Liz wastes no time in getting the freakin’ L.A. Times to agree to let her write an article about the play. Apparently this Mr. Goodman is one hell of a big deal. I think it’s really just Liz Wakefield who is a hell of a big deal. She could probably land on the cover of Time magazine for taking a shit in the morning at this point.
Paula starts hanging around Jessica and her friends, giving them ridiculous over-the-top compliments and doing all kinds of favors for them. Even Lila, who initially made all kinds of sly insults about Paula’s fashion sense, starts to feel protective toward her. Paula is over at Jessica’s house every night helping her rehearse for the role of Lady Macbeth. Elizabeth overhears Paula reading lines by herself one evening while Jessica giggles on the phone with Sam and is amazed by how good she sounds. When Liz asks Paula about it, Paula becomes timid Paula again and then lets loose her sob story: her mother died, her father is an alcoholic who beat her, and her brother ran away when he couldn’t take it anymore. Now Paula lives with some friends of her mother’s in Sweet Valley. After Paula leaves, Liz shares her story with Jessica, and needless to say that’s all it takes for everyone else to learn of it. In the Sweet Valley tradition, Jessica helps Paula feel better about her shitty life by giving her a makeover. Voila! Suddenly Paula goes from mousy to beautiful.
Paula’s sob story has everyone feeling bad for her, and she continues with her timid mouse act. She gives Annie a colorful headband as a gift and shyly compliments everyone else nonstop, all the while praising Jessica and saying she could never be as great as Jess is, bla bla fucking bla. People begin to grumble about how Jessica is totally immersed in the play and never has any time for them anymore, but Paula always stands up for her. That makes people begin to notice that Paula is really just doing way too much for Jessica. Amy, Lila, and Annie begin to discuss how Jessica is always taking advantage of Paula. Meanwhile, wanting to help poor Paula gain some more confidence, Jessica gets her to try out for the part of the gentlewoman, which Paula easily nabs. Then Jessica starts to notice Paula acting funny whenever she thinks Jess isn’t watching – always talking and laughing and giggling with Jessica’s friends, flirting with Mr. Goodman’s helper Frank O’Donnell, then acting timid the second Jessica comes into sight. Jess begins to get paranoid that Paula is two-faced and secretly trying to turn people against Jessica … only it’s not exactly paranoia.
At lunch one day while Jessica is off waiting for Paula to come help her rehearse, Paula organizes a picnic at Secca Lake with Jessica’s friends, then lies and says Jessica will probably be too busy to want to come. In reality, she holds it without ever mentioning it to Jess. Later, she starts organizing tennis games and shopping trips with Lila and Amy without inviting Jessica. Since Jessica really is completely obsessed with the play, it’s not hard for Paula to do this without Jess knowing until after the fact. Then it turns out Paula has taken over as Jessica’s understudy for the play. Once again, Paula “forgets” to let Jessica know this and Jessica doesn’t find out until Annie mentions it to her. Upset by this behavior, Jessica starts flipping out at Paula, yelling at her and then apologizing seconds later, telling herself she’s going nuts and Paula can’t really be that sneaky. But Paula’s secretive behavior is really bothering her. Jessica tries to talk to Liz about it, but you know how stupid Liz is when it comes to stuff like this. Liz doesn’t believe Jessica.
The show must go on, so Jessica continues with rehearsals, where she now finds Paula is even getting Mr. Goodman to change how he directs things. In a scene with the Doctor, played by senior Adam Tyner, Paula gets Mr. Goodman to have Adam stand right in front of Jessica, casting a shadow over her and partially blocking her from the audience’s view. That sounds dumb as fuck to me, but Mr. Goodman is all about it. I think Paula must be blowing him or something.
There’s also a big poster design contest for the play. David Prentiss – remember him? Jade Wu’s man? – does an incredible design of Jessica as Lady Macbeth, but then Olivia offers some competition with a poster of Lila Fowler, Rosa, and Annie as the three witches. Jessica is sure David’s fantastic poster will win and so is nearly everyone else, but surprise! Olivia’s wins. Shocker – Paula helped count the ballots. To make matters worse, Jessica pops into the Dairi Burger one night to surprise her friends with her queenly presence, and finds Paula and Sam sitting together. Paula is flirting with him and pretending to like dirt bikes. When Jessica confronts Sam, he yells at her in the parking lot and basically tells her she’s an asshole who wants to control Paula.
Liz finds out that not only is the L.A. Times going to let her write an article about the play, but they are also sending one of their own reviewers to the play’s opening night. …The fuck? How is a high school play THAT big of a deal? Liz asks Paula to tell Jessica the reviewer is coming, but of course Paula doesn’t tell her and Jessica finds out from someone else much later. Jessica starts to get feelings of foreboding that something awful will happen the night of the play … ya think? Even worse, it starts to pour down raining the day of opening night. “It never rains in Sweet Valley,” a spooked Jessica tells Prince Albert the dog. LOL, no shit. We’ve certainly had that fact pounded into our heads again and again.
BOOM! Paula’s inevitable nefarious plan finally goes into action. Just hours before Jessica is to arrive at the auditorium on opening night, Paula calls Jessica at home in a panic. She says she’s in Cold Springs, hours away, and she was tricked into coming there by a “mean, awful man” who plays poker with her dad. The man claimed Paula’s dad was in the hospital about to die or something and that Paula had to come right away. Paula rode the bus up there to see him. But it was a trick – it was just Paula’s dad trying to get money off her. Paula claims she’s now trapped there because her father took her return bus fare, and she was just now able to sneak out to a pay phone to call for help. Jessica agrees to drive up there and rescue Paula. She leaves a note for Liz to tell Mr. Goodman that she’ll be back just in time to go on for her first scene and that he shouldn’t panic when she runs late.
Of course, Paula’s story was all a lie. While Jessica’s driving around Cold Springs getting lost, thanks to the phony directions Paula gave her (oh, the pre-Google Maps age), Paula is safe in Sweet Valley, getting in costume and ready to go. Upset that Jessica is missing, Liz calls Paula’s house – and gets her mother, a pleasant-sounding woman who explains she and Paula’s dad can’t wait to watch Paula play the lead tonight and finally meet some of Paula’s friends. Then Liz finds the note Jessica left about going to rescue Paula from her supposed evil deadbeat dad in Cold Springs. At the same time, Jessica realizes she’s been had and calls Mr. Goodman from a pay phone to beg him to hold the curtain 15 minutes for her. Mr. Goodman refuses because Paula is already in costume and ready to go on.
So that’s the opening night. Paula plays the lead, and she and Bill Chase (Macbeth) get rave reviews in the L.A. Times. Mr. Goodman is so impressed he decides to get Paula in touch with an agent in New York City. Jessica shows up just as the curtain goes up, and is forced to watch helplessly from the audience with her family. Oh, shit, you know the Wakefield twins won’t let this crap go unanswered. They show up at Lila Fowler’s cast party afterwards, where Paula shows up on the arm of Frank O’Donnell, Mr. Goodman’s assistant. Everyone is freaking out over how awesome Paula was. She tells everyone Jessica told her earlier that she was going to run an errand in Cold Springs the day of the play and that she might not be back in time for the play. Paula shrugs and announces Jessica must not have cared that much about the play after all and “You know how flighty she can be.” Everyone laughs. These kids are stupid as fuck. Jessica has been obsessed with the play to the point of being horribly annoying, yet now they’re supposed to believe that she didn’t give enough of a fuck about it to come back in time from RUNNING AN ERRAND? Running an errand in a town hours away, at that? She’s flighty all right, but she’s not THAT flighty.
At that point, Jessica steps forward and loudly confronts Paula with a few brief sentences. Paula just goes ahead and admits to everything with a shrug and tells Jessica she’s just jealous. All the kids who had been congratulating Paula start to step away from her and go to stand behind Jessica. “You won, Paula. People like you always win,” Jessica says. What the fuck does that mean? In the past that definitely hasn’t been the case (unless the person in question was Jessica herself). Paula just glides out of the room with Frank laughing, while Liz starts clapping and everyone explodes into applause. Yes, like a fucking slow clap.
Well, that was … anti-climactic.
The next day, everyone is hanging out at the Wakefield family pool passing the L.A. Times play review around, when Paula shows up and acts like they should all be delighted to see her. They tell her to get lost and she stalks off in surprise, then trips over Prince Albert and falls into the pool. Ha ha ha! What comedy. At the next showing of Macbeth, Paula fails to show up for her role of the gentlewoman now that she knows everyone hates her, so Elizabeth is forced to fill in (with makeup disguising her so she doesn’t look just like Jessica, natch). Mr. Goodman is so disgusted with Paula’s no-show that he takes back his offer to get her the agent, saying she’s not mature enough to handle show biz. Jessica continues in her role as Lady Macbeth for the remainder of the play’s run and hides her supreme disappointment in missing opening night.
So, that’s our latest Sweet Valley femme fatale. I’m left underwhelmed, after the likes of Suzanne Devlin and all who came after her. Honestly, though, Paula reminds me of this creepy girl I used to have to work with. So in that respect she does give me the shudders … ugh.
The cover: Paula looks like a haughty bitch. So does Jessica, making that weird blowjob face. And she’s never gonna quit with those bangs, is she? Love Jessica’s totally 90s outfit though.
Subplot: Lila is horrified when she not only loses out on the role of Lady Macbeth to Jessica, but is given the role of the lead witch instead. To add to her misery, Olivia’s witch poster design wins the contest and gets plastered everywhere. Lila spends the rest of the book bitching about the baggy witch costume, deliberately blocking out Rosa and Annie with her crazy hand gestures, throwing tantrums each rehearsal, and ad-libbing during the play. I guess it’s supposed to be funny, but it didn’t really strike me as such. It’s entirely possible this is because I am now old and bitter.
Other crap: Luke Perry name drop on page 151! Hello 1993!
Some hot senior boy named Tony Alimenti asks Lila out.
Someone named Joanne Shreves gets a callback from the first audition. No clue who this person is, unless they’re confusing her with Joanie Shreeves from book 27. I’m so anal about this shit. Can you tell I edit things for a living?
“I just don’t want you to forget your poor old boyfriend during your rapid rise to the top of the theatre world.” That’s Sam supposedly joking with Jess, but let’s get real, after how close Jessica came to dropping him for first a soap star and then a prince, I think we all know Sam is dead serious.
“Well, Steven, as much as I’d like to stay here and admire your pretty face and tanned body…” that’s Jessica, supposedly just joking around, but still, GROSS.
The stupid Beckwiths move to Washington DC after Mr. Beckwith gets a new job. You may remember Mr. Beckwith as the annoying big-mouthed doofus from Super Thriller #2! Good riddance, Douchewith.
Lila flirts with a senior named Tony Alimenti, but thinks it’s weird that he would ask her on a date.
Coming up next: Not one, but two books about Annie’s new stepsister. I’m really desperate to get to A Night to Remember at this point, so these two remaining “regular” books feel like roadblocks … made of poop.