nostalgic reads

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.

nostalgic reads

Nostalgic Reads – Playing With Fire

Nostalgic Reads

Playing With FireTitlePlaying With Fire

Author: Francine Pascal, Kate William

SeriesSweet Valley High #3

Blurb: Watch out, Sweet Valley High! Once again, Jessica Wakefield has gotten her way. Fresh from her greatest social triumph, Jessica proceeds to sink her hooks into rich, handsome Bruce Patman, the most eligible, sought-after guy at SVH.

Or has Bruce gotten his hooks into Jessica? Elizabeth, Jessica’s twin, notices a big change in her sister. Suddenly Jessica’s following Bruce everywhere and dropping everything just to spend time with him.

Elizabeth doesn’t trust Bruce one bit – he’s arrogant, demanding, and way too fast. Jessica can usually hold her own with any guy, but this time Elizabeth’s afraid her sister may be going too far…

Review: So this one picks up after Jessica won the title of fall queen at the dance, but was stuck with school nerd, Winston Egbert, as her king. She doesn’t want anything to do with Winston, of course. She only has eyes for Bruce Patman, the rich kid who drives a Porsche, but she’s stuck with Winston for all official school activities for the rest of the year, like the dance contest which kicks off this book. Of course, because she’s Jessica, she has to break Winston’s heart just as soon as Bruce shows her the slightest attention and she ends up going to the after party with Bruce instead.

It’s almost karma — the two worst people are together. A match made in heaven, really. Here’s the thing though. Bruce is a bit more . . . more than Jessica is used to. He wants to move faster than she does, or has in the past. For example, at the after party, they are swimming in each others arms and he unties her bikini top. Jessica is used to being the one in control of everything when it comes to guys, but that’s not the case with Bruce. Elizabeth is worried about her sister, but when Jessica tells her to mind her own business, there’s not much that Elizabeth can do.

As time passes, Jessica gets more and more obsessed with Bruce, even more obsessed than she usually is with herself. She cuts class, ditches other plans with friends. And her relationship with Bruce is really toxic. He’s manipulative and mean. They play tennis up at his estate (because of course he lives on an estate) and he gets angry every time Jessica scores. She doesn’t even question him about it – instead, she stops playing to her full potential and throws the match so he can win and be happy.

Elizabeth describes Jessica as “a helpless puppet — and Bruce Patman was pulling all the strings.” Definitely not the Jessica we all love to hate.  He even convinces her to quit the cheerleading squad. In turn, Jessica ends up treating one of her friends, Robin, almost as bad as Bruce is treating her — dropping plans, using her for help at school, foisting Winston off on her. Of course, Jessica doesn’t see it that way, but when does Jessica ever see the way her actions affect other people? It’s almost karma that she is being manipulated as badly by Bruce, but even so, no one deserves to be treated like this.

Bruce finally pushes things too far and Elizabeth helps Jessica see that he had been cheating on her. She breaks up with him, very publicly at the pizza parlor, where she throws gooey pizza on him and dumps a pitcher of soda over his head. She even makes things up with Winston.

There is also a subplot about the rock band at school, the Droids, getting picked up by an agent who promises to break them into the L.A. rock scene. The promise of success drives up tensions between the members of the band and, when their gigs are nothing but dive bars, it doesn’t help matters. The agent turns out to be a dud who only tried to “help” them because he had a thing for their lead singer, Dana.

I can honestly say that I didn’t spend the entire book hating Jessica this time, only because I was worried about her for most of it. I’d like to think she might have learned something, maybe that looks and money aren’t everything, and that she should really give people like Winston or Robin a chance. But this is Jessica we’re talking about, so let’s be honest, it’s not gonna happen.

nostalgic reads

Nostalgic Reads: Secrets

Nostalgic Reads

Welcome back to Nostalgic Reads! Today, we head back to Sweet Valley, California.

SecretsTitle: Secrets

Author: Francine Pascal/Kate William

Series: Sweet Valley High #2

Blurb: Beautiful and ruthless, Jessica Wakefield is determined to be chosen queen of the fall dance at Sweet Valley High. If she can win the contest, she’s sure to win Bruce Patman, the most sought after boy in school.

The only person standing in Jessica’s way is Enid Rollins. When Jessica discovers the truth about Enid’s past, she knows the crown is within her grasp. She doesn’t care that Enid is her twin sister Elizabeth’s best friend or that revealing the secret may cost Enid both her reputation and the boy she loves. Only Elizabeth can save Enid from Jessica’s vicious gossip but can she stop her scheming twin in time?

Review: Oh boy. Jessica is not endearing herself to me at ALL.

I don’t think I fully grasped this book when I was younger. I never really had a boyfriend to speak of when I was in high school, so the desperation to hang onto one was never really there for me. To be honest, I’ve only ever really dated two guys in my life – and I married both of them!

Anyway, the main crux of this book is that Enid Rollins, Elizabeth’s best friend, has a secret. She is pretty straight-laced now, but she used to drink and do drugs with her old boyfriend, George. They got sent to juvie after nearly killing a kid in a drunk driving accident and Enid came out sober. She changed her whole life. Which – good for her. George was sent away to finish school, but he and Enid have kept in touch through letters. In fact, Enid’s letters have helped him clean up his act as well, and since he is coming to town soon, he wants to see her. No big deal, right?

Wrong. Turns out Enid’s current boyfriend, Ronnie, is a jealous, controlling jerk who doesn’t like it if Enid even looks at another guy. Enid is absolutely terrified that he will find out about her horrible past and that she is still in contact with George. First of all, Enid, girl, you need to run. Ronnie is bad news. I don’t care how much you love him, he should not have this much control over your life. Elizabeth thinks that Ronnie should be happy that his girlfriend has worked so hard to improve herself and has been a good and loyal friend to someone who needed help. I agree. He should be. But he’s an ass.

So let’s talk about how awful Jessica is in this book, shall we? She . . .

  •  helps start a rumor about one of their teachers dating a student, which could get that teacher fired.
  • obsesses over wanting to date Bruce Patman just because he’s rich and drives a nice car (otherwise, he’s a jerk too).
  • finds one of George’s letters to Enid and GIVES A COPY TO RONNIE.
  • asks Ronnie out to the school dance after he breaks up with Enid (and only after she finds out that Bruce Patman is taking a college girl) in order to improve her chances of being named prom queen.

There is also a subplot about their French teacher, Ms. Dalton, who is actually dating Lila Fowler’s father, but who the entire school thinks is dating Ken Matthews, the captain of the football team. Sure, Ken clearly has a crush on the teacher, but Ms. Dalton is really nice and would never jeopardize her career that way! And besides, there is always nice Mr. Collins (who looks like a young Robert Redford) who has an interest in her too.

So yeah, Ronnie finds out and is horrible about it. Enid, of course, thinks that Elizabeth is the one who told him because she was the only one who knew (except for Jessica, who found one of the letters that got dropped in Elizabeth’s bedroom). Jessica claims that she is trying to help the situation by going with Ronnie to the dance, but her real motivation is to try and get enough votes to be the prom queen and kick Enid out of the running. Ronnie is on the dance committee, so she thinks this will help.

Elizabeth finds the missing letter on her bedroom floor and immediately figures out what must have happened. Enid gets some advice from Ms. Dalton (who is her favorite teacher) and decides to go the dance alone, but is surprised by George, who shows up to take her. He has cleaned up his act and is now absolutely gorgeous. Of course. They are old friends who have known each other a very long time though, so they immediately fall back into that comfortable relationship. George tells her that her letters were what inspired him to make all the changes in his life and were what helped him keep going. Aw! How sweet! He also asks to take her to the dance, which she immediately agrees.

Jessica gets her comeuppance by the end, of course. Elizabeth always seems to be able to do that, once she finally realizes what her twin is up to. Honestly, she should always just assume that Jess is up to no good. It’s almost always true. Jessica wins the prom queen title, but instead of Bruce winning king (which Jessica assumed, since he is so amazing whatever), she gets . . . Winston Egbert, the school nerd! And as such, she is stuck paired with him for the rest of the semester’s events! Hahahahahaha! All thanks to Liz, who started the rumor that Jessica had a thing for Winston once she found out Jessica was the one who shared Enid’s letters.

Does Jessica learn her lesson? Of course not. She never does. She just comes up with another scheme to catch Bruce, especially after the look they share at the dance.

So to sum up the rest: Enid apologizes to Liz and they are friends again. Ms. Dalton arrives at the dance and shares a dance with Mr. Collins. Ken Matthews, who was supposed to take Lila Fowler to the dance, dumps her when he finds out that she was the one who started the rumor about Ms. Dalton in the first place.

Definitely more cohesive as a whole than the first book (since there aren’t a million plot points). Still don’t like Jessica. Still think Elizabeth is a bit of a naive doormat. How were these two such role models for preteen girls back in the day? But still, an entertaining read after all these years.

nostalgic reads · Uncategorized

Nostalgic Reads: Double Love

Nostalgic Reads

TitleDouble Love

Author: Francine Pascal (creator) and Kate Williams

SeriesSweet Valley High #1

Double LoveBlurb: Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are identical twins at Sweet Valley High. They’re both popular, smart, and gorgeous, but that’s where the similarity ends. Elizabeth is friendly, outgoing, and sincere — nothing like her snobbish and conniving twin. Jessica gets what she wants — at school, with friends, and especially with boys.

This time, Jessica has set her sights on Todd Wilkins, the handsome star of the basketball team — the one boy that Elizabeth really likes. Elizabeth doesn’t want to lose him, but what Jessica wants, Jessica usually gets … even if it ends up hurting her sister.

Meet the Wakefield twins, their guys, and the rest of the gang at Sweet Valley High….

Review: Welcome to my first Nostalgic Reads post! I’ll tell you what, revisiting some of this stuff has been trippy! I was such a different person when I read them before!

First, a little history. This series began in 1983 created by Francine Pascal and then written by a team of ghostwriters There are 143 books in the base series, not counting the Super Editions, Super Thrillers and Magna Editions. This series had several spin-offs, including Sweet Valley Twins (which I also read), Sweet Valley KidsSweet Valley High: Senior Year, and Sweet Valley University. 

Now, onto this book. This book has at least six plots going on. Each one of these could easily be a book of it’s own. Those plots are:

  1. The main plot, according to the blurb, which is that Elizabeth likes Todd Wilkins, the captain of the basketball team, but Jessica is going after him like crazy, even though Todd seems to like Elizabeth as well.
  2. Both sisters are pledging to join the Pi Beta sorority, although Jessica is the only one who’s really excited about it.
  3. Their father Ned, a lawyer, might be having an affair with another lawyer, Marianne West, from his law firm.
  4. Their brother Steve has a mystery girlfriend who is revealed to come from a family with a bad reputation.
  5. Jessica has an unfortunate “date” with bad boy Rick Andover which leads to a bar fight and a case of mistaken identity.
  6. The school might lose their football field and the two richest families – the Patmans (old money) and the Fowlers (new money) – are fighting over who takes over the land.

My head is already spinning. I don’t think the other books in the series deal with quite so many plot threads. This may have been just a way to introduce a lot of characters quickly, plus give you a good idea of the town and the school, but boy is it a lot!

The twins. What to say about the twins? Typically, girls who read these books were supposed to identify with one or the other, and I think most probably identified with Elizabeth because she was the bookish twin. Also – Jessica Wakefield is a deeply unlikeable person. I don’t remember disliking her that much when I was younger. I probably, like a lot of young girls, wished I could be more confident like she was: co-captain of the cheerleaders, boys who fall at her feet, the one the whole school practically worships.

But oh my goodness, reading her now. She is such a shallow, lying, manipulative, drama queen! She throws tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. She lies CONSTANTLY. Let’s look at plot #5. She goes on this date with Rick, who gets drunk and gropey, and ends up riding home in a police car after the resulting bar fight gets broken up. The policeman recognizes her last name and knows that his niece goes to school with Elizabeth Wakefield. He doesn’t know that they are twins. So when he drops her off with a warning, and says her name as he tells her goodnight, someone overhears it. Suddenly, the whole school is talking about Elizabeth’s wild night out. Jessica NEVER corrects anyone, claiming that she never hears anyone talk about it. Eventually, she attempts to explain it to Todd, but he thinks she’s just trying to excuse Elizabeth’s “bad behavior” and take the blame.

Jessica also tells Elizabeth that Todd tried to assault her too, just to get back at him for liking someone else and not being attentive enough at the school dance they go to together. Seriously.

The thing is, Elizabeth is clearly the “good girl,” but she also comes off as a complete doormat. She forgives Jessica for anything and everything she does, although she does manage to get some revenge by tricking the student body into throwing Jessica into the school pool. Elizabeth is the writer of the “Eyes and Ears” gossip column in the school paper, but the identity of that person is always kept a secret. If they get discovered, they get dunked. Elizabeth tricks people into thinking that Jessica is her and gets Jessica thrown in the pool instead. It seems like a paltry punishment for all that Jessica does throughout this book, but at least it’s something.

Does this book still hold up? Not necessarily, although it is still highly entertaining, if only for the ridiculousness of it all. We’ll see how some of the other ones stack up.