NOSTALGIC READS: Promises

I am so excited to bring back the Nostalgic Reads feature to my blog! It has been way too long and these are so much fun. Let’s head back to Sweet Valley, California, shall we?

Side note: one of the challenges for me was actually finding copies of these books, but I have found the past several available to read for free through Kindle Unlimited! So if you have Kindle Unlimited and want to join me in my blast to the past, it’s easy to do!

About the Book

PromisesTitle: Promises

Author: Francine Pascal, Kate William

Series: Sweet Valley High #15

Pages: 150

First Published: December 1, 1984

Blurb: Steven Wakefield is crushed when his girlfriend, Tricia, dies after a tragic illness. The only things that keep him going are the memory of their love and his promise to Tricia to take care of her sister, Betsy, after she’s gone.

Betsy Martin’s wild exploits with drink, drugs, and boys have left her with the worst reputation in Sweet Valley. But when Steven takes her into the Wakefield home, Betsy makes a promise to change. And as her goodness grows, so does her love for Steven.

Jessica, Steven’s conniving younger sister, doesn’t like this one bit. She makes a little promise of her own to get Betsy out of the house and out of Steven’s life… forever!

* * * * *

Oh boy. This book starts off super sad. We’ve known about Tricia’s illness for a while now, but she is reaching the end of her fight with leukemia. Even now, it is the Wakefields (even Jessica, who never liked her brother mixing with the Martin family, is moved to tears) who stay by her side. No sign of Tricia’s father or sister anywhere. I do love that Jessica has a slight moment of self-awareness seeing Tricia’s bravery at the end of her life, knowing that her day could be “ruined by something as minor as a run in her stockings.” Yeah, Jess. Tricia is a million times stronger than you, and you still treated her terribly. Ugh. For what it’s worth, Jessica does apologize for her behavior as she says goodbye. That totally makes up for trying to break up Tricia and Steven’s relationship over and over again.

I will never like Jessica as a character. I honestly don’t know how I ever did except that she’s entertaining at times.

Elizabeth and her parents also say goodbye before leaving Steve alone with Tricia. Tricia asks Steve to promise her something, which of course Steve does. She wants him to look after her sister, Betsy. When their mom died, their father disappeared for months in a drunken stupor and Tricia is afraid the same thing will happen. They pretty much lost both parents that day, which is absolutely tragic, and that’s when everything with Betsy went wrong and she started getting into trouble. After making his promise, as if that was the last thing really holding Tricia back, she falls asleep and quietly dies. So sad!

Also sad – Betsy just missed her sister’s last moments. The Wakefields run into her as they are leaving the hospital. But also, here is a morbid thought: who is handling Tricia’s funeral arrangements? Her father probably isn’t capable and Betsy is just a teenager. I guess the Wakefields will take care of that as well? Betsy is an absolute mess, smelling of alcohol and screaming for someone to take her to her sister. Steve steps up and sweeps her up into his arms, and gently takes her over to the side of the lobby to break the news to her. Steve has always seemed like a stand up guy. I may have said that before, but even if he hadn’t promised Tricia to look after Betsy, he probably would have at least taken care of her like this anyway.

Also a stand up guy? Ned Wakefield. He sees how overwhelmed Steve is, first with his own grief and now with a sobbing Betsy that he’s trying to take care of, and immediately steps in, announcing that they are taking Betsy back home to their house. They had been trying to get in touch with her father and can’t, and Betsy really shouldn’t be alone right now. Betsy doesn’t want to accept their kindness and doesn’t think she deserves it, especially since she was out partying instead of spending the time with her sister during Tricia’s final moments. Betsy vows that she is giving it all up – the drugs, the booze, everything.

Jessica is skeptical. She doesn’t think that Betsy can change and is mortified that Betsy will be staying with them, potentially for a long time if they can’t find her father anywhere. What will people think!! Elizabeth thinks that people will think that they are kind for taking Betsy in when she has nowhere else to go during this horrible time. Jessica just wants Betsy, and by extension Steven’s connection to the Martins, gone for good. Elizabeth puts it this way: imagine how Jess would feel if she ever lost Elizabeth? Jessica doesn’t have to imagine it – she remembers how it felt when she almost did. Because of that, Jessica agrees to be nice to Betsy. For now.

The next day at school, Elizabeth watches as everyone else continues with their lives. There’s a funny moment where they all watch Winston Egbert have a one man pizza eating contest and Elizabeth wishes that Betsy had good friends like she does, people who were kind and supportive. It makes her more determined to help Betsy. When she gets home, though, she is surprised by the blaring music coming from the study-turned-guest-room. Expecting a mess, Elizabeth is surprised to see Betsy is drawing and is actually a really good artist. They connect a bit over their creative pursuits – Betsy’s drawing and Elizabeth’s writing – as a way to find comfort and satisfaction. Betsy isn’t stupid. She knows what people say about her and she knows that they aren’t wrong. She’s a mess. Her drawing is something she keeps separate and private for fear that she might mess that up too.

I love Elizabeth in this particular scene. She can be a doormat sometimes, but she also just genuinely cares about people. Betsy’s drawing is actually a beautiful portrait of Tricia and Elizabeth encourages Betsy to keep up with her art and use it as a substitute for all the trouble she was getting into. Betsy really responds to Elizabeth. I think she recognizes that Elizabeth really cares and Betsy needs that right now.

It might be too good to be true though. The next morning, as they are getting dressed for Tricia’s funeral, Jessica informs Liz that Betsy and left that night and hadn’t gotten back until morning. When Jessica confronts her one it, Betsy explains that she went back to her house to sort through Tricia’s things and fell asleep over there. Jessica doesn’t believe her, but Elizabeth does. Steve surprises Betsy with a gift of a set of paints and brushes, thinking that since she enjoys drawing she might enjoy painting as well. Again, how are Steven and Elizabeth so sweet and Jessica is so terrible?

The funeral is really difficult, as most funerals are, but made worse by the fact that other than Betsy, no other family members are there. Betsy is hopeful that her father will turn up, but that hope turns to disappointment and anger soon. After the service, Mr. Wakefield reiterates that Betsy will stay with them, at least for a few days, since her dad is still AWOL. Steve drives Betsy and the twins back home, but as soon as they take off, Betsy tells Steve to take her to Kelly’s, the infamous bar that is known for being a hot spot for trouble. Jessica feels vindicated, since this proves her point that Betsy isn’t willing to change. Betsy feels that there’s no reason to change. Being a good girl didn’t keep Tricia alive, so why does it matter. She feels completely hopeless, at the mercy of the Wakefields’ kindness. Steve remembers Tricia’s last words and puts his foot down. Betsy is living with them now. Period.

Jessica vents to Lila and Cara later at school. Lila gives her an idea – if Betsy hasn’t changed, then she still has drugs or something with her. There’s no way the Wakefield parents would tolerate that happening in their house, right? Right? In other tragic news, right after this lunchtime conversation, another classmate, Roger Barrett, finds out that his mother has had a heart attack and might not make it. It was a weird addition to the story and felt completely random, but I guess it will come back to this at some point?

At home, Jessica starts going through Betsy’s things and is frustrated that nothing turns up except . . . a small rectangular box that Jess suspects is a pill box. Except it’s only holding aspirin. Jessica goes through everything else in the room and eventually turns to Betsy’s artwork. She is reluctantly impressed. Then there was a picture that seems to startle her. She runs to find Elizabeth. The picture that bothered her? A beautiful, lovingly drawn picture of Steve. Now Jessica suspects that Betsy is in love with her brother and is horrified that Steve might go from one Martin girl to another. And with Steve feeling so obligated to take care of Betsy, well . . . people are starting to notice, at least according to Cara Walker. Steve has been seen with Betsy everywhere. The movies. The mall. The beach.

It doesn’t help when Jessica overhears Betsy talking on the phone with a dude named Crunch (love that nickname) who is known for being part of her old rough partying crowd. He’s trying to convince Betsy to go off with him, but she shuts him down. She tells him that she’s finally starting to have some respect for herself and doesn’t want him to ever call her again. Go Betsy! Jessica who the phone call was and Betsy hedges, saying it was no one important. Jessica keeps pressing and Betsy sort of uncomfortably hints that there might be someone else she’s interested in. It has to be Steve, right?

Following up on the Roger Barrett situation. All the kids in town are at a club by the beach, dancing and having fun, when Cara fills Jessica in. Mrs. Barrett is in a coma and her only hope for survival is a major operation, but she needs to fly to Houston in order to have it done. Houston? There’s nowhere in California that they could do this? The problem is that Roger and his family do not have much money. There’s no way for them to afford this. This situation is ignored again completely as another situation enters the dance floor. Steve and Betsy, arm in arm. They dance for a bit while Steve tells her to ignore the whispers and snide remarks. They are joined soon by Jason, a friend of Steve’s from college.

And Jason might just be perfect for Betsy. He is also an artist and teaches an art class at the local community center. She had heard of the class but was always too scared to try to join. Steve and Jason are both very sweet and encouraging and Betsy agrees to go, although a bit reluctantly.

The next day, Jessica lets Steve have it. She was so embarrassed by him bringing Betsy as a date to the club. Steve doesn’t listen – he is determined to help Betsy. Jessica doesn’t want to hear it, of course, and storms off. Elizabeth joins Steve and, while she is more understanding, she does warn Steve that it looks like Betsy is getting too attached to Steve and it might not be a good thing for her to get the wrong idea.

Later, Betsy storms back into the house, fresh from her first art class. Elizabeth asks her about it and Betsy says that Jason turned out to be a creep. This surprises Elizabeth, since she had only heard good things about him. What did he do that was so bad? He asked Betsy out on a date. That’s it. But to Betsy, who is well aware of her reputation, Jason would only ask her out for one reason. Elizabeth tries to be sympathetic and tells Betsy that maybe he really liked her, but Betsy doesn’t believe it.

Back to Roger Barrett’s mother. They find out the next morning that the Patmans have offered to pay the exorbitant hospital bill for her to get the operation she needs. The Wakefields all think that it’s a bit strange, but their breakfast is interrupted by the arrival of Jason. At first Betsy is really reserved and put off by him, but as Jason keeps encouraging her art, and basically being the sweetest guy ever, she starts to warm up to him a bit. He tells her to enter a competition at the Los Angeles Academy of Fine Arts. They are offering a prize of full tuition and room and board. Jason offers to help her put her portfolio together, but that’s enough to set Betsy off. She doesn’t trust anyone, especially another guy. She’s been hurt too much. After Betsy storms off, Jason admits just how smitten he is and how he is a bit envious of how comfortable Betsy is around Steve.

Here’s the thing. This school and the competition could really turn things around for Betsy, but she is too afraid to try and enter. She doesn’t think she’s worth it. But . . . she left her sketchbook behind, and there are three people very determined to try and help her. I think you know where this is going. The next day, Steve leaves to go back to college, saying goodbye to his family. Betsy is taking his leaving very hard, but Steve promises to check in on her and tells her she can call any time. He also tells Elizabeth that he will let her know if he hears anything about the art school.

Jessica, Lila and Cara try to ambush Bruce at school to try and find out why his dad would do something so nice for the Barretts. He claims that Mrs. Barrett used to work for his dad years and years ago, and as such, he has a bit of a soft spot for her. He’s only doing it out of the goodness of his heart. Bruce points out that the Wakefields are doing the same thing, aren’t they? They all have a bit of a laugh at Jessica’s expense, which makes Jessica madder than mad.

Another side note. Remember when Winston was challenged to eat all that pizza in the school cafeteria? He’s going for the world record now. The news stations are all there to cover the story, because clearly this is the most exciting thing happening in this town right now. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make it, stopping only half a pizza short before he hurls. Oh well. Better luck next time, Winston. Since the event was covered on the news, Elizabeth and Jessica both watch to see if they are on TV, but they are interrupted by the arrival of an unexpected visitor – Jim Martin. Betsy’s father.

Betsy doesn’t end up leaving with her dad. Instead she calls Steve, who rushes home from college to try and help her. Mr. Wakefield is worried about how this has all been affecting Steve. Steve tells his dad about the vow he made to Tricia to look after Betsy, which somehow gives Jessica an evil plan idea to get rid of her. That evening, Jessica goes in to chat with Betsy and lets it slip that maybe Steve has only been so nice to Betsy because of his promise to Tricia. Betsy, of course, takes this as proof that Steve never really, truly cared about her and all the nice things that the Wakefields have been doing for her weren’t real.

Jessica goes in to tell Elizabeth that Betsy left, omitting the part of how she instigated the whole thing. At that moment, Steve arrives with Jason. Betsy won the art contest for the Los Angeles Academy. Now they just need to find Betsy before it’s too late. Steven and Jason check a few bars and finally find Betsy at one of them with a couple of guys. You can tell that she really doesn’t want to be there but is trying to lose herself. She hasn’t taken anything, except a few sips of her drink when she saw Steve and Jason. She yells at Steve, accusing him of not really caring about her and one of the boys at the bar, Charlie, decides to take a swing at Steve.

All at once, Jason stands up and gets between Charlie and Steve. Betsy tries to tell Charlie to stand down, but Charlie doesn’t care. He goes for Jason, who is really scrawny, but they are all surprised when Jason quickly dispatches him. Yep, Jason knows karate. Jason and Steve quickly escort Betsy out of the bar. Betsy’s attitude has completely changed after seeing Jason risk getting beaten up for her.  Steve lets Jason give Betsy the good news. Yay! Betsy has a real opportunity now to change her life completely.

The Wakefields hold a barbeque and pool party to celebrate. Betsy’s opinion of Jason has completely turned around. She has also decided to go back home and try to patch things up with her dad before she goes off to school. The last thing she needs to take care of is to apologize to Steve for how she treated him and how she took his affection the wrong way. Of course, Steve is fine with it and is genuinely happy that Betsy is doing so much better.

So that plot is pretty much wrapped up. What about the situation with Roger Barrett and his mother. That one is a bit more complicated, but it starts with a phone call that Elizabeth gets from Olivia, Roger’s girlfriend. Roger’s mother died, which is sad, but not unexpected since she was so ill. But we also find out why the Patmans were so interested, and it has nothing to do with the fact that Mrs. Barrett used to work for them. Roger’s father, Mr. Barrett (also deceased), is not actually Roger’s father at all. Roger’s father was actually Paul Patman, Bruce’s uncle, who had died in a plane crash. This uncle was even more rich than Bruce’s father was, and now that Roger has no living parents, he will now be living with the Patmans and is now “just become the richest boy in Sweet Valley.”

To sum up, this book likes to jump around in tone, from the super sad (Tricia and Roger’s stories) to the incredibly goofy (everything with Winston Egbert). Despite that, it’s not a bad story, although Jessica is still a terrible person. Elizabeth isn’t the doormat she usually is and it was nice to see her kindness not get completely trampled on like it almost always does. In the next book, we get to see just how the Roger and Bruce dynamic will play out, now that they have discovered that they’re family. What could go wrong?



Categories: nostalgic reads

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