previous book, as Elizabeth muses that they must make it into the California Games. They have four other middle schools to play in order to qualify. Their first match is on Tuesday (no idea what day we’re on now). [Raven: I mean, I guess that these are books running simultaneously, but I’ll make any bet you like that the events of the previous book are not referenced in this one. And if the events of THIS book are mentioned in the previous book, then this will be a pretty dull read.]

We quickly learn that Maria’s serve is not good, but she’s great on defence. Kimberly Haver and Cammi Adams are also on the team. Urgh, and now we get glowing praise for Elizabeth’s mad skillz.

A few weeks earlier, Maria had dragged Elizabeth to the court to try out for the team. Even though Elizabeth loved playing volleyball in gym and with friends on the beach, she hadn’t really thought she was good enough to play competitively. But in the few weeks since she had made the team, Elizabeth’s volleyball game had gotten powerful. Surprisingly powerful. Of course, playing on a real team with a coach and the best players at Sweet Valley Middle School was very different than just hitting the ball around with friends. It was more exciting. And the fact that Maria, one of her best friends, was on the team made it even more special.

Just fuck off with your super powers, Elizabeth.

[Wing: FUCKING NO, THEY WERE NOT HAVING TRYOUTS A FEW WEEKS BEFORE THESE STATE-CHAMPIONSHIP EQUIVALENTS IN THE CALIFORNIA GAMES. FUCK. OFF. GHOSTIE.]

On the topic of Elizabeth’s super powers, condescension is next.

Elizabeth liked Cammi a lot. She was one of the Sixers star writers and a really nice person. But Elizabeth secretly considered her the weakest member of the volleyball team. She did have one advantage over the other girls, though. Inches. Cammi had shot up over the past few months. She was a whole head taller than Elizabeth now. She was a great blocker, but her jumping was still too awkward.

Kimberly Haver gives a killer serve. She is the captain of the team and thinks that volleyball is SRS BSNS, and will totally screw up her hair, makeup and clothes to win. Which kind of conflicts to Elizabeth’s earlier internal musings that all Unicorns are vapid clothes horses – I didn’t mention it because it kind of goes without saying when you’re 100+ books in.

Also, we learn that Kimberly has black hair. 100+ books into the series, and we learn that little snippet.

Next up Mandy Miller pulls a hilarious jape where she claims to be unable to serve because she ate cotton candy. Internally, Elizabeth thinks to herself it’s amazing that Mandy’s such fun when the Unicorns are such a pack of harpies. So basically, Elizabeth slagged off the Unicorns, then two of the three we’ve met are actually pretty cool. And the book doesn’t actually mention that Ellen’s a Unicorn, so if you’ve just read this book first out of all of them, the short version is that Elizabeth is a judgemental asshole, and the Unicorns seem pretty nice, and the problem is Elizabeth. #JustSayin

Sandra suggests that if Mandy’s having problems, the whole team should go up against her. GOTCHA! See, it’s a joke. And it’s just as hysterical as Mandy’s cotton candy prank. Elizabeth thinks this is fantastic. Elizabeth is cataclysmically basic in her sense of humour. As is this Jamie. [Raven: There’s a difference between being a prankster and being fun. Mandy is canonically fun, but not as prankster by any stretch of the imagination. Unless her cancer scare was actually a hilarious jape? If so, she shaved her head… way to commit to the comedy, girl!] [Dove: Maybe the Jamie read that Mandy and Jess did the Vaudeville sketch and didn’t realise it was a sketch and was just like, “gosh, these girls do get up to some silliness at school!”]

We have a scene break, but come back to either the same practice or another one, it’s not clarified. Was this Jamie drunk while writing? I only ask because if I pull something that lazy, Wing makes me rewrite it. [Wing: True statement.]

Sandra tells the player about “digs”. It’s a move where you dive to the ground to save the ball before it hits the ground. Elizabeth immediately tries it out and nails it. Just fuck off. Cammi gushes over Elizabeth’s amazing play. Everyone fuck off.

Also, this is taking place on a court, but Elizabeth dives into the sand. I don’t know enough about volleyball and I have no interest in googling it, so is the setup on a beach called a court, regardless of… well, anything court-like? I guess the court is literally the play area? This book just assumes you know about volleyball. And FYI, Brits don’t. I’m sure some do, but this would be like assuming every American knows the rules to rounders or netball. I’m sure some do and have played either game, but generally most haven’t a clue. [Raven: It’s Beach Volleyball, which is Volleyball on a Beach court, usually played with fewer players than original Volleyball. Depressingly, the women’s game is often showcased at the Olympics as it proves popular with men who don’t, y’know, realise you can get actual porn on the internet.] [Wing: This comes up later, but putting the comment at that point in the recap broke up Dove’s pacing, so I’m going to put it here instead: THIS IS SOME FUCKING BULLSHIT. Ghostie flat out calls this beach volleyball but beach volleyball has teams of two. TWO. You and one other player go onto the court and you stay there until the game is done. You play against a team of two. There are no substitutes. There is none of this bullshit for this competition we’ll be playing as teams of three or six so it’s important we all practice together like this. NO. BEACH VOLLEYBALL INVOLVES TEAMS OF TWO PLAYERS NO MORE NO LESS. FUCK. YOU. GHOSTIE. YOU. LAZY. FUCKING. FUCK. I already let it go when it came to beach volleyball being a middle school sport in the first place, because maybe that was an actual thing back then, though I have my doubts at the time (and what little I saw in my research said it was a more modern thing), but BEACH. VOLLEYBALL. INVOLVES. TWO. TEAMS. OF. TWO. FUCKING. PLAYERS. A school team would have more than one pair, but they would not all be playing on the same court at the same time and not THIS BULLSHIT: Elizabeth’s heartbeat quickened with excitement, During the matches that were coming up, all six girls would play together at the same time. Scrimmages, with just three girls on each side, were twice as strenuous.

FUCKING NO, GHOSTIE. NO NO NO NO NO.]

(For those that don’t know: rounders is kind of like baseball, except it gets to the point much faster; netball’s kind of like basketball, but you can’t move with the ball in your hand.) [Raven: As I’ve always maintained, Baseball is just Rounders for Dads.]

Sandra then takes them out for ice cream. Everyone is excited about this. I guess nobody’s lactose intolerant.

We cut to Casey’s where Sandra orders two banana splits for herself because she craves ice cream all the time with her pregnancy. The doctor said she can have it once a week… wait, what doctor is limiting how much ice cream she can have? Oh, a Sweet Valley one, obv. [Wing: It was — and may still be — pretty common to limit how much sugar someone pregnant was supposed to eat.]

Elizabeth thinks to herself that Team Unibore never hangs out together (except for all the times they did – unfortunately, none of us tagged these entries, but they happened), but Sandra has gotten them to break down the barriers. Also, Elizabeth repulses me by eating mango ice cream. [Wing: Mango ice cream is delicious.] Sandra comments that they don’t have mangos in Kansas and she’d never even heard of them when she was Elizabeth’s age.

Brb.

Ok, I’ve just told JC of Oh God Why?! Nostalgia that mangos exist. I’m sure she’s grateful. Hopefully she can get the word out to the rest of the state. If you know someone from Kansas, drop them a text, ok? [Raven: So, I googled Mangoes and the USA, and I guess there’s some credence in her story. Mangoes didn’t make it to Florida until the 1890s, roughly, and the fruit remained hugely unpopular in the US for many years. Even now, it’s not a staple choice, and pretty much all US-grown mangoes are a shadow of the glorious fruits available in India and elsewhere. All US Mangoes are from the Tommy Atkins cultivar, or a subshoot called the Kent variety [Dove: 38% of Americans won’t eat the Kent variant mango…], that are seen as reedy, pale imitations of the Mangoes from Elswhere. The US climate is, apparently, massively hostile to diverse Mango growth, with only one of four hundred varieties taking a workable foothold. Imported Mangoes were illegal until 1989 through a fear their introduction would blight crops with foreign pests, and even since deregulation these varieties have not really taken anything like a decent market share. All this highlights two things: One, a twelve-year-old Sandra in Kansas in the (presumably) Seventies may not have had much exposure to this particular fruit, and Two, I now know far too much about American fucking Mangoes.]

[Wing: That was a surprisingly detailed look into American mangoes, and I’m impressed. In anecdotal evidence, I grew up in Missouri, a state next to Kansas, and I never had mango until I was an adult. I know people to this day who live in rural areas (and not just in Missouri) who have not been exposed to mangoes, particularly fresh mangoes. This is very much a class issue in a lot of ways.]

Talk turns to Sandra’s coaching and playing. Apparently she was on the Olympic team, but she decided it was time to stop playing around five years ago and turn her attention to coaching. She says that she was never that great. Wow, the USA must’ve been really stumped for players if they picked an average player. Sandra says that she got on the team with “pure will” – by working hard, to surpass better players.

… uh? Whut?

Like, you have to be super good at something to make the Olympic team, and choosing someone who shows up on time 100% of the time over someone who is more flaky is kind of a no-brainer. And if she surpassed better players by working hard… doesn’t that make her better?

*shrugs* Whatever. [Raven: No, I sort of get this. It’s the age-old debate, natural aptitude versus work ethic. In snooker, Ronnie O’Sullivan is touted as the best player the game has ever seen, as he has natural talent and flair and style, and can do things with a snooker cue others can only dream of. And then there’s Stephen Hendry, the most successful player ever, who is in no way as strong a player as Ronnie, but his temprement and practice regime and ruthlessness made him unstoppable. Being “good” at something is only one aspect, you have to also be driven enough to utilise that skill correctly. Also, I’m sure Sandra was also being honest, with her “I was never that great” actually being “I was Olympic-standard, but it was my drive to succeed that took me over the line in a close race.”] [Wing: I’m with Raven on this one. Plus anyone can have a bad day and that can and does happen for teams during Olympic trials. Better players have an off day and suddenly the technically less skilled team is going.]

And that dissection apart, this statement leads to more confusion, because both Elizabeth and Mandy take this to mean that she is singling them out for praise for their hard work. Nothing in her sentence “I loved the game so much that I worked really hard. And I managed to surpass some girls who were actually better players than I was. ‘Work hard’ was my motto.” implies that she’s praising anyone but herself.

Elizabeth burns with embarrassment when she realises that the compliment (???) was meant for Mandy. That’s kind of delightful to see, but it feels like something was cut and now it doesn’t make sense.

Sandra then says that sure the Olympics was cool, but the California Games was even better. They were the underdog team and as they racked up the wins, the team became very popular and got asked on many dates.

Ellen and Kimberly respond well to this, and Elizabeth judges them for thinking that they’re popular. Just fuck off.

Sandra taps into everyone’s secret dreams. She met a cute boy, which interests the Unicorns, and then she won a journalist prize for her articles, which obviously Elizabeth is amazed by. She dreams of winning awards for her writing. I suppose the billions of contests and awards she’s won (roughly ever twelve books or so) don’t count.

We cut to a Unicorn meeting. Apparently Jessica is absent because she’s going on a family trip. Which wasn’t in the last book, and seems to fly in the face of the ALL GYMNASTICS ALL THE TIME Jessica of that book. However, she was wildly out of character then, so why not be wildly out of that character too. Basically, the plot demands she be absent. [Raven: Yeah, this is bollocks. It’s a shame they couldn’t tie these books together in a more cohesive and intelligent way.]

Talk turns to the California Games. The Unicorns think that Kimberly and Mandy worship Sandra (and they do – god the shilling of Sandra is getting unbearable and we’re on chapter two), [Wing: Baby queer crushes, that’s my headcanon.] [Dove: But it’s so boring. All they do is tell us she’s fantastic. We don’t see it. It’s just shilling.] but Janet approves. When they win it will reflect well on the Unicorns, and if any reports talk to them after winning the games, they should refer them to her, president of the Unicorns.

In any other book I’d find that ridiculously charming, but I’m so done with this miniseries that I just want to kill every character.

Kimberly starts to panic that if they don’t win, Janet will start cutting bitches. In an attempt to save herself, she decides that any loss should be blamed on Elizabeth. And here is when I fall in love with Kimberly Haver:

Elizabeth was Kimberly’s least favorite person on the volleyball team. She was always acting as if she were Sandra’s little pet—maybe because all of the teachers at school were constantly drooling over her, telling her what a great student she was. Well, things on the volleyball team were going to be different. Kimberly was determined to be the star and Sandra’s favorite player. For once, Elizabeth was going to have to step out of the spotlight.

Can we all have an ALL HAIL OUR NEW QUEEN moment for Kimberly here? Kimberly, just kill her. Everyone here supports you. Even Jessica would once she realises that with Elizabeth out the way her closet just doubled and she can probably steal Elizabeth’s room as a Unicorn meeting room. Just do it.

Kimberly makes a comment about how she wishes the whole team were Unicorns and Elizabeth bugs her, and Janet takes the bait. She agrees that Elizabeth is cloyingly sickening (well, not those words), but says that it’s all the more reason that Kimberly has to lead them to the win.

Kimberly bricks it.

We head hop to Mandy who vows that they will win, not for Janet, but for Saint Sandra. And also a wee bit for herself, just to prove she can do it. But mostly for Sandra. [Raven: *sings* “You and me, but mostly me, are gonna change the world forever…”] [Wing: Mandy has such a crush on Coach Sandra.]

Over in the Wakefield Compound, Jessica is packing for their trip to see Great Aunt Helen but Elizabeth is too tired and will do it in the morning. The absurdity of this is lampshaded by Jessica. Jessica leaves to finish packing, while Elizabeth goes to bed.

She’s tired and sore, despite spending an hour in the hot tub. The Wakefields now have a hot tub? [Raven:, Well, they call it a hot tub, but since Steven used it it’s basically a cauldron of Sperm Soup.] Ok. Elizabeth thinks to herself that she needs to do something nice for Sandra, because the plot says she’s awesome. She decides to throw a baby shower for her.

Elizabeth remembered how embarrassed she felt when she had mistakenly thought Sandra was singling her out. Well, just because Sandra hadn’t singled her out that day, it didn’t mean she never would. Elizabeth knew she was the hardest worker on the team. Now all she had to do was convince Sandra.

(emphasis mine)

Remember the good old days before the twins disappeared up their own arses and other people were allowed to have talents? Like Sophia being a better writer than Elizabeth, or Mandy being much better at comedy than Jessica? I miss those days.

WAKEFIELDS MUST WIN.

We don’t see the visit. Fuck Great Aunt Helen. She only get screen time if she’s handing out wads of cash or has a ghost.

On Monday morning, Elizabeth rushes excitedly over to Maria to share her grand plan of sucking up to Supah Speshul Sandra only to find out that Mandy has not only had the same idea, but has already set it in motion. Elizabeth feels like Mandy has stolen her idea, even though she’s done no such thing. This feeling intensifies when Maria says that Mandy has suggested that they all pool their resources to buy a group gift – Elizabeth was going to suggest that too! Oh noes! [Raven: DUELLING BABY SHOWERS!]

We cut to a practice where Elizabeth smiles at Kimberly and doesn’t get a smile in return. THINGS ARE VERY WRONG IN THE WAKEFIELD UNIVERSE.

Side note: This feels like the Point Horror book, The Cheerleader, where Althea says she doesn’t need the vampire’s powers to make her popular, and he revokes everything and nobody likes her. Except, of course, that Elizabeth is just not having the very best day ever. She’s just having a normal person’s day. Which to a Wakefield is probably the worst thing ever.

Supah Speshul Sandra puts them into two teams of three with Elizabeth, Kimberly and Mandy together against Ellen, Maria and Cammi. When Kimberly delivers a killer serve that Cammi fails to block, she gives Elizabeth a superior look that chills Elizabeth to her core. Kimberly repeats the process and Elizabeth goes in for a high five, but Kimberly is too busy asking Supah Speshul Sandra what she thought.

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? ELIZABETH IS GETTING A SMIDGE LESS ATTENTION THAN SHE’S USED TO! WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? IT’S PROBABLY TIME TO CRY IN HER THINKING SEAT.

Elizabeth is being a total Jessica at the moment.

Kimberly gets in multiple serves that kill the other team, then flubs one and the ball goes in the net. Elizabeth says “Good job!” and is shocked that Kimberly takes this as sarcasm. Elizabeth says that she meant Kimberly’s serves in general, but Kimberly is over it, she doesn’t need Wakefield validation.

ALL HAIL QUEEN KIMBERLY.

[Raven: Also? It definitely reads as fuckling sarcasm. Kimberly fucks up a serve, and Liz says “good job.” What the hell is Kimberly supposed to think?] [Dove: Exactly. Especially when it comes from a Wakefield twin, who are always perfect.]

At the next round, as far as I can tell, Kimberly ball-hogs, even though Mandy was open. Everyone is so stunned that nobody moves. Including their three opponents.

Elizabeth suddenly realises that Kimberly is trying to impress Supah Speshul Sandra and vows to do better.

After practice, Elizabeth waits to be showered in compliments, but all Supah Speshul Sandra says is a it was a great practice. I’m sorry, does Supah Speshul Sandra not know how Sweet Valley works? GODDAMNIT, YOU WILL WORSHIP THESE ARROGANT TWIGS. [Raven: Also, can’t Sandra see that the team is beginning to fall apart? In what universe was that a good practice session?]

Maria asks if Elizabeth is ready to go home. Staring at Supah Speshul Sandra, Elizabeth says she’s not tired at all and they should practice more. Maria follows her gaze and downs the Kool-Aid. Absolutely, let us practice to death!

They then bully Cammi into joining, even though she has to get home – when it’s well-known that Cammi likes to get home to help her hearing-impaired parents. Although they’ve probably vanished, along with Anna, the girl Cammi used to translate for.

Mandy has total FOMO and begs to join them.

Ellen and Kimberly come out of the locker rooms, clean and showered and in fresh clothes. Kimberly asks why they’re having secret practices behind the captain’s back. Mandy calms her down, and suggests they join in, Unicorn vs Team Boring.

Nobody is having fun. Everyone is tired. Nobody will quit. Cammi takes a ball to the face. Insert your own joke here because I can’t be bothered.

The scene ends with nobody quitting even though they can barely move.

And we smash cut to ten minutes later, because this Jamie doesn’t have a bossy Wing in her life to teach her how to write a line of transition between two scenes that flow into each other without a change in POV.

The lifeguard tells them it’s 6pm, so they should go home because the court is reserved from six. Oh, I guess they are at the beach.

Elizabeth bikes home feeling utterly exhausted and determined that Supah Speshul Sandra gives her the praise she deserves next time. Total Jessica.

We cut to Tuesday, their first game. It’s against Weston, the rivals from the last book, because Big Mesa doesn’t exist anymore. Supah Speshul Sandra tells them to play like a team and they’ll smash it.

And they do. I’m not recounting the match because I’m not interested, and there’s nothing more boring than listening to someone explain something they don’t care about. We’ve all attended meetings at work before, right? That’s the vibe I’d give.

[Wing: FUCK. YOU. GHOSTIE. THAT. WAS. NOT. A. BEACH. VOLLEYBALL. GAME.]

They go to shake the hands of the Weston team, saying “good game” and one snarls, “Good for you maybe,” and Elizabeth can’t help but empathise. She would be feeling grumpy if she lost too. Oh, just fuck off with your saintliness.

Supah Speshul Sandra tells them to stick around after the game, and Elizabeth assumes that they will now be showered in praise. Her in particular.

Their friends, the ones who are there – no Jessica, no Amy – gush over how terrific they played, and Elizabeth says she’s going to write a Sixers article about it, and everyone who missed it will be so excited to read it. Or, more likely, those that didn’t watch don’t give a shit and won’t read the article either, but sure, Elizabeth, you believe what you want, you arrogant little prick.

Cammi says that’s just what Sandra did, and Elizabeth blushes. She has dreams of killing Supah Speshul Sandra and wearing her skin. And failing that, copying her life exactly. She wants to play volleyball, win, write about it and win awards. Maybe she’ll even curl her hair so she looks like her. And get a husband named Hank, just like her. Maybe she’ll shack up with Hank Patman, who can afford plastic surgery for Elizabeth to look just like Supah Speshul Sandra. ELIZABETH HAS DREAMS, PEOPLE.

But for now, she’ll settle for putting a profile of Supah Speshul Sandra on the front page of the Sixers. But just you wait. One day…

Goddamnit, why are all Sandras kind of creepy in Sweet Valley? Everyone loves this one. Everyone loved the last one. Once she’d had a makeover. Is it just something about the name?

On the bus, Sandra starts handing out the compliments. First Elizabeth, who glows with smug superiority so hard that she was mistaken for a nuke in the surrounding states.

For all of three seconds before Sandra compliments Kimberly. Elizabeth tells herself that Kimberly’s smug can’t bring her down. Jesus fucking Christ, kid, other people exist.

Then Mandy gets a compliment. Then Ellen gets praised for her hard working hustle, and Elizabeth is surprised that Ellen is taking it seriously, and doesn’t think Supah Speshul Sandra is making a joke at her expense, because everyone knows that Elizabeth is the hard worker. JUST FUCKING DIE, YOU ARROGANT LITTLE SHIT.

When Maria gets the compliment of playing a “smart game”, Elizabeth rages inside that she didn’t play a stupid game. Then she realises that she’s becoming as dangerously self-cantered as her terrifying twin and manages to rein in the rage.

She even manages to choke out the words “Good work,” when Cammi gets her compliment.

And then Supah Speshul Sandra brings them back down to earth. They’re up against Big Mesa – ACTUALLY BIG MESA! – next, and they have a kickass team. Now she dishes out the constructive criticism. She starts with Elizabeth again, and this needs to be quoted, because even Elizabeth’s failings are so fucking humble.

“Sometimes you miss opportunities to spike,” Sandra said, beginning to pace again. “You passed the ball twice today when you should have gone for the point. Lots of players are guilty of going for the glory too often, but you have just the opposite problem. Remember, you don’t always have to let someone else score.”

Again, emphasis mine.

This brings Elizabeth near tears. She feels terrible. Supah Speshul Sandra thinks she is a terrible player. OMG, time to run home and listen to Evanescence in the bath while tears run down her face and it’s all so poignant and beautiful.

Good god would someone get this kid to a therapist to see if we can even out her moods? I can take Jessica’s highs and lows and murderous impulses, but I’m frightened of Elizabeth.

Sandra has feedback for everyone. None of it is insulting. Everything is positive. And the entire bus is now contemplating doing a 13 Reasons Why, except every reason is about volleyball.

Does Sandra think we won the game or does she think Weston lost it? Elizabeth wondered unhappily. Her good mood was completely blown. Gaining her coach’s respect was going to be even harder than she’d thought.

In no way has Supah Speshul Sandra implied that she doesn’t like or respect any of them. Everything she’s said is positive, and I know that when you’re young it’s hard not to take things personally, but seriously, everyone is hoping the bus will drive over a cliff. Me included. [Raven: This whole scene was patently ludicrous. Sandra praised everyone, and gave constructive feedback to everyone, which is what a good coach does. They played well, they can improve, but good job. But Liz, and by extension the whole team, don’t seem to understand what the role of Coach entails, because they collectively flip out at the very THOUGHT that other teammates should get praise and anyone should get notes on improving. Like, I guess this lesson would be okay if the kids were, like, six or something, but as pre-teens with many school clubs and teams and project behind them, how can they not understand that what just happened was perfectly reasonable feedback and praise from a coach to her team? I can only put it down to all other coaches and adults in Sweet Valley being toxic derelicts that are unfut for their roles, which is sadly pretty much canon anyway.] [Dove: On the other hand, do you remember when Liz flipped her lid when she wrote up a story full of lies in the Sixers because she didn’t bother to fact check and Mr Bowman told her about the importance of verifying stories, and her takeaway was “OMG, Amy, you’d better write this because Mr Bowman said I’m the WOOOOOOOOOORST writer in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD.” And then continued to make exactly the same mistake three more times? On second thought, Elizabeth’s ridiculous interpretations of feedback now makes sense.]

Sandra then tells them to scrimmage, Maria, Ellen and Elizabeth against the others. Elizabeth gives herself a pep talk, telling herself that Supah Speshul Sandra only gave advice to make them better, and she needs to woman up. Yes, kid, yes you do.

It seems everyone takes her advice to heart. Maria was told to speak up more, so she yells that she’ll grab the ball when it comes to her, but Elizabeth remembers her advice, which she translates to ball-hog, and she goes for it too, causing them to headbutt and Elizabeth’s brains are spinning.

Maria yells at her, and Elizabeth feels even more terrible, what will Supah Speshul Sandra think? Oh, just fuck off.

Also, is no adult going to investigate the head injuries that two children have just sustained? No? Ok. But just know that this is another check mark in “this is a Point Horror book” column.

The practice doesn’t get better from there, and everyone snaps at each other. Elizabeth sets up a play for Ellen, then remembers that she’s passed several times now, so tries to go for glory herself and flubs it.

Maria snaps at her again.

Supah Speshul Sandra tells them to play like a team, and Elizabeth decides that that point was aimed at Ellen, not Saint Elizabeth, who is always perfect.

Later, Alice and Jessica arrive to pick Elizabeth up. Jessica asks if Elizabeth is going to offer anyone else a ride home and Elizabeth says no, and don’t bug her about it, while thinking that she’ll murder her teammates if she has to spend another minute with them. Jessica asks about the bruise on her forehead, and is anyone else worried that our favourite spree killer is showing more concern than the coach did?

Elizabeth basically tells her to fuck off, and Jessica guesses that they lost their game. Elizabeth corrects her on that, and Jessica can’t believe she’s in such a mood after a win.

At lunch on Wednesday, Team Boring (Amy, Maria and Elizabeth) have lunch together. Amy is cheerfully unaware of the festering hatred between Elizabeth and anyone she plays volleyball with. Elizabeth is Jessica today, and I don’t like it.

Part of her felt like she should apologize to Maria for what had happened the day before. After all, Maria had called the ball. Technically, it was Elizabeth’s fault they had crashed into each other. But part of Elizabeth thought apologizing was silly. She’d just been doing what Sandra told them to do: playing hard.

Saint Elizabeth thinks apologising is silly? Ok. Thanks new Jamie. You’re fired.

Amy asks what happened when they mention their head injuries – that no adult has shown interest in – and Maria says that it was Elizabeth’s fault and maybe she should play football instead.

Still clueless, Amy comments it must be awesome being on a team with your BFF. Maria comments that it’s an experience all right. Elizabeth internally explains the sarcasm. Because that’s the level we’re at.

We cut to another game, presumably Sweet Valley vs Big Mesa, but we’re with Jessica and Lila, who are a delight in this book.

“I see two seats together down on the end,” Jessica said. “Hurry up, Lila, grab them before someone else does.”

Lila tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Fowlers do not push through crowds.” She sniffed. “If you want the seats so badly, get them yourself.”

Can I have less of the Elizabeth-becomes-Dexter and more of the Fowler sass please?

Apparently everyone is there to cheer on the volleyball team after their big win. The spot Peter DeHaven taking pictures for the Sixers coverage. Lila snarks that just because Elizabeth runs the paper, doesn’t mean she can ignore other teams, like the gymnasts.

I get that managing continuity over hundreds of books is hard, but two back-to-back is surely easier. When does this book happen? Before the previous one? At the same time? Because there’s no indication of that at all. This would have been better if it was written as one large book and split up, so we’d have Elizabeth acting all sulky and weird with a bruise on her noggin but be focussed on Jessica in the previous book, then in this one, we find out that Elizabeth has turned into a nightmare while Jessica is sneaking off at weird times and stealing sugar for no reason. Instead this reads more like the multiple endings of Clue. “That’s how it could have happened… but what about this?” [Raven: Agreed on all counts. They dropped the ball on this, and I don’t mean the volleyball.]

Over with the team, they’re feeling overwhelmed by the people in the stands. Apparently Kimberly has been telling everyone about how exciting and amazing the last game was, and everyone has shown up to see for themselves.

While Maria and Elizabeth have a laugh over how arrogant she is, I’m just admiring her hustle. I hope that girl goes into pro-wrestling or stand-up comedy or music, or whatever else has a pay-to-play structure at the entry level, because damn, the girl’s got powers. You be proud of yourself, Kimberly.

Supah Speshul Sandra gives them a pep-talk, well, more like a pep-sentence, where she tells them to play as a team.

I’m sure that’s not ominous foreshadowing, given that everyone hates each other and themselves, and the stands are packed with their peers and they’re up against their actual rivals, Big Mesa.

I don’t know if this is because it’s badly written or because I don’t know volleyball, but somehow Elizabeth dives for a ball aimed at Cammi, that she is clearly going to miss, and manages to… like hit it. Touchdown! Or whatever. But somehow, despite making no contact with Cammi, Cammi is hurt. [Wing: I took it as emotionally hurt that Elizabeth keeps covering for her, but maybe ghostie just failed that much.] Does you get any of that from this description?

On the next play, the Big Mesa server hit the ball to Cammi again. Elizabeth could see that Cammi misjudged the ball’s angle. She jumped up too far to the right—she’d never be able to reach the ball. Elizabeth sucked in her breath. Then, at the last second, she dove for the ball and recovered it about an inch from the sand.

Elizabeth is like, fuck that hurt bitch, I went for glory and Supah Speshul Sandra will love me best! The crowd starts chanting her name, and she’s like, YEAH, BITCHES, ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR!

Kimberly also plays like nobody else exists. Elizabeth misses a ball and Maria tells her to either play or fuck off. Tensions are running high.

As they switch sides of the court with Big Mesa, Kimberly tells them to get out of her way if they want to win. Especially Cammi. Elizabeth points out they’re supposed to be a team – a bit hypocritically, since she just (somehow??) injured Cammi in her quest for glory. Kimberly says they are, but she’s the best player. You go girl.

I know I’m supposed to hate her, but am I really supposed to like Elizabeth? Because occasionally I do. Admittedly when she’s tripping balls on star wishes or furious with her parents, sometimes I even sympathise with her, but this is impossible. She’s toxic. And I have to root for someone, so I’m going with Kimberly.

Kimberly’s snark works, and Cammi is too terrified to go near the ball. And things fall apart. One of the Big Mesa team comments that it’s like “six-on-one” and it’s no surprise they’re winning.

Over in the stands, Lila is bored. She can’t believe she’s wasting time watching a team lose. Lila, you got off light, my spoiled little angel. I have to read all the shit leading up to and after this loss. Lila decides she’s going to the mall. Jessica says she has to stay here because she promised Elizabeth. Lila exits gracefully. We all wish we were Lila right now.

Over with the team, they are pissed off they lost. Mandy and Ellen snap at each other for a moment before turning on Cammi and universally agreeing that the team would do better without her. Cammi, hon, just leave. You are too good for this shit. Go hang out with Anna. Make like DX and tell everyone, including Supah Speshul Sandra, to suck it.

They approach Supah Speshul Sandra for post-game feedback, and Elizabeth has a flashback to shoving Cammi out of the way so she can hit the ball. Which was absolutely not clear in the earlier description – I assume it relates to the bit above where Cammi was hurt, and not some off-screen shenanigans. Then again, who fucking knows? This book is genuinely terrible. It’s so badly written.

Supah Speshul Sandra makes it clear that no single player can carry the team and they need to work together.

Kimberly gave Elizabeth a meaningful look. “I just wanted to say it’s hard to play like a team when certain people are trying to prove to a certain other person how hard they work,” she said.

Supah Speshul Sandra tells Kimberly that’s unhelpful and they all need to work through it. I think Kimberly’s point stands. For literally everyone. Maybe Supah Speshul Sandra could have watched the play and maybe noticed that the idiots she’s in charge of have taken her most recent advice so literally that they’re falling apart? Gordon Bombay would have noticed. Unless he was going through an evil phase. [Raven: This was a big gripe for me. Sandra, a supposedly kick-ass coach, couldn’t see her team disintergrating before her very eyes. I get that she’s got other things on her mind, namely a pregnancy, but even so.]

I mean, these morons have taken her advice so seriously it’s like the Exact Instructions Challenge.

At practice the next day, Elizabeth has the option to send the ball to Kimberly. She decides not to. When it goes in the net, she stands by her decision. Better to fail and lose than validate Kimberly.

Sandra calls practice early and leaves. Elizabeth worries about her. It not like Supah Speshul Sandra to leave early. Cue more infighting after she leaves, which is stopped by Elizabeth saying that she’s worried about Supah Speshul Sandra.

After practice we head-hop to Mandy, who gets interrogated by Elizabeth about the status of the baby shower. When is it? Are you making or buying the invitations? When will they be sent out? Have you made list of presents we could buy together?

Mandy is pissed off with Elizabeth already – apparently she’s too understanding when people bicker. Good god, Jamie, stop shilling Elizabeth. She’s a toxic fucking nightmare that fights just as pettily as every other dickhead in this fucking team – and this line of questioning only makes things worse.

Mandy says that Supah Speshul Sandra’s baby isn’t due for weeks, so the main priority is getting into the California Games, then the shower. Elizabeth absolutely does not read the room and offers to plan it for her, and is surprised when Mandy strangles her to death with a volleyball net. Or, y’know, makes an excuse and leaves. But she totally wanted to.

At the next practice, Supah Speshul Sandra tries to get them to play in order to keep the ball moving, not to score or win. Unfortunately, her army of glory-hogs cannot comprehend this lesson and flub it. Repeatedly. Then they start bickering again.

Supah Speshul Sandra steps in to tell them to shut the fuck up, but instead…

… COLLAPSES! DUN-DUN-DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN! (Point Horror: 3 points +1 more for a chapter break right after the collapse)

Everyone stands there, completely useless for a minute. Then they argue as soon as Kimberly opens her mouth. Kimberly stomps off after being told off by Mandy. I’m hoping she’s running off to dial 911, rather than to sulk.

Elizabeth recalls the story of her birth, and decides that, based on that second-hand knowledge, Supah Speshul Sandra is not in labour. She decides her mom would know what to do, so offers to call her. They all fight over who’s going to call which mom. Mandy wins because her house is nearer. But Cammi and Ellen both run off to call their moms too.

You are all stupid as hell.

I really hope Kimberly has run to the nearest payphone and called 911. [Wing: Where are the lifeguards? They should be on this.]

On second thoughts, that costs a fortune, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s best to leave her on the beach and hope she pulls through. Or maybe just drag her into the surf and work out your alibis? Then she can haunt them in Sweet Valley High, and Ellen and Kimberley can have died in the interim, got by the vengeful ghost, and that explains why they’re not in Sweet Valley High?

Sorry, I’m having much more fun imagining horror stories instead of this stupid petty bitchfest. If any dude wants to point at media and say, “See, this is why girls suck. They’re all so silly and stupid and pathetic!” this is a great example. It pisses me off.

Mandy calls home. No response.

Cammi wants to call home. Um… no offense, but her parents can’t hear. I know the lights will flash if the phone rings, but unless her younger sister is home and able to translate, they won’t be able to communicate from a regular payphone to their text-phone. Of course, since it’s not been brought up in this book, I’m absolutely certain that this Jamie has no clue that Cammi’s parents are deaf. [Raven: Good catch, I missed this.]

Some teen is using the payphone and Cammi harasses her until she hangs up, then realises that she has no money, so we don’t get to find out either way. Sigh.

Ellen calls home… and gets Bill’s Auto Shop.

“You can’t—” Ellen said quickly. “I must have dialed the wrong number. I can’t even drive yet!”

“Well, call us when you can,” the man said with a chuckle.

Probably my second-favourite exchange in this book, after Lila’s decree that Fowlers don’t shove their way through crowds.

She calls home again. Also Bill’s Auto Shop. She decides to call information, but can’t remember the number. [Raven: I mean, what the fuck? Sure, I get that the Ghostie wanted to show a bunch of girls not getting through to their mothers on the phone, but this one made no sense. Why can’t Ellen remember her own phone number, suddenly?] [Dove: She’s… um… a unique thinker, all right, but she knows her number. FFS. How dare they make my beloved Ellen do this in her last SVT book?]

It turns out that Kimberly hasn’t run to dial 911, but did in fact run off to sulk. I don’t know why they don’t just dial 911. But failing that, why not grab any other person on the beach and ask them for help. Go to the nearest shop. Literally anything but sitting there waiting for their moms to be available. Jesus fucking Christ. I kind of hope that Supah Speshul Sandra dies just to teach them their inaction has consequences.[Raven: This whole “dither about while Sandra is unconscious” schtick actually made me feel ill. I’m pretty sure the real Elizabeth would have called 911 immediately, but this Elizabeth?]

I mean, she’s passed out and has been unconscious for at least five minutes (the text says so) and she’s moaning, murmuring and gurgling. That does not sound healthy, even before you factor in she’s seven months pregnant. If pushed, it kind of sounds like she’s having a seizure. JUST FUCKING DO SOMETHING, YOU WASTES OF HUMANITY. I’ve read articles about four-year-olds saving their mum by calling emergency services during seizures but somehow six tweens/teens can’t remember three numbers between them? What the actual fuck.

I HOPE YOU ALL DIE.

Kimberly suggests they get a lifeguard, since they’re trained in first-aid. Dude, seriously, that’s an option and it’s only coming up now? YES, DO THAT! (That, admittedly, didn’t occur to me, since lifeguards weren’t a thing on any of the beaches I’ve visited.)

Maria and Elizabeth run to the nearest tower and fetch a lifeguard, who calls for help on a walkie-talkie.

Smash cut to an ambulance arriving and the medical professionals quickly and efficiently loading Supah Speshul Sandra in the back.

“Move it!” one of the workers barked at Kimberly, who didn’t get out of the way fast enough. “Seconds count here!”

Oh, gee, I hope the 20 minutes of faffing around before anyone thought of involving the emergency services haven’t caused serious problems for the pregnant woman or her unborn child.

The girls stood together, watching as the ambulance disappeared. Seconds count, Elizabeth repeated to herself. She couldn’t help wondering how many seconds they had wasted.

She’ll be fine. It’s Sweet Valley, after all.

Good god, you kids are fucking thick.

From a moron to a monster, we cut to the Wakefield Compound where Jessica’s opinion of the whole situation is, “Gosh, I know that Elizabeth is upset about her coach, whom she worships – believe me, I’ve seen the altar, it has little bits of hair, a cutting of her volleyball uniform and, in prize position, a whistle with Supah Speshul Sandra’s lipstick mark on it – but jeez, fucking lighten up. I know a woman and/or her unborn baby might die, but would it fucking kill Lizzie to smile?”

When Elizabeth fails to react appropriately to a funny story where Lila flubbed a move on the beam, and accidentally did a perfect dismount that she couldn’t replicate for love nor money [Raven: Which is so funny, apprently, it didn’t make the cut of the actual book about gymnastics], Jessica grabs the phone book and looks up the number for the hospital. Elizabeth says no, don’t call, what if it’s bad news. Jessica, the reason for a lot of bad news in Sweet Valley, says at least she’ll know either way. Elizabeth doesn’t want to call, so Jessica suggests Elizabeth go to the hospital in person. Jessica cannot go with her because she has gymnastic practice.

Elizabeth goes to the hospital and finds out that Supah Speshul Sandra is in the Special Care Nursery. She is asked no questions who she is and is allowed to just wander around. Contrast that to me and Twinkle being invited to go see someone’s newborn, we still had to provide ID and go through various checks in two different places and be escorted by a nurse to the mother. You’re not just allowed to wander around the baby ward. And I’m sure that was the case back in the 90s, because when a friend gave birth (circa 1999?), she said it would be easier for me to visit when she got home, because of the lengthy process in getting to see the mother and baby.

It is revealed that Sandra’s baby came early and it’s a boy. Elizabeth thinks this is terrific – new life – before she realises that being in the Special Care ward probably means that the baby is not doing so well.

She asks a nurse where she can find Supah Speshul Sandra, only to be told – eventually – that only immediate family can visit. Well, why didn’t the first nurse she asked tell her that? Elizabeth hands the nurse some flowers and asks if they can be passed on to Supah Speshul Sandra. Then she asks about the baby’s health.

The nurse says that despite Elizabeth’s good intentions, due to confidentiality, she cannot discuss the health of a patient with a stranger. Elizabeth says she understands, and leaves.

And if you believe that, you’ve not been paying attention to this whole fucking series. Of course the nurse immediately spills the tea with zero hesitation or regard for privacy laws. The kid’s lungs are weak and he might die. Don’t look at me like that, you know they’re not going to kill a baby in Sweet Valley Twins. I can be as blunt as I like.

Elizabeth says she understands and leaves, and leaves.

No, seriously, don’t keep falling for that. This is Saint Elizabeth Wakefield. She doesn’t leave. The nurse escorts her to the nursery where she can look through the window at the baby.

Mandy is already there, because this is Sweet Valley, and what a natal ward needs is hoards of dirty tweens with no relation to the babies piling up in the halls, where germs can spread to the frail infants in the Special Care ward. You’d think Mandy, who must have been immunocompromised after her chemo, might be aware of that. [Raven: I think we’ve now established that her Cancer was a Joke.]

In fact, this is lampshaded, when Elizabeth and Mandy have a moment where they both hope the baby, Christopher, according to his nametag, will make it. Mandy says pointedly that doctors can do amazing things. And they can. They can do it a lot better without a hallway of unrelated tweens oggling babies though.

Also, nobody considers that the baby might’ve been better off if they hadn’t let his mum just seize on the beach while they all sat on their hands and wondered what their mommies might do in the same situation. Elizabeth has constantly been reacting the wrong way to everything so far. She gets praise and it makes her want to cut a bitch. She gets feedback on how to improve and wants to burn herself to death, rather than disappoint her coach. But now she has no guilt for the lengthy delay in getting some help for Supah Speshul Sandra?

And I’m not saying she is to blame, because, y’know that baby is two months early. They bake for nine months for a reason. I’m just saying that it’s funny that Elizabeth’s extremely volatile emotions haven’t latched on to that, when they’ve glommed everything else thus far.

At school on Monday, Elizabeth is delighted to be back because she’s spent the whole weekend worrying about Supah Speshul Sandra and her Magical Baby. She expects a confrontation with Ellen and Kimberly, but instead they have a pleasant chat, and it appears that Supah Speshul Sandra’s near death and dying babb seems to have healed the team.

Then Elizabeth’s heart dropped. What team? Even with Sandra’s coaching, Team Sweet Valley was turning into one big backbiting mess. But without her? Elizabeth shuddered. Would she have to kiss her dreams of going to the California Games good-bye?

Wait. Whut? You’ve just spent the weekend worrying about your much-adored coach and her baby, to the point where you’ve made yourself almost sick over it, and now you’re like, “But I wanna play volllllllllllleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyball”? Ok.

Yes, grief and disappointment can coexist, obviously, but the Jamie keeps haphazardly writing Elizabeth to the point where her emotions are so constantly fluctuating that I think she may need medication to regulate, or she’s actually a sim in Sims 4 and keeps walking past emotional objects.

During math class, Elizabeth sits with Maria, and instead of talking about Supah Speshul Sandra, Elizabeth asks what Maria thinks will happen to the team. Maria has no clue. Elizabeth spends the entire class worrying about the team. And Supah Speshul Sandra. And her baby.

At lunch, Elizabeth talks to Mr Bowman, who asks how her volleyball article is coming along. Elizabeth explains the problem: the team is a backbiting pack of spiteful harpies.

To be honest, that would not have been my guess for the problem. The main problem would be that a baby might die. The next problem is that they don’t have a coach and you generally can’t compete in anything without a responsible “responsible” adult. And the backbiting seems to have completely stopped now that the kids have learned (yet again) that There Are More Important Things Going On In The World.

Mr Bowman bolsters her saying that she has a lot of experience rallying a team – the Sixers staff.

Elizabeth frowned. “Well, yeah, but that’s different.”

“Not different at all,” Mr. Bowman argued. “You have to deal with a lot of conflicting views and personalities, don’t you?”

Literally no. Everyone on the staff is either her BFF and/or has been her Very Special BFF of the Week: Amy Sutton, Maria Slater, Sophia Rizzo, Nora Mercandy, Patrick Morris, Mary Giaccio-RobinsonWallace, Todd Wilkins (both boyfriend and Very Special BFF of the Week)… she is literally surrounded by glad-handing yes-men, to quote CM Punk.

That afternoon Elizabeth shows up for practice and hopes that her teammates do the same. Smash cut to everyone’s here. And also Mr Caldwell, the swim coach who has never been mentioned before, is here to technically be their coach. But only for paperwork. He’s got to be at the pool now, so… like, don’t die, ok? [Wing: I suppose people are slightly more likely to die in the pool than … oh wait, despite them playing in teams that are too large, this remains beach volleyball. Drowning for all.]

He fucks off at the speed of light, and given the lack of interaction, I wonder if Nydick isn’t the only teacher that has to stay a court-mandated distance from minors. [Raven: I really liked Mr Caldwell and his phone-it-in attitude. At last, a teacher who’s purposefully shit, rather than accidentally shit.]

Elizabeth gives them a pep-talk that boils down to IF WE LOSE, BABY CHRISTOPHER DIES! Ok, she doesn’t. It’s all syrupy-sweet about winning to honour Supah Speshul Sandra and her Magical Baby.

Kimberly says that she’s the captain, but Mandy tells her it doesn’t matter who’s in charge. Well, that’s some bullshit. If you don’t know how big a deal losing your captainship is, just watch D3: The Mighty Ducks and see Charlie unravel like the brat that he is. Hans had to fucking die to bring him back from the brink. Do you get that? THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS.

Kimberly is guilted into following Elizabeth’s orders “for Sandra”. Oh fuck off.

They break off into Unicorn/Non-Unicorn teams and scrimmage. Elizabeth internally laments that it was a nice try, but there’s such a division! Oh, how shall we overcome! OMG, how on earth are we going to honour Supah Speshul Sandra and her Magical Baby if—

Oh, hang on. Kimberly stops play to flag a bad play by Ellen, which Ellen accepts.

Huh. It’s almost as if Kimberly is the right choice for a captain, and we don’t need Elizabeth and her fucking internal hatred for all things Unicorn at all.

Everything is golden from there. Every moment it looks like things might wobble, Elizabeth immediately falls into the deep despondent depths of doooooooooooooom, only for everything to be perfect by the next sentence. Seriously, someone help this girl. She needs therapy and/or medication. It’s not right to bounce so extremely from one emotion to another like this – not when we’ve seen for the past billion books that Elizabeth is the most boring and even-tempered of all the saints in the land.

On the way home, covered in dirt and sweat and filth, Elizabeth goes into an exclusive baby boutique. Everything is out of her price range – the bib is $40 and is dry clean only – only is Sweet Valley is it conceivable that a piece of fabric that is literally designed to be coated in food, drool and spit-up would be dry clean only. I find that totally believable.

The sales rep tries to explain to Elizabeth that she wouldn’t “like” anything in their store because of the price tag – and this does not read like that scene from Pretty Woman, it reads like someone trying to give a polite heads up to someone and not waste anyone’s time on a lengthy non-sale.

Finally she sees some $3 rattles and buys one of them.

[Raven: This Bespoke Antique Baby Store is fucking baffling. What a fucking ludicrous business model.]

Um, just out of interest, does anyone use rattles? Do we have some parent/guardians/terrific relative/friends who see a lot of babies? Did your infant have a rattle, or are they one of the clichés that are just not true? I’ve been to multiple baby showers and never once has a rattle actually been on the gift list. Admittedly, I don’t peruse long, I just buy the first thing I see in my budget – the more boring and practical the better, because nobody else is likely to buy a recharging station for a breast pump or whatever because it doesn’t make everyone go “oooooh!” when it’s unwrapped. Therefore less chance of a duplicate if multiple people are on the site at the same time. And they will, because a whole bunch of people leave it to the last minute. It’s not just me. I can tell. They’re the ones who’ve bought a draining rack for the sanitised bottle nipples or other baffling shite that’s boring and practical, like me.

We cut to their next match, which is against El Carro, which keeps sticking in my head as Rancho Carne. Probably because I’m just thinking about anything but this book. [Wing: Rancho Carne High School Nationals performance, in case you, too, want the distraction.] [Dove: That movie also depicts innacuracies in the sport, but it’s entertaining as fuck and you root for the characters. Pay attention Jamie. If you want to do something that doesn’t work, the rest of the story has to be engaging, otherwise the readers get ragey.]

Mr Caldwell is clueless and being rather loud with his cluelessness. The other team finds it funny.

And it’s irrelevant because they win two of their three matches, making the third a non-event.

Mr Caldwell says he spoke to Supah Speshul Sandra, so Elizabeth asks about her and Mandy asks about the Magical Baby. No change. Still might die. Of course it won’t.

Smash cut to their next game against Cedar Springs.

They’re losing 11-2 and everyone’s tense. By the way, Maria is a snappy asshole throughout this book. I only mention it because she, like Elizabeth, is wildly out of character, and I hate it. Ditto Mandy. [Raven: Everyone is weird. It must be Opposite Week or something.]

At some point, Kimberly and Ellen both call that they’ve got the ball. Instead of smashing into one another in a concussed heap, they both step away, and the ball lands in the sand. Cedar Springs makes some snarky comments, and Maria snaps back at them.

Once they get the ball, Kimberly gets them into trouble because of rotation. I’m sure that’s fascinating if you understand this game. Elizabeth flubs the serve and Kimberly and Ellen snark at her. Then Cammi jumps for the ball at the same time as Kimberly and falls over.

The first game ends 15-4. But there’s two more, so if they don’t fuck up this one, they can still win. Gosh, I hope someone comes along to give them a pep talk about Supah Speshul Sandra and her Magical Baby or something.

Elizabeth comes up with a three-hit rule. I don’t know how that fucking manifests because she doesn’t explain it. [Wing: … … … ghostie. GHOSTIE. Do you know a goddamn thing about volleyball? You have maximum three hits to get it back over the net. Bump-set-spike is a basic play for a goddamn reason. If they can get the ball over earlier, that’s good. What they need isn’t a three-hit rule; at the very least, they need to work out where they’ll be on the court and how they’ll protect their area, call and listen to each other more, and focus on working together rather than trying to show off their own individual skill. WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU WRITING, GHOSTIE?!] [Dove: Oh! So, like the three-hit rule was three bounces on their side, then send it over? Or am I still not getting it? You know what? I don’t care.]

The boring half of the team look inspired, but the Unicorn half aren’t into it. Thankfully Cammi mentions Supah Speshul Sandra and everyone melts. Gosh, that’s lucky, isn’t it?

During the next game, Elizabeth and Maria count “one two three”, and… I don’t fucking get it. Like, do you have to hit the ball for the count of three, because I assumed you could only hit it three times… I just don’t get this. And the Jamie really can’t be arsed to describe anything.

Then the whole team starts counting.

… is that… good?

Cedar Springs calls for a time out. Then they come back smiling.

More snark.

Then a Cedar Springs player reveals they know exactly what Sweet Valley will do next because of the counting. Which is awesome because I don’t even know what Sweet Valley did, with or without the fucking counting. [Wing: GHOSTIE. THE OTHER TEAM ALWAYS KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT ON A BASIC LEVEL WHICH IS THAT BY HIT #3, THE BALL SHOULD COME BACK TO THEIR SIDE. THE SKILL IS IN READING THE TRAJECTORY, PLACING THE BALL BACK ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COURT WITH ENOUGH PRECISION TO HIT THEIR WEAK SPOTS, AND — fuck it. Ghostie don’t give a fuck, editors don’t give a fuck, why should I?]

Smash cut to Elizabeth cycling home. Sweet Valley lost the second match 15-10. If other teams are doing better, Sweet Valley might be out of the running for the California Games.

Does anyone care at the moment? Literally anyone? Wing? Raven? Liz? Anyone? [Raven: I’m still holding on in there. I understood the three-hit rule, even if it was a rubbish tactic. I won’t bore you with the details, I’m sure you’re over this book regardless.] [Wing: Please explain the logic of the three-hit rule to me, then. Please. And Dove, I’m too busy raging at how badly the volleyball is written to care about much of anything else.]

Smash cut to Elizabeth taking a phone call from Maria who relays the fantastic news that they’re tied to make the cut for the Games. They just have to beat El Carro. For those who’ve dozed off in the past eight paragraphs, I don’t blame you, but they’re the team that Sweet Valley absolutely flattened, so this should be a cake-walk.

Cut to the beach for their next game – wait. Hold up. A billion pages ago, Kimberly got to serve first because they were the away team. I didn’t mention it because it was boring. But now it’s just occurred to me, do each of these schools have their own fucking beaches? [Raven: Yeah, that’s bizarre. I suppose one team is “nominated” to be the Home Team when playing in a neutral venue?] [Wing: I’d guess it’s the public beach closest to each school, though you don’t actually need a beach for beach volleyball, just a sand court, so technically each school could have their own.]

I cannot comprehend anything in this book.

Anyway, the weather is terrible. Pouring rain, high winds, not suitable for volleyball. They have to play though because the qualifier is tomorrow. Whut? Isn’t this the qualifier? I am so goddamn confused right now.

The team tries to practice, but the weather is awful, and when there’s a crack of lightning, they seek shelter.

The ref says that if El Carro don’t show up in one minute, they’ve forfeited. They should be here within ten minutes of the game start, but have been given an extra five minutes because of the weather and the importance of the game, but they’ve only got one minute to go.

And they don’t show up.

Team Volleyball win by default. I’m sure that’ll be one to tell the grandchildren.

Oh, wait. They’ve made the playoffs. So this was a qualifier for a qualifier? Fuck me, this is drek. Was this a NaNo project? I can forgive it for being shit if it’s NaNo. Although it’s only 27k words, so it won’t win. Unless both books were a single NaNo?

Just FYI: I know fuck all about ice hockey, but somehow I can follow The Mighty Ducks movies just fine. And the delightful TV show. I’m not taking the full blame for not understanding this scribble. This is the erratic daubings of a child filled with sugar. Probably scribbled on the walls of Nana’s house. On Christmas morning.

This book makes me believe in Bleak Elizabeth.

Cut to the day they play Big Mesa. There’s a boring filler scene where Maria and Elizabeth talk about the upcoming match noting that Big Mesa crushed them last time.

I haven’t read this yet, so I’m going to make a prediction. They get creamed in the first match. Things are looking bleak, but what’s this? Do my eyes deceive me or is that a Supah Speshul Sandra on the horizon cloaked in an angelic light? OMG, it is! OUR GOD IS HERE! And they play the best game of their life and utterly crush Big Mesa in the second and third match. Then they play We Are The Champions while Hans tells Gordon he’s proud of him Supah Speshul Sandra explains that her Magical Baby is now perfectly healthy and everything is awesome. The book ends with the baby shower. And it’s amazing. And the baby does not cry or scream or puke.

That’s my guess.

Bring it.

The team has a meeting before the game and agree to drop the three-hit rule, which I still don’t understand. They agree to keep out of each other’s way.

Elizabeth looked around at the determined faces of her teammates. Someone is missing, she thought. “I wish Sandra were here today,” she said, her voice catching.

Maria’s eyes were sad. “I’m sure she wishes she were here too.”

Ellen shrugged. “Do you actually think she’s lying around in her hospital bed thinking about us? She has bigger things to worry about.”

“I don’t know,” Cammi said quietly. “I got the feeling that this team was pretty important to her. She really gave us her all.”

No, Cammi, you fucking muppet. When someone you love is dying, you do not give a shit about some tweens you’ve known a mere fortnight playing sportsball. Ellen at least gets to be the voice of reason, which just proves how little Jamie knows about this universe. [Raven: Also, if the coaching we’ve seen was “her all”, she’s really got fuck all to offer anyone.]

Mandy points out that they all suck. Elizabeth adds they totally failed when Sandra collapsed. Kimberly says she wishes they’d got the ambulance earlier, it might have made a difference to the Magical Baby. Everyone is super sad. 🙁

Oh, I’m wrong about my guess. Team Sweet Valley is already killing it without needing Sandra there. Elizabeth does something amazing and the crowd chants her name. Just to be clear, although I’m sure you’ve all guessed this, nobody else’s name gets chanted in this book. [Wing: Elizabeth badly blocks the very first serve. BLOCKING IS NOT WHAT SHE SHOULD HAVE DONE. For a serve, she needs to get under it and get it back into the air with enough height to give her teammates room to maneuver, not send it flying behind her. FUCK. YOU. GHOSTIE.]

Over in the stands, a tiny sliver of delight exists in the form of Lila and Jessica watching the match.

“Miss, miss, miss,” Lila chanted as Big Mesa got ready to serve.

Jessica stared at Lila. “Since when did you get so interested in volleyball?”

“Since Janet ordered us to,” Lila replied.

How can this Jamie be so good at Lila but fail at everything else? Is she a Sweet Valley High writer on secondment? [Wing: Full on laugh out loud at Lila’s response.]

Janet, btw, is flirting with some cute guys from Big Mesa. Sorry, Janet, but that reflects badly on all of Sweet Valley. Just you wait until there’s a rumble and you’re torn between your school loyalty and the boy you love, who’s floating facedown in Bruce Patman’s pool.

I don’t actually know if that’s a real plot or just something I’ve assumed will happen based on… well, a combo of Sweet Valley and… um… Michael Barrymore. [Raven: Now THAT’S a crossover!]

Anyway, Team Sweet Valley wins game one.

Maybe I’m wrong about how this ends. Or maybe the Jamie couldn’t be bothered to write three matches. Forgetting, of course, that she could just smash cut to them celebrating their win without writing it, because why not?

Over in the stands, Lila has now joined Janet in the flirting. She has her own pool a boy can drown in. Hers is Olympic-sized. If you’re gonna drown, drown big.

Oh, I was right about the smash cut, just wrong about where it was. Smash cut to the team sulking that they lost game two.

Kimberly thinks to herself that she’s no loser and she’ll make sure they win.

Smash cut to mid-game where Elizabeth is silently berating Kimberly for shoving Cammi out of the way to get to the ball. She takes a deep breath to relax and then flubs a serve.

The team quickly falls behind and by the time they’re at 10-5 to Big Mesa, Elizabeth forces Kimberly to call a time out. Cammi tells Kimberly to fuck off (you go, Cammi!), and Elizabeth is just about to tell Kimberly off when… what’s that I see?

Do my eyes deceive me or is that a Supah Speshul Sandra on the horizon cloaked in an angelic light?

Everything pans out like I said from here. Teamwork makes the dream work and all that shite. As they close the lead, the crowd starts yelling – still no names except Wakefield, now they’re stuck on the incredibly original “Go! Go! Go!”, which is less of a chant and more something you scream at an asshole that won’t leave your house. There is a brief mention of how the stands are shaking because of the joyful stomping and I briefly imagine that this has been a very boring lead-up to a Final Destination style disaster.

Sadly, more sportsball and winning and shit, especially when the team hear Supah Speshul Sandra cheering them on.

Wait. There are stands on the beach? WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? WHAT ARE THE CAVE’S FUCKING DIMENSIONS????? [Wing: This is the least weird thing about the setup for their games. Portable stands are available.]

God I hate this book. Only a chapter to go.

Obviously they win. And obviously Supah Speshul Sandra explains that her Magical Baby is suddenly healthy and home from the hospital. That seems a bit soon. A bit abrupt to go from “might die” to “sure, take him home”. That’s Sweet Valley for you though. Everyone knows “a typical gestation period in Sweet Valley is two weeks or by the time the next big dance rolls around, whichever comes first.” [Dove: No, seriously, follow that link and read it. You won’t regret it.]

OMG, I’m right about the baby shower too. The one thing I didn’t guess is that they’d show up with exactly the same present.

Final Thoughts:

That was a bag of wank and I’m fucking done.

Do not explain volleyball to me. Feel free to insult the book or explain what else it got wrong, but after this book, the sport of volleyball is dead to me.

I’m out. I’m going to re-read The Bully and appreciate the simplicity of a cave that architects believed could drain water against gravity.

Oh, wait, I do have final thoughts: this took place before book 1. Book 1 ends with Jessica coming in second at the California Games. This book ends with them qualifying for the Games. What thickhead came up with the genius plan or releasing them in a backwards order? Or did nobody plan these two books at all. Come on Bantam, fess up. This was a cash grab and you were relieved that nobody read them, right?

Because fuck you, book. That’s why.
Because fuck you, book. That’s why.

[Raven: I think I enjoyed this book a little more than Dove did. Then again, I probably enjoyed getting cellulitis more than Dove enjoyed this book, so it’s not saying much.

My main gripe, I think, was the fact that Elizabeth (and the rest of the team) fluctuated wildly between lovey-dovey sweetness and throat-punching hatred from one sentence to the next. Nothing in this book was modulated, in any way. It was all high drama, with no real thought behind it, from beginning to end. They characterisation was massively off on all counts, with the exception of the idiocy of Ellen (which I maintain is OUR invention rather than that of the series itself), and Lila with her pop-up snark. The fact that this book ended before the California Games made no fucking sense at all, almost as if the Ghostie ignored the brief. And while I did enjoy the sportsball scenes in whole, some of it was terrible (lightning forfeit!), and there were too many matches to cohesively explain the qualification structure.

Overall, it’s obvious that these books were badly-handled Olympic tie-ins that were rushed beyond measure. Shame, as if it were done properly I’d have happily enjoyed a series about the twins and their sporting prowess.]

[Wing: Both of these books — and an entire mini-series about the California Games — could have been fun. I love sports, I love when the girls team up outside of their Team Boring and Team Unicorn strict social sets, and I love underdog tales. AND YET. I cannot get past how badly the volleyball was handled in this book (I played indoor volleyball for fun growing up and one of my bffs plays SRS BZNS beach volleyball as an adult), but the characters were also fucked up, the pacing terrible, the book should not be #2 in a two-book series, nothing was clearly described or set-up, and though I did like the baby queer crushes, there was no adorable crush interactions to get me through like my headcanon for the last book.

We’re taking a break before we start The Unicorn Club, and after these two books, I’m extremely glad for it.]

I am Dove. I am: Team Jessica (Sweet Valley); Team Bad Guy (Point Horror);  Team Geiger (Making Out); Team Nina/Lucas (Making Out); and I am the voice of a claymation cow named Daisy, and I was in an advert for Fairy Liquid in the 80s.