Nostalgic Reads – Power Play

Nostalgic Reads

Power PlayTitle: Power Play

Authors: Francine Pascal, Kate William

Series: Sweet Valley High #4

Blurb: Robin Wilson wants to join Pi Beta Alpha, Sweet Valley High’s highly selective sorority. She may not be beautiful or popular, but she’s friendly and smart. So when Elizabeth nominates her for the sorority, Jessica is less than thrilled. She is determined to find a way to keep Robin from Pi Beta.

But Elizabeth is just as determined to make Robin a sorority sister, and the twins become locked in a struggle that develops into the biggest power play at Sweet Valley High. Who will prevail? Which twin will triumph? What happens when sisters go head-to-head?

Review: This is something that I know didn’t really hit me when I read this book back when I was a kid.

So Jessica is president of the Pi Beta Alpha sorority now, because of course she is. And she doesn’t really want Robin Wilson to become a member. Why? Because she’s “a little overweight.” Even Elizabeth, who is supposed to be the nice sister, thinks that Robin should stop eating, as though being skinnier would stop all of her problems. Now, here’s the thing. I spent most of my childhood thinking I was fat. I wasn’t, although I am NOW. I wish I was the size I was back then, especially since I thought a size 8 or size 10 was “fat” at the time. I remember when I read about Robin Wilson thinking to myself that of course she should lose weight. It will solve all her problems, and therefore, it would solve all my problems as well, right?

Wow, how toxic is that train of thought!

Robin wants so desperately to fit in that she wants to join this sort of terrible organization that excludes people not deemed “worthy” enough. Despite being its president, Jessica does not want Robin to be pledged to Pi Beta, so Elizabeth agrees to do it instead. This makes Jessica very, very not happy.

Fat shaming comments:

  • Elizabeth thinking that Robin is “a little overweight. All right, a lot overweight.”
  • Jessica calls her a “tub of lard.”
  • Another Jessica gem: “One look at that shape and they’ll be calling us the Pi Butterball Alphas!”

And this is all in Chapter 1, y’all. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

The entire pledge drive is designed to make Robin feel bad about herself for being overweight: jogging around the track in shorts (while people laugh and heckle her), wearing a bikini to the beach, and asking Bruce Patman out on a date. Which Bruce agrees to do because Elizabeth promises him a bit story in the paper about his tennis prowess, but then he dumps Robin at the dance and humiliates her.

Still Robin makes it to the final vote – in which someone blackballs her, eliminating her from the chance at membership. She is absolutely devastated. She disappears after the vote, feeling completely humiliated, and when she comes back, she’s almost a ghost – not speaking to anyone, keeping her head down. Instead, she turns into a machine, running every day, going on a diet. And she begins losing weight and looking beautiful – even though she was already beautiful before, just a bit bigger than the other girls.

Once she is thin enough, she tries out for the cheerleading squad, another domain of Jessica’s. She has completely changed – lost weight, got more stylish clothes and hairstyle, wears make up now. Even snotty Bruce Patman is impressed. And when she tries out for cheerleading, not only does she make the squad, she gets made co-captain with Jessica!

Now that Robin feels better about herself, she starts to rebuild her friendship with Elizabeth, and recognizes Jessica for the terrible person that she was. She knows that Jessica is the one who blackballed her from Pi Beta and knows that Jessica completely  took advantage of their “friendship” before. Robin just wanted to believe it so badly that she let Jessica walk all over her. It’s sad, really, but Robin is different now.

And bold. There is a contest for the title of Miss Sweet Valley High and competition is fierce. Robin posts the following signs all over school:

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

It has come to my attention that members of Pi Beta Alpha have forbidden any girl who is not a member to go out for Miss Sweet Valley High. I know all about the PBAs. They blackballed me. I accept their challenge. I ask for your vote.

Robin Wilson

That’s pretty badass. And it works. There is a backlash against PBA for their snobbiness, even though they try to deny it. Robin stands firm . . . and wins the title! Here’s the thing though. She is asked if she has a message for the student body. Her message is:

“Only something we all know but don’t always remember — ‘Know yourself.’ And don’t try to be anyone else.”

Except, Robin, you did try to be someone else. You completely changed everything about who you were to make yourself acceptable to the student body. You are Sandy at the end of Grease, changing completely for all the wrong reasons. It also leads Robin to get back at Bruce Patman and to reject the PBAs when they try to retroactively invite her for membership.

The side story in this one is about Lila Fowler’s mysterious aunt who gives her presents she doesn’t want, so she passes them along to Jessica. Then Elizabeth sees a new store in the mall that sells similar items and the manager says they have had a string of shoplifting happening. Yep, rich and wealthy Lila is stealing. And because Elizabeth tried to investigate, Jessica gets suspected and arrested. Lila finally breaks down and confesses that she did it because her father, who is one of the richest people in Sweet Valley, doesn’t pay one bit of attention to her. She has to go to court, but their lawyer is able to take care of things so that Lila only gets probation.

In conclusion, this particular book is really terrible. It has a horrible message for young girls — if there is anything about yourself that is the least bit off the norm, you must do anything possible to change yourself in order to be accepted. It’s only redeeming quality is that Robin specifically says she’s not starving herself. So no anorexia, yay! But still, change yourself and throw it in the faces of all the people who rejected you. That’s the way to be! Sure, it’s the plot to many teen movies, especially from the 80s, but it’s still bad. Really bad. Although a bit satisfying to see Jessica get so thoroughly defeated. No one deserves it more.



Categories: nostalgic reads

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